Mary Lytle Hickerson (c1720/5 – 1793/4), Died at Mulberry Fields – 52 Ancestors #266

We don’t know who Mary’s parents are, but Mary Lytle’s surname comes from two sources. First, an 1877 letter written from her unnamed granddaughter in Texas to a relative in Wilkes County provides us with this information:

Nacogdoches, Texas.

May the 20th, 1877

Dr. Hickison

Dear Sir,

I write you in regard to a business matter.

You will doubtless be surprised to hear from one of Elizabeth Hickison’s daughters. My mother was daughter of Charles Hickison of North Carolina. He was buried at the Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin River, Wilkes County, North Carolina. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mollie Little. She was from Scotland. Grandfather was from England. I write you the particulars so you will know who I am. My mother married a Stuart. I was 3 years old when we left that country. My age is 86 years. I have been a widow 34 years.

(remainder of letter is missing)

Comments by Felix Hickerson:

I think it is undoubtedly true that the Charles Hickison here referred to was the father of David Hickerson and the grandfather of Litle (Lytle) Hickerson.

Whether Hickerson was originally spelled “Hickison” is doubtful, as an old lady, aged 86, living so far away, could easily become careless about the spelling when perhaps others adopted the simplified spelling.

“Mulberry Fields” was the original site of the town of Wilkesboro. It was the central meeting place for a large neighborhood.

It’s very unfortunate that rest of the letter was lost, including the name of the sender.

Felix Hickerson didn’t have access to online records in 1940 when he published this information, but I do.

I checked the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 census for women in Nacogdoches County born about 1791 in North Carolina.

In 1880, there were none, so the author had presumably passed away by then.

In 1870, we find Jane Anderson, age 78, born in North Carolina who cannot read or write. Hmmm. Just because the woman sent a letter doesn’t mean she actually scribed it herself.

Jane Anderson is living with J. B. Anderson, son of Benjamin Anderson, age 50 (born 1830) in Alabama.

There is no other female fitting this description in this county in 1870, or even close to this description, meaning born in North Carolina. Of course, we don’t know when she went to Texas.

In 1860, Jane Anderson, age 68, is living with Napoleon B. Anderson, age 26, born Alabama and Caledonia Anderson, age 18, born Texas. It appears that Jane can read and write.

In 1850, Jane Anderson, age 59, is married to Benjamin Anderson, age 92, living along with Jefferson Anderson, 20, Harriett 17, Doctor, 16, all born in Alabama. Were these Jane’s children?

I can’t find a record where Jane married Benjamin Anderson.

However, if Jane has been widowed 34 years in 1877, that tracks back to 1843, and Jane Anderson was clearly married in 1850.

Jane Anderson could be the wrong person, but if so, then where is the right person in the 1870 census? Or any census, for that matter?

Another inconsistency is that Mary Lytle Hickerson’s 1793 will very clearly calls forth her daughter, Mary Stewart, who clearly did marry a Stewart, Steward or Stuart, however you spell it.

Mary’s will does not mention a daughter named Elizabeth. However, Mary also did not mention Sarah and Rachel, and we know positively these two women were her daughters.

There’s no question that the author knew her mother’s name. She would not have mistaken Mary for Elizabeth, and middle names at the time her mother would have been born were exceedingly uncommon.

Is Elizabeth Hickerson who married a Stewart yet another unknown daughter? It’s certainly possible. In 1771, Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia (Harrison) Stewart who had son Samuel Stewart, the probable husband of Mary Hickerson Stewart. Lydia Stewart’s will also mentions sons Benjamin, Joseph, David, Samuel, Isaiah and John.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s husband, Charles Hickerson, didn’t have a will, so the will mentioning children is Mary’s.

Mary’s will named sons David and Joseph Hickerson, daughters Jane Miller and Mary Stewart, along with Mary’s son Samuel Hickerson, leaving the balance of her estate to “my daughters” without identifying them.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the name of the letter’s author was on the portion that is missing.

I’ve been unable to identify the author from the census and other available information.

Lytle as a First Name

In combination with the surname Little provided in the 1877 letter, we also have evidence in the form of the name Lytle being used as a first name for Mary Lytle Hickerson’s grandchildren. Spelling was, of course, arbitary and phoenetic at that time in history. Lytle and Little would have been pronounced the same way, so the spelling would have been the preference of the speller.

Mary Lytle Hickerson in North Carolina

We know very little about Mary from records that involve her before she signed the deed with an X when she and Charles sold land to their son, David on July 29, 1788. In fact, there is no direct evidence other than the fact that David, born between 1750 and 1760 named his son Lytle.

We know, positively, that Mary and Charles were living on Mulberry Creek ten years before the deed-signing, in 1778 when Charles made a land entry, and that they lived in Surry County, the part that woul,d become Wilkes in 1776 when a group of militia men marched to the Cherokee Towns.

It’s probable that by 1774 they had already settled along the Yadkin near what was then called Mulberry Fields, today the area just north of Wilkesboro. Charles was listed in the tax district of Col. Benjamin Cleveland who we know positively lived there.

The first record of Charles Hickerson in North Carolina isn’t on this part of the Yadkin River but about 15 miles west of what is today Winston-Salem.

On January 11, 1771, Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia Stewart. Her husband, Samuel, had died a few years before, leaving his land to two of his sons, but his moveable estate to Lydia.

It stands to reason that Lydia lived on that land until her death. In fact, based on her will, it seems apparent that she still lived in the old home place.

Charles Hickerson, and by extension, Mary, would have had to live in close proximity to Lydia to witness her will. It’s also worth mentioning that at least one of Mary’s daughters, Mary, married a Stewart, if not two daughters – meaning Elizabeth too. This might suggest that the Hickersons in fact lived very close to Lydia – close enough for their kids to court.

Where did Lydia Stewart live?

Lydia Stewart’s Land

I lucked out. Not only did my cousin, Carol, discover that indeed, Charles had witnessed Lydia’s will, along with his mark for a signature, but I discovered that Wes Patterson has researched the Stewarts extensively. You can see his website, here.

Based on Wes’s work, it looks like Lydia Stewart lived on land that her husband, Samuel, willed to sons Benjamin and Joseph.

