Hit a Genetic Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters

Do you want to hit a home run with your DNA test, but find yourself a mite bewildered?

Yep, those matches can be somewhat confusing – especially if you don’t understand what’s going on. Do you have a nagging feeling that you might be missing something?

I’m going to explain chromosome matching, and its big sister, triangulation, step by step to remove any confusion, to help you sort through your matches and avoid imposters.

This article is one of the most challenging I’ve ever written – in part because it’s a concept that I’m so familiar with but can be, and is, misinterpreted so easily. I see mistakes and confusion daily, which means that resulting conclusions stand a good chance of being wrong.

I’ve tried to simplify these concepts by giving you easy-to-use memory tools.

There are three key phrases to remember, as memory-joggers when you work through your matches using a chromosome browser: double-sided, two faces and imposter. While these are “cute,” they are also quite useful.

When you’re having a confusing moment, think back to these memory-jogging key words and walk yourself through your matches using these steps.

These three concepts are the foundation of understanding your matches, accurately, as they pertain to your genealogy. Please feel free to share, link or forward this article to your friends and especially your family members (including distant cousins) who work with genetic genealogy. 

Now, it’s time to enjoy your double-sided, two-faced chromosomes and avoid those imposters:)

Are you ready? Grab a nice cup of coffee or tea and learn how to hit home runs!

Double-Sided – Yes, Really

Your chromosomes really are double sided, and two-faced too – and that’s a good thing!

However, it’s initially confusing because when we view our matches in a chromosome browser, it looks like we only have one “bar” or chromosome and our matches from both our maternal and paternal sides are both shown on our one single bar.

How can this be? We all have two copies of chromosome 1, one from each parent.

Chromosome 1 match.png

This is my chromosome 1, with my match showing in blue when compared to my chromosome, in gray, as the background.

However, I don’t know if this blue person matches me on my mother’s or father’s chromosome 1, both of which I inherited. It could be either. Or neither – meaning the dreaded imposter – especially that small blue piece at left.

What you’re seeing above is in essence both “sides” of my chromosome number 1, blended together, in one bar. That’s what I mean by double-sided.

There’s no way to tell which side or match is maternal and which is paternal without additional information – and misunderstanding leads to misinterpreting results.

Let’s straighten this out and talk about what matches do and don’t mean – and why they can be perplexing. Oh, and how to discover those imposters!

Your Three Matches

Let’s say you have three matches.

At Family Tree DNA, the example chromosome browser I’m using, or at any vendor with a chromosome browser, you select your matches which are viewed against your chromosomes. Your chromosomes are always the background, meaning in this case, the grey background.

Chromosome 1-4.png

  • This is NOT three copies each of your chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • This is NOT displaying your maternal and paternal copies of each chromosome pictured.
  • We CANNOT tell anything from this image alone relative to maternal and paternal side matches.
  • This IS showing three individual people matching you on your chromosome 1 and the same three people matching you in the same order on every chromosome in the picture.

Let’s look at what this means and why we want to utilize a chromosome browser.

I selected three matches that I know are not all related through the same parent so I can demonstrate how confusing matches can be sorted out. Throughout this article, I’ve tried to explain each concept in at least two ways.

Please note that I’m using only chromsomes 1-4 as examples, not because they are any more, or less, important than the other chromosomes, but because showing all 22 would not add any benefit to the discussion. The X chromosome has a separate inheritance path and I wrote about that here.

Let’s start with a basic question.

Why Would I Want to Use a Chromosome Browser?

Genealogists view matches on chromosome browsers because:

  • We want to see where our matches match us on our chromosomes
  • We’d like to identify our common ancestor with our match
  • We want to assign a matching segment to a specific ancestor or ancestral line, which confirmed those ancestors as ours
  • When multiple people match us on the same location on the chromosome browser, that’s a hint telling us that we need to scrutinize those matches more closely to determine if those people match us on our maternal or paternal side which is the first step in assigning that segment to an ancestor

Once we accurately assign a segment to an ancestor, when anyone else matches us (and those other people) on that same segment, we know which ancestral line they match through – which is a great head start in terms of identifying our common ancestor with our new match.

That’s a genetic genealogy home run!

Home Runs 

There are four bases in a genetic genealogy home run.

  1. Determine whether you actually match someone on the same segment
  2. Which is the first step in determining that you match a group of people on the same segment
  3. And that you descend from a common ancestor
  4. The fourth step, or the home run, is to determine which ancestor you have in common, assigning that segment to that ancestor

If you can’t see segment information, you can’t use a chromosome browser and you can’t confirm the match on that segment, nor can you assign that segment to a particular ancestor, or ancestral couple.

The entire purpose of genealogy is to identify and confirm ancestors. Genetic genealogy confirms the paper trail and breaks down even more brick walls.

But before you can do that, you have to understand what matches mean and how to use them.

The first step is to understand that our chromosomes are double-sided and you can’ t see both of your chromosomes at once!

Double Sided – You Can’t See Both of Your Chromosomes at Once

The confusing part of the chromosome browser is that it can only “see” your two chromosomes blended as one. They are both there, but you just can’t see them separately.

Here’s the important concept:

You have 2 copies of chromosomes 1 through 22 – one copy that you received from your mother and one from your father, but you can’t “see” them separately.

When your DNA is sequenced, your DNA from your parents’ chromosomes emerges as if it has been through a blender. Your mother’s chromosome 1 and your father’s chromosome 1 are blended together. That means that without additional information, the vendor can’t tell which matches are from your father’s side and which are from your mother’s side – and neither can you.

All the vendor can tell is that someone matches you on the blended version of your parents. This isn’t a negative reflection on the vendors, it’s just how the science works.

Chromosome 1.png

Applying this to chromosome 1, above, means that each segment from each person, the blue person, the red person and the teal person might match you on either one of your chromosomes – the paternal chromosome or the maternal chromosome – but because the DNA of your mother and father are blended – there’s no way without additional information to sort your chromosome 1 into a maternal and paternal “side.”

Hence, you’re viewing “one” copy of your combined chromosomes above, but it’s actually “two-sided” with both maternal and paternal matches displayed in the chromosome browser.

Parent-Child Matches

Let’s explain this another way.

Chromosome parent.png

The example above shows one of my parents matching me. Don’t be deceived by the color blue which is selected randomly. It could be either parent. We don’t know.

You can see that I match my parent on the entire length of chromosome 1, but there is no way for me to tell if I’m looking at my mother’s match or my father’s match, because both of my parents (and my children) will match me on exactly the same locations (all of them) on my chromosome 1.

Chromosome parent child.png

In fact, here is a combination of my children and my parents matching me on my chromosome 1.

To sort out who is matching on paternal and maternal chromosomes, or the double sides, I need more information. Let’s look at how inheritance works.

Stay with me!

Inheritance Example

Let’s take a look at how inheritance works visually, using an example segment on chromosome 1.

Chromosome inheritance.png

In the example above:

  • The first column shows addresses 1-10 on chromosome 1. In this illustration, we are only looking at positions, chromosome locations or addresses 1-10, but real chromosomes have tens of thousands of addresses. Think of your chromosome as a street with the same house numbers on both sides. One side is Mom’s and one side is Dad’s, but you can’t tell which is which by looking at the house numbers because the house numbers are identical on both sides of the street.
  • The DNA pieces, or nucleotides (T, A, C or G,) that you received from your Mom are shown in the column labeled Mom #1, meaning we’re looking at your mother’s pink chromosome #1 at addresses 1-10. In our example she has all As that live on her side of the street at addresses 1-10.
  • The DNA pieces that you received from your Dad are shown in the blue column and are all Cs living on his side of the street in locations 1-10.

In other words, the values that live in the Mom and Dad locations on your chromosome streets are different. Two different faces.

However, all that the laboratory equipment can see is that there are two values at address 1, A and C, in no particular order. The lab can’t tell which nucleotide came from which parent or which side of the street they live on.

The DNA sequencer knows that it found two values at each address, meaning that there are two DNA strands, but the output is jumbled, as shown in the First and Second read columns. The machine knows that you have an A and C at the first address, and a C and A at the second address, but it can’t put the sequence of all As together and the sequence of all Cs together. What the sequencer sees is entirely unordered.

This happens because your maternal and paternal DNA is mixed together during the extraction process.

Chromosome actual

Click to enlarge image.

Looking at the portion of chromosome 1 where the blue and teal people both match you – your actual blended values are shown overlayed on that segment, above. We don’t know why the blue and the teal people are matching you. They could be matching because they have all As (maternal), all Cs (paternal) or some combination of As and Cs (a false positive match that is identical by chance.)

There are only two ways to reassemble your nucleotides (T, A, C, and G) in order and then to identify the sides as maternal and paternal – phasing and matching.

As you read this next section, it does NOT mean that you must have a parent for a chromosome browser to be useful – but it does mean you need to understand these concepts.

There are two types of phasing.

Parental Phasing

  • Parental Phasing is when your DNA is compared against that of one or both parents and sorted based on that comparison.

Chromosome inheritance actual.png

Parental phasing requires that at least one parent’s DNA is available, has been sequenced and is available for matching.

In our example, Dad’s first 10 locations (that you inherited) on chromosome 1 are shown, at left, with your two values shown as the first and second reads. One of your read values came from your father and the other one came from your mother. In this case, the Cs came from your father. (I’m using A and C as examples, but the values could just as easily be T or G or any combination.)

When parental phasing occurs, the DNA of one of your parents is compared to yours. In this case, your Dad gave you a C in locations 1-10.

Now, the vendor can look at your DNA and assign your DNA to one parent or the other. There can be some complicating factors, like if both your parents have the same nucleotides, but let’s keep our example simple.

In our example above, you can see that I’ve colored portions of the first and second strands blue to represent that the C value at that address can be assigned through parental phasing to your father.

Conversely, because your mother’s DNA is NOT available in our example, we can’t compare your DNA to hers, but all is not lost. Because we know which nucleotides came from your father, the remaining nucleotides had to come from your mother. Hence, the As remain after the Cs are assigned to your father and belong to your mother. These remaining nucleotides can logically be recombined into your mother’s DNA – because we’ve subtracted Dad’s DNA.

I’ve reassembled Mom, in pink, at right.

Statistical/Academic Phasing

  • A second type of phasing uses something referred to as statistical or academic phasing.

Statistical phasing is less successful because it uses statistical calculations based on reference populations. In other words, it uses a “most likely” scenario.

By studying reference populations, we know scientifically that, generally, for our example addresses 1-10, we either see all As or all Cs grouped together.

Based on this knowledge, the Cs can then logically be grouped together on one “side” and As grouped together on the other “side,” but we still have no way to know which side is maternal or paternal for you. We only know that normally, in a specific population, we see all As or all Cs. After assigning strings or groups of nucleotides together, the algorithm then attempts to see which groups are found together, thereby assigning genetic “sides.” Assigning the wrong groups to the wrong side sometimes happens using statistical phasing and is called strand swap.

Once the DNA is assigned to physical “sides” without a parent or matching, we still can’t identify which side is paternal and which is maternal for you.

Statistical or academic phasing isn’t always accurate, in part because of the differences found in various reference populations and resulting admixture. Sometimes segments don’t match well with any population. As more people test and more reference populations become available, statistical/academic phasing improves. 23andMe uses academic phasing for ethnicity, resulting in a strand swap error for me. Ancestry uses academic phasing before matching.

By comparison to statistical or academic phasing, parental phasing with either or both parents is highly accurate which is why we test our parents and grandparents whenever possible. Even if the vendor doesn’t use our parents’ results, we certainly can!

If someone matches you and your parent too, you know that match is from that parent’s side of your tree.

Matching

The second methodology to sort your DNA into maternal and paternal sides is matching, either with or without your parents.

Matching to multiple known relatives on specific segments assigns those segments of your DNA to the common ancestor of those individuals.

In other words, when I match my first cousin, and our genealogy indicates that we share grandparents – assuming we match on the appropriate amount of DNA for the expected relationship – that match goes a long way to confirming our common ancestor(s).

The closer the relationship, the more comfortable we can be with the confirmation. For example, if you match someone at a parental level, they must be either your biological mother, father or child.

While parent, sibling and close relationships are relatively obvious, more distant relationships are not and can occur though unknown or multiple ancestors. In those cases, we need multiple matches through different children of that ancestor to reasonably confirm ancestral descent.

Ok, but how do we do that? Let’s start with some basics that can be confusing.

What are we really seeing when we look at a chromosome browser?

The Grey/Opaque Background is Your Chromosome

It’s important to realize that you will see as many images of your chromosome(s) as people you have selected to match against.

This means that if you’ve selected 3 people to match against your chromosomes, then you’ll see three images of your chromosome 1, three images of your chromosome 2, three images of your chromosome 3, three images of your chromosome 4, and so forth.

Remember, chromosomes are double-sided, so you don’t know whether these are maternal or paternal matches (or imposters.)

In the illustration below, I’ve selected three people to match against my chromosomes in the chromosome browser. One person is shown as a blue match, one as a red match, and one as a teal match. Where these three people match me on each chromosome is shown by the colored segments on the three separate images.

Chromosome 1.png

My chromosome 1 is shown above. These images are simply three people matching to my chromosome 1, stacked on top of each other, like cordwood.

The first image is for the blue person. The second image is for the red person. The third image is for the teal person.

If I selected another person, they would be assigned a different color (by the system) and a fourth stacked image would occur.

These stacked images of your chromosomes are NOT inherently maternal or paternal.

In other words, the blue person could match me maternally and the red person paternally, or any combination of maternal and paternal. Colors are not relevant – in other words colors are system assigned randomly.

Notice that portions of the blue and teal matches overlap at some of the same locations/addresses, which is immediately visible when using a chromosome browser. These areas of common matching are of particular interest.

Let’s look closer at how chromosome browser matching works.

What about those colorful bars?

Chromosome Browser Matching

When you look at your chromosome browser matches, you may see colored bars on several chromosomes. In the display for each chromosome, the same color will always be shown in the same order. Most people, unless very close relatives, won’t match you on every chromosome.

Below, we’re looking at three individuals matching on my chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Chromosome browser.png

The blue person will be shown in location A on every chromosome at the top. You can see that the blue person does not match me on chromosome 2 but does match me on chromosomes 1, 3 and 4.

The red person will always be shown in the second position, B, on each chromosome. The red person does not match me on chromosomes 2 or 4.

The aqua person will always be shown in position C on each chromosome. The aqua person matches me on at least a small segment of chromosomes 1-4.

When you close the browser and select different people to match, the colors will change and the stacking order perhaps, but each person selected will always be consistently displayed in the same position on all of your chromosomes each time you view.

The Same Address – Stacked Matches

In the example above, we can see that several locations show stacked segments in the same location on the browser.

Chromosome browser locations.png

This means that on chromosome 1, the blue and green person both match me on at least part of the same addresses – the areas that overlap fully. Remember, we don’t know if that means the maternal side or the paternal side of the street. Each match could match on the same or different sides.

Said another way, blue could be maternal and teal could be paternal (or vice versa,) or both could be maternal or paternal. One or the other or both could be imposters, although with large segments that’s very unlikely.

On chromosome 4, blue and teal both match me on two common locations, but the teal person extends beyond the length of the matching blue segments.

Chromosome 3 is different because all three people match me at the same address. Even though the red and teal matching segments are longer, the shared portion of the segment between all three people, the length of the blue segment, is significant.

The fact that the stacked matches are in the same places on the chromosomes, directly above/below each other, DOES NOT mean the matches also match each other.

The only way to know whether these matches are both on one side of my tree is whether or not they match each other. Do they look the same or different? One face or two? We can’t tell from this view alone.

We need to evaluate!

Two Faces – Matching Can be Deceptive!

What do these matches mean? Let’s ask and answer a few questions.

  • Does a stacked match mean that one of these people match on my mother’s side and one on my father’s side?

They might, but stacked matches don’t MEAN that.

If one match is maternal, and one is paternal, they still appear at the same location on your chromosome browser because Mom and Dad each have a side of the street, meaning a chromosome that you inherited.

Remember in our example that even though they have the same street address, Dad has blue Cs and Mom has pink As living at that location. In other words, their faces look different. So unless Mom and Dad have the same DNA on that entire segment of addresses, 1-10, Mom and Dad won’t match each other.

Therefore, my maternal and paternal matches won’t match each other either on that segment either, unless:

  1. They are related to me through both of my parents and on that specific location.
  2. My mother and father are related to each other and their DNA is the same on that segment.
  3. There is significant endogamy that causes my parents to share DNA segments from their more distant ancestors, even though they are not related in the past few generations.
  4. The segments are small (segments less than 7cM are false matches roughly 50% of the time) and therefore the match is simply identical by chance. I wrote about that here. The chart showing valid cM match percentages is shown here, but to summarize, 7-8 cMs are valid roughly 46% of the time, 8-9 cM roughly 66%, 9-10 cM roughly 91%, 10-11 cM roughly 95, but 100 is not reached until about 20 cM and I have seen a few exceptions above that, especially when imputation is involved.

Chromosome inheritance match.png

In this inheritance example, we see that pink Match #1 is from Mom’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from pink Mom. Blue Match #2 is from Dad’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from blue Dad. But as you can see, Match #1 and Match #2 do not match each other.

Therefore, the address is only half the story (double-sided.)

What lives at the address is the other half. Mom and Dad have two separate faces!

Chromosome actual overlay

Click to enlarge image

Looking at our example of what our DNA in parental order really looks like on chromosome 1, we see that the blue person actually matches on my maternal side with all As, and the teal person on the paternal side with all Cs.

  • Does a stacked match on the chromosome browser mean that two people match each other?

Sometimes it happens, but not necessarily, as shown in our example above. The blue and teal person would not match each other. Remember, addresses (the street is double-sided) but the nucleotides that live at that address tell the real story. Think two different looking faces, Mom’s and Dad’s, peering out those windows.

If stacked matches match each other too – then they match me on the same parental side. If they don’t match each other, don’t be deceived just because they live at the same address. Remember – Mom’s and Dad’s two faces look different.

For example, if both the blue and teal person match me maternally, with all As, they would also match each other. The addresses match and the values that live at the address match too. They look exactly the same – so they both match me on either my maternal or paternal side – but it’s up to me to figure out which is which using genealogy.

Chromosome actual maternal.png

Click to enlarge image

When my matches do match each other on this segment, plus match me of course, it’s called triangulation.

Triangulation – Think of 3

If my two matches match each other on this segment, in addition to me, it’s called triangulation which is genealogically significant, assuming:

  1. That the triangulated people are not closely related. Triangulation with two siblings, for example, isn’t terribly significant because the common ancestor is only their parents. Same situation with a child and a parent.
  2. The triangulated segments are not small. Triangulation, like matching, on small segments can happen by chance.
  3. Enough people triangulate on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor to confirm the validity of the common ancestor’s identity, also confirming that the match is identical by descent, not identical by chance.

Chromosome inheritance triangulation.png

The key to determining whether my two matches both match me on my maternal side (above) or paternal side is whether they also match each other.

If so, assuming all three of the conditions above are true, we triangulate.

Next, let’s look at a three-person match on the same segment and how to determine if they triangulate.

Three Way Matching and Identifying Imposters

Chromosome 3 in our example is slightly different, because all three people match me on at least a portion of that segment, meaning at the same address. The red and teal segments line up directly under the blue segment – so the portion that I can potentially match identically to all 3 people is the length of the blue segment. It’s easy to get excited, but don’t get excited quite yet.

Chromosome 3 way match.png

Given that three people match me on the same street address/location, one of the following three situations must be true:

  • Situation 1- All three people match each other in addition to me, on that same segment, which means that all three of them match me on either the maternal or paternal side. This confirms that we are related on the same side, but not how or which side.

Chromosome paternal.png

In order to determine which side, maternal or paternal, I need to look at their and my genealogy. The blue arrows in these examples mean that I’ve determined these matches to all be on my father’s side utilizing a combination of genealogy plus DNA matching. If your parent is alive, this part is easy. If not, you’ll need to utilize common matching and/or triangulation with known relatives.

  • Situation 2 – Of these three people, Cheryl, the blue bar on top, matches me but does not match the other two. Charlene and David, the red and teal, match each other, plus me, but not Cheryl.

Chromosome maternal paternal.png

This means that at least either my maternal or paternal side is represented, given that Charlene and David also match each other. Until I can look at the identity of who matches, or their genealogy, I can’t tell which person or people descend from which side.

In this case, I’ve determined that Cheryl, my first cousin, with the pink arrow matches me on Mom’s side and Charlene and David, with the blue arrows, match me on Dad’s side. So both my maternal and paternal sides are represented – my maternal side with the pink arrow as well as my father’s side with the blue arrows.

If Cheryl was a more distant match, I would need additional triangulated matches to family members to confirm her match as legitimate and not a false positive or identical by chance.

  • Situation 3 – Of the three people, all three match me at the same addresses, but none of the three people match each other. How is this even possible?

Chromosome identical by chance.png

This situation seems very counter-intuitive since I have only 2 chromosomes, one from Mom and one from Dad – 2 sidesof the street. It is confusing until you realize that one match (Cheryl and me, pink arrow) would be maternal, one would be paternal (Charlene and me, blue arrow) and the third (David and me, red arrows) would have DNA that bounces back and forth between my maternal and paternal sides, meaning the match with David is identical by chance (IBC.)

This means the third person, David, would match me, but not the people that are actually maternal and paternal matches. Let’s take a look at how this works

Chromosome maternal paternal IBC.png

The addresses are the same, but the values that live at the addresses are not in this third scenario.

Maternal pink Match #1 is Cheryl, paternal blue Match #2 is Charlene.

In this example, Match #3, David, matches me because he has pink and blue at the same addresses that Mom and Dad have pink and blue, but he doesn’t have all pink (Mom) nor all blue (Dad), so he does NOT match either Cheryl or Charlene. This means that he is not a valid genealogical match – but is instead what is known as a false positive – identical by chance, not by descent. In essence, a wily genetic imposter waiting to fool unwary genealogists!

In his case, David is literally “two-faced” with parts of both values that live in the maternal house and the paternal house at those addresses. He is a “two-faced imposter” because he has elements of both but isn’t either maternal or paternal.

This is the perfect example of why matching and triangulating to known and confirmed family members is critical.

All three people, Cheryl, Charlene and David match me (double sided chromosomes), but none of them match each other (two legitimate faces – one from each parent’s side plus one imposter that doesn’t match either the legitimate maternal or paternal relatives on that segment.)

Remember Three Things

  1. Double-Sided – Mom and Dad both have the same addresses on both sides of each chromosome street.
  2. Two Legitimate Faces – The DNA values, nucleotides, will have a unique pattern for both your Mom and Dad (unless they are endogamous or related) and therefore, there are two legitimate matching patterns on each chromsome – one for Mom and one for Dad. Two legitimate and different faces peering out of the houses on Mom’s side and Dad’s side of the street.
  3. Two-Faced Imposters – those identical by chance matches which zig-zag back and forth between Mom and Dad’s DNA at any given address (segment), don’t match confirmed maternal and paternal relatives on the same segment, and are confusing imposters.

Are you ready to hit your home run?

What’s Next?

Now that we understand how matching and triangulation works and why, let’s put this to work at the vendors. Join me for my article in a few days, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch.

We will step through how triangulation works at each vendor. You’ll have matches at each vendor that you don’ t have elsewhere. If you haven’t transferred your DNA file yet, you still have time with the step by step instructions below:

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

DNAPainter Instructions and Resources

DNAPainter garden

DNAPainter is one of my favorite tools because DNAPainter, just as its name implies, facilitates users painting their matches’ segments on their various chromosomes. It’s genetic art and your ancestors provide the paint!

People use DNAPainter in different ways for various purposes. I utilize DNAPainter to paint matches with whom I’ve identified a common ancestor and therefore know the historical “identity” of the ancestors who contributed that segment.

