About Roberta Estes

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

William Sterling Estes and the Backwards Tombstone, 52 Ancestors #209

You know, I was already feeling bad enough that I hadn’t been back to visit my father’s grave, but then…well…this. My father’s life, it seems, was never straightforward and was always twisted around, backwards, and confusing. Dad hasn’t changed one iota, not even now in death.

His grave is backwards. Seriously.

You know, I swear…I think he was laughing at me!

The “Accident”

My father, William Sterling Estes, died following an automobile accident on August 27, 1963, in Jay County, Indiana where he lived with my step-mother, Virgie.

It was just a week before the beginning of my third grade year. For many reasons, none of which I understood at the time, I was not allowed to attend his funeral. Back then, children were often “protected” from sadness and death, but retrospectively, that was a very bad idea. For years, I never really believed he was dead.

The following summer, Virgie invited me to visit and I went to Dunkirk for a week.

I adored Virgie. She was a lovely, kind woman and I looked forward to spending time with her. She told me stories about my father, some of which I never forgot. All of which I wish someone had written down.

Her mother, “Grandma,” who lived with Virgie, was the grandmother I never had and spent long hours reading to me, playing Barbie, making doll clothes and telling me fascinating stories about the cards I viewed through a stereoscopic viewer, like the one below.

Grandma, born in 1878, was a bit more reserved and didn’t say much about Dad at all, except for a grunt now and again which I found interesting, but I didn’t exactly know how to interpret. Grandma was very kind to me and I have very fond memories of long hot summer afternoons spent playing with Grandma. She was one of the few adults that actually had time and enjoyed spending it with children.

I think her own grandchildren had grown up far too fast for her liking.

Hidden Messages

My mother and father hadn’t seen eye-to-eye for years, to put it mildly. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that he was married to another woman at the same time, but I’m just guessing😊

After being divorced from both women, however that worked, he then married Virgie, his teenage sweetheart from when he was enlisted in WWI, on April 24, 1961.

While my mother had absolutely nothing nice to say about my father, when she said anything at all, Virgie had nothing bad to say about him. Virgie truly loved and cherished my father. I’m glad, I think he really needed that.

Dad left Virgie love notes scattered in hiding places around the house. She found them for years after his death, tucked behind photos in frames and other out-of-the-way places.

Dad’s death was ruled an accident, but retrospectively, I believe it was a suicide based on what his employer, ironically, the funeral director, told me and things Mom said combined with tidbits like those loving mementos. If you didn’t plan on “leaving,” why hide things for someone to find after you were gone?

The First Cemetery Visit

My visit during the summer of 1964 was spent talking with Virgie about Dad. We both missed him.

We spent time going back to the places we three had visited together, like the VFW post. Dad and Virgie played the two slots that sat on the end of the bar, and Dad let me pull the handle. I thought that was loads of fun, especially when it was followed by that nice clanging sound! What fun. Mother would have had a fit.

Everything however, wasn’t fun and games.

Virgie took me to visit the IOOF Cemetery where Dad is buried. I recall that the grave she showed me that summer didn’t have a headstone. Virgie explained that when Dad’s sister, Aunt Margaret, whom I had never met, came from California to visit, they would select a headstone together.

I stood looking at the barren dirt that marked the location of the grave that Virgie told me belonged to my Dad. It seems so raw, so unkempt. The grass was just beginning to grow over the barren grave in raggedy tufts. The earth was still mounded up, washed round by rain but quite pregnant with a casket underneath. In there, Dad’s body.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

I desperately wanted to reach out those few feet to touch him one more time, but I couldn’t. Standing there in the glaring sun, looking at the all-too-silent grave of my father ripped my heart out. I had no idea a child could feel grief so profoundly. Tears streamed down my face in the searing heat. My heart ached too badly to even sob. I just stood trance-like as the waterfall tears wouldn’t stop.

Was Daddy really there? Really dead? If anyone would have told me the truth, surely Virgie would have. I didn’t want to believe it.

At Virgie’s house, the cemetery was visible from the end of the street. She allowed me to walk across the field to the cemetery. I could find Dad’s grave, because it was in the new row, towards the back, closest to the house.

I walked to the cemetery every day, a heartbroken little girl. I sat and talked to Dad, and cried, for hours, as curious cemetery-goers looked on but eventually left me alone again. I missed what we had, Dad’s visits, fishing, our special coffee each morning which was mostly milk and sugar with a splash of coffee for color. I grieved for what we would never have.

I grieved and grieved and grieved with no respite.

The Accident

Virgie told me little about the accident, other than Dad had hit a pole after having a heart attack. At 8, that’s all I needed to know.

She never told me the rest of the story, if she even knew it herself.

The unanswered question wasn’t so much his official cause of death, but why he had the accident in the first place.

What Virgie did say is that his last words, in the hospital before he passed away at 1:10 AM, were about me. Messages of love and encouragement, telling me to never give up and to graduate. I assumed then that he meant high school, but Dad may have had far more in mind.

A Decade+ Later

Virgie wrote letters to both me and Mom over the years, but the next time I would see her would be more than a decade later. In true Hoosier fashion, I just decided to drive to Dunkirk one day a few weeks after my son was born. I wanted to see Virgie and to visit Dad’s grave.

Truth be known, I wanted share my baby with Dad.

I had slowly come to believe that Dad probably was dead. Not because my mother or even Virgie told me so, but because I knew he would never willingly stay away from me that long if he had any choice.

I had also grown up, matured and realized that just because I didn’t want him to be dead was no reason to believe that he wasn’t. 99% of me believed that he was gone. But then, there was that skeptical 1% that still stopped and stared at men who resembled him – to the point of approaching a man on the sidewalk just a couple years earlier, my heart pounding so hard I thought it would burst through my chest.

I wish I had been allowed to say goodbye in the casket.

Calling Virgie in advance to ask if a visit was convenient, for some reason, never dawned on me. She was family – of course it was OK.

I pulled up to Virgie’s house in my bright red Chevy and knocked on the door. Cars were parked outside, and she was hosting a ladies’ card luncheon. She graciously introduced me and her grandbaby that she had never seen before. The women, grandmothers all, ooed and awed. After Virgie finished her hostessing, we caught up on news for awhile before I suggested that we take a ride to the cemetery.

Dad had been gone a decade. The grass had long ago covered the scar of his burial. The earth recovered, flattening itself, as if nothing had gone wrong.

Why was there still no stone on his grave? Aunt Margaret obviously came and went, if she had come at all.

At that time, I was in no position myself to purchase a headstone. It was all I could handle to buy baby formula and diapers.

A headstone in place would have quenched that tiny flame of doubt, but it wasn’t to be.

Another Three Decades

Time passed, life changed. As they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans.

I did graduate from high school and then college with degrees in computer science, a field completely foreign to my father’s world. I left Indiana as a single parent for an opportunity working for a think tank. My trips back to Indiana were to visit my Mom and step-father on the much beloved farm.

The raw urgency of my father’s death had faded and was now only a distant ache, and sometimes a painful stab. Dunkirk wasn’t close to or on the way to anyplace.

I still wrote to Virgie from time to time, always pleased to receive her letters which took me back to a much gentler time and place. She was a lovely lady.

When I remarried, she wrote that she was having health issues and trouble leaving the house for shopping and such, so there would be no wedding present. I didn’t care about presents, but I did care about her letters, and her, and told her as much.

I wanted to see Virgie again and called her from time to time, but in 1989, Virgie died.

After Virgie’s death, her daughter found items of my fathers and sent them to me. I am forever grateful for receiving the veteran’s flag that was placed on his casket at his funeral, then folded and presented to the widow. Oh how I wish I had been present.

Virgie had shown me something signed by President Kennedy after my father died, and now that “something” was mine.

Virgie’s daughter also sent 11 love letters that Virgie received from my Dad when he was young and in service – when they first met in 1919. Virgie saved these for 42 years, thinking of course that she would never see him again, let alone marry him one day. Love letters that would steal your heart, written in his own hand. Hers to cherish then, and mine decades later.

Reading those letters, I understood why they had married 42 years later and why she missed him so desperately. She used to tell me that no matter what anyone told me, he wasn’t all bad, and that no one understood the things that had happened to him. She was right, I had absolutely no idea and wouldn’t for several more years.

2003

In 2003, 40 years after my father died, Virgie’s daughter found a letter from Aunt Margaret, written in 1978, to Virgie. It was this letter, written some 15 years after my father’s death, and coming into my possession another quarter century later that finally shed light on the hole in my father’s soul. That letter is the subject of a future article and it’s a bombshell, believe me.

About this same time, I asked Virgie’s daughter if she could show me where my father was buried, convinced that I would never be able to find it myself. She graciously agreed, and I traveled to Dunkirk.

We met at the cemetery. I had presumed that when Virgie died, that she and my father would share a headstone, but I was wrong.

Virgie did have a stone, beside my father’s grave, but he still had no stone. I was both shocked and saddened and couldn’t help but wonder why.

Virgie’s daughter suggested that we request a military stone based on his service. I didn’t realize that military stones were available. She contacted the funeral home and was informed that they would order the stone, and the family was only responsible for having it set once the stone arrived.

Dad would finally, finally, 40 years after his death, have a marked grave.

Meeting Elizabeth Wilson Ballard

I had meant to visit again shortly after the headstone was placed, but once again, life simply got in the way. Mother became ill, passed away, and suffice it to say, I simply didn’t make it back to Dunkirk. At least, not until this summer.