This land was located near where the Great Wagon Road crossed the Yadkin River where modern Robinhood Road intersects Chickasha Road near Gorgales Creek, then known as Muddy Creek.

Samuel had a land grant for 640 acres on Muddy Creek above the head of Stewarts Run.

Today Stewart’s Creek is Shallowford/Country Club Road.

The old wagon road came into Lewisville at Shallowford Road near Lewisville-Vienna Road. Yadkinville Hwy., Old 421, crosses the Yadkin River at Old 421 River Park.

Then, Wes’s item #16 confirms the location on Bersheba Creek where Samuel Stewart Sr. and Lydia had lived.

I found and marked these locations on Google maps, here.

Mary Lytle Winston-Salem.png

I’ve marked these places on the map, above.

On the left, at 7699 Yadkinville Road we see where 421, aka the Old Wagon Road crossing the Yadkin. The dotted line dot above that is where the Bashavia Creek empties into the Yadkin. This is where Lydia and Samuel lived, and where Charles Hickerson would have witnessed her will.

I wonder if Charles was working on her land after arriving in North Carolina from wherever they came from.

The other Robinhood Road locations are 5901 Robinhood at Chickasha Road, mentioned by Wes, and 4600 where Robinhood crosses Muddy Creek.

At 1425 Lyndale, we find the head of Tomahawk Creek, then Stewart’s Run, mentioned in one of the deeds.

Mary Lytle Bashavia.png

I think it’s safe to say we’ve pretty well isolated where Lydia lived given that the deed says on both sides of Bashavia on the east side of the Yadkin, and we know that Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson lived someplace nearby.

Mary Lytle Muddy.png

The land around Winston-Salem is much flatter than further west in Wilkes County where Charles and Mary would settle permanently. Standing on the bridge below, looking north where the old Wagon Road crossed the Yadkin. Lydia and Samuel Stewart’s land would have been on the right, beyond the bend in the river.

Mary Lytle Yadkin.png

Moving on West

It appears that perhaps Charles and Mary checked things out here, and decided, for some reason, to keep moving west.

Mary Lytle Winston-Salem to Wilkesboro.png

Wilkesboro is about 45 miles further west on the Yadkin River, although the Yadkin does not follow 421, but arches north and then back south to Wilkesboro. Charles and Mary settled near Mulberry, north of Wilkesboro just a few miles. After the Revolution, they patented the land they had been living on where they lived the rest of their lives.

Note under item 15 that Les says that Samuel Stewart Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Winscott. He probably believed this to be true because Samuel Stewart Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth, sold land in 1774 mentioned in Lydia Stewart’s will.

I think that Wes might have been confused. Cousin Carol found the marriage bond of Elizabeth Winscott who married Thomas Benjamin Steward/Stuard on August 19, 1769. Either John or Joseph Stewart signed with Thomas, and Elizabeth appears to have been an orphan. Carol indicated that the original document was in very poor condition, badly smeared, and the transcribed version spelled the groom’s name as Benman Sheart. Carol found the record by reading the originals.

Therefore, we know that Elizabeth Winscot did indeed marry a son of Lydia’s, but not Samuel, who obviously was also married to an Elizabeth in 1774. The woman in the 1877 letter who was born in 1791 says that her mother’s name was Elizabeth Hickerson and she had married a Stewart – which certainly tells us that Elizabeth Hickerson Stewart was yet alive in 1791.

Either Mary Hickerson and Elizabeth Hickerson are one and the same person, or two of Mary Lytle Hickerson’s daughters married Stewart men.

Other than Mary Lytle Hickerson’s signature on the 1788 deed, the next we find of her is when she composed her will. Unfortunately, we don’t have a will for Charles Hickerson, so without Mary’s we would know little.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s Will

Mary Hickerson’s will was composed on December 5th, 1793. The will was unsigned and the will was clearly not prepared by an attorney. It says that the will was “Delivered in the presence of us Amy Hickerson Jane Miller” so the witnesses were two Mary’s daugher and daughter-in-law, suggesting that they were the two people who just happened to be in the house as she was dictating or speaking her will.

Mary was likely very gravely ill, possibly suddently, told whoever was in the cabin at the time what she wanted, and that was it.

At the February Court term, the family probated Mary’s will.

Mary Lytle will.jpg

Recorded at the February 1794 court held in Wilkes County, meaning that Mary died sometime between December 5th and the February court dates, we find her will recorded and written into the book.

In the name of God Amen, I Mary Hickerson of the County of Wilkes and State of North Carolina, being of Sound mind and memory, blessed be God, do this the fifth day of December in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety three make and publish this my last Will and Testament in the manner following, that is to say– First, I give my son Joseph Hickerson one purple rugg. I also give my daughter Jane Miller my chest and tea ware. I also give my daughter Mary Stewart and her son Samuel Hickerson one feather bed and also my daughter, Mary Stewart, all the goods in the above mentioned chest. And all the balance of my property to be equally divided amongst my daughters. I also leave my son David Hickerson three yards of white linnin. Also this is my last Will and Testament and Desire. Delivered in the presence of us Aney Hickson Jane Miller.

Aney Hickerson was the wife of Joseph Hickerson, Mary’s son. Jane Miller was Mary’s daughter who was married to Leonard Miller.

Note that Mary specifically names her daughter, Mary Stewart.

We later discover that not all of Mary’s children were mentioned in her will.

What do we know about Mary’s children?

Mary Lytle and Charles Hickerson’s Children

Happy Valley History and Genealogy written and published in 1940 by Felix Hickerson provides the names of the children of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. Below, I’ve expanded significantly on what Felix included. This isn’t intended to be critical of Felix, but I have a lot more available resources than Felix did in 1940, plus DNA evidence. Then again, living in Wilkes County, Felix probably had access to records that no longer exist or will never be online – not to mention the long memories of residents still alive who were born in the first half of the 19th century.

Let’s look at what we know about each child of Mary Lytle Hickerson.