Those colors in the graphic above are segments identified to different ancestors through DNA matching.

DNAPainter includes:

  • The ability to paint or map your chromosomes with your matching segments as well as your ethnicity segments
  • The ability to upload or create trees and mark individuals you’ve confirmed as your genetic ancestors
  • A number of tools including the Shared cM Tool to show ranges of relationships based on your match level and WATO (what are the odds) tool to statistically predict or estimate various positions in a family based on relationships to other known family members

A Repository

I’ve created this article as a quick-reference instructional repository for the articles I’ve written about DNAPainter. As I write more articles, I’ll add them here as well.

  • The Chromosome Sudoku article introduced DNAPainter and how to use the tool. This is a step-by-step guide for beginners.

DNA Painter – Chromosome Sudoku for Genetic Genealogy Addicts

  • Where do you find those matches to paint? At the vendors such as Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch, of course. The Mining Vendor Matches article explains how.

DNAPainter – Mining Vendor Matches to Paint Your Chromosomes

  • Touring the Chromosome Garden explains how to interpret the results of DNAPainter, and how automatic triangulation just “happens” as you paint. I also discuss ethnicity painting and how to handle questionable ancestors.

DNA Painter – Touring the Chromosome Garden

  • You can prove or disprove a half-sibling relationship using DNAPainter – for you and also for other people in your tree.

Proving or Disproving a Half Sibling Relationship Using DNAPainter

  • Not long after Dana Leeds introduced The Leeds Method of clustering matches into 4 groups representing your 4 grandparents, I adapted her method to DNAPainter.

DNAPainter: Painting the Leeds Method Matches

  • Ethnicity painting is a wonderful tool to help identify Native American or minority ancestry segments by utilizing your estimated ethnicity segments. Minority in this context means minority to you.

Native American and Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

  • Creating a tree or uploading a GEDCOM file provides you with Ancestral Trees where you can indicate which people in your tree are genetically confirmed as your ancestors.

DNAPainter: Ancestral Trees

Of course, the key to DNA painting is to have as many matches and segments as possible identified to specific ancestors. In order to do that, you need to have your DNA working for you at as many vendors as possible that provide you with matching and a chromosome browser. Ancestry does not have a browser or provide specific paintable segment information, but the other major vendors do, and you can transfer Ancestry results elsewhere.

DNA Transfers

Some vendors don’t require you to test at their company and allow transfers into their systems from other vendors. Those vendors do charge a small fee to unlock their advanced features, but not as much as testing there.

Ancestry and 23andMe DO NOT allow transfers of DNA from other vendors INTO their systems, but they do allow you to download your raw DNA file to transfer TO other vendors.

Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch all 3 accept files uploaded FROM other vendors. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage also allow you to download your raw data file to transfer TO other vendors.

These articles provide step-by-step instructions how to download your results from the various vendors and how to upload to that vendor, when possible.

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Michael McDowell Jr. (c1747 – c1840), Revolutionary War Veteran, Spy, Miller and Apparently, Rabble Rouser, 52 Ancestors #258

I’m struck by how much Michael McDowell’s life reads like a book with distinct chapters. One closes and as the wagon pulls away from the old homestead and another opens.

Michael did that at least twice in his adult life.

I first found Michael McDowell in present day Hancock County, Tennessee and worked my way backward in time, which was anything but easy.

For starters, Hancock County records burned, twice. At the time Michael lived, it was Claiborne County, whose records are incomplete. The place where he lived also bordered Lee County, Virginia and the border between Virginia and Tennessee was disputed for the entirety of Michael’s lifetime. And not to mention various census years that I need that are missing.

For decades, I’ve felt like the great genealogy gods have a perverse and somewhat perverted sense of humor. “Oh, you’ve overcome that road block, well, try this one! Hahahahah.”

In reassembling Michael’s life and that of his parents and children, I’ve had to connect many dots. Some snapped right in, like puzzle pieces nestling together like Russian tea dolls, but a few…not so much. The further back in time we go, the more scarce and difficult the pieces. It’s doesn’t help any that his father’s name was Michael McDowell too, as was his son.

Our Michael McDowell Jr. was born about 1747, possibly in Lunenburg or Albemarle County. His father’s trail goes cold in 1755 in Bedford County where Michael Jr. entered the Revolutionary War in 1777.

The name of Michael’s mother is unknown. She could have been from anyplace between Maryland and Lunenburg County, Virginia. If she was the same age as Michael’s father, she would have been born about 1720, or about 27 when MIchael Jr. was born. It’s likely that someplace, Michael Jr. has siblings.

Revolutionary War Pension Application

One of our most valuable pieces of information about Michael McDowell is his application for a Revolutionary War pension found in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Two versions exist, one somewhat more detailed than the other.

Michael McDowell, Page 31 section 28, Michael McDowell S 1690 Virginia Service:

This day personally appeared before Samuel Powell, Judge of the Circuit Court of Law and this equity in Claiborne Co., TN. Michael McDowell, age 85, in order to obtain benefit of an act of Congress, passed June 7, 1832. He made this application 1832. States he entered the service in Bedford Co., VA 1777 or 1778. He was drafted to perform 3 months tour of duty and he belonged to Company of Capt. Arthur which was attached to the regiment of Col. James Calloway. He then marched to the lead mines in the western part of Virginia and built a fort, and also under Capt. Wm. Leftridge at the same Fort. And after his term expired, returned home to his residence in Bedford Co., VA, and again volunteered under Capt. Arther, and marched against the Indians, and again after returning home joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage. He went to see his Capt. Arther who now lives in Kentucky and he is so parallized and so polsed? so that he can not speak, so as to be understood.

John Hunt a citizen of Claiborne County, Tennessee, certify that I am well acquainted with Michael McDowell, and it is reputed and believed in the neighbourhood where he lives that he was a Revolutionary War Soldier.

Affidavit of James Gilbert, one of the clergyman of the Baptist Church, state I am well acquainted with Michael McDowell.

John Hunt, High Sheriff of said county, makes the same statement.

This affidavit gives us a lot of information about Michael, including that he and his friends called themselves spies.

His age is given, which puts his birth about 1747.

We know that in 1777, Michael was 30 years old and living in Bedford County, Virginia. He was married by that time, with his son Edward born in 1773 and his son Michael (the third) being born before 1774.

Information from “TN Pension Roll of 1835” copied by William Navey:

Michael McDowell – Claiborne Co., TN – Private VA Line, $30 annual allowance – $90 amount received, Sept. 20, 1833 pension started – age 87 in 1835

State of Tennessee, Claiborne County This day personally appeared before Samuel Powell, Judge of the Circuit Court of law and equity in the state of Tennessee the same being a Court of Record, Michael McDowell age 85 years who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of an Act of Congress passed June 7, 1832. States that he entered the services of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein states that he resided in the County of Bedford in the State of Virginia and some time in the year of 1777 or in the year of 1778 he was drafted to perform a three month tour of duty in the services his county and that he belonged to company commanded by Capt. Arthur which said company was attached to the regiment commanded by Col. James Calaway then marched to the lead mines in the western part of Virginia and we then built a fort and we were there stationed until my time of service has expired and then it was that Col. Calaway called upon us to volunteer our services in the cause of our country for the time of three months which this applicant did do in good faith and he states most positively that he did serve his country under the command of Capt. William Selfridge at the same fort and after his time of service had again expired this applicant returned home to his residence in the State of Virginia in Bedford County and some time after this applicant returned home he again volunteered himself under Capt. Arthur and he then marched against the Indians who were committing many defamations on the inhabitants of Virginia and the applicant states that he served in the campaign as long as his services was required by the commanding officer, but the precise time he does not recollect and then being discharged from service he returned to his residence in the County of Bedford. And this applicant begs leave further to represent to the department that some time after he had returned home from the last above mentioned campaign that he united himself with some of his neighbors and friends together with a vow to protect the women and children from the scalping knife of the savage and often performing a great deal of hard labour in the service of our country and after the spring of the year had set in and the savages had left the frontier we again returned home the applicant states that he believes taking the whole of his service together that he served in the cause of his country for the term of nine months although it may be more or it may be less. Said applicant also states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his services. He a few days ago went to see his Capt. (to wit) Capt. Arthur who now lives in the State of Kentucky and that he found that the said Arthur is paralyzed and so palsied that he cannot speak so as to be understood which now fully appears no reference to a document, herewith presented and signed by one of the Justices of the Peace in said state. Hereby relinquish his every claim to a pension or annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pensions roll of any agency of any state whatsoever. Sworn to in open court Dec. 1832

If this was sworn in December 1832, chances are very likely that Michael had already had his birthday for the year. His year of birth subtracts to 1748 in this document.

In a publication listing Tennessee veterans of the Revolutionary War, Michael is listed as having been born in 1745. The source of this information is not given.

I obtained Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War Pension file from the National Archives.

Michael McDowell Rev War1.jpg

The actual pension act was found in Michael’s pension papework.

Michael McDowell Rev War 2.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 3.jpg

I originally though that Michael signed this document himself, but after looking more closely, he didn’t.

Michael McDowell Rev War 4.jpg

The “X, his mark” is present. Of course, we don’t know from this document alone whether Michael was simply too elderly and too feeble to write, or if he never could. Other documents will tell that story.

Michael McDowell Rev War 5.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 6.jpg

MIchael McDowell Rev War 7.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 8.jpg

$90 was a lot of money in 1832 – enough to purchase a farm or at least land to clear for a farm.

Michael McDowell Rev War 9.jpg

Michael McDowell Rev War 10.jpg

From these documents, we can put together roughly the following timeline:

When What Where
1777 or 1778 3 month tour Lead mines with Arthur and Callaway
Additional 3 months at lead mines Callaway requested, served under Leftridge
Home after the second three month tour Bedford County
Some time later Volunteered again to march against Indians With Arthur
Returned home Bedford County
Some time later Spied on Indians – returned home after spring when Indians departed

Michael states that he served 90 days in total, more or less. Given the dates above, his time spying on the Indians would have had to have been in either late 1777 or late 1778. If he was drafted in 1777, most of that year would have been consumed with the 6 months contiguous duty at the lead mines.

Michael McDowell Rev War 11.png

This final document is interesting in that it lists Michael as an invalid. It’s possible, at 85 years of age, that his invalid status is simply a result of his age, meaning he can no longer farm, and had nothing to do with his service or an injury. He did not apply in 1818 at which time destitute soldiers could apply.

These documents reveal more too. Michael left Bedford County and marched to the western part of Virginia. At this time, Tennessee and Kentucky didn’t exist, so Virginia just trailed off into nothing – with no western border as shown in the Fry and Jefferson map from 1775, below.

Michael McDowell 1775 Fry map.jpg

Revolutionary War Service

In the book, Virginia militia in the Revolutionary War: McAllister’s data we find several references to lead mines as well as the officer’s surnames noted in Michael McDowell’s pension application.

This book reveals: Capt. Benjamin Arthur R. Sept. 29, 1781 from Bedford County. James Callaway Co. Lt, S, Dec. 8, 1778. We then find Lt. Col. William Leftwich, S. Feb. 28, 1780. I’m not quite sure what that means, but it does confirm that they served.

Bedford County: 1776. Capt. Wm. Leftridge against Tories and Indians at Lead Mines, 47, 157.

This suggests that there might have been an encounter.

1780 – Capt. Robt. Adams’ Company guarding Lead Mines, 153.

Greenbrier County 1780: Capt. Thomas Wright raises a Company to go against the Indians at Detroit. But it was marched to Lead Mines on Holston, and then to Logan’s Station in Kentucky.

Jarvis Fields, in his pension application tells us that he served from Bedford County as well and he was called to duty in 1779 by Col. Calloway for guard duty at New London, in Bedford County, “the British prisoners taken at the Cowpens being confined there and at Lynchburg.”

Henry Cartmill who served from Botetourt tells us this about the possible location of the lead mines:

At another time he ranged the mountains between Fincastle and Sweet Springs in search of Indians. Himself and many others assembled at the lead mines in Wythe to meet Col. Fergerson who was said to be advancing from the Carolinas with a large force of Tories. After going as far as Stone House in Botetourt, they were stopped by Col. Skillern, commanding the Botetourt militia, until more men could be collected. News reaching them that the Tories were dispersed, they returned home.

Colonel Ferguson was killed at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780.

William King states that he was enlisted in Bedford County in 1778 and for two months, he guarded the lead mines in Wythe County. Other men refer to the lead mines in Wythe County, as well.

William Murphy is very detailed in his pension application:

About Aug. 1, 1776, from Bedford under Capt. William Leftridge, Lt. Calloway, Ensign Joseph Bond. Guarded Chiswold lead mines till relieved by other troops. In April, 1777, was substitute three months for Lewis Dusee (?), who was drafted from Thomas Jones’ Company in Henry. Served under Capt. Peter Herston, Lt. William Ferguson, Ensign Edward Tatum in Col. Christie’s regiment. Marched 200 miles to Long Island in the Holston to stand guard during a treaty with the Cherokees.

Volunteered in April 1780, to serve three months against the Cherokees. Went as sergeant under Capt. Jno. Clark and Lt. John Bond, Gen. John Sevier being in general command. Marched to the headwaters of the Tennessee and killed a number of Indians, with the loss of Capt. Davis and Lt. Bond killed, and Jasper Terry wounded.

In February 1782, volunteered three months under Capt. John Clark, and Lt. John Murphy, of Washington County, N. C. (now Tenn.), Col. J. Brown commanding the regiment, and marched across Nolachucky and French Broad in pursuit of the Indians who had attacked Sherrill’s Station on the frontier, losing one of their number in the attack. We overtook a band, supposed to number 60 to 100, and killed, as was said, thirteen of them. In August 1782, drafted against the Indians again and hired George Doggett as substitute, but Gen. Sevier insisted that I go. Served under him in company of Capt. Thomas Wood and Lt. Vathan Breed, all the officers being of Greene Co. (Tenn.) We destroyed several Cherokee towns, killed a number of Indians, and took some prisoners. John Watts, a half-breed gave up a white woman named Jennie Ivey, who was taken from Roane’s Creek a year before.

The reference to Chiswold’s lead mines gives is a critical clue.

Michael McDowell lead mines.jpg

This waymark exists today at the intersection of interstate 77 and Route 52, but the actual mines were about 10 miles further south in the Austinville Community on a bluff on the south bank of New River. Known variously as the mines on Cripple Creek, the Austinville mines, or the Wytheville mines, they were discovered in 1756 by Colonel John Chiswell.

The original Fort Chiswell was built during the French and Indian War where the current village of Fort Chiswell stands, but was paved over when the intersection of I77 and I81 was constructed in the 1970s.

Given that Michael McDowell said that they built a fort, it’s probable that they built a fort at the actual mines to protect the lead, an extremely valuable commodity to both the militiamen and the Tories who were attempting to capture the mines.

The website, Diggings, below, shows the mine with the green balloon and the deposits in red. The information on the site states that production at the Austinville East Lead Zinc Mines began in 1753 and concluded in 1981.

Michael McDowell Austinville.png

This would be where Michael McDowell camped and built the fort.

MIchael McDowell mine.png

Today, the two routes from Bedford County to the lead mines, both through gaps in the mountains, would be either 110 miles or 125 miles.

Michael McDowell mine map.png

A Google satellite view of the vicinity shows extensive mining efforts at Chiswell Hole.

Michael McDowell Chiswell Hole.png

If the location of the original lead mines is accurately positioned by the green locator of the Diggings map, the original mine location would be where the white roofed building, below, is located today.

Michael McDowell mine location.png

Unfortunately, none of these roads are “drivable” today utilizing Google street view. Maybe in a few years.

Indians, Spies and Scalpings

In both application versions, Michael mentions being an Indian spy, banding together to protect people and that the Indians subsequently left the frontier. What can we discover about when and where this might have occurred?

Michael says he “marched against the Indians, and again after returning home joined with some neighbors and friends with the citizens of the country calling themselves spies, to protect women and children from the skelping knife of the savage.” He also mentions that he and his fellow spy citizens returned home in the spring, meaning they tracked Indians in the cold of winter.

We know that this was after Michael marched to the lead mines, which was probably about April 1777, based on the information unearthed about the mines and other men who served there, and after Michael served with Col. Leftridge and then marched with Captain Arthur against the Indians. After all that is when he “joined with some neighbors and friends.”

In Michael was at the lead mines in April of 1777, then he went home in about October of 1777.

We know that this was probably related to the peace treaty signed with the Cherokee Indians in July 1777 ceding the Watauga lands or in July of 1781 when they ceded more land, both events taking place at the Long Island of the Holston. Another treaty during this time was the Treaty of Fort Pitt signed in November of 1778 with the Delaware. It’s difficult to know which event might have resulted in the Indians leaving the frontier as he mentioned, an event that allowed him to finally return home for the last time – although it’s most likely prior to 1781.

Two articles shed light on this time period and events that clearly impacted Michael McDowell.

The first is found in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1915), pp. 113-123, article by David I. Bushnell, Jr.

In the first of a series of articles titled, “The Virginia Frontier in History – 1778”, David Bushnell tells us that in 1774, Cornstalk, Chief of the Shawnee entered into a peaceful agreement with Lord Dunmore and subsequently became friendly with the English.

However, in November 1777, at Fort Randolph which was located at Point Pleasant (now West Virginia,) Cornstalk along with his son were brutally murdered. Ironically, Cornstalk had come to warn the settlers and his killing was in revenge for the murder of a settler by an Indian.

During the winter months that followed, the settlers realized what grave danger they had brought upon themselves by killing Chief Cornstalk and prepared for the now-expected attack by the Indians. In January 1778, Col. William Preston sent a letter from Montgomery County, Virginia, begging then-governor Patrick Henry of Virginia for assistance, expecting the Shawnee to descend upon the settlers at any time.

A widespread attack was expected, “upon all Frontier Inhabitants from Pittsburg to the lower Settlements of Clinch and the Kentucky.”

Col. Preston writes:

“I acknowledge, Sir, that this detestable murder was committed by backwoods men who ought to have behaved in a manner very different; and I am sorry to inform your Excellency that upwards of 100 persons in the County alone have yet refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the State, many of whom are disarmed and the remainder soon will, who cannot claim, nor are they entitled to Protection while they continue Obstinate.”

“The inhabitants in this and the neighboring counties, especially those most exposed to danger are in the greatest consternation. Several thousand good subjects ought not to suffer for the indiscretion and obstinacy of a few. Being generally in low circumstances, they are not able to remove and support their families in the interior parts of the state, and by continuing at their homes, without the assistance of government, or the immediate interposition of Providence, they and their helpless families must fall a sacrifice to savage fury and revenge.”

“Should this (assistance) be omitted or delayed, I am fully convinced from long experience that this county or a great part of it will be depopulated before May next and the enemy, like blood-hounds, will pursue until they overtake their prey, even to the south side of the Blue Ridge, as they did not many years ago.”

Preston goes on to ask for provisions, stating that the lack of salt prevented people from laying up the quantity of pork that they would have otherwise done. He says they will be out of provisions in two months. Normally pigs butchered in the fall would last until at least the following summer when crops could be harvested.

Preston also asks for Indian corn to be purchased and says there is none in his or neighboring counties. Furthermore, “the want of lead is a most discouraging circumstance. They offer any price but they cannot purchase it.”

Guns don’t work without bullets and lack of lead for their muskets made the settlers little more than sitting ducks.

According to the response recorded in the “Journal for Council for 1778” in the Virginia State Archives, Greenbrier County also submitted a request and on February 19th, the Council agreed to the following:

  • One pound of lead for each militia man
  • To direct trusty scouts to range towards the enemy’s country
  • To advise proper stockades for receiving the helpless inhabitants, wherever the savages have in in their power to penetrate
  • To direct the County Lieutenants of Botetourt and Montgomery to consult together on the expediency of establishing a post near the mouth of Elk River for keeping up the correspondence between GreenBrier and Fort Randolph
  • To do so in the matter they judge best to reinforce the garrison at Fort Randolph with 50 men from the militia of Botetourt
  • That earnest and close pursuit of the foremost scalping parties be made in order to discourage others
  • To apprehend and deliver up the people concerned in that murder

On March 27, 1778 they recommended ordering 50 men from Rockbridge County, Virginia to Fort Randolph and 50 men each from Botetourt and Greenbrier County to “post at” Kelley and authorized 1000 pounds for “commissary.”

The order to “direct trusty scouts to range towards the enemy” stems from the following document passed by the General Assembly on May 5, 1777 as found in Henning (Vol IX, p294-295):

“The lieutenant or next commanding officer of the several counties on the western frontier, with the like permission, shall appoint any number of proper persons, not exceeding 10, in any one county to act as scouts for discovering the approach of the Indians…who on such discovery shall immediately give notice thereof to such militia officer.”

The scouts were instructed not to fire on the Indians, except in self-defense, but only to report locations to the militia officers. Their job was to find the Indians and spy upon them. Their instructions were to not lose time, to stay constantly “on foot” and after they “have fully ranged the part of the country which it was supposed would take 2 or 3 weeks,” they should report back. They were to take their own provisions, but they would be paid for them. I wonder if that ever happened.

However, now we know where the term that Michael used, “spies,” originated in this context.

Interestingly enough, on the back of a paper were listed locations, probably made by a scout, showing the locations visited. The author believes the numbers represent the number of miles:

  • From Culbersons bottom to the big Crab Orchard – 60 (Crab Orchard is in Kentucky)
  • From there to Maiden Spring – 15
  • From thence to Elk Garden – 17
  • To the Glade Hollow – 13

Underneath that is a total line and then 105.

  • To Cowins fort – 10
  • Moores fort – 5
  • BlackMores – 2
  • To Mockinson Gap – 18
  • To ye Great Eatons (?) – 8
  • To Capt Donelsons line – 8

Another total line and 174.

Fort Blackmore was located in what is now Scott County, VA, as is Moccasin Gap.

According to Familypedia.wikia, this 1774 copy of the Smith map with red circles indicates the locations of forts as shown on Daniel Smith’s original map, now in the Draper collection, item 4NN62. The red line became the Kentucky Trace.

1774 Smith map.png

This area includes part of the present Virginia counties of Tazewell, Russell and Scott from the Clinch River to the Holston.

Col. Preston apparently became more fearful and requested additional protection in May of 1778, the following being noted:

“The Board being informed of Col. Preston’s expored situation on the frontier and that is was apprehended (should be obliged to remove) most of the back inhabitants would quit their settlements, they do advise the governor to empower Col. Preston to keep a sergeant and 12 men stationed at his house as Draper’s Meadow to enable him to continue at his habitation and to encourage others to do so.”

In a second article in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1915), pp. 337-351 by David I. Bushnell, Jr. we find additional information.

A report detailed the importance of maintaining 4 forts, one of which is Fort Henry in Ohio County and one at Fort Randolph, which is on the Ohio at the mouth of the Kanawha river, the scene of the treacherous murder of Chief Cornstalk in November 1777. That act was the touchstone of the rebellion that caused the Indians to attack the settlers on the frontier. Fort Randolph was stated to be “200 miles distant from the settlements” and 150 men were requested for that location.

Michael McDowell Fort Randolph.png

Indeed, Fort Randolph is about 266 miles from Bedford County, VA.

Michael McDowell Bedford to Fort Randolph.png

Also requested for the various forts was 1500 gallons of whiskey. That’s a LOT of whiskey!

The two documents presented…enable us to picture the frontier posts as they were during the summer of 1778. Small groups of militia, at widely separated spots in the vast primeval forests. Nearby were the clearings and log cabins of the settlers. Supplies were scarce and consequently difficult to obtain and of a high price: a condition which resulted in more than one expedition being either postponed or abandoned. Scouts were ever on the alert for the approach of the warriors from beyond the Ohio; the accepted boundary between the white settlements and the Indian Country later to become the Territory Northwest of the Ohio.

