About Roberta Estes

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

Margretha Muller (c1632-1689), Wife to Rudolph Muller, Born in Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #321

We don’t know Margaretha or Margretha’s birth surname, but we do know that she was born in Switzerland and married Johann Rudolph Muller, probably in Switzerland as well – sometime before the birth of their first child in Grossheppach, Germany in 1661. Clearly, the young couple migrated from Switzerland before that time, probably about that time, and not long after their marriage.

They theoretically could have met and married in Grossheppach, on the Rems River in Germany after both families migrated, but there are no records to support that theory – and church records in Grossheppach do exist during this timeframe.

It’s most likely that the newlyweds answered the call of the German nobles for settlers in the German lands that had been devastated and depopulated during the Thirty Years War which had ended in 1648. It took generations to recover from that war – in terms of rebuilding and in terms of population loss which averaged 50%, but ranged from 30% to 100% in various regions.

Grossheppach, shown here in 1686, was spared the worst of the devastation, so was probably more stable with at least some remaining original population. Note the mill – you’ll see it again later!

Grossheppach, a small village, is located smack dab in the middle of the wine-growing region, but Margretha’s husband, Rudolph, was a blacksmith and ferrier.

Like many women of that era, what little we know about Margretha is from the church records.

Margretha’s Birth

We can estimate the year of Margretha’s birth based on when her last child was recorded in the Grossheppach baptismal records.

Her first child in the Grossheppach church records was born in 1661 and her last child was born in 1675. If we presume Margretha was about 43 when the last child was born, that places her birth at about 1632, give or take a couple years in either direction.

If Margretha was born about 1632, she likely married sometime after 1652. She may have married and had children in Switzerland, but there are no burial or marriage records for Rudolph and Margretha in Grossheppach as parents to children not born there.

My suspicion is that the young couple married and saw settlement in Germany as the “great adventure” that awaited, promising reprieve from taxes among other perks for settlers.

Opportunity awaited.

They may have migrated with others. After all, there’s safety in numbers and family is more likely to help you in a time of need than unknown strangers.

One-Place Study

How lucky could I have been to stumble across a one-place study about Grossheppach families, which you can find here.

The one hint I can find about the Swiss location of Margretha is in the document of tracking “foreigners” in Grossheppach, in German, on page 59 where we find the locality, name of the individual, a year, and what the researcher found.

In this case, the locality is “Schefen, Kanton Zurich (=Stafa?), the individual is Margaretha, no known birth surname, This indicates von “Shefen” which translates literally to “from sheep,” followed by (wird Bg. in GH) which means became a citizen in Grossheppach.

Her husband’s information is noted with him being from Stein am Rhein. What the heck is Stein am Rhein? It’s the name of a village!!!

The researcher also lists Rudolph as “Bg.” meaning berger, and farrier. This is the researcher’s list of ancestors, so I suspect that the researcher descends through daughter, Veronica.

If this location is indeed accurate, this provides us with a location, probably for both Rudolph and Margretha. I’ve written to the researcher and heard back just before publishing this article today. Hint – there will be a chapter 2😊

Stein am Rhein is breathtakingly beautiful, the central, compact medieval old city still quite visible. It was probably walled at one time.

By Hansueli Krapf – Own work: Hansueli Krapf (User Simisa (talk · contribs)), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8395907

Be still my heart!

Stein am Rhein is a small, stunningly beautiful village on the Rhine River in Switzerland, with the medieval church still intact. Just take a look. OH MY.

By JoachimKohlerBremen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50871067

I’m trying to tell myself NOT to fall completely in love until I can confirm the accuracy of this information. I already want to climb on a plane.

By JoachimKohler-HB – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87543300

Stein am Rhein is 20-25 miles from Zurich as the crow flies.

Church records do exist for Stein am Rhein, but I’d need the transcribed records, only available at the Family History library in Salt Lake, here, as opposed to the unindexed and German script original records, here. Not only that, but Stein am Rhein has records dating from the 1400s. I might have to seek out someone with expertise in Swiss records who can actually read that script!

Stein am Rhein would have been about a 100-mile journey to Grossheppach.

Let’s hope there are records in Switzerland and they are somewhat available. My heart is racing just thinking about an additional 200 years of possible records and ancestors.

Margretha’s Life’s Story Spun Through Her Children

A huge thank you to Tom for finding and translating these Grossheppach records.

By Silesia711 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66911537

Margretha’s known children were all born in Grossheppach and baptized in the local church which includes the remains of a fortified wall.

If Sibilla, born in 1661 was Margretha’s first child, this was truly a heartbreaking time. Margretha had looked forward to the arrival of her first baby, loved her, and then lost her 24 short weeks later. I wonder if the baby struggled from birth or contracted some childhood disease that ripped her from her mother’s arms and broke her heart.

Baptism: 6 May 1661 + Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Sibilla

Parents: Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Lienhardt Herman; Margretha, Ulrich Schweikhardrt from Stutg(art); Sibilla, Stöckler(in) from Stutgardt, farm maid.

Note that one of the godparents was also named Sibilla, which might be a hint indicating a relative.

Burial: 19 Oct 1661 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Sibilla, 2 weeks old, child of Rüdolph Müller, smith

These churchyard fortifications likely enclosed the cemetery at the time Margretha buried her baby.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66911538

In this aerial view, you can see the area that would have been the cemetery, with its fortified wall remaining yet today, at the lower right.

The treed area may be another portion of the ancient cemetery, now returned to nature.

Margretha became pregnant about the same time that Sibilla died, and the first son, Hanss Rudolph, named for his father, arrived the following August.

Baptism: 7 Aug 1662 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Hanss Rüdolph

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Leonhardt Herman; Ulrich Schweickhart from Stutg(art); Sibilla Glöckhler(in) also from ?

The next two baptisms are somewhat confusing. Someone later stamped the church records with dates. Obviously these two children could not have been born 8 months apart – or at least not unless the first child died and the second child was very premature. If these girls had been twins, they would have been baptized at the same time. There are no death records, nor any further records for either Anna Magdalena nor Anna Margretha.

Baptism: 12 Feb 1664 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Anna Magdalena

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmid from Grunbach; J.L. Herman, miller; Daniel’s wife, Magdalena.

Baptism: 11 Oct 1664 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Anna Margretha

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Leonhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler; Anna Margretha, wife of Ulrich Schweickh(a)r(t).

Given that the next child, Veronica, didn’t arrive for 21 months, it’s unlikely that Anna Margretha died at or near birth.

Baptism: 29 July 1666 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Veronica

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Daniel Ziegler….; Hanss Eiber……; Maia Elisabetha Blaror(in)?

Two years and a few days later, Hanss Jacob joined the growing family.

Baptism: 9 Aug 1668

Child: Hanss Jacob

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Ulrich Schweigger from Stuttgardt; Jerg Lienhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, Daniel Ziegler’s wife.

There isn’t a death record for Hanss Jacob, but the next baby arrived 16 months later, just before Christmas. By this time, assuming all children except two lived, when Anna Barbara was born, Margretha would have had four children ages 16 months to 7 years. I’d say she had her hands full.

Baptism: 17 Dec 1669 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Anna Barbara

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmid, schoolteacher in Grunbach; Jerg Lienhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler.

It would be almost three years before the next child arrived, hinting at a child that was stillborn in late 1671. We don’t see births of children who were not baptized in the records – nor burial records.

Baptism: 6 Sept 1672 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Sibylla

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmid, schoolteacher in Grunbach; Jerg Lienhard Herrman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler.

It’s interesting that they named a second child Sibylla. It’s also interesting that the original godmother, Sibilla, of the first Sibilla born in 1661 is not present for this baptism. That original Sibilla Stockler(in) or Glockler(in) was only present for the births in 1661 and 1662, causing me to wonder why she wasn’t present later, and isn’t present for this birth when the child is apparently named in her honor. Of course, this makes me wonder if she died.

This also causes me to ponder the possibility if she is a sister or maybe niece to Margretha. The (in) suffix to her surname indicates that she is not married, so either Stockler or Glockler would be her birth surname.

Fortunately for me, this child named Sibylla lived. She’s my ancestor and her story can be found here.

Baptism: 27 Sept 1674 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Jerg Lienhardt +

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmidt, schoolteacher in Grunbach; Jerg Lienhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler.

I noticed that Jerg Leinhard Hermann, the local miller, is the godfather for six of seven of Margretha’s children. This close association also suggests a close relationship. Their last child, who, unfortunately, did not live long, was named for Jerg Leinhard.

Burial: 31 January 1675 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Cause of Death: ?

Decedent: Jerg Lienhard, 18 weeks old

Child of Hanss Rüdolph Müller, smith.

It appears that Margretha ended her childbearing years in almost exactly the same way she began them. In 1675, Margretha was likely in her early to mid-40s. She had given birth to at least 9 children whose baptisms appear in church records.

Given the three-year space, she probably had one stillborn child who was simply buried but not baptized, meaning she had at least 10 children.

We don’t know that Margretha didn’t have more children that died in Switzerland before settling in Germany, or after the child born in 1675. We do know that the last child baptized, in 1675, Jerg Lienhard passed away 18 weeks later.

To Margretha, who 14 years earlier had lost her firstborn daughter 24 weeks after she was born, this must have seemed terribly, horribly familiar.

Margretha’s Death

Margretha died on October 30th, 1689 when she was about 57 years old.

Burial:30 Oct 1689 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Buried the wife of Rudolph Müller.

At the time of her death, none of her children had married. Her eldest son would have been 27 years old, but he wouldn’t marry until 1696.

Daughter Veronica would marry a year after Margretha’s death, in 1690.

Sibilla, born in 1672 would have just turned 17 that late October day when the family gathered inside the medieval church to hear Margretha’s funeral sermon, then walked outside to bury her mother’s coffin. Sibylla didn’t marry for another several years, in 1698.

There are no marriage records for any other children, before or after Margretha’s death.

No grandchildren were born before Margretha died, so she never had the opportunity to enjoy those cherubic faces. I hope they all heard stories about Margretha and her life, including her family left behind in Switzerland.

In 1689, Margretha’s home was probably bustling with activity as her adult and near-adult children helped with household activities. Her son named for his father, or two sons if Hans Jacob survived, likely assisted Rudolph in the blacksmith shop and as the local ferrier.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66911528

The men may have worked in this very barn, or one similar, still standing, in Grossheppach.

The daughters would have assisted Margretha with the never-ending household chores and probably took care of her in her final illness.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66912145

Margretha’s home might have looked like, or could even been this medieval cross house in Grossheppach.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66911532

Or maybe this one.

Regardless, Margretha would have been in and out of all of these homes over the years. They would have been familiar, likely open to the neighbors, most of whom were related, at any time. Women likely came and went, especially in a time of need – childbirth, illness and the ever-present death.