David Hickerson

  • David Hickerson born circa 1750/1760 in Virginia married Nancy Toliver (Taliaferro). His children include:
    • John Hickerson 1782-1845 who married Nancy Petty and died in Manchester, Tennessee
    • Charles Hickerson born about 1784, died 1819 in Wilkes County, unmarried
    • David Hickerson Jr. born 1787, died in 1861 in Manchester, Tennessee
    • Joseph Hickerson born 1789, married in 1813 to Nancy Rousseau, died in 1850 in Coffee County, Tennessee
    • Major Lyttle Hickerson born 1793, married in 1827 to Amelia Gwynn, died 1884 in Wilkes County

Mary Lytle - Lytle Hickerson.jpg

    • Nancy Hickerson born about 1794 married a Cole, probably Isaac who proved David Hickerson’s will in court, died before 1870 in Coffee County, Tennessee
    • Mary “Polly” Hickerson 1798-1847 who married John Adams
    • Lucy Hickerson 1804-1853 who married an Allison
    • Sarah “Sally” Hickerson born about 1805 and married Isaac Lusk of Tennessee, died before 1860

There are no photos of Mary Lytle Hickerson’s children, of course, and I believe Lytle Hickerson is the only existing photo of one of Mary’s grandchildren. Does Lytle look like Mary or Charles?

With the exception of sons Charles and Lytle, David Hickerson and his children moved to Coffee Co., TN about 1809, but assuredly before 1812 because David’s son, David Hickerson Jr., served in the War of 1812 from Coffee County.

Rabbit Hole – Cameo Appearance of Nathaniel Vannoy

It’s interesting to note that Nathaniel Vannoy is a witness to David Hickerson’s will dated January 25, 1821. Daniel Vannoy was married to David Hickerson’s sister, Sarah. This goes to show that people kept in touch with family members, even distant, as they removed from their home counties and expanded westward.

The fact that Nathaniel Vannoy witnessed David’s will, suggesting he was a trusted friend or relative, but not next of kin, causes me to wonder if Nathaniel is the missing male child of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson who was born prior to 1788.

Although that gives me pause, because David Hickerson sued Daniel Vannoy for slander back in Wilkes County in 1794. Daniel Vannoy disappeared from the records after that suit, so it’s possible that David didn’t get along with Daniel, but was fine with his sister Sarah and her Vannoy children – especially if Daniel left. Several people sued Daniel Vannoy about that time for slander and assault.

David Hickerson’s son, Lytle, signed for another one of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson’s children, Susan, when she married in 1822.

At that time, Lytle Hickerson could have been Susan Vannoy’s closest living relative living in Wilkes County, with her parents both gone. In fact, for all we know, Lytle could have raised Susan after her mother, Sarah, died.

The Happy Valley story goes on to say that David Hickerson went to Tennessee in 1809, established a grist mill in 1815, later a cotton gin, sawmill and corn mill on the Duck River between 1820 and 1830. The family story of the migration of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy’s son, Elijah Vannoy, to Claiborne County, Tennessee is that the family came up the Duck River, which until this very minute, made no sense whatsoever. Elijah’s daughter is the person who conveyed that information about the Duck River, so it could be considered fairly close to the source.

Bingo – Elijah was visiting his uncle David Hickerson, probably considering whether to settle there or not, and I thought that Nathaniel Vannoy is Elijah’s brother that did stay, at least for a while. If so, I wonder who Nathaniel married and if he had children.

Another piece of this puzzle that never made sense is that the Duck River is no place close to Claiborne County where Elijah settled, so it’s not “on the way” nor would it be logical.

Mary Lytle Duck River.png

On the map above, the Duck River begins about Manchester, Tennessee where David Hickerson lived in Coffee County, and ended on the Tennessee River, further west.

Sneedville, where Elijah Vannoy settled is in the upper right-hand corner of the map.

Mary Lytle Wilkesboro to Duck River.png

If Elijah too had traversed the Duck River, from the west to get to Coffee County, he then had a long overland route to get back east to Sneedville which is far closer to Wilkesboro than to Manchester, or anyplace on Duck River.

I’m not even sure that a water route to Coffee County from Wilkesboro, meaning “up the Duck River,” makes sense under any circumstances.

The Yadkin River becomes the PeeDee which empties into the Atlantic near Charleston, SC. From there, travelers would need to travel around Florida by boat, to the Mississippi River at New Orleans, then traveling north to Paducah, Kentucky where they could intersect with the Tennessee River, then traveling the Tennessee back south to Manchester, southeast of Nashville.

That seems very counter-intuitive. On the map below, you can see the direct route, albeit over the mountains. The “water route” looks much longer and more difficult and I’ve not heard of anyone else taking a long water route between North Carolina and anyplace in Tennessee. Of course, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – especially not in my family who failed to do anything in the “normal” way.

Mary Lytle around Florida.png

Back to David Hickerson and Nathaniel Vannoy.

In a December 1833 deposition about the validity of David Hickerson’s will that was signed a dozen years earlier, in 1821, James Haggard, another one of the witnesses, testified that, “Sanders is dead and Vannoy the last I saw of him he resided in Greenville District, North Carolina.”

I was unsuccessful in discovering more about Nathaniel Vannoy in Greenville District, North Carolina, nor anything about a district called “Greenville District.”

Daniel Vannoy’s brother, Nathaniel Vannoy, died in 1835 in Greenville, the city, in Greenville County, South Carolina at about age 87. Born in 1749, it’s somewhat unlikely that Nathaniel would have been in Tennessee in 1821 at 71 or 72 years of age witnessing a will. Nathaniel was the register of deeds in Wilkes County in 1814 and 1815, a founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in 1830, and died living with his daughter in South Carolina in 1835. You wouldn’t think Nathaniel would have witnessed a will in Tennessee unless he lived there and anticipated being able to prove the will in court.

However, Nathaniel Vannoy’s son, Andrew, settled in Bedford County, Tennessee, and married on January 7, 1821, the same month that Nathaniel Vannoy witnessed David Hickerson’s will. Bedford County is just a few miles on west of Manchester near where David Hickerson lived. It’s possible that Nathaniel helped to move his son to Tennessee, helped him get settled, attended his wedding, and visited David Hickerson in the process. In that case, Greenville District would have been mistakenly recorded as North Carolina instead of South Carolina.

We’ll likely never know and the information available is ambiguous.

Let’s look at Mary Lytle Hickerson’s other son, Joseph Hickerson.