That same year a census of the tribes was prepared by William Wilson at the request of the War Office as reported in the Virginia Historical Magazine:

1778 tribal census.png

1778 tribal census 2.png

The tribes were widely separated and the number of hostile warriors was given as 330, certainly a very conservative figure; but nevertheless, they were sufficiently numerous to spread terror over many hundreds of miles of the frontier.

In the endeavor to gain peace for the Virginia frontier, and the friendship of the Indians beyond the Ohio, Congress planned a treaty to be held at Fort Pitt, July 23, 1778, to be attended by commissioners of the government and representative of the different tribes. This was destined to be the first treaty between the United States and an Indian Nation, and was signed September 17th.

Michael’s Revolutionary War papers take us back to Bedford County, Virginia where he lived after being dismissed the final time from his Revolutionary War service – and presumably once the region became relatively safe again after November of 1778.

What we don’t know is which spring Michael was referring to, 1778, which is unlikely, given the above information, or perhaps the spring of 1779.

Bedford County, Virginia

Michael McDowell Bedford County

Bedford County is mountainous and rough. I visited Bedford County, years ago, and Bedford isn’t much different from surrounding counties. In essence, Bedford is part of the Appalachian range which extends for thousands of miles as an expansive sea of craggy rocks interspersed with tiny patches of green that farmers have been trying to cultivate since before the Revolutionary War. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful with incredible vistas.

Bedford County hosts a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a beautiful WWII era road that runs along the summits of the mountains offering stunning vistas, in particular the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County, shown below – visible for a hundred miles in any direction on a good day.

Michael McDowell Peaks of Otter.jpg

This might have been particularly relevant for Michael McDowell’s father, Michael Sr., who we know lived in Halifax County, Virginia in 1752. This means that if Michael Jr. was born in 1747, he might have been born in present day Halifax County which was Lunenburg County at that time. Interestingly, you can see the Peaks of Otter from Halifax County, below, at a location called “Top of the World.”

Perhaps Michael saw these mountains and felt irresistibly drawn towards them – an area that was then the risky, unsettled frontier.

Peaks of Otter

The photo above was taken from Halifax County, looking 50 miles distant to the Peaks. Did Michael live here, or see this on his way back and forth to the tobacco warehouses in Danville, in Pittsylvania County? As a young boy, did he dream of adventure there? One day that dream would come true.

Michael McDowell Peaks of Otter valley.png

Looking across the roof of the Peaks of Otter Lodge today, from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Many of the men who settled in Bedford County were Scots-Irish, and before that, they were Scottish families, so trying to farm fields filled with rocks was nothing new to them. Perhaps it even reminded them somewhat of home, or the homeland of their fathers and grandfathers anyway.

After finding Michael McDowell’s Revolutionary War record, of course I began digging in Bedford County for more information.

Ironically, some of the information I found in Bedford County in June of 2005 referred me back to Claiborne County, Tennessee.

At the Bedford Co. Historical Society, I found a McDowell family file and it held a contact from California from 1989 and 1990 who descends from our Michael McDowell

The researcher mentioned that in Mary Hansard’s book, Old Time Tazewell, Michael’s son Nathan S. McDowell is mentioned as being of Irish descent, which the researcher interpreted to mean that Michael was born in Ireland. As it turns out, Michael Jr. wasn’t, but his grandfather, Murtough McDowell, was.

Blackwater River

On September 24, 1783, Michael purchased 75 acres on the North side of Blackwater River in Bedford County from James Stevens. and on March 22, 1784 the purchase was confirmed in court. Witnesses to the sale were Richard Richards, Skinner Devaul(?) and Ambrose Rains.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River Bedford.jpg

It’s important to note that this does not say Michael McDowell Sr. or Jr., which it surely would have stated if there were two Michael McDowell’s living in the same county at the same time.

On the 1782 Bedford County tax list, we find only one Michael McDowell, listed with 1 free male above 21 years, no slaves, 4 horses, 11 cattle with 1 white tithable, himself.

Unfortunately, the tax list is semi-alpha, which means it’s not in household order, so we can’t look at the list to identify his neighbors. There are no other McDowell residents listed.

In 1783, we find Michael with 1 poll tax, 1 male over 21, 2 horses and 4 cows. Most people had both more horses and more cows that Michael.

By 1784, Michael is gone from the tax list but he doesn’t sell that land until 1793 as a resident of Wilkes County, NC.

It appears that the area of Bedford County where Blackwater River was located became Franklin County.

The Blackwater River runs for about 20 miles as the crow flies, west of the area called Callaway, to the left of the pin below, and the county line at far right where it opens into what is now Smith Mountain Lake, formed by the Roanoke River.

Michael McDowell Callaway.png

Given that Michael served under Colonel James Calloway, which means that Michael probably served with his local muster group, my strong suspicion is that Michael lived near James Calloway. Given that Callaway is located on Blackwater River, Michael probably lived in this region too.

Indeed, this is probably where he grew up because his father apparently applied for a land grant in 1754 on the Black Water River – although beyond the initial application we never find any additional informatoin about Michael Sr.’s 400 acres. He could well have forfeited the grant for any number of reasons.

The north and south branches of Blackwater are born near Calloway and flow eastward to the Roanoke.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River 2.png

Today, this area is a mosaic of farmland, but at that time, it was probably still forested, and men like Michael would fell trees to make room for fields.

Michael McDowell Blackwater satellite.png

Someplace, Michael’s land was probably here in this crazy-quilt mosaic of farmland and forest.

Michael McDowell Blackwater River Callaway Road

Today, Callaway Road where it crosses the Blackwater River. This would have been a ford when Michael lived here.

The Arthur family lived nearby too, with several deeds showing land near Goose Creek, in Bedford County, 4 or 5 miles east of the Roanoke River where Blackwater River empties.

This was Michael’s stomping ground growing up. It’s probably where he married his wife.

We know that Michael McDowell Sr. was on the Bedford County tax list in 1755, and given that our Michael was born in 1747 or 1748, the 1755 Michael had to have been Michael Sr., not Junior.

Or stated another way, it couldn’t have been Michael Jr. and there is a small possibility that the 1755 Michael was not Michael Jr’s father. Given that he was the only McDowell living in Bedford County by the same name, there’s a good chance that the 1755 Michael is indeed Michael Sr., the father of Michael Jr.

I checked all Bedford County deeds 1761-1771, wills 1759-1810 and court orders 1754-1761 – no Michael McDowells. He certainly kept a low profile.

There are also records in Bedford County for one Ephriam McDowell, no known relationship and these two male lines carry completely different Y DNA.

Michael McDowell bought land in Bedford County in 1783, but in 1784 he is not listed on the Bedford County tax list and a Michael McDowell is listed with 1 white poll in adjacent Botetourt County. Is this the same man? If so, was he trying out different locations? Why did he leave just after purchasing land?

If this isn’t the same Michael McDowell, what happened to that second Michael McDowell in Botetourt County? Where did he come from and where did he go? The only other McDowell in Botetourt in 1784 was George. However, there was a Michael in Botetourt, earlier, in 1774 who was found to be delinquent on his taxes.

If this was our Michael in Botetourt, he clearly didn’t stay and it was a very short chapter in a very long book. Our Michael is also not the Michael McDowell who served out of Pennsylvania in 1776-1777 in the Revolutionary War.

Where is our Michael?

Pat Bezet and Mary Kay McDowell

A few years after visiting Bedford County, I found Pat Bezet on an old Rootsweb board along with Mary Kay McDowell, the wife of Les who Kay believed to be a Michael McDowell Jr. descendant through Michael’s son, Luke. These women had done a massive amount of research on Michael and family, and I would spend the next several years following in their footsteps, trying to add additional tidbits. They were both very generous about sharing their work. However, it was interesting that even though we were all plowing the same fields, so to speak, that we all found things that had either been overlooked by the other parties or found different records altogether. Six eyes are obviously better than any two. By reviewing available records again, I’ve recently found things that all three of us missed previously.

Mary Kay McDowell systematically sifted through nearly all of the published Virginia sources available in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The results of our research and trips are intermingled in this article, with many thanks to both ladies.

Albemarle County, Virginia

It’s likely that Michael McDowell Jr. was born in 1747 or 1748 in Lunenburg County, Virginia or possibly in Albemarle County. Michael’s father, Michael Sr. was found in both locations.

Keep in mind that Halifax County where we positively identify Michael McDowell Sr. in 1752 was Lunenburg before that.

We find a similar name in Albemarle County, VA in the 1745 road records, dated June 27th in which Andrew Wallace was appointed surveyor of the highway from D.S. to Mitchams River and both Merlock (also transcribed as Mirlock) McDowell and Micha McDowell were ordered, along with other men to clear the road. Albemarle county as was formed from Goochland in 1744, although deed, court and will records did not begin in Albemarle until 1748. Albemarle road records are lost beginning in 1748. Research into Albemarle records from 1748-1753 produced nothing, nor did research into Goochland deed and will records from 1731-1749.

The name Merlock sounds very close to Murtough, Michael’s father’s name, raising the question of whether Michael was Merlock’s brother. It’s also worth noting that in Maryland, Murtough’s name was also spelled Murto, with the surname as Mackdowell and Mackdaniel. Names were spelled as the person hearing them understood them and spelling wasn’t standardized at the time.

If Michael was in Albemarle County, he was familiar with the Three Notch’d Road which is the road the crew where he was assigned was instructed to clear and open in 1745. Men were assigned to crews along the road where they lived.

The Virginia Department of Transportation document titled, “The Route of the Three Notch’d Road: A Preliminary Report” written in 1976 shows the “1740 House,” an old tavern near the site of the D.S. Tree, near present day Ivy Virginia. Today the building, also known as the “D. S. Tavern” is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The original 3 Notched Road was begun about 1742 and the route was marked the entire length between Richmond, VA and the Appalachian Mountains in Augusta County, VA – including running directly through Albemarle County and is currrently US 250. US 250 was rerouted in some places, but is basicaly the same road in Albemarle County.

If indeed this is our Michael’s father in the 1745 road record, this 1740 House which stood and functioned as an ordinary at the time was probably intimately familiar to him, both inside and out.

Michael McDowell Three Notched Road.png

The D. S. Tree is reported to be in the final segment of a the “Three Notched Road” between Secretary’s Ford on the Rivanna River, (near the old woolen mill adjacent to I-64 on the east side of Charlottesville) to the D. S. Tree in Michael Wood’s road, the road east from Wood’s Gap to Ivy.

MIchael McDowell 1740 tavern.png

Today, this private home is at the intersection of Dick Woods Road and 250.

Early deeds refer to Stockton’s branch of Mitchum River, and also Stockton’s ford.

Michael McDowell Woods Gap.png

An aerial view shows the mountainous area between Ivy and the top of the mountain range.

Michael McDowell Woods Gap aerial.png

According to Edgar Wood’s History of Albemarle county, Virginia, the D. S. Tree had the initials of David Stockdon, an early patentee of land nearby, carved into it. That tree no longer exists.

Here’s a section of what was called the “Three Notch’d Road” also known as the Mountain or Mountain Ridge Road, now US 250, which today intersects with the Ridge Parkway.

Below, Mountain Ridge Road, another name for the Three Notch’d Road.

Michael McDowell Mountain Ridge Road.png

Today, on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Jarman Gap.

MIchael McDowell Jarman Gap

The Appalachian Trail runs alongside Skyline Drive, which is the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve hiked much of this area. You can see Wood’s Gap Road in this aerial.

Michael McDowell Appalachian Trail.png

Below, the road descending to Lickinghole Creek.

Michael-McDowell-Lickinghole-Creek.png

Here’s the view on Three Notched Road crossing Lickinghole Creek today.

Michael McDowell Lickinghole

Three notched road ascending the Blue Ridge below.

Michael McDowell Three Notch ascending Blue Ridge.png

Jarman(s) Gap Road today just before it begins ascending the mountains. Wood’s Gap is now Jarman or Jarmans Gap.

Michael McDowell Jarman Gap Road.png

Google Street View does not drive on roads with no center line. The trip from Jarman’s Gap Road alongside Lickinghole Creek, above, to Jarman Gap which is one of two gaps crossing the mountain range is maybe 5 twisty-turny miles on road 611 – complete with switchbacks.

Michael McDowell road ascending mountain.png

And of course, a 3 notched tree. The original D.S. tree stood east from Wood’s (now Jarman’s) Gap to Ivy, probably on the same property where the 1740 D.S. Tavern stood.

Michael McDowell three Notched tree.png

Ivy to Jarman Gap. Today you must use the Park Entrance, but not so then when they took the more direct route up the side of the mountain, marked with red arrows.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Jarman Gap.png

Michael Sr. worked here, opening the roads still in use today, but looking very different. The area where he was assigned was from the D.S. Tree to Mitchums River, which is Mechums River today – a distance of about 3 miles.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Mechums River

That means he would have lived someplace along this route probably on a spring branch of a creek where fresh water was available. This is likely where Michael McDowell Jr. was born.

I’m not convinced that the blue 250 portion is the original road, but Google didn’t drive down 738 which looks like it might have been the original road.

However, there is a portion where 738 and 250 join, and that was likely the original portion, as is the portion where Dick Wood’s Road and 250 intersect.

Michael McDowell Ivy to Michums River aerial

In fact, when I enlarged the photo, I could clearly see 3 Notch’d Trace, the portion that exists today, and the portion which no longer exists. You can see Mechums River at left and where it is crossed by 250. At right, with the arrows is the old section of 3 Notch’d Road.

MIchael McDowell 3 Notched Trace

Michael McDowell Sr. labored to maintain the road so that horses and wagons could ford Mechums River, below, today where 250 crosses. This could have been Stockton’s ford referenced in the various early Albemarle deeds.

Michael McDowell Ivy Road at Meachums River

At the intersection of Ivy Road and 3 Notch’d Trace, a remaining segment of the original road, we can see the Appalachian Mountains in the distance.

MIchael McDowell Ivy Road at 3 Notchd Trace.png

Those mountains would beckon to Michael Sr., whispering, “Come,” and he did, but first he took a detour.

Lunenburg County, Virginia

Lunenburg County, where we find Michael next, was formed in 1745 from Brunswick County. The 1748 tax map for Lunenburg is the first tax list available, so we don’t have any way of knowing whether or not Michael Jr., born about 1747 was born in Lunenburg or perhaps Albemarle. It’s also possible, although unlikely that the Michael in Albemarle wasn’t Michael Jr.’s father, and that he was still in Maryland before arriving in Halifax County.

Pat included the Lunenburg County 1748 tax list where Michal McDanel was shown with 1 tithe in the district taken in June by Mathew Talbot from Bleu Store to Little Roanoke. The Roanoke is now called the Staunton which forms the northern and much of the eastern border of Halifax County.

Michael McDowell Lunenburg 1746 tax map

Sunlight on the Southside by Landon Bell provides the Lunenburg tax lists, where extant. We find the McDowell family mentioned in the intro portion as being from Lunenburg Co., VA before they went to NC.

In 1749, we find Michael McDowell in William Caldwell’s district, which bordered Halifax on the north on the Staunton River. In 1752 Halifax was formed from Lunenburg, where Michael McDowell. had 1 white tithe, meaning white male over 16, and no negroes.

In 1749, the Lunenburg road orders included a Michael McDaniel, who may have actually been Michael McDowell.

In 1750 we find Michael McDowell in Nicholas Hale’s district with one tithe and neighbors that included Jacob and John Pybon.

In 1751, Michael is missing from the list and in 1752, Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg. We already know that Michael McDowell Sr. is in Halifax in 1752 where he signed a power of attorney to sell his father’s land in Maryland.

The Lunenburg Order books 1746-1755 reflect the following:

June 1753, Michael McDuel vs Jacob Pyborn – Pyborn not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

Trouble with the neighbors, it seems.

May Court 1754, John Thompson vs Michael McDuel – defendant not inhabitant of county – suit abates.

This tells us that Michael McDowell Sr. left between June of 1753 and May of 1754, and it might give us some idea of why. Trouble was brewing perhaps.

Given that Michael lived in Halifax in 1752 and is found in neighboring Lunenburg in 1753 – it appears that he might have moved often, perhaps back and forth across the county border, or maybe he lived near the Staunton River.

Michael Jr. would have been 5 or 6 years old in 1752 or 1753, so likely remembers moving frequently and probably remembered Halifax County.

Bedford County was created in 1753 from Lunenburg County, but as it turns out, Michael didn’t live initially in what would become Bedford County. He was in Halifax, at least for a short time before moving on to Bedford.

Halifax and Bedford 

Halifax County was formed from Lunenburg in 1752, and that’s where we find Michael McDowell in that same year, selling his father’s land in Maryland. Thank goodness for this link, because without it, we would never have been able to connect Murtough McDowell in Baltimore County, Maryland with Michael McDowell in Virginia.

Details are provided in the article about Michael McDowell Sr., but suffice it to say that Michael Jr. would have been about 5 years old when his father was selling his grandfather’s land. Michael Jr. probably never got to meet his grandparents. Maybe he heard stories about his grandparents’ lives back in Ireland. His father may have been born there. Michael Sr. was born around 1720 and his father was in Maryland by 1722.

An important aspect of the documentation of Michael Jr.’s life is that Michael McDowell Sr.’s signature was never recorded as being signed with an X. Michael Jr., on the other hand, never signed his name without using the X.

In 1754, we find a mysterious entry in Marion Dodson Chiarito’s book, “Entry Record Book 1737-1770” which covers land in the present counties of Halifax, Pittsylvania, henry, Franklin and Patrick, she says the following:

This book contains land entries in the western portion of the original Brunswick County, namely Halifax, Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin and Patrick. The area concerned was south of the Roanoke-Staunton River, west of Tewahomony Creek, now Aaron’s Creek which divides Mecklenburg and Halifax cuonties, and extending to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These counties were formed from Lumemburg which was separated from Brunswick in 1746.

Marion continues:

It must be pointed out that an entry for land was but a statement of intention. Ownership of land resulted from satisfying the requirements for settlement the land and improving it. For this reason, many entries were voided.

On page 161 of Marion’s book, on page 203 of the original entry taker book residing in current day Pittsylvania County, we find an entry for a man who might be Michael McDowell:

Michael McDuell 400 on a Branch of Black Water River beginning at a white oak with 4 chops in it in the fork of said branch then up both forks and down the branch.

If this was Michael McDowell Sr., I’ve failed to find a deed of sale at any time, and he is next found in Bedford County, formed in 1754, which indeed did have a Blackwater Creek that extended from today’s man-made Smith Mountain Lake southwest to beyond Callaway, where Michael McDowell Jr. appears to have lived.

By 1755, Michael Sr. was found on the Bedford county tax list indicating that Michael Jr. lived in Bedford County from about the time he was 8 years old.

The next piece of Michael Jr.’s life is his Revolutionary War pension application where he states that he served from Bedford County in 1777 or 1778 and returned there to his home when discharged. Michael McDowell Jr. would have been 30 years old in 1777 and based on the ages of his oldest children, had been married about 5 years by then.  If still living, his father, Michael Sr., would have been at least 57 years old.

We have no idea when Michael Sr. passed away, but Michael Jr. bought land in Bedford County in 1783 with no indication that there were two Michael McDowell’s living there in either 1782 or 1783, nor were there any other McDowell taxpayers.

Was Michael alone? There aren’t any other McDowell males, but his mother could well have been living. He could have had sisters who married and lived nearby. His wife, Isabel, surely had family in Bedford County.

Those details will probably never be revealed, but if Michael had no family there, that might have been part of what encouraged him to move again – although it’s quite strange that he left just a few months after purchasing property – and without selling it.

There are missing pieces of his story.

On to Wilkes County, North Carolina

What? Another move?

Wilkes County, NC?  This man did not let any moss grow under his feet. Just saying.

So far, we have Michael McDowell Sr. in Baltimore County as a son of Murtough. Probably in Albemarle in 1745, in Lunenburg County between 1748-1750, selling land in Baltimore in 1752 from Halifax County and then on the Bedford County tax list in 1755.

MIchael McDowell Sr life.png

This is the migration journey of Michael McDowell Sr.

Michael Jr. was born someplace (probably in Virginia) in 1747 and served in the Revolutionary War in 1777 and 1778 from Bedford County. It wasn’t until 1783 that there is a record of Michael purchasing land, then leaving by the next year without selling his land. He was possibly living in Botetourt County, adjacent to Bedford – at least some Michael McDowell was found on the tax list there.

Michael McDowell Bedford Botetourt.jpg

Sometime after that, Michael Jr. moved to Wilkes County, North Carolina, although we do have a 2 or 3-year gap in Michael’s life. Where was he?

Michael McDowell Ivy to Halls Mills.png

Michael would add the area near Halls Mills on Sparta Road in Wilkes County, today, to his lifelong journey.

On February 4, 1786 there is a Wilkes County deed from John Hall Sr. to Michael McDowell for 161 acres including “the plantation where Michael McDowell now lives. Witnessed by William Abshire, James Gambill and Andrew Vannoy.”

This tells us that Michael was already living in Wilkes County.

The connection with the Vannoy family would continue for generations – into Tennessee  where their descendants 5 generations later, my grandparents, would marry.

Another 1786 reference to Michael McDowell was found in a November 24th deed between Owen and Robert Hall for “156 acres on Andrew Vannoy’s line, Mickel McDowell’s corner and the line between Hall and Mikel McDowell.”  Jacob McGrady witnessed this deed. Given that Michael was Andrew’s neighbor, that also explains why Andrew witnessed his purchase.

Michael McDowell first appears in Wilkes Co in 1786 on the tax lists (he is absent earlier) with 1 poll and 160 acres and in 1787 with 162 acres and 1 poll. Therefore, we know that 1786 is probably when Michael moved to Wilkes County.

The 1787 “census” of North Carolina shows us that Michael had in his household:

  • 1 white male age 21-60
  • 2 white males under 21 or above 60
  • 1 white female
  • no blacks

Michael Jr.’s sons, Edward, born in 1773 and Michael (the third) born before 1774 account for these two “under 21” males. Michael III and Edward first appeared in court records witnessing a deed in 1799.

James McDowell, not a confirmed child of Michael, was born about 1779 based on his age when he signed as a witness to a deed in 1801.

Michael Jr.’s son John was born in 1782 or 1783 based on a deposition as well as his gravestone, so we know for sure he was under 21 in 1787. He’s missing from this record.

This discrepancy for a long time caused me to question whether all of Michael’s sons were in fact his sons. DNA has partly answered that question, but not entirely.

Early Court Records

In 1787, in Volume 2 of the Wilkes County Court Minutes (January 25, 1785 – November. 1, 1788) Michael is mentioned on July 25th in the State vs Michael McDowell – indictment for trespass.

Trespass at that time often meant something different than the current meaning, although since the state is bringing charges and not a neighbor in a civil suit, perhaps not. In some cases, trespass means that one man charged another with farming part of his land, encroaching over the property line. In this case, since the state brought the charges, it sounds more like the trespass infraction we are more familiar with today.

Michael is found not guilty by a jury.

On the very next page in the minute book, and the very next day at court, Michael is listed on a jury.

Also on the same day; Michael McDowell versus George Lewis on appeal. A jury is sworn and this case is found for Michael, with his damanges assessed to 3 pounds, 7 pence and costs.

However, on he is again charged with trespass and the same jury is ordered to hear Michael’s case as is hearing the case of Owen Hall and John Hall Senior and wife, “case for words,” which is found for the plaintiff.

The State then moved Michael’s case to the civil docket and finds him guilty of trespass, as charged.  Apparently, Michael’s case has something to do with the Hall family dispute. Recall that the Halls were his neighbors. This also makes me wonder if Michael’s wife, Isbael, was a Hall. If so, and if she was the mother of Michael Jr., that means that the Hall family would have been in Bedford County in 1773 when Michael’s first son, Edward, was born. There are Hall families in Bedford in this timeframe, but of course, that doesn’t mean that they are the same Hall families, or connected in any way.

