About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.

Cherokee Ancestry – The Most Persistent Native American Family Legend

Cól-lee, a Band Chief, painted at Fort Gibson in 1834 by George Catlin who refers to the subject as Jol-lee in Letters and Notes. Also known as John Jolly who died in 1838.

“An aged and dignified chief. … This man … as well as a very great proportion of the Cherokee population, has a mixture of red and white blood in his veins, of which, in this instance, the first seems decidedly to predominate” (Letters and Notes, vol. 2, p. 119, pl. 217).

Does Your Family Have a Cherokee Story?

It seems that just about every family with a lineage east of the Mississippi before about 1800 has a Cherokee Indian ancestor – at least according to oral history passed down in the family. I certainly did, even though the person in my tree who was supposed to be Native was subsequently proven to have no Native ancestry. In that process, I did, however, find different lines that have been proven to be Native using genealogical records along with mitochondrial and Y DNA testing.

Does your family have a “Cherokee story”? Has DNA testing proven or disproven your family lore? Have you been disappointed by an ethnicity test? Have you had any luck proving that lineage with traditional genealogical research? Many people are disappointed that their family has claimed Cherokee heritage, sometimes for generations, but they have been unable to corroborate that information by either genetic or traditional research methods.

There are lots of reasons this might happen, including the possibility that your ancestors weren’t Native. But that’s not the only reason. A recent article in Slate is one of the best I’ve read that presents the reasons without undue drama or prejudice.

Before you read the article, I want to make four things crystal clear:

  • Having no discernable Native DNA in ethnicity tests does NOT mean you DON’T have a Native ancestor. It only means that you need to do traditional genealogy to find that ancestor, combined with Y and mtDNA testing of relevant family lineages. Y and mtDNA is the only way to prove or disprove who in your tree was Native other than through genealogy research, unless that Native ancestor was in a very recent generation.
  • Showing small percentages of Native DNA in ethnicity tests does NOT mean you DO have a Native ancestor. Small amounts can be noise or can be residual from a common Asian population source. For example, I have seen German people with as much as 3% Native American DNA, which clearly isn’t. You need more evidence before confirming Native ancestry.
  • Without additional research, you cannot prove your lineage to a tribe using DNA – no matter what any company tells you, although Y and mitochondrial DNA matching may lend important clues. Family Tree DNA is the only testing company that combines Y and mitochondrial testing, matching and maps.
  • No matter how much Native DNA you have, only a tribe can tell you how to qualify for their membership – and each tribe’s rules differ. You’ll need to contact the tribe directly for that information. DNA identified as Native through DNA testing for genealogy (alone) will not qualify you for tribal membership in any federally US recognized tribe.

For a comprehensive list of resources, please refer to Native American DNA Resources.

Now, for the Slate article:
Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood?



Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

World Families Network, Ysearch and Mitosearch Bite the Dust – Thanks So Much GDPR

It’s a sad month.

The core foundation of genetic genealogy is sharing.

GDPR is NOT about sharing easily, and the GDPR hoops are onerous, to be charitable. I wrote about GDPR in the articles GDPR – It’s a Train and It’s a Comin’ and Common Sense and GDPR.

One might say GDPR is at cross purposes with genealogy. It probably wasn’t intended that way, but so far, we’ve lost several resources due to GDPR, and it’s still not here yet.

Add to the death list World Families Network, Ysearch and Mitosearch.

The cost of GDPR compliance, necessary attorney fees along with with the risk of the horrific fines of up to 4 million Euro is just too much for a small business or a non-profit. Additionally, non-EU businesses are required to retain a European Representative company that agrees to absorb some level of the risk for non-compliance. Try finding a company to do that. Not to mention the pain-in-the-butt-factor of the hoops that they would have to jump through if so much as one person complained. Bottom line – not worth it.

Thanks so much GDPR.

World Families Network

Terry Barton, founder of World Families Network, a Y DNA project management company that consists primarily of Terry and his wife, sent an e-mail to the administrators of the projects they host saying that WFN is retiring and shutting down on May 23rd, two days before the GDPR date.

Here’s part of the e-mail to WFN administrators from Terry:

We will delete the project sections of the WorldFamilies site on May 23, 2018, so please copy any information that you wish to save. You may wish to make a copy of your Home, Results, Patriarch, Discussion or other project pages. We can provide an empty excel spread sheet with columns preset to copy/paste your results page on request. For the other pages, you may want to copy/paste your info into a Word document. (Note: we won’t be able to “rescue” you if you miss the deadline, so please don’t wait too long.)

The projects hosted at World Families Network (WFN) will revert to their project pages at Family Tree DNA, so all is not lost, BUT, the information on the Patriarch’s pages as well as some of the information on the actual DNA results pages at WFN does not come directly from Family Tree DNA. Some WFN sites are not fed from the Family Tree DNA project pages at all, so fields like “Earliest Ancestor” at WFN may be blank at Family Tree DNA. That, of course, can be remedied, but won’t happen automatically.

Many of the projects managed by WFN were abandoned, meaning they have no administrator. Some have administrators that preferred the WFN format to the Family Tree DNA format. One of the most popular features was the Patriarchs page where lineages of men with the project surname were listed. This feature was put in place before trees were available at Family Tree DNA – but the Patriarchs format serves as a one-glance resource and can be connected to the kit numbers on the DNA pages.

Please, please, please do two things:

  • Visit the WFN surname links here for projects and scan the projects shown with “project site,” meaning they are WFN hosted, to see if any include your ancestral surnames. If SO, visit that WFN project site by clicking the link and record any information relevant to your family.

  • Consider adopting projects relevant to your surname. Most of these projects will need to be spruced up at Family Tree DNA, meaning they will need to be grouped and the Patriarch’s page will need to be copied onto one of the several available project pages at Family Tree DNA. Many of these projects are small and you can easily preserve information. Terry provides a list of orphaned projects here, but I don’t know if it’s current. I would reach out to Family Tree DNA at groups@familytreedna.com about any project listed as having a project site at WFN. Some projects have an administrator listed, but they are no longer active.

For project administrators considering a private website, be aware per the GDPR requirements that you will constantly have to monitor the privacy settings at Family Tree DNA and assure that you are not displaying information for anyone who has selected, or changed their project setting from public to “project only.” Family Tree DNA automatically removes the project members data from a public display when they change settings or leave projects.

Ysearch and Mitosearch

On May 10th, on their Forum, a Family Tree DNA representative announced that Ysearch and Mitosearch will be shut down by month end. These databases were established in 2003 by Family Tree DNA for free, open sharing.

While this announcement doesn’t state that it’s because of GDPR, that correlation probably isn’t coincidence.

These two data bases have been on life support for some time now. They have been less immediately useful since other testing companies stopped Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, meaning that you could see all of your new matches at Family Tree DNA.

One of their biggest benefits, even for Family Tree DNA customers, was that these were the two databases where everyone could compare actual marker values, not just see if they matched and genetic distance.

Unfortunately, Ysearch and Mitosearch were the only locations left for people who uploaded from those now-defunct databases. Of the 219,410 records in the Ysearch database, 25,521 are from sources other than Family Tree DNA.

Originally, there were four public databases. The other two have been gone for some time, with these being the last two resources to go. This is truly a tragedy for the genetic genealogy community, because unlike the WFN departure where the projects are still available at Family Tree DNA – there is no alternative resource to Ysearch and Mitosearch. Gone is gone – especially for the 25,000+ results archived there from companies that are also gone meaning Relative Genetics, Oxford Ancestors, Ancestry’s now defunct Y DNA, Sorenson and others.

Recently, Family Tree DNA fixed the captcha issue, but the sites are still not fully functional. I tried to retrieve information by searching by surname at Ysearch, and the search failed with an error. I don’t know if the problem now is the actual data base or the fact that the site is overwhelmed by people trying to do exactly what I was trying to do.