Joseph Hickerson

Felix tells us the following:

  • Joseph Hickerson, probably born around 1765 – Captain of the 13th VA Regiment, Rev War and later of the Wilkes County Militia

Felix was mistaken. Joseph, the son of Charles and Mary, is NOT the Joseph who served in Virginia. He can’t be, because that Joseph Hickerson died during the war.

His service record says:

Joseph Hickerson, enlisted October 1777 for 3 years, sick at Bethlehem 13th VA reg commanded by Col. William Russell – listed under casualties as “Dead Nov 8.”

Mary Lytle Joseph Hickerson Rev War.png

In a March 1939 letter from Adelaide Sisson, the Librarian General of the DAR to Frances Hickerson of Hickerson Station in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Adelaide says that the Joseph who served in Virginia was born in 1747 and was married in 1768 to a Whiting.

The lineage is published in the DAR Lineage book, Volume 166, page 221. She further says that the DAR is focused on New England and cannot be of further assistance with Virginia. It’s too bad she didn’t bother to look further, being located in Washington DC, because that would have prevented the incorrect information being disseminated about Joseph Hickerson from Wilkes County for, oh, the next 80+ years!

Obviously, Mary’s son Joseph listed in her 1793 will was a different Joseph Hickerson. We know that Charles and Mary Hickerson were in Surry County by January 1771, so it made no sense that their son Joseph served in Virginia several years later.

Joseph, the son of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle was born about 1766, lived his life in Wilkes County, married Ann Green (or Greer), date unknown but clearly before 1793, and had at least 4 children:

  • Joseph Hickerson born 1789
  • David Hickerson born 1793
  • Joshua Greer Hickerson 1794-1856, married Susannah Murphey and moved to Warren County, TN
  • Sarah Hickerson born about 1803

Mary Hickerson

Felix tells us that:

  • Mary Hickerson married Mr. Stewart and (possibly) moved to Texas

While indeed Mary Hickerson clearly did marry a Stewart, she may or may not have moved to Texas. Texas didn’t exist in the 1790s, to begin with, and it’s likely they moved someplace else first. Texas was part of Spain until 1821 when it became part of Mexico who actively recruited Anglos. By 1834, 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas. The Texas Revolution took place in 1835-1836 and Texas joined the union in 1845. Given this history, it’s unlikely that Mary Hickerson Stewart was living in Texas prior to about 1830.

Typically, Tennessee was the path to Texas, or one of the paths.

While this information came from the 1877 letter, given that the writer, whoever she was, says that her mother’s name is Elizabeth, not Mary, I have to wonder if Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle Hickerson had another daughter, Elizabeth, that we don’t know about, who also married a Stuart. The letter’s author clearly knew her mother’s name – and Mary Lytle Hickerson when she was creating her will in 1795 on her death bed clearly knew her daughter’s name.

Mary and Elizabeth are not nicknames for each other.

The Stewart that Mary Hickerson probably married was Samuel Stewart, who I thought was the son of Samuel and Lydia Stewart who lived close enough to Charles Hickerson for him to witness Lydia’s will in January of 1771 in Rowan County.

By the time Lydia Stewart’s will was probated in 1772, the location was Surry County. Lydia mentions son Samuel Stewart inheriting the bed known as “his bed.” Of course, “his bed” could still be “his” after he moved from his mother’s home, but it sounded to me like Samuel was still using “his” bed.

One Samuel Stewart sued Daniel Vannoy, husband of Mary’s daughter, Sarah Hickerson, in 1781. In 1794, after Mary’s will was probated, Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart, and Daniel Vannoy were embroiled in slander and assault lawsuits.

The one child of Mary Hickerson Stewart’s that we know positively existed was Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward/Stewart. Descendants of Sarah Hickerson DNA match with the children of one Samuel Hickerson who was found in Kentucky.

Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart also went by the name of Lytle. Did Mary rename him entirely after she married Samuel Stewart from Lytle Hickerson to Samuel Stewart?

Note that Wes Patterson, under item 15, says that Samuel Stewart Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Winscott. If the Samuel married to Mary Hickerson is the son of Lydia Stewart, then did he later marry Mary Hickerson? Note that the women in 1877 letter said her mother, Elizabeth, married a Stewart and that she was born in 1791.

So, there is some doubt about whether or not Mary Hickerson Stewart/Steward moved to Texas, but clearly Elizabeth Hickerson Stuart’s daughter wound up there.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to Mary Hickerson Stewart, when, or where – or to her Stewart husband, whatever his name was. Mary’s son, Samuel Hickerson appears to have gone to Kentucky where today, I have DNA matches to his descendants.

Clearly, for anyone descending from daughter Mary Hickerson Stewart, there’s a lot of unraveling left to do.

Jane Hickerson

Felix tells us that:

  • Jane Hickerson married Mr. Miller.

Indeed, Jane, born about 1760 did marry Leonard Miller with whom she had at least 7 children, three being daughters. I can only confirm one child positively, and three probably based on DNA matches to their descendants.

  • Michael Miller 1783-1858
  • Benjamin Miller born 1790, lived in South Carolina by 1815, in Alabama by 1820 and in Lafayette County, Mississippi by the 1830s when his father, Leonard was living with him and collecting a Revolutionary War Pension
  • William Miller 1791-1889

It appears that Jane remarried in 1806 in Wilkes County to John Reynolds based on a marriage bond signed by David Hickerson, her brother. It’s possible that instead of Jane herself, one of her daughters, also named Jane, married in Wilkes County.

Jane Hickerson’s situation is interesting, to say the least.

In May of 1794, following a series of lawsuits, Leonard Miller forfeits his bond and does not appear as a witness in the slander suit of Janes brother, David Hickerson, versus her brother-in-law, Daniel Vannoy.