A year later, in July of 1788, Michael is again listed on a jury and on the tax list in both 1788 and 1789 with 160 acres and 1 poll, meaning only one male over the age of 16. Being listed as a juror indicates that he was a citizen in good standing, but that would change in 1790.

Michael’s record up until now contains multiple services as a juror, and also an involved trespass charge.

However, sometime much more serious happened in 1790.

Criminal Charges

Criminal Action Papers Wilkes County, NC – July Court session – 1790:

State vs Michael McDowell, William Abshers and Owan Hall, labourers, who on July 20, 1790 did beat, wound and ill treat Betty Wooten.

Three men – beating a woman. That’s unconscionable by any standard of measure. Once again, this involves the Hall family.

The Abshire family lived on the south side of Mulberry Creek.

In 1787, Michael would have been 40 and 43 in 1790. No hothead kid, that’s for sure. This charge is much more serious than trespass.

Ok, who was Betty Wooten?

Betty Wooten

In the 1790 census, the only Wooten in Wilkes County was one Elizabeth, probably called Betty for short, who had no adult men in her household, 1 male under 16, and 5 females. According to the July 29, 1788 administration bond, she was the widow of Lewis Wooten. If her children were all born at 2 year intervals before her husband’s death, and she was his age and married at age 20, Betty would have been about 35 in 1790 when she was beaten.

Betty Wooten lived near the Sebastians, three houses from Jacob McGrady, who lived three houses from Owen Hall, who lived beside Michael McDowell who lived two houses from Andrew Vannoy.

Owen Hall was Michael McDowell’s neighbor and in the 1790 census, he was married with 2 males over 16, 3 under 16 and 4 females. If he had children every 2 years and married at age 25, he would have been about 40 years old.

William Absher was born about 1769 and died in 1842 in Wilkes County, so he would have been 21. The 1790 census reflects that he is married with a child, living beside Frank Vannoy, Andrew Vannoy’s brother.

Honestly, what possessed those men? There is certainly far more to the story. How I would have loved to have been a mouse in that house. All of those houses. What happened in that lawsuit? This had to be perceived as very serious for the state to bring a criminal action. And what exactly does “ill treat” mean? Is it code for something else?

Michael McDowell didn’t serve on a jury for the next 3 years.

Michael Jr.’s son, Michael III

Michael McDowell Jr. had a son, Michael, who we’ll call Michael III (the third). It’s possible that Michael III was the person in trouble in 1790, but not terribly likely – he would probably have been under 20. In 1789, Michael Sr. only pays for 1 poll tax, meaning that his sons were not yet 16. That suggests that Michael III was not born before 1783 although it’s possible that Michael was born as early as 1778. Michael III doesn’t otherwise appear in the records until 1799, signing a document as a witness for his father which would suggest he’s 21 at this time, or born 1778 or earlier. Still, in 1790, Michael III would have been 12 if he were born in 1778, so he’s not likely the preson who beat Betty.

Note here that the Michael who signed the deed signed with an X, but Michael the witness, presumably Michael III, signed his name.

This is an important generational differentiation, because Michael Sr. in Virginia apparently could write, Michael Jr. could not, but Michael III could.

The 1790s in Wilkes County

In the 1790 census, we find Michael McDowell living in Wilkes County among and near people who would also move to Claiborne County, Tennessee just a few years later, specifically the Baker, Herrell and Vannoy families.

Michael McDowell 1790 census Wilkes.png

In 1790, Michael had the following members in his family:

  • Males under 16: 4 (John 1782/3, Michael c1778, Edward 1774 and possibly James c1780)
  • Males over 16: 1 – Michael himself
  • Females: 2, one of which would be his wife and the second would be daughter, Mary born c1787

This tells us that Michael had 3 additional children between 1787 and 1790, 2 sons and a daughter or the 1787 tax list was incomplete – the more likely scenario.

If Michael was born in 1747/1748, he would probably have married at about 25, so roughly 1770-1775. He would have been having children from about 1771 or 1772 to roughly 1793 or perhaps somewhat later, depending on the age of his wife of course.

Therefore, the 1790 census should show all of his children, with the exception of any child born after 1790. It’s very unlikely that any of his children had already left home.

In 1790, Michael had 5 children, assuming that one of the females was his wife.

In 1790, Michael is shown on the tax list with 156.5 acres and 1 poll. Why does he have 156.5 acres this year and from 160-162 acres previously?

In 1791, the Wilkes County tax records are not complete and he is not shown through 1794, so they may be only partial as well.

On July 31, 1792, page 35, the court notes record an order for Michael McDowell to “have leave to rebuild and continue the mill formerly the property of said McDowell.”  Now indeed, this is a curious order. Did the mill wash away? Did it burn by some chance? What happened that he needed to rebuild the mill? So tantalizing and frustrating at the same time! This is the only indication we have of Michael’s occupation other than the lawsuit of 1790 lists the three man as laborers.

Maybe the 1790 Michael was Michael’s son, but I would have expected the suit to say that if it were. The fact that no Sr. or Jr. designation exists suggests that the younger Michael was not of age, so no designation was yet needed.

This court entry also tells us of a major catastrophe in Michael’s life. Given his run-ins with the law, I have to wonder if there wasn’t some form of “neighborhood justice” going on here. Of course, that could also be my overactive imagination, but beating a woman is a pretty severe offense and would garner long-standing animosity from her family.

Mix that with a little alcohol and that’s the perfect recipe for retribution.

From a 1793 deed, we discover Michael’s wife’s name when Michael sold his land in Bedford County. Did Michael sell his property in 1793 to pay the bills while the mill was being rebuilt, to pay for the rebuilding of the mill or to help replace income he would have lost while the mill was out of order? There was no insurance in those days.

It was Pat Bezet that discovered Michael’s wife’s name, Isbell.

I found a sale of property or deed for Michael and Isbell McDowell. Isbell is listed as his wife in Wilkes Co., N.C. The property they are selling is in Franklin County, VA. The timeframe for the sale was 1793. If you look at the forming of the counties, Franklin was formed from Bedford and Henry County in 1785.

On February 16, 1793, Michael McDowell and his wife, Isbell, from Wilkes County, NC sold their 75 acres of land on Blackwater River, which was at that time located in Franklin County, VA after it had been divided from Bedford.

Michael McDowell Blackwater 1793 sale.jpg

Michael and Isbell both signed three times, all three times via a mark. Witnesses included John Abshire, Robert Hall, Jacob McGrady, Edward Abshire and another John Abshire who appears to be different from the first one, differentiated by his ability to sign his name. Jacob McGrady was the local minister.

There’s clearly a connection of some sort with the Abshire family, given that the 1790 record of the assault on Betty Wooten included Owen Hall along with William Abshear as defendants.

This deed confirms that the Michael McDowell from Bedford County is one and the same as the Michael McDowell in Wilkes County. What we don’t know is the reason this land wasn’t sold before Michael moved to Wilkes County. Obviously Michael didn’t need money from the Virginia land to purchase his land in Wilkes.

For some time, I thought that maybe the Michael McDowell in Bedford County was Michael McDowell Sr. If that was the case, then Michael Jr. would only have sold this land after Michael Sr. died. The problem is that the purchase deed in 1783 doesn’t say anything about Michael Sr. or Jr., indicating that there weren’t 2 men in the county by the same name. The 1782 and 1783 tax lists only show one Michael McDowell and we know our Michael was married and having children before this time, having served in the Revolutionary War in 1777 and 1778. He was a married adult and certainly wasn’t living with his father.

While we can’t prove definitively, I suspect that Michael Sr. died in Bedford/Franklin County, VA years before, sometime after 1755 and before 1782, and we can safely say that the land on Blackwater River always belonged to Michael Jr. If Michael Jr. had sold this land as part of an estate, he would have had to share with heirs, and he clearly sold this entire tract himself.

Unfortunately, Michael Sr. simply disappeared after 1755 in Bedford County, apprently never owning land before or after he sold his father’s Maryland land in 1752 out of Halifax County.

In November 1793 in Wilkes County, once again Michael served on a Jury, as he did in May of 1794 and 1795.

In 1793 and 1794, an attorney, Joseph McDowell is recorded in Wilkes County, but he dies in 1802 with no connection to Michael.

In 1795 and 1796, Michael McDowell in Capt. McGrady’s district is shown with 1 poll tax and 160 acres on the tax list adjacent John Abshire and near the preacher Jacob McGrady. Other neighbors include the Vannoys, members of the Shepherd family and others who would intermarry and move to Claiborne County, Tennessee at the same time as Michael McDowell.

At some point, Claiborne County, the next frontier, probably became the topic of local chatter – at the mill, at church, wherever people gathered.

In November of 1796, Michael served again as a jury member.

The 1797 tax list shows Michel with 1 poll and no acres. What happened to his land?

There is no tax list for 1798.

In 1799, Michael McDowell sold land to the preacher, Jacob McGrady. The deed is in very poor shape, but you can make out the words “Mulberry Creek” and Robert Hall’s line. I could not find the acreage listed, so we don’t know if this is all of Michael’s land, or just part.

Michael McDowell 1799 deed to McGrady (2).jpg

The deed is signed by Michael using his mark and then witnessed by a Michael McDowel who can sign, an Edward McDowel who cannot sign and a Robert Hall who cannot.

My guess would be that the reason that Michael had no property tax in 1797 and 1798 is that he had rented the land to Jacob McGrady, who eventually bought the land, but was paying the taxes on the land as part of their rent or lease agreement.

We are left with the question of how, without land, Michael made a living? In 1797, Michael would have been 50 years old.

The same year as his land sale, in 1799, Michael McDowell, in Capt. Gradie’s district (6) is shown with 200 acres and 1 poll. Where did this land come from? Michael’s original land purchase was 161 acres.

On May 3, 1799, the State versus Michael McDowell for tresspass, again. The jury found Michael not guilty, as charged, and order that George Lewis pay the costs. He also served on a jury the same day in lieu of another juror. I’m wondering if it’s because Michael is present in the courtroom and can serve when another juror didn’t show up.

The same day, Michael also files Michael McDowell vs George Lewis: Appeal. The jury is sworn and finds for Michael, his damages 3 pounds 7 pence and costs.

In August of 1799, Michael again serves as a juror.

The 1800 tax list for district 6 is missing but we do have the census that provides us with at least some information.

1800-1810

The 1800 census holds some surprises. For example, it looks like Michael has daughters we don’t know about.

Michael McDowell 1800 census Wilkes.png

1800 Wilkes County NC census, Morgan District – Michael McDowell

  • 1 male over 45 (Michael 53)
  • 2 males 0-10 (Nathan, Luke, William?)
  • 1 female over 45 (wife)
  • 1 female 10-16 (Mary)
  • 2 females 0-10 (unknown daughters)

Based on the 1800 census, Michael’s older sons have already left the nest, but where are they? Perhaps they are workers on someone else’s farm, or they are living someplace with in-laws if they have newly married.

Dec. 12, 1801 – a Wilkes County deed conveyance between Humphrey Cockerham and Abel Sparks on the east fork of Swan Creek is witnessed by a James McDowell, possibly son of Michael McDowell. Who was James McDowell? We don’t see this name again, nor is there “room” on Michael McDowell’s 1787 tax list for another male who would have been of age in 1801, but there is on the 1790 census. James could have been just passing through.

On May 8, 1802, Milley Carter, administrator of the estate of Henry Carter who on May 3, 1799 had a land entry for 40 acres, sued Michael McDowell and David Hickerson. Found for the plaintiff regarding “a piece of land supposed to be the property of Michael McDowel joining Benjamin Sebastian’s land.” Ordered by the court for the sheriff to sell the land. For some reason, Jeffery Johnson, Constable, was mentioned.

On August 4, 1804, suit was filed by Elisha Reynolds versus Allen Robinett and Michael McDowell for debt. Jury finds no payments nor setoffs and awards fir the plaintiff with damages. Of course, we don’t know if this is Michael or his son. Michael does serve on a jury the same day, so I suspect this is the elder Michael.

I get the distinct impression that we may be missing some land transactions.

In Book F-1, a November 12, 1805 deed for that same 156 acres conveyed in 1786 refers to the line of Andrew Vannoy and Michael McDowell again.

A hint about the area where Michael McDowell lived in Wilkes Comes from his neighbor’s land grant. John Herrold’s son, William Herrold/Herrell, would marry Michael’s daughter Mary in 1809.

Land grant entry number 1246 and grant number 2421 for 200 acres for John Herrold states that the land is on the Chinquepon Branch of the Hay Meadow Creek on the waters of Mulberry beginning near the head of the said branch and that it is against Michael McDowell’s line. The survey was entered November 16, 1801 and was actually recorded in Feb 1802. Chainers were John Roads and Michael McDowall.

There is a drawing of the survey but it simply looks like a square and there are no watercourses noted. The name is spelled variously Herrild, Herrald, Herrold. John paid “4 pounds” for this survey in 1804. I find it interesting that they are still using the old English money measures and not dollars.

Finding Michael’s Land

During a visit in 2004, 200 years later, now-deceased cousin George McNiel helped me located John Harrold’s land on Harrold Mountain.

Harrold mountain

Having found John’s land, of course, we’ve also in essence found Michael’s land, or at least the neighborhood, because their land abutted.

Michael McDowell Waddell Drive.png

Harrold Mountain is where Waddell Drive is located today, with the Harrold cemetery on the land originally owned by John Harrold.

harrold-mountain-across-from-zion.jpg

John Harrold’s land abutted Michael McDowell’s, and his son married Michael’s daughter.

Haymeadow Creek, mentioned in John Harrold’s grant, is to the far left, with Harrold Mountain Road crossing it. John’s land was probably larger than the area shown.

Michael McDowell Harrold land.png

The Zion Baptist Church is a very old “primitive Baptist church” where many Harrold family members are buried. It’s likely the church where Michael attended as well, and where Jacob McGrady preached. The remnants of the original log cabin church were located in the woods behind the current church, years ago, according to old-timers in the neighborhood.

Zion Baptist Church

We know beyond a doubt that Michael’s land was on a watercourse, probably Mulberry Creek. His neighbors the Sebastians, as well as John Harrold had land on Mulberry Creek. Andrew Vannoy owned land adjacent Michael, and he lived north of Mulberry Creek.

The court records tell us that Michael had a mill. On the map below, John Herrald’s land and Haymeadow Creek is to the right. Sebastian Road in in yellow. Mulberry Creek is at left with the red arrows. Note the Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church.

Michael McDowell Mulberry and Haywater.png

The Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church is shown with the red arrow, below, so this area is likely Michael McDowell’s, with John Herrald’s land to the right, probably out of view. Michael’s land was probably larger than this view.

Michael McDowell Mulberry Primitive.png

The Mulberry Church wasn’t formed until 1848, but it serves as a good landmark for Mulberry Creek.

Sparta Road runs through a valley that is pretty heavily treed on the right side, so it’s difficult to find a view of the area where Michael would have lived. This would have been the road Michael traveled to access his land, of course, not paved and likely only wide enough for a wagon.

Michael McDowell Mulberry Creek.png

Here we can see Mulberry Creek running alongside the road.

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The Mulberry Primitive Baptist Church would be hidden behind the clump of trees at left, with the mountains in the distance, in the center, probably belonging to Michael.

It would have been difficult to eek a living out of this land. No wonder Michael had a mill someplace on Mulberry Creek. Halls Mills could be the location. On the map below, we can see the locations where the various families lived. Halls Mills is on Mulberry between John Herrald’s land, Vannoy Road and McGrady where Jacob McGrady lived, so it’s a good candidate and we know Michael lived adjacent the Hall family.

Michael McDowell neighbor lands.png

Vannoy Road actually arched further to the north shown by the red arrows.

This is really rough terrain. I was warned NOT to drive Vannoy Road around the mountain between Buckwheat Road and Sparta Road, near McGrady, even in a Jeep.

Michael McDowell Vannoy Road.png

It’s a dirt 2 track with no room for 2 cars and no place to turn around. I was told by the locals that it’s in essence a game of chicken and someone gets to back up. They even avoid this road.

The 1805 tax list shows Mich. McDowell with 1 poll and 233 acres in Capt. Rouseau’s district adjacent a John Findley and beside James Patten *Store. The asterisk is unexplained on the list. Based on later information, this entry appears to be Michael McDowell III.

The same year, another Michael McDowell with 200 acres and no poll is shown in Captain Kilby’s district, listed beside Jacob McGrady and Andrew Vannoy. Edward Dancy is next door, then we find John McDowell with 1 poll and no acres. This second Michael McDowell in Capt. Kilby’s district would be the elder man, Michael Jr., now age 58 and probably with either an old age or an invalid exemption which is why he had no poll tax. There has to be some benefit to all of those aches and pains of old age.

John McDowell is Michael’s son. We know this because on November 5, 1800 in the court notes, we find that Michael McDowell Junior is appointed constable, with William Abshare and Michael McDowell Senior for his securities.

Given that we know there were two Michael McDowells in Wilkes County, an older and a younger, and given that both signed a deed in different capacities in 1799, the Michael involved in these transactions might be either man. However additional information shows us that an 1813 transaction could not have been the elder Michael McDowell Jr., because he was in Claiborne County, TN by that time. Anything involving Michael McDowell from 1810 or later in Wilkes County was not Michael McDowell Jr., because he was gone by then.

Michael McDowell III appears to have lived only in Wilkesboro, not on the mountain where he was raised.

1810 and Beyond in Wilkes County

The Wilkes Co. census in 1810 shows the younger Michael McDowell on page 848 and Jacob McGrady (the preacher who married William Herrell and Mary McDowell in 1809) on 868. In other words, Michael McDowell III does not live near where his father lived.

No older Michael McDowell is present. In 1800 Jacob McGrady is on page 55, Michael is on page 54 and John Herrell Sr. and Jr. are on page 46. They are the only Herrell’s in Wilkes Co. It is spelled Harral. William Herrell/Harrold/Herrald who married Mary McDowell is also missing.

In 1810, Michael McDowell (III) is listed in Wilkesboro itself, not the area on Harrold Mountain where Michael Jr. lived. Michael III is age “to 45” with 4 young children and owning 10 slaves. This is not Michael Jr., but his son who would have been age 30-35, estimating that he had been married 9 or 10 years to have 4 children.

Where is our Michael McDowell? There is no other census listing in the entire US for a Michael McDowell. Keep in mind that the Tennessee and Virginia 1810 census schedules were destroyed.

In the book “The Land of Wilkes” by Johnson Hayes, written in 1962, Hayes mentions in Chapter 10, page 91, under “County officers from the beginning to 1960, among others, Michael McDowell in 1810. This surely must be Michael III, because Michael Jr. has probably already departed for Claiborne County and Michael III has established himself in Wilkesboro.

March 27, 1810 Deed Book G-H – Robert Keeton to Michael McDowell, negro woman named Betty and her child named Sandy

August 27, 1811 – Between James N. Fenely and Michal McDowell…negro man named Charles, age 35. Witness John Finley. Signed James N. Fonely, page 211

These slave transactions hurt my heart. I wonder if a difference in conviction caused Michael McDowell Jr. to leave Wilkes County, apparently with the rest of his sons, daughter and son-in-law, while Michael McDowell III remained behind, purchasing slaves. Their lives clearly followed divergent paths.

Dec. 15, 1811 – Deed Book G-H, NC Grant 1817 John Herrald 200 acres Chinquepin Branch of Haymeadow Creek, the waters of Mulberry, Michael McDowell’s line

December 14, 1811 – NC Grant 2847 William Sebastian, 200 acres waters of Mulberry Creek the south side of Wheatley’s Mountain, near the head of Miny Branch…McDowel’s line

This land would have been surveyed prior to this time, so the references to McDowell’s line would have been historical in nature.

Wheatley family deeds indicate that they owned land near the Reddies River, between the river and the top of the range to the north.

Michael McDowell Wheatley Mountain.png

On this map, we see Sparta road with the red arrow, Mulberry Creek with the purple arrow, Gambill Creek with green and the Reddies River with tan. Sebastian Road is just to the south as is Harrold Mountain.

Based on the various deeds and descriptions, Wheatley Mountain appears to be this piece of heavily forested land.

Michael McDowell Wilkes neighborhood.png

This aerial map of the entire neighborhood takes into consideration everything we know from the various deeds. Vannoy Road is in yellow at left. Michael’s neighbor was Andrew Vannoy.

Vannoy Road intersects with Sparta Road near McGrady and Jacob McGrady bought Michael’s land when he sold.

The Wheatley family owned land between Roaring River and the top of the mountain.  The mustard arrows at right track the West Fork of the Roaring River, with Gambill Creek shown in Green. The Gambills were Michael’s neighbors.

Harrold Mountain, towards the bottom, owned by John Harrold, adjoined Michael’s land on the waters of Mulberry Creek. Mulberry Creek, purple, tracks Sparta Road, red, all the way through the valley.

The grey arrow points to Sebastian Road near Harrold Mountain.

In 1810, we begin to see activity by the younger Michael McDowell, the next generation.

Feb 12, 1812 – Between Michael McDowell and Joseph Baker..$400…negro boy named Seaser, age 9. Witness James Waugh and R. Carson. Signed Michael McDowell, page 377

In both 1810 and 1813 a Michael McDowell purchases more land in Wilkes, including a one-acre lot in the town of Wilkesboro in 1813 (which was established in 1799). We don’t have records of the disposition of this land, but we know it can’t be Michael McDowell Jr., because he is in Lee County, Virginia in 1810.

Moving On to the Next Frontier

Yes, Michael McDowell Jr. moved once again, this time to the next outpost in the westward migration journey – Claiborne County, Tennessee on the Virginia border with Lee County.

MIchael McDowell Ivy to Slanting Misery map.png

Michael’s no spring chicken, and he’s starting over at age 63 in a place that can only be termed inhospitable.

Another chapter closes, and a new one opens. What lies ahead?

A place aptly named Slanting Misery.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Phoebe: Board of Trustee Member at 16 – 52 Ancestors #257

Phoebe JCF Photo.jpg

I’m just going to have to ask your forbearance. This is my granddaughter, Phoebe, who at the age of 16 has just been appointed to an advisory board of trustees for a nonprofit organization, Jackson Community Foundation. No, that’s not a typo. She’s only 16, and it’s no small nonprofit.

I’m proud as punch, as you’ve already figured out, I’m sure.

I’m the grandma and that’s my job.

However, Phoebe truly is remarkable. I know every grandma thinks that, so this is exactly why I’m asking forbearance.

You see, this almost wasn’t a happy story. In fact, it almost never happened at all.

We Nearly Lost Her

I’m holding Phoebe, my first grandchild, in the photo below, immediately after she was born, just before I realized she was turning blue. Actually, her hands already look blue in this photo. The nurse was unconcerned and told me this was “normal,” but I knew otherwise and let’s just say I became very assertive very quickly. By the time I waylaid a nurse, any nurse, Phoebe’s lips were blue.

There was no time to lose. When that second nurse realized what was happening, Phoebe was quickly whisked away into neo-natal intensive care where she spent the next week or so. She was not absorbing oxygen and nearly died.

Phoebe born.jpg

We were terrified.

This was a tough time for our family, in many ways. For her parents and me too. I had already lost one newborn baby, and this was eerily similar – way too close for comfort. Years before, I held my own baby as she passed away.

Thankfully, Phoebe improved and clearly survived, but that wouldn’t have been the case without modern medical care. A few decades ago, she would only have been one of those anonymous blank spaces in the census – a child only suggested by their absence and not known by their presence. Except, for us, as for those families, she would never have been anonymous. She would always have been a hole in our hearts.

Homecoming

A week or so later, she came home from the hospital.

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Here’s Phoebe being held by her aunt the day she came home from the hospital – with her “welcome to the world” quilt from Grandma.