My 52 Ancestors series has had the effect on me of highlighting unfinished business in terms of research. However, in this case, the unfinished business was visiting my father’s grave.

I was making a trip back to Indiana for research in Fort Wayne, a trip to visit mother’s grave and a class reunion – fully aware that that trip was probably my last trip back – except perhaps to the library in Fort Wayne.

I refer to this as the “Goodbye Tour,” like rock stars😊

For me, in many ways, it was about unfinished business.

After a highly emotionally couple of days, I was messaging back and forth with a genealogy friend from Indiana, Elizabeth Wilson Ballard who writes at Diggin’ Up Graves.

Elizabeth asked where I was, and did I want to meet in person to say hello. I did, but it occurred to me that she was actually relatively close to the cemetery where my father is buried – and what better thing to do with a fellow genealogist.

We agree to meet for lunch, and then drive cross-country on an adventure.

The Cross Country Journey

Indiana farmland is a lot more fun with someone else in the car. Elizabeth and I had never met personally before, but we are convinced that somehow we are related and just can’t figure out how. “Sisters from another Mister,” as Elizabeth quips. Our conversation picked up like we were old acquaintances and had never not known each other.

Using our phones for navigation, we set out cross-country for Dunkirk and the cemetery. My father’s grave is listed on Find-A-Grave, so I at least had an idea of where the cemetery was located.

Leaving Cracker Barrell, the first thing we found was a pink farm, or better stated, a B&B with pink outbuildings. We laughed and joked about how they gave directions, such as, “When you see the pink barns you’re there. Yes, really, you REALLY CANNOT MISS IT.”

And then we laughed all over again.

Comic relief perhaps, but the cornfields and scarecrows felt good as we laughed and chatted our way across the Indiana backroads.

As we approached the cemetery area, from the country side, our tone became more somber, in part, because we had to pay close attention to find the cemetery since we were approaching from the backroads side.

In part, because we both knew what was lurking ahead and neither of us really knew quite what to expect.

The Cemetery

Finding the cemetery was a bit comical. Two experienced genealogists really shouldn’t have had this much trouble, but the corn was high and the address was not available from Find-A-Grave so we were doing what I call “dead reckoning.”

I had always approached the IOOF Oddfellows Cemetery from within Dunkirk, and I knew it was within sight of Virgie’s house. But that wasn’t how we arrived. The GPS had a mind of its own.

On the map below, you can see the location of Virgie’s house marked with the red pin, along with the cemetery directly across the field to the west, with the curved end. That part is new and did not exist when my father was buried.

I couldn’t remember where Dad’s grave was located, except that it wasn’t near the county road, and it was near an internal road. It was at the back of the cemetery in 1964.

I looked for the stones that showed burial dates of 1963 and finally found him in the quadrant below with the red arrow.

Finding Dad’s Grave

Finding Dad’s grave in the cemetery was somewhat more of a challenge. We finally found it by finding Virgie’s stone, which was larger and her name faced the main road, or west, as you see it below. This is what we saw driving down the internal cemetery road from the main county road.

The “other” side of Virgie’s stone, which I would have considered the front, is where the dates are carved, and that side faces towards her house, or east.

Before we move on, I want to mark the location of Dad’s stone for posterity. I don’t know who would ever want to visit, all things considered, but if someone does, the red arrow below is pointing to his stone.

Here’s the location from a different perspective.

In the cemetery, you’ll notice that Dad’s small white stone is directly behind and to the right of the red McGraw stone, and to the left of the Brown stone when driving in from the main road.

Here’s my vehicle parked in front of the spruce tree in the photo, at the intersection of the little cemetery roads inside the cemetery. You can see the red McGraw stone directly behind my rear bumper.

Ummm, But Where’s Dad?

Ok, now we found the stone, but where is Dad actually buried? And why would I even ask a question like this? It’s obvious, isn’t it?

Nope!

Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is that while Virgie and Dad both have carving on the front (West) side where his dates are carved, Virgie’s birth and death dates are carved on the “other” (East) side. His East side is blank, above.

Which begs the question of where the bodies are buried.

What the heck???

This is beginning to sound like a murder mystery, not cemetery stomping!

I thought burials were on the “date” side, so you’re standing on their head as you look at their birth and death dates. After all, it’s called a headstone.

And regardless, if it’s the other way around, and they are buried on the back side, you’d think it would at least be consistent in the same cemetery. And if not in the same cemetery, at LEAST consistent with a couple who share the same burial plot? But their dates are carved on opposite sides.

What happened?

And where are they actually buried?

Clearly, one is not buried on one side and one on the other, so one is buried on the date side and the other is buried on the “other” side – since I’m making a leap of faith here and assuming that they are actually both buried side by side on the same side.

Elizabeth and I were both confused, and we were not leaving without figuring this out.

But how does one do that?

Thank goodness we were the Genealogy Dynamic Duo!

Sleuthing

The first thing we did was to look around at the other graves. If you look behind me as I’m leaning against Dad’s grave (the blank East side), you’ll notice that the stones behind me aren’t consistent either.

Rats!

We realized that some graves have flat stones that look to be between graves, which was very confusing. A grave consumes a certain amount of space.

However, I walked until I found a flat one that was a footstone for the headstone in the same row as Dad’s grave. AHA!

This footstone confirmed that the bodies were buried on the “back side,” meaning the side with Virgie’s dates and the side that is blank on my Dad’s stone, that I’m leaning against, above. So I was sitting on Dad in that picture.

Why the heck would someone set the stones for a couple differently? Why would they set Dad’s stone with his body on the blank side, and Virgie’s the opposite? Her’s was already in place when they placed his. Wouldn’t they have faced it the same way?

Elizabeth remembered that she had been told that cemeteries always face the east so that when the Rapture comes, the bodies will “rise up” from the graves facing east. If this is the case, then Dad’s head is indeed at the headstone, right where this headstone/footstone grave down the row would seem to indicate. And true to the religious custom, if he stood straight up out of his grave, he would be facing east.

So this is where Dad is actually buried, below, at the back of his marker.

NOT on the date side (below). All I can say is that I’m EXTREMELY glad I didn’t exhume Dad for DNA testing, given the possible confusion. Whoever considered that he might have been buried on the OTHER side of the tombstone?

I hadn’t thought about taking flowers, since this visit was very much a spur-of-the-moment event, so Elizabeth and I picked some wildflowers and decorated their graves as best we could. No, these are not weeds. Weeds are a matter of perspective:)

I can tell that Virgie’s family comes to visit her grave.

Dad’s grave looks naked by comparison.

Truthfully, I still wasn’t convinced, so after returning home, I called the funeral home and the cemetery sextant. When I said I was confused, they both started laughing. Apparently there is no consistency and yes, the bodies ARE BURIED, at least in this section, on the east side of the markers.

So, Dad is buried on the blank side and Virgie is buried on the date side and they are buried side by side. That explains why the little angels and things her family leaves sit on that side of the stone.

For the record, I did inquire as to how much it would cost to turn his tombstone around. I never heard back after three calls, so I’m not going to have it rotated. However, if anyone should ever visit and discover that it has been turned, someone did a veteran a favor.

One mystery solved, but now a difficult decision.

To Go or Not to Go?

My father died by suicide. I didn’t know that until I was an adult. I found the newspaper article and using Google maps, I had determined where his accident occurred.

When I was a child, clearly Virgie never discussed this nor took me to the place that claimed his life.

As an adult, should I go or not?

Grief is an exceptionally private emotion – especially when it involves suicide. So many thoughts swirl through your brain.

Elizabeth already knew about the circumstances of my father’s death, and she and I had previously talked about all sorts of difficult topics, of which suicide was only one. Her understanding, nonjudgmental presence was comforting to me.

Was I prepared to see where my father died?

Did I even want to?

I knew it was either now or never.

What would it be?

I asked Elizabeth her opinion, as we sat in my car in the cemetery, beside my father’s grave.

If I could have only turned and asked him why.

Elizabeth and I discussed the pros and cons, and eventually reached the consensus that I should “go for it” and that we were both mentally prepared. Neither of us quite knew what to expect. How do you prepare for something like that?

How could I anticipate how I would feel? It’s not something I’ve ever done before – and not something I ever want to have to do again either.

The first thing I did, however, was to drive to where I thought I remembered Virgie’s house being located.

Virgie’s House

I remembered, as a child, walking from Virgie’s house, directly down the street, across the field, to the cemetery. It was a straight shot. As I drove to where I thought it was, I was rewarded with this vision. This is the same view I remember from those hot summer days that I spent sitting beside my father’s grave.

I drove on down the street and indeed, found Virgie’s house. It looks a lot different today, of course, but it’s still the same house. That window above the kitchen was the upstairs bedroom where I slept. I pretended it was a fun secret room in a castle.

The porch looked so familiar. Grandma and I used to sit there, fanning ourselves during the heat of the day. Sometimes Grandma would read and I would sew my Barbie clothes, with her looking on watchfully, of course. The address on the porch confirms that indeed, it’s 202 Shadyside.

Mt. Auburn at Main

My father died at the location of Mt. Auburn and Main. The newspaper article about his death stated that he “was traveling westbound on Mt. Auburn at the time of the accident and his car struck a pole 100 feet west of North Main Street.

Please note that my name is listed incorrectly as Barbara, his half-sister is listed as his step-sister, all of his other siblings are omitted as are other children.

Using Google maps, I had already determined that the pole he hit was the one at the location of the grey pin on the map, below, far left. What looks like a street where the pole is located is actually an alley.

Once again, Elizabeth navigated using her phone as I drove.