This series of lawsuits is particularly brutal, because Jane Hickerson Miller herself was convicted of concealing a feather bed stolen from her sister, Rachel Hickerson Harris, during a 1789 robbery and arson of Rachel’s home. The jury’s remarks are particularly unflattering towards Jane:

March term 1793 – State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of law – The jurors for the state upon their oath present that Jone Miller late of the County of Wilkes in the Morgan District labourer being a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation and a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods on the 10th day of March 1789 in the county aforesaid one feather bed of value of 15 pounds of the goods and chattels of one Braddock Harris by a certain ill disposed person to the jurors aforesaid as yet unknown then lately before feloniously stolen of the same ill disposed person unlawfully unjustly and for the sale of Wicked gain did receive and have (she the said Jone Miller) then and there well knowing the said bed to have been feloniously stolen to the great damage of the said Braddock Harris and against the peace and dignity of the state . J. Harwood Atto. Genl. State vs Jone Miller Ind. Misdemeanor, Braddock Harris, John Roberts (name marked through) prosr. And witness. Joseph Hickerson. Witness Rachell Harris. Sworn and sent.

This robbery and arson committed by John Roberts, followed by lawsuits filed after Mary Hickerson’s death, divided the Hickerson family terribly. Many suits for assault and slander follow – and the only thing that’s clear is that there’s a war being fought between the Hickerson siblings along with their spouses.

  • During this time, about 1794, Mary (or Elizabeth) Hickerson Stewart leaves, Daniel Vannoy disappears without a trace and Leonard Miller moves, apparently without Jane, to South Carolina. Braddock and Rachel Harris move to South Carolina too and in 1809, David Hickerson goes to Tennessee.
  • In 1800, Jane Miller appears in the census in Wilkes county, without a male of Leonard’s age in the household. She does have 3 males 10-15, 1 male 16-25, 2 females under 10, 1 female 16-25, and one female 26-44, which would likely be her.
  • In 1800, John Reynolds is the same age as Jane, has children, but no wife.
  • In 1810, John Reynolds has a male 26-44 and a female of the same age. These age brackets seem to be off.
  • Leonard Miller, in Laurens County, SC, in 1810 does have a female of his age in the household, so perhaps he remarried too.
  • In 1833, Leonard Miller, then living in Jefferson County, Alabama applied for a pension for having served in Rutherford’s Campaign under Col. Benjamin Cleveland in Wilkes County. After his death, in April 1845, Leonard’s son, Benjamin stated that Leonard had 7 children, and he had heard from none of his siblings in the past 18 years, dating back to about 1827. Benjamin said the last he heard, they were scattered with some in Kentucky and Virginia, but he didn’t know where. He said that Leonard had not had a wife since he had been a pensioner.

Something happened between Jane and Leonard Miller, and it looks like they got a “divorce” in one manner or another. I found no divorce records, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Rachel Hickerson

Apparently Felix didn’t discover Rachel Hickerson.

  • Rachel Hickerson was born about 1765 and married Braddock Harris about 1786.

In April 1786, Braddock was convicted in court of “intended rape,” was carted through the town for an hour as a spectacle with a sign pinned to his forehead saying, “This is the effects of an intended rape.”

John Roberts burned Rachel and Braddock Harris’s house on March 1, 1789 after robbing their home. In collaboration with John, Rachel’s sister Jane Miller hid the stolen feather bed.

No wonder this family was at war!

After Mary Lytle Hickerson died in late 1793 or early 1794, Rachel Hickerson Harris stayed in Wilkes County long enough to testify against both Roberts and her sister, but then she and Braddock left for Laurens District, which became Laurens County, SC where they lived until at least 1810. Rachel died in 1822 in Franklin County, Georgia. Rachel had at least 8 children including three females.

  • Stephen Harris born about 1787/9
  • Mollie Harris born 1792, marriage unknown
  • Sallie Harris born about 1792/4-1856 married Nathan Curry, having many children including at least 6 daughters
  • Nancy Harris born 1799, marriage unknown
  • John Lane Harris born about 1802
  • Littleton Harris born about 1804
  • William Washington Harris born about 1807

Sarah Hickerson

Felix also didn’t discover Sarah Hickerson.

  • Sarah Hickerson married Daniel Vannoy on October 2, 1779.

Sarah was born sometime between 1752 and 1760, based on her husband’s age and her marriage date. Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy had:

  • Elijah Vannoy born about 1784 married Lois McNiel in 1809 and moved to Claiborne County, Tennessee a couple years later
  • An unknown son born before 1788
  • An unknown daughter born before 1788
  • Joel Vannoy born in 1792 married Elizabeth St. Claire in 1817, having 8 children. He then married Emily Lemira Suddworth about 1832 in Burke County where they had another 10 children.
  • Susan Vannoy, born about 1804, married George McNiel in 1822 in Wilkes County and had 6 children
  • Possibly another daughter born between 1795-1800

According to the census, Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy had at least one unidentified male and one unidentified female child, both born before 1788. They may have had another daughter born between 1795 and 1800.

That male child may have been Nathaniel Vannoy, found in 1821 in Franklin County, Tennessee witnessing the will of David Hickerson, or maybe not. Nathaniel could also possibly have been Daniel Vannoy’s brother, although he would have been quite aged to have been traveling.

It’s also possible that the unidentified children didn’t survive.

Possibly Elizabeth Hickerson

  • Elizabeth Hickerson, mother of the anonymous letter writer who left Wilkes County about 1794 married a Stuart (Stewart/Steward)

It’s possible that Mary Lytle Hickerson had another daughter named Elizabeth, based on the 1877 letter from Elizabeth’s daughter where she states that her mother married a Stewart and that she (the letter writer) was born in 1791.

I find it hard to believe that the letter-writer would record her mother’s name incorrectly.

If Elizabeth Hickerson’s daughter was born in 1791, and Mary Lytle was having children by about 1745, Elizabeth’s mother would have been between the ages of 43 (born in 1748) and 33 (born in 1768 as Mary’s last child.)

When Was Mary Lytle Hickerson Born?

We know that Mary Lytle Hickerson’s daughter, Mary Hickerson Stewart had a son named Samuel Hickerson who used aliases including Stewart, Lytle, and Litle.

In 1781, Samuel Steward filed a suit against Daniel Vannoy in Wilkes County. I initially thought this was Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel, but at this point, I doubt that she had her son, Samuel in 1760 or before which would have had to be the case if he were filing a suit in 1781. Samuel would have had to be of age to file suit. It Samuel was age 21 in 1781, he had to have been born in 1760 or earlier.

We know that Charles Hickerson was age 60 in 1784 when he was exempted from taxes, which puts his birth year in 1724.