Two years later, Rudolph remarried to another Margaretha. He died a year later, in 1992, joining Margretha and their children in the cemetery beside the church in Grossheppach.

It’s somehow ironic, and not just a little sad, that Margretha’s daughter, Veronica died in 1708 at only 41 years of age. Of course, there were many causes of death, but I always wonder about childbirth for women of childbearing age. Her sister, Sibilla, was a midwife and I wonder if she delivered Veronica’s children.

Unfortunately, the minister, in the Register of Souls, incorrectly attributed Veronica’s step-mother, who was also named Margaretha, as her mother. I realize that’s an easy mistake to make, but it hurts my heart for Veronica’s mother, our Margretha.

Hopefully, this error meant one thing – either Veronica and step-mother Margaretha had a wonderful relationship. Of course, it could also be that the minister was new to the church and didn’t know the family history. We don’t know exactly when this register was compiled, but it was clearly after 1711.

Seelenregister (Register of Souls) Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Veronica (spouse of Johann Jacob Mahler); died 11 January 1708, aged 41 years, 6 months.

Father: Rudolph Müller, citizen and farrier (smith) from Switzerland Cand (Kanton?); died 1692.

Mother: Margaretha, born in Switzerland, a chambermaid; died 23 March 1711, about 71 years of age.

Note by Tom who performed these translations: This Margaretha is Veronica’s step-mother. Her birth mother died in 1689 and was also named Margaretha.

This does cause me to wonder if step-mother Margretha truly was also from Switzerland, or if the two Margrethas have been intertwined, which I suspect is the case. If the step-mother is also from Switzerland, this tells us that perhaps several Swiss families settled in Grossheppach – and maybe they are related or from the same region or village.

Was our Margretha a chambermaid, or was the step-mother the chambermaid? Was chambermaid somehow different than “housewife” in that time and place? If so, how?

Godparents

I’m always so grateful when ministers include the names of the various godparents with baptisms. I wish when records are indexed, the godparents’ names were indexed too, because they are often the keys to unraveling relationships.

I compiled this table of godparents in order to see who is found in multiple baptisms and what can be discerned about those individuals. People who journeyed from out of town were more likely to be relatives than those who might have been godparents because they were neighbors or village officials.

It’s worth remembering that the Godparents were responsible for raising the child, and raising them up in the church, if something were to happen to the parents. Before the days of modern medicine, that happened all too often. Godparents were making this solemn promise in from of everyone, including God.

Godparents made a serious commitment, which is why they are often trusted family members.

Child Godparent Location Comment
Sibilla 1661 Jerg Leinhardt Herman, Margretha In 1657, one Georg Leonhard Hermann married Maria Magdalena Krausin. This family seems to have been in Grossheppach for several generations, so not Swiss.
Sibilla Stockler(in) Stuttgart, farm maid Given the same first name, the distance from Stuttgart and her peasant status, this person is likely related.
Hans Rudolph – 1662 Jerg Leinhardt Herman This family is found in the region in the earlier 1600s, so not Swiss.
Ulrich Schweikhardt, Stuttgart I don’t find this individual, but I do find this family in Stuttgart earlier than this timeframe, so apparently not Swiss.
Sibilla Glockler(in) Also from…[probably Stuttgart] These 3 people at this baptism are the same as the 1661 baptism, so likely all 3 connected in some way. There is a 1626 birth in Stuttgart for Anna Sybilla Gletler or Gloeckler.
Anna Magdalena 1664 Jerg Schmidt Grunbach Jerg died in 1686 in Grossheppach. Grunbach was perhaps 2 miles distant.
J. L. Herman Miller Probably Jerg Leonhard Herman
Daniel’s wife, Magdalena Probably Daniel Ziegler, see below
Anna Margretha – 1664 Jerg Leonhard Herman Miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler
Anna Margaretha, wife of Ulrich Schweickh(a)r(t)
Veronica 1666 Daniel Ziegler
Hans Eiber Mayor in Grossheppach
Maria Elisbetha Blaror(in)?
Hans Jacob 1668 Ulrich Schweigger Stuttgart
Jerg Leinhard Herman Miller
Magdalena, Daniel Ziegler’s wife
Anna Barbara 1669 Jerg Schmid Schoolteacher in Grunback
Jerg Leinhard Herman Miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler
Sibylla 1672 Jerg Schmid Schoolteacher in Grunbach
Jerg Leinhard Herrman Miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler
Jerg Leinhardt 1674 Jerg Schmidt Schoolteacher in Grunbach
Jerg Leinhard Herman, miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler

Typically, when we see the same people repeat as godparents, especially when they have to travel from out of town, that often means they are relatives, and probably close relatives – often siblings.

Stuttgart is not nearby, about 11 miles distant. Either Rudolph or Margretha had some connection to the individuals from Stuttgart.

In this case, the fact that these families were living in this region for at least a generation suggests strongly that they were not from Switzerland, but perhaps they had married people who were, or there is a connection from an earlier generation.

By Silesia711 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66911535

Johann Rudolph and Margretha appear to be particularly close to Jerg Leinhardt Hermann, the local miller. They both would have seen the former Grossheppach mill, above and below, daily.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66911533

Why Johann Rudolph Muller and Margretha selected the same godparents for their children repeatedly will have to remain a mystery, at least for now.

Mitochondrial DNA

The mitochondrial DNA of Margretha would have been passed on to her children of both sexes, but only females pass it on.

We don’t know what happened to three daughters:

  • Anna Magdalena reportedly born in 1664
  • Anna Margaretha reportedly born in 1664
  • Anna Barbara born in 1669

We know that two of Margretha’s daughters did in fact marry and have children, Veronica and Sybilla.

Veronica

From the Register of Souls, we see that Veronica had six daughters.

  • Veronica’s daughter Veronica born in 1700, died in 1717.
  • Veronica’s daughter, Anna Barbara Mahler married Jacob Kloepfer in 1732 and died in 1763. It looks like she had one daughter in 1733, but only three children are shown in the Grossheppach book through 1737.

Sibilla

Margretha’s daughter, Sibilla Muller born in 1672 married Johann George Lenz/Lentz in neighboring Beutelsbach in 1698. She had two daughters who lived.

  • Elisabetha was born in 1709, but we know nothing more.
  • Anna Barbara Lenz born in 1699 and died in 1770 married Johann Georg Vollmer in 1729, having four daughters who lived to adulthood:
    1. Barbara 1729-1744
    2. Maria Elisabetha 1732-1795
    3. Regina 1738-1740
    4. Anna Maria 1740-1781

Descendants of these females, through all females, to the current generation which can be male or female would carry the mitochondrial DNA of Margretha. I have a DNA testing scholarship for the first person who qualifies.

Stay Tuned

Just before I finished this article, I received a reply from the researcher who performed the one-place study of Grossheppach. They, indeed, to descend from Johann Rudolph Muller and Margretha through daughter Veronica – and – they have additional information they are willing to share. Bless that person.

As it turns out, they still live in Grossheppach.

I’m doing the genealogy happy dance.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Free Webinar: Revealing Your Mother’s Ancestors & Where They Came From

I want to personally invite everyone to “save the date” for the free presentation I’ve created for the RootsTech DNA Basics Learning Center.

Those of you who have attended RootsTech in person in Salt Lake City over the past couple of years may have noticed the DNA Center sponsored by FamilySearch that provides non-vendor-specific DNA education for everyone.

You probably remember their DNA beans explaining the concept of random autosomal inheritance.

That tidy little package is “you.” The genealogical goal, of course, is to work backwards and figure out who, in your tree, those jellybean colors represent.

This year we won’t be gathering together in Salt Lake City, so it will be a bring-your-own-jellybeans event. However, the DNA Learning Center will be available virtually – which is actually a great benefit.

I know, I want to see everyone too – but in this case, the sessions are recorded and will be available for everyone worldwide so we can educate far more people than on the show floor.

Revealing Your Mother’s Ancestors & Where They Came From

In addition to my regular session, which I’ll write about as soon as the schedule is finalized, I volunteered to create a basic presentation for the DNA Learning Center. DNA is critically important to genealogy and I want everyone to enjoy that benefit.

As everyone knows, maternal ancestors are often challenging for a variety of reasons. Because surnames change with marriage, at least in most western cultures, females’ birth surnames are more prone to be missing. Fortunately, DNA has provided genealogists with two different tools to help overcome those challenges.

Mitochondrial DNA is focused only on your direct matrilineal (your mother’s mother’s mother’s) line, and autosomal DNA can be inherited from any ancestor. However, there are tools and techniques that allow us to hone autosomal results and use them selectively.

I’ll be covering inheritance and how to utilize both autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, including haplogroups, for your genealogy. Both separately, and together.

We’ll discuss how a cousin and I collaborated, using both types of DNA in addition to traditional genealogical records to break through one of those “no surname” brick walls six generations in the past. That breakthrough then revealed several MORE generations, like dominoes falling in quick succession.

Those pesky ancestors had moved from Long Island to New Jersey to Virginia leaving no backward trail. Cleary, not your normal migration pattern. This mystery absolutely could NOT have been solved without mitochondrial DNA pointing the way.

When and Where?

The where is easy – on your computer or device, of course.

Currently, this free session is scheduled to air twice, so mark your calendar:

  • February 25 – 3 PM EST – captioned in English
  • February 27 – 1 PM EST – captioned in Spanish

FamilySearch is providing volunteers to answer questions entered into the online chat during all of the DNA Learning Center sessions, including mine. I plan to “be there” to answer questions too, as will several other volunteers. Some volunteers will speak Spanish on the 27th. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish, so I’ll be restricted to answering questions in English.

When the entire 3-day DNA Learning Center schedule is finalized, I’ll post and give a huge shout-out to the other volunteer speakers too.

While we wait for Rootstech to arrive, you still have time to order mitochondrial or autosomal DNA tests, below.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Into the Silence

I really want to encourage each and every one of you to work and speak “into the silence.”

What do I mean by that?

When we document something, write something or make something – we do so alone. Just like I’m doing right this minute. I’m writing “into the silence” because I’m writing on faith that people will read and, fingers-crossed, enjoy and utilize my articles.

Often, we write or create with the hope that some particular person, or persons, will appreciate our endeavors. Maybe we created a loving holiday or birthday gift for someone special.

Or, perhaps, our goal is less specific and more intangible.

Think, for example, of a journal.

Each person who writes in a journal generally isn’t journaling for someone else. If so, the “someone else” is a matter of faith – that they *will* exist someday in the future. Journaling is private and the eventual consumer, if they ever exist, is a byproduct of the journaling process, an accident.

In essence, the diarist is writing into the silence because the future is uncertain. Those future readers may not exist. That journal may not survive.