This time, we proceeded in silence, except for an occasional “turn right” or “turn left.”

Sitting at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Main, I can see the pole in the distance in the alley, beside the yellow garage and behind the trash container, dead center ahead. This would have been where he sat, or didn’t, those last few fateful minutes.

I felt like I was in a time warp. There it was.

Looking up the street, there isn’t another pole that could be hit without going through a house and the article would surely have mentioned hitting a house had that occurred.

No other poles were visible in either direction.

Did he intentionally aim between the houses?

Why this location? Was it a split second decision? Had he been drinking? Or was he remorseful because he had fallen off the wagon.

Or, was there something else? My mother thought that he was ill at the time of his death, based on his health when they lived together. More specifically, she thought he had cancer, but there was no mention of that and he had an autopsy.

Elizabeth and I knew that particular pole was the only candidate, and it was located exactly as the article described. Utility poles aren’t often moved because the wires are attached.

We pulled down the alley.

A fist-sized lump appeared, not in my throat, but in my stomach as we approached.

That pole is old, bearing the scars of many years of climbing. It’s possible that it could be the same pole that was there at the time. Or was the pole was replaced when he hit it?

Looking back from the other side, it’s somehow ironic that red paint had been sprayed on the pole. I know it’s meaningless, but just the same…

Physics of the Accident

Because I’m who I am, I have to understand this.

Dad would have hit the pole from the back side, towards the road and away from the alley. Given the speed involved, I suspect that the pole would have been damaged, and this pole does not seem to bear that kind of scar – although I’m certainly not an expert in utility pole collision damage. Wooden utility poles are generally expected to survive for about 40 years although some last much longer. He died 55 years ago.

How fast was he going, and what would have happened to the pole?

At 40 MPH, your body (and car) are moving at 58 feet per second. This was also before seat belts, so his body would have crashed into the steering wheel, which was moving towards him at the speed in which his car, a Rambler, crashed into the pole. The pole would probably not have fractured at those speeds, according to impact studies, but would clearly have been damaged.

At 40 MPH, his car would have traveled that entire distance of 100 feet between the intersection and the pole in less than two seconds. If he was traveling at 20 MPH, the distance would have taken a total of 3.5 seconds. In a Road and Track article, Lt. Dan Bates says that in older cars, just 20 years ago, one stood a good chance of dying if you were traveling at 20 MPH and had a head-on accident into a stationary object like a pole. Dad didn’t die right away, so he probably wasn’t traveling at a terribly high speed.

This causes me to ponder another question.

If Dad had floored the gas pedal, he would have hit harder and faster – at least I would think so.

Did he change his mind part way through a suicide attempt, but too late to stop?

That thought nauseates me.

Closure

Elizabeth and I sat in the alley for several minutes and discussed the dynamics of the situation – both physical and personal. I’m surprised no one called the police.

She asked me if I was alright. I tend to “go silent” at times like this and just think. My thoughts were swirling and tumbling over each other in a 55-year-delayed grief-filled blizzard of emotions.

I was more saddened by visiting the place that took his life which looks so innocuous than by visiting the cemetery where he is buried. The place where he decided to die. The place where uncontrollable grief and agony of some description overtook him, then took him. The place where the darkness won and death seemed like the best option. The place where his heart ached enough to end his life and remove himself from mine.

I could feel it all, sitting there, just a few days shy of that terrible anniversary – a summer day much like when he pushed that gas pedal, knowing full well what would happen.

Seeing that pole rush towards him – what was he thinking?

All parents pass away eventually. We will all one day have a cemetery to visit, but not everyone has a utility pole. Not everyone has to deal with the knowledge of suicide and wonder why? What pained a loved one that much?

Did he think or know that he was ill and dying? If so, that’s easier to handle than other demons that might have driven him here.

Did he fall off the wagon, again, as Virgie’s daughter suggested, and unable to deal with the guilt, personal disappointment and pain it would cause others, decide to end that never-ending battle with alcohol forever? God, I hope not.

I wonder what might have been different had he lived? How would my life have changed? And would it have been for the better or worse?

Unanswered questions. Unremitting pain and sorrow. But there’s no turning back time. No other road. Just this one – the path he chose.

He’s my father. The childhood me adored him. I love the man I knew.

I ache for his pain and the loss that affected us both so tragically. His pain ended that day, but mine was just beginning.

Heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth, indeed, sister-from-another-mister, for her support and encouragement during the final chapter of this part of my journey.

MyHeritage Step by Step Guide: How to Upload-Download DNA Files

In this Upload-Download Series, we’ll cover each major vendor:

  • How to download raw data files from the vendor
  • How to upload raw data files to the vendor, if possible
  • Other mainstream vendors where you can upload this vendor’s files

Uploading TO MyHeritage

Upload Step 1

To upload your DNA to MyHeritage, click here and then click on the purple “Start” button.

Upload Step 1 If You Already Have an Account at MyHeritage

If you already have an account, click here to sign in and then click on the DNA tab to display the “Upload DNA Data” option which displays the graphic above. Click on the purple “Start” button. This is the same process you’ll use whether it’s the first time you’ve uploaded a kit, or you’re uploading subsequent kits to your account that you’ll be managing.

Upload Step 2

You’ll be prompted to create a free account by entering your name, e-mail and password, and from there you can upload your autosomal DNA file.

You’ll be asked whose DNA you’re uploading and prompted to read and agree to the terms of service and consent.

Click the purple upload button.

Then click done when the file is finished uploading.

You’ll be notified by e-mail within a couple days when the file is finished processing.

Downloading FROM MyHeritage

Download Step 1

Sign on to your MyHeritage account.

Click on DNA on the upper toolbar.

The dropdown menu includes “Manage DNA Kits”

Download Step 2

At the right of the kit you wish to download, click on the three small buttons which will include an option for “Download,” as shown in the graphics below from the MyHeritage blog article.

Download Step 3

You’ll be presented with a box titled “Learn more about DNA data files.” Click the purple “Continue” button.

Download Step 4

You’ll need to confirm that you want to download your data, and that you understand that the download is outside of MyHeritage and their protection. Click the purple “Continue” button.

Download Step 5

You’ll receive a confirmation e-mail. Click on “Click here to continue with download.”

This e-mail link is only valid for 24 hours.

Download Step 6

Enter your password again, and click on the purple “Download” button.

Download Step 7

Save the file as a recognizable file name on your computer.

MyHeritage File Transfers TO Other Vendors

You can upload your MyHeritage file to other vendors, as follows.

From below to >>>>>>>>>>> Family Tree DNA Accepts Ancestry Accepts 23andMe Accepts GedMatch Accepts
MyHeritage Yes No No Yes

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accepts uploads from any vendor.

MyHeritage File Transfers FROM Other Vendors

You can upload files from other vendors to MyHeritage, as follows:

  From Family Tree DNA From Ancestry From 23andMe From LivingDNA
To MyHeritage Yes Yes Yes Yes

Testing and Transfer Strategy

Transferring to MyHeritage is always free. You can view your ethnicity, your matches and their trees, and utilize the DNA tools, but you won’t receive the full benefit of SmartMatching and other records without a subscription. You will be limited to building a tree of 250 people for free, but you can upload a Gedcom file of any size, although you do need to subscribe to change anything in that file if it contains more than 250 individuals.

Until December 1, 2018, all DNA tools will be and remain free for anyone who uploads before that date. After December 1st, matching will remain free, but the advanced tools such as ethnicity, the chromosome browser, triangulation and more will require payment. MyHeritage has not yet indicated how that will work, so upload now to receive free DNA tools forever.

My testing/transfer recommendations are as follows relative to MyHeritage:

Have fun!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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Heinsmann (Heinrich) Muller (<1635 – <1684) of Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #208

The 1684 Miesau, Germany marriage record of Johann Michael Muller, widower, to Irene Liesabetha Heitz identified him as, “Michael Müller, legitimate son of the deceased Heinsmann Müller, resident of Schwartz Matt in the Bern area.” Of course, Bern is in Switzerland.

Thank goodness for the location and name of Michael’s father, because without those tidbits, we would never have found that information and Michael would have been our dead end.

Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland

My trusty friends Chris and Tom drilled down on the available information to determine what could be discovered. Chris says:

“Schwarzmatt” is/was part of the church books of Boltigen.

The Boltigen church books are online here among the Bern area church books:

So it should be possible to verify if there was a Michael Müller, son of a Heinsmann Müller in Schwarzmatt.

Heinsmann is a very unusual name. My friend Chris has been researching the Boltigen Muller family on my behalf and he contacted Konstantin Huber who had searched for the Millers from that area years ago. Konstantin didn’t have additional information about the Boltigen family but did state that “Heinsmann” is a rare, old-fashioned form of “Heinrich” that he has never seen before in the 16th/17th century church books from Switzerland. Hence, he suggests that the original name of Michael Müller`s father in Switzerland may have been “Heinrich” and was maybe changed to or simply recorded as “Heinsmann” in the German Palatinate. Chris believes that with Konstantin`s decades of experience on Swiss emigration to Germany that this is a valid suggestion, and I agree.

Chris continues:

I also found that a daughter of a Müller from Boltigen married in Dudweiler, Sulzbach, Saarland, Germany:

“Am 03.05.1718 wird Anna Magdalena Müller, Tochter des …. Müller aus Boltigen im oberen Simmental, Kanton Bern in der Schweiz, dem Johann Jakob Blatter, Sohn von Michael Blatter und Maria Mögel auf Neuweiler Hof, angetraut.”