Assuming that Mary is not older than Charles, and that they married when she was about 20, and assuming that her daughter Mary Hickerson is Mary Lytle’s oldest child, that put’s daughter Mary’s birth about 1745. To have had son Samuel in 1760, Mary would have given birth when she was 15. While that’s not impossible, especially given that he appears to have been illegitimate, it’s unlikely.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s will specifically names Samuel Hickerson as Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, and he is the only grandchild she left anything to by name. I suspect that this is because she probably raised Samuel in her home after he was born illegitimately to his mother, before Mary married the Stewart male probably sometime after 1771.

Based on the ages of her children, I suspect Mary Lytle was born about the same time as Charles Hickerson, so would have been about 68 when she died in December 1793 or early 1794.

Mary’s DNA

I’ve identified autosomal DNA segments on three chromosomes that descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. What we don’t know, and can’t discover until we figure out who their parents are, is whether these segments descend through Charles or Mary.

Mary Lytle segments.png

Mary’s Direct Matrilineal Line

However, if we can find someone descended from Mary Lytle through all females to the present generation, which can be male, we can obtain Mary’s mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by both sexes of children from their mother, but only females pass it on. Therefore, the mitochondrial DNA of Mary’s daughter’s direct linear female descendants (to the current generation which can be male) is the same as Mary Lytle Hickerson’s.

Mary’s mitochondrial DNA can tell us a great deal about where she came from and may help us further break down brick walls, especially if it’s rare, or Native. We don’t know who Mary’s mother is, so Mary’s mitochondrial DNA is a direct lifeline to matrilineal ancestral women – Mary’s mother, grandmother and so forth.

Of Mary’s daughters, listed above, we know that:

  • Mary Hickerson Stewart had one son, but nothing more is known
  • Jane Hickerson Miller had daughters, but I’ve been unable to document who they were
  • Rachel Hickerson Harris’s daughters are listed in bold, above
  • Sarah Hickerson Vannoy’s only known daughter, Susan, is bolded above as well
  • Elizabeth Hickerson Stuart’s only known child is the nameless author of the 1877 letter from Nacogdoches, Texas. If anyone can figure out who she is, and if she had daughters, please let me know.

If you descend from these women through all females to the present generation, which can be male, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you. Please get in touch! We have brick walls to break down together.



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Frank Sadowski: Terror on Tombstone Ridge – 52 Ancestors #269

Frank Sadowski

Frank Sadowsky, or Sadowski, whichever way you prefer to spell it, was my mother’s fiancé who was killed on Okinawa during the brutal battle that led to the end of World War II.

I mentioned Frank in my mother’s story about professional dancing in Chicago during WWII, which is where she met him when she danced with Frank’s sister, Margie. Both women were members of the Dorothy Hild Dancers that performed at the posh Edgewater Beach Hotel. You can read those articles here and here, if you wish, but the real story is about Frank.

I honored Frank with an article, Frank Sadowski (1921-1945), Almost My Father, on Memorial Day, 2015, since Frank clearly didn’t leave any descendants to do that for him. I can’t explain it, but I felt driven to record Frank’s story, and far be it from me to argue with a desire that strong.

That article, in a most amazing twist of fate led Curtis, Frank’s nephew, to find me when he was struck with a sudden urge to do a Google search on Frank’s name just three weeks later.

I know, I know, how strange could that be some 70 years after Frank’s death. It’s bizarre, but not nearly as bizarre as what was yet in store.

Curtis’s son, Bert, is serving in the military and Bert’s great-uncle Frank served as Bert’s inspiration, standing at his grave, before Bert enlisted.

Little did Curtis, or Bert, know that I had Frank’s ring, cherished lovingly by mother for all those years.

I still cry remembering this, but I knew deep in my heart what needed to happen. Yep, Frank’s Ring Goes Home is the next chapter that unfolded before Christmas in 2015 when Burt was gifted with Frank’s ring. I promise, you’ll want to read this with a full box of Kleenex nearby.

Bert ring.jpg

Bert is the proud owner of Frank’s ring today and I know beyond a doubt that Frank is watching over him.

Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Mother and Frank might have been somehow involved in this, from the other side😊

But the weird quirks of fate were not yet finished with Curtis and me.

Those articles would also lead Joan Mikol to find me. That wasn’t Joan’s first fortuitous discovery either. Nope, because several years ago, in Chicago, walking her dog, Joan noticed scrapbooks sticking out of the trash that included clippings and photos belonging to the Sadowski family. The scrapbook that Frank’s sister, Margie, had kept about Frank, including his letters home. After Margie’s death, non-family members threw everything away.

Thankfully, Joan pulled the scrapbooks out of that trash can and saved them – for decades – until she too googled Frank’s name. Below, Joan gifting the scrapbooks to the Sadowski family.


What Joan didn’t know is that house had been the Sadowski home which just happened to be inhabited by a ghost.


Joan, Curtis (above), his wife Janet and I met near Chicago as Joan gave the scrapbooks to me and I gave them a few hours later to Curtis. I told that story in Sadowski WWII Scrapbooks Salvaged from Trash Heap.

Those pages revealed such a treasure trove. I discovered information about Mom and Frank that I never knew before. Thank goodness the scrapbook is back with the Sadowski family where it belongs.

Janet is currently scanning the contents for all to share.

Who Was Frank Sadowski?

I wanted to know more about Frank – the mystery man that stole my mother’s heart and never let it go. Frank, a medical school student, enlisted in the war, even though he clearly didn’t need to. Why would he do that?

Sadowski Steinmetz.png

It appears that Frank’s interest in the military began in high school. This 1938 article in the Chicago Tribune mentions ROTC Second Lieutenant Frank Sadowski. He would have been 17 that year.

Frank graduated 2 years later, in 1940 from the Steinmetz Academic Centre.

Sadowski senior.png

You’ll notice that Frank is wearing his ROTC uniform in his senior yearbook photo, above.

A serious student, Frank recorded his dreams in his high school yearbook.

Sadowski goals.png

It’s ironic somehow that by February 16, 1943 when he enlisted, Frank was well on his way to becoming a physician, fulfilling his goal by following in his father’s footsteps.

Frank had also fallen madly in love with my mother.

So much for “down with women.”