As someone in the Family Tree DNA forum thread said:
GDPR: The gift from Europe that just keeps on giving.

Thank You

As sad as I am to see both of these resources go, I want to publicly thank Terry and Marilyn Barton for their 14 years of service to the genetic genealogy community and wish them well in their retirement. Hopefully they will have time to solve their own genealogy mysteries now.

I also want to thank Family Tree DNA for establishing both Ysearch and Mitosearch, and maintaining these sites as long as they have. Few companies would have established a platform for their customers to compare results with their competitors’ products which speaks to their early and ongoing commitment to genealogy.


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Barbara Jean Ferverda (1922-2006) and Her “Suitcase of Life” – 52 Ancestors #193

It’s Mother’s Day, of course. Mother’s Day falls within a week or so of the anniversary of mother’s passing. The year she passed away, I spent Mother’s Day cleaning out her apartment and moving the furniture I was keeping, along with several boxes, home, in a rented truck. Clearly, that was one of the most miserable Mother’s Days ever. Talk about a tough day.

After Mom passed away, as I was cleaning out her closet, I found her old dancing suitcase, the handle cracked with age and hundreds of performances. Mom lived out of this suitcase for years, her ever-present companion.

The metal latches were worn smooth with her fingers, packing and unpacking costumes across the country, needles and pins still clinging to the inside for quick fixes. That sojourning suitcase with all of its secrets, now “retired” and packed full of “stuff” that she had saved for me.

Thanks Mom. Such a wonderful gift.

The Suitcase of Life

Mom called it her “suitcase of life” and after I opened the suitcase, on top, greeting me was a note written on an envelope in her handwriting.

How my heart ached for my mother’s suffering when I saw that.  Had I know about this a few days sooner, perhaps I could have given her some sort of assurance or comfort.

A few days, you ask? A story was unfolding, even as she died, a tragedy that reached back some 65 years.

The first thing that struck me was the apologetic timbre of the note, along with the fact that it was incredibly sad that she felt her life was in any way “bad.”

Mom’s life was difficult. She was an accidental pioneer.

No, her life wasn’t all bad – in fact, it wasn’t’ “bad” at all, but it was anything but easy. She was a soul placed on this earth before her time – seldom in sync with the society and location in which she found herself living, trying to survive, at the time.

Mom often endured criticism for both her own choices and circumstances that dragged her along, over which she had no control. Sometimes when you’re marching on life’s road, the only way is forward, no matter where it leads.

I knew that somehow this gift was a combination treasure chest and Pandora’s box.

What treasures did she leave?

There were certainly some surprises, let me tell you! Things I never suspected. Things I suspected and could now confirm. I’m just as sure that there are secrets I’ll never know – that she took to her grave with her. Secrets too personal, or painful, to leave behind for scrutiny.

One of the best gifts was a treasure trove of photos, with at least a few from her childhood. Let’s start there.

Baby Barbara Jean

In many ways, my mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda, was typical for the time and place in which she was born. The tiny town of Silver Lake, Indiana in 1922 was a conservative Brethren crossroads community in Kosciusko County, Indiana with far more horses than cars. The “town” was all of three blocks wide and about as long, streets were dirt, and a cornfield grew beside their house.

Notice the horse and buggy in the upper left hand side of the photo.

Her parents, Edith Barbara Lore and John Whitney Ferverda owned the last house at the edge of town – the only home they ever owned and where Mom lived her entire life before leaving entirely.

Edith, third from right in front, worked at the local chicken hatchery as a bookkeeper until sometime after 1940.

A working wife was highly unusual and not well accepted. John was the stationmaster at the railroad depot, beginning in 1910, within sight of the house.

That was, until John bought a hardware store in 1916 and then apparently sold the business about 1922. The family oral history says that he went bankrupt during the Depression. I’m not sure which is true, or perhaps some combination of both.

One way or another, by 1930, John had lost the hardware store and sold tractors and trucks at the Ford dealer until no one could afford to purchase tractors and trucks anymore.

Mom remembers that when she walked the 3 or 4 blocks to school as a child, she would go another half block beyond the turn to go to school and ask her father for a nickel for a candy bar. Then, she walked another half block where she would promptly purchase a Hershey bar at the drug store on the corner, beside what used to be her father’s hardware store. Her mother wouldn’t have approved of the candy, but her dad just pretended not to notice. She loved Hershey bars literally until her dying day.

By the 1940 census, the family raised chickens and had a large garden along with fruit trees and berry bushes – which was all that stood between them and hunger during the Depression years. John listed himself as a chicken and fruit farmer.

Mother cleaned chickens and was paid a nickel for each one she cleaned. She hated cleaning chicken as long as she lived – but during the Depression, everyone did anything and everything they could to contribute to the common good.

In some ways, mother was very different from the other children as she grew up. Aside from having a working mother, the major difference being that contrary to her family’s Brethren background, mother danced. You can bet that was the talk of the town – but it didn’t happen in quite the way you might imagine.

Mother’s life seems to have been divided into compartments or chapters, and in many cases, she did her best not to let those compartments intrude into each other. So, I’ll tell her story the same way she lived her life – in sections – starting with life in Silver Lake.

Early Pictures

Mom with her mother in 1923 where Mom looks to be maybe 3 months old or so. She was oh so cute. I’d love to hold and snuggle that baby. Especially today – Mother’s Day.

Mom’s maternal grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore McCormick, James Martin on trike, her brother Lore Ferverda and Mom in February 1923.

What is it about my family and pixie haircuts for the girls? If Mom hadn’t been wearing a dress combined with a name on the photo, she would look like a little boy in this picture taken in September 1925.

Mom was 2 years and 9 months old in her first portrait.

Photography in the 1920s was very much a luxury. Cameras and film were both rare and expensive. Therefore, we have very few photos of Mom before she began dancing.

This picture, where Mom REALLY looks like a boy, was taken at Tridle’s, her babysitter’s house, playing with or feeding the chickens.

Mom looked every bit as unhappy with her bangs cut to her hairline as I was a generation later when Mom gave me the EXACT same haircut. I think this was an outgrowth of conservative frugality when no one was about to waste money having a child’s hair cut when you could do it easily at home. Mistakes? Don’t worry – they grow out!

One thing that struck me about these photos is that Mom was blonde as a baby. I never knew her as anything but a brunette, until age lightened her hair once again.

Mother had an older brother, seven years her senior, Harold Lore Ferverda, known as Lore, sporting his new bicycle in the photo below.

This series of 3 photos looks to have been taken at the same time. In the photo below, Mom looks to have been crying. Older brothers will do that to you, just saying…

Mom always loved dogs, and Lore probably told her the dog didn’t like her or some other “brotherly” thing meant to irritate his baby sister. It obviously worked.

If Mom looked unhappy above, she looks smug as a bug in a rug below, with her brother, center, and cousin, James Martin at right.

In the photo below, Mom is in front of the house where she grew up in Silver Lake.

It’s somehow prophetic that Mom’s feet are front and center in this photo, because one way or another, they were her focus for the rest of her life. On the day she had the massive stroke, we found her, having crawled somehow into the closet, wearing her dress shoes and little else. Priorities!

Mom with an unnamed friend, but one I spotted in several photos. Her socks are rolled to her ankles. It looks like a warm day and the girls probably got hot.

In the next photo, on a much smaller bicycle, Mom looks to have been 7 or 8. The house on the right is the side of the Ferverda home where Mom grew up and her parents lived for more than 40 years – maybe as long as 50 years. I was about 6 years old the last time I was in that house, but I remember it vividly.