On the page http://www.rolf-freytag.de/fhilfe/schweizer.html about Swiss immigrants in Saarland, you will find this in the first half of the page (and a few records below a Hans Stutzmann in Völklingen).

Chris subsequently discovered another document discussing the Muller family in Schwarzenmatt.

In the description of the old house in Schwarzenmatt it is stated on the first page:

“Vor 1615 gab es im Dorf Schwarzenmatt nur wenige Hofstätten. Mit Sicherheit lassen sich bloss deren vier nachweisen, dazu gehörte auch das Haus auf der Kreuzgasse. Wie Eintragungen in den Kirchenbüchern zeigen, besass stets die gleiche Familie Müller dieses Haus, mindestens seit 1700; im Jahr 1872 verkaufte aber David Müller den ganzen Besitz seinem «Tochtermann» Friedrich Bhend, der 1868 von Unterseen nach Schwarzenmatt geheiratet hatte.”

Translated to: “Prior to 1615 there were only few houses in the village Schwarzenmatt. We can only safely verify four, among them the house in the Kreuzgasse. As records in the church books show, this house was always owned by the same family Müller, at least since 1700; but in the year 1872 David Müller sold the entire property to his son-in-law Friedrich Bhendd, who, coming from Unterseen, married to Schwarzenmatt in 1868.”

I am aware this is very weak evidence to assume a relationship to the Michael Müller family, but at the very least it goes to show that a Müller family was among the first in the village Schwarzenmatt.

If Heinsmann/Heinrich is identified as Johann Michael Muller’s father in 1684, and Michael was born in 1655, then we know that Heinsmann was born no later than 1635, and possibly significantly earlier in the 1600s. It’s only 20 years between 1615 and 1635.

What else did Chris find?

Here is a Margaretha Müller, born about 17 December 1696 in Boltigen-Adlemsried. She moved to Bruchsal-Heidelsheim (Northern Wurttemberg, close to the Palatinate), where she married on 6 May 1727 and died on 15 Feb 1728:

https://www.geneal-forum.com/tng/getperson.php?personID=I20189&tree=ce

I looked up the original marriage and burial record, but no further information on her family there.

If Michael Müller was a widower at the time he married Irene Liesabetha Heitz in 1684, who was his first wife? Did she die in Steinwenden or in the area or rather already back in Switzerland? Maybe it is worth to have another close look at those burials in the Miesau church book from 1681 to 1684 to maybe find her there?

Alas, there was nothing more in Miesau.

Tom found a 1681 Boltigen record where one Michael Muller married Anna Andrist.

Is this our Michael, son of Heinsmann/Heinrich? We don’t have any way of knowing. Parents weren’t listed in these early records. Michael would have been about 26, a typical age for a man to marry at that time. Right time, right name, right place.

What do we know about Schwarzenmatt? Was it large or small? How likely would it have been to find two Michael Mullers of about the same age?

The Village and the Valley

We do know one thing. We’re getting a lot closer to Michael Miller’s cousin, Jacob Ringeisen. In the Steinwenden, Germany records, Jacob is identified as Michael’s cousin and is stated as being from Erlenbach, Switzerland. Schwarzenmatt is only 17 km away, or about 10 miles down the same valley, on the one and only road.

Schwarzenmatt today is a tiny village – about 150 feet East to West.

Clicking on the red balloon shows us the Swiss vYntage Chalets of Schwarzenmatt nestled in the mountains.

Looking at property booking sites (yes you can rent the chalets,) this red pin location is billed as a 400 year old house. If this is indeed true, then that property dates back to 1618, and would be one of the 4 original properties. Heinsmann or Heinrich Muller would have known this house and assuredly, visited, even if it wasn’t his.

Another house nearby is billed as 325 years old, so dating from 1693 or not long after Heinrich had died.

You can see a variety of photos here and here. Just click on the photos at left.

This winter view is stunning, as is the summer one below.

I love old photos! This is similar to what Heinrich and Michael Muller would have seen.

These black and white photos, even though they are from the 1900s, give us at least a peek at what life was like in this valley before the modern era.

Did Michael and Heinrich ski? Was skiing a way for residents to navigate in the winter instead of a sport like it is today? Note that tiny house.

Are these my relatives? I’d bet that almost everyone in or from Schwarzenmatt is my relative!

The alps are breath-taking.

Be still my heart.

I surely wonder what these men were carrying, and why. Did Heinrich do this too? They kind of look like human trees.

Seriously, I want to walk down this street beside the chalets. The entire village is only a block or two. I want to under those umbrellas and drink in the luscious mountain air.

Going for a walk, perhaps? What are they carrying?

The chalets and valley are shown here in an early aerial photo.

The Muller family may have lived in this valley for centuries before the first recorded history that includes the surname in 1615.

This place is stunning, no matter the season.

I’m so grateful that these preserved chalets provide us with a glimpse through the door to the past.

Looking at this door, I do have to wonder if it’s original, meaning perhaps was found in the village when Heinrich lived there. Did he open it himself?

Where did Heinrich Muller actually live?

Historian Peter Mosimann

Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does.

Chris found Peter Mosimann who, as fate would have it, wrote a book about Schwarzenmatt and even more miraculously, owns the Muller chalet. Yes, THAT Muller chalet.

The book is out of print, but here’s the forward, translated from German by Google translate. This isn’t the best translation in the world, but it certainly conveys the idea.

In 2009, the couple Mosimann the Earning a parent’s home, a former mountain farmhouse at the Kreuzgasse in Schwarzenmatt Boltigen im Simmental, dating back to 1556 and certainly one of the oldest houses in the Bernese Oberland is at all. Since the spouses do not live here themselves you can take with the foundation «Holidays in the monument» of the Swiss Homeland Security concluded a license agreement for thirty years.

The foundation had the house renovated and refrained from advise the preservation of monuments. When planning the renovation the thought came to the future holiday guests to make a booklet out of which they have something about the past of the house, the place and the valley could learn. This is now an extensive book from over 340 densely written pages, that you read with great pleasure and profit – even if you are not a holiday guest in Schwarzenmatt.

It is dedicated to Mrs. Mosimann by her husband, who since 2009 innumerable archives visited, innumerable books read and interviewed countless people.

Is in itself the approach of the couple Mosimann – the purchase of the house and its conversion – very much correct and praiseworthy, so does the book the whole still the crown on. Not only was the house saved, but also his story, including the story of one whole valley. Peter Mosimann has been through many sources worked, so to only the most extensive series to name, through twelve choral court manuals the Congregation Boltigen (1648-1875) and six choral court manuals the parish of Oberwil im Simmental (1587-1768) and thirteen parish registers of Boltigen (1556-1875) and fifteen from Oberwil (1562-1875). He has cleverly understood the “little” stories, which he found here to be associated with the “big” story, which he drew from the secondary literature. On example: standing in the gable triangle of the rescued house the year 1556 – at that time Emperor Charles V thanked Habsburg, in whose empire the sun never set, and set up the first parish register in Boltigen (page 30).

Everywhere you can feel the ordering hand of the former Secondary teacher.

The fact that at the house on the Kreuzgasse the former Saumweg led into Jauntal, not over the Jaunpass, but over the Reidigenpass, gives rise for a whole nice chapter about the traffic history. This is very clever with old and new.

Illustrated are photos showing tracks in the terrain sees who would miss out on the terrain itself.

The road led to Jauntal, the catholic («idolatrous») remained and for the severely reformed disciplined Simmentaler the country of vice – but also the temptations and pleasures par excellence – represented. But you also like reading the chapter about the “companions”, as there are: restaurants, Mills, saws, forges, a lime kiln, cheese dairies (initiated by Welschen Greyerzern!), school houses, castle ruins and stones. It’s not just the good, but also the bad old time to the language, alcoholism, the poor, home and child labor, at the for a few cents matches for the matches were produced in Wimmis.

The result is a home customer in the best, namely in the critical sense of the word.

Peter Mosimann is not content with the old one time, but asks to the present. He speaks from the revival of livestock in the Simmental in the 19th century, from the introduction of electricity and the damming of the simme. He is very well aware that in today’s, rushing changes a whole world to disappear threatens, and he therefore has older Simmentaler asked about their knowledge and memories, so operated “oral history”. A nice example is the reconstruction a mining year around 1960, probably with the help of his wife and in-laws. Only here it becomes clear how far already 1960 – not 1860 and also not 1760! – is past. Especially nice and consistent is when people each speak for themselves: one Hemmer sitting in a tavern in Freiburg had shared the bed a bit too much (p. 94), the Daughter of the Wegmeisters Eschler, in the first half of the 20th century for the maintenance of the Jaun pass was responsible (p. 111 f.), the last geisshirt of Eschi (p.180 f.) Or Peter Mosimann’s wife Berti itself, from which the last chapter comes, that the house is dedicated in Schwarzenmatt. Or from the pastor of Boltigen, who died during the plague at the end of the 16th / beginning of the 17th century. Century not only lost all his children, but also three wives (pp. 12 f.). So sad this last one.

History is – you can Mr. Mosimann to his just congratulate factory.

State Archives Freiburg

PD Dr. phil. Kathrin Utz Tremp

Scientific Associate

In essence, we can thank the ski industry today for encouraging the salvation of these old chalets.

These lifts are only a few miles away and tourists need a place to say. Who wouldn’t love to stay in an alpine chalet?

The Swiss Alps tower above Schwarzenmatt and Boltigen.

The Muller Chalet

Chris found several links, and more information. This photo taken about 1912 in front of the chalet shows:

“Susanna Katharina and Friedrich Bhend-von Allmen with their children Fritz, Karl and Hans.”