I made each of my grandchildren a quilt when they were born. That’s just the first of many quilts I’ve made them. I’m so glad they love grandma’s quilts – and now they like to quilt with grandma too.

I started quilting when I was young with scraps from making my own clothes when I was about the age Phoebe is now.

Phoebe and me as teen.png

Here are photos of Phoebe and me at about the same age. I fought to straighten my hair. Phoebe embraces her lovely curls.

My first professional photo wouldn’t be taken until I was 26 and out of college.

Phoebe is light years ahead of me and just sparkles with energy and enthusiasm!

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Phoebe with my daughter at about the same age.

The Wedding

When Phoebe was three months old, my daughter made Phoebe a tiny dress to match the wedding décor, and Phoebe was in her grandmother’s wedding.

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Of course, Phoebe has no memory of that day, but I surely do!

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Fortunately, we took photos, because this wedding photo would be the only full family photo we would ever have.

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These pictures make me cry today, for the loss, but also for the love. My mother and brother are both gone now.

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This spring, Phoebe standing in the bedroom with my mother’s furniture, trying my wedding gown on.

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Someday, it will be hers to wear if she chooses.

Phoebe and Mawmaw

In our family, until this generation, grandmothers were called Mawmaw. Sadly, Phoebe also has no memory of my mother, Mawmaw.

Phoebe with Mawmaw.jpg

This is one of only a couple photos of Phoebe with my mother. This was Phoebe’s first Christmas and the only one with her great-grandmother.

Here’s Phoebe’s photo beside my mom’s high school graduation picture.

Phoebe with Mom.png

Making Memories

As Phoebe began to grow up, we started making family memories, like this one at Disney World.

Phoebe at Disney.jpg

And yes, as any good grandparent would do, Phoebe went to the Bippity-Bop Boutique and magically became transformed into a Princess. That boutique is a goldmine designed to mine the bank accounts of grandparents which it does VERY successfully, I might add.

Our family events seem to be punctuated by quilts.

Phoebe Princess quilt.jpg

I finished this quilt for Phoebe at Disney so she could have her very own special princess quilt to go with the one-of-a-kind special princess dress I made for her to wear at Disney. I was concerned that she would be upset that she didn’t have a more traditional princess dress like the other young princesses, but she wasn’t, and loved her unique “grandma princess dress.”

Phoebe Tinkerbell dress.jpg

What a great adventure.

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Even if it was beastly hot.

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Phoebe got to wear both lipstick and nail polish for the first time! She was so excited, and then facepainting too.

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There are just no words for some things, but grandpa makes scary things not so much!

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I’m not sure who these other family members are. I must have missed something in my genealogy.

Grandma’s Princess

Planning for college or not, she’s still my Princess – even though she’s old enough to drive the chariot now. How did that happen anyway?

Princess Phoebe.jpg

For the next couple of years after Disney, we had princess everything!

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At least that made gift shopping easy.

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Now that’s some hat. Even the English would be jealous!

But something was in the offing that was even better than being a princess.

Becoming a Big Sister

Phoebe big sister.jpg

Phoebe became a big sister!

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We nearly lost this baby too, for an entirely different reason. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this child was in constant pain for months.

Phoebe with baby sister.jpg

Phoebe loves her sister, even though her sister didn’t always love to be carried around like a baby doll!

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A year and a risky, life-saving surgery later, Phoebe was there for her sister’s first steps, with Dad and Grandpa. What an exciting red-letter day.

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After that, Grandma made Disney dresses and goodies for both girls.

Phoebe sister with Disney dress.jpg

It was difficult to take photos of Phoebe’s sister, because once she started walking, and running, she never slowed down!

Phoebe bedtime yoga.png

The girls are inseparable. Here, they are doing “bedtime yoga” to quiet down before bedtime, under grandma’s quilts. I love it that their parents share these wonderful photos with me!

Sports

Phoebe began to engage in sports from a young age. She ran her first (partial) race with her dad when she was 3.

Phoebe first marathon.jpg

He’s pinning her runner identification on. A rite of passage in this family. Phoebe was so excited.

Phoebe first run.jpg

You can see her in the brightly colored clothing right up front, in the center. Unfortunately, she got run over by another runner, fell and bumped her head on the concrete, but got back up, crying, but carried on. Her Dad picked her up, which made her unhappy.

Phoebe with Dad.jpg

Dad carried her part of the way, first in his arms, then on his shoulders as he ran. She was on top of the world there.

Sometimes, it’s not about winning but being present in the moment.

Phoebe and gymnastics.jpg

Phoebe has always loved all kinds of sports. Gymnastics, horseback riding, volleyball, soccer, basketball, karate,swimming and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

Phoebe and soccer.jpg

I love the look of intensity on her face. She’s a dedicated athlete.

Phoebe and kids.jpg

Phoebe has always been a team player and enjoys working with young people, volunteering her time at various camps and events including coaching soccer.

Essential Lessons

Phoebe jewelry.jpg

Grandma teaching Phoebe the essentials of life. How to select jewelry. Next, we moved on to chocolate and dessert😊

Phoebe dessert.jpg

Hey, a grandma’s gotta do what a grandma’s gotta do!

Phoebe missing tooth

And you’ve got to show grandma your missing tooth.

Not only that, but she lost that first tooth after tripping over another dancer at a recital. Afterwards, she proudly rushed off the stage displaying her prize tooth gripped tightly in her hand! She didn’t miss a beat dancing! No one would ever have known what happened – but she also didn’t lose the tooth. Great recovery!

Phoebe recital.jpg

Who can resist those eyes? Not me, that’s for sure.

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Not sure exactly how, but somehow she wound up in Kansas. You don’t suppose she clicked do you?

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We’ve now graduated to fabric shopping for quilts with grandma! Yes!

Phoebe, Nora and Quilts

My mother only quilted at Missionary Circle, but this quilt made by her grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore, represented the State of Indiana in the 1933 Chicago World’s fair.

climbing vine quilt

Nora is Phoebe’s 3 times great-grandmother.

Phoebe with Nora.png

Here’s Phoebe beside Nora at age 22 in 1888 when she was married.

Maintaining the family tradition, Phoebe likes to quilt with Grandma now.

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Sometimes the hardest part of quilting is making decisions. Here, Phoebe’s planning blocks for a college quilt.

Farms are Fun

Phoebe and goat.jpg

Phoebe has lots of interests, farm animals among them. Somehow, I think that runs in her blood.

Peewee.jpg

My daughter with our orphan goat, Peewee, when my kids were growing up. Peewee wore diapers in the house and wore a yellow sweater to town for walks on a leash.

Phoebe pumpkins.jpg

Phoebe doesn’t know it, but on the farm at home, my dad used to plant pumpkins every year just so the grandkids could grow and select their own pumpkin for carving. She would have loved that, and him. I’m sure he’s watching over her now.

Phoebe and sister in labyrinth.jpg

Grandma doesn’t exactly have a farm, but I do have a labyrinth.

Phoebe buckets.jpg

Our ancestors carried water and also maple sap in buckets like these.

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I think she’s moved on to chain saws now.

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Perhaps Phoebe has her grandmother’s “boot” gene.

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Phoebe is no one-trick pony, um, I mean, unicorn, though. Not one bit.

Music

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Phoebe loves music. All kinds of music.

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Phoebe and the family drum corps.

From a very young age, she was attracted to any musical instrument.

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You know, how you hold your tongue really DOES matter!

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Phoebe plays a number of instruments, but loves to play the piano. For hours on end.

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Alone or with someone. Sometimes her sister sings along.

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Phoebe was playing with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and winning state-wide championships before she was 12. The first year she won, she was actually competing in the youngest category that began at 13 – and they didn’t know exactly what to do because she was actually “too young” to win. The prize was money and a scholarship.

Phoebe and Dad by piano.jpg

Sometimes her dad had to come directly from work to be at her recitals and events. I love this picture of them together!

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This was probably actually Phoebe’s first “professional” picture.

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I have miles and miles of footage of Phoebe playing soul-searing, breathtaking music. Songs were even composed for her to play at university competitions.

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Phoebe accepting a state-wide award with her teacher.

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You’ll excuse me if I call Phoebe a child prodigy, because she is – and I am, after all, the grandmother. I will, however, spare you the videos, although you’d probably enjoy them😊

Phoebe did not get her musical talent from me.

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Phoebe’s great-great-grandmother, Edith Lore Ferverda played the piano beautifully, accompanying a great many dance recitals as my mother performed.

Genetics

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As Phoebe has continued to mature, she developed an interest in science. Here, she’s swabbing for DNA testing.

I have NO IDEA where she got the idea to do something like that😊

Granddaughter DNA 2016

Next, Phoebe wanted to sequence DNA. Here, she’s in the lab at Michigan State University doing just that with strawberries.

We’ve spent hours reviewing where her DNA segments originated – because she is lucky enough to have the autosomal DNA of 3 grandparents and one great-grandparent, plus several aunts and uncles.

Phoebe’s DNA as compared to mine. The blue areas on her chromosomes are what she inherited from me.

Phoebe me DNA

Nothing makes genetics personal like your own family members and the power of visual examples.

Just a Normal Teen

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Amid all of this serious stuff, Phoebe is just a normal fun-loving teen.

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Cutting up with her friends.

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Petting dinosaurs.

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Making friends with chickens!

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Playing in the snow. Her sister is hidden behind the tree and just caused it to dump on Phoebe.

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This young woman perseveres and conquers what she sets her mind on.

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Phoebe Branches Out

Now in the second half of her teen years, Phoebe is branching out and finding her wings – or maybe her voice.

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Yes, Phoebe still hikes and climbs trees. One of my favorite photos, a lucky shot.

However, when on the ground, Phoebe has taken a shine to the stage. She has danced for years, but the theater bug has bitten her recently.

Phoebe play.jpg

I was convinced that Phoebe was going to be a geneticist, but she has since developed an interest in the arts, aside from piano performances. She also sings, dances and now acts in community theater.

Phoebe stage.jpg

Of course, my mother performed professionally – so maybe Phoebe comes by that ability naturally.

Barbara Ferverda dancing 1944 2 pro

Must have “skipped a generation,” or two, because I guarantee you, I have absolutely no talent there.

Phoebe Mom DNA.png

Is Phoebe’s dancing and theatrical ability handed down on the red segments above, passed down to Phoebe from my mother, through my blue segments? If so, those genes didn’t express in my generation.

Public Service

While Phoebe was recently appointed to the board of trustees, this is not her first time working as a public servant.

Phoebe volunteers at the Dahlem Outdoor Environmental Education Center and has been a volunteer assistant camp counselor since she was 13. She has been attending since she was 5. It’s one of her favorite places.

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Phoebe’s on the committee for the annual Goblin Walk Fundraiser. She’s a moose, above, in brown, and a hummingbird in the blue/green sweatshirt, below.

PHoebe hummingbird.jpg

Beauty

Phoebe sees beauty everyplace and in everything.

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She has a great eye for color and detail and enjoys photography in grandma’s garden.

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Phoebe was quite pleased with herself the day she realized she was taller than grandma.

What Phoebe doesn’t realize is that the white and purple phlox blooming beside us is from her great-grandparent’s farm. Yes, Mawmaw and Pawpaw are with us in subtle ways.

I dug the Phlox and brought it home the day Dad passed away. A few years later, it moved along with me to a new house and is now migrating to my children’s gardens a quarter century later.

Our ancestors are with us, not only in our DNA, abilities and appearance but in other subtle ways too.

Someday, I hope these same plants, or their descendants, will grow in Phoebe’s own garden. In the mean time, I’ll be the steward of the plants because she has a lot of cultivating to do.

The future is bright and full of promise. Whatever Phoebe’s life choices, I’m privileged to witness this remarkable young woman develop her potential, find her grounding, fledge the nest and fly on her own.

I have no doubt that Phoebe will leave this earth a better place than she found it.

Phoebe 6 generations.png

Her ancestors would be very, very proud of her. This one already is!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Lineage Societies: Requirements and DNA

I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.

Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.

I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:

  • 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
  • I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
  • I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.

The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.

Birth Certificates

Lineage societies require your birth certificate.

Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.

Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.

In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.

Lineage me mother.png

My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.

Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.

When Birth Certificates are Wrong

Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:

  • People who are adopted and don’t know it
  • People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
  • People whose parent is not who they believe it is

In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.

Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.

Security and Privacy

Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.

The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.

Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.

Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.

Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.

When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.

While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.

Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.

The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.

Adoptees

Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.

Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.

Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.

This creates an awkward situation, at best.

People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.

Is this the intention?

This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.

Y DNA

The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.

The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.

This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.

Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.

Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.

Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.

In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.

Lineage chart

Click to enlarge

Let’s take a look at this example.

George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.

George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.

I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.

John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.

George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.

Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.

In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.

We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.

The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.

In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.

Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.

Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.

Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.

Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive

Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.

In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.

Lineage parent child chromosome browser.png

Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.

Lineage DNAPainter.png

Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.

However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.

My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.

This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.

Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.

Distant DNA is Not Black and White

While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.

Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.

However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.

With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.

If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.

Lineage Society Suggestions

Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.

I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:

  • Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
  • Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
  • Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
  • Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
  • Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
  • Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
  • Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
  • Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
  • Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
  • Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.

The Alternate Future

Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.

Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.

I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.

If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.

These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.

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Disclosure

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

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23andMe Automatically Creates Tree Using New Technology – Relationship Triangulation

23andMe has introduced a new tree feature that automatically creates a “tree” for you based on your predicted relationships to others and their predicted relationships to each other. 23andMe hasn’t coined a term for this, but I’m calling it Relationship Triangulation.

Let’s look at traditional forms of triangulation and how Relationship Triangulation is different.

Triangulation

Segment Triangulation – In traditional triangulation for genetic genealogists, we match the same (reasonably sized) segments between a minimum of 3 not-closely-related people to assign that segment to a common ancestor. Of course, in this scenario, you need to know who your ancestors are – at least some of them.

Once enough people test and match on that segment, hopefully at least a few will be able to identify a common ancestor or minimally, an ancestral line. You can read about this type of triangulation here and a more detailed article here.

Tree Triangulation – Genealogists use what I refer to as “tree triangulation” when segment data isn’t available, like at Ancestry, or when they are seeking to determine parentage.

Adoptees use this method of triangulation where they look at the trees of their closest matches, hoping to discover a common ancestor in their close matches’ trees – because that points the way to a descendant of those ancestors who is their biological parent.

I’ve described this technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

Relationship Triangulation

What 23andMe is doing with relationship triangulation is different yet.

They are using the same techniques used by genetic genealogists manually to try to place their matches in their trees. In essence, we perform the following steps:

  1. Look at the predicted relationship provided by the testing company in order to get an estimation of where that person might fit in our tree – in other words, how far back in the tree the common ancestor will be found. First cousins share grandparents, second cousins share great-grandparents, etc. Additionally, I utilize the relationship table at DNAPainter to view alternative relationships based on total shared DNA.
  2. Look at who we and our match matches in common. For example, if the match also matches my first cousin on my father’s side, there’s a high probability that’s where the person fits on my tree. If they also match with my second and third cousin on my father’s side, especially if they match on the same segment (traditional segment triangulation) then I not only know which “side” they match on, I can push the match back several generations to the common ancestor or ancestral couple I share with the third cousin.
  3. If I also have detailed haplogroup information about the ancestors in my family tree, and my match also has haplogroup information, I can use that to rule out or include lines as potential placements. 23andMe provides haplogroup estimates at a high level, not at a detailed level, but they can still serve to rule out various lineage placements on the tree when compared with other people. For example, if a person’s mitochondrial haplogroup is J1c, they can’t be the child of a female ancestor whose haplogroup is H1a. This is exactly why I have constructed a DNA Pedigree Chart.

What is 23andMe Doing?

I don’t have any inside information about exactly how 23andMe is constructing this tree, but they published the following. The difference, of course, is that they have automated the process and they don’t have customers’ trees to work with.

This information is found on your account at 23andMe under the 3 dots at the upper right-hand side of the tree itself, which I’ll show you how to access in a moment.

23andMe tree options.png

23andMe tree about.png

23andMe tree predicting.png

23andMe will probably provide additional information and make adjustments as this feature comes out of beta – including the ability to modify relationships which are inaccurate – and several are.

Beta is Required

In order to utilize the new tree feature, you must enable Beta for your account, which you can find under your name in the Setting area.

23andMe FamilySearch settings

If you need help, I wrote detailed instructions for enabling Beta in this article.

Accessing Your Tree

You can access the new tree feature in 2 ways.

23andMe DNA Relatives 2.png

At the top, under Ancestry, select DNA Relatives

23andme DNA Relatives selection.png

Scroll to the very bottom.

23andMe Family Tree beta.png

To see your tree, click on the Family Tree link.

The second way to access your tree is under DNA Relatives. When you click on any specific person, if they are in your tree, you’ll see the following:

23andMe tree cousin.png

The “View your Family Tree” button takes you to your family tree.

Your Squiggly Relationship Triangulation Tree

Please click to enlarge this tree in the image below. The font for names is small, but at 23andMe, you can zoom in on various sections.

23andMe tree

Click to enlarge

When you first see your tree, it looks a bit odd and takes a some getting used to because it looks different than the trees genealogists are used to working with.

Here’s what the blue box contents say:

23andMe tree blue.png

23andMe tree blue 2.png

23andMe tree blue 3.png

I tried to see if there was a way to add people in my tree. When you click, the node enlarges, but there isn’t anything to be done yet.

23andMe tree closeup.png

How Is 23andMe Creating Relationship Trees?

23andMe is constructing my family tree based on how I’m related to people, and how they are related to each other as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also using their basic haplogroup information.

Let’s look at how this works.

My two children have tested. I did not tell 23andMe that they are my children, but because both of their mitochondrial haplogroups are the same, and I’m related to both of them in a parent/child relationship, and they are related to each other as siblings, I have to be their mother. That’s the only combination of relationships that works for the three of us.

If one of them was my parent, they would not be related to each other as siblings.

One could be my parent, and one my child, but then, again, they would not be related to each other as siblings.

Furthermore, my son would carry my mitochondrial haplogroup, but I would not carry my father’s mitochondrial haplogroup, so my relationship to him cannot be that he is my father. It would be very unlikely for a father’s mitochondrial haplogroup to match a child by happenstance although that’s not impossible, especially with only partial haplogroups with no full sequence testing. If you’re interested in the difference, you can read more about that here.

Lastly, my children would be related to a subset of the people I’m related to, but (in general) sharing less DNA, so a generation removed. If one of them was my parent, I would be related to a subset of the people they are related to.

23andMe is also looking at who shares DNA with other relatives.

23andMe tree relatives.png

In this DNA Relatives chart comparing me with cousin Laura, you can see that she and I share a common segment of DNA with my twin and with “J”, meaning we have segment triangulation, although my V4 kit doesn’t count for triangulation because it’s a duplicate. Additionally, Laura and I both match Trista, but Laura, Trista and I don’t share a common DNA segment between the three of us.

Laura, “J,” Trista and my V4 test are all shown in my tree. We’ll analyze those matches momentarily.

My Two Results

You’ll notice that I have two tests at 23andMe. I took a V3 test and another V4 test when it was introduced to see if my results were the same. 23andMe accurately calculated this as a “twin” relationship.

In general, the results are close, but not exactly the same. Interestingly, my V3 tree has 2 more cousins than my V4 tree. Of course, the need to “fit people in” on the tree means the layout looks different between the two trees, so I’m only going to work with one set of results in order to reduce confusion.

It’s confusing to look at both trees side by side, because these trees are auto-generated to “best fit” the branches with the available screen space – so the branches are not in the same place on both trees. As more cousins are added to your tree, the layout will change.

Paths

For each person in your created tree, you can click on the person you match and the path from them to you highlights.

I have to laugh, because there is a quilt pattern named “Drunkard’s Path,” and it’s much straighter than this path from my second cousin, Patricia, to me.

23andMe tree path.png

Of course, today there are no names on these “?” ancestor nodes but I know who they are.

Let’s take a look to see if these placements are accurate.

Identifying Nodes on the Tree

Based on where my matches are placed, I determined the identity of the “connecting couple” nodes on my tree and utilized Snagit to mark up the 23andMe tree, below.

You can see that I’ve labeled my mother and father, based on what I know about the various people that I match. For example, I know where my Ferverda cousins reside on my tree, so those cousins must be on my mother’s side.

Conversely, my Vannoy cousins must be on my father’s side.

In my case, my mother is on the left and my father on the right, which is backwards to the normal genealogist pedigree way of thinking. However, without any tree information at all, 23andMe is flying completely blind.

23andMe tree markup

Click to enlarge

I analyzed each of my 18 matches that 23andMe placed on my tree, of my 1553 total matches at 23andMe.

Accurate Placements

The gold stars indicate accurate placements. There are a total of 7 gold stars, BUT, of those 7, one is my own second kit which clearly is my “identical twin.” Two are my children whose accounts I manage. Of the balance, there are:

  • one 1C1R
  • one second cousin
  • two third cousins

There are a total of 4 accurate placements that are not immediate family members whose kits I manage.

Why might a placement not be accurate? 23andMe says the following:

23andMe unexpected.png

This is exactly why I utilize the DNAPainter segment tool to evaluate different possibilities for the matching total centiMorgans.

Unknown Placements

Green boxes on my tree are people who are unknown, but based on their common matches with known cousins, they are in the right general area of my tree. I wish I could tell more.

With 23andMe’s historic lack of tree support, and few people having added surnames or recently, ancestors through Family Search, it’s impossible to determine how these matches descend from common ancestors. The best I can do based on common matches and shared DNA is to determine and assign “sides” and sometimes roughly how many generations back to the common ancestor.

Hopefully, once people can actually identify ancestors on their trees, this may well improve. I’m concerned that so many years have passed with no tree support that many people aren’t signing in anymore, will never notice the tree feature and won’t add anything. I hope I’m wrong.

There are only 4 people in my tree whose relationship to me is unknown. Perhaps I should send them a message. I do know approximately where they belong on the tree, so I could at least ask some leading questions with surnames I think they might recognize.

Uncertain Placement

The gold box is an uncertain placement. Based on common matches, this person descends from Ollie Bolton’s parents’ line, not from Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley. However, Diane also matches Patricia M who descends from my mother’s line, so she could be doubly related to me. Those lines are not even from the same state, so this person is a bit of an anomaly.

This causes me to wonder how 23andMe will handle situations where a match does descend from both sides of a person’s tree.

I should send her a message too.

Inaccurate Placements

The red boxes indicate placements that are known to be incorrect, and why they are incorrect. When the placement needs to be moved to another connecting node couple, I’ve drawn a red arrow.

I’ve numbered the red boxes so we can discuss each one.

In box #1, Cheryl is identified correctly as to her relationship with me, as is “J,” but their relationship to each other is inaccurate. They are half siblings, not first cousins.

In boxes #2 and #3, these people are shown descending from my grandparents, when in reality, they descend from my great-grandparents. Of course, this makes their relationship to me inaccurate too.

In box #4, my half-grand-niece, meaning my half-sister’s granddaughter is shown as descending through another child of my grandparents, when in fact, she descends from my father and his first wife. My father needs another spouse in the chart and the relationship needs to be calculated accordingly.

In box #5, both individuals are actually one more generation further down the tree than they are shown, so the relationship needs to be recalculated.

Summary

How did 23andMe do with their automated Relationship Triangulation tree construction?

23andMe summary.png

  • One third, 33%, are inaccurate..
  • The close family matches, 17%, are accurate, but really don’t count – those were freebies.
  • There are exactly as many unknown as accurate, 22%.
  • 6% are uncertain, meaning I can’t tell if this person is accurately placed or not, because the matches are confusing.
  • Of my total 1553 matches, 1.16% were placed in a tree. I wonder if 23andMe has drawn an arbitrary line at 3rd cousins, at least for now.