I ask you to ponder how grateful you would be, today, for your great-grandmother’s journal detailing everyday life in her house and garden. Her trips to the market, how and when she did laundry, did it rain or snow, are the tomatoes ripe, who misbehaved at church, along with her thoughts on what was happening in her life and neighborhood.

Or your great-grandfather’s journal about his time separated from his family while in the military serving his country. Did he serve in the Civil War or in WWI, living in a tent-hospital during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic? What was that experience like on a personal level?

Maybe letters from your ancestor as they made their way to a new country, seasick the entire time, but filled with hope.

What I’d give for any of those!

Today, maybe you’ve created a book about one of your ancestral lines. Or, maybe you took weeks to sort out, assemble, scan, and organize the photos of your grandparents to share with your siblings.

And perhaps no one even bothered to acknowledge your gift or say thank you. Did they even look at them? Do they care, at all?

That would leave anyone somewhat dejected with hurt feelings.

But if you think about it, what you’re really doing is writing, creating, into the silence.

Not their silence today. No, not that.

But the larger silence of time and space that exists between you and future generations. Without your endeavors, they have no opportunity to glimpse today, or your shared past.

This silence – this silence is what connects you. The umbilical cord that links them to their ancestors through you.

That document, or collage, or scrapbook, or quilt – whatever you created out of love will, hopefully, be passed along. A form of prayer on wings – winging its way to the future with a mission of its own.

The person who will most cherish that gift across time, who will love you for it even though they will never meet you, hasn’t yet been born.

So, I encourage you to continue to honor your ancestors, to tell their stories, to document their lives – and your own.

Yes, someone will care.

Speak into the silence by testing your DNA and making sure it’s available for future genealogists. By researching and documenting your ancestral lines. By ensuring that your work is photographed if it’s a quilt or scrapbook. By placing stories and other writing into repositories where they will be available for those listening future generations even if the current generations seem to be stone-cold deaf.

In my case, my 52 Ancestors stories fall into that category. I’ve written one each week for 320 weeks now, more than six years as hard as that is to believe, and I’m no place near finished. I search for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of each ancestor and document discoveries.

I’m planning to compile the articles, by family line, into books. I will probably use a self-publishing platform such as LuLu.com to assure that their stories are available indefinitely. I’ve linked each ancestor’s story to the proper ancestor on my tree at Ancestry and MyHeritage and I’m in the process at WikiTree as well.

I’ll be donating the books, when created, to various local and regional libraries and genealogy/historical societies, along with both the Allen County Public Library and Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Remember that activities, pictures, stories, and memories that seem mundane to you today will be someone else’s goldmine happy-dance one day.

It’s not so much the silence we’re speaking into, but acting to honor the past and present for future generations – on faith that someone “out there” will care. We are being that ancestor who we wish would have left something, anything, telling us about their lives and family. How they felt, what they did, what was transpiring around them.

Especially in difficult and trying times, keep on doing what you’re doing and answering that call.

Be encouraged, take heart, and know that your efforts today will cause your name to be spoken with gratitude long after you’ve left this realm.

Johann Rudolph Muller (circa 1630-1692), Swiss Blacksmith in Grossheppach, Germany – 52 Ancestors #320

Rudolph Muller lived in Grossheppach, Germany, sometimes known as Heppach, in the 1600s.

While Grossheppach is located in the middle of the wine region, as seen in this photo and the village shield, Rudolph didn’t work in the vineyards. Nor was he a miller, as his surname would suggest. Rudolph was a blacksmith.

The Village Blacksmith

This 1606 print of a German blacksmith shows us what Rudolph’s blacksmith’s shop would have looked like, and the tools he would have worked with. Google translate provides us with the following”

Work block; Anvil; Hammer; Pliers; Poker; bucket

Description: The brother works a glowing metal tip with a hammer, which he holds on the anvil with pliers. Further metal points lie next to the anvil and on a table in the background of the workshop. There is a second anvil here. Various saws hang on the wall and on the wall bracket in the window opening, a large saw blade lies on the ground in the foreground, while a poker and metal spikes lie in the fireplace.

The art of medieval blacksmithing is described here and here.

One thing is for sure. It was beastly hot, especially in the summers, probably outright miserable from time to time, and dangerous. Notice the bucket which would have contained water, on the floor.

Rudolph was probably burned in one way or another almost daily. Metals were scalding hot after being taken out of the forge, and hammering caused hot sparks flying everyplace. I shudder to think about his unprotected eyes.

Unknown to them then, carbon dioxide poisoning is also a concern for blacksmiths, but I’d wager their shops were probably pretty open due to heat.

They didn’t have safety goggles back then, or welder’s gloves. While this man is wearing long sleeves and some type of apron, I think, his legs are bare as are his hands and face.

I wonder if Rudolph might have been hard of hearing in his later years due to the noise of years of constant pounding.

Rudolph died at 59 years of age. No cause of death was entered, but I can’t help but wonder why he died.

Rudolph’s First Appearance

The first record we find is the birth of Rudolph’s daughter, named Sibilla, in 1661, in the Grossheppach church records. That daughter passed away and is not to be confused with the second daughter named Sibilla, born in 1672 who survived and is also my ancestor. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that they attempted that name twice means she was named after the mother of either Rudolph or Margaretha.

Both Rudolph and his first wife, Margaretha, were born in Switzerland, as determined by their death records, which means that either they married in Switzerland and subsequently settled in Heppach, or they met and married in Heppach.

Baptisms records begin in Grossheppach in 1558 and marriage records in 1564. Part of 1627 is missing due to an epidemic, according to this site. Deaths begin in 1648, immediately after the Thirty Years War.

Therefore, if Rudolph and Margaretha had married in Grossheppach, there should have been a record, so we can probably presume they married in Switzerland sometime between 1650 and 1660, and may have had their first children before arriving in Grossheppach.

Grossheppach

All early villages grew up beside a stream, the life-giver, and nourisher to people and animals. You can see the little stream of Heppach as it exists today, here, connecting Grossheppach with its neighbor village, Kleinheppach. The word grossen translates to “huge” and klein means “small.” There doesn’t seem to be a translation for heppach.

The stream named Heppach connects those two villages and looks quite small today. This early drawing shows the Rems River, not the stream of Heppach that empties into the Rems.

This drawing, made in 1686 from Kieser’s forest map would have been created during the time that Rudolph was the village smith. In fact, his house would have been one of those shown. The village wasn’t large, about 55 homes, as best I can tell, with maybe between 5 and 7 inhabitants each.

The church, as always, was in the center of the village and the cemetery would have been located outside, in the churchyard.

By 1686, Rudolph would have buried at least two children there and would bury his wife just three short years later. But in 1686, Rudolph and his family would have been living happily in one of these houses, going about the routine of daily life in the village.

An artist drawing the village would have been quite an interesting event. Perhaps Rudolph and the other villagers would have watched the artist as he worked, or listened in the evenings at the pub as he told tall tales about other German villages he had visited. Did they look at their own houses on the map and comment?

Another view shows the village from the opposite perspective.

The same area today, for comparison. That little river island looks to be long gone, or under the bridge.

I can locate the original Kirschstrasse on this current map, along with the castle for orientation. The church, with a different steeple, is located at the end of Kirschstrasse and matches up with an 1832 map.

The orderly rows on the hillsides are vineyards as seen looking down at the region from the top of one of the hills.

The map below shows the distant hills with the villages clustered in valleys along the streams.

These villages were not isolated.

Rudolph’s daughter married Johann Georg Lenz from Beutelsbach, across the Rems River, and spent her adult life living there, but she was clearly within walking distance of her family members. It’s less than 3 miles from Beutelsbach to Kleinheppach, north of Grossheppach.

You can view more photos of Grossheppach here and here

History and Vineyards

The vineyards in Grossheppach reach back into time immemorial. As with any location, geography and climate dictate what can be grown, and agriculture defines the occupation and lifestyle of the residents. Viticulture has sustained the Grossheppach residents, along with their neighbors, probably since humans have inhabited this valley and figured out what happens when you ferment grapes.

Historical information is found on the Wayback machine, translated as follows:

The first mention of this village [vineyards] is when the knight ‘Fridericus miles de Heggebach’ in 1279, Master Rudolf (doctor in Esslingen) bequeathed three “Jauchert vineyards” from Großheppach to the Bebenhausen monastery in addition to his house in Esslingen.

A castle site mentioned in 1485 once had a wooden castle on which Staufer ministerials – the Knights of Heppach – sat; they are first mentioned in a document in 1236 [where Grossheppach was identified as Hegnesbach.] The monastery Gundelsbach was founded by a hermit in 1359 for the St. Pauls hermits, to which houses and farms have been attached since 1470. The church consecrated to St. Aegidius – a foundation of Waiblingen – was raised to an independent parish in 1489. In 1769 the church received a so-called ‘Welsche Bell’ as a tower dome.

Note that Welsche likely refers to the colloquial term for “French-speaking Swiss, their portion of Switzerland known also as Welschland.

Next to the church, the renaissance castle is a landmark of Großheppach. It was built in 1592 by the Württemberg Chancellor Dr. Martin Eichmann from a town house; at the same time he acquired various rights on site. The castle property later passed into the hands of the noble families von Abel, von Goeben and von Gaisberg.

During the uprising of the ‘poor Konrad’ in 1514 (see also the local history of Beutelsbach), Großheppach saw peasant revolutionaries in its corridors. On Easter Monday 1514, the goat Peter moved with a group of farmers to the Rems between Beutelsbach and Großheppach in order to subject the newly introduced weights of the Duke of Württemberg to a ‘water test’: the weights promptly sank below what the farmers saw as a judgment of God. They marched against castles, cities and monasteries, but were soon blown up. The leader of the Großheppacher Fähnlein, Klaus Schlechthin, later took part in the peasant uprising of 1525 and was captured in the Battle of Böblingen and executed by running the gauntlet.

During the Thirty Years’ War, on January 21, 1643, there was a skirmish between the imperial and Swedes at the Remsbrücke, where around 300 soldiers were killed. In the War of the Spanish Succession [1701-1714], Großheppach was again the starting point for warlike ventures. On June 13, 1704, the greatest generals of the time – Prince Eugene of Savoy, the English military leader Marlborough and Margrave Ludwig von Baden – held a council of war on the operations of the Battle of Höchstädt here in the Lamm Inn, which still exists today.

The listed buildings of the Häckermühle and the town hall from the 16th and 17th centuries are well worth seeing.

Rudolph’s Life

The only evidence we have of Rudolph’s age is the age at which his wife had their last child which was born in 1675. If Margaretha was 43 at that time, she would have been born about 1632, so we can assume he was born sometime around 1630, or perhaps slightly earlier.

Rudolph would have married between 1650 and 1660, most likely, and they would have packed up their cart, maybe hitched up a mule and walked from someplace in Switzerland to Germany, assuredly after all danger from the Thirty Years War had abated.

Most German villages had been heavily depopulated during the war, although Grossheppach did not appear to have been abandoned. In the best-case scenarios, German villages lost only one-third of their population. Some lost 50%, and some were entirely destroyed and depopulated.

This settlement pattern suggests that Rudolph came from the German-speaking portion of Switzerland.

By Marco Zanoli (sidonius 13:20, 18 June 2006 (UTC)) – Swiss Federal Statistical Office; census of 2000, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=875011

How might Rudolph and Margaretha have made the journey to Grossheppach?

While we don’t know Rudolph and Margaretha’s departure point in Switzerland, we do know that the Bernese Oberland was far more Protestant than much of the rest of Switzerland.

The mountains southwest of Bern marked the dividing line between the German and French-speaking regions of Switzerland. Regardless of where they originated in the German-speaking region, it was not a short journey and was probably a one-way trip – forever leaving family behind.

This trek was likely not undertaken by water unless they navigated the Rhine, then backtracked down the Neckar (against the flow) followed by the Rems.

Perhaps German villages issued advertisements or notices that they were looking for specific skilled trades. Maybe Rudolph knew that Grossheppach needed a blacksmith. It’s certainly possible that they joined with other family members, either as they journeyed or joined those who had already settled in Germany.

Rudolph’s daughter, Veronica’s death record gives us the closest approximation with the phrase, “Switzerland Cand.”

Seelenregister (Register of Souls) Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Veronica (spouse of Johann Jacob Mahler); died 11 January 1708, aged 41 years, 6 months.

Father: Rudolph Müller, citizen and farrier (smith) from Switzerland Cand (Kanton?); died 1692.

Mother: Margaretha, born in Switzerland, a chambermaid; died 23 March 1711, about 71 years of age.

Note by Tom who performed these translations: This Margaretha is Veronica’s step-mother. Her birth mother died in 1689 and was also named Margaretha.

If anyone has any further idea what “Cand” might mean other than perhaps Canton, or which Canton, I’d be forever grateful.

I do wonder if the newlywed couple set off for Germany on a great adventure, arriving before their first child did. Of course, they could have married a few years earlier and had already begun their family when they decided to leave, which meant travel would have been more difficult. If so, there are no marriage records for those earlier children in Grossheppach, although, clearly they could have married in nearby villages.

Children

  • One way or another, Rudolph and Margaretha had settled in and welcomed a baby, Sibilla in May of 1661.
  • Heartbreak followed a few months later. Sibilla died in October, when she was just 24 weeks old, the first family member to be buried in the cemetery beside the church.
  • In August of 1662, Hans Rudolph, named for his father, joined the family. Johann Rudolph Muller married in 1696 to Anna Barbara Mercklin. We don’t have the Y DNA of Rudolph Muller, which is passed from father to son. If Hans Rudolph and Anna Barbara had sons, who had sons, whose descendants carry the Muller (or derivative) surname today through all males, I have a DNA testing scholarship for that Muller male.
  • 1664 saw Anna Magdalena baptized in February and Anna Margaretha baptized in October. The church has stamped dates (clearly in the 20th century) on the baptisms, and they show two children, born to the same parents, one baptized in February and the second in October of 1664, which is of course not possible if the babies were baptized shortly after birth. There is no additional information about either of these children, so we have no idea if they lived or died.
  • Veronica was born in July 1666 and married in 1690 to Hanss Jacob Mahler.
  • Son, Hanss Jacob Muller, was born in August 1668. There is nothing more about Hanss Jacob, but the fact this the next child arrived 16 months later suggests that perhaps he died. If he did not die and had male children who have direct line male descendants today, they would qualify for the Y DNA scholarship as well.
  • Anna Barbara’s baptism is recorded in December 1669. No further information about this child either, but there is almost three years before the birth of Sibilla which makes me wonder if they lost a child.
  • September of 1672 welcomed the second daughter named Sibilla who married Johann Georg Lenz/Lentz in 1698 in Beutelsbach, living the rest of her life there.
  • Jerg Lienhardt was born in September of 1674 and died in January of 1675 at 18 weeks of age.

That was the last child and the last church entry for 15 years. But on October 30th of 1689, Margaretha, Rudolph’s wife, died.

We don’t know exactly how many children were living at this time. There were no marriage records yet, and the oldest child, Hans Rudolph, Rudolph’s namesake wouldn’t marry until a few years later. He would have been age 27, living and working at home when his mother died.

At least two daughters were living; Veronica who would have been 23, and Sibila, the youngest, who would have been 17. It’s possible that up to four other children were living as well. Rudolph wasn’t alone, nor did he have a number of small children.

A year later, almost exactly, on October 28, 1690, Rudolph’s daughter, Veronica married the local tailor, Hanss Jacob Mahler.

Perhaps that wedding made Rudolph ponder marriage again and realize that he did not want to remain a widower forever. Or, perhaps his daughter had done a good deal of the cooking and domestic work and simple logic kicked in when a local woman was widowed and started looking admiringly in his direction. Necessity often plays cupid.

Rudolph did what most people of that time did if their spouse died. He remarried.

Marriage: 11 August 1691 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Johann Rudolph Müller, from here with Mrs. Anna Margaretha Berger(in), surviving widow of Herr Berger, former court bailiff? from here.

However, Rudolph didn’t live much longer himself, passing away in July of 1692.

Burial: 28 July 1692 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Joh(ann) Rüdolph Müller was buried.

I sure wish they had recorded Rudolph’s age and birth location. Just a few strokes of the pen could have told us so much.

Rudolph’s second wife, Margaretha, not to be confused with his first wife of the same name, died in 1711.

Burial: 23 March 1711 was buried Margaretha, surviving widow of Rüdolph Müller, former smith and citizen here……..Knauss(in)…..aged 71 years.

Marriage: 12 Nov 1678 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

H(err) Johannes Heinrich Berger, …master and juror here with Margretha Knauss were married.

Given that Margaretha (born Knauss) married previously in 1678, at the age of 38, she likely had a child or two, and Rudolph probably had step-children that would still have been at home when he married Margaretha in 1691.

The Sweet Spot

Rudolph was born during the Thirty Years War, but in Switzerland where the residents were unaffected. Switzerland was an oasis of peace and prosperity. No one wanted Switzerland to fall, because the Swiss provided mercenaries to many other countries. In essence, that was payment for keeping the war off of their land.

Brave or hopeful, or both, he moved to Grossheppach as a relatively young man, probably as a newlywed.

Rudolph’s children did not marry during his lifetime, so he never got to know any of his grandchildren, but he did manage to actually live in the “sweet spot” in German history.

Rudolph didn’t live in the Palatinate which was constantly being overrun by the French in the 1670s, 1680s, and 1690s. I don’t know why he chose Grossheppach instead of the Palatinate, but that was either smart or fortuitous.

Rudolph died before the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession in 1701, so he avoided warfare for his entire lifetime – a rare event for any German in the 1600s.

The Lamm Inn

Grossheppach seemed to be a quiet village. After a long day standing and pounding at the forge, Rudolph probably walked a few feet to the Lamm Inn, which existed then and still exists today with its golden lamb beckoning thirsty travelers. In fact, you can book a stay yourself here. Trust me, I’d like nothing better right about now!

Of course, given that wine was produced locally, Rudolph wouldn’t have been drinking German beer, but whatever was available from the cool wine cellar. His body probably ached, and he was hot and thirsty, so he would have been grateful for anything cold, along with warm friendships.

You can see several photos of the Lamm Inn, here, including what appears to be the wine cellar door and several views of the street. Be sure to look at the photos, here, in the left slider.

Oh Rudolph, I so want to visit you.

To sit in the Lamm Inn where you sat.

To walk on the cobblestone streets where you walked for more than 30 years.

To discover which home was yours, and maybe, if I could be so lucky, the remnants of your forge.

To sit in the church where you assuredly sat, every Sunday, along with too many more “funeral days.” Maybe I would luck into “your pew.” I would close my eyes and feel your spirit nearby.

I want to stroll the churchyard, knowing that you are there, somewhere, along with Margaretha.

Would you know that I am visiting? That some part of your DNA has come home to connect with your ashes and dust?

And, if I listen oh-so-carefully, will you whisper in my ear where, in Switzerland, you were born?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

myDNA Merges With FamilyTreeDNA and Gene by Gene

2021 is starting out with an exciting announcement in the genetic genealogy world. A marriage!

Dr. Lior Rauchberger, CEO of Australian company, myDNA, has announced a merger with well-known genetic genealogy company, FamilyTreeDNA along with the parent company that owns their DNA processing lab, Gene by Gene.

click to enlarge images

Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, founders of both Houston-based companies, FamilyTreeDNA and Gene by Gene, will retain board seats in the merged organization, while Rauchberger will be the CEO of the organization.

Here’s the full press release.

I spoke with Bennett, and he assured me that myDNA has every intention of maintaining and investing in the genealogy side of the house. He indicated that both companies felt that this was a very compatible marriage.

I didn’t know anything about myDNA previously, but like any genealogist, I’ve done some research.

Who is myDNA?

According to their website, myDNA, founded in 2007, is focused on personal health management.

Their approach seems to be a bit different than health and wellness tests I’ve seen before.

The myDNA test is a functional pathology test that reports on how genetic factors may influence the ways in which medications affect individuals. Different people metabolize and eliminate medications differently, and at various speeds.

myDNA testing provides customers with the ability to work with their physicians to tailor their medications to maximize benefits and minimize side effects.

I’m not surprised that FamilyTreeDNA has, one way or another, added a health component to the menu. As I mentioned in my Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years article earlier this week, all three of the other major players have a health/medical aspect of their products.

You can take a look at what myDNA offers, here, and here, for yourself, and at an example report, here.

The myDNA products also offer ways to make sustainable lifestyle changes, DNA based meal plans and workouts customized for your goals.

I don’t have any personal experience with myDNA, but I will as soon as I order a test.

Benefits and Opportunities

I see several potential benefits to the genetic genealogy community, including:

  • myDNA customers may provide a pool of new customers (and matches) who might possibly be interested in genealogy, aka, YDNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal testing.

I would presume that these tests will soon be offered as options to myDNA customers. Australia, in addition to its aboriginal population, consists of immigrants from the British Isles and elsewhere. I actually discovered the DNA match down under who broke through my decades-old Speak family brick wall in Lancashire.

  • myDNA customers, even if they aren’t interested in genealogy, per se, may be interested in more general “where did I come from,” personal history type of information.

This might include interesting Y and mitochondrial DNA migration map “journeys,” along with ethnicity. I’m thinking along the lines of “myY,” “myMito” and the already existing  “myOrigins,” Perhaps something similar to the less in-depth, but still quite interesting (now-defunct) Genographic product test results.

Adding FamilyTreeDNA tools for myDNA customers would benefit both sides of the equation. Every additional person who tests helps the scientific research aspect, meaning building both the Y and mitochondrial trees, which in turn helps traditional genealogy customers.

Conversely, FamilyTreeDNA customers may want to easily add some of the myDNA products and have them available through one single customer portal.

I’m extremely hopeful about opportunities for the genetic genealogy side of the house. Specifically, my fingers are crossed that myDNA will invest in:

  • Website infrastructure which will improve performance.
  • Enhancing current and adding new advanced genealogy tools and products that aren’t just pieces, but provide us with innovative solutions.

And yes, I have suggestions. Like a kid in the toy store, I have a long wish list of features I’d love to see😊.

I’d like to hear your (positively constructed) wish list as well.

I’m excited about this new opportunity!

Customer Notification

Customers will be notified via e-mail in the next 48 hours or so. If you don’t receive an e-mail, check your spam folder or sign on to your account. If you’ve changed your e-mail recently, sign in to be sure your e-mail address is current.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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Sibilla Muller (1672-1746), Midwife and Typhoid – 52 Ancestors #319

Sibilla Muller was born September 6th, 1672 in Grossheppach to Rudolph Muller and his wife, Margaretha.

Grossheppach isn’t far from Beutelsbach where Sibilla’s future husband lived. He probably walked the short distance to court her regularly.

Marriage

Sibylla married Johann Georg Lenz, a vinedresser, in 1698. We are fortunate that while they were married in the church in Beutelsbach, her home church in Grossheppach also recorded the marriage the following week. I don’t know, of course, but I’d wager that the newlywed couple attended the bride’s church the Sunday following their wedding, taking with them news of the good tidings of their marriage.

Johann Georg was turning 25 in a couple of weeks. Sibilla was already 25 and would turn 26 that September. High time to marry and start a family.

My friend, Tom, translates the Beutelsbach record:

The Purification (of Mary) (February 2nd), (married):

Hanss Georg Lentz, legitimate son of Hanss Lentz, citizen and vinedresser from here and Sibilla, legitimate, surviving daughter of the late Johann Rudolph Müller, former smith from Hoppach (Grossheppach).

Next, the Heppach record:

1st Sunday after Epiphany in the local church was proclaimed, Hanss Jerg Lentz, legitimate son of Hanss Lentz, citizen in Beutelsbach and Sibylla, surviving, legitimate daughter of the late Hanss Rudolph Muller, citizen and smith here; were married in Beutelsbach on the 2nd of February (1698).

Why would the couple marry in the groom’s church instead of the bride’s church, as was the custom?

Perhaps because her parents were deceased, and his father was still living?

Sibilla’s mother had died in 1689 and her father in 1692. The young couple made their home in Beutelsbach where he could tend the vines in the vineyard, as his ancestors had done for generations. They probably lived with his father.

Sibilla, also spelled Sibylla, died May 28, 1746 when she was 73 years old from a combination of asthma and typhoid, at least as best I can tell from present-day translations combined with older names for known illnesses.

Martin Goll compiled family information for Sibilla, here. Using an automated translation tool, we discover:

Daughter of Joh. Rudolf Müller, gew, blacksmith Heppach.

Can print and read something written. Has 8 1/2 year in Großheppach served here all. About 1740 was chosen for Midwife. Due to the head disease.

Cause of death: Asthma and typhoid

Profession: midwife

I don’t know what head disease translates to in modern terms. I don’t understand this translation in its entirety, but I can pick out relevant pieces.

The word “gew” did not translate.

It’s interesting, if this translation is literal then Sibilla did not begin her midwife career until 1740 when she was already 68 years old. I wonder if this translated strangely. Or maybe the 8.5 years in Grossheppach refers to midwifing there before Beutelsbach.

Maybe I can learn more by researching midwifery in Germany in that era.

Midwifery

According to the book, The Art of Midwifery, midwives in southern Germany in the 1600s and 1700s were actually public employees. Furthermore, midwife was the “best” career for women, of which there were very few, providing the midwives with a degree of independence not normally allowed women.

Most midwives were the wives or widows of artisans, minor city officials or day laborers. Many were not wealthy enough to own their own homes. They were respectable, but certainly not bourgeois, and were generally referred to by their clients and in municipal notes as either “Weib” or “Mutter,” not the more respectable “Frau.”

Midwives were actually sworn public officials beginning in 1489 in nearby Stuttgart, so probably in Beutelsbach as well about that time. The city councils took care to regulate the midwives, issuing, and changing ordinances.

Midwives were different from other women in this context, not to mention that they were actually paid. In the city and village payment records, midwives were listed right after surgeons and apothecaries, but of course, they were paid much less. Midwives received 2 to 8 gulden per year while the city barber-surgeons received 10-25 gulden. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the pay disparity increased.

Therefore, midwives earned money, but not enough to support themselves. Perhaps this was a subtle, or maybe not-so-subtle way to control these women, lest they become *too* independent.

Sometimes, when midwives performed additional responsibilities, such as caring for pregnant women during times of the plague, or in the city hospital, the midwife would receive a grant or additional money from the council – not because she deserved it, of course, but as a sign “of our goodwill and not their rights,” to quote municipal council records.

Sometimes midwives had to approach the council directly to request payment. They generally did not employ the supplicatory language common for women asking assistance but directly requested either salary increases or “the payment of rye and wood which is due to us.” It strikes me that they shouldn’t have had to ask at all, but perhaps that’s my 21st-century perspective showing through.

It’s also worth noting that a midwife who moved into a city or town would often ask specifically to be granted citizenship – a status not normally accorded to women specifically and which was accompanied by obligatory rights and responsibilities. Sometimes citizenship was offered in order to entice a midwife and her husband to move to a town. Apparently, a good midwife was in demand.

I wonder if this might be related to the commentary about Sibilla being in Heppach for eight and a half years. Perhaps as that village’s midwife before becoming midwife in Beutelsbach about 1840.

Wealthy women might want to arrange for their own midwife instead of receiving the services of the midwife selected by the council. Midwives who didn’t have a husband to rely on for income often took private clients in addition to their civic duty.

Wealthy women paid fees comparable with the fees that barber-surgeons received.

The cost of a simple, uncomplicated birth was similar to that of a circumcision. (I’m sorry, but this comparison just makes me cringe.)

A more difficult birth, such as a breech birth or twins was comparable to setting a bone or removing tonsils. (This made me cringe too, for other reasons.)

These comparisons are fascinating because I would not think of them as equivalent.

Midwives had to study as an apprentice with an experienced midwife for generally a year or more, then pass an examination in order to be licensed.

Sometimes physicians, who did not deliver babies and were not trained to do so, decided who was qualified to become a midwife.

As time passed, another layer of bureaucracy was added in many places in order to minimize the appearances of midwives who were considered to be “peasants” before the council. Upper-class women known as “honorable women” were paid to “manage” the midwives so that the councils didn’t have to deal with them directly. Both “honorable women” who knew nothing at all about the practice of midwifery and physicians participated in the quizzing, testing, and selection of midwives.

The questions in such an examination reveal the level of knowledge which city councils hoped every new midwife would have. First came questions about her training and experience. With whom had she studied and for how long? Had she had children herself? How many births had she seen or taken part in? Then came questions about the content of her training. What food, drink and baths will help a woman have an easy birth? How does she know if a woman is pregnant and does not simply have some other kind of swelling? How does she know whether the fetus is healthy or sick, alive or dead? What is the normal position for birth, and how is this to be brought about in the case of abnormal presentation? What should be done with the umbilical cord and afterbirth, especially to make sure that the latter has emerged? How are the new mother and infant to be best taken care of, and what advice should she give the new mother?

The doctors judged the prospective midwife’s answers about the medical aspects of delivery and pre and post-natal care while the ‘honourable women’ assessed her morality and character. Though the questions appear sensible, it is important to remember that the physicians holding the examination had received all their training through the reading of classical medical texts and perhaps observing a single autopsy on a female cadaver; they were thus testing the skills of women who may have observed or assisted in as many as a hundred deliveries, while they had never even witnessed the birth of a live child.

Additional Responsibilities and Expectations

Midwives were expected to determine if the mother was in need of food or clothing, in the case of indigent women in particular.

Another responsibility of midwives was the emergency baptism. The first known ordinance about midwives stated that if the midwife determined that a child was near death that she should perform an emergency baptism or “she would have to answer to God for her laziness and irresponsibility.”

I recall at least one instance in the church record where it was recorded that the grandmother performed an emergency baptism of a child immediately following birth.

Religious differences entered this realm, because when babies were supposed to be baptized, and in what way was deemed critically important – especially if they had to be rebaptized, just in case the child survived and/or the midwife might have performed the baptism incorrectly. At one point, “rebaptism,” because it was related to the “radical” Anabaptist religions, carried the death penalty, so everyone was walking on eggshells. It was perceived that the midwife literally held the destiny of the child’s soul in her hands.

Municipalities varied in their requirements – but some passed ordinances requiring the midwife to seek out a member of the clergy, a councilman, or in one case, the mayor, before baptizing an ailing child to be absolutely positive that the baptism was done correctly. Of course, the midwife had to weigh the responsibility of protecting the child’s soul by baptizing the baby without seeking permission-disguised-as-assistance and following the “rules,” which might mean the baby died without being baptized at all. The city that enacted the ordinance requiring midwives to seek out the mayor reported exactly zero cases of that actually happening. Apparently, midwives had plenty of common sense in addition to birthing skills.

In some cases, during a difficult birth that might or would result in a deceased child, such as when hooks had to be utilized to extract the infant from the birth canal, the child was actually baptized by pushing something with either “holy water” for Catholics or “baptismal water” for Protestants, into the mother’s vagina to reach the head of the child before it died. I have heard these colloquially called “sponge baptisms.”

I can only imagine what the mother was going through as this occurred, understanding exactly why, and that she herself was also on the verge of death.

It was up to the midwife to report the identity of the father if the birth was illegitimate and the father was previously unidentified. Midwives weren’t always trusted, so often one of the “honorable women” was sent to monitor illegitimate births where the father was unknown. It was believed that the mother would “exclaim the name of the father during the pains of birth.”

In larger cities, especially as guilds and others began to regulate the morality of their members, midwives were expected to report on any child that was born “prematurely,” or full-term, before 9 months had elapsed after the wedding.

Several church records over the years have commented about the bride being pregnant, although clearly, not all pregnancies were evident yet when the wedding occurred.

Additionally, midwives were entirely prevented from assisting with an abortion or participating in infanticide. Mothers who engaged in strenuous physical activity were suspected of attempting an abortion, as were women who took herbs or drugs.

Midwives were forbidden from burying a deceased child or fetus. Any child that died during or as a result of childbirth was to be observed by “3 or 4 unsuspecting female persons.”

Not only was it bad enough if your baby died, but 3 or 4 non-family members were requested to come into your house to view your dead baby. Peachy.

If something foul was suspected in the death of a child or fetus, the midwife was required to take a barber-surgeon with her to inspect the deceased child. The physician or barber-surgeon would possibly perform an autopsy which midwives were not allowed to do.

While the midwife could not normally bury a deceased child, since these already-dead babies had not been baptized and were therefore relegated to hell, the midwife was allowed to bury them since nothing more could be done for their souls and “no one would have worried about the type of funeral such a child received.”

I had to read that section more than once because even though I realize their beliefs were different then, the callousness of that way of thinking is still quite shocking.

The word of a midwife could easily condemn another woman.

Anytime witchcraft accusations were on the increase, so were accusations of abortion and infanticide. Some midwives were even accused of causing deaths through “natural” methods or witchcraft.

As if the midwife didn’t have enough to worry about, eventually, they were also responsible for attempting to enforce the desired level of morality.

As cities enacted more stringent sumptuary codes in the sixteenth century, midwives were required to inform parents about laws that governed baptisms so they would not, for example, spend too much money on the infant’s baptism gown or invite too many people to the baptismal feast.

Interestingly, this tells us a bit about what happened, socially, surrounding a baptism. In a small village like Beutelsbach, I wonder if the entire village attended the baptismal feast. Everyone would have been related.

I also wonder if baptismal gowns became heirlooms and were passed from child to child within the family.

How Many Babies Did Sibilla Deliver?

Beutelsbach was not a large village.

I counted the baptisms in the church book in Beutelsbach in 1740-1745. Of course, if there had been deaths where Sibilla baptized the child before it died, that child would probably not have been recorded in the births/baptisms – but then again – who knows. I did not look through the deaths to see if any children that died on the day they were born were also recorded in births.

Suffice it to say that assuredly, Sibilla had to perform at least a few emergency baptisms as infant death was rather common.

Year Number of births/baptisms
1740 40
1741 35
1742 36
1743 40
1744 49
1745 33

I stopped counting at the end of 1745 because Sibilla died midway through 1746.

Sibilla would have averaged about 39 births per year, or one birth every 9 or 10 days. if she was a midwife for 8.5 years, that equates to about 330 births.

At least some of those deliveries would have been close family members – grandchildren and children of her husband’s family members who had been living in Beutelsbach for generations. Some of her family members probably also lived in the same village since Heppach was only a half-hour walk or a mile or so away.

This birth information also tells us something about the size of the village in those years.

How Large was Beutelsbach?

A couple whose child did not die would have a baby every 18-24 months. For ease of math, let’s figure that couple would have a child in the baptismal register every other year.

Therefore, the number of child-bearing couples is double the yearly birth rate, or about 78. Granted, some couples appeared more often, but some couples had “aged out” of bearing children, so the number of households was likely not more than double the number of reproducing couples. Therefore, the village probably had about 150 houses, assuming each family lived separately. If each household had an average of 7 residents at any one time, the village had a total of about 1000 people.

This 1797 map of southwest Germany shows Beautelsbach, along with Grossheppach. Note the cemetery beside the church, which is difficult to see, right beside the cemetery. The actual village is located at 11 o’clock, above the blue pin, and the cemetery is at the end of the U-shaped street, on the way out of town. Based on a wider view of this map, I believe the little black dots aren’t houses, but are small stands of forest. Notice the rows of vineyards on the hillsides.

Children

Sibilla had 8 children herself, all born in Beutelsbach, the first child arriving just 10 days or so before her first wedding anniversary. No need for the midwife to report Sibilla to the council, although I suspect most midwives were discrete and understanding.

  • Anna Barbara Lenz was born on January 23, 1699, and died July 15, 1770. She married Johann George Vollmer on October 26, 1729, and had 9 children. Given that 2 of her children were born in 1740 or later, it’s probable that Sibilla delivered at least these two of her own grandchildren. Three of these grandchildren died before Sibilla.

I would think that delivering your own grandchild who subsequently died would be doubly difficult. Thankfully, none of these children died at birth, but one died about 10 days later. Did Sibilla wonder if she could have or should have done anything differently, even if the death was clearly not her fault and had nothing to do with delivery?

There is a comment about Anna Barbara being in the house in 1746 with the “heated illness,” which is typhoid. This is when Sibilla died as well and is clearly remembered many years later. Anna Barbara could read and write.

  • Johannes Lenz born December 15, 1700, died December 24, 1700.

This must have been a miserable Christmas for Sibilla.

  • Jakob Lenz born April 1, 1702 died July 8, 1702.
  • Johann Adam Lenz born July 1, 1703, died July 11, 1746, just a few weeks after his mother died of typhoid. He too was a vinedresser. Martin Goll says, “When he was already married he had to be under occupation for 7 weeks, but deserted there because he already had a brother in the war.” He could read and write.

Johann Adam married Maria Katharina Bauer in 1735 and had 7 children before his own death 11 years later of typhoid. His last child was born two months after his death.

At least three of Johann Adam’s children were probably welcomed into the world by his mother. Two of his children died before he and his mother passed away, one that she would have delivered died about 2 weeks later, probably also of typhoid.

  • Margaretha Lenz born October 21, 1704, died March 15, 1717, at the age of 12. No cause of death is given, but I have to wonder why she died.
  • Johann Georg Lenz born December 2, 1707, died January 26, 1710, of smallpox. Smallpox was highly contagious and deadly about 30% of the time.
  • Elizabetha Lenz was born in 1709. Nothing more is known but she likely died. Some records are missing during this time.
  • Johann Jakob Lenz born July 25, 1712, died March 8, 1793, of a “sore throat.” Can read and write. Has served here and in Stetten for many years. Was elected as a Grenadier in 1734, was Captain of the Roman Company, and bought out in 1742.

Johann Jakob married Catharina Beerwarth on April 25, 1741, and had one child who was born and died a few days later in 1742. Sibilla likely delivered this child and knew there was a problem of some sort. Three months later, Catharina died too.

Johann Jakob remarried on November 12, 1744, to Katharina Haag in Heiningen. There was some question about his marriage certificate and military service at the time he was married and his first child was born. His mother may have delivered this child. The child was baptized in Beutelsbach but could have actually been born in Heiningen.

Typhoid

Clearly, Sibilla’s household and apparently the household of at least one adult child experienced an outbreak of typhoid during 1746. Typhoid is bacterial and treatable with antibiotics today, but it likely infected the entire village, if not the entire region.

In the book, A brief history of epidemic and pestilential diseases; with the principal phenomena of the physical world, which precede and accompany them, and observations deduced from the facts stated. : In two volumes, we find:

At Zurich in Switzerland and in Saxony prevailed a very malignant dysentery. Indeed for a number of years, at this period, dysentery was epidemic in many parts of Europe and America.

Typhoid is a person-to-person transmitted bacterial disease that can be passed through water, often through wells located in close proximity to septic pits. This 1939 conceptual illustration shows various ways that the typhoid bacteria could contaminate a well, creating a never-ending cycle of infection. Wells in German villages were generally in the center of the town, shared by all residents. Waterways, meaning creeks and rivers would be even more susceptible to contamination from fecal runoff.

Typhoid is mentioned decades later in reference to one of Sibilla’s adult children who did not die, so the outbreak must have been widespread and devastating.

I counted the deaths from 1744 through 1747 in the church records. It appears that the records may be incomplete in 1746 and 1747, with at least a couple of months missing from both years. The records are at least in disarray. This likely reflects the chaos of what was occurring in the village and it’s certainly possible that the Reverend and his family were ill too.

Year Deaths recorded in the church book
1744 34
1745 28
1746 71
1747 66

The death rate began to increase in April of 1746, rapidly, so the contamination must have occurred in March since typhoid takes about a month to kill its victims. Sibilla died on May 28th.

Life and Death

As I write this, in the midst of a pandemic at the very end of 2020, I’m struck by several thoughts.

Sibilla was one of the few women of her time who actually had a career, and one that paid, even if the pay was minimal and not on par with other medical providers. I’m so proud of her.

Clearly, Sibilla was well-respected or she would not have been asked to be a midwife and continued in that role until her death.

I wonder if Sibilla caught typhoid in the process of midwifing.

I wonder how much was understood of hygiene and the role of washing hands in both the prevention of infection during childbirth and as well as the prevention of transmission of disease. Based on later writings, I suspect that correlation had not yet been made.

Sibilla must have been concerned as she felt the first of the Typhoid symptoms that would have started about the end of April. Headache, low fever, weakness, fatigue, muscle aches, sweating, dry cough, loss of appetite – then progressing into more serious symptoms including a very high fever – then into death roughly 4 weeks later on May 28th.

At some point, Sibilla’s symptoms went from “not feeling well” to a nagging worry, to knowing, to being alarmed, to being terrified, to being so sick she just wanted to die.

According to WebMD:

People with acute illness can contaminate the surrounding water supply through stool, which contains a high concentration of the bacteria. Contamination of the water supply can, in turn, taint the food supply. The bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage.

About 3%-5% of people become carriers of the bacteria after the acute illness. Others suffer a very mild illness that goes unrecognized. These people may become long-term carriers of the bacteria — even though they have no symptoms — and be the source of new outbreaks of typhoid fever for many years.

This surely makes the moniker, “Typhoid Mary” much more understandable.

Given how many people died, that suggests that the entire village had to be sick. No wonder the burial records are incomplete and in disarray. And God help anyone who delivered a baby during this time.

Given what we are living through now, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such camaraderie with any ancestor before. While I’m not entirely surprised at that feeling, I am amazed to have that connection because of uncontrolled, fatal illness. The difference is, of course, that in 1746, they didn’t understand about transmission and how to prevent it. It would have, of course, required the entire village (and maybe neighbor villages too) to adopt those same prevention measures. Perhaps that would have meant boiling their drinking and cooking water at that time along with hygiene routines that included more hand-washing.

We do clearly understand what’s needed today, although many in our modern “village” refused and still refuse to take the proper precautions to protect everyone and modify their behaviors accordingly – just for long enough to get the current pandemic under control. Maybe small German villages would have had a better conformance rate, especially if the minister preached it from the pulpit and everyone literally knew and were related to people who were suffering and dying.

Sibilla and her son’s burial entries both convey the story of their deaths – as do so many others in the village. Her daughter’s death entry, 24 years later mentions that she lived through the 1746 “heated illness” as typhoid was described because fevers topped 104, followed by delirium, seizures, and death as the brain overheated and fried.

One day, the obituaries or burial entries for those of us who don’t succumb to Covid will also reflect that we lived through the epidemic of 2020, the dark winter of our time.

Sibilla, if she’s watching, must be incredulous and wondering why our “village” refuses to do the simple things we can, before it’s too late. After all, we have the advantage of knowledge. Knowledge of how the dread illness spread and how to protect themselves is something Sibilla and her family didn’t have and would have given anything for – and an opportunity we are collectively squandering.

It does, indeed, take a village.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Y DNA Resources and Repository

I’ve created a Y DNA resource page with the information in this article, here, as a permanent location where you can find Y DNA information in one place – including:

  • Step-by-step guides about how to utilize Y DNA for your genealogy
  • Educational articles and links to the latest webinars
  • Articles about the science behind Y DNA
  • Ancient DNA
  • Success stories

Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups, or on social media.

If you haven’t already taken a Y DNA test, and you’re a male (only males have a Y chromosome,) you can order one here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

What is Y DNA?

Y DNA is passed directly from fathers to their sons, as illustrated by the blue arrow, above. Daughters do not inherit the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is what makes males, male.

Every son receives a Y chromosome from his father, who received it from his father, and so forth, on up the direct patrilineal line.

Comparatively, mitochondrial DNA, the pink arrow, is received by both sexes of children from the mother through the direct matrilineal line.

Autosomal DNA, the green arrow, is a combination of randomly inherited DNA from many ancestors that is inherited by both sexes of children from both parents. This article explains a bit more.

Y DNA has Unique Properties

The Y chromosome is never admixed with DNA from the mother, so the Y chromosome that the son receives is identical to the father’s Y chromosome except for occasional minor mutations that take place every few generations.

This lack of mixture with the mother’s DNA plus the occasional mutation is what makes the Y chromosome similar enough to match against other men from the same ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years back in time, and different enough to be useful for genealogy. The mutations can be tracked within extended families.

In western cultures, the Y chromosome path of inheritance is usually the same as the surname, which means that the Y chromosome is uniquely positioned to identify the direct biological patrilineal lineage of males.

Two different types of Y DNA tests can be ordered that work together to refine Y DNA results and connect testers to other men with common ancestors.

FamilyTreeDNA provides STR tests with their 37, 67 and 111 marker test panels, and comprehensive STR plus SNP testing with their Big Y-700 test.

click to enlarge

STR markers are used for genealogy matching, while SNP markers work with STR markers to refine genealogy further, plus provide a detailed haplogroup.

Think of a haplogroup as a genetic clan that tells you which genetic family group you belong to – both today and historically, before the advent of surnames.

This article, What is a Haplogroup? explains the basic concept of how haplogroups are determined.

In addition to the Y DNA test itself, Family Tree DNA provides matching to other testers in their database plus a group of comprehensive tools, shown on the dashboard above, to help testers utilize their results to their fullest potential.

You can order or upgrade a Y DNA test, here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

Step-by-Step – Using Your Y DNA Results

Let’s take a look at all of the features, functions, and tools that are available on your FamilyTreeDNA personal page.

What do those words mean? Here you go!

Come along while I step through evaluating Big Y test results.

Big Y Testing and Results

Why would you want to take a Big Y test and how can it help you?

While the Big Y-500 has been superseded by the Big Y-700 test today, you will still be interested in some of the underlying technology. STR matching still works the same way.

The Big Y-500 provided more than 500 STR markers and the Big Y-700 provides more than 700 – both significantly more than the 111 panel. The only way to receive these additional markers is by purchasing the Big Y test.

I have to tell you – I was skeptical when the Big Y-700 was introduced as the next step above the Big Y-500. I almost didn’t upgrade any kits – but I’m so very glad that I did. I’m not skeptical anymore.

This Y DNA tree rocks. A new visual format with your matches listed on their branches. Take a look!

Educational Articles

I’ve been writing about DNA for years and have selected several articles that you may find useful.

What kinds of information are available if you take a Y DNA test, and how can you use it for genealogy?

What if your father isn’t available to take a DNA test? How can you determine who else to test that will reveal your father’s Y DNA information?

Family Tree DNA shows the difference in the number of mutations between two men as “genetic distance.” Learn what that means and how it’s figured in this article.

Of course, there were changes right after I published the original Genetic Distance article. The only guarantees in life are death, taxes, and that something will change immediately after you publish.

Sometimes when we take DNA tests, or others do, we discover the unexpected. That’s always a possibility. Here’s the story of my brother who wasn’t my biological brother. If you’d like to read more about Dave’s story, type “Dear Dave” into the search box on my blog. Read the articles in publication order, and not without a box of Kleenex.

Often, what surprise matches mean is that you need to dig further.

The words paternal and patrilineal aren’t the same thing. Paternal refers to the paternal half of your family, where patrilineal is the direct father to father line.

Just because you don’t have any surname matches doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of what you’re thinking.

Short tandem repeats (STRs) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) aren’t the same thing and are used differently in genealogy.

Piecing together your ancestor’s Y DNA from descendants.

Haplogroups are something like our pedigree charts.

What does it mean when you have a zero for a marker value?

There’s more than one way to break down that brick wall. Here’s how I figured out which of 4 sons was my ancestor.

Just because you match the right line autosomally doesn’t mean it’s because you descend from the male child you think is your ancestor. Females gave their surnames to children born outside of a legal marriage which can lead to massive confusion. This is absolutely why you need to test the Y DNA of every single ancestral line.

When the direct patrilineal line isn’t the line you’re expecting.

You can now tell by looking at the flags on the haplotree where other people’s ancestral lines on your branch are from. This is especially useful if you’ve taken the Big Y test and can tell you if you’re hunting in the right location.

If you’re just now testing or tested in 2018 or after, you don’t need to read this article unless you’re interested in the improvements to the Big Y test over the years.

2019 was a banner year for discovery. 2020 was even more so, keeping up an amazing pace. I need to write a 2020 update article.

What is a terminal SNP? Hint – it’s not fatal😊

How the TIP calculator works and how to best interpret the results. Note that this tool is due for an update that incorporates more markers and SNP results too.

You can view the location of the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA ancestors of people whose ethnicity you match.

Tools and Techniques

This free public tree is amazing, showing locations of each haplogroup and totals by haplogroup and country, including downstream branches.

Need to search for and find Y DNA candidates when you don’t know anyone from that line? Here’s how.

Yes, it’s still possible to resolve this issue using autosomal DNA. Non-matching Y DNA isn’t the end of the road, just a fork.

Science Meets Genealogy – Including Ancient DNA

Haplogroup C was an unexpected find in the Americas and reaches into South America.

Haplogroup C is found in several North American tribes.

Haplogroup C is found as far east as Nova Scotia.

Test by test, we made progress.

New testers, new branches. The research continues.

The discovery of haplogroup A00 was truly amazing when it occurred – the base of the phylotree in Africa.

The press release about the discovery of haplogroup A00.

In 2018, a living branch of A00 was discovered in Africa, and in 2020, an ancient DNA branch.

Did you know that haplogroups weren’t always known by their SNP names?

This brought the total of SNPs discovered by Family Tree DNA in mid-2018 to 153,000. I should contact the Research Center to see how many they have named at the end of 2020.

An academic paper split ancient haplogroup D, but then the phylogenetic research team at FamilyTreeDNA split it twice more! This might not sound exciting until you realize this redefines what we know about early man, in Africa and as he emerged from Africa.

Ancient DNA splits haplogroup P after analyzing the remains of two Jehai people from West Malaysia.

For years I doubted Kennewick Man’s DNA would ever be sequenced, but it finally was. Kennewick Man’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is X2a and his Y DNA was confirmed to Q-M3 in 2015.

Compare your own DNA to Vikings!

Twenty-seven Icelandic Viking skeletons tell a very interesting story.

Irish ancestors? Check your DNA and see if you match.

Ancestors from Hungary or Italy? Take a look. These remains have matches to people in various places throughout Europe.

The Y DNA story is no place near finished. Dr. Miguel Vilar, former Lead Scientist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project provides additional analysis and adds a theory.

Webinars

Y DNA Webinar at Legacy Family Tree Webinars – a 90-minute webinar for those who prefer watching to learn! It’s not free, but you can subscribe here.

Success Stories and Genealogy Discoveries

Almost everyone has their own Y DNA story of discovery. Because the Y DNA follows the surname line, Y DNA testing often helps push those lines back a generation, or two, or four. When STR markers fail to be enough, we can turn to the Big Y-700 test which provides SNP markers down to the very tip of the leaves in the Y DNA tree. Often, but not always, family-defining SNP branches will occur which are much more stable and reliable than STR mutations – although SNPs and STRs should be used together.

Methodologies to find ancestral lines to test, or maybe descendants who have already tested.

DNA testing reveals an unexpected mystery several hundred years old.

When I write each of my “52 Ancestor” stories, I include genetic information, for the ancestor and their descendants, when I can. Jacob was special because, in addition to being able to identify his autosomal DNA, his Y DNA matches the ancient DNA of the Yamnaya people. You can read about his Y DNA story in Jakob Lenz (1748-1821), Vinedresser.

Please feel free to add your success stories in the comments.

What About You?

You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your Y DNA. If you’re a female, you’ll need to find a male that descends from the line you want to test via all males to take the Y DNA test on your behalf. Of course, if you want to test your father’s line, your father, or a brother through that father, or your uncle, your father’s brother, would be good candidates.

What will you be able to discover? Who will the earliest known ancestor with that same surname be among your matches? Will you be able to break down a long-standing brick wall? You’ll never know if you don’t test.

You can click here to upgrade an existing test or order a Y DNA test.

Share the Love

You can always forward these articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Most Popular Articles of 2020

We all know that 2020 was a year like no other, right? So, what were we reading this year as we spent more time at home?

According to my blog stats, these are the ten most popular articles of 2020.

2020 Rank Blog Article Name Publication Date/Comment
1 Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages Jan 11, 2017
2 Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 18, 2012
3 Ancestry to Remove DNA Matches Soon – Preservation Strategies with Detailed Instructions Now obsolete article – July 16, 2020
4 Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? June 27, 2017
5 Full or Half Siblings? April 3, 2019
6 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? September 18, 2020
7 Migration Pedigree Chart March 25, 2016
8 DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 14, 2020
9 Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines February 22, 2020
10 Phylogenetic Tree of Novel Coronavirus (hCoV-19) Covid-19 March 12, 2020

Half of these articles were published this year, and half are older.

One article is now obsolete. The Ancestry purge has already happened, so there’s nothing to be done now.

Let’s take a look at the rest and what messages might be held in these popular selections.

Ethnicity

I’m not the least bit surprised by ethnicity being the most popular topic, nor that Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages is the most popular article. Not only is ethnicity a perennially favorite, but all four major vendors introduced something new this year.

By the way, my perennial caveat still applies – ethnicity is only an estimate😊

While Genetic Groups isn’t actually ethnicity, per se, it’s a layer on top of ethnicity that provides you with locations where your ancestors might have been from and migrated to, based on genetic clusters. Clusters are defined by the locations of ancestors of other people within that genetic cluster.

There’s actually good news at 23andMe. Since this article was published in October, 23andMe has indeed updated the V3 and V4 kits with new ethnicity updates. 23andMe had originally stated they weren’t going to do that, clearly in the hope that people would pay to retest by purchasing the V5 Health + Ancestry test. I’m so glad to see their reversal.

Viewing the older V2 kits, the “updated” date at the bottom of their Ancestry Composition page says they were updated on December 9th or 10th, but I don’t see a difference and they don’t have the “updated” icon like the V3 and V4 kits do.

23andMe made another reversal too and also restored the original matches. They had reduced the number of matches to 1500 for non-Health+Ancestry testers who don’t also subscribe. If you wanted between 1500 and 5000 matches, you had to retest and subscribe for $29 per year. (It’s worth noting that I have over 5000 matches at all of the other vendors.)

To date, 23andMe has restored previous matches and also restored some but not all of the search functionality that they had removed.

What isn’t clear is whether 23andMe will continue to add to this number of matches until the tester reaches the earlier limit of 2000, or whether they have simply restored the previous matches, but the match total will not increase unless you have a subscription.

Consumer feedback works – so thanks to everyone who provided feedback to 23andMe.

Native American Ancestry

The article, Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA, written 8 years ago, only 5 months after launching this blog, has been in the top 10 every year since I’ve been counting.

I created a Native American reference and resource page too, which you can find here.

I’ll also be publishing some new articles after the first of the year which I promise you’ll find VERY INTERESTING. Something to look forward to.

Understanding Autosomal DNA

2020 has seen more people delving into genealogy + DNA testing which means they need to understand both the results and the concepts underlying their results.

Whooohooo – more people in the pool. Jump on in – the water’s fine!

The articles Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? and DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents both explain how DNA is passed from your ancestors to you.

These are great basic articles if you’re looking to help someone new, and so is First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water.

I always look forward to the end of January because there will be lots of matches from holiday gifts being posted. Feel free to forward any of these articles to your new matches. It’s always fun helping new people because you just never know when they might be able to help you.

Surprises

With more and more people testing, more and more people are receiving “surprises” in their results. Need to figure out the difference between full and half-siblings? Then Full or Half Siblings? is the article for you.

Trying to discern other relationships? My favorite tool is the Shared cM Project tool at DNAPainter, here.

Vikings

Who doesn’t want to know if they are related to the ancient Vikings??? You can make that discovery in the article, 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match?. Not only is this just plain fun, but I snuck in a little education too.

Of course, you’ll need to have your Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA results, which you can easily order, here. If you’re unsure and would like to read a short article about the different kinds of DNA and how they can help you, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is perfect.

Do you think your DNA isn’t Viking because your ancestors aren’t from Scandinavia? Guess again!

Those Vikings didn’t stay home, and they didn’t restrict their escapades to the British Isles either.

This drawing depicts Viking ships besieging Paris in the year 845. Vikings voyaged into Russia and as far as the Mediterranean.

Have a child studying at home? This might be an interesting topic!

Migration Pedigree Chart

Another just plain fun idea is the Migration Pedigree Chart.

I created this migration pedigree chart in a spreadsheet, but you can also create a pedigree chart in genealogy software with whatever “names” you want. This will also help you figure out the estimated percentages of ethnicity you might reasonably expect.

Another idea for helping kids learn at home and they might accidentally learn about figuring percentages in the process.

ThruLines

ThruLines is the Ancestry tool that assists DNA testers with trees connect the dots to common ancestors with their matches. There are ways to optimize your tree to improve your connections, both in terms of accuracy and the number of Thrulines that form.

Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines provides step by step instructions, which reminds me – I need to write a similar article for MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity. I keep meaning to…

Covid

You know, it wouldn’t be 2020 if I didn’t HAVE to mention that word.

I’m glad to know that people were and hopefully still are educating themselves about Covid. Phylogenetic Tree of Novel Coronavirus (hCoV-19) Covid-19 reflected early information about the novel virus and our first efforts to sequence the DNA. Of course, as expected, just like any other organism, mutations have occurred since then.

Goodness knows, we are all tired of Covid and the resulting safety protocols. Keep on keeping on. We need you on the other side.

Stay home, mask up when you must leave, stay away from other people outside your family that you live with, wash your hands, and get vaccinated as soon as you can.

And until we can all see each other in person again, hopefully, sooner than later, keep on doing genealogy.

Locked in the Library

Be careful what you ask for.

Remember that dream where you’re locked in a library? Remember saying you don’t have enough time for genealogy?

Well, now you are and now you do.

The library is your desk with your computer or maybe your laptop on a picnic table in the yard.

DNA results, matches, and research tools are the books and you’re officially locked in for at least a few more weeks. Free articles like these are your guide.

Hmmm, pandemic isolation doesn’t sound so bad now, does it??

We’ll just rename it “genealogy library lock-in.”

Happy New Year!

What can you discover?

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Thank you so much.

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Merry or Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate Near the Winter Solstice

Yes, I know 2020 has been hell on wheels. 2020 itself has become analogous with bad things and is sort of a defacto swear word.

You just say, “2020” and everyone knows exactly what you mean.

Thankfully, it’s almost over! The year anyway.

Today, of all days, I want to share a different flavor message with you.

A Perspective of Hope and Gratitude

I’m writing this in a home with no twinkling Christmas tree, with no family members visiting, no grandchildren chattering, no crinkling of wrapping paper, and fewer family members than we began with this year.

And yes, I miss my family and the holiday festivities and traditions desperately – BUT – and this is huge….

I’m safe.

You’re safe, or at least I hope you are.

I’m extremely, extremely fortunate to be in a house that IS safe.

In a location that IS safe.

I’m blessed to have the ability to stay home SAFE.

It’s not a violation of my rights, but a sacred privilege.

To have the luxury of making the safe decision to shelter at home is an opportunity denied to many.

I don’t have to face Covid and the possibility of getting infected myself in a hospital as a front-line medical worker. Or as an EMT, or public safety officer, grocery store worker or others who have no choice in the matter.

For many, it’s work or starve – literally – a choice they are also making for their other family members, including children.

Children.

Children in America with no food. Let that sink in for a minute.

Several of my family members, including my children and their spouses, don’t have the luxury of safety because of the nature of their jobs, and I’m desperately worried about them.

I’m not forced to face or deal with unmasked people risking the safety and very lives of others.

And while I’m unhappy and inconvenienced staying at home and missing out on the things I’d like to be doing – my level of frustration is extremely, extremely minor in the grand scheme of things. A minuscule tradeoff for the ability to protect myself and others, saving lives.

I’m not being evicted because I’ve lost my job and can’t pay my rent.

I have heat and water and light and food. My family members and pets have food too.

My Christmas tree isn’t put up because I didn’t feel festive – not because I lost it in an eviction or because I no longer have a home to put it in.

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This year’s tree will simply have to be a Facebook memory of my tree from a happier time. Reflecting on the past that I took for granted, but certainly don’t now, hoping for the future, and simply trying to be grateful for what I have today.

Sometimes it takes misfortune to really bring the message of gratitude home.

My house did not burn to the ground, in the midst of a pandemic, like my friend’s house did.

My kids and grandkids aren’t suffering.

We are all staying safe, separately, together.

I have seen them in parking lots and on outdoor hikes a few times this year and we’ve made memories, nonetheless. Differently, than we would have preferred, but safely. Responsibly. No one risked the health of anyone else.

It’s not the best of circumstances – but it’s far, far from the worst.

I have multiple friends and family members who have died from and others who are severely debilitated by Covid.

And through all of this, I can’t help but think of my ancestors who died young, during plagues, of infections and situations now preventable or treatable, particularly with the advent of antibiotics in the era of modern medicine.

How blessed they would view our lives – given that we DO have the ability to understand the source of this plague and CAN do something about it. Simple things really, wearing masks, staying home, washing our hands, and soon, to take vaccines.

We can wage this war without marching off, killing others, and destroying the countryside. Although, ironically, Covid has now killed more people than Vietnam, Korea, and WWI, combined and is approaching the mortality of WWII – yet we don’t think of Covid as a war. Nonetheless, it is.

Instead of fighting in mortal combat, all we need to do is simply stay at home. It’s that simple. What our ancestors would have given for this opportunity.

Instead, they died. The church records tell their story, along with that of their entire village.

They died in childbirth, died of infections, died in wave after wave of pandemics such as the Black Death and recurring illnesses like typhoid and smallpox that wiped out one third to one half of the population, over and over again.

Many people were blamed for bringing these plagues into their villages by “witchcraft.”

Ignorance, too, is deadly in more ways than one.

Those who moved away from the homeland were truly alone, never seeing or talking to their family again. If you moved away and your family or spouse died – unless you could find someone else to marry quickly, especially if you were a woman, you too were relegated to destitution, poverty, and death.

Even in this current “worst of times,” we are so much better off than our ancestors. 2020 has certainly provided me with a different perspective of their world.

We have so much to be thankful for – beginning with the opportunity and means to keep ourselves safe. Such simple things, really.

I’m incredibly grateful for Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other technologies that make being together, safely-distanced, possible. Apart doesn’t necessarily mean disconnected now.

These apps may even be responsible for encouraging some people to stay home that would have otherwise risked traveling, exposing and infecting themselves and others.

Yes, while 2020 has been “difficult,” to put it mildly, and the first half of 2021 will likely be even worse while Covid continues to spike, those of us who can stay home and stay safe until it’s our turn for that life-saving vaccine are indeed the blessed, even if we are the unhappy, complaining and sometimes ungrateful blessed.

Having Said That…

I want to share my heartfelt condolences and concern for those who:

  • Have lost family members
  • Are truly alone
  • Aren’t safe
  • Don’t have enough food
  • Are suffering, either physically or mentally

Because there are many, many…so many.

We don’t necessarily know who they are, because sometimes suffering isn’t evident.

And sometimes, it is, especially if we are cognizant and look.

I hope we all take this time to reflect on others, notice their need, and reach out to help to relieve their suffering, as best we can.

  • Drop off food. Safely, on porches.
  • Reach out to say hello and convey that we care.
  • Help with technology. My husband is coordinating Zoom calls for families.
  • Provide supportive assistance to solve problems, such as suggesting and arranging for grocery or prescription pickup and delivery.
  • Provide other types of assistance, safely.
  • And the animals. Don’t forget the animals who are entirely dependent on people.

Additionally, we can contribute to organizations and reputable charities that work collectively to assist people in need. Food banks come to mind right now.

My “gifts” this year, with the exception of small things delivered by no-contact “porch Santas” to family members have all been in the form of donations of one flavor or another to assist those not so fortunate.

Light, Prayer, Hope

It is for all of us that I walk in the labyrinth this winter solstice – the longest, darkest day of the year, carrying this single candle of light.

Hope for the future

For light in our life

For brighter days

For 2021

For humanity

For all of us, collectively

And individually

For you…