Peter Mosimann’s wife’s father was Hans Bhend, so Susanna Katherine was apparently a Miller by birth, perhaps a descendant or at least a relative of Heinrich Muller from the middle 1600s. I would so love to see if my mother or other Miller descendants would match her DNA!

This house was built in about 1556 and was in the Muller/Miller family from before 1615. I can’t help but wonder how the date of 1556 was established. Perhaps by tree ring dating of the wood (dendrochronology.)

There is no ownership record before the Muller family, so they could have built it. In 1872, David Muller sold the property to his son-in-law, Freidrich Bhendd. Peter Mosimann’s wife was born a Bhend and grew up in this same house, shown above.

The article, in German, also shows additional photos.

I can’t reproduce the article here, but I can summarize.

Peter Mosiman, the local historian, states that this is one of the earliest dated peasant residential buildings in Boltigen and perhaps in all of the Bernese Oberland.

The sunny location where the house was built was on the mule track over the ridge to Juan and then to Gruyere, although the translation suggests that the house was on the path to Juantel, which I cannot locate on a current map.

I do wonder this this village was a stop-over location, and people rested the mules at this farmstead.

The ancient Juanpass through the mountains is first mentioned in 1228 as Balavarda and again in 1397 as Youn. Was the Muller family here then? What originally brought them to this high, remote location, and when?

The road was paved in 1878 and today is on the list of the highest paved roads in the world. Looking at the map, you can see the switchbacks. The pass peaks at just below 5,000 feet, the ascent 8 miles long and rising almost 2000 feet.

By Norbert Aepli, Switzerland, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=807797

Take a look from the pass here.

The photo of the pass, above, is exactly how I remember the Alps.

Here’s the same map with Gruyere, on the other side of the mountain, added.

I have to stop and admit right here that I love the Alps. And I mean LOVE them with all caps. I spent an amazing, life-changing summer in 1970 living in Versoix, Switzerland and spending time in those beautiful mountains and meadows not far from this very location. If you could see across the mountaintops, I lived about 25 miles as the crow flies. I know, what are the chances??

The summer in ski resorts is an inactive time. I spent a month or more there, hiking and wandering the beautiful alpine meadows. Today that resort is Crans-Montana, but then it was a sleepy, tiny Swiss mountain village.

The fact that my family actually originates here stirs my heart and touches my soul in a way I simply cannot put into words. It feels like my ancestors reached out to me, infusing their love of these mountains, even though I didn’t know them then.

But back to the Muller chalet.

Peter Mosimann says that he has documented the house ownership back to at least 1700 in the Muller family. Clearly, Heinrich lived in Schwarzenmatt in the first half of the 1600s. He would have been born either in or before 1635, probably right in this village or at least this valley. Most likey in this peasant house.

The walls were wood and stone that came from the surrounding area. Some stones are outcrops of the mountainside on which the house perches. The stones were connected with lime mortar and whitewashed. A stable was connected to the house, and the “goat-lick” still survives and is shown in photos in the document. Do you know what a goat-lick is? Neither did I!

The ground floor originally only had one small room. A “smoke kitchen” allowed the smoke to drift up between the slats in the rafters where meats were hung to be smoked and cured. The beams there are still black with centuries of accumulated soot.

Water came from the village well or fountain. Schwarzenmatt was lucky and had their own well. Kreuzgasse, the street where this chalet is located had their own fountain.

When I hiked the Alps, we drank from the icy-cold streams, although we were warned about drinking only near the headwaters because mountain goats tended to contaminate the water. We didn’t worry much about that.

In the Muller chalet, it appears that there was a loft type of structure upstairs where the children slept. They warmed some type of sack on the stove and took it to bed with them. Of course, as a quilter, today I think of this in terms of a quilt.

The original windows were sold at some time and installed in a restaurant in Obersimmental, about 10 miles distant. The homeowners thought they got the better end of that deal, because they installed new windows which were surely more winter-resistant, weathertight and warmer.

Clothes and dishes were washed in a basin on the table, and clothes were dried on a wooden rod in the kitchen.

Plums, pears and apples were dried for the winter to go along with the smoked meats.

Peter says that the renovation exposed 1705 construction with holes in posts suggesting that earlier building had occurred and the 1705 construction itself was either an expansion or a remodel. A stable was added at that time to house 4-6 goats and two pigs.

A cheese tower yet preserved shows that cheese was manufactured on this farm. Three circular pieces of wood are attached to a pole set in stone and connected to the rafters.

Chris located a photo before the renovation occurred.

Drum roll please…here’s the beautiful chalet today from a different angle. And look, just look at those mountains.

This chalet even has its own Wikipedia entry. At this link, you can see what it looks like in the winter. Another photo here and the renovation here.

The Muller Chalet, shown with the red pin below, is almost next door to the Swiss Vyntage Chalets I first found on the booking site.

I can’t tell you how much I want to visit this location and see the Muller chalet in person. Actually, I don’t just want to see it, I want to stay and sleep there, basking in the ancestral glow.

Johann Michael Muller

We know that Michael Muller, a widower, who married in 1684 in Steinwenden was from Schwarzenmatt. We know that a Michael Muller married in Boltigen in 1681 in the church where the Schwarzenmatt residents attended. There was no other church in the valley. The question is, is this the same Michael Muller?

This area was very small at the time, not to mention remote. Chances are very good that the Michael who married Anna Andrist was the same Michael Muller, but there could have been more than one. We also know that our Michael’s father was Heinrich, recorded as Heinsmann in Germany, who was from the tiny block long village of Schwarzenmatt.

In Switzerland, when a resident left, they were required to register. In essence, they carried a lifelong passport with them and as long as they left in good standing, they could always return as a citizen.

Those rolls were called Mannrechten and they exist for 1694-1754 from the Bern region. Of course, that’s after our Michael left, but several Millers from Boltigen were listed. Chris checked with the archives, and has kindly translated their reply, as follows:

– There are no “Mannrechtsrodel” earlier than 1694, so probably no direct proof of Michael Müller`s emigration to Germany.

– Mr. Bartlome (archivist) writes that at the time no permission was required to leave Switzerland. However, there was a heavy tax on money transferred abroad (“Abzugsgelder”). If an emigrant transferred money abroad, at the same time the emigrant passed on their citizen rights in Switzerland. This was done to prevent the emigrants possibly returning to Switzerland later on as a poor person.

– Only around 1700 an alphabetical name register was started for Swiss citizens who passed on their citizen rights. The register (listed in the link above,) is such a register. Please note that this passing on citizen rights could be done by children or grandchildren of the original emigrant! So the listed persons are not necessarily the emigrating persons!

– The register does not list the emigration date, but the date on which the citizen rights were passed on, plus the money that was transferred abroad and to which place.

– Finally, Mr Bartlome notes that emigrants may also be found in the protocols of the Bern government (“Ratsmanuale”). The transferred money (“Abzugsgelder”) was also listed in bills of the bailiffs (“Rechnungen der Landvögte”). So this may be another way to find emigrants in old documents, but it is a tedious process and with no guarantee.

As Chris comments, clearly not what we had hoped, but still, the door isn’t entirely slammed shut.

Chris later discovered a list of Swiss emigrants from 1694-1754 who settled in the Palatinate, Alsace-Lorraine, Baden-Wurttemberg and Pennsylvania in an article by Kary Joder in the October 1983 Mennonite Family History Newsletter, Volume II, #4, available in the book section at Family Search. In this document, one Michael Miller is noted on page 136, along with Miller men from Boltigen, as follows:

Chris wondered where my Johann Michael Miller the second, the son of the original Johann Michael Miller, from Schwarzenmatt, was located in 1720.

Chris translates from the original German version:

“2.12.1720 Michel Müller von hinter Zweisimmen zieht nach Leistadt (Bad Dürkheim).”

Translation: “2 December 1720 – Michel Müller from behind Zweisimmen moves [read: “his money”!] to Leistadt (Bad Dürkheim).”

Could this Michel Müller possibly be identical with Michael Müller the Second? I am not as familiar with his life dates as you are, so I have to ask you if this remains a possibility. I know that in 1721 he became a citizen in Lambsheim. Lambsheim and Leistadt are 8.5 miles apart from each other. Do we know for sure that in 1720 Michael Müller the Second was still in Steinwenden or was he maybe “on his way” to Lambsheim?

“From behind Zweisimmen” suggests to me that possibly this Michel Müller could not name the place of origin of his father. “Behind Zweisimmen” would definitely go well along with Schwarzenmatt. Zweisimmen and Schwarzenmatt/Boltigen are only 6 miles apart from each other.

It’s amazing how quickly ancestral knowledge of locations and events fades. By 1720, Michael Muller the first had been dead for 25 years, having died when his son was only 2 years and 3 months old. It’s no wonder that Michael Muller the second couldn’t remember the name of the town in Switzerland where his father was from. He never knew his father – only through his mother’s remembrances.

In April of 1718, Johann Michael Muller (the second) is identified as the farm administrator of (the farm) Weilach in a baptismal record for his child in Kallstadt. He is still living in Weilach on April 5th, 1721, but by January 15, 1722, when he is once again mentioned in a Kallstadt baptism record where he stands up as a godparent, he is a Lambsheim resident about 12 miles distant from Weilach. Citizenship records tell us that Michael moved to Lambsheim between April and July of 1721.