However, Frank would never become a famed physician and surgeon, nor marry my mother, because his military interest overshadowed both. Frank’s infamy would be through the sacrifice of his life in the service of his country, saving others. Exactly how Frank saved others wasn’t exactly like he had envisioned.

Sadowski draft.png

Frank registered for the draft on February 16, 1942. I notice he registered under Sadowski, not Sadowsky as his military records are listed.

Sadowski draft 2.png

Then, exactly a year to the day later, on February 16, 1943, Frank enlisted.

Frank’s mother was dead set against Frank’s enlistment. Her reason was not what you might expect. You’ll find out why and a whole lot more in Frank Sadowski, Jr. – Bravery Under Fire.

Frank’s sister saved his letters and pasted them in that scrapbook, later found by Joan more than 30 years after Frank’s death. Not wanting his family to worry, Frank downplayed the severity of what was occurring in the Pacific in his preserved letters to his sister and father.

Sadly, I don’t have Frank’s letters to my mother, or hers to him, but I’d wager they were of a different flavor, probably intensely personal, and he likely downplayed the danger to her too. Mother told me that she knew when she kissed Frank goodbye at the train station when he left the last time that she would never see him again, at least not on this side of the grave.

Frank Sadowski christmas

1944 would be Frank’s last Christmas – ever. He was deployed to Okinawa on a destroyer on December 9th. Just before boarding the ship, Frank sent one last v-mail letter to my mother in which he says that he writes to her daily, whether he can mail those letters or not. I wonder if she ever received them. The other soldiers, “Joes” as he calls them, tease him because of his devotion.

Frank wrote letters to family members in which he tells them how much he loves them, thinly veiling his homesickness with attempts at humor and then finally, “Don’t forget, your son still loves you,” written to his Dad.

Lastly, “Well, Dad, my time is running out but my love for you and the family isn’t.”

Did Frank somehow know?

Maybe what the fortune-teller told Frank’s mother was right…


After arriving in Okinawa, Frank’s foot was injured in training, but he intentionally omitted that information in letters home. The military apparently informed his father and Frank was quite unhappy about that fact – telling his father that he had a “slight cut” on his foot from an ax but was in “the pink of condition.”

Yeah, right.

Frank’s father suggested that he should not serve on the front lines until the foot could be further evaluated. After all, having a fully functional foot for a soldier is critical to safety, but Frank was having none of that.

That “ax” was actually a machete that caused an infection against which sulfa drugs were ineffective, as Frank later confessed to his sister, Margie, who he affectionately calls “Red.”

While Frank was fighting an infection in his foot and his father was encouraging him not to serve on the front, my Mom was busy preparing with the USO for a military show at which she is planning the best surprise EVER for Frank. I can only imagine the look on Frank’s face as he stood in the audience to realize that the “star” was his own lovely fiancée.

But of course, that too would never happen.

Like Frank’s dreams, mother’s wasn’t to be either.

Frank, recovered and back on a ship reports that he has all of his earthly possessions packed into a single duffel bag, including writing paper and an 8X10 photo of mother that he worries about being damaged.

Writing home to his family was obviously important, as was mother, because space in that bag was at a premium.

Sadowski Bible.png

Frank says the Bible, a small New Testament I’m sure, probably similar to the one above, lives in his pocket.

Suddenly, Frank’s letters became sporadic, causing his family and Mom to compare letters as they try to piece together what is happening.

Then something goes wrong. In January, Frank winds up in Hawaii and tells his family he is sightseeing.



Of course, that wasn’t true.

While the machete wound didn’t kill him, something else nearly did.


On February 9th, Frank says he is scheduled to receive additional inoculations, but that doesn’t happen. By February 12th, Frank was quite ill in the Philippines with infectious jaundice, probably what is today known as Leptospirosis. Frank’s letter on February 17th is very short, telling his family that his skin is very yellow. He doesn’t write again until March 2nd.

His silence was driving them insane.

In March 1945, Frank was “hospitalized” for 18 days due to jaundice. I use that word loosely, because we’re talking a battlefield hospital where Frank tells his family that the soldiers have managed to rig up a shower – and how glad they are for that convenience we take for granted.

On March 2nd, Frank tells his sister he is so ill that he is falling asleep while writing.

Ironically, had Frank just remained sick a little longer, he wouldn’t have died in April.

Frank mentioned that mail is taking 5 months to arrive, so imagine Mom and Frank’s family receiving Frank’s last letters, dribbling in months after his death.

And not knowing which letter was actually the “last” that would arrive. They may not have received his Christmas letters until sometime in May, weeks after he died.

How gut-wrenching and traumatic. They must have looked forward to and simultaneously dreaded the mail delivery every single day – all while life went on around them and they had to go through the motions of participation.


On April 1st, the Battle of Okinawa began, which would claim the lives of between 100,000 and 130,000 men over the next 82 days. Between 14,000 and 20,000 of those men were Americans, with the remainder being Japanese and conscripted Okinawans. That’s roughly 1,500 deaths every single day with far more during intense fighting.

Just a month earlier, Frank was incredibly ill with infectious jaundice which followed on the heels of an infected machete wound. Frank would clearly have still been weak after being ill for several weeks during February and March.

By April 6th, the US was in the thick of the bloodiest Pacific Theater battle of WWII, on Okinawa, and had been for almost a week. April 6th was the day that Frank landed on the Okinawan beach and with the 382nd Infantry, Frank moved inland, engaging in a battle that lasted until June 22nd.

This horrible battle was anything but a sure win. In fact, there were days that winning was gravely in doubt.

The kamikaze Japanese soldiers fought hard, willingly sacrificing their lives, costing the American troops many lives and much equipment. Ultimately, the US forces won that battle, clearing Okinawa of Japanese soldiers – but at an exorbitantly high price – including Frank.

WWII was ending. VE Day, Victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945 and VJ Day, Victory in Japan was declared in Japan on August 15, 1945.

Frank’s story ended on April 19th, just 13 days after he arrived on the Okinawa beach and began making his way to Kaniku, the gateway village to Tombstone Ridge. How aptly that would be named, sadly.

Frank would die on Tombstone Ridge, but how, exactly? Frank was a medic, given that he had been enlisted in medical school at Northwestern before volunteering for the military to serve his country.