The double set of windows beside my Mom to the right was the music room where the piano lived and my grandmother would play. The floor was hardwood, so dance practice and lessons could easily take place. My grandmother died when I was 4, but I remember her at the piano and the cactus in pots those windows. I managed to get tiny cactus quills in my hand and they burned like fire. The music room was joyful, filled with singing and fun. Well, except for those evil cactus.

School Pictures

The schoolhouse in Silver Lake included students of all ages, so class pictures were really more like school pictures, meaning multiple ages in each photo. In later years, there were enough students to have several classrooms.

Thankfully, tucked into Mom’s “suitcase of life” were a few school photos. I have cropped Mom’s pictures from the larger group pictures, below.

The photo above on left was labeled 1932, so she would have been 9 years old.

On the back of that photo, Mom wrote the names of each of her classmates, along with her own, in her sweet little-girl handwriting.

Of course, there were no years written on most photos, but the last picture appears to be older than the first three.

I have to laugh at Mom’s crooked bangs, because it tells me that Mom obviously inherited her bang-cutting skills from her mother and later, practiced them on me.

In her last class photo, she looks to be 15 or 16.

I think the family bought a camera when mom was about 10 or 11, based on the following photographic record of at least a portion of Mom’s life, thanks to dancing.

Dancing Begins

Dancing. How romantic it sounded to me as a child. Mother had been a ballerina! A REAL ballerina! I saw glittery consumes and stage lights, but I never knew Mom when she danced nor did I have any inkling of the story behind her dancing.

And Mom, well, she wasn’t talking. However, there was a suitcase full of photos and another full of costumes to tell the tale. That tale was far more tragic than I ever knew or could have imagined. In fact, I never knew the details until after her death – and I probably still don’t know them all.

As a child, I could never understand why Mom didn’t teach dancing. She certainly could have. She was imminently qualified. I would only learn much later that she really didn’t like to dance, it wasn’t her passion, and it was not a love in her life. In many ways, it was a forced march, a necessity – one that captured her and refused to let go.

Instead, Mom was relieved to be “past” that stage in her life – to shed it and leave it behind. Indeed, she was somewhat embarrassed by her career, as she tried to fit back into the life and lifestyle that she left. She just wanted to be a “regular” wife and mother. Typical wives and mothers certainly didn’t dance, and neither did well-behaved church women. Discrimination and stereotyped assumptions about dancers plagued mom when she danced and forever after.

We never had any photos of Mom’s dancing years anyplace in evidence when I was growing up. She strove to be a “normal” person, not a dancer or a retired or former dancer. Mom’s dream had been to be a bookkeeper, not a dancer. Dancing claimed her, not the other way around.

Mom was obviously very talented. Most people don’t achieve the level of professional acclaim that she did without a love and passion for the art. But then, nothing mother ever did was done in the normal fashion, or half way, and dancing wasn’t any different.

So how the heck did the daughter of a Brethren man come to be a professional ballet and tap dancer with a renowned dance company?

Rheumatic Fever

Mother never chose to dance. It wasn’t a hobby she selected. Her health demanded it and her parents arranged for lessons. When Mother was someplace between 7 and 9, she developed Rheumatic fever. She recalled that her arms felt too heavy for her body and it hurt her to even hold her arms at her side. She needed to lay them on pillows to relieve the pain. She clearly couldn’t attend school.

Today we know that Rheumatic fever is the result of an untreated streptococcal infection, manifesting itself about 3 weeks after the person has had either strep throat or scarlet fever. Unfortunately, rheumatic fever is much worse and involves the heart, causing congestive heart failure, mitral valve prolapse and a host of other issues including heart murmurs, which mother had. The doctor told her parents that she needed to dance to strengthen her heart which was damaged by the disease. I don’t know if that was accurate or not, but regardless, it set the stage, pardon the pun, for the rest of her life.

Today physicians recommend another 5 years of low grade antibiotic treatment to prevent a relapse which is all too common. It was during this time that Mom began to have recurring nosebleeds which too are a symptom of rheumatic fever, although I doubt she was aware of this because she never mentioned the connection. She likely had a low grade infection for years, until the nosebleeds stopped sometime in her teens.

Mom was lucky to have survived, as many of the early victims before the use of antibiotics did not.

Rheumatic fever is so named because of its similarity in terms of painful joints and extremities to rheumatism. Mother commented several times about how terribly sick she was and the unending, unrelenting pain. She said that she was too sick to be able to read books, which she loved to do, so her father would carry her down the stairs in the morning, position her on the couch so her body was not bearing the weight of her arms and legs, and would read to her to comfort her throughout the long days. Mother always had a very close and special relationship with her father.

Sometimes her recently widowed Brethren grandmother would come to stay and care for her as well.


It was about this time that Buster came into mother’s life. My grandparents got Buster to help Mom through her illness and with loneliness during the long recovery. Mother loved Buster devotedly and never really got over his passing. Buster was born in 1932 and passed away in 1945 while mother was gone.

Buster’s death was one of three “great griefs” that tumbled one upon the other about that time that would forever shape mother’s life.

Buster was Mom’s constant companion and a full fledged family member.

Mom always felt that her traveling was somehow responsible for Buster’s death, as he grieved so terribly when the suitcases would come out of the closet. Mother’s niece, Nancy, told me when I visited her in 2008 that Buster began drooling and they thought he had rabies, so my grandparents had him put to sleep. Mom kept his photo on her dresser or on the counter in the kitchen throughout her life, literally, until the day she died in 2006 – more than 60 years. That’s devotion! She never stopped missing Buster and I’m glad to know they are reunited now.

The Outhouse

There was no note along with this photo, but Mom loved cats her entire life too. Fluffy was her beloved cat as a teen, and she was heartbroken when Fluffy disappeared. Inside cats weren’t a “thing” at that time like they are today.

I’m not quite sure what was going on in this photo, but I do recognize “the facility” to the left. Homes at that time didn’t have inside plumbing, although by the time I was born, a bathroom had been added on the side of the house in Silver Lake.

Before that, it was a long cold walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night!

The Scrapbooks

Mom kept a scrapbook. Scrapbooks were popular then, and her mother, Edith, probably started it for her. It had wooden covers and leather laces which have deteriorated and are broken now. I scanned each of the pages. The scrapbook held a great deal of dancing related memorabilia. You could tell that her parents were proud of Mom’s accomplishments, and probably relieved as well that she was physically able to succeed. They came close to losing her altogether.

Dancing was the 1930s equivalent of physical therapy in tiny Silver Lake.

Pictures were reserved for special events, as film had to be developed and printed. This 1937 snow storm apparently qualified.

As Mom got older, towards graduation, the scrapbook contained photos of other family events, such as a 1938 trip to Lookout Mountain and Rock City, both in Georgia. I’m not sure Mom went along, because the photos are only of her parents and another couple.

I always wondered about Rock City, having seen the signs for years on barns across the midwest and south, and I finally saw it myself in Mom’s scrapbook.

The family obtained their first camera about this time. I’ve always wondered if it was in trade for chickens. My grandfather took just about anything in payment.

A second scrapbook held mother’s Chicago and professional dancing photos,  newspaper clippings and such, but this article only covers the years before she became a professional dancer when she moved to Chicago, about 1944.

The front of the photo album was actually wood, shown above. The pages inside were thick brown paper, some deteriorating with age.

Dancing 1933

The earliest dancing photograph of mother that I’ve been able to find is the one above, dated 1933. She would have been nine and a half years old and looked rather stilted and nervous. She was probably weak from months of recovery from Rheumatic fever.

The programs from the various dance recitals don’t begin for another 2 years, so she may have switched teachers or perhaps there was no program printed, or it wasn’t saved. Given the costume above, there was obviously a dance recital or performance of some type.

The following photograph is undated, but given her age, it appears to be early.