As the map above illustrates, Leistadt is very close to Weilach and Kallstadt, both. It was less than a mile from Weilach to Leistadt, the closest village. Certainly close enough to walk. The Michael Muller on December 2, 1720 who moved money from Schwarzenmatt to Leistadt is very likely Michael Muller the second, son of the Michael Muller the first, son of Heinrich Muller. Perhaps he moved the funds in preparation for his move to Lambsheim. It was only a few years later that he emigrated to America.

Until that time, Michael Muller the second had been a Swiss citizen, although he was born in Germany.

Mullers in Boltigen and Schwarzenmatt

The Mullers were clearly visible in the Boltigen area, which includes Schwarzenmatt. Several (in addition to Michael) were mentioned in the Mennonite document that references moving money.

  • Muller, Benedicts from Boltigen to Eppingen-Churpfalz on November 29, 1726
  • Muller, Wolfgang from Boltigen to Maulbronn-Wurttemberg on May 6, 1732
  • Muller, Johannes from Boltigen to Horbach-Swiebrucken on March 14, 1754

These three Miller men transferred funds to the same region of Germany, near where Michael had moved.

Were all of these men from the same Muller family from Schwarzenmatt and Boltigen?

Were there multiple Miller families living in Schwarzenmatt or Boltigen by that time?

If so, did they descend from a common Miller ancestor, or different men that just happened to carry the same surname?

Is this the same Muller family that had a coat of arms awarded in 1683, right about the time Michael Muller the first is found in Germany?

The Miller family in Boltigen had a coat of arms awarded in 1683 which looks to be a cogged wheel of some sort, perhaps a miller’s wheel?

The history of German heraldry isn’t terribly helpful, except to say that noble coats of arms included a barred helmet, and burgher’s/patrician’s coats of arms included a tilted helmet. The Muller coat of arms includes neither, so this tells us that the family wasn’t noble. It’s noted that in Switzerland, in the 17th century, Swiss farmers also bore arms. Given that the Schwarzenmatt Muller family, as evidenced by the restored home, was clearly a farm family, the coat of arms isn’t as surprising as it might otherwise seem. I am very curious though at the meaning of the yellow symbol on the coat of arms and if the blue background has any significance. I also wonder if this coat of arms would have included “all” of the Muller family or clan, or only one specific family unit.

There’s no way, of course, without Y DNA testing or non-existent records to tell if this is the same family. The Boltigen church records were lost in a fire in 1840. I have a DNA testing scholarship for any Miller male from the Schwarzenmatt/Boltigen area, or whose ancestors lived there.

A painting, below, remains of the old Boltigen church and parsonage from 1822, before the fire. This would have been the church that Heinrich attended, and where Michael was married in 1681.

From this photo of the current church, built after the 1840 fire, it looks like the new church was built in the same location and in the exact same style and footprint as the old church.

By Roland Zumbuehl – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20634682

Boltigen is just down the valley, about a mile from Schwarzenmatt. A lovely Sunday walk to church.

You can walk home from church in half an hour, but of course, it’s uphill! Probably not very pleasant in the winter.

Schwarzenmatt was tiny then and it’s tiny now. Heinsmann (Heinrich) and Michael lived here – lost in time today, but not lost to memory anymore.

Leaving Schwarzenmatt

This part of the world is truly beautiful – nature at her finest. I wonder what compelled Heinrich’s son to leave. It’s certainly possible that the isolation was a factor. The family that lived in this house, with who knows how many children, were peasants, and their children would be peasants too. Perhaps Michael wanted something more. Perhaps he found no comfort here after his wife died. Did she pass away giving birth to their first child?

The Thirty Years’ War had devastated and depopulated most of the Palatine and the Swiss were invited to come and settle, tax free, with a promise of land. Looking at the tiny Swiss village, and having lived in the Alps, I understand that this area could only support a limited population and had little potential for expansion. The German offer meant, for Michael, that opportunity was knocking and perhaps providing an escape from the pain of his wife’s death.

Once Michael left Schwarzenmatt, given the distance to Steinwenden, he likely never returned, which meant he never saw his parents or family again. Perhaps both of Michael’s parents were deceased before he left. We know, according to his marriage record in 1684 that his father was already gone by that time, but what about his mother and siblings – assuming he had siblings?

Heinrich likely was born and died in Schwarzenmatt and is buried in the churchyard of the old church that burned in 1840. Perhaps generations of Heinrich’s ancestors are buried near him there as well.

Michael would have passed that location one last time, perhaps stopping to say one final goodbye to his father and wife, on his way down the valley, through the village of Erlenbach, perhaps gathering his cousin Jacob Ringeisen, on his way to Germany.

Heinrich was the last of his generation here, at least in my line, and Michael was the first generation in Germany.

We think of the Muller family as German, but in reality, Michael the first only lived in Germany as an adult, retraining his Swiss citizenship the entire time. His son, Michael the second lived in Germany until 1727 when he emigrated to the US. He only relinquished his Swiss citizenship in 1720. In total, the Muller family lived in Germany for between 43 and 46 years. They were only exclusively German, meaning no Swiss citizenship, for 7 years. Before that, they were Swiss, probably for generations. After that, American.

How long had the Muller family been settled in Schwarzenmatt? When did they arrive? And from where? Is the surname Muller the trade name for the local miller? Does it reflect the occupation of Heinrich or his ancestors? Were they millers on the creek that runs through the valley?

We don’t have answers to those questions, but we can look at what the Miller line Y DNA tells us.

Genetic History

Our cousin, the Reverend Richard Miller took the Big Y DNA test in order for Miller descendants to learn as much as possible about our heritage.

Our Miller terminal SNP, or haplogroup, is R-CTS7822.

SNP Estimated Age
CTS7822 5000-5300 (Bulgaria)
Z2109 5300 (Russia, India)
Z2106 5300-5500
M12149 5500-6100
Z2103 5500-6100

In the R1b Basal subclade project, our sample is the only one with a terminal SNP of CTS7822.

There are other people who have another SNP downstream that we don’t have, some in Germany and Switzerland, and many in Scandinavia. Those would be descendants of CTS7822. In other words, at some point in time, a branch of the family headed north, long before surnames were adopted. Another branch headed south, across the Alps to Italy. One branch is found in Bulgaria and another in England.

Z2109, the branch immediately above ours, also our ancestor, is found in India, the Russian Federation and Turkey. That’s a fascinating span and suggests that the person who carried the ancestral SNP, Z2109 might well have been in the Caucasus before his sons and their descendants fanned out in all directions.

Unnamed Variants

Perhaps even more exciting is that eventually our Miller line is likely to have a different terminal SNP. Cousin Richard has 36 total unnamed variants.

This means that mutations, SNPs, have been found in these locations on his Y chromosome that have never been found before. These SNPs aren’t yet named and placed on the haplotree. Our line will be responsible, when another male tests that has these same locations, for 36 new branches, or updated branches, on the Y tree.

I always knew our Miller line was quite unique, and Heinrich’s Y chromosome, passed to Miller men today proves it!

Heinrich Muller’s DNA will be providing new discoveries in a scientific field he had absolutely no clue existed. His final legacy wouldn’t be written into record until more than 337 years after his death in the tiny village of Schwarzenmatt in the Swiss Alps. Not chiseled into stone, but extracted from his descendants Y chromosome.

Reflecting

I know this is the last stop on the Miller/Muller road, in this picturesque tiny village in the Swiss alps. There are no more records. I am attempting to contact Peter Mosimann, and if I’m lucky, there may be more photos!

With the difficulties in colonial America determining who Michael Miller (the second) was, and where he came from, never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d find our original homeplace in Switzerland two generations earlier.

And not just Michael’s home location, but his actual swear-to-God home, as in house.

I’m still reeling from this stroke of amazing luck – but then luck favors the prepared. My amazing German genealogist and cousin, Tom and my German-speaking friend, Chris receive all the credit for their amazing sleuthing work. None of this would have happened without their diligence.

I am ever so grateful.

I have wanted to visit Germany for decades. With this latest discovery, I’m checking airfares. My husband is in the other room having a coronary at the potential cost of the trip, but I’m focused on the emotional toll of not going. I always regretted not taking my mother back to Mutterstadt before her death, and count on it, she’ll be accompanying me in spirit😊

Maybe she has been guiding the way all along.

It was a long journey, in terms of miles, ships and time, from Schwarzenmatt to where I sit today. Ten generations and almost 400 years of mule paths, rutted wagon roads and 3-masted ships. From a farmhouse of stone and wood on a mountainside sheltering people, goats and pigs, with water hauled from the community well to an electrified dashboard from which I can travel the world, even back to Schwarzenmatt, without leaving my driver’s seat.

Yet, I know that there’s nothing like visiting in person. Walking where Heinrich walked. Standing where he stood. Visiting his grave, or at least the graveyard where he, his wife and their ancestors are surely buried in unmarked graves.

I hope to be reporting back to you in a year or so from Schwarzenmatt as I trace my ancestors’ footsteps and generations back in time.

Ancestry 2018 Ethnicity Update

When ethnicity estimates were first produced by vendors, they tended to resemble the wild west.

Today, results are becoming more refined and hopefully, more accurate as reference populations grow and become more reliable.

The Ancestry ethnicity update has been in beta for several months, but this week, Ancestry rolled out the ethnicity update for everyone.

Checking Your New Results

To see your updated results, sign on and click on the DNA Story to the left with Ethnicity Estimates.

Ancestry then explains that while your DNA doesn’t change, the estimates (pay attention to that word) do as the science improves.

Ethnicity Estimate Aren’t Precise

I’ve said this before, and I want to say it again. Ethnicity is the least precise and the least accurate of DNA tools for genetic genealogy. Ethnicity estimates are the most accurate at a continental level. Within continents, like Europe, Asia and Africa, there has been a lot of population movement and intermixing over time making the term “ethnicity” almost meaningless.