Given that this tree was entirely constructed by 23andMe without any genealogical foreknowledge, based only upon genetic relationships to me along with genetic relationships of my matches to each other – this isn’t bad at all. It’s certainly a start.

Adoptees must think they’ve died and gone to the happy hereafter, because all other vendors’ tree support requires you to actually HAVE a tree of some description. Of course, adoptees and people seeking an unknown parent don’t have trees for their unknown parents.

23andMe creates a tree from scratch for you based only on genetic relationships – Relationship Triangulation.

While only one third of these matches are accurately placed today, all were at least on the correct side of the tree, with one confusing possible exception. Genealogists already know that things like pedigree collapse and endogamy will complicate efforts like this.

My mother’s side was accurately identified to appropriate great-grandparents, but my father’s side wasn’t as clean, especially where “half” relationships are involved.

It would be interesting to combine the Leeds Method or Genetic Affairs clustering with the 23andMe technology and see what those results look like.

23andMe would be in a much better position had they never obsoleted tree support years ago. They have never been a “genealogy” company, with their focus always having been on medical genetics. Genealogists, with their incessant need to know were the perfect people to attract to test. 23andMe has always given us “just enough,” but never trees or the heavy duty tools we need.

Perhaps the tide has turned and this is their way of reintroducing a hybrid genetic+genealogy tree.

The Future

In the short-term future, 23andMe is going to add the ability to define and modify relationships on this tree, which will help them refine and improve their machine learning tools. This will also help with their medical research initiatives because clearly, the companies they partner with want to know specifically, not generally, about the heritability of medical traits.

Trees encourage genealogists to provide 23andMe with family information for their medical research, while trees clearly benefit genealogists too.

In the longer term, for genealogists, let’s hope that the marriage of genetics, machine learning, trees and technology produces helpful tools.

This Relationship Triangulation tree is interesting and fascinating, if not yet terribly useful. This technology holds a lot of promise and every innovation begins with a imperfect tenuous first step.

Who knows what the future will bring, either at 23andMe or perhaps as other vendors integrate this same type of technology.

You can’t play if you don’t test and 23andMe does not accept uploads.

If you would like to take the 23andMe genealogy only test, click here or if you want the 23andMe genealogy + health test, click here.

If you have already tested, check your account for your new tree and tell me what you think!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Superpower: Your Aunts’ and Uncles’ DNA is Your DNA Too – Maximize Those Matches!

Recently a reader, Ian, dropped me a note suggesting that perhaps not everyone understands the 2-fer value of close family members who DNA test.

That’s “two for the price of one.”

Even just one family member like an aunt or uncle, or a great-aunt or great-uncle is a goldmine.

Here’s why.

sibling matching.png

In the chart above, you, in green, obtained 50% of your DNA from each parent. Each of your parents gave you have of thier autosomal DNA.

Your parent shares approximately 50% of their DNA with their full sibling who is your aunt (or uncle,) shown in yellow.

Full siblings each receive half of their parents’ DNA, just not the same exact half. That’s why you need to test your own siblings if your parents aren’t BOTH available for testing.

You share about 25% of your DNA with any aunt or uncle, shown in yellow. Your 25% shared DNA came from your grandparents.

The Important Part

But here’s the really important part:

  • ALL of the DNA that your aunt or uncle carries is your ancestors’ DNA too – even though you only match your aunt/uncle on 25% of their DNA.
  • ALL OF THEIR DNA IS AS RELEVANT TO YOU AS YOUR OWN!
  • The other 75% of the DNA that they have, and you don’t, was inherited from your grandparents. There’s no place else for your full aunt or uncle to receive DNA.

You can utilize the DNA of a full aunt or uncle JUST LIKE YOU UTILIZE YOUR OWN MATCHES.

The 2-Fer

Here’s the 2-fer.

  1. Anyone you match in common with your aunt or uncle is identified to those grandparents or their ancestors. That’s about 25%.
  2. Anyone that your aunt or uncle matches in common with another family member that you don’t match but where you can identify the common ancestor provides you with information you can’t discover from your own DNA.

Their Matches are “Your Matches” Too – ALL OF THEM

Yes, all of them – even the people you don’t match yourself – because ALL of your aunts or uncles ancestors are your ancestors too.

Think about it this way, if you and your aunt both have 4000 matches (as an example) and you share 25% of those – you’ll be able to assign 1000 people to that parent’s side of your tree through common matches with your aunt.

However, your aunt will have another 3000 matches that you don’t share with her. All 3000 of those matches are equally as relevant to you as your own matches.

This is true even if your parent has tested, because your aunt or uncle inherited DNA from your grandparents that your parent didn’t inherit.

So instead of identifying just 1000 of your matches in common, you get the bonus of an additional 3000 of your aunt’s matches that you don’t have, so 4000 total matches of your own plus all 4000 of hers – 3000 of which are different from yours! That’s a total of 7000 unique matches for you to work with, not just your own 4000!

Your Matches 4000
Aunt’s Matches 4000
Common Matches -1000
Total Unique Matches 7000

Moving Back Another Generation

If you’re lucky enough to have a great-aunt or great-uncle, shown in peach, the same situation applies.

You’ll share about 12.5% of your DNA with them, so you’ll only share about 500 of your 4000 matches, BUT, all 4000 of their matches are in essence your matches too because your great-aunt or great-uncle carries only the DNA of your great-grandparents, giving you 7500 unique matches to work with, using our example numbers.

Every aunt or uncle (or great-aunt or great-uncle) will provide you with some matches that other family members don’t have.

Whatever analysis techniques you use for your own DNA – do exactly the same for them – and test them at or transfer their DNA file to every vendor (with their permission of course) – while you can. Here’s an article about DNA testing and transfer strategies to help you understand available options.

Genetic Gold

Their DNA is every bit as valuable as your own – and probably more so because it represents part of your grandparents and/or great-grandparents DNA that your own parents and/or grandparents didn’t inherit. Without aunts and uncles, that DNA may be lost to you forever.

If your parents or grandparents have multiple living siblings  – test all of them. If they have half-siblings, test them too, although only part of half siblings’ matches will be relevant to you, so you can’t treat them exactly the same as full sibling matches.

While you’re testing, be sure to test their Y and mitochondrial DNA lines at Family Tree DNA, the only company to offer this type of testing, if their Y and mitochondrial DNA is different than your own. If you don’t understand about the different kinds of DNA that can be tested, why you’d want to and inheritance paths, here’s a short article that explains.

You can always test yourself, but once other people have passed away, valuable, irreplaceable genetic information goes with them.

Any DNA information that you can recover from earlier generations is genetic gold.

Who do you have to test?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

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Genealogy Research

Crossovers: Frequency and Inheritance Statistics – Male Versus Female Matters

Recently, a reader asked if I had any crossover statistics.

They were asking about the number of crossovers, meaning divisions on each chromosome, of the parent’s DNA when a child is created. In other words, how many segments of your maternal and paternal grandparent’s DNA do you inherit from your mother and father – and are those numbers somehow different?

Why would someone ask that question, and how is it relevant for genealogists?

What is a Crossover and Why is it Important?

We know that every child receives half of their autosomal DNA from their father, and half from their mother. Conversely that means that each parent can only give their child half of their own DNA that they received from their parents. Therefore, each parent has to combine some of the DNA from their father’s chromosome and their mother’s chromosome into a new chromosome that they contribute to their child.

Crossovers are breakpoints that are created when the DNA of the person’s parents is divided into pieces before being recombined into a new chromosome and passed on to the person’s child.

I’m going to use the following real-life scenario to illustrate.

Crossover pedigree.png

The colors of the people above are reflected on the chromosome below where the DNA of the blue daughter, and her red and green parents are compared to the DNA of the tester. The tester is shown as the gray background chromosomes in the chromosome browser. The backgroud person is whose results we are looking at.

My granddaughter has tested her DNA, as have her parents and 3 of her 4 grandparents along with 2 great-grandparents, shown as red and green in the diagram above.

Here’s an example utilizing the FamilyTreeDNA chromosome browser.

Crossover example chr 1.png

On my granddaughter’s chromosome 1, on the chromosome brower above, we see two perfect examples of crossovers.

There’s no need to compare her DNA against that of her parent, the son in the chart above, because we already know she matches the full length of every chromosome with both of her parents.

However, when comparing my granddaughter’s DNA against the grandmother (blue) and her grandmother’s parents, the great-grandmother shown in red and great-grandfather shown in green, we can see that the granddaughter received her blue segments from the grandmother.

The grandmother had to receive that entire blue segment from either her mother, in red, or her father, in green. So, every blue segment must have an exactly matching red segment, green segment or combination of both.

The first red box at left shows that the blue segment was inherited partially from the grandmother’s red mother and green father. We know that because the tester matches the red great-grandmother on part of that blue segment and the green great-grandfather on a different part of the entire blue segment that the tester inherited from her blue grandmother.

The middle colored region, not boxed, shows the entire blue segment was inherited from the red great-grandmother and the blue grandmother passed that intact through her son to her granddaughter.

The third larger red boxed area encompassing the entire tested region to the right of the centromere was inherited by the granddaughter from her grandmother (blue segment) but it was originally from the blue grandmother’s red mother and green father.

The Crossover

The areas on this chromosome where the blue is divided between the red and green, meaning where the red and green butt up against each other is called a crossover. It’s literally where the DNA of the blue daughter crosses over between DNA contributed by her red mother and green father.

Crossover segments.png

In other words, the crossover where the DNA divided between the blue grandmother’s parents when the grandmother’s son was created is shown by the dark arrows above. The son gave his daughter that exact same segment from his mother and it’s only by comparing the tester’s DNA against her great-grandparents that we can see the crossover.

Crossover 4 generations.png

What we’re really seeing is that the segments inherited by the grandmother from her parents two different chromosomes were combined into one segment that the grandmother gave to her son. The son inherited the green piece and the red piece on his maternal chromosome, which he gave intact to his daughter, which is why the daughter matches her grandmother on that entire blue segment and matches her great-grandparents on the red and green pieces of their individual DNA.

Inferred Matching Segments

Crossover untested grandfather.png

The entirely uncolored regions are where the tester does not match her blue grandmother and where she would match her grandfather, who has not tested, instead of her blue grandmother.

The testers father only received his DNA from his mother and father, and if his daughter does not match his mother, then she must match his untested father on that segment.

Looking at the Big Inheritance Picture

The tester’s full autosomal match between the blue grandmother, red great-grandmother and green great-grandfather is shown below.

Crossover autosomes.png

In light of the discussion that follows, it’s worth noting that chromosomes 4 and 20 (orange arrows) were passed intact from the blue grandmother to the tester through two meiosis (inheritance) events. We know this because the tester matches the green great-grandfather’s DNA entirely on these two chromosomes that he passed to his blue daughter, her son and then the tester.

Let’s track this for chromosomes 4 and 20:

  • Meiosis 1 –The tester matches her blue grandmother, so we know that there was no crossover on that segment between the father and the tester.
  • Meiosis 2 – The tester matches her green great-grandfather along the entire chromosome, proving that it was passed intact from the grandmother to the tester’s father, her son.
  • What we don’t know is whether there were any crossovers between the green great-grandfather when he passed his parent or parents DNA to the blue grandmother, his daughter. In order to determine that, we would need at least one of the green great-grandfather’s parents, which we don’t have. We don’t know if the green great-grandfather passed on his maternal or paternal copy of his chromosome, or parts of each to the blue great-grandmother, his daughter.

Meiosis Events and the Tree

So let’s look at these meiosis or inheritance events in a different way, beginning at the bottom with the pink tester and counting backwards, or up the tree.

Crossover meiosis events.png

By inference, we know that chromosomes 11, 16 and 22 (purple arrows) were also passed intact, but not from the blue grandmother. The tester’s father passed his father’s chromosome intact to his daughter. That’s the untested grandfather again. We know this because the tester does not match her blue grandmother at all on either of these three chromosomes, so the tester must match her untested grandfather instead, because those are the only two sources of DNA for the tester’s father.

A Blip, or Not?

If you’ve noticed that chromosome 14 looks unusual, in that the tester matches her grandmother’s blue segment, but not either of her great-grandparents, which is impossible, give yourself extra points for your good eye.

In this case, the green great-grandfather’s kit was a transfer kit in which that portion of chromosome 14 was not included or did not read accurately. Given that the red great-grandmother’s kit DID read in that region and does not match the tester, we know that chromosome 14 would actually have a matching green segment exactly the size of the blue segment.

However, in another situation where we didn’t know of an issue with the transfer kit, it is also possible that the granddaughter matched a small segment of the blue grandmother’s DNA where they were identical by chance. In that case, chromosome 14 would actually have been passed to the tester intact from her father’s father, who is untested.

Every Segment has a Story

Looking at this matching pattern and our ability to determine the source of the DNA back several generations, originating from great-grandparents, I hope you’re beginning to get a sense of why understanding crossovers better is important to genealogists.

Every single segment has a story and that story is comprised of crossovers where the DNA of our ancestors is combined in their offspring. Today, we see the evidence of these historical genetic meiosis or division/recombination events in the start and end points of matches to our genetic cousins. Every start and end point represents a crossover sometime in the past.

What else can we tell about these events and how often they occur?

Of the 22 autosomes, not counting the X chromosome which has a unique inheritance pattern, 17 chromosomes experienced at least one crossover.

What does this mean to me as a genealogist and how can I interpret this type of information?

Philip Gammon

You may remember our statistician friend Philip Gammon. Philip and I have collaborated before authoring the following articles where Philip did the heavy lifting.

I discussed crossovers in the article Concepts – DNA Recombination and Crossovers, also in collaboration with Philip, and showed several examples in a Four Generation Inheritance Study.

If you haven’t read those articles, now might be a good time to do so, as they set the stage for understanding the rest of this article.

The frequency of chromosome segment divisions and their resulting crossovers are key to understanding how recombination occurs, which is key to understanding how far back in time a common ancestor between you and a match can expect to be found.

In other words, everything we think we know about relationships, especially more distant relationships, is predicated on the rate that crossovers occur.

The Concepts article references the Chowdhury paper and revealed that females average about 42 crossovers per child and males average about 27 but these quantities refer to the total number of crossovers on all 22 autosomes and reveal nothing about the distribution of the number of crossovers at the individual chromosome level.

Philip Gammon has been taking a closer look at this particular issue and has done some very interesting crossover simulations by chromosome, which are different sizes, as he reports beginning here.

Crossover Statistics by Philip Gammon

For chromosomes there is surprisingly little information available regarding the variation in the number of crossovers experienced during meiosis, the process of cell division that results in the production of ova and sperm cells. In the scientific literature I have been able to find only one reference that provides a table showing a frequency distribution for the number of crossovers by chromosome.

The paper Broad-Scale Recombination Patterns Underlying Proper Disjunction in Humans by Fledel-Alon et al in 2009 contains this information tucked away at the back of the “Supplementary methods, figures, and tables” section. It was likely not produced with genetic genealogists in mind but could be of great interest to some. The columns X0 to X8 refer to the number of crossovers on each chromosome that were measured in parental transmissions. Separate tables are shown for male and female transmissions because the rates between the two sexes differ significantly. Note that it’s the gender of the parent that matters, not the child. The sample size is quite small, containing only 288 occurrences for each gender.

A few years ago I stumbled across a paper titled Escape from crossover interference increases with maternal age by Campbell et al 2015. This study investigated the properties of crossover placement utilising family groups contained within the database of the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe. In total more than 645,000 well-supported crossover events were able to be identified. Although this study didn’t directly report the observed frequency distribution of crossovers per chromosome, it did produce a table of parameters that accurately described the distribution of inter-crossover distances for each chromosome.

By introducing these parameters into a model that I had developed to implement the equations described by Housworth and Stahl in their 2003 paper Crossover Interference in Humans I was able to derive tables depicting the frequency of crossovers. The following results were produced for each chromosome by running 100,000 simulations in my crossover model:

Crossover transmissions from female to child.png

Transmissions from female parent to child, above.

Crossover transmissions male to child.png

Transmissions from male parent to child.

To be sure that we understand what these tables are revealing let’s look at the first row of the female table. The most frequent outcome for chromosome #1 is that there will be three crossovers and this occurs 27% of the time. There were instances when up to 10 crossovers were observed in a single meiosis but these were extremely rare. Cells that are blank recorded no observations in the 100,000 simulations. On average there are 3.36 crossovers observed on chromosome #1 in female to child transmissions i.e. the female chromosome #1 is 3.36 Morgans (336 centimorgans) in genetic length.

Blaine Bettinger has since examined crossover statistics using crowdsourced data in The Recombination Project: Analyzing Recombination Frequencies Using Crowdsourced Data, but only for females. His sample size was 250 maternal transmissions and Table 2 in the report presents the results in the same format as the tables above. There is a remarkable degree of conformity between Blaine’s measurements and the output from my simulation model and also to the earlier Fledel-Alon et al study.

The diagrams below are a typical representation of the chromosomes inherited by a child.

Crossovers inherited from mother.jpg

The red and orange (above) are the set of chromosomes inherited from the mother and the aqua and green (below) from the father. The locations where the colours change identify the crossover points.

It’s worth noting that all chromosomes have a chance of being passed from parent to child without recombination. These probabilities are found in the column for zero crossovers.

In the picture above the mother has passed on two red chromosomes (#14 and #20) without recombination from one of the maternal grandparents. No yellow chromosomes were passed intact.

Similarly, below, the father has passed on a total of five chromosomes that have no crossover points. Blue chromosomes #15, #18 and #21 were passed on intact from one paternal grandparent and green chromosomes #4 and #20 from the other.

Crossovers inherited from father.jpg

It’s quite a rare event for one of the larger chromosomes to be passed on without recombination (only a 1.4% probability for chromosome #1 in female transmissions) but occurs far more frequently in the smaller chromosomes. In fact, the male chromosome #21 is passed on intact more often (50.6% of the time) than containing DNA from both of the father’s parents.

However, there is nothing especially significant about chromosome #21.

The same could be said for any region of similar genetic length on any of the autosomes i.e. the first 52 cM of chromosome #1 or the middle 52 cM of chromosome #10 etc. From my simulations I have observed that on average 2.8 autosomes are passed down from a mother to child without a crossover and an average of 5.1 autosomes from a father to child.

In total (from both parents), 94% of offspring will inherit between 4 and 12 chromosomes containing DNA exclusively from a single grandparent. In the 100,000 simulations the child always inherited at least one chromosome without recombination.

Back to Roberta

If you have 3 generations who have tested, you can view the crossovers in the grandchild as compared to either one or two grandparents.

If the child doesn’t match one grandparent, even if their other grandparent through that parent hasn’t tested, you can certainly infer that any DNA where the grandchild doesn’t match the available grandparent comes from the non-tested “other” grandparent on that side.

Let’s Look at Real-Life Examples

Using the example of my 2 granddaughters, both of their parents and 3 of their 4 grandparents have tested, so I was able to measure the crossovers that my granddaughters experienced from all 4 of their grandparents.

Maternal Crossovers Granddaughter 1 Granddaughter 2 Average
Chromosome 1 6 2 3.36
Chromosome 2 4 2 3.17
Chromosome 3 3 2 2.71
Chromosome 4 2 2 2.59
Chromosome 5 2 1 2.49
Chromosome 6 4 2 2.36
Chromosome 7 3 1 2.23
Chromosome 8 2 2 2.11
Chromosome 9 3 1 1.95
Chromosome 10 4 2 2.08
Chromosome 11 3 0 1.93
Chromosome 12 3 3 2.00
Chromosome 13 1 1 1.52
Chromosome 14 3 1 1.38
Chromosome 15 4 1 1.44
Chromosome 16 2 2 1.58
Chromosome 17 2 2 1.53
Chromosome 18 2 0 1.40
Chromosome 19 2 1 1.18
Chromosome 20 0 1 1.19
Chromosome 21 0 1 0.74
Chromosome 22 1 0 0.78
Total 56 30 41.71

Looking at these results, it’s easy to see just how different inheritance between two full siblings can be. Granddaughter 1 has 56 crossovers through her mother, significantly more than the average of 41.71. Granddaughter 2 has 30, significantly less than average.

The average of the 2 girls is 43, very close to the total average of 41.71.

Note that one child received 2 chromosomes intact from her mother, and the other received 3.

Paternal Crossovers Granddaughter 1 Granddaughter 2 Average
Chromosome 1 2 2 1.98
Chromosome 2 3 2 1.85
Chromosome 3 2 2 1.64
Chromosome 4 0 1 1.46
Chromosome 5 1 2 1.46
Chromosome 6 2 1 1.41
Chromosome 7 1 2 1.36
Chromosome 8 1 1 1.23
Chromosome 9 1 3 1.26
Chromosome 10 3 2 1.30
Chromosome 11 0 1 1.20
Chromosome 12 1 1 1.32
Chromosome 13 2 1 1.02
Chromosome 14 1 0 0.97
Chromosome 15 1 2 1.01
Chromosome 16 0 1 1.02
Chromosome 17 0 0 1.06
Chromosome 18 1 1 0.98
Chromosome 19 1 1 1.00
Chromosome 20 0 0 0.99
Chromosome 21 0 0 0.52
Chromosome 22 0 0 0.63
Total 23 26 26.65

Granddaughter 2 had slightly more paternal crossovers than did granddaughter 1.

One child received 7 chromosomes intact from her father, and the other received 5.

Chromosome Granddaughter 1 Maternal Granddaughter 1 Paternal
Chromosome 1 6 2
Chromosome 2 4 3
Chromosome 3 3 2
Chromosome 4 2 0
Chromosome 5 2 1
Chromosome 6 4 2
Chromosome 7 3 1
Chromosome 8 2 1
Chromosome 9 3 1
Chromosome 10 4 3
Chromosome 11 3 0
Chromosome 12 3 1
Chromosome 13 1 2
Chromosome 14 3 1
Chromosome 15 4 1
Chromosome 16 2 0
Chromosome 17 2 0
Chromosome 18 2 1
Chromosome 19 2 1
Chromosome 20 0 0
Chromosome 21 0 0
Chromosome 22 1 0
Total 56 23

Comparing each child’s maternal and paternal crossovers side by side, we can see that Granddaughter 1 has more than double the number of maternal as compared to paternal crossovers, while Granddaughter 2 only had slightly more.

Chromosome Granddaughter 2 Maternal Granddaughter 2 Paternal
Chromosome 1 2 2
Chromosome 2 2 2
Chromosome 3 2 2
Chromosome 4 2 1
Chromosome 5 1 2
Chromosome 6 2 1
Chromosome 7 1 2
Chromosome 8 2 1
Chromosome 9 1 3
Chromosome 10 2 2
Chromosome 11 0 1
Chromosome 12 3 1
Chromosome 13 1 1
Chromosome 14 1 0
Chromosome 15 1 2
Chromosome 16 2 1
Chromosome 17 2 0
Chromosome 18 0 1
Chromosome 19 1 1
Chromosome 20 1 0
Chromosome 21 1 0
Chromosome 22 0 0
Total 30 26

Granddaughter 2 has closer to the same number of maternal and paternal of crossovers, but about 8% more maternal.

Comparing Maternal and Paternal Crossover Rates

Given that males clearly have a much, much lower crossover rate, according to the Philip’s chart as well as the evidence in just these two individual cases, over time, we would expect to see the DNA segments significantly LESS broken up in male to male transmissions, especially an entire line of male to male transmissions, as compared to female to female linear transmissions. This means we can expect to see larger intact shared segments in a male to male transmission line as compared to a female to female transmission line.

  G1 Mat G2 Mat Mat Avg G1 Pat G2 Pat Pat Avg
Gen 1 56 30 41.71 23 26 26.65
Gen 2 112 60 83.42 46 52 53.30
Gen 3 168 90 125.13 69 78 79.95
Gen 4 224 120 166.84 92 104 106.60

Using the Transmission rates for Granddaughter 1, Granddaughter 2, and the average calculated by Philip, it’s easy to see the cumulative expected average number of crossovers vary dramatically in every generation.