The Courthouse Lawn Performance

It would have been about this time that my mother’s brother painted her face – black – with paint used to paint the porch screens at the house. By the way, this is back in the day when paint required turpentine and scrubbing to remove – if it could be removed at all and didn’t just have to “wear off.”

I’ll let mother tell this in her own words, written before her passing:

One summer when I was about 9 or 10, I was supposed to dance on the courthouse lawn in Wabash Indiana for a holiday celebration. Every spring, the screens on the front porch were reinstalled for the summer. Lore painted the screens with black paint in the garage. Some kittens came to visit and were annoying Lore. He put black paint on the nose of one of the kittens, at which time, I moved in rather loudly to rescue the kitten and took a swing at my brother who swung back and hit me on one check with a paint brush full of black paint….at which time I went running and screaming to the back door telling mother “Lore put black paint on me!!!”

Mother lost it and was chasing Lore with a broom – she was so livid. It’s funny now but was very serious at the time. The turpentine was in the basement and Lore was trying to get there but he couldn’t get past her swinging the broom.

In the meantime, I was trying to remove the paint with a wet wash cloth. That paint was not water soluble, none was at that time, and the wash cloth smeared it even worse. After a few minutes we got most of the paint off with very little loss of skin.

The neighbors heard my mother a block to the church and across the street. I was able to dance after all was said and done.

Of course, Lore painted the entire side of Mom’s face including her cheek, ear and hair. Thankfully, he didn’t get any IN her eye. And she had to leave to dance in a few minutes.

My grandmother began wiping paint from my mother with her ever-present apron. My grandfather went to find gasoline and busily began removing paint from my mother’s face while my grandmother nearly killed her son. They washed mother’s hair with gasoline or turpentine in the driveway, then in the sink. Performances don’t wait and dancers can’t have paint on their face (unless the role calls for paint) nor can they smell like turpentine or gasoline. They all 3 left in the car with my mother in tears, and without Lore who was in BIG trouble.

My grandfather drove while my grandmother continued to soak my mother’s skin in gasoline to remove the paint which had sunk into her pores. Then, my grandmother applied layers of makeup to cover mother’s bright red (and black) skin on one side of her face.

Mother’s face and eye began to swell, and by the time she was finished dancing, she covered herself with a shawl to hide and went to the car immediately. It was perceived as a celebrity exit, but it was anything but.

I don’t think Mom ever forgave her brother, not just for painting her face, ironically, but for painting poor Fluffy’s nose. Indeed, it made a great story for years and she got mad at him all over again every time she told it. He, on the other hand, desperately wanted to forget the entire episode. I think he came out on the short end of that stick in multiple ways!

Unfortunately, we have no photos of that memorable event.

Dancing 1934

The following photo is dated 1934, and again, no program. Were it not for these dance photos and scrapbook, we would have no photos of mother during this period of time.

Violet Reinwald

Beginning in 1919, the newspapers in northern Indiana begin proclaiming the talent and beauty of Violet Reinwald, mother’s dance instructor. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette said, “Miss Violet Reinwald, principal among the soloists was a dancer of rare grace and beauty. Miss Reinwald has won Fort Wayne audiences before, but her appearance last night in new numbers has acclaimed her the mistress of her art; her reputation as a danceuse is made.” She is described a few months later as an instructor in interpretive dance. In 1920, she opened a school of “Fancy Dance” and her “Revues” are covered in newspapers for at least the next two and a half decades.

This 1936 program provides additional information about Violet. Her Chicago connection may be the link between mother and her professional career, launched at the upscale Edgewater Beach Hotel there during World War II.

Ironically, Violet herself suffered from mitral valve stenosis, a condition caused by untreated rheumatic fever. She passed away in 1952, at age 50, still listed on her death certificate as a dance teacher. Perhaps her personal experience with rheumatic fever, and unquestionable recovery, is why my grandparents chose Violet as mother’s instructor.

Violet also became mother’s mentor and advocate.

Dancing 1935

Beginning in 1935, when Mom would have been 12, turning 13 the second to last day of the year, we begin to find programs for her performances.

Most years, two performances were given around Memorial Day, one in Huntington, Indiana and one in Fort Wayne, with the Fort Wayne performance seeming to be the larger one. The performances, at least initially, were entirely different. The programs for the Fort Wayne recital appear to be more professionally produced and included ads, which probably meant that Violet had to pay for the theater in Fort Wayne, so had to raise revenue one way or another.

Below, the program for the Violet Reinwald Revue, Huntington – Tuesday, June 11, 1935.

Fortunately, we have photos to go along with the 1935 performances.

With what I’ve heard about my extremely conservative grandmother, I’m totally amazed that my mother was allowed to wear a skirt this short for any reason whatsoever – costume or not!

The Russian act was performed in Fort Wayne, listed in the program below.

This costume was also worn in the recital in Fort Wayne.

Mom truly looks happy in these photos.

Kicking It Up a Notch

In May of 1935, things change a bit and it looks like Violet Reinwald went upscale, scheduling a performance at the Shrine Theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana, complete with professionally printed program and advertising. The stage, above, is where mother would have performed as my grandparents sat in the audience.

The Huntington event was only a couple of weeks later, so Violet’s students would have been practicing two entirely different programs at the same time. That’s an impressive undertaking!

The Shrine Temple in Fort Wayne was constructed at 431 West Berry Street in 1924 with an eye to professional theater production. This building is shown above as it originally appeared and below, as it appears today.

Mother returned to Fort Wayne with me in 1994 to hang a special exhibit at the Allen County Public Library titled “Seven Generations of Hoosier Needlewomen.” She never mentioned to me that she danced in performances, for years, just across the street and down a block or so.

It is ironic that in the spring of 2009, three years after mother’s passing and 70 years after Mom danced in this building, I stayed in a hotel across the street from the Shrine Theater as I taped several segments about DNA for the Allen County Public Library and their cable television station. Little did I know.

Those DNA presentations were open to the public at the library. After I finished speaking, a lady approached me and told me that she knew my mother and had been mother’s dance student at one time. She had no idea when she decided to attend my presentation that it would include my mother, or that she had any connection at all. Talk about a small world. It thrilled me to no end to meet someone who remembered my mother so fondly some 65 or 70 years later. The lady mentioned that mother gave her a costume that mother had once worn, and she would check to see if she still had that costume tucked away someplace.

Dancing 1935

Based on this program, we know where Mom was on Tuesday, May 21, 1935.

The ads in the program are as interesting as the program itself. The phone numbers all begin with a letter plus 4 numbers. Later that letter would translate into digits and ultimately into contemporary 10-digit phone numbers.

In Fort Wayne in 1935, you could get steam permanent waves in your hair by Joseph or could purchase Rosemary butter, Fort Wayne’s favorite. I surely have to wonder about those steam waves. And what was Rosemary butter anyway?

You could go to the Town House for special Sunday Noon dinners from 12-2 or visit their beverage room after the theater. Now that’s a nice way to say “bar.” You could probably order a Berghoff beer, still available today, in the beverage room as well.

Packard Piano was a very large and well-established business, building and shipping both pianos and organs, but they went bankrupt during the depression, as did so many others.

A cab ride to seemingly anyplace would cost you twenty-five cents. Heating was done by coal or coke, and that’s not the drinkable type.

Mom danced two roles during this performance, the Russian and another group dance. It’s fun to see the photos of the costumes she wore.

The ads provide us with a glimpse into life at that time in Fort Wayne.

Of course, while mother danced in Fort Wayne, the family lived 40 miles distant in Silver Lake. My grandmother or grandfather drove Mom back and forth for years, which also meant, of course, that they waited while she took her lessons and practiced. They had only one car, which both adults as well as my uncle shared. Driving a car as well as gasoline was expensive and scarce during the depression which lasted for 10 years, not ending until 1939. The cost of dance lessons and driving back and forth to Fort Wayne must have been a real commitment for this family.

They were probably greatly relieved when mother became good enough to receive even minimal compensation by teaching younger students.

The Double Exposure

You might notice the name of Mary Louise Woerner in the programs. Mary Lu was Mom’s long-time dancing partner and friend.

The following double exposure was one of Mom’s all-time favorite photos and was taken about this time. I wrote about “Mom’s Joyous Springtime “Mistake” and the fond memories of finding this photo in the photo box at my grandmother’s table as a child.

I thought this was Mom hand-standing on her own behind, but Mom said it was her and Mary Lu, goofing around as they practiced in the yard. Yes, they practiced dancing outside in the yard, on sidewalks, everyplace.

Dancing 1936

In the 1936 dance recital, mother was an acrobat and danced in the music segment for the Reinwald Revue. There were two performances, one at the Shrine Theater in Fort Wayne on May 26th and one later in Huntington on June 4th.

In a second performance she was also a gypsy.

This year, Mom appeared in a featured dance duet with only one other person, a notch up from a group performance.

I couldn’t help myself, and had to laugh at this ad.

If my child looked like that, I think she’d need more than glasses. I wonder how they convinced that child to cross her eyes like that. This was before the days of photoshop. Mom always told me if I crossed my eyes, they would stay that way! Maybe this is why.

Note that the students had a contest to see who could sell the most tickets.

Dancing 1937

In 1937, a third recital venue was added. The Reinwald Revue held in Bluffton, Indiana on May 27th was sponsored by the Sigma Phi Gamma sorority.

In this production, Mom danced in the ballet Moonlight Interlude and then danced the role of the Emerald in the jewelry store. I would like to have seen that costume, in color. However, color photography was years distant and I don’t believe there is any photo of her portraying the emerald.

It appears there was a Huntington Revue this year as well judging from the program.

For the first time, Mom is wearing toe shoes, a much-coveted rite of passage for a ballerina. Judging from the look on Mom’s face either the sun is in her eyes or her feet hurt, or maybe both.

Apparently that hedge was a favorite photography location, because Mom’s picture was taken there for years.

I wonder if the Moonlight Interlude is the dance associated with the photos of Mother and Mary Woerner in their identical costumes, below.

Mom would have been about 15 at the time. I notice her hair style is different from the Music photos above too, and Music is also listed as a dance in the 1936 program.

The following photos are of mother’s friend, Mary Lu who passed away in 1961 at age 45, also having been a professional dancer for her entire life.

Mary Lu was 6 years older than Mom, and you can tell that she has been dancing a very long time by looking at the muscle development in her legs.

Below, the 1937 Reinwald Revue at the Shrine on May 25th, two days before the performance in Bluffton. It was a busy time of year for Mom.

I have omitted the program pages that do not include mother.

Dry cleaning deliveries are still free, but now permanents are oil instead of steam and cost $1.

Mother was once again an emerald. A new advertiser is City Light, above. Interestingly, the Light Company was owned by the residents.

Ankle socks in plain or gay stripes are 17 cents or 3 for 49 cents. How could you resist?

The Student Becomes the Teacher

About 1936, Mother began to teach dancing at the ripe old age of 14. Her mother, Edith provided the music in the music room at home by playing the piano and mother gave dance lessons to young students. As the teacher, Mom was responsible for having a “Revue” for her students as well, and indeed in 1937, she held the first Barbara Jean Ferverda Revue, although the location isn’t mentioned. Clearly, it had to be someplace with seating for all of the parents, grandparents and families who would dutifully attend.

How I would love to turn back time so I could attend. Mom must have been so excited!

Mom’s brother, Uncle Lore was even involved, although I’m betting it wasn’t voluntarily. Maybe he was still doing penance for the paint brush incident.

One of Mother’s students sent her the card below and Mom always kept it. This may have been her student who passed away. Mom was crushed when that happened.

Although mother danced a lot, her life did not stand still and she had other interests outside of dancing. Mom also played the piano, as did her mother, who I’m sure taught mother.

Mom’s Best Friend – Frank

Mom had a diverse group of friends including Frank Drudge, literally the boy across the street who was 6 months younger, a cheerleader, a dancer at the same dance school as Mom, and Mom’s best friend.

Frank was being raised by his aunt, Carrie and her husband who had no children. Mother was particularly close to Carrie who became almost like a second mother. I’d wager that the two families shared driving back and forth to Fort Wayne for dance lessons.

I remember when Carrie died in 1963. Mom was visiting friends in Silver Lake after her parents passed away and called Carrie to see if she could stop in and visit. Carrie didn’t answer the phone, which Mom found odd, but she tried again a few minutes later. Mom subsequently discovered that Carrie fell and broke her hip on the way to answer the phone, and a few days later, died. Mom felt terribly responsible, even though she knew logically she didn’t need to. Mom lost both of her parents, Carrie and my father within a 3 year span.


Mom’s Brethren Grandmother was Evaline Louise Miller who married Hiram Ferverda. Hiram died in 1925, but Evaline lived until 1939. Pictured in the 1937 photo above, Evaline (upper left) with her son John Ferverda (lower right), Mom with Buster, and Evaline’s daughter, Chloe standing beside her, with her daughter and husband. This was taken in front of the house where Mom grew up in Silver Lake.


It comes as no surprise, I’m sure, given that Mom danced, that the family was not Brethren, attending the Methodist church just two doors away in Silver Lake.

A much better photo of the church, today.

Mom was baptized here when she was 11.

Epworth Forest

Mom had a group of church friends that she either met or met up with at Epworth Forest, the Methodist Church camp. Epworth Forest still exists today. Mom would have been 15 the summer of 1938

Mom is on the far left in the above photo.

In the next photo, Mom is sitting in front of the group.

I’m surprised at how much she seems to have matured between July and November. She was still almost two months shy of her 16th birthday.

Unfortunately, Mom didn’t tell us the names of her friends. This is the third photo with hose rolled down to the ankles of the girls, so I’m beginning to think this was a fashion statement.

Looks like Frank and Betty just might have been a couple.

The Bicycle

Mom rode a bicycle, literally until she couldn’t anymore. Notice that she is wearing a dress, and her hose or socks are once again rolled down to her ankles. Females simply did not wear pants at that time, and for a long time in her adult life, at least until the 1980s, she refused as well. I was forbidden to wear blue jeans, which equated to poverty for Mom. It wasn’t until she was well into her 70s that she owned a pair of jeans herself – and then only “dress” jeans, NOT Levis.

Dancing 1938

The Reinwald Revue in 1938 was again held at the Shrine Theater. By now, Mother is dancing solo performances, according to the program. She is 15 and obviously coming into her own as a performer and a young woman. In the 1938 Revue Mom danced a solo number as the Beachcomber and with a group doing the Military Toe Dance.

Unfortunately, we have no photos of 1938 or 1939.

There was no Huntington or Bluffton program in those years, but there was something new.

Infantry Recognition Party

Below, the Infantry Recognition Party program from 1938. The beginning of World War II is generally held to have begun on September 1, 1939, but the nation was ramping up and preparing prior to the official date when war was declared.

Mom gave two performances, just shy of age 16.


You knew this was coming, right?

By 1939, Mom was dating Dan and would marry him 4 years later. She noted in her scrapbook, “One winter afternoon out at Dan’s.”

Dan was Mom’s only known boyfriend. The earliest photos of Mom at Dan’s are in 1939, where she is pictured with his dogs at his parents’ farm. They may have been dating earlier.

Mom would marry Dan in 1943 when he was on leave from the service. World War II changed the lives of many, but the War was also responsible for ending the Great Recession – quite the double-edged sword.

Dancing 1939

The Reinwald Revue was once again held at the Shrine Theater on Tuesday, May 23rd in 1939. While we don’t have any photos of mother, the program tells us that she danced one solo, the Mardi Gras Queen, and one duet, the Moonlight Serenade with Mary Lu Woermer. She also danced a group number called “On Revival Day.”

Dancing and Graduating in 1940

By 1940, Mother was reaching adulthood and graduated from high school on April 22nd at age 17. Tradition held that the girls married the next month, but that wasn’t the path mother chose.

Mom told me she wanted to go to college, or at least business school in Fort Wayne, but she was afraid and no one encouraged her. Of course, her brother Lore had gone to college, but those days were different and it was pretty well expected that women would marry out of high school and start a family, not go traipsing off to college. Her parents told her that they had paid for one college education (for Lore) and they weren’t paying for another one. The Depression was just ending, money was still scarce, and they had already paid for years of dance lessons. Mother couldn’t ask for more. It’s somehow ironic that Mom’s mother, Edith, attended Business School in Cincinnati, paid for by her aunt, before she married Mom’s dad. Edith’s bookkeeping skills are what sustained the family when John was out of work.

I’ve always wondered how far mother would have gone had she followed her dream to college – but that fork in the road was only peered down and longed for. There were no scholarships then, at least not for women. Student loans hadn’t even been dreamed of.

Mother disliked her senior picture, below, but I always thought it was stunning and that mother looked beautiful. There is a photo of me and later, one of my daughter about the same age that are strikingly similar.

On May 28th, just a few weeks after graduation, Mom would once again dance at the Shrine theater in Fort Wayne. No individual photos, but Mom danced a solo, American Melodies.

I suspect that mother is one of the older students in this picture from the program, but I can’t identify her.

Dancing 1941

In 1941, the Reinwald Revue was held at both Fort Wayne and at Huntington High School. The program was the same in both locations, and Mom danced a Moonlight and Roses solo along with a group piece titled Bucking Broncos Tap.

1942 Baer Field Review

Mom, second from right, supported the war effort in June 1942 by dancing for a fundraiser at Baer Field in Fort Wayne.

Mom would turn 20 in December of 1942.

1942 – Dancing Professionally

In 1942, Violet Reinwald’s Shrine program focused on patriotism. The country was backing the war, and our soldiers. Everyone was a patriot and everyone was involved one way or another – there was simply no question about that.

Mother performed 3 solos, Blues in the Night, My Melancholy Baby, United Nation – Russia, and a group number titled Salute to the US Armed Forces.

I would love to have seen these performances. In fact, I would love to have seen mother perform anything, at all, ever.

1942 would be the last year that mother would dance with the Violet Reinwold Revue.

By now, Mom had been dancing at least 9 or 10 years and teaching for at least 6. She was two years out of high school and most of her classmates had married and already started a family. She would turn 20 that December. It was time to do something.

I don’t know why, but Mom chose to branch out beyond Indiana, a decision that was viewed with a great amount of skepticism by those in Indiana. I suspect it may have had to do with the relationship with Dan cooling. For some reason, they had chosen not to marry immediately after high school, as was the local tradition, nor did they marry during the next two years. These choices didn’t follow the expected pattern.

In the summer of 1942, Mom performed in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, as well as other locations on the East Coast with a touring troupe, traveling by train.

In July 4, 1942, Mom was in Atlantic City. There were several pages in her photo album which recorded her day at the beach.

I wonder if the location where they were performing was one of the buildings in the background.

Mom never shared the back story to the photos below. Let’s just say that she was beautiful and single, and the men in uniform weren’t Dan.

That looks positively dreamy.

The legend at the bottom on the photo says that this is “John Shiver, myself, Walt.”

Let’s just say that look definitely qualifies as flirting. I think Walt got left out. In fact, I don’t think John and mom even know Walt is there.

Looking back, I wonder about John Shiver, Charles Sharp and Walt. Did they remember Mom? Was this a chance meeting or something more?

I think Mom liked men in uniform.

World War II and Marriage

The war was escalating, and Mom’s life was about to change, dramatically and forever.

I’m don’t know whose car this was, but Mom looks stunning!

Back home in the fall, Mom was dating Dan again just before he joined the military on October 14, 1942. Below, Dan in uniform but without his shirt.

Mother didn’t know it yet, but when Dan left, she was pregnant. She would make that discovery a few weeks after Dan was already gone. In the photos above and below, I can see my brother and my nephew’s faces so clearly.

Like so many young couples, Dan took a leave from the service as soon as he could, came home, and Mom and Dan were married, not in Indiana, but in Joliet, Illinois. I suspect this location was chosen to cover the fact that their child was “premature” and that the pregnancy predated the marriage. Today, there is little or no judgement about couples living together before marriage, but at that time, this “situation” was embarrassing for everyone involved, with a great deal of condemnation for the young woman.

Would Mom and Dan have married otherwise? I don’t know, but suspect probably not, since they hadn’t already married and seemed to have been living very different lives. Dan stayed at home on the farm and Mom was dancing and touring. She obviously came home to say goodbye to Dan, given the timing involved. Maybe it was the uniform!

Unfortunately, they spent very little time together as husband and wife, because Dan had already shipped out. Mom stayed home with her parents to wait when they received a small bundle of joy in the form of John who was born while Dan was serving his country. Mom continued to live at home with her parents and wait for Dan’s return. His tour of duty wasn’t scheduled to end until October of 1945 – but things would change long before that.

Oh, those garter belts. They were just awful, torturous devices, but if you wanted to wear hose before panty hose came along in the 1970s, this was the only way to do it.

Today, it might look like Mom is posting for a pinup photo, but she probably wasn’t as it would have been considered VERY risqué. Hose were a luxury and a rarity during wartime, so it’s very likely that Dan actually brought Mom these hose and she is showing off the fact that she has hose to wear. I don’t know, but suspect this photo may have been taken when they were married.

1943 – John Arrives

Clearly, Mom didn’t dance in 1943, as she was busy with other things, namely one named John.

Dan and Mom holding John right after he was born.

A Sad Divorce

Sadly for Mom, Dan and John, the stress of being young and apart was too much for the young couple to survive, and their marriage deteriorated before Dan came home from the war, although their divorce was not final until in 1946. In reality, they never had the opportunity to live as a married couple. Perhaps if they had, the outcome might have been different.

When Dan came home on leave shortly after John’s birth, it became obvious that marriage wasn’t the answer. Ironically, mother said very little about this time. However, given the small town grapevine environment, I heard both sides, from multiple people, and let’s just say that being married to each other simply wasn’t going to work.

At that point, Mother knew that she had to go to work because she had a young child to support and she realized no husband was going to be “marching home” from the war. The divorce decree only called for $4 per week child support, and they had been living apart for their entire married life, so child support for John didn’t begin until he was three when his parents’ divorce was final. Otherwise, it fell to Mom and my grandparents.

Dan filed for divorce when he was discharged from the service in 1945, and custody of John was agreed to be awarded to Mom’s parents, John and Edith Ferverda. Mom had already gone to Chicago to dance, the only thing she could do to earn enough to support herself and her son.

The hard feelings and divisions generated between individuals and families during this time never healed.

Dan came home, married his second wife and settled down to farm. Mom continued to dance in Chicago, but a sense of sorrow had inched its way into her heart and she became very sad, missing her child, wanting a life she couldn’t have, and feeling consuming guilt about her parents suffering the consequences of her choices. She couldn’t win, but she never stopped trying.


I asked mother one time if she had any regrets. Her first answer didn’t really surprise me, but her second and third ones did.

Little did I know what a landmine this question would turn out to be. It’s also the perfect, or imperfect, lesson in how things aren’t always as they seem.

The First Regret – Not Enough Time With Johnny

Mom said that she was sorry that she hadn’t been able to spend more time at home with “Johnny” when he was little. She did not want to leave to dance, but it was the only skill she had and she felt that she owed it to my grandparents. I know she felt incredibly guilty, and not without some encouragement from my grandmother about the fact that her parents were burdened with raising her child.