I know, I know – ethnicity estimates are also the simplest because there isn’t much learning curve and they’re easy to understand at a glance. This deceptive “ease of use” also makes them interesting to people who have only a passing curiosity. That’s why they attract so many test takers who either love of hate their results, but never fully understand the true message or utilize any other genetic genealogy tools.

Let’s take a look at how ethnicity estimates have changed over time and if they have improved with the latest version.

Ethnicity Estimate Changes

In my case, my original Ancestry ethnicity estimate in 2012 was:

  • British Isles 80%
  • Scandinavia 12%
  • Uncertain 8%

To say it was really bad is an understatement.

In 2013, Ancestry introduced their ethnicity V2 version which provided a lot more granularity.

Version 2 was dramatically different, with the British Isles moving from 80% to a total of 6%. Like a pendulum swinging, neither was accurate.

Ancestry introduced new features and combined their Genetic Communities with their ethnicity estimates in 2017.

In this new 2018 version, Ancestry has divided and recombined the British Isles and Western Europe differently and the resulting differences are significant.

My mystery Scandinavian is entirely gone now, but sadly, so is my Native American.

The New Results

I just got really boring – but the question is whether or not the new results are more accurate as compared to my proven genealogy. Boring doesn’t matter. Accuracy does.

Various Ancestry Ethnicity Versions Compared to Proven Genealogy

I created a chart that reflects the three Ancestry ethnicity versions as compared to my proven genealogy.

For the current version, I also included the ranges as provided by Ancestry.

As you can see, generally, the results are much more accurate, but the regions are also fairly broad which makes accuracy easier to achieve.

Until this current version, Ancestry didn’t show any Germanic, but now the Germanic estimate is exact at 25%.  The Germanic range is also very tight at 24-26%, right where it should be.

The England, Wales & Northeast Europe category is somewhat high, but that could be accurate because I do have some ancestry that is unknown.

Unfortunately, my Native is proven, both through Y and mtDNA and by triangulating the Native segments to others descending from the same Native ancestors. That portion is now missing in my Ancestry ethnicity.

Ancestry V1 Test Versus the V2 Test

For the record, I’m using my Ancestry V1 test because I’ve used that test version for all previous ethnicity comparisons.  My Ancestry V2 test ethnicity results are approximately the same, as follows:

  • England, Wales and Northeast Europe – 76%
  • Germanic – 22%
  • Ireland and Scotland – 2%

The same tree is attached to both tests.

On my V2 test, which I seldom use, I had to answer a couple of question regarding my expectations about ethnicity testing changes and how accurate my previous results were perceived to be before I could access my updated results.

Regions Changed

In Ancestry’s FAQ, they provided this list of how the regions were and are defined.

Previous Region New Regions
Scandinavia Norway, Sweden
Iberian Peninsula Spain, Portugal, Basque
Europe South Italy, Greece and the Balkans, Sardinia
Europe East Baltic States, Eastern Europe and Russia
Caucasus Turkey and the Caucasus, Iran/Persia
Europe West Germanic Europe, France
Native American Native America—North, Central, South; Native America—Andean
Asia South Southern Asia, Western and Central India, Balochistan, Burusho
Asia East Japan, Korea and Northern China, China, Southeast Asia—Dai (Tai), Southeast Asia—Vietnam, Philippines

Ancestry has addressed lots of other questions in their FAQ as well, and I suggest taking a look. I particularly like their comment, “Some places are complicated.” Indeed, that’s true with population churn both in historical times along with unknown pre-history and that complexity is exactly what makes intra-continental ethnicity estimates so difficult. Of course, people whose ancestors are from Europe, for example, want as much granularity as possible.

Previous Ethnicity Versions

For the first time, Ancestry explains what happened between versions, at least at a high level.

Click on the little “i” in the upper right hand corner of your ethnicity estimate box.

You’ll see more information.

Click on “View Previous Estimate” at the bottom.

Your previous ethnicity estimate is shown.

To see how your estimate changed, click on “Compare these results to your most recent Ancestry DNA estimate.”

This display shows you the differences compared to the previous version. In my case, England, Wales and NE Europe increased by 69%, but that’s because Ancestry redefined the regions. Note the little slide box underneath the regions on the map. You can slide back and forth from previous to current (update.).

I do wish Ancestry had told us where the “Scandinavian” went, what category it fell into. Are those segments, as a group, included in another region? Was the previous estimate simply flat out wrong? Was Scandinavian a vestige of Vikings who invaded much of Europe? What happened?

New Regions and Reference Samples

By clicking on “See other regions tested” at the bottom of your Ethnicity Estimate box, you can view the locations of Ancestry’s current reference populations.

The regions tested in which you have results are colored, and the regions where you aren’t showing results are shades of grey. This is an improvement over the previous version which people routinely misinterpreted to mean that they had results in those tested regions.

Best Features

In my opinion, the best feature of the combined ethnicity and Genetic Communities is the combined mapping. For example, the screenshot below combines the ethnicity regions with the ancestors from my tree who immigrated from that region in that timeframe.

By clicking on the 1700 box, the people from that time period in my tree are displayed. I can enlarge the map to make the display larger, until finally individual “people” icons are displayed, as shown with Johann Peter Koehler, below. Clicking on the individual person pin shows that individual in the box at right.

By clicking on the “Lower Midwest and Virginia Settlers,” I see this region and Ancestry tells me where those settlers likely originated.

You can then scroll down to the bottom of the information box where you see “Ancestry DNA Members.”

Click on the 1000+ link and you will then see the people who match you in a specific region or migration.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t always accurate. My 2nd cousin match is showing as a “Lower Midwest and Virginia” match and our ancestors came from the Netherlands directly to Northern Indiana. Ironically, she shows up in three of the 4 regions I can select from. This feature is not 100%, but it’s still nice to be able to see where that match is grouped in terms of ethnicity and Genetic Communities, according to Ancestry.

Given this combined functionality, I do wonder if Ancestry’s new ethnicity isn’t simply population genetics, but a combination of population genetics, ancestors in my tree, my matches and corresponding DNA Circles with their associated history. If so, that would make sense, both in terms of what I’m seeing as my new ethnicity results and the map functionality as well. Could that be where my Germanic came from, and why it’s so precise at 25% which matches by tree exactly?

In Summary

For me, Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates are significantly improved with the exception that my Native disappeared. I’ve worked long and hard on the Native aspect of my genealogy, and I know that part of my ethnicity mix is valid. However, that is a very small percentage overall (about 2%), and the combined improvements certainly outshine that one negative.

Of course, your mileage may vary. What are you seeing in terms of your new ethnicity estimates as compared to your known genealogy? Better? Worse? Did you lose any categories that you know are valid? What about small amounts of minority heritage?

MyHeritage Now Accepts Living DNA and 23andMe V5 Transfer Results and Partners with European Retailer

MyHeritage has been busy – making two major announcements this week.

European Retail Market Penetration

I was very encouraged a few days ago when I received an email from MyHeritage stating that they have partnered with British Retailer WHSmith to sell their tests in retail stores in Europe. The new in-store products will be called the MyHeritage Family History Discovery Kit which will bundle the DNA test with a 3 month subscription of the Complete MyHeritage plan which combines Premium Plus, Data Subscription including historical records and DNA integration.

MyHeritage has not yet released the price, but I expect it will be competitive. I’m very grateful for the MyHeritage push into Europe and look forward to new European matches. My mother carries a very high percentage of both German and Dutch and matches from those countries have been slim. Retail marketing and an in-store presence may signal the end of that problem – at least I hope so.

The great news is that MyHeritage DNA matching supports filtering DNA matches by location.

MyHeritage Accepts Illumina GSA Chip Transfers

I’ve written before about the Illumina GSA chip and compatibility issues between the that chip and existing data produced on the other Illumina chips, including the chip utilized by both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA.  However, MyHeritage also just announced that they are accepting GSA file transfers, which means that people who have tested at the following vendors can now transfer their raw autosomal data results to MyHeritage for free.

  • 23andMe began utilizing the Illumina GSA V5 chip in August 2017, so if you have tested since that time, you haven’t been able, until now, to upload to MyHeritage.
  • LivingDNA launched with the Illumina GSA chip, so if you have ever tested at LivingDNA, you haven’t been able to upload your raw data files. Now you can!

The good news is that the upload to MyHeritage, along with the MyHeritage DNA tools are free until December 1st, and will remain free for those who upload before that date. After that, MyHeritage will begin charging a fee or subscription for advanced features such as ethnicity estimates, the chromosome browser and other features. The $$ amount will be announced closer to December.

Of course, you can also upload results from Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and earlier versions of the 23andMe test.

So, don’t wait, click here to upload now, while the upload is totally free.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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:

In the Beginning – First Steps in Genealogy

Everyone starts someplace in their genealogy. A lucky few have the opportunity to springboard from another family member who has documented the family carefully. Most of us, me included, began in the simplest of ways – asking family members.

Thank goodness I did that while there were at least a few family members left of older generations. I wish I had begun sooner, but that’s probably the most common lament of genealogists.

The next most common lament, today, would be that we wish we had DNA tested every single person in the older generations. If you haven’t, please do, immediately, while you can – and be sure they are in at least in the Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage databases. I also recommend uploading to GedMatch as well which will catch genealogists that test at 23andMe. Generally, only genealogists upload  to GedMatch.