By the 4th generation, the maternal crossovers seen in someone entirely maternally descended at the rate of Grandchild 1 would equal 224 crossovers meaning that the descendant’s DNA would be divided that many times, while the same number of paternal linear divisions at 4 generations would only equal 92.

Yet today, we would never look at 2 people’s DNA, one with 224 crossovers compared to one with 92 crossovers and even consider the possibility that they are both only three generations descended from an ancestor, counting the parents as generation 1.

What Does This Mean?

The number of males and females in a specific line clearly has a direct influence on the number of crossovers experienced, and what we can expect to see as a result in terms of average segment size of inherited segments in a specific number of generations.

Using Granddaughter 1’s maternal crossover rate as an example, in 4 generations, chromosome 1 would have incurred a total of 24 crossovers, so the DNA would be divided into in 25 pieces. At the paternal rate, only 8 crossovers so the DNA would be in 9 pieces.

Chromosome 1 is a total of 267 centimorgans in length, so dividing 267 cM by 25 would mean the average segment would only be 10.68 cM for the maternal transmission, while the average segment divided by 9 would be 29.67 cM in length for the paternal transmission.

Given that the longest matching segment is a portion of the estimated relationship calculation, the difference between a 10.68 cM maternal linear segment match and a 29.67 paternal linear cM segment match is significant.

While I used the highest and lowest maternal and paternal rates of the granddaughters, the average would be 19 and 29, respectively – still a significant difference.

Maternal and Paternal Crossover Average Segment Size

Each person has an autosomal total of 3374 cM on chromosomes 1-22, excluding the X chromosome, that is being compared to other testers. Applying these calculations to all 22 autosomes using the maternal and paternal averages for 4 generations, dividing into the 3374 total we find the following average segment centiMorgan matches:

Crossovers average segment size.png

Keep in mind, of course, that the chart above represents 3 generations in a row of either maternal or paternal crossovers, but even one generation is significant.

The average size segment of a grandparent’s DNA that a child receives from their mother is 80.89 cM where the average segment of a grandparent’s DNA inherited from their father is 1.57 times larger at 126.6 cM.

Keep the maternal versus paternal inheritance path in mind as you evaluate matches to cousins with identified common ancestors, especially if the path is entirely or mostly maternal or paternal which would skew the cumulative average. You can easily tell, for example, that matches who descend paternally from a common ancestor and carry the surname are likely to carry more DNA from that common male ancestor than someone who descends from a mixed or directly maternal line.

For unknown matches, just keep in mind that the average that vendors calculate and use to predict relationships, because they can’t and don’t have “inside knowledge” about the inheritance path, may or may not be either accurate or average. They do the best they can do with the information they have at hand.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

Ethnicity is always a ticklish subject. On one hand we say to be leery of ethnicity estimates, but on the other hand, we all want to know who our ancestors were and where they came from. Many people hope to prove or disprove specific theories or stories about distant ancestors.

Reasons to be cautious about ethnicity estimates include:

  • Within continents, like Europe, it’s very difficult to discern ethnicity at the “country” level because of thousands of years of migration across regions where borders exist today. Ethnicity estimates within Europe can be significantly different than known and proven genealogy.
  • “Countries,” in Europe, political constructs, are the same size as many states in the US – and differentiation between those populations is almost impossible to accurately discern. Think of trying to figure out the difference between the populations of Indiana and Illinois, for example. Yet we want to be able to tell the difference between ancestors that came from France and Germany, for example.

Ethnicity states over Europe

  • All small amounts of ethnicity, even at the continental level, under 2-5%, can be noise and might be incorrect. That’s particularly true of trace amounts, 1% or less. However, that’s not always the case – which is why companies provide those small percentages. When hunting ancestors in the distant past, that small amount of ethnicity may be the only clue we have as to where they reside at detectable levels in our genome.

Noise in this case is defined as:

  • A statistical anomaly
  • A chance combination of your DNA from both parents that matches a reference population
  • Issues with the reference population itself, specifically admixture
  • Perhaps combinations of the above

You can read about the challenges with ethnicity here and here.

On the Other Hand

Having restated the appropriate caveats, on the other hand, we can utilize legitimate segments of our DNA to identify where our ancestors came from – at the continental level.

I’m actually specifically referring to Native American admixture which is the example I’ll be using, but this process applies equally as well to other minority or continental level admixture as well. Minority, in this sense means minority ethnicity to you.

Native American ethnicity shows distinctly differently from African and European. Sometimes some segments of DNA that we inherit from Native American ancestors are reported as Asian, specifically Siberian, Northern or Eastern Asian.

Remember that the Native American people arrived as a small group via Beringia, a now flooded land bridge that once connected Siberia with Alaska.

beringia map

By Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16975303

After that time, the Native American/First Nations peoples were isolated from Asia, for the most part, and entirely from Europe until European exploration resulted in the beginning of sustained European settlement, and admixture beginning in the late 1400s and 1500s in the Americas.

Family Inheritance

Testing multiple family members is extremely useful when working with your own personal minority heritage. This approach assumes that you’d like to identify your matches that share that genetic heritage because they share the same minority DNA that you do. Of course, that means you two share the same ancestor at some time in the past. Their genealogy, or your combined information, may hold the clue to identifying your ancestor.

In my family, my daughter has Native American segments that she inherited from me that I inherited from my mother.

Finding the same segment identified as Native American in several successive generations eliminates the possibility that the chance combination of DNA from your father and mother is “appearing” as Native, when it isn’t.

We can use segment information to our benefit, especially if we don’t know exactly who contributed that DNA – meaning which ancestor.

We need to find a way to utilize those Native or other minority segments genealogically.

23andMe

Today, the only DNA testing vendor that provides consumers with a segment identification of our ethnicity predictions is 23andMe.

If you have tested at 23andMe, sign in and click on Ancestry on the top tab, then select Ancestry Composition.

Minority ethnicity ancestry composition.png

Scroll down until you see your painted chromosomes.

Minority ethnicity chromosome painting.png

By clicking on the region at left that you want to see, the rest of the regions are greyed out and only that region is displayed on your chromosomes, at right.

Minority ethnicity Native.png

According to 23andMe, I have two Native segments, one each on chromosomes 1 and 2. They show these segments on opposite chromosomes, meaning one (the top for example) would be maternal or paternal, and the bottom one would be the opposite. But 23andMe apparently could not tell for sure because neither my mother nor father have tested there. This placement also turned out to be incorrect. The above image was my initial V3 test at 23andMe. My later V4 results were different.

Versions May Differ

Please note that your ethnicity predictions may be different based on which test you took which is dictated by when you took the test. The image above is my V3 test that was in use at 23andMe between 2010 and November 2013, and the image below is my V4 test in use between November 2013 and August 2017.

23andMe apparently does not correct original errors involving what is known as “strand swap” where the maternal and paternal segments are inverted during analysis. My V4 test results are shown below, where the strands are correctly portrayed.

Minority ethnicity Native V4.png

Note that both Native segments are now on the lower chromosome “side” of the pair and the position on the chromosome 1 segment has shifted visually.

Minority ethnicity sides.png

I have not tested at 23andMe on the current V5 GSA chip, in use since August 9, 2017, but perhaps I should. The results might be different yet, with the concept being that each version offers an improvement over earlier versions as science advances.

If your parents have tested, 23andMe makes adjustments to your ethnicity estimates accordingly.

Although my mother can’t test at 23andMe, I happen to already know that these Native segments descend from my mother based on genealogical and genetic analysis, combined. I’m going to walk you through the process.

I can utilize my genealogy to confirm or refute information shown by 23andMe. For example, if one of those segments comes from known ancestors who were living in Germany, it’s clearly not Native, and it’s noise of some type.

We’re going to utilize DNAPainter to determine which ancestors contributed your minority segments, but first you’ll need to download your ethnicity segments from 23andMe.

Downloading Ethnicity Segment Data

Downloading your ethnicity segments is NOT THE SAME as downloading your raw DNA results to transfer to another vendor. Those are two entirely different files and different procedures.

To download the locations of your ethnicity segments at 23andMe, scroll down below your painted ethnicity segments in your Ancestry Composition section to “View Scientific Details.”

MInority ethnicity scientific details.png

Click on View Scientific Details and scroll down to near the bottom and then click on “Download Raw Data.” I leave mine at the 50% confidence level.

Minority ethnicity download raw data.png

Save this spreadsheet to your computer in a known location.

In the spreadsheet, you’ll see columns that provide the name of the segment, the chromosome copy number (1 or 2) and the chromosome number with start and end locations.

Minority ethnicity download.png

You really don’t care about this information directly, but DNAPainter does and you’ll care a lot about what DNAPainter does for you.

DNAPainter

I wrote introductory articles about DNAPainter:

If you’re not familiar with DNAPainter, you might want to read these articles first and then come back to this point in this article.

Go ahead – I’ll wait!

Getting Started

If you don’t have a DNAPainter account, you’ll need to create one for free. Some features, such as having multiple profiles are subscription based, but the functionality you’ll need for one profile is free.

I’ve named this example profile “Ethnicity Demo.” You’ll see your name where mine says “Ethnicity Demo.”

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter.png

Click on “Import 23andme ancestry composition.”

You will copy and paste all the spreadsheet rows in the entire downloaded 23andMe ethnicity spreadsheet into the DNAPainter text box and make your selection, below. The great news is that if you discover that your assumption about copy 1 being maternal or paternal is incorrect, it’s easy to delete the ethnicity segments entirely and simply repaint later. Ditto if 23andMe changes your estimate over time, like they have mine.

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter sides.png

I happen to know that “copy 2” is maternal, so I’ve made that selection.

You can then see your ethnicity chromosome segments painted, and you can expand each one to see the detail. Click on “Save Segments.”

MInority ethnicity DNAPainter Native painting

Click to enlarge

In this example, you can see my Native segments, called by various names at different confidence levels at 23andMe, on chromosome 1.

Depending on the confidence level, these segments are called some mixture of:

  • East Asian & Native American
  • North Asian & Native American
  • Native American
  • Broadly East Asian & Native American

It’s exactly the same segment, so you don’t really care what it’s called. DNAPainter paints all of the different descriptions provided by 23andMe, at all confidence levels as you can see above.

The DNAPainter colors are different from 23andMe colors and are system-selected. You can’t assign the colors for ethnicity segments.

Now, I’m moving to my own profile that I paint with my ancestral segments. To date, I have 78% of my segments painted by identifying cousins with known common ancestors.

On chromosomes 1 and 2, copy 2, which I’ve determined to be my mother’s “side,” these segments track back to specific ancestors.

Minority ethnicity maternal side

Click to enlarge

Chromosome 1 segments, above, track back to the Lore family, descended from Antoine (Anthony) Lore (Lord) who married Rachel Hill. Antoine Lore was Acadian.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 1.png

Clicking on the green segment bar shows me the ancestors I assigned when I painted the match with my Lore family member whose name is blurred, but whose birth surname was Lore.

The Chromosome 2 segment, below, tracks back to the same family through a match to Fred.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 2.png

My common ancestors with Fred are Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille who are the parents of Antoine Lore.

Minority ethnicity common ancestor.png

There are additional matches on both chromosomes who also match on portions of the Native segments.

Now that I have a pointer in the ancestral direction that these Native American segments arrived from, what can traditional genealogy and other DNA information tell me?

Traditional Genealogy Research

The Acadian people were a mixture of English, French and Native American. The Acadians settled on the island of Nova Scotia in 1609 and lived there until being driven out by the English in 1755, roughly 6 or 7 generations later.

Minority ethnicity Acadian map.png

The Acadians intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people.

It had been reported by two very qualified genealogists that Philippe Mius, born in 1660, married two Native American women from the Mi’kmaq tribe given the name Marie.

The French were fond of giving the first name of Marie to Native women when they were baptized in the Catholic faith which was required before the French men were allowed to marry the Native women. There were many Native women named Marie who married European men.

Minority ethnicity Native mitochondrial tree

Click to enlarge

This Mius lineage is ancestral to Antoine Lore (Lord) as shown on my pedigree, above.

Mitochondrial DNA has revealed that descendants from one of Philippe Mius’s wives, Marie, carry haplogroup A2f1a.

However, mitochondrial tests of other descendants of “Marie,” his first wife, carry haplogroup X2a2, also Native American.

Confusion has historically existed over which Marie is the mother of my ancestor, Francoise.

Karen Theroit Reader, another professional genealogist, shows Francoise Mius as the last child born to the first Native wife before her death sometime after 1684 and before about 1687 when Philippe remarried.

However, relative to the source of Native American segments, whether Francoise descends from the first or second wife doesn’t matter in this instance because both are Native and are proven so by their mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Additionally, on Antoine’s mother’s side, we find a Doucet male, although there are two genetic male Doucet lines, one of European origin, haplogroup R-L21, and one, surprisingly, of Native origin, haplogroup C-P39. Both are proven by their respective haplogroups but confusion exists genealogically over who descends from which lineage.

On Antoine’s mother’s side, there are several unidentified lineages, any one or multiples of which could also be Native. As you can see, there are large gaps in my tree.

We do know that these Native segments arrived through Antoine Lore and his parents, Honore Lore and Marie LaFaille. We don’t know exactly who upstream contributed these segments – at least not yet. Painting additional matches attributable to specific ancestral couples will eventually narrow the candidates and allow me to walk these segments back in time to their rightful contributor.

Segments, Traditional Research and DNAPainter

These three tools together, when using continent-level segments in combination with painting the DNA segments of known cousins that match specific lineages create a triangulated ethnicity segment.

When that segment just happens to be genealogically important, this combination can point the researchers in the right direction knowing which lines to search for that minority ancestor.

If your cousins who match you on this segment have also tested with 23andMe, they should also be identified as Native on this same segment. This process does not apply to intracontinental segments, meaning within Europe, because the admixture is too great and the ethnicity predictions are much less reliable.

When identifying minority admixture at the continental level, adding Y and mitochondrial DNA testing to the mix in order to positively identify each individual ancestor’s Y and mitochondrial DNA is very important in both eliminating and confirming what autosomal DNA and genealogy records alone can’t do. The base haplogroup as assigned at 23andMe is a good start, but it’s not enough alone. Plus, we only carry one line of mitochondrial DNA and only males carry Y DNA, and only their direct paternal line.

We need Y and mitochondrial DNA matching at FamilyTreeDNA to verify the specific lineage. Additionally, we very well may need the Y and mitochondrial DNA information that we don’t directly carry – but other cousins do. You can read about Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, here.

I wrote about creating a personal DNA pedigree chart including your ancestors’ Y and mitochondrial DNA here. In order to find people descended from a specific ancestor who have DNA tested, I utilize:

  • WikiTree resources and trees
  • Geni trees
  • FamilySearch trees
  • FamilyTreeDNA autosomal matches with trees
  • AncestryDNA autosomal matches and their associated trees
  • Ancestry trees in general, meaning without knowing if they are related to a DNA match
  • MyHeritage autosomal matches and their trees
  • MyHeritage trees in general

At both MyHeritage and Ancestry, you can view the trees of your matches, but you can also search for ancestors in other people’s trees to see who might descend appropriately to provide a Y or mitochondrial DNA sample. You will probably need a subscription to maximize these efforts. My Heritage offers a free trial subscription here.

If you find people appropriately descended through WikiTree, Geni or FamilySearch, you’ll need to discuss DNA testing with them. They may have already tested someplace.

If you find people who have DNA tested through your DNA matches with trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage, you’ll need to offer a Y or mitochondrial DNA test to them if they haven’t already tested at FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor who provides the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests at the higher resolution level, beyond base haplogroups, required for matching and for a complete haplogroup designation.

If the person has taken the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA, they may have already tested their Y DNA and mtDNA, or you can offer to upgrade their test.

Projects

Checking projects at FamilyTreeDNA can be particularly useful when trying to discover if anyone from a specific lineage has already tested. There are many, special interest projects such as the Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project, the American Indian project, haplogroup projects, surname projects and more.

You can view projects alphabetically here or you can click here to scroll down to enter the surname or topic you are seeking.

Minority ethnicity project search.png

If the topic isn’t listed, check the alphabetic index under Geographical Projects.

23andMe Maternal and Paternal Sides

If possible, you’ll want to determine which “side” of your family your minority segments originate come from, unless they come from both. you’ll want to determine whether chromosome side one 1 or 2 is maternal, because the other one will be paternal.

23andMe doesn’t offer tree functionality in the same way as other vendors, so you won’t be able to identify people there descended from your ancestors without contacting each person or doing other sleuthing.

Recently, 23andMe added a link to FamilySearch that creates a list of your ancestors from their mega-shared tree for 7 generations, but there is no tree matching or search functionality. You can read about the FamilySearch connection functionality here.

So, how do you figure out which “side” is which?

Minority ethnicity minority segment.png

The chart above represents the portion of your chromosomes that contains your minority ancestry. Initially, you don’t know if the minority segment is your mother’s pink chromosome or your father’s blue chromosome. You have one chromosome from each parent with the exact same addresses or locations, so it’s impossible to tell which side is which without additional information. Either the pink or the blue segment is minority, but how can you tell?

In my case, the family oral history regarding Native American ancestry was from my father’s line, but the actual Native segments wound up being from my mother, not my father. Had I made an assumption, it would have been incorrect.

Fortunately, in our example, you have both a maternal and paternal aunt who have tested at 23andMe. You match both aunts on that exact same segment location – one from your father’s side, blue, and one from your mother’s side, pink.

You compare your match with your maternal aunt and verify that indeed, you do match her on that segment.

You’ll want to determine if 23andMe has flagged that segment as Native American for your maternal aunt too.

You can view your aunt’s Ancestry Composition by selecting your aunt from the “Your Connections” dropdown list above your own ethnicity chromosome painting.

Minority ethnicity relative connections.png

You can see on your aunt’s chromosomes that indeed, those locations on her chromosomes are Native as well.

Minority ethnicity relative minority segments.png

Now you’ve identified your minority segment as originating on your maternal side.

Minority ethnicity Native side.png

Let’s say you have another match, Match 1, on that same segment. You can easily tell which “side” Match 1 is from. Since you know that you match your maternal aunt on that minority segment, if Match 1 matches both you and your maternal aunt, then you know that’s the side the match is from – AND that person also shares that minority segment.

You can also view that person’s Ancestry Composition as well, but shared matching is more reliable,especially when dealing with small amounts of minority admixture.

Another person, Match 2, matches you on that same segment, but this time, the person matches you and your paternal aunt, so they don’t share your minority segment.

Minority ethnicity match side.png

Even if your paternal aunt had not tested, because Match 2 does not match you AND your maternal aunt, you know Match 2 doesn’t share your minority segment which you can confirm by checking their Ancestry Composition.

Download All of Your Matches

Rather than go through your matches one by one, it’s easiest to download your entire match list so you can see which people match you on those chromosome locations.

Minority ethnicity download aggregate data.png

You can click on “Download Aggregate Data” at 23andMe, at the bottom of your DNA Relatives match list to obtain all of your matches who are sharing with you. 23andMe limits your matches to 2000 or less, the actual number being your highest 2000 matches minus the people who aren’t sharing. I have 1465 matches showing and that number decreases regularly as new testers at 23andMe are focused on health and not genealogy, meaning lower matches get pushed off the list of 2000 match candidates.

You can quickly sort the spreadsheet to see who matches you on specific segments. Then, you can check each match in the system to see if that person matches you and another known relative on the minority segments or you can check their Ancestry Composition, or both.

If they share your minority segment, then you can check their tree link if they have one, included in the download, their Family Search information if included on their account, or reach out to them to see if you might share a known ancestor.

The key to making your ethnicity segment work for you is to identify ancestors and paint known matches.

Paint Those Matches

When searching for matches whose DNA you can attribute to specific ancestors, be sure to check at all 4 places that provide segment information that you can paint:

At GedMatch, you’ll find some people who have tested at the other various vendors, including Ancestry, but unfortunately not everyone uploads. Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information, so you won’t be able to paint those matches directly from Ancestry.

If your Ancestry matches transfer to GedMatch, FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage you can view your match and paint your common segments. At GedMatch, Ancestry kit numbers begin with an A. I use my Ancestry kit matches at GedMatch to attempt to figure out who that match is at Ancestry in order to attempt to figure out the common ancestor.

To Paint, You Must Test

Of course, in order to paint your matches that you find in various databases, you need to be in those data bases, meaning you either need to test there or transfer your DNA file.

Transfers

If you’d like to test your DNA at one vendor and download the file to transfer to another vendor, or GedMatch, that’s possible with both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage who both accept uploads.

You can transfer kits from Ancestry and 23andMe to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free, although the chromosome browsers, advanced tools and ethnicity require an unlock fee (or alternatively a subscription at MyHeritage). Still, the free transfer and unlock for $19 at FamilyTreeDNA or $29 at MyHeritage is less than the cost of testing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

DNA vendor transfer cheat sheet 2019

From time to time, as vendor file formats change, the ability to transfer is temporarily interrupted, but it costs nothing to try a transfer to either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, or better yet, both.

In each of these articles, I wrote about how to download your data from a specific vendor and how to upload from other vendors if they accept uploads.

Summary Steps

In order to use your minority ethnicity segments in your genealogy, you need to:

  1. Test at 23andMe
  2. Identify which parental side your minority ethnicity segments are from, if possible
  3. Download your ethnicity segments
  4. Establish a DNAPainter account
  5. Upload your ethnicity segments to DNAPainter
  6. Paint matches of people with whom you share known common ancestors utilizing segment information from 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA matches who have uploaded to GedMatch
  7. If you have not tested at either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, upload your 23andMe file to either vendor for matching, along with GedMatch
  8. Focus on those minority segments to determine which ancestral line they descend through in order to identify the ancestor(s) who provided your minority admixture.

Have fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water

First steps helix

Recently someone asked me what the first steps would be for a person who wasn’t terribly familiar with genealogy and had just received their DNA test results.

I wrote an article called DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching which was meant to show new folks what the various vendor interfaces look like. I was hoping this might whet their appetites for more, meaning that the tester might, just might, stick their toe into the genealogy waters😊

I’m hoping this article will help them get hooked! Maybe that’s you!

A Guide

This article can be read in one of two ways – as an overview, or, if you click the links, as a pretty thorough lesson. If you’re new, I strongly suggest reading it as an overview first, then a second time as a deeper dive. Use it as a guide to navigate your results as you get your feet wet.

I’ll be hotlinking to various articles I’ve written on lots of topics, so please take a look at details (eventually) by clicking on those links!

This article is meant as a guideline for what to do, and how to get started with your DNA matching results!

If you’re looking for ethnicity information, check out the First Glances article, plus here and here and here.

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages provides you with guidelines for how to estimate your own ethnicity percentages based on your known genealogy and Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum explains how ethnicity testing is done.

OK, let’s get started. Fun awaits!

The Goal

The goal for using DNA matching in genealogy depends on your interests.

  1. To discover cousins and family members that you don’t know. Some people are interested in finding and meeting relatives who might have known their grandparents or great-grandparents in the hope of discovering new family information or photos they didn’t know existed previously. I’ve been gifted with my great-grandparent’s pictures, so this strategy definitely works!
  2. To confirm ancestors. This approach presumes that you’ve done at least a little genealogy, enough to construct at least a rudimentary tree. Ancestors are “confirmed” when you DNA match multiple other people who descend from the same ancestor through multiple children. I wrote an article, Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?, discussing how much evidence is enough to actually confirm an ancestor. Confirmation is based on a combination of both genealogical records and DNA matching and it varies depending on the circumstances.
  3. Adoptees and people with unknown parents seeking to discover the identities of those people aren’t initially looking at their own family tree – because they don’t have one yet. The genealogy of others can help them figure out the identity of those mystery people. I wrote about that technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

DNAAdoption for Everyone

Educational resources for adoptees and non-adoptees alike can be found at www.dnaadoption.org. DNAAdoption is not just for adoptees and provides first rate education for everyone. They also provide trained and mentored search angels for adoptees who understand the search process along with the intricacies of navigating the emotional minefield of adoption and unknown parent searches.

First Look” classes for each vendor are free for everyone at DNAAdoption and are self-paced, downloadable onto your computer as a pdf file. Intro to DNA, Applied Autosomal DNA and Y DNA Basics classes are nominally priced at between $29 and $49 and I strongly recommend these. DNAAdoption is entirely non-profit, so your class fee or contribution supports their work. Additional resources can be found here and their 12 adoptee search steps here.

Ok, now let’s look at your results.

Matches are the Key

Regardless of your goal, your DNA matches are the key to finding answers, whether you want to make contact with close relatives, prove your more distant ancestors or you’re involved in an adoptee or unknown parent search.

Your DNA matches that of other people because each of you inherited a piece of DNA, called a segment, where many locations are identical. The length of that DNA segment is measured in centiMorgans and those locations are called SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms. You can read about the definition of a centimorgan and how they are used in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’Crab.

While the scientific details are great, they aren’t important initially. What is important is to understand that the more closely you match someone, the more closely you are related to them. You share more DNA with close relatives than more distant relatives.

For example, I share exactly half of my mother’s DNA, but only about 25% of each of my grandparents’ DNA. As the relationships move further back in time, I share less and less DNA with other people who descend from those same ancestors.

Informational Tools

Every vendor’s match page looks different, as was illustrated in the First Glances article, but regardless, you are looking for four basic pieces of information:

  • Who you match
  • How much DNA you share with your match
  • Who else you and your match share that DNA with, which suggests that you all share a common ancestor
  • Family trees to reveal the common ancestor between people who match each other

Every vendor has different ways of displaying this information, and not all vendors provide everything. For example, 23andMe does not support trees, although they allow you to link to one elsewhere. Ancestry does not provide a tool called a chromosome browser which allows you to see if you and others match on the same segment of DNA. Ancestry only tells you THAT you match, not HOW you match.

Each vendor has their strengths and shortcomings. As genealogists, we simply need to understand how to utilize the information available.

I’ll be using examples from all 4 major vendors:

Your matches are the most important information and everything else is based on those matches.

Family Tree DNA

I have tested many family members from both sides of my family at Family Tree DNA using the Family Finder autosomal test which makes my matches there incredibly useful because I can see which family members, in addition to me, my matches match.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal and paternal sides in a unique way, even if your parents haven’t tested, so long as some close relatives have tested. Let’s take a look.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matches.png

Sign on to your account and click to see your matches.

At the top of your Family Finder matches page, you’ll see three groups of things, shown below.

First Steps Family Tree DNA bucketing

Click to enlarge

A row of tools at the top titled Chromosome Browser, In Common With and Not in Common With.

A second row of tabs that include All, Paternal, Maternal and Both. These are the maternal and paternal tabs I mentioned, meaning that I have a total of 4645 matches, 988 of which are from my paternal side and 847 of which are from my maternal side.

Family Tree DNA assigns people to these “buckets” based on matches with third cousins or closer if you have them attached in your tree. This is why it’s critical to have a tree and test close relatives, especially people from earlier generations like aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles and their children if they are no longer living.

If you have one or both parents that can test, that’s a wonderful boon because anyone who matches you and one of your parents is automatically bucketed, or phased (scientific term) to that parent’s side of the tree. However, at Family Tree DNA, it’s not required to have a parent test to have some matches assigned to maternal or paternal sides. You just need to test third cousins or closer and attach them to the proper place in your tree.

How does bucketing work?

Maternal or Paternal “Side” Assignment, aka Bucketing

If I match a maternal first cousin, Cheryl, for example, and we both match John Doe on the same segment, John Doe is automatically assigned to my maternal bucket with a little maternal icon placed beside the match.

First Steps Family Tree DNA match info

Click to enlarge

Every vendor provides an estimated or predicted relationship based on a combination of total centiMorgans and the longest contiguous matching segment. The actual “linked relationship” is calculated based on where this person resides in your tree.

The common surnames at far right are a very nice features, but not every tester provides that information. When the testers do include surnames at Family Tree DNA, common surnames are bolded. Other vendors have similar features.

People with trees are shown near their profile picture with a blue pedigree icon. Clicking on the pedigree icon will show you their ancestors. Your matches estimated relationship to you indicates how far back you should expect to share an ancestor.

For example, first cousins share grandparents. Second cousins share great-grandparents. In general, the further back in time your common ancestor, the less DNA you can be expected to share.

You can view relationship information in chart form in my article here or utilize DNAPainter tools, here, to see the various possibilities for the different match levels.

Clicking on the pedigree chart of your match will show you their tree. In my tree, I’ve connected my parents in their proper places, along with Cheryl and Don, mother’s first cousins. (Yes, they’ve given permission for me to utilize their results, so they aren’t always blurred in images.)

Cheryl and Don are my first cousins once removed, meaning my mother is their first cousin and I’m one generation further down the tree. I’m showing the amount of DNA that I share with each of them in red in the format of total DNA shared and longest unbroken segment, taken from the match list. So 382-53 means I share a total of 382 cM and 53 cM is the longest matching block.

First Steps Family Tree DNA tree.png

The Chromosome Browser

Utilizing the chromosome browser, I can see exactly where I match both Don and Cheryl. It’s obvious that I match them on at least some different pieces of my DNA, because the total and longest segment amounts are different.

The reason it’s important to test lots of close relatives is because even siblings inherit different pieces of DNA from their parents, and they don’t pass the same DNA to their offspring either – so in each generation the amount of shared DNA is probably reduced. I say probably because sometimes segments are passed entirely and sometimes not at all, which is how we “lose” our ancestors’ DNA over the generations.

Here’s a matching example utilizing a chromosome browser.

First Steps Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.png

I clicked the checkboxes to the left of both Cheryl and Don on the match page, then the Chromosome Browser button, and now you can see, above, on chromosomes 1-16 where I match Cheryl (blue) and Don (red.)

In this view, both Don and Cheryl are being compared to me, since I’m the one signed in to my account and viewing my DNA matches. Therefore, one of the bars at each chromosome represents Don’s DNA match to me and one represents Cheryl’s. Cheryl is the first person and Don is the second. Person match colors (red and blue) are assigned arbitrarily by the system.

My grandfather and Cheryl/Don’s father, Roscoe, were siblings.

You can see that on some segments, my grandfather and Roscoe inherited the same segment of DNA from their parents, because today, my mother gave me that exact same segment that I share with both Don and Cheryl. Those segments are exactly identical and shown in the black boxes.

The only way for us to share this DNA today is for us to have shared a common ancestor who gave it to two of their children who passed it on to their descendants who DNA tested today.

On other segments, in red boxes, I share part of the same segments of DNA with Cheryl and Don, but someone along the line didn’t inherit all of that segment. For example on chromosome 3, in the red box, you can see that I share more with Cheryl (blue) than Don (red.)

In other cases, I share with either Don or Cheryl, but Don and Cheryl didn’t inherit that same segment of DNA from their father, so I don’t share with both of them. Those are the areas where you see only blue or only red.

On chromosome 12, you can see where it looks like Don’s and Cheryl’s segments butt up against each other. The DNA was clearly divided there. Don received one piece and Cheryl got the other. That’s known as a crossover and you can read about crossovers here, if you’d like.

It’s important to be able to view segment information to be able to see how others match in order to identify which common ancestor that DNA came from.

In Common With

You can use the “In Common With” tool to see who you match in common with any match. My first 6 matches in common with Cheryl are shown below. Note that they are already all bucketed to my maternal side.

First Steps Family Tree DNA in common with

click to enlarge

You can click on up to 7 individuals in the check box at left to show them on the chromosome browser at once to see if they match you on common segments.

Each matching segment has its own history and may descend from a different ancestor in your common tree.

First Steps 7 match chromosome browser

click to enlarge

If combinations of people do match me on a common segment, because these matches are all on my maternal side, they are triangulated and we know they have to descend from a common ancestor, assuming the segment is large enough. You can read about the concept of triangulation here. Triangulation occurs when 3 or more people (who aren’t extremely closely related like parents or siblings) all match each other on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.

If you want to download your matches and work through this process in a spreadsheet, that’s an option too.

Size Matters

Small segments can be identical by chance instead of identical by descent.

  • “Identical by chance” means that you accidentally match someone because your DNA on that segment has been combined from both parents and causes it to match another person, making the segment “looks like” it comes from a common ancestor, when it really doesn’t. When DNA is sequenced, both your mother and father’s strands are sequenced, meaning that there’s no way to determine which came from whom. Think of a street with Mom’s side and Dad’s side with identical addresses on the houses on both sides. I wrote about that here.
  • “Identical by descent” means that the DNA is identical because it actually descends from a common ancestor. I discussed that concept in the article, We Match, But Are We Related.

Generally, we only utilize 7cM (centiMorgan) segments and above because at that level, about half of the segments are identical by descent and about half are identical by chance, known as false positives. By the time we move above 15 cM, most, but not all, matches are legitimate. You can read about segment size and accuracy here.

Using “In Common With” and the Matrix

“In Common With” is about who shares DNA. You can select someone you match to see who else you BOTH match. Just because you match two other people doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s on the same segment of DNA. In fact, you could match one person from your mother’s side and the other person from your father’s side.

First Steps match matrix.png

In this example, you match Person B due to ancestor John Doe and Person C due to ancestor Susie Smith. However, Person B also matches person C, but due to ancestor William West that they share and you don’t.

This example shows you THAT they match, but not HOW they match.

The only way to assure that the matches between the three people above are due to the same ancestor is to look at the segments with a chromosome browser and compare all 3 people to each other. Finding 3 people who match on the same segment, from the same side of your tree means that (assuming a reasonably large segment) you share a common ancestor.

Family Tree DNA has a nice matrix function that allows you to see which of your matches also match each other.

First steps matrix link

click to enlarge

The important distinction between the matrix and the chromosome browser is that the chromosome browser shows you where your matches match you, but those matches could be from both sides of your tree, unless they are bucketed. The matrix shows you if your matches also match each other, which is a huge clue that they are probably from the same side of your tree.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matrix.png

A matrix match is a significant clue in terms of who descends from which ancestors. For example, I know, based on who Amy matches, and who she doesn’t match, that she descends from the Ferverda side and that Charles, Rex and Maxine descend from ancestors on the Miller side.

Looking in the chromosome browser, I can tell that Cheryl, Don, Amy and I match on some common segments.

Matching multiple people on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor is called triangulation.

Let’s take a look at the MyHeritage triangulation tool.

MyHeritage

Moving now to MyHeritage who provides us with an easy to use triangulation tool, we see the following when clicking on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

First Steps MyHeritage matches

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Cousin Cheryl is at MyHeritage too. By clicking on Review DNA Match, the purple button on the right, I can see who else I match in common with Cheryl, plus triangulation.

The list of people Cheryl and I both match is shown below, along with our relationships to each person.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation

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I’ve selected 2 matches to illustrate.

The first match has a little purple icon to the right which means that Amy triangulates with me and Cheryl.

The second match, Rex, means that while we both match Rex, it’s not on the same segment. I know that without looking further because there is no triangulation button. We both match Rex, but Cheryl matches Rex on a different segment than I do.

Without additional genealogy work, using DNA alone, I can’t say whether or not Cheryl, Rex and I all share a common ancestor. As it turns out, we do. Rex is a known cousin who I tested. However, in an unknown situation, I would have to view the trees of those matches to make that determination.

Triangulation

Clicking on the purple triangulation icon for Amy shows me the segments that all 3 of us, me, Amy and Cheryl share in common as compared to me.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation chromosome browser.png

Cheryl is red and Amy is yellow. The one segment bracketed with the rounded rectangle is the segment shared by all 3 of us.

Do we have a common ancestor? I know Cheryl and I do, but maybe I don’t know who Amy is. Let’s look at Amy’s tree which is also shown if I scroll down.

First Steps MyHeritage common ancestor.png

Amy didn’t have her tree built out far enough to show our common ancestor, but I immediately recognized the surname Ferveda found in her tree a couple of generations back. Darlene was the daughter of Donald Ferverda who was the son of Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather.

Hiram was the father of Cheryl’s father, Roscoe and my grandfather, John Ferverda.

First Steps Hiram Ferverda pedigree.png

Amy is my first cousin twice removed and that segment of DNA that I share with her is from either Hiram Ferverda or his wife Eva Miller.

Now, based on who else Amy matches, I can probably tell whether that segment descends from Hiram or Eva.

Viva triangulation!

Theory of Family Relativity

MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity provides theories to people whose DNA matches regarding their common ancestor if MyHeritage can calculate how the 2 people are potentially related.

MyHeritage uses a combination of tools to make that connection, including:

  • DNA matches
  • Your tree
  • Your match’s tree
  • Other people’s trees at MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geni if the common ancestor cannot be found in your tree compared against your DNA match’s MyHeritage
  • Documents in the MyHeritage data collection, such as census records, for example.

MyHeritage theory update

To view the Theories, click on the purple “View Theories” banner or “View theory” under the DNA match.

First Steps MyHeritage theory of relativity

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The theory is displayed in summary format first.

MyHeritage view full theory

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You can click on the “View Full Theory” to see the detail and sources about how MyHeritage calculated various paths. I have up to 5 different theories that utilize separate resources.

MyHeritage review match

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A wonderful aspect of this feature is that MyHeritage shows you exactly the information they utilized and calculates a confidence factor as well.

All theories should be viewed as exactly that and should be evaluated critically for accuracy, taking into consideration sources and documentation.

I wrote about using Theories of Relativity, with instructions, here and here.

I love this tool and find the Theories mostly accurate.

AncestryDNA

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser or triangulation but does offer a tree view for people that you match, so long as you have a subscription. In the past, a special “Light” subscription for DNA only was available for approximately $49 per year that provided access to the trees of your DNA matches and other DNA-related features. You could not order online and had to call support, sometimes asking for a supervisor in order to purchase that reduced-cost subscription. The “Light” subscription did not provide access to anything outside of DNA results, meaning documents, etc. I don’t know if this is still available.

After signing on, click on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

You’ll see the following match list.

First Steps Ancestry matches

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I’ve tested twice at Ancestry, the second time when they moved to their new chip, so I’m my own highest match. Click on any match name to view more.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches

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You’ll see information about common ancestors if you have some in your trees, plus the amount of shared DNA along with a link to Shared Matches.

I found one of the same cousins at Ancestry whose match we were viewing at MyHeritage, so let’s see what her match to me at Ancestry looks like.

Below are my shared matches with that cousin. The notes to the right are mine, not provided by Ancestry. I make extensive use of the notes fields provided by the vendors.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches with cousin

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On your match list, you can click on any match, then on Shared Matches to see who you both match in common. While Ancestry provides no chromosome browser, you can see the amount of DNA that you share and trees, if any exist.

Let’s look at a tree comparison when a common ancestor can be detected in a tree within the past 7 generations.

First Steps Ancestry view ThruLines.png

What’s missing of course is that I can’t see how we match because there’s no chromosome browser, nor can I see if my matches match each other.

Stitched Trees

What I can see, if I click on “View ThruLines” above or ThruLines on the DNA Summary page on the main DNA tab is all of the people I match who Ancestry THINKS we descend from a common ancestor. This ancestor information isn’t always taken from either person’s tree.

For example, if my match hadn’t included Hiram Ferverda in her tree, Ancestry would use other people’s trees to “stitch them together” such that the tester is shown to be descended from a common ancestor with me. Sometimes these stitched trees are accurate and sometimes they are not, although they have improved since they were first released. I wrote about ThruLines here.

First Steps Ancestry ThruLines tree

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In closer generations, especially if you are looking to connect with cousins, tree matching is a very valuable tool. In the graphic above, you can see all of the cousins who descend from Hiram Ferverda who have tested and DNA match to me. These DNA matches to me either descend from Hiram according to their trees, or Ancestry believes they descend from Hiram based on other people’s trees.

With more distant ancestors, other people’s trees are increasingly likely to be copied with no sources, so take them with a very large grain of salt (perchance the entire salt lick.) I use ThruLines as hints, not gospel, especially the further back in time the common ancestor. I wish they reached back another couple of generations. They are great hints and they end with the 7th generation where my brick walls tend to begin!

23andMe

I haven’t mentioned 23andMe yet in this article. Genealogists do test there, especially adoptees who need to fish in every pond.

23andMe is often the 4th choice of the major 4 vendors for genealogy due to the following challenges:

  • No tree support, other than allowing you to link to a tree at FamilySearch or elsewhere. This means no tree matching.
  • Less than 2000 matches, meaning that every person is limited to a maximum of 2000 matches, minus however many of those 2000 don’t opt-in for genealogical matching. Given that 23andMe’s focus is increasingly health, my number of matches continues to decrease and is currently just over 1500. The good news is that those 1500 are my highest, meaning closest matches. The bad news is the genealogy is not 23andMe’s focus.

If you are an adoptee, a die-hard genealogist or specifically interested in ethnicity, then test at 23andMe. Otherwise all three of the other vendors would be better choices.

However, like the other vendors, 23andMe does have some features that are unique.

Their ethnicity predictions are acknowledged to be excellent. Ethnicity at 23andMe is called Ancestry Composition, and you’ll see that immediately when you sign in to your account.

First Steps 23andMe DNA Relatives.png

Your matches at 23andMe are found under DNA Relatives.

First Steps 23andMe tools

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At left, you’ll find filters and the search box.

Mom’s and Dad’s side filter matches if you’ve tested your parents, but it’s not like the Family Tree DNA bucketing that provides maternal and paternal side bucketing by utilizing through third cousins if your parents aren’t available for testing.

Family names aren’t your family names, but the top family names that match to you. Guess what my highest name is? Smith.

However, Ancestor Birthplaces are quite useful because you can sort by country. For example, my mother’s grandfather Ferverda was born in the Netherlands.

First Steps 23andMe country.png

If I click on Netherlands, I can see my 5 matches with ancestors born in the Netherlands. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I match because of my match’s Dutch ancestors, but it does provide me with a place to look for a common ancestor and I can proceed by seeing who I match in common with those matches. Unfortunately, without trees we’re left to rely on ancestor birthplaces and family surnames, if my matches have entered that information.

One of my Dutch matches also matches my Ferverda cousin. Given that connection, and that the Ferverda family immigrated from Holland in 1868, that’s a starting point.

MyHeritage has a similar features and they are much more prevalent in Europe.

By clicking on my Ferverda cousin, I can view the DNA we share, who we match in common, our common ethnicity and more. I have the option of comparing multiple people in the chromosome browser by clicking on “View DNA Comparison” and then selecting who I wish to compare.

First Steps 23andMe view DNA Comparison.png

By scrolling down instead of clicking on View DNA Comparison, I can view where my Ferverda cousin matches me on my chromosomes, shown below.

First STeps 23andMe chromosome browser.png

23andMe identifies completely identical segments which would be painted in dark purple, the legend at bottom left.

Adoptees love this feature because it would immediately differentiate between half and full siblings. Full siblings share approximately 25% of the exact DNA on both their maternal and paternal strands of DNA, while half siblings only share the DNA from one parent – assuming their parents aren’t closely related. I share no completely identical DNA with my Ferverda cousin, so no segments are painted dark purple.

23andMe and Ancestry Maps Show Where Your Matches Live

Another reason that adoptees and people searching for birth parents or unknown relatives like 23andMe is because of the map function.

After clicking on DNA Relatives, click on the Map function at the top of the page which displays the following map.

First Steps 23andMe map

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This isn’t a map of where your matches ancestors lived, but is where your matches THEMSELVES live. Furthermore, you can zoom in, click on the button and it displays the name of the individual and the city where they live or whatever they entered in the location field.

First Steps 23andMe your location on map.png

I entered a location in my profile and confirmed that the location indeed displays on my match’s maps by signing on to another family member’s account. What I saw is the display above. I’d wager that most testers don’t realize that their home location and photo, if entered, is being displayed to their matches.

I think sharing my ancestors’ locations is a wonderful, helpful, idea, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to know where I live and I feel it’s stalker-creepy and a safety risk.

First Steps 23andMe questions.png

If you enter a location in this field in your profile, it displays on the map.

If you test with 23andMe and you don’t want your location to display on this map to your matches, don’t answer any question that asks you where you call home or anything similar. I never answer any questions at 23andMe. They are known for asking you the same question repeatedly, in multiple locations and ways, until you relent and answer.

Ancestry has a similar map feature and they’ve also begun to ask you questions that are unrelated to genealogy.

Ancestry Map Shows Where Your Matches Live

At Ancestry, when you click to see your DNA matches, look to the right at the map link.

First Steps Ancestry map link.png

By clicking on this link, you can see the locations that people have entered into their profile.

First Steps Ancestry match map.png

As you can see, above, I don’t have a location entered and I am prompted for one. Note that Ancestry does specifically say that this location will be shown to your matches.

You can click on the Ancestry Profile link here, or go to your Personal Profile by click the dropdown under your user name in the upper right hand corner of any page.

This is important because if you DON’T want your location to show, you need to be sure there is nothing entered in the location field.

First Steps Ancestry profile.png

Under your profile, click “Edit.”

First Steps Ancestry edit profile.png

After clicking edit, complete the information you wish to have public or remove the information you do not.

First Steps Ancestry location in profile.png

Sometimes Your Answer is a Little More Complicated

This is a First Steps article. Sometimes the answer you seek might be a little more complicated. That’s why there are specialists who deal with this all day, everyday.

What issues might be more complex?

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about these things for now. Just know when you run into something more complex or that doesn’t make sense, I’m here and so are others. Here’s a link to my Help page.

Getting Started

What do you need to get started?

  • You need to take a DNA test, or more specifically, multiple DNA tests. You can test at Ancestry or 23andMe and transfer your results to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, or you can test directly at all vendors.

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accept uploads, meaning other vendors tests, but both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA accept most file versions. Instructions for how to download and upload your DNA results are found below, by vendor:

Both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA charge a minimal fee to unlock their advanced features such as chromosome browsers and ethnicity if you upload transfer files, but it’s less costly in both cases than testing directly. However, if you want the MyHeritage DNA plus Health or the Family Tree DNA Y DNA or Mitochondrial DNA tests, you must test directly at those companies for those tests.

  • It’s not required, but it would be in your best interest to build as much of a tree at all three vendors as you can. Every little bit helps.

Your first tree-building step should be to record what your family knows about your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. Here’s what my first step attempt looked like. It’s cringe-worthy now, but everyone has to start someplace. Just do it!

You can build a tree at either Ancestry or MyHeritage and download your tree for uploading at the other vendors. Or, you can build the tree using genealogy software on your computer and upload to all 3 places. I maintain my primary tree on my computer using RootsMagic. There are many options. MyHeritage even provides free tree builder software.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer research/data subscriptions that provide you with hints to historical documents that increase what you know about your ancestors. The MyHeritage subscription can be tried for free. I have full subscriptions to both Ancestry and MyHeritage because they both include documents in their collections that the other does not.

Please be aware that document suggestions are hints and each one needs to be evaluated in the context of what you know and what’s reasonable. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1750, they are not included in the 1900 census, nor do women have children at age 70. People do have exactly the same names. FindAGrave information is entered by humans and is not always accurate. Just sayin’…

Evaluate critically and skeptically.

Ok, Let’s Go!

When your DNA results are ready, sign on to each vendor, look at your matches and use this article to begin to feel your way around. It’s exciting and the promise is immense. Feel free to share the link to this article on social media or with anyone else who might need help.

You are the cumulative product of your ancestors. What better way to get to know them than through their DNA that’s shared between you and your cousins!

What can you discover today?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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