I never knew the rest of the story until I found the papers in her suitcase and John revealed the story he had been told by his father after he found papers in the attic when he was about 10 years old, which didn’t exactly match the story conveyed by legal documents in the suitcase. These two events occurred within about a month’s time of each other, during and after mother’s death. In other words, too late to ask her any questions – but at an incredibly emotional juncture.

It was a shocking revelation, at least to me.

At one time, Mom and Dan jointly agreed to adopt John privately to a physician and his wife in Chicago, but both sets of grandparents petitioned the court, together, to prevent the adoption.

Eventually, the stigma of being a “bad mother,” meaning willing to place her son for adoption, was laid on mother’s shoulders alone. Dan disavowed his part in the decision when approached by John after John found the papers in the attic, claiming that he had no knowledge of the adoption because he was in the service at the time. However, the court papers were in the “suitcase of life.” Dan had been discharged from the service and he, along with mother, JOINTLY agreed, before the court disallowed the adoption, granting custody to my grandparents who subsequently raised John.

Perhaps John’s question caught Dan unprepared. Nonetheless, his answer irreparably damaged both John and his relationship with mother.

Dan lived nearby with his new family, paying $4 a week in child support. Mother danced in Chicago, lived with the dance troupe, in essence with a house-mother in a supervised facility, and sent her money home to her parents for John.

No More Shame

That judgmental mantle of guilt and shame because the parents were willing to place a child for adoption should never have been laid on anyone’s shoulders, and certainly not on mother’s alone. Mother and Dan were doing what they jointly thought best for John under the circumstances. The fact that the grandparents prevented the adoption cast mother in a villainous light and haunted her forever, especially after Dan managed to “forget” his role, leaving mother to suffer alone.

I feel compelled to state unequivocally that placing a child for adoption is not the manifestation of the absence of love – it’s often the demonstration of a greater love for the child. It’s the essence of doing what is right for the child, no matter how badly the mother, or parents, wish that circumstances were different. Unfortunately, in mother’s case, she was condemned for both being willing to place her child for adoption, and for not placing the child for adoption and burdening her parents with that child. John resented her for both choices, but never shared with mother why he was so cold and bitter towards her, while his father was absolved and cast himself in the role of co-victim along with John. Mother was never afforded the opportunity to provide an explanation, or her side of the story. My brother only heard one side, and it wasn’t complimentary towards mother.

Clearly, in retrospect, it would have been better if this chapter hadn’t been kept secret by all parties involved. Mom could have shared the reasons why they thought adoption would have been a better option for John, but how to you explain that adoption doesn’t mean that the child “wasn’t wanted.” Perhaps John could have understood that the choice didn’t reflect that his mother didn’t love him. But then of course, in the telling of that part of the story, the rest of the “shame” story would have emerged – you know – like sex before marriage. Of course, for whatever reason, the majority of the “shame” falls to the female who was sinful and didn’t resist, while desiring sex is “normal” for males in a time and place that still embraced very Puritan thinking.

This part of the story has too long been shrouded in shame. Shame of having sex before marriage. Shame of having to “go away” to get married. Shame of dancing, especially in an extremely conservative community and family. Further shame of going to Chicago and dancing professionally. Shame of being beautiful and NOT being correspondingly demure about it. Shame of, god-forbid, wearing makeup to make yourself even more beautiful and irresistible to men. Shame of having an illegitimate child. Shame of even considering adoption, let alone beginning down that path. Shame of having to have your family “stop the adoption,” and finally, shame of being labeled as “unfit,” alone, with the husband who also agreed to the adoption later utilizing that joint decision to turn the child against the you.

Dan and his wife both encouraged John to have some level of relationship with mother, “because she is your mother,” which probably unintentionally continued the narrative of mother being unworthy. He should continue the relationship even though she didn’t really deserve it.

I’m done with shame. I recognize mother for her brave decisions. She was human. She did the very best she could under the circumstances, for all of the right reasons and continued to do so in the face of insurmountable barriers. I’m sorry she had to live with such toxic judgement and I’m ending that cycle here and now. No more shame. Mother had nothing to be ashamed of. Full stop.

Mother clearly loved John as was evidenced throughout my life. Enough to have him, enough to keep him, enough to choose adoption when she thought that would be best for HIM, not her. Enough to send money home to support him and to spend as much time in Silver Lake as possible, withstanding the wagging tongues of shame that never stopped. Enough to make him things, food he loved, attend his functions and all of the grandma events too. And ultimately, enough to leave him fully half of her estate at her death. She never understood why her affection was not returned in kind, but it didn’t matter – she loved him unconditionally, chalking it up to “John just being John.”

The Second Regret – Not Enough Education

Secondly, Mom regretted that she had not gone to business school or college, and that she had been too fearful to go after high school. She already felt guilty about the sacrifices the family made for her dancing, and didn’t dare to ask for anything more. Mom felt that if she had attended college, then she would have had the skills to be able to stay in Silver Lake with John and would never needed to leave to dance, starting that cascading effect.

It’s amazing to me that the stage didn’t frighten her one bit, but fear of the unknown, of college or “business school” which is what women who insisted on obtaining a higher education were encouraged to attend at that time prevented her from furthering her education. Changing that one decision would have made such a tremendous difference in her life.

Third Regret – Not Trying Harder With Dan

Third, surprisingly, Mom said she was sorry that she and Dan didn’t try harder to work things out. I would say that this regret is tied to the other two.

Mom and Dan were never able to live together to even attempt to have a marriage in anything but name alone. By the time Dan got out of service, their marriage had suffered from separation and youth, and was unrepairable.

According to my grandfather and cousins, Dan had come home on leave and not told Mom he was home. My grandfather was quite surprised to run into Dan, in the company of another female, and the situation deteriorated from there, as one might imagine. I heard Dan’s side of the story from others, and it didn’t resemble the same story at all. His story was focused on Mom going to Chicago to dance, not on what caused her to go to Chicago. Regardless, the situation was quite sad because what began as a high school romance became a classic tragedy. A beautiful ballerina, war, broken hearts, a child, infidelity, a divorce and a tragic death. All the makings of a soap opera.

Except this soap opera was mother’s real life.

The Three Great Griefs

All I can say from the distance of decades and a long generation is that mother was very hurt by what she perceived as betrayal while she waited for Dan to return. She felt terribly vulnerable and alone. While she was the woman shamed for being pregnant out of wedlock, he was a hero fighting for his country. There were no options for single women at that time, except to quickly marry someone, anyone.

I know she loved Dan and truly wanted that marriage to work. Discovering that your husband was home on leave, and you didn’t know, must have been devastating, especially under the circumstances.

The loss of her marriage was one of the three “great griefs” mother encountered between the beginning and end of WWII. The unraveling of her marriage which had at one time seemed so full of hope unraveled the rest of her life along with it, leaving her as a single mother in a time when women had very few viable options. At least she had one – she could dance.

Mom hated the fact that her parents were burdened with raising John, but there was no other alternative. She could not raise John alone in Chicago and there were no jobs in Silver Lake. Her parents had chosen to raise John by stopping the adoption, but proceeded to complain about his behavior, hoping mother could intercede.

Sadly, my brother came to view my mother’s absence as both abandonment and rejection. He dreaded her frequent visits as she tried to convince him to “shape up” for my grandparents. The phrase “wait until your father comes home” apparently had “mother” in place of father at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother complained incessantly to mother about how difficult John was to raise – even though they had petitioned the court for exactly that situation. There were no winners – only losers.

The story conveyed by my brother’s valentine to his mother detailing the myriad ways that he got into trouble sums the situation up pretty well.

The second grief was the death of Buster in 1945, for which Mom blamed herself, and indirectly Dan because she would not have been traveling to dance if her marriage had any prayer of being solvent. Buster was the only “person” to love mom unconditionally and without criticism or judgement.

The third great grief, another death, happened while mother lived in Chicago. Mother found a new love, Frank Sadowski, her hope for the future, who died tragically, fighting for his country just before the end of the war.

You can read about Frank in the following articles:

Frank Sadowski (1921-1945), Almost My Father – 52 Ancestors #73
Frank’s Ring Goes Home – 52 Ancestors #106
Sadowski WWII Scrapbooks, Salvaged From Trash Heap, 52 Ancestors #149Frank Sadowski Jr. – Bravery Under Fire, 52 Ancestors #162

Warning – you’ll need an entire box of Kleenex!

In essence, Mom lost two men to the war, in two very different, tragic, ways. Her son wasn’t adopted, but she lost his love just the same. I often wonder how different John’s life would have been had that adoption been granted. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so hurt, resentful and bitter. Discovering that his “mother” had tried to “give him away behind his father’s back” colored his perspective, incorrectly, for the rest of his life, and hers.

The Next Decade

Mom never fully recovered from the war years and the three great griefs. She carried her regrets forever, but she put one foot in front of the other and marched forward. That’s who she was. These tragedies helped form that resilient part of her.

Mom continued to dance in Chicago and throughout the eastern half of the country for the next decade before meeting my father.

But first, she would meet and marry a one…nope, nope, I can’t tell you. You’ll have to join me in a future article for Mom’s next decade, as told by the “suitcase of life” and my subsequent genealogical sleuthing.

Believe me, mom’s life was full of surprises!

Pass the DNA, Please

I know that sometimes understanding who inherits what kind of DNA from whom can be confusing, especially with four kinds of DNA to keep track of.

Let’s Make This Easy

In a nutshell:

  • Y DNA is passed from the father to male children only (blue boxes). This is the paternal surname line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is passed from women to all of their children, but only females pass it on (red circles).

  • Half of each parent’s autosomal DNA (chromosomes 1-22) inherited from ancestral lines, meaning all lines shown above, is passed to each child – but not the same exact half is passed to different children.
  • The X chromosome has a distinct inheritance pattern that is helpful to genealogists, but is often confused with mitochondrial DNA.

You can read about the X chromosome’s unique inheritance path in the article X Matching and Mitochondrial DNA is Not the Same Thing, along with some helpful fan charts.

Let’s look at this a different way.

Mother Passes DNA to Children

Father Passes DNA to Children

Ordering Tests

You can order any of the various DNA tests, including matching to other testers, from the following vendors:

I recommend that you test with or transfer to each of the vendors.

Autosomal Transfers

Have you already taken an autosomal DNA test and want to transfer between vendors? Here’s a handy-dandy chart for you.

Note that while Family Tree DNA does accept the Ancestry V2 chip, as well as the 23andMe V4 chip, because they are incompatible platforms, you’ll only see your closest matches, meaning about 20% of the total matches you would receive if you tested on Family Tree DNA’s own chip. For that reason, I generally recommend testing at Family Tree DNA unless you tested on an earlier chip version at one of those vendors.

For more information about transfers, including when the various chips were in use, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

The Science Behind the Golden State Killer – Insitome Podcast

Please join Spencer Wells, Founder and CEO of Insitome, former Director of the Genographic Project and Explorer in Residence at National Geographic, Razib Khan, Director of Scientific Content at Insitome and yours truly as we discuss the science behind the Golden State Killer case.

I would like to thank Spencer and Razib for inviting me to join them today. It was fun discussing the case itself and the possible ramifications to this entire industry. I was going to add, “in the future,” but the future is here.

The Golden State Killer case is remarkable because of the combined techniques used to solve the crime which include DNA, genealogy and associated data bases in addition to traditional investigative work.

As Spencer Wells says in the podcast, this case is “Sherlock Holmesian.” What a movie this will make one day!

I wrote about this topic a few days ago in the article, The Golden State Killer and DNA.

How did all of these techniques work together to identify a suspect? How does the actual science work? Is it accurate? Are there issues? What about privacy concerns with more than 17 million people having already participated in direct to consumer testing?

Yes, more than 17 million at the end of 2017 – probably more than 20 million now and maybe 30 million by year end. Razib weighs in on how many is enough for forensic testing.

Learn about the underlying science and hear what Spencer and Razib, both geneticists, have to say.

Please join us at any of the following links:

For those who might not be aware, Spencer’s company, Insitome, doesn’t offer DNA testing for matching, so can’t be used for law enforcement purposes.

Insitome does offer Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism DNA testing. In fact, the Mother’s Day pricing is 60% off of their Regional Ancestry test which provides you with your regional ethnicity for $49.


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Great News – It’s Time for the Mother’s Day DNA Sale

Nothing lifts the spirits after a long, and I do mean LONG, cold winter like springtime and along with flowers and warm sunshine, a Mother’s Day Sale.

Have you tested your Mom’s DNA yet? How about your father’s Mom? Did you know you can test your father’s mother (if she can’t test) through your father?

Matrilineal Line – Mitochondrial

Women give their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only female children pass it on!

In the pedigree chart below, you can see that the daughter’s mitochondrial DNA is inherited from her mother, on up the pink line. A son would inherit his mitochondrial DNA from his mother just like the daughter.

The father received his mitochondrial DNA (heart) from his magenta mother, on up that line. Follow the heart color for the mitochondrial lineage.

You and your Mom share the same mitochondrial DNA (except for an occasional mutation,) so if you’ve already tested yourself or a maternal sibling for mitochondrial, you don’t need to test Mom too.

Autosomal DNA – Finding Cousins

However, that’s not the case for autosomal DNA. Testing both or even just one of your parents makes a world of difference in your own test results, especially at Family Tree DNA where your matches are “bucketed” into maternal and paternal match lists, when possible.

See my 644 maternal matches automatically bucketed below? Those are possible because my mother has tested her autosomal too. Not only that, but if my mother wasn’t available, I could still receive maternally bucketed matches by testing other relatives as distant as third cousins on my mother’s side and linking their test results on my tree.

Everyone Loves Sale Prices!

With the Mother’s Day Sale, it’s a great time to purchase a DNA test for Mom, grandma, aunts or other relatives in to learn more about maternal DNA and genealogy. I often purchase DNA kits for family members to learn about specific ancestors – and this would be a great time to do just that for one of your female lines.

At Family Tree DNA, the mitochondrial full sequence test is on sale for just $149, and the Family Finder autosomal test is just $59, or you can purchase the two together and save another $9 for the bundled price of $199.

To order a new test for someone, just click here!

Order now and you can have a swab party on Mother’s Day, May 13th. That would certainly be unique.

Want to Upgrade?

Have you already purchased the lower level HVR1/HVR2 mitochondrial DNA test and would like to upgrade and expand your DNA horizons? That’s wonderful, because upgrades aren’t often on sale, and right now the upgrade to full sequence is just $99, no matter which lower level you’ve already taken!

To upgrade, you’ll need to click here to sign in to your account and click on the blue “upgrade” button.


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

The Golden State Killer and DNA

Joseph DeAngelo, 2018 mugshot, alleged Golden State Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think it’s important to do three things:

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

The Case

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

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

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

Initial Concerns

Initially, two questions were being asked.

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

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

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

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


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

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

DNA Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GedMatch Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Matches

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

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

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

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

However, not all brick walls are in the past.

Adoptee and Parental Search Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Golden State Killer

Ok, back to the Golden State Killer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperation or Search Warrant

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Rub?

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

So why are some people upset?

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

Some people have broader reaching concerns about privacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results were:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not Just Your DNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GedMatch’s Statement

GedMatch has posted the following statement.

Testing in the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Decision

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

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

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