I didn’t start out to be a genealogist. I was simply interested in my family. I didn’t even really grasp what a genealogist was. One day someone said to me, “Oh, so you’re a genealogist,” and I replied, “No, I’m just curious about my family.”

Famous last words.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a pedigree chart, and my notes for the first few years were on plain paper with little organization other than a page or folder for each person. I then advanced to a green bookkeeping columnar pad to keep track of what was in the folders.

Eventually, some poor soul took pity on me and gave me a pedigree chart. I started filling in what I knew and it would be another decade before I made my first “genealogical” find in the local Family History Center. I refer to that as my first genealogical find because I wasn’t talking to a family member and had begun researching through records. My curiosity had gotten the best of me!

I remember the thrill of that obsession-defining moment well.

It was my first visit to the Center, following a brief introductory session that I had discovered in the local newspaper, and I was filled with trepidation. I didn’t want someone trying to convert me, but I was also very curious. I needn’t have worried. In all the years I visited the local FHC at the Mormon Church, no one ever tried to convert me and I visited regularly, making discovery after discovery.

The first discovery that life-changing evening, the marriage of Lazarus Estes to Elizabeth Vannoy, is what hooked me. We found it in an index, and I was terribly disappointed to discover that I had to order a microfiche and wait until it arrived from some distant location to find out WHEN Lazarus married Elizabeth. Oh, the torture!

But hooked I was, and I anxiously awaited the call from the FHC librarian telling me that my fiche had arrived. I drove to the church in record time!

I had taken my daughter with me on the first trip to the church, just in case I needed a quick “escape.” Kids are always great for “not feeling well” and she was always having stomach aches. Obviously, no escape was needed – except maybe for her.

Recently, while going through some papers, I discovered my very first pedigree chart. My first reaction was, “ahhh, how sweet,” which quickly turned to mortification when I realized how much was blank or worse, incorrect.

Let’s just bask in the “oh so sweet” for a moment.

We all start with the information we gather from family. You can see by the different ink and white-out (you do remember, white-out, right?) that I gleefully added to this pedigree as new information was discovered. Some is written in pencil, with question marks. People weren’t sure about some things, but I made notes anyway. Thankfully!

The blank spaces aren’t blank anymore, today, but that information was revealed slowly, like peeling an onion, through records research. I had talked to my mother and my great-aunt on my maternal side, and my father’s sister on my paternal side, and I gathered all that they knew. From that point forward, I had to do the research. It fell to me.

When I looked at this pedigree chart and realized how much was wrong, my initial reaction was horror – BUT – we all have to start with what we have available. If there was ever a textbook example of why verification and documentation is essential – this is it.

Much to my embarrassment, the red arrows point to information that was wrong. I’ve sized the arrows relative to the magnitude of the inaccuracy.

For example, the biggest error is that Rebecca Rosenberg or Rosenbaum was NOT the mother of Margaret Clarkson/Claxton. For the record, Elizabeth Speaks was, but she was related to the Rosenbaums through her father’s sister’s marriage. My aunt had her in the right neighborhood and family, but attributed the wrong person as her mother.

Of course, if I hadn’t figured it out through records, eventually DNA might have revealed the problem. BUT, since the Rosenbaum descendants were related to the Speaks family, autosomal DNA might not have divulged the problem since the Rosenbaums would have matched some Speaks too. However, mitochondrial DNA would have immediately showed a discrepancy because their matrilineal ancestors weren’t the same. Don’t forget to utilize all tools available.

Oh, and based on the Rosenbaum/Rosenburg surname, my aunt informed me that we were Jewish. Also that the Bolton’s were German, and that my great-grandmother Elizabeth Vannoy was Cherokee, all of which were subsequently proven to be incorrect by using historical records plus DNA, but I digress. Point being that I believed my aunt at the time, because surely she knew – and she obviously knew more than I did which was absolutely nothing.

Notice that several of the dates have smaller arrows. Those are off by one or two years, so again, the right ballpark but the wrong information. At least the information for my parents was accurate! (humor)

It’s also interesting that on my mother’s side, much more was known about the female side of the family. But then again, my great-aunt who I was able to interview was my maternal grandmother’s sister.

My Aunt Margaret on my father’s side didn’t grow up in Tennessee and most of what she knew was second hand. For example, she told me that her Bolton grandparents, Joseph and Margot (Margaret) had both died a day or so apart in the 1918 flu epidemic. He died first and the family put him in the barn waiting for her to die the next day so they could bury them in the same coffin. I didn’t know if that was romantic or simply expeditious for the survivors, under the circumstances, especially if many were ill and coffin-makers and grave-diggers were in short supply.

Well, Aunt Margaret was close. Joseph died on February 23, 1920, not during the 1918 flu epidemic. Still, they did both die of pneumonia following the flu, according to their death certificates, which certainly weren’t available to me in the 1970s or 1980s. Joseph’s wife died on March 11, 1920. Of course, there’s no way to know if they were buried at the same funeral, or in the same coffin. Their deaths were separated by more than two weeks.

I’m certainly glad I recorded every tidbit that I did. I’ve returned to my original notes years later and found extremely valuable hints that I had originally forgotten about or didn’t understand the value of the hint initially.

How could I forget something important? It wasn’t important then or we’re human and we do forget.

Every piece of family information needs to be viewed as a hint, not as gospel. As well-meaning as our family members are, and lovely for sharing, they can only provide us with the information they know or have been provided by others. Who’s to say if it has been conveyed or remembered accurately? The most reliable information is first person, but even that is subject to lapses of memory or the softening of time.

Don’t believe it? Just remember how often you forget what you went into the other room for😊

Documenting every piece of information is up to us and seldom does that documentation process and subsequent review not provide some new tidbit or surprise.

How accurate was your original pedigree chart?

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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:

Ancestor Birthdays Mean Presents for YOU!

I’ve been wanting to celebrate my ancestors’ birthdays for some time now, and I’ve finally figured out exactly how to accomplish this goal in a really fun way.

Being reminded once a year about their birthday and the anniversary of their death reminds me to work on their genealogy, and in particular, genetic genealogy. With more people testing every single day, meaning different people at every vendor, we need to check often with specific ancestors in mind. You never know who’s going to be the person who puts the chink in that brick wall.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a spreadsheet to track what I know about each ancestor. This makes it easy to schedule those dates in my calendar, with a reminder of course, and then to check my spreadsheet to see what information might have been previously missing that might be able to be found today.

It’s like a birthday present for them, but now for me. I am, after all, their heir, along with the rest of their descendants of course! If I’m lucky, I inherited part of their DNA, and if not, their DNA is still relevant to me.

Checking the List

Here’s my spreadsheet checklist for each ancestor:

  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Death date
  • Death place
  • Spouse
  • Y DNA haplogroup (if male)
  • Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup
  • Autosomal confirmed
  • Ancestry Circle

New information becomes digitized every year making new information available.

Additionally, some items may change. For example, if a base haplogroup was previous known, a deeper haplogroup might be available a year later if someone has taken a more detailed test or the haplogroup name might have been updated. Yes, that happens too.

I originally had a triangulation column on the spreadsheet too, but I pretty quickly discovered that column was subject to lots of questions about interpretation. Is the actual ancestor triangulated, or the line? I decided that “autosomal confirmed” would suffice to cover whatever I decide constitutes confirmation and a comment column could hold the description. For example, my grandparents are autosomal confirmed because I match (and triangulate) with cousins who are descended from ancestors upstream of my grandparents. If my grandparent wasn’t my grandparent, I wouldn’t be related to those people either. In particular, first cousins.

I also added an “Article Link” column to paste the link to that ancestor’s 52 Ancestors article so I can quickly check or maybe even provide this spreadsheet to a family member.

Here’s an example of what the first several entries of my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet look like.

Ancestor Birthday Presents for You

In order to remind myself to check on my ancestors’ status, on their birth and death days, I schedule reminders in my phone calendar. Every morning when I wake, I’m greeted by my ancestor – well – at least this much of them.

  • First, I check at Family Tree DNA for new matches, haplogroups and the presence of my family lines in surname projects.
  • Then it’s off to Ancestry to see if I have any new green leaf DNA or record hints, to add or update the circle for this particular ancestor, and to see if any of my matches would be a candidate for either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, assuming they reply to messages and agree to test at Family Tree DNA. I keep a separate spreadsheet of each person that I’ve identified as a match with an identified ancestor. I know it’s extra work, but that spreadsheet is invaluable for determining if the ancestor is autosomal proven and if the match is a candidate for Y or mtDNA testing.
  • Then I get another cup of coffee and check at MyHeritage for new record matches for that ancestor, along with new DNA SmartMatches.
  • GedMatch and 23andMe aren’t as easy to check for matches specific to ancestors, but I still check both places to see if I can find matches that I can identify as descending from that ancestor.
  • While I’m at it, sometimes I run over to FamilySearch to see if there’s anything new over there, although they don’t deal with DNA. They do, however, have many traditional genealogical records. I may add another column to track if I’m waiting for something specific to be digitized – like court minutes, for example. FamilySearch has been on a digitization binge!
  • As I go along, I add any new discovery to my genealogy software and my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet as well.
  • Last, I paint new segment information from Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch or 23andMe at DNAPainter. My three articles about how I use DNAPainter are here, here and here.

I just love ancestor birthdays.

Any day that I get to find something new is a wonderful day indeed – fleshing out the lives, history and DNA of my ancestors. With this many places to look, there’s seldom a day that goes by that I don’t discover at least something in my ancestor scavenger hunt!

Ancestor birthday presents for me😊

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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: