Obtaining Help with DNA

helix graphicI’ve always made it a policy to reply to every e-mail or information request that I receive.  The good news is that my blogs have become very popular.  The bad news is that I now receive literally hundreds of e-mails every day, many asking questions or for advice, and I just can’t keep up anymore.  So, I’ve assembled this information which provides direction for most of the types of inquiries I receive.

First, my www.dna-explained.com blog is free, fully key word searchable and has hundreds of articles.  So if you want to find out about autosomal tests, for example, just type the word “autosomal” into the search box and a list of articles about autosomal testing will appear.

If you are requesting information about the different types of DNA tests to take, visit this link:  https://dna-explained.com/?s=4+kinds

If you are requesting information about Native American DNA testing, visit this link:  https://dna-explained.com/2012/12/18/proving-native-american-ancestry-using-dna/

If you are an adoptee, visit this link:  https://dna-explained.com/2012/07/30/adoptee-resources-and-genetic-genealogy/ and this link http://dnaadoption.com/AboutUs.aspx

If you are looking for Melungeon information, read this paper: http://www.dnaexplain.com/Publications/PDFs/MelungeonsMulti-EthnicPeopleFinal.pdf

If you want to know which testing company to use, see Consulting and Products, below.

If you have a general or specific DNA question, try searching my blog.

ISOGG (International Society for Genetic Genealogy) has a robust wiki as well:  http://www.isogg.org/wiki/

If you want to learn about DNA and genetic genealogy, visit this link:

https://dna-explained.com/2014/01/24/genetic-genealogy-the-basics-and-beyond-by-emily-aulicino/ and this one https://sites.google.com/site/wheatonsurname/beginners-guide-to-genetic-genealogy

You can also join several online lists, which are great places to ask questions and learn, such as:

The primary genetic genealogy list:


The DNA Newbie group: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/DNA-NEWBIE/info

FaceBook has an ISOGG group.

Other mailing lists:


Consulting and Products

For a long time, I’ve tried to answer basic questions for people, for free.  However, recently the volume has increased to the level that I can’t do that anymore.  Plus, trying to skim a question to help someone with a quick answer leads to errors and some days, I receive dozens.  Hopefully, the sources above, plus the breakdown below, will answer most questions for most people. 

If you want to know which testing company to use, and why, the answer is “it depends,” based on your goals, who you have available to test, the products and services currently being offered by the testing companies, how thorough you want to be, and your budget.  You can purchase a Quick Consult at http://www.dnaxplain.com/shop/features.aspx for a personal recommendation based on your circumstances.

If you have questions or want to learn about your Y DNA or mitochondrial results, and have tested at Family Tree DNA, you can purchase a Personalized DNA Report at http://www.dnaxplain.com/shop/features.aspx.  These are heirloom quality and range from 80-100 pages.

If you are a previous client and want your report updated, I do that on an individual basis, based on what has changed.  Typically updates run from $50 to $200.  Contact me for specifics.

If you are a previous client with questions or are looking for direction, you can purchase a quick consult at http://www.dnaxplain.com/shop/features.aspx.

If you have a quick question about DNA results, you can purchase a Quick Consult at http://www.dnaxplain.com/shop/features.aspx.  Quick consults are designed to answer quick and relatively simple questions that take less than an hour in total.  If your question involves complex family relationships and takes more than a paragraph or so to explain, it’s will probably take more than a quick consult to unravel.  In that case the quick consult would tell you what would be involved unraveling your mystery, not provide you with the answer.  If you have a complex problem, contact me before purchasing a quick consult.  I do not provide consulting by phone.

If you have a question about who in your family to test to determine what, you can purchase a DNA Test plan available at http://www.dnaxplain.com/shop/features.aspx.

If you are looking for someone to work with you through complex autosomal DNA and genealogy results, I am not accepting new clients for these types of cases, but I am referring people to a colleague.

If you are looking for genealogical assistance, please visit www.apgen.org.

If you are a member of one of the DNA projects for which I’m a volunteer administrator, and your question is project related, or you are inquiring about the project, I’ll do my best to help you or refer you to someone who can.  Please be specific with your question and tell me which project you’re asking about.

I hope you have found this information useful. Best of luck on your genetic genealogical journey!  I hope you unlock the mystery of your ancestors!

Happy First Blogiversary

may you live in interesting times

Today is the first anniversary of the launch of www.dna-explained.com.  In a way it seems like just yesterday and in another way, it seems like DNA-explained has been a part of my life forever.  One thing is for sure, it’s been a very interesting year!

So now, I’m going to tell you a secret.

I was going to retire early and write a book.  I was going to have time on my hands.  I was going to work on my own genealogy and share the journey of what I learned.  I was going to weed my garden.  Are you laughing now?  Holding your sides?  Well, if so, you clearly understand just how unrealistic that expectation was.

I have less, much less, time now than ever.  My little part-time retirement job overtook my original career, and then some.  I’ve never worked harder, had less sleep, nor loved it more.  Is sleep really a necessity?  Seems like so much wasted time.  Spoken like a true genealogist!

Genetic genealogy is the marriage of my two passions, genealogy and science.  I spent my entire career on the very exciting edge of technology, first communications research and discovery, then mapping and specialized software.  Genetic genealogy isn’t much different actually, except it’s more bleeding edge (some days) than leading edge and it’s much more personal and fulfilling.  Not only have I learned volumes about my own ancestors – things there was no prayer of knowing even a decade ago – but I get to help others on that journey too.  Not only that, but I’ve gotten to be personally involved in scientific discovery.  I can’t imagine a better place to be!

And no, I’m not writing a DNA book.  Well, actually, I am, soft of – but just in a different way.  Blogs are the way of the future – so is electronic communication.  The problem with books about fast-moving and highly technical topics is that they move on and change so rapidly that tomorrow, literally, your book can be out of date and you have no way to update it.  Just what I don’t need is another box of boat-anchors in my office.

Not long ago, someone on the ISOGG Facebook page asked for a list of books and someone replied, “forget the books, read the blogs.”  I don’t want to invest the effort into one of those “forgotten books” when the blogosphere beckons and is so much more friendly towards photos, graphics, color and change.  It’s also a lot more personal and flexible.  And it lets me interact with you and vice versa .

So how have we done this first year?  As of yesterday, we surpassed 2100 subscribers and that doesn’t count all of the RSS feed, Facebook and Twitter followers.  My husband bet me I’d have 2000 by summer and I said I wouldn’t.  Good thing I didn’t bet much, because I was wrong.  Thanks to all of you.  Sometimes being wrong is a good thing!

This is the 162nd posting, so about one every other day.  I had goaled one a week.

There have been a total of about 2700 “real” comments and are you ready for this, almost 29,000 spam ones.  No, that is not a typo.  Yes, I do use a spam filter, but I still approve every single comment that is posted – and now you know why.  The spam filter doesn’t catch them all, because spammers are crafty!

In total, the articles are “tagged” in 81 different categories so you can find them by searching.  One of the articles I’ll be writing soon will tell you how to use and search blogs more efficiently, including this one!

http://www.dna-explained.com has had a total of 249,545 views, nearly a quarter million and that doesn’t count the 2100+ people who receive postings via e-mail and RSS.  We average just over 1000 hits per day now.  Wow!

What is the most popular category of blog articles visited?  Autosomal DNA.

How about the most popular article?  Big News! Probable New Native American Haplogroup.  That shocked me.  For a long time, the most popular article had been the kickoff of the Geno 2.0 announcement, National Geographic – Geno 2.0 Announcement – The Human Story published on July 25, 2012.  Older articles have more time to amass hits – and the haplogroup article was just published June 27th.  Indeed it does seem to be big news and is of interest to lots of people.

One of my reasons for creating this blog was as a matter of self-defense. Most of you know that I also have a business webpage, www.dnaexplain.com.  I receive a lot of inquiries from the page and through my various list memberships.   The DNAeXplain webpage is professionally written and updating content it is not just a matter of typing.  I have to create something, send it to the provider and they make the change or the update.  And it’s not convenient or free.  Needless to say, this is not a conducive environment to making regular updates or additions.  I do need the separate website though in order to take orders for consulting and for DNA Reports, so the blog doesn’t by any means replace the webpage.

I was constantly referring people to several papers on my webpage, which are still there, but I needed more flexibility.

So I decided that if I wrote the answers to the most frequently asked questions, well, including graphics and pictures (which really are worth 1000 words), once, I could use that document to answer people’s questions, over and over again.  The good news is, so can you.  What are the most commonly asked questions and the pages I use to answer them?

  1. What can DNA testing do for me?  That is such a basic question and the answer could be that book I didn’t write.  I use the article 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy to answer this one.
  2. I think my ancestor was Native American and I want to prove it.  This question also has other variants like, proving which tribe, joining a tribe, getting benefits and free education.  I refer people to the article Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.
  3. I’m adopted, or I don’t know who my father is, and I want to use DNA testing to find my parents/ancestry.  This is also relevant for people who discover an undocumented adoption in their line that “interferes” with the genealogy they thought they knew.  For this answer, I use I’m Adopted and I Don’t Know Where to Start.  This article, along with many others, links within the article to other resources as well.
  4. What can autosomal testing do for me?  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve received some flavor of this question, I’d be really retired and on that World Cruise!  The article I use for this is Autosomal Basics.
  5. And then the companion question to the one above, my autosomal results are back – what do I do with them now?  For this one, I refer people to the summary article for The Autosomal Me series.  While it is focused on a particular challenge for me, minority Native admixture, the tools and techniques are relevant for everyone.

We’ve had an awesome first year, thanks to all of you, and I’m looking forward to even more breakthroughs and findings in year two.  I love sharing your stories and victories too and always appreciate tips and hints pointing out genetic genealogy items of interest.  I have some fun articles planned for this upcoming year and there are discoveries on the horizon, so stay tuned!!!

And indeed, may we all continue to live in very interesting times!


Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA

I’m sometimes amazed at what people believe – and not just a few people – but a lot of people.

Recently, I ran across a situation where someone was just adamant that autosomal DNA could not help a female find or identify her father.  That’s simply wrong. Incorrect.  Nada!  This isn’t, I repeat, IS NOT, true of autosomal testing.

Right here, on Family Tree DNA’s main page, it says as much.

mythbusting ftdna

Here is the product description for their Family Finder autosomal test:

“Family Finder uses autosomal DNA (inherited from both the mother and father, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.) to provide you a breakdown of your ethnic percentages and connect you with relatives descended from any of your ancestral lines within approximately the last 5 generations.”

Now the genetic genealogists among us will know right away where this myth that women can’t find their father using DNA came from.  Indeed, it’s a true statement when you’re talking about Y-line DNA.  Women don’t have a Y chromosome because it is passed only from father to son.  The mitochondrial DNA that she does carry is from her mother’s maternal side, so before autosomal testing, there was no ready tool for women to identify or find missing fathers.  For a long time, before autosomal testing, it was said as a general statement that women could not test for their father’s DNA.  That statement was true in that context at that time.  Not anymore.

The Times, They are A’Changin’

Today, however, there are 4 different DNA tests/tools for DNA testing, all with different purposes and that can be used in different ways, often in tandem.

Where the Y-line test tests just the Y chromosome, the paternal line, and the mitochondrial DNA tests only the direct maternal line, autosomal testing tests your DNA contributed from all of your ancestors, males and females alike.

You can see in the chart below that the son and daughter carry some of every color of the DNA of their great-grandparents.  The daughter carries the blue of her great-grandfather’s autosomal and the yellow of his wife’s autosomal, but not the short blue Y chromosome of her father.  Only the son has that.

mythbusting autosomal chart

Therefore, you can indeed utilize the information to find missing fathers, for women and men alike, in exactly the same way.  The only difference is that men can take the additional Y-line test that women can’t take.

By way of example, let’s look at some of my results at Family Tree DNA.

I have a total of 333 autosomal (Family Finder) matches.  My mother has a total of 180 matches and we have a total of 66 common matches.  That means that I also have 267 matches from my father’s side.

So let’s say I’m adopted and I’m not really sure which side is which.

I would then begin to construct family trees based on my matches suggested relationship and their common ancestors.

mythbusting vannoy matches

On the chart above, my Vannoy cousins are shown, all with matches to me, and all from my father’s side of the tree.  Family Tree DNA’s estimates are very accurate, within one generation, and all are within the range they provide.  Their ranges and estimates are more accurate the closer in time they are to you.

If these people are my second cousins, we share common great-grandparents.  Third cousins, common great-great grandparents.  You’ve just gone from “unknown” to within 3 or 4 generations in one fell swoop.  Wow!

If you find a group of people with the same surname or the same ancestral surname, like I did on my Vannoy line, then you can, based on their estimated relationship to you, begin building a combined pedigree chart.  All three of these men have uploaded their GEDCOM file, so you can easily see their common ancestor.  Their common ancestor is also your common ancestor.  You can then narrow the list of possible links from them to you.  Once you identify their common ancestor, then continue to work down the tree to current to find someone in the right location at the right time.

On the chart below, which is my DNA pedigree chart, you can see how close the common ancestor of these matches really is to me.  We’re only 3 generations from my father.  This common couple, Joel Vannoy (1813-1895) and Phoebe Crumley (1818-1900) had 7 children, both male and female.  My father descended from one of those 7.  Now I’m only two generations from my father.  Going from “father unknown” to only two generations away is extremely powerful.  This is exactly why these tools hold so much promise for adoptees and others who are searching for their parentage.

mythbusting common ancestor

In the meantime, you may get lucky and click to open your personal page one day to find a very close, sibling, aunt/uncle or first cousin match.  Yes indeed, that can do a world of good to narrow the possible choices of parents.  That’s also why I always suggest to people seeking unknown parents that they swim in all of the autosomal pools, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry.  You just never know where that answer or critically important hint is going to come from.

I hope you are now a believer and any confusion has been removed.  Women cannot take a Y chromosome test to find their father, but that has nothing to do with autosomal DNA tests.  Women can, and indeed do find their missing fathers using autosomal DNA.

The Orphan Train and the Mystery of William Jennings Duckett


When I give genetic genealogy presentations, I always talk about the causes of NPEs (Nonparental Events) or what I prefer to call, undocumented adoptions.  This means that the DNA doesn’t match the expected family line.  In the case of 20th century documented adoptions, this is obviously true as well, but before the 1900s and sometimes into the early 1900s, adoptions were much less formal.  In fact, sometimes they never officially took place, but the surname got attached anyway.

And then, there were the orphan trains, originating in the East, loaded with orphans, and stopping along the route westward, with the orphans being adopted to families along the way who needed additional children to help with farm work.

All of these things happened to William Jennings Duckett, shown at age 11 in the photo, just before heading west on the orphan train.  William, known as “Papa D” to his family, has a daughter, Virginia, now age 91, who would very much like to know the rest of the story about her father and his parents.  It’s a very interesting mystery, a puzzle really, and maybe you hold the missing piece.  Here is what we know.

According to the baptismal certificate provided by the Foundling Home in New York City, William Jennings Duckett was born on October 28th, 1894 and was baptized one month and one day later, November 29th at the St. Vincent Ferrer’s Catholic Church in New York City.

Duckett baptism

On November 28th, 1894, he came under the care of the Foundling Hospital in New York City, a place for abandoned or orphaned children, under the name William Erington, later spelled Errington.  In later communications, the home says that he was a “true foundling.”  If this is the case, then how did the home know his birth date?  And how was he baptized under the name William Jennings Duckett, or did the home simply use the name from his request for information in 1918, omitting his earlier “assigned” last name.  And how was Errington selected in the first place?  The baptismal certificate was sent to William in a response to a letter written by him to the Foundling Home in 1918, probably in order to prove his age for military draft registration.

In 1897, Richard and Mary F. Duckett of Orange, Essex County, New Jersey “fostered” William.  His release papers from the Foundling Home to them state his name as William Errington.  Two years later, in 1899, he was returned to the home, but Mary Duckett insisted that he retain the name William Jennings Duckett, even though he had never been adopted.  He was then placed with another foster family before leaving on the orphan train, but retained the Duckett name for the rest of his life.

In 1905, at about age 11, when the photo above was taken, he was put on the Orphan Train, ultimately winding up in Texas.  Whoever his parents were, he came from some healthy stock, as he lived until age 99 years and 9 months.  At his funeral, the following was read, as told in the first person by Papa D himself.

“The only early memories I have of my time in New York are of going to classes through the 3rd grade, and serving as an altar boy.  I faintly remember a Mr. Kelly, who came to the home frequently with gifts and food.

In June of 1905, I was sent to Texas on a train with 65 other children and two nuns.

The children sat two in a row, and I held an infant girl, Kristina, on my lap most of the way.  The Railroad car would be left off at sidings . Some of the children were dispersed to Galveston.  Kristina and I were let off at the Glidden depot near Columbus, Texas.  She was adopted by the Anton Holeszewski family of Fayetteville; and I was placed in their foster care. They couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Czech, so we had trouble communicating, especially the next morning, when they handed me a pail and told me to go milk the cow before breakfast.  I’d never seen a cow in New York.  Most of my recollections of my time with this family are of working very hard and spending hours serving as an altar boy. The family was devoutly Catholic and weekly sent packages of their most delicious farm foods to the priest.

When serving as an altar boy on special occasions, weddings, funerals, etc., the priest would share his fees with me, 5 to 15 cents, and tell me to buy some ice cream. My foster parents would take this away, as they believed I “didn’t need” any treats.

After some eight years, the priest at the Live Oak Hill Catholic Church in the area of Fayetteville and Ellinger, Texas bought me a new suit of clothes, gave me a prayer book and a gold watch and chain, on which was inscribed, ” To W. J.  Duckett – God give you strength,” and a railroad ticket to Galveston where I was to attend seminary and study for the priesthood.  I traded the railroad ticket for a wagon ride to Elgin, in the other direction, where I spent the first night under a railroad trestle.

My first job was as a water boy for the M&M Railroad which was building a bridge near Smithville, Tx., where I was allowed to sleep in a box car.  When summer came, I found a job at the cotton gin in Taylor, TX. With the few dollars I was able to save, I returned to the Fayetteville-Ellinger area, where I hired out as a farm hand and worked at the Walla gin. Life became enjoyable for a change.  I played 3rd base on the LaGrange baseball team for which I would receive approximately $2.00 per game, depending on the crowd.

The Hruska brothers were my teammates, and I was fortunate to meet their wonderful sister, Anna Marie, whom I married on Nov 23, 1915 in the Czech Moravian Brethren Church near Fayetteville, which church still stands and serves to-day.”

Duckett wedding

“Anna’s brother Henry made his home with us.  From this area we moved to Notowa, TX., and then in the fall of 1923, to a farm in the Bernard Prairie Community between East Bernard and Wallis, and in 1948 to the farm near El Campo where our two sons were attorneys.”

Duckett house

“We had five children, 2 boys and 3 girls.  While living in Notawa, our first son was bitten by a Cottonmouth Moccasin snake and I carried him by horseback a distance of fifteen miles, chucking up and delirious with fever, to the doctor in Wallis, TX.  Miraculously, he survived.

We became reunited with Kristina (Shoppa) and also with the son of my foster family, both living in Wharton, TX.  To this day we are in contact with the son’s remaining daughter, who came to visit me on my 99th birthday on October 28th of this year.

So as not to be totally dependent on the whims of nature and a cotton crop, I secured a job in the general store in East Bernard, joined the local S.P.J.S.T., group and then the Masonic Lodge.  I received The Masonic 75 year Service pin, and the S.P.J.S.T. honored me on my 96h birthday.

Once we were able to buy a car we took daylong journeys to visit friends and relatives in various parts of south and central Texas.  One summer Sunday morning we took off for Galveston with promises of hamburgers and the beach.  We got too hungry before we made it to Galveston, so we stopped at a roadside café and ordered hamburgers.  We waited and WAITED, and then we heard a shot.  I said, ‘Well… They’ve shot he cow-it won’t be much longer now.’  All forgot their hunger pangs and laughed.  This was a funny family story for years.

Our children were all bright and beautiful respectful and obedient.

Educating our 5 children was the top priority of my wife Anne and I because we wanted something better for them than farming…so we pinched pennies and scraped so that they could participate in all school activities and outings.  They rewarded us by making top grades, and all worked to earn their way through college, of which we are all proud.

One  son, a graduate of Law School at The University of Texas in Austin, paid his way by also working every week day pushing an old fashioned lawn mower on the huge lawn in front of the State Capitol building in Austin,Tx…then at night he spent the night in a funeral home answering the phone…where he was allowed to study between calls…plus other jobs.”

My only medication I’m on daily is two tablespoons of good bourbon in my coffee every morning, it gets my circulation going.

When my daughter asked me what I wanted for my 99th birthday, I replied, “ JUST WHAT I HAVE.”

The report about the orphan trains, including Papa D’s story, can be found in the book, “Their Own Stories” by The Orphan Train Riders Historical Society in Arkansas (OTHSA).  It’s available through the Train Riders Museum and Research Center in Concordia, KS., (785) 243-4471.

We know what happened to Papa D after 1905, but the time from 1894 to about 1900 is murky at best.  What clues do we have as to who his parents might have been?

DNA Testing

The first avenue we tried, was, of course, DNA testing through Papa D’s son.  The good news, Papa D’s Y chromosome is quite unusual, so when a solid match is received there will be no question.  The bad news is that there is no solid match today.  There are a couple of 12 marker matches who did not test at a higher level, and none of his 5 total matches have taken the Family Finder match.

We’ve also checked at Ancestry where we found 3 of 4 matches were hand entered from Family Tree DNA.  Sorenson has been offline lately, so that resource can’t be checked at present.

It goes without saying that he matches no other Ducketts, nor did we expect that he would.  You can see his results in the Duckett project, kit number 262691, or at Ysearch, User ID 69C3G.  Papa D has established a new Duckett genetic line.

However, the circumstances surrounding Richard and Mary Duckett make me wonder if they were related to William.  Were they his grandparents perhaps?  Why did they take him, not once, but twice?  Why did they return him?  Why was Mary insistent that he retain the Duckett name?  And is his middle name, Jennings, significant.  Is it perhaps a family name?  So many questions and so few answers.

Family Finder testing showed no people with Duckett surnames, but then again, Duckett is a very rare surname.  It did show two people with Jennings surnames in Ireland, but this could be coincidence only.  His closest match is at the 2nd to 4th cousins level, estimated to be a third cousin.  This means in essence, he is 4 generations from his match to a common ancestor.  That person has a lot of Bohemian/Czech in their 4th generation pedigree chart, which they have uploaded to Family Tree DNA.  Papa D’s wife was Czech.

Clues – The Baptismal Record and the Duckett Family

We have two viable clues.

  1. The first clue is the baptism record.  I suspect that when the Foundling Home provided this to William Duckett in 1918, they simply entered his name as it was in 1918.  This means that the original records, at the church, would not be under the name of William Duckett, but William Errington, or perhaps his real name if there was some kind of note with him providing at least his birth date.  The records of St. Vincent Ferrer’s Catholic Church need to be checked for the actual church record of his baptism.
  2. The Richard and Mary Duckett family.  Preliminary research on the Duckett family shows the following information.

The Duckett Family

In the 1900 census, there is a Mary F. Duckett who is living with her adult son in his household along with her 2 adult daughters, ages 26 and 29, in South Orange, Essex Co., NJ.

Mary is a widow, born in 1843, of Irish parents, but born in New York.  She has had 7 children, and only 4 are living.  Her daughters are Frances and Nelly, ages 29 and 26, both hat trimmers.  Her son is a gardener.  This would account for 3 of her 4 children.  The Irish are most often Catholic, and if Mary was of Irish parents, she most likely was Catholic.  They lived at 309 Scotland Street.  If Papa D is the son of one of the Duckett daughters, Frances and Nelly are the best candidates.

duckett 1900 census

Mary is listed as widowed, but there is a Richard who is living in a home for disabled veterans in Hudson Co., NJ.  He is born in April of 1830, age 70, married for 30 years, immigrated in 1847 and is naturalized.

Unfortunately, the 1890 census is missing, but the 1880 census should show this family.

Indeed, in the 1880 census, we have Richard Duckett, age 50, so born 1830 in Ireland and a hat maker.  His wife Mary is age 40, so born about 1840 in New York to Irish parents.  They have daugher Fanny, age 19, a hat trimmer, daughter Ellen age 9 and Samuel, age 6.  They live at 276 Teanount(?) Avenue in Orange, Essex Co., NY.

I was not able to find either Richard or Mary Duckett in the 1870, 1860 or 1850 census.

There was a Richard Duckett who filed for a Civil War Pension in 1889 from New Jersey.  A military headstone was provided for Richard Duckett in Springhill Cemetery in Milburn in November of 1901.  This is in Essex County.  He died November 7, 1901 although I cannot find him through Find-A-Grave.

Looking at other records, we find:

Mrs. Richard Duckett of New Jersey contributed in 1861 to a St. Mary’s Hall scholarship and contributions are listed as from “graduates and former pupils.”  Unfortunately, this is probably not the “right” Mary as St. Mary’s Hall, located in Burlington, NJ, was a private Episcopal School, not Catholic.  It is now the Doane School.

In 1883, Mary Duckett of Orange is listed as a laundress in the city directory.

In 1891, in Orange, East Orange and West Orange, NJ, Richard, Ellen G. and Lesher Ducket are listed as “hat” (Richard) and hat trimmers.  The address is 40 Forest.  Who is Lesher Duckett?  Is this Sarah Lesher from the 1895 census?

The same year in the business directory, Richard P. Duckett is listed as a hatter at “Main op Spring.”  Op probably means opposite.  In 1893 he is listed exactly the same.

In 1893 in the city directory, Mary F. Duckett is listed at 478 Scotland.

In 1894, there is also a Mary P. Duckett in Camden who is a dressmaker who is listed for many years.  This is not Mary F. Duckett of Orange.

In 1895 Richard P. Duckett is listed as “hat” on Church.  Mrs. Mary F. Duckett is listed at 478 Scotland.  One may be a business address and one personal, or they may be separated or divorced.

On the 1895 NJ State census, the family is listed as Mary F. Duckett, Sarah Lesher, Ellen G. Duckett, Samuel Duckett and William Williams.  William Williams is under age 5.  The adults are all listed age 20-60.  Who is William Williams and how is he connected to this family?  Who is Sarah Lesher and how is she connected to the family?

In 1898 and 1899 Richard H. D. (or Richard H. D. S.) Duckett is listed on S. Passaic Av in Newark, NJ.  In 1901 Richard HDS Duckett is listed on Belgrove Drive.  He is noted for many more years, so this Richard is not the Richard Duckett of Orange.

However, Richard Duckett is listed in the 1901 and 1902 Orange directory as “hat” on Scotland Road and N Irving Ave.  It could be he has died but his business is still in existance?

So we know that Richard and Mary have either 3 or 4 daughters and one son.  In 1900, two of the adult daughters remain unmarried.

In summary, the children are:

  • Fanny b 1861 (from the 1880 census)
  • Ellen b 1871 (from the 1880  and 1895 census)
  • Frances b 1870 (from the 1900 census, possibly the same person as Ellen in the 1880 census?)
  • Nelly b 1874 (from 1880 census and the 1900 census)
  • Samuel b 1875 (from the 1800, 1895 and 1900 census)

Mary had 2 more children who died, and there is a 10 year gap between daughters Fanny, born 1861 and Ellen, born 1871.

Solving the Puzzle

I made the following suggestions to the Duckett family:

  1. Obtain the original records from the church reflected in the baptismal certificate provided by the Foundling Home, dated November 29, 1894, from the St. Vincent Ferrer’s Catholic Church of New York.  This baptism occurred the day after he was “found” and admitted to  the Foundling Hospital.  He could  have been baptized as William Errington, or perhaps another name.  See if there is any note as to how they knew his birth date.
  2. Contact the school that Mrs. Richard Duckett attended prior to 1861 and see if you her maiden name can be determined.  With other records, this could either  confirm that she is not the wife of Richard.  I strongly suspect not, given that this is an Episcopal school and your Mary was later a laundress, not appearing to be from a wealthy family who could afford for their daughter to attend  a private school.  Also, Mary Duckett in the 1897 transaction with the Foundling Home signed her name and it appears from the signature that she struggled to do so.   I strongly suspect this woman in the 1861 record is NOT the Mary Duckett you seek, so this would be a low priority.
  3. See if you can locate a marriage record for Richard and Mary Duckett about 1860, probably in Essex County, NJ.  Once Mary’s maiden name is determined, check Family Finder matches for other people researching that surname.
  4. Track the children of this couple forward in time to find a current living descendant and see if they will DNA test.  The autosomal DNA would be the only one to test unless by some chance you find a male descendant of  Samuel Duckett and in that case, I would test both the Yline and autosomal.  I do not expect the Yline to match.  If William Jennings is from this family, he is likely the son of one of the daughters.
  5. Obtain the death certificate of Richard Duckett.  You may need to order his military records in order to determine his death date in order to order the death certificate.  If  this is the right family, his death certificate, as well as that of his      wife Mary, will hold their parents names which may allow you to find siblings      which can also be tracked forward in time.
  6. Check to see if Richard Duckett had a will.  If so, his children will be named and possibly his grandchildren as well. The same goes for Mary.
  7. I suspect that William’s middle name, Jennings, may be a key to this puzzle.  I looked for Jennings/Duckett marriages and found none that seemed to be relevant.  This could be Mary’s maiden name or perhaps that of her mother.
  8. Finding an obituary or other information, perhaps through a funeral home, that will lead you to a  church may well be the key to finding an original baptism of William Jennings Duckett, which could contain his father’s name.  The baptism performed at the Foundling Home could have been a second baptism, if they didn’t know about a first one.
  9. I would suggest that you search the St. John Catholic church records in Orange for William Jennings Duckett’s baptism.  If he was born to a Duckett female, and they had him for a month before giving him up, it’s very likely he was baptized sometime after October 29th, 1894 and before November 29th, 1894.  I would suggest looking at all baptisms that took place during that time, especially any to Duckett, Lesher or Williams women.

On the map below, the Catholic churches in the area of Orange, Essex County, NJ, where the Ducketts lived are shown with purple balloons and the location where the Duckett’s lived on Scotland is shown in red.  They are very close to Our Lady of the Valley, but the original St. John’s isn’t far either, at the top of the map.  There is also a cemetery by St. John’s church which suggests it was likely the original Catholic church in the area, although there are no Ducketts listed as buried there at Find-A-Grave.  The history of St. Johns indicates that the priests there were Irish, which makes this church an extremely good candidate for the Ducket family.

Duckett map

Can You Help?

Anyone who is familiar with the Richard and Mary Duckett family of Orange, Essex County, NJ, or has other observations, information or suggestions to offer can contact Lara Gibson, great-niece of Virginia, Papa D’s daughter, who is now deceased.  Lara would love to hear from you at Lara@stevegibson.com.

The Gift of a Davenport

I work with adoptees a lot.  They often order Personalized DNA Reports with the hope of finding some hint of their family.  Women have a distinct disadvantage – they have no Y chromosome.  About 30% of the time by looking at the Y chromosome, I can figure out the most likely genetic surname for men – and sometimes there is absolutely no question.  But women aren’t so lucky.

When adoptees order these reports, I suggest, strongly, that they also have the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA performed.  This gives me two tools to work with, and they can be used together.

Recently, I completed a report for Caroline.  Here’s the sum knowledge of what she knew about her biological family.  She was born in Flagstaff, Arizona to a mother who was a college student.  That’s it.  Let’s just say there was a lot of opportunity for DNA to help Caroline.  Caroline said to me, “I don’t know the names of any of my blood relatives.”  Well Caroline, we’re about to fix that!!!

And indeed, she does now, through the magic of DNA and a little sleuthing.  Caroline, it turns out, is one of the lucky ones – she had a good match and that match has led us to well, a Davenport…and more.


No, not this kind of Davenport – well – maybe not – but the Davenport family.  Maybe it’s the same Davenport family, because although the word davenport is generic like “Kleenex” today, it all started with the Davenport family, a Massachusetts furniture manufacturer, the A. H. Davenport Company.  Hmmm….I wonder.

Using Family Finder, Carolina had a solid second cousin match.  She contacted this person, we’ll call him Mr. Midkiff, who provided some initial information, but the 4 surnames Mr. Midkiff listed as Ancestral Surnames proved to be much more useful than the information provided to Caroline.

Often, it’s a good idea to list as many surnames as you possibly can, but in this case, Mr. Midkiff only listed 4 plus his own, for a total of 5 to work with, so I’m betting here that they are Mr. Midkiff’s closest surnames, meaning the grandparents generation plus one great-grandparent surname.

With that, I used the handy-dandy genetic relationship chart to show Caroline how this works.  One of the reasons I love this chart is because it’s all related to “self,” so you don’t have to try to figure out where and how you fit into the chart.

adopted cheat chart

If Mr. Midkiff is her second cousin, and she is “self” then we can see that self and the second cousin connect via great-grandparents. Mr. Midkiff’s great-grandparents would have the following surnames, plus three additional.

  • Midkiff
  • Davenport
  • Jennings
  • Potter
  • Veach
  • 3 additional unknown

These are the surnames of Mr. Midkiff’s ancestors and it’s all we have to work with since we don’t know the surnames of Caroline’s ancestors.

Using the chart and retrofitting surnames, we know that of Mr. Midkiff’s 5 surnames, 2 or 3 come from his mother’s side and 2 or 3 from his father’s side.  We know genetically that Caroline is related closely to at least one of those 5 lines, and possibly to more than one, meaning 2 or 3, depending on how closely she and Mr. Midkiff are actually related.

Next, we need to figure out which of those 5 surnames Caroline is related to.

Caroline only had one close match, but she had 960 total matches.  In order to be able to sort through those matches, I entered the 5 surnames listed by Mr. Midkiff as Caroline’s surnames.  This allowed me to then search for these ancestral surnames and to see them bolded in Caroline’s match list.

davenport 1

Because of different surname spellings, instead of simply relying on the search, I went through page by page and looked at each bolded surname.  I discovered that this was a very good move, because the Davenport family was spelled any number of ways, like Diefenback, Dieffenback, etc.  The Ancestral Surname search does not pick up alternate spellings, but the bolded surnames in the lists sometimes do.

A total of 13 people matched one or more of these surnames.

Her matches sort out like this:

  • Midkiff – 1
  • Jennings – 5
  • Davenport – 3
  • Potter – 4
  • Veach – 1 Vaux

I grouped people into categories by their surnames and then began using the Chromosome Browser to compare people to Caroline.

Normally, I could compare all 13 people in 3 comparisons (the browser allows 5 selections per comparison), download them, and then use a spreadsheet to sort by chromosome matches, but the downloads have been experiencing technical difficulties recently, so instead, I simply compared randomly and then by surname group.

One of the great options in the Chromosome Browser is the option for “common surnames” which then displayed all of 13 of her common surname matches and no non-matches.  So I, thankfully, did not have to sort through 960 people to find the 13 she matches for comparison.

Below, with the chromosome browser set to 1cM, you can see her matches to the Davenport group, plus a Fry who lists Potter as her ancestral surname but also matches the Davenport group.

davenport 2

What we are looking for here are people who match Caroline on the exact same chromosome segments and match each other as well.  This allows us to identify that segment with that surname.  In this case, chromosome 12 fits that bill exactly.

Davenport 2 ch 12

So Caroline, welcome to the Davenport family!!!

However, since Ms. Fry does not list Davenport, but does list Potter, let’s take a look at that Potter group.

davenport 3

Now, this gets very interesting, because look at that same segment of Chromosome 12 – in addition to  the Davenport folks, it also matches a Pinson who lists both Jennings and Potter in their list of ancestral surnames.  So the Davenport DNA is also Potter DNA.  Welcome to the Potter family Caroline!

Davenport 3 ch 12

So, let’s take a look at the Jennings folks.

davenport 4

Again, let’s look at Chromosome 12 and indeed, 4 of the 5 people who carry the Jennings surname also match Caroline on that same segment of Chromosome 12.

Davenport ch 12

What does this tell us?  Well, it tells us that this chromosome is inherited from the same ancestor.  What I can’t tell Caroline is which ancestor.  What we can say is that all three of these surnames, and all of these individuals share that ancestor and the chromosome is inherited through the Jennings, Davenport and Potter families in a particular family line – in Caroline’s family line and also in Mr. Midkiff’s.  Now it will be up to genealogy, and contacting these matches and asking for their Davenport/Potter/Jennings ancestry, to disclose just how these people’s ancestors are related.

Oh yes, and before I forget, welcome to the Jennings family Caroline!

So, here’s what I’m guessing.  Caroline has in essence no matches to Midkiff (other than the initial match to Mr. Midkiff) or Veach.  However, both Caroline and Mr. Midkiff have several matches, including the same segment of chromosome 12, to Jennings, Davenport and Potter.  I’m guessing that this is Mr. Midkiff’s mother’s side of the family and that if Caroline were to contact all of these people, she would, by process of elimination, discover commonalities in their pedigree charts and genealogy.  Then, by working forwards from what she finds, she can, again, by process of elimination, hopefully, find a line of the family that went to Arizona and candidates for one of her parents.

Maybe one of you holds the answer to Caroline’s quandry.  Does anyone know of a family with some history in Texas and in Arizona that carries the surnames Jennings, Davenport and Potter and perhaps married in to the Veach or Midkiff family?  If so, you can perhaps put some color into Caroline’s mysterious Davenport family.  Contact Caroline directly at cbfernandez@gmail.com. She would love to hear from you.

Davenport 5

Caveat:  Please note that this level of autosomal research is not normally included in a Personalized DNA report which focuses on either the Y-line or the Mitochondrial DNA lines.  Some research is included and was included for Caroline, identifying the Davenport common line.  The balance of this research was performed for the blog posting, with Caroline’s permission of course.  This type of autosomal research is available through www.dnaexplain.com at an hourly rate.  Everyone’s situation is unique and varies, and it is impossible to create a standard report product for autosomal situations.  Generally, a good approach is to start with a Y-line or mitochondrial DNA report and move forward from there.  You can see what it did for Caroline!

No (DNA) Bullying

No Bullying

There are hardly any hobbies that hold more passion than genealogy.  Once hooked by the bug, most people never retire and one of the things they worry about passing down to their family are their genealogy records – even if the family of today isn’t terribly interested.

So it’s easy to understand the degree of passion and enthusiasm, but sometimes this passion can kind of go astray and it crosses the line from something positive to something not nearly so nice.

Genetic genealogy is the latest tool in the genealogists’ arsenal, but it introduces some new challenges and unfortunately, with the increased number of people testing, we’re seeing some examples of what I consider bullying – for DNA, for identification and for information.

Bullying is unwelcome aggressive behavior that involves repeated threats, physical or electronic contact or a real or perceived imbalance of power.  Generally, the victim feels they can’t make it stop.  This has become especially prevalent in the cyber age.  And bullying is not just about kids.

I’m going to look at 3 types of situations.  It’s easy to see both perspectives, but bullying by any other name is still bullying, even though the bully probably doesn’t see it that way.  Guaranteed, the recipient does.

You’ve Got the DNA I Need

Let’s say that Aunt Gladys is the last person alive in a particular line who can provide DNA to represent that line.  But Aunt Gladys, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to test.  It’s fine to discuss this, to talk about her concerns, and perhaps you can find a solution to address them, like testing anonymously.

But let’s say that Aunt Gladys simply says “no,” end of story.  What then?

Yes, Aunt Gladys carries the information that you need, but it’s HER DNA that needs to be tested, and if she says no, then her decision should be respected, as difficult as it may be and as unreasonable as it may seem.  Maybe Aunt Gladys knows something you don’t – like she is adopted or some other secret that she does not wish to reveal.  Badgering Aunt Gladys from this point forward is going to do nothing other than cause hard feelings and make Aunt Gladys want to avoid you.

You may think you’re “just discussing” but from her perspective, you may be bullying.  Now, it’s OK to beg and cry once, but if you’re slipped into the realm of “if you don’t test, I’ll tell Uncle Harvey that you scratched his car back in 1953,” you’ve stepped over that line.

Won’t Answer E-Mails

I can’t tell you how often I hear this story.  “I match with person XYZ and they won’t share their information.”  Most of the time, they won’t answer e-mails.  And the question follows, of course, as to why they tested in the first place.

These tests have been around for a number of years now.  Many people have died or moved or the purpose of the test was fulfilled and they aren’t interested beyond that.  Think of your Aunt Gladys.  If you did convince her to test, it wouldn’t be for her, but for you and she certainly would not be interested in answering random e-mails.

There could be a number of reasons, depending on the testing company used, that someone might not answer.  In particular, many people test at 23andMe for health reasons.  It doesn’t matter to them if you’re a first cousin or any other relation, they simply aren’t interested or don’t have the answers for you.

It’s alright to send 2 or 3 e-mails to someone.  E-mails do get lost sometimes.  But beyond that, you’ve put yourself into the nuisance category.  But you can be even worse than a nuisance.

I know of one case where someone googled the e-mail of their contact, discovered the person was a doctor, and called them at the office.  That is over the line into cyber-stalking.  If they wanted to answer the e-mail, they would have.  If they don’t want to, their decision needs to be respected.

I Know You Know

This situation can get even uglier.  I’ve heard of two or three situations recently.  One was at Ancestry where someone had a DNA match and their trees matched as well.  At first the contact was cordial, but then it deteriorated into one person insisting that the other person had information they weren’t divulging and from there it deteriorated even further.

This is a hobby.  It’s supposed to be fun.  This is not 7th grade.


However, there are other situations much more volatile and potentially serious. In some cases, often in adoptions, people don’t want contact.  Sometimes it’s the parent and sometimes it’s the adoptee.  But those aren’t the only people involved.  There are sometimes half-siblings that are found or cousins.

For the adoptees and the parents, there are laws in each state that govern the release of their legal paperwork to protect both parties.  Either party can opt out at any time.

But for inadvertently discovered family connections, this isn’t true.  Think of the person who doesn’t know they are adopted, for example, who discovers a half-sibling and through that half sibling their biological mother.  Neither person may welcome or be prepared for this discovery or contact.

Imagine this at the dinner table with the family gathered, “Hey guess what, I got a half-sibling match today on my DNA.  I wonder if that’s some kind of mistake.  How could that be?”

So if you match someone as a half sibling or a cousin, and they don’t want to continue the conversation, be kind and respectful, and leave the door open to them if they change their mind in the future.  Pushing them can only be hurtful and nonproductive.

Dirty Old (and Formerly Young) Men

And then, there’s the case of the family pervert.  Every family seems to have one.  But it’s not always who you think it is.  By the very nature of being a pervert, they hide their actions – and they can be very, very good at it.  Practice makes perfect.

Let’s say that Jane likes genealogy, but she was molested as a child by Cousin Fred.  Some of the family knows about this, and some don’t believe it.  The family was split by this incident, but it was years in the past now.  Jane wants nothing to do with Fred’s side of the family.

(By the way, if you think this doesn’t happen, it does.  About 20% of woman have been raped, 30% of them by family members (incest), many more molested, and children often by relatives or close family friends.  15% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 12.  Many childhood cases are never prosecuted because the children are too young to testify.  Perverts and pedophiles don’t wear t-shirts announcing such or have a “P” tattooed on their forehead.  Often family members find it hard to believe and don’t, regardless of the evidence, casting the victimized child in the position of being a liar and “troublemaker.”  Need convincing?  Think of what Ariel Castro’s family said and how well he hid his dark side and the Boston bombers’ family comments about their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)

Jane’s an adult now and DNA tests.  She has a match and discovers that it’s on Fred’s side of the family.  Jane tells the person that she doesn’t want anything to do with that side of the family, has no genealogy information and wants no contact.  The match doesn’t believe Jane and then becomes insistent, then demanding, then accusatory, then threatening.

This is clearly over the line.  Jane said she didn’t want any continued contact.  That should have been the end of the discussion.

But let’s say this one gets worse.  Let’s say that because of this, Cousin Fred wakes up and decides that Jane is interesting again and begins to stalk Jane, and her children……

Does this make you shake in your shoes?  It should.  Criminals not only aren’t always playing with a full deck, but don’t play by any of the same rules as the rest of us.  Cousin Fred might just be very grateful for that information about Jane and view it as a wonderful “opportunity,” provided by his “supportive” family member who has now endangered both Jane and her children.

Who’s Yer Daddy?

In another recent situation, John discovered by DNA testing that he is not the biological child of his father.  He subsequently discovered that his mother was raped by another male, married to another close family member.  When John discovered that information, he promptly lost interest in genealogy altogether.

A year or so later, John matched someone closely who was insistent that he provide them with how he was related to them.  John knew, but he did not feel that it was any of their business and he certainly did not want to explain any of the situation to the perpetrator’s family member, who, by the way, had already mentioned what a good person the perpetrator was.  However, the person continued to harass and badger John until he changed his e-mail address.

I so wanted to ask these people, “What part of “NO” don’t you understand?”

Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe

In one final example, adoptees often make contact with their birth mother first, and then, if at all, with their birth father.  Sometimes the birth mothers are not cooperative with the (now adult) child about the identity of their father.  Often, this is horribly frustrating to the adoptee.  In at least one case, I know of a birth mother who would never tell, leaving the child an envelope when she died.  The child was just sure the father’s name was in the envelope, but it was not.  I can only imagine that level of disappointment.

Why would someone be so reticent to divulge this information?  The primary reasons seem to be that either the mother doesn’t know due to a variety of circumstances that can range from intoxication to rape, the woman never told the father that she had a baby and placed the child for adoption, the father was abusive and the mother was/is afraid of him/his family, the father was married, or the father was a relative, which means not only might the father still be alive, the mother may still have a relationship of some type with him.  The mother may have lied for years to protect herself, and in doing so, protected the father as well.

Clearly, this situation has a lot of potential to “shift” a lot of lives and not always in positive ways.  One woman didn’t want to make contact with her child other than one time because she had never told her husband of 30 years that she had a child before their marriage.  One woman made contact, but did not want to divulge that the child’s father was her older brother, still alive.  Victims often keep the secrets of their attackers out of misplaced shame and guilt.  Think Oprah here.  Mother may not be simply being stubborn, but acting like the victim she is and trying to preserve whatever shreds of dignity are left to her.  She may also be embarrassed by a lapse in judgment.  One adoptee realized when counting forward from her birth date that she was conceived right at New Years and when she realized that, she figured out that her mother, who drank heavily when she was younger, probably did not know who her father was, and didn’t want to admit that.

As frustrating as this is for the adoptee, the birth mother does have the right not to have her life turned upside down.  Badgering her will only result in losing the potential for a relationship from the current time forward.  Being respectful, understanding and gentle may open the door for future information.


I can hear Aretha now.

If you haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins, so to speak, you can’t possibly know the situation of the person on the other end of your request for DNA or information.  Don’t make the mistake of stepping over the line from excitement into bully behavior.

Think of the potential situations the person on the other end may be dealing with.  Ultimately, if they say no, then no it is and no should be enough without an explanation of why.  Generally bullying doesn’t work anyway, because someone who feels like you are threatening them or being too aggressive will clam right up and it will be that proverbial cold day in Hades before they tell you anything.  It’s important to keep communications from sounding like you’re demanding or entitled.  My mother always said “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  I always found that very irritating, probably because I needed to hear it just then – but regardless – it’s true.

Keep in mind, genetic genealogy is about genealogy.  It’s a hobby.   It’s fun.  If it becomes otherwise and puts people at jeopardy, then we need to take a step back and take a deep breath.

Most people don’t mean to cross the line into bullying.  They just get excited and sometimes desperate.  Hopefully this discussion will help us all be more aware of where the polite line is in communicating with our family members and matches.

If you are the victim of information bullying, cyber-stalking or someone puts you in an uncomfortable situation, there are steps you can take to remedy the situation.  Most bullying sites are directed at adolescents, but the advice still applies.

If you know you don’t want contact initially, then make your accounts anonymous or don’t respond to requests.  If you realize that you don’t want contact after the initial contact, for whatever reason, say so.  After that, do not engage in communications with someone who is attempting to bully you.  If they threaten you or threaten to reveal information or your identity if you don’t give them information or do something, that action falls into the blackmail realm, which a crime.  Complying with a threat to protect yourself or your family generally only results in more of the same.  You are not dealing with a nice person.  At this point, you are way beyond genealogy and your own internal “danger” sign should be flashing bright neon red.

If disengaging does not take care of the problem, save all messages/contacts and contact your attorney who may advise you to contact the police or the FBI if the problem crosses state lines.  Depending on what state you/they live in and exactly what they have done, you may have a variety of options if they won’t stop, especially if they do something that does in fact manage to turn your life upside down and/or a crime is involved, like blackmail.  Of course, this is akin to closing the barn door after the cow leaves.  Hopefully, the person causing the problem is simply an over-zealous genealogist, means you no harm, realizes what they have done or are doing, and will get a grip and compose themselves long before this point.

Bullying of course is not because of DNA or unique to genetic genealogy, but the new products introduce new social situations that we have not previously had tools to discover nor the opportunity to address in quite the same way.

Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

Every day, I receive e-mails very similar to this one.

“My family has always said that we were part Native American.  I want to prove this so that I can receive help with money for college.”

The reasons vary, and not everyone wants to prove their heritage in order to qualify for some type of assistance.  Some want to find their tribe and join to reclaim their lost heritage.  Some want to honor their persecuted and hidden ancestors, undoing some of the wickedness of the past, and some simply seek the truth.  Regardless of why, they are all searching for information lost to them.

I’d like to talk about three topics in proving Native Ancestry.  First, I’d like to do some myth-busting.  Second, I’d like to talk a little about conventional research and third, I’d like to discuss what DNA can, and can’t, do for you.

As you read this blog, please click on the links.  I’m not going to repeat something I’ve already covered elsewhere.


Myth 1 – Free College

There is no free college for Native Americans.  There are sometimes scholarships and grants available, mostly by the individual tribes themselves, for their official members.

Myth 2 – Joining a Tribe

Many people think that if they can only figure out which tribe their ancestor descends from, they can join.  This is untrue.  Each tribe is a sovereign nation, and they get to determine their criteria for membership.  Most tribes require a specific percentage of Native “blood,” called blood quantum, in addition to being able to document which tribal member you descend from.  Some tribes require as much as 25% Native heritage, and most require at least 1/16th Native heritage, which is one great-great grandparent.  If you don’t know who in your family was a tribal member it’s unlikely that you would be able to meet the blood quantum requirement.

Myth 3 – DNA Testing Will Reveal my Tribe

Generally, DNA testing does not provide us with the information needed to determine a tribe, although it can clearly tell, using y-line or mitochondrial DNA testing, whether your direct paternal or maternal line was or was not Native.  Sometimes you will be able to infer a tribe based on your matches and their documented history, but the definition of tribes, their names and locations have changed over time.  We are working on improving this ability, but the science simply isn’t there yet and the number of Native people who have tested remains small.

Simply put, most federally recognized tribes aren’t interested in more tribal members.  More members mean a smaller piece of the pie for existing members.  The pot of resources, whatever resources you’re discussing, is only so large and it must be shared by all tribal members.

What is a Tribe?

Tribes in the US fall into two categories.  When most people think about tribes they are talking about federally recognized tribes.  Those are tribes that have some continuity with the past, such as they have always been a tribe, or they still retain tribal lands, etc., and the federal government recognizes them as such.  These are the tribes that qualify for government programs and many own casinos.  As you might imagine, with the influx of casino money, the desire to join a tribe has increased significantly.

The second category is non-federally recognized tribes.  Some are state recognized and others, not at all.  State recognition does not in any way guarantee federal or state funding and there are no universal standards for state recognition.  In other words, your mileage may vary, widely.  Non-federally recognized tribes are often run as non-profit entities.  In many cases, these tribes will help people research and document their genealogy and may be more open to tribal membership for those connecting with their Native heritage.

Be aware that some “tribes” that fall into the non-federally funded category may be less than ethical.  Some tend to come and go.  In one case, to apply to join, one had to provide information such as social security numbers and a complete family pedigree including your children. In some cases, membership is very expensive, hundreds of dollars, but is available to almost anyone for the right price.  When evaluating tribes that are not federally recognized, if something sounds fishy, it probably is.  Caution is the watchword.

In general, the federally recognized tribes do not feel kindly towards the non-federally recognized tribes and view them as “fake,” interlopers trying to get part of that pie.  Of course, the non-federally recognized tribes feel differently; that they are reclaiming their heritage denied them.  Native American politics is nothing new and is fraught with landmines.

No federally recognized tribes, to the best of my knowledge, have considered DNA testing as a criteria for membership.  No federally recognized tribe has endorsed or participated in DNA testing that I’m aware of.  This does not mean that individuals have not privately tested.

Traditional Genealogy Research

Given the criteria for membership in federally recognized tribes, traditional genealogy is the only way to obtain the type of information required.  If your family history includes a tribal name, and east of the Mississippi, that most often is Cherokee, contact the various Cherokee tribes to inquire about membership criteria.  If the membership criteria is 25% blood quantum, and you must live on the reservation, you’re toast…..no need to continue that line of research if your goal is to join the tribe.

If your goal is simply to find your Native ancestor, that’s another matter entirely.  Begin by using the traditional research tools.

First, look at where your ancestor or that family line was located.  Did they migrate from elsewhere?  How were they listed in the census?  Was someone listed as other than white, indicating mixed race?  Check the records where they lived, tax records and others to see if there is any indication of non-European heritage.  Remember that your non-white ancestor would have retained their “darker” countenance for at least 2 generations after being admixed.  Many Native people were admixed very early.

So first, check the normal genealogy records and look for hints and traces of non-European ancestry.

Second, turn to Native resources that might reflect the Native people in the areas where your family is or was found.  The Access Genealogy site is absolutely wonderful and has an amazingly complete set of records including searchable tribal rolls.  In addition, I add information almost daily to the Native Heritage Project at www.nativeheritageproject.com, which is searchable.  There are many more resources including several collections at Ancestry.com.

Hopefully, these records will help narrow your focus in your family tree to a particular person or two, not just a general branch.  Family rumors like “Grandma was a Cherokee Princess” are particularly unuseful.  What they more likely mean is that there was indeed some Native ancestry someplace in her line.  Cherokee has become a generic word like Kleenex.  It may also have meant that Indian heritage was claimed to cover much less desirable African heritage.  Institutionalized discrimination existed against any people of color in pre-1967 America, but Indians generally retained some rights that people of African ancestry did not.  Laws varied by state and time.  Take a look at my blog about Anti-Miscegenation Laws and when they were overturned.

Now, let’s look at DNA testing to see what it can do for you.

DNA Testing to Prove Native Ancestry

There are three types of DNA testing that you can do to prove Native Ancestry.  Two are very focused on specific family lines, and one is much more general.

  • Mitochondrial for your direct maternal line.
  • Y-line for your direct paternal line – if you are a male. Sorry ladies.
  • Autosomal to test your ethnic mix and one direct marker test for Native ancestors.

On a pedigree chart, these genealogical lines look like this:

adopted pedigree

You can see the path that the blue Y chromosome takes down the paternal line to the brother and the path the red mitochondrial DNA takes down the maternal line to both the brother and the sister.  Autosomal tests the DNA of all of the 16 ancestral lines shown here, but in a different sort of way.

Let’s look at each type of testing separately.

Y-Line DNA – For Paternal Line Testing for Males

The Y-line testing tests the Y chromosome which is passed intact from father to son with no DNA from the mother. This is the blue square on the pedigree chart. In this way, it remains the same in each generation, allowing us to compare it to others with a similar surname to see if we are from the same “Smith” family, for example, or to others with different surnames, in the case of adoption or Native heritage.  Native American genetics isn’t terribly different than adoptees in this situation, because different English surnames were adopted by various family members, into the late 1800s and sometimes into the early 1900s, depending on the location.

Y-line DNA can tell you whether or not you descend from a common male genealogically when compared to another testing participant.  Small mutations do take place and accumulate over time, and we depend on those so that we don’t all “look alike” genetically.  It can also tell you by identifying your deep ancestral clan, called a haplogroup, whether or not you descend from early Native Americans who were here before contact with Europeans.  For that matter, it can also tell you if you descend from those of African, European or Asian ancestry.

Scientists know today that there are only two primary haplogroups indicating deep ancestry that are found among Native American males who were here prior to contact with Indo-Europeans, and those haplogroups are C and Q3.  It is not accurate to say that all C and Q3 individuals exist only in the American Native population, but the American Native population is part of the larger group worldwide that comprises C and Q3.  We find some haplogroup C and Q3 in Europe but none in African populations, although we do learn more every single day in this infant science.

This sometimes becomes confusing, because the single most common male haplogroup among current Cherokee tribal members who have tested is R1b.  How can this be, you ask?  Clearly, one of three possibilities exists:

  1. The Cherokee (or those tribes who were assimilated into the Cherokee) adopted a European male into the tribe or a European male fathered a child that was subsequently raised as Cherokee.
  2. The R1b ancestor was not adopted into the tribe, maintained their European/American identity but married a Cherokee individual woman and their descendants are recognized as Cherokee today.
  3. There is some level of R1b admixture in the Native population that preceded contact with Europeans that we have not yet identified.

Because of the unique haplogroups for Native Americans who preceded European contact, Y-line is the only way to positively confirm that a specific line is or is not of Native American descent.  This obviously applies to all of the individuals in the pedigree chart who directly descend from the oldest known ancestor in this paternal line.

Y-line testing does not indicate anything about the contributions of the other ancestors in this family tree.  In other words, you could be 3/4th Native, with only the direct paternal line being European, and this test would tell you nothing at all about those other three Native lines.

When ordering DNA tests at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test, everyone is encouraged to join projects.  There are several types of projects, but to begin with, you should join your surname project.  Not only does this group you with others whom you are likely to match, but this also assures that you receive the project based discounts.  I blogged about how to find and join relevant projects.

You can test at 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 marker “locations” on the Y chromosome. I generally recommend 37 or 67 to begin which gives you enough to work with but isn’t terribly expensive.  At Family Tree DNA, you can always upgrade later, but it’s less expensive in total to test more initially.  Right now, 37 markers cost $119 and 67 markers are $199, but a sale is currently underway.

After your results are returned, you can then upload or manually enter your results at www.ysearch.org (upload directly from your Family Tree DNA matches page), www.smgf.org and www.ancestry.com. You can then check for matches at these sites as well. Not all of these other sites test as many markers as Family Tree DNA, but the comparison is free and useful.  Even if your haplogroup is not Native American, you may match others with a similar heritage story for their paternal line.

Family Tree DNA also provides significant tools for Y-line DNA as well as Mitochondrial DNA. You can see both Family Tree and Ancestry Y-line results compared on this blog, which shows you how to use both companies’ tools. At Family Tree DNA, for all their tests, you are provided with the e-mail addresses of your matches. At Ancestry and 23andMe, you contact matches through their internal message system. My experience has been that direct e-mails have a better response rate.

The person looking for Native Heritage will be most interested in their haplogroup designation.  If your haplogroup is either Q or C, you’ll want to join your haplogroup project, minimally, as well as other relevant Native American projects, and work with the administrators for further testing.  Remember, neither haplogroup Q nor C are always Native, so deeper testing may be in order.  You may also match others with confirmed Native heritage, including a tribe.

If the haplogroup is not Native, then you’ll have to take a look at possible reasons why.

One can never interpret non-Native haplogroup results of any one line to answer the much broader questions of, “do I have Native heritage”, “how much” and “where?”  What you can do at that point is to continue to test other lines in order to discover the identity of your Native American ancestor.

Obviously, the Y-line test is only for males. Ladies, I feel your pain. However, these next tests are for both sexes.

Mitochondrial DNA – For Direct Maternal Line Testing for Both Sexes

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by all children from their mother only, with no admixture from the father. Women obtain their mitochondrial DNA from their mother, who got it from their mother, on up the line into infinity. This is the red circle on the right hand side of the pedigree chart. Like Y-line DNA, mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from one generation to the next, except for an occasional mutation that allows us to identify family members and family lines.

Unfortunately, it does not follow any surname. In fact the surname changes with every generation when women marry. This makes it more challenging to work with genealogically, but certainly not impossible. Because of the surname changes in every generation, there are no “surname” projects for mitochondrial DNA, per se, but there are other types of projects.  For example, the Mothers of Acadia project is using mitochondrial DNA to reconstruct the Acadian families including those of Native American heritage.

There are three levels of testing you can take for mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test. The mtDNA, the mtDNAPlus and the Full Sequence. The mtDNA test is a starter test that will provide you with a base haplogroup, but will leave people searching for Native ancestry needing a more complete test for full haplogroup identification confirming Native ancestry. I strongly recommend the full sequence test, but if the budget just won’t allow that, then the mtDNAPlus will do until you can afford to upgrade. Family Tree DNA is the only major lab that tests the full sequence region, plus, they have the largest matching data base in the industry.

To put this in perspective for you, the mtDNA and the mtDNAPlus tests both test about 10% of your mitochondrial DNA and the full sequence test tests all of your 16,569 mitochondrial locations. You can then compare them with other people who have taken any of those 3 tests.  Pricing for the mtDNAPlus is currently $139 and the full sequence is $199.

MtDNA testing is not as popular as Y-line testing because it’s more difficult to use genealogically as last names change every generation.  When you look at your matches, you have no idea whatsoever if you might be related to these people in a genealogically relevant time frame by looking at their last names.  Those who have invested the effort to collaboratively work on their mtDNA matches, assuming a full sequence match and a shared geographical history as well, have been pleasantly surprised by what they’ve found.

A haplogroup assigning deep ancestry is provided through mitochondrial testing, so like the Y-line, depending on the haplogroup assigned, you will know if your ancestors were here before European contact.  Maternal haplogroups that indicate Native heritage include A, B, C, D and X.  Like Y-line DNA testing, none of these haplogroups are exclusive to Native Americans, so a full sequence level test will be required to confirm a Native American subgroup.

After you receive your results, you can enter the mtDNA and mtDNAPlus portions into public data bases. There are no public data bases for the full sequence segment because there may be medical implications in some of those mutations, so they are not displayed publicly although they are compared privately within the Family Tree DNA data base. You will want to enter your data and check for matches at www.mitosearch.org (upload directly from your matches page at Family Tree DNA), www.smgf.org and www.ancestry.com, although beware of Ancestry’s accuracy issues.

Testing the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA individually gives us a great deal of very specific information about 2 lines in your pedigree chart.  The best method of identifying Native American ancestors is indeed to test as many lines on your DNA pedigree chart using this methodology as possible.  Let’s take a minute to look at how to create a DNA pedigree chart.

DNA Pedigree Chart

If your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA have proven not to be Native, that doesn’t mean that the rest of your lines aren’t.

Let’s take a look at how to create a DNA pedigree chart so that you can focus your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA testing for other lines.

The purpose of a DNA pedigree chart is to provide guidance in terms of inheritance and also to provide a way of documenting your progress.  My chart is shown below, as an example.

DNA Pedigree

You can see the Y-line of my father and the mitochondrial line of my mother, on both ends of the pedigree chart.  At the top of each line, I have recorded the haplogroup information for each family.  Color coding each line helps in tracking descendants who would carry the DNA of the ancestor of that line.  For example, my mother’s father’s mother’s line is the yellow Miller line.  I need to find a daughter of my grandfather’s sisters, or their children, or their daughter’s children, to test for that mitochondrial DNA line.  Which reminds me, I need to call my cousin.  Family reunions, picnics and holidays are great for this type of thing.  Sadly, so are funerals.

I blogged about how to put together your own DNA pedigree chart.  You can get a free copy and instructions on my website too, at www.dnaexplain.com under the Publications tab.  If you’re Native and adopted, then refer to the adoptee blog instead, or in addition.

But sometimes, we can’t find the right people in order to test, so we move to autosomal testing to help us fill in the blanks.

Autosomal Testing – For Both Sexes – The Rest of the Story 

Autosomal DNA testing tests all of your 23 pairs of chromosomes that you inherit from both of your parents. You get half of each chromosome from each parent. You can see this pattern on the pedigree chart, represented by all of the 16 genealogical lines. Therefore, as you move up that tree, you should have inherited about 25% of your DNA from each grandparent, about 12.5% of your DNA from each great-grandparent, as have all of their other great-grandchildren.

Therefore beginning with your parents, you carry the following approximate amount of DNA from each of these ancestors. I say approximate, because while you do receive exactly 50% of your DNA from each parent, there is no guarantee that their parents DNA was admixed in your parents such that you receive exactly 25% from each grandparent, but it’s close.  You can see the percentages in the chart below.

Generation Relationship % of Their DNA You Carry






















Given this chart, if the Native percentage is back beyond 6 generations and drops below the 1% threshold, it’s extremely difficult to discern today.

Autosomal testing will pick up relationships reliably back to about the 6th or 7th generations, and sporadically beyond that.

Autosomal testing provides you minimally with two things.  First, with a list of “cousin matches” by percentage and estimated relationship.  Second, percentages of ethnicity.  It’s this second part that’s most important for the person seeking to prove Native American heritage.

Percentages of Ethnicity

As the field of genetic genealogy has moved forward, research has begun to indicate that certain autosomal markers are found in higher or lower frequencies in different ethnic populations.

For example, if someone has the Duffy Null allele, or genetic marker, we know they positively have African admixture.  We don’t know how much African admixture, or from which line, or when that individual with African admixture entered their family tree, but we know for sure they existed.

Attempting to determine the population frequency of varying markers and what that means relative to other populations is the key to this analysis.  Few markers are simply present or absent in populations, but are found in varying frequencies.  Some populations are widely studied in the research literature, and others are virtually untouched.  Thousands have only been recently discovered as part of the National Geographic, Genographic project.

The process of compiling this information in a meaningful manner so that it can be analyzed is a formidable task, as the information is often found in nearly inaccessible academic and forensic research publications.  It’s difficult to determine sometimes if the DNA analysis of 29 individuals in a small village in northern Italy is, for example, representative of that village as a whole, of northern Italy, or more broadly for all of Italy.  Is it representative of Italy today or Italy historically?  These and other similar questions have to be answered fully before the data from autosomal testing can be useful and reliable.

Having said this, the recent release of the National Geographic, Genographic Project version 2.0 holds great promise.  It’s one of 4 autosomal tests on the market today that provide next-generation chip based wide spectrum testing which replaces the older CODIS type testing.   The difference between the old and new technology is using 15 or 20 markers versus a half a million or so.  They aren’t even in the same ballpark.  If you want to see a comparison of the older type tests, read my paper titled Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage Using Y-Line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosome Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis.

Let’s take a look at all 4 of the contemporary autosomal tests and what they have to offer.

Genographic 2.0

Of the 4 tests, the Geno 2.0 is the newest and appears to reach back the deepest in time, meaning it may well be picking up anthropological results, not just genealogical results.  We don’t know exactly how the analysis is done, but we do know, in general, that if you evaluate segments, you will get results closer in time than if you evaluate individual ancestry informative markers (AIMS).

You can take a look at the results of a man with Native ancestry on both his paternal and maternal sides.  You can also take a look at the reference populations used by National Geographic in this overview of their test results.

If you want to order this test visit www.genographic.com.  The price is $199.  You also receive your Y-line and mtDNA haplogroups, but no marker values for comparison to others. However, the Y haplogroup testing is the most advanced in the world.  You can see why in the Geno 2.0 announcement here.

I have found the Geno 2.0 test to be somewhat more sensitive autosomally than others, but it’s still very new and I have not yet been able to do a complete comparison.  Results have only been coming back for a couple of weeks.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA sells the Family Finder test. Right now it is priced at $199 or bundled with attractive pricing with either the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA tests. I often like to use this tool in conjunction with the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA tests to see, if you match someone closely, whether you are actually related to them in a recent timeframe or if it is further back. Family Tree DNA is the only one of the autosomal testing companies that has the ability to do this type of advanced comparison.  Compared to 23andMe and Geno 2.0, they are the only ones to offer traditional Y-line and mitochondrial DNA testing which provides individual marker results and matches.

In addition to a list of autosomal matches, you will receive your breakdown of ethnicity, by percent.  The results below are for the same man with Native ancestry whose Geno 2.0 results are shown in the Geno 2.0 – First Peek blog.

native pop finder

You can read more about the Family Tree DNA autosomal product on their FAQ.


Another company that sells autosomal testing is www.23andme.com. In addition to a list of cousins, you also receive admixture percentages, and their specialty, health traits.  You also receive a paternal and maternal haplogroup, but with no markers for personal comparison.  These Y-line and mitochondrial results are not as accurate at the Geno 2.0 nor the Family Tree DNA Y-line and mitochondrial DNA full sequence tests.

Be aware that while people who test at Family Tree DNA are interested in genealogy, the typical person at 23andMe tested for the health portion, not the genealogy portion, and may not answer contact requests or may know very little about their family history.

Right now, their test is $99, and you can download your results and upload them to Family Tree DNA for an additional $89, making the total price similar to the Family Tree DNA test. However, you need to be somewhat technically savvy to complete the download/upload process.

23andMe recently released a new version of their software which added quite a bit of resolution after years of being woefully behind.  Native American wasn’t even a category previously.  You can take a look at the new format here.


Ancestry.com recently introduced an autosomal test.  You receive matches and ethnicity percentages.  However, their ethnicity percentages have significant issues and I would not recommend them at this time.  Their cousin matches come with no analysis tools.  So for now, just skip Ancestry and concentrate on the other resources.

One Last Autosomal Test

One marker value in particular, known as D9S919 is present in about 30% of the Native people.  The value of 9 at this marker is not known to be present in any other ethnic group, so this mutation occurred after the Native people migrated across Beringia into the Americas, but long enough ago to be present in many descendants.  You can test this marker individually at Family Tree DNA, which is the only lab that offers this test.  If you have the value of 9 at this marker, it confirms Native heritage, but if you don’t carry 9, it does NOT disprove Native heritage.  After all, many Native people don’t carry it.

To order this test, for existing Family Tree DNA clients, click on the “Order Upgrade” orange button on the right hand side of your personal page, then on “Advanced Test”, then enter “autosomal” in the drop down box, then you will see the list below. D9S919 is the last one and it costs $15.  There may be a $10 one time transfer fee as well if your DNA sample is not in the Houston lab.

native d9s919 order

Swimming in Many Pools

As you can see there are lots of tools available to you that can be used individually or in conjunction with each other.  Like anything else, the more work and effort you are willing to devote to the search, the more likely you are to be successful.

Most people test their Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, not just for Native ancestry, but to learn more about the lines they can test for themselves without reaching out to other family members.

Use your DNA pedigree chart to plan who to ask in your extended family to test for which lines.

Plan to test with multiple autosomal testing companies.  Autosomal testing in particular is still in its infancy. I like to use the results of multiple companies, especially when you are dealing with small amounts of admixture.  They use different markers, combinations, analysis tools and reference populations, so you can expect slightly different results.  One company may pick up slight minority admixture while another may not.  This has happened repeatedly with both my Native and African minority admixture.


After you obtain your results from either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you’ll want to download your raw data results and then upload the file to www.gedmatch.com. This is a privately run “donation” site, not associated with any of the testing companies, meaning there is no subscription or fee to use the tools, but they do appreciate and are funded by donations.

After uploading your results you can utilize several admixture tools to compare and contrast your results.

Getting Help

If you’re struggling with working through your family possibilities for who to test, I do offer a DNA Test Plan service.

If you would like a Personalized DNA Report for Y-line or mitochondrial results, those are available as well.

If you have what amounts to a quick question that I can answer in less than an hour, including prep, I offer the Quick Consult service.

For more extensive consulting, contact me.  You can see my services here.

In Summary

Finding our Native ancestors is a way to pay homage to their lives and to the culture that was stripped from their descendants, ironically, by using their own DNA that has been gifted from them to us.  Native people, after contact with Europeans were marginalized, and that’s the best that can be said.  Many were killed, either intentionally or by European diseases, or enslaved.  The results are that Native people left few if any individual records and those that might be available often can’t be identified or linked to them personally.  For those who cannot unearth their Native ancestry using conventional genealogical means, genetic testing is the last hope left.  Fortunately, the tools and our knowledge improve every day.  We’re making great strides with what we can do, enlarging what was a pinhole into a keyhole, allowing us to peer into the past.  So, click your heels, order your tests and let’s see where your DNA takes you.