Was his sister’s statement true – that Frank was shot in the head as he threw his body over a fallen soldier that had been wounded? She also mentioned in a letter that Frank was awarded a medal posthumously for “bravery under fire.”

Was he?

What medal might that have been? What happened to those medals? They weren’t in the trash heap, at least not that Joan found. Neither was the flag that would have draped Frank’s coffin at his funeral in 1949. That too is absent.

Any awards or honors would have been presented to Frank’s next of kin, his parents, given that he and my mother hadn’t married. That wedding was planned for his return, which of course never happened either.

Questions – More Questions

Why am I so plagued with questions? Always, more and more questions.

I think it’s the genealogy curse.

The circumstances surrounding Frank’s death are so murky. You’d think there would be more information. He died in the midst of hundreds, thousands, of other soldiers.

There has to be information, someplace.

Keep in mind that the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis burned in 1973. Frank’s records were assuredly among the records that went up in flames, incinerating irreplaceable history.

I check Ancestry, MyHeritage, Fold3 and other resources often for additional information. New records are being transcribed and indexed all the time, so you never know what might be found.

I discovered the Roster of the WWII Dead 1939-1945 on Ancestry which included Frank’s service number.

SAdowski roster of dead.png

Frank’s service number is also reflected on his tombstone request, completed by his father in 1949, almost 4 years after Frank’s death.

Frank Sadowski headstone request

Why was Frank’s tombstone being ordered 3 years and 11 months after he died?

Curtis tells me that Frank’s father, also a physician, had a terrible time getting Frank’s body returned for burial, finally having to “pull some strings,” taking measures outside of normal channels – but Curtis didn’t know exactly what, or when.

Frank’s father was finally successful, with Frank Jr. eventually being buried in All Saints Cemetery, at least supposedly.


Frank’s military headstone was ordered in March of 1949. The family was finally able to obtain at least some level of closure. Frank finally had a funeral, right?

Or did he?

Where is the notice of Frank’s death, obituary or funeral in the newspaper? Surely a man killed in action defending his country would rate AT LEAST a mention in the Chicago Tribune. Not only that, but Frank Jr.’s father, also named Frank, was a physician, so money certainly was not an issue.

Other family members had obituaries including Frank’s father.

Sadowski Frank Sr obit.png

Frank’s father’s obituary in the Chicago Tribute published on February 7, 1972.

I needed to know more and opted to retain a researcher who specializes in reconstructing service records from multiple sources I’ve never even heard of – with the hope of discovering additional information about the circumstances surrounding Frank’s death.

Frank’s Death

Frank’s case is tough, really really tough.

Twenty months after my original request, I have finally, finally received a few more records about Frank along with associated records of Frank’s unit – the 96th Division, 382nd Infantry.

The only information directly about Frank is contained in only one document – his hospital admissions file.

Sadowski hospital admission.pngSadowski hospital admission 2.png

Or, in Frank’s case, there was no hospital record. He died on the battlefield on April 19, 1945, of multiple wounds to the “thorax, generally.”

The causative agent was “bullet, missile not stated.” In other words, he was shot, and with what didn’t matter.

What exactly, is the thorax? The medical definition states that it’s an area of the body between the head and the abdomen. In other words, the chest.

I initially thought that Frank likely died of a severed artery or major blood vessel – but the record says, “with no nerve or artery involvement.” Of course, this suggests that someone actually investigated his wounds.

However, if Frank was hit with multiple bullets or missiles, he likely took a direct hit in the lower throat or chest and died immediately due to a severed artery or vein or blood loss. At least, I hope that, mercifully, he did.

Frank’s wounds may have been such a mess that trying to determine exactly “what” he died of was futile and really didn’t matter. He died of battle wounds. Period. They had hundreds of these reports to complete, daily.

Given the description of what happened during those horrific days, I have serious doubts that anyone devoted any time to any men who were already dead.

Soldiers and commanders had everything they could do to deal with fighting, tactics and the wounded. Not to be harsh, but dead soldiers weren’t a priority at that point, nor should they have been.

This leaves me with a general feeling that the circumstances surrounding Frank’s death listed on the hospital card may have been completed sometime after the fact and may simply be a routine completion of a mandatory form by someone who was not on the front and had no idea what actually happened to Frank. In other words, I question the accuracy of what information IS there, and I still wonder what really happened.

Let’s take a look at the formerly classified history of the 382nd Infantry Regiment to understand the circumstances under which Frank lived the last 13 days of his life, and the day of his death.

Reconstructing the Final Days of Frank’s Life

Sadowski 382 history.png

These records have been extraordinarily difficult to extract from the government.

I requested information about Frank’s service, death and his wounds. I was hoping to learn more about Frank’s activities and what happened to him.

Where was Frank’s body buried, exhumed and shipped home from? Was his body actually returned almost 4 years later, or is that just when his headstone was ordered?

Surely if Frank’s father had to move Heaven and Earth to obtain Frank’s body, then there’s a military record someplace. There HAS to be. The military doesn’t do anything without multiple copies of records – often stored in multiple places – which is how records can in some situations be reconstructed despite the 1973 fire.

We know from Frank’s letters that Frank was in the Philippines for training before he shipped to Okinawa. What else can we glean from the 382’s history, both from the documents provided by the government as well as Okinawa: The Last Battle from which I’ll be quoting as well.

The government’s History of the 382nd provided by the researcher with Frank’s hospital admission record tells us that Frank’s unit was involved beginning in October 1944 in the liberation of Leyte Island from Japanese control and establishing bases for future operations against the enemy. It’s worth noting that many men in the medical unit received commendations including the Bronze Star for bravery, heroic achievement and “untiring and courageous efforts instrumental in saving many wounded men” under intense fire.

Some men received these medals posthumously, such as Stanley Beeman:

Private First Class Beeman, a litter bearer went forward to a position where one of the line companies was under heavy machine gun fire from several pill boxes. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, he evacuated and treated many wounded men. In so doing, PFC Beeman sustained a wound but refusing treatment for himself, he returned again to the front line in an attempt to rescue a wounded soldier whose position was covered by fire from enemy automatic weapons. In this attempt, he was fatally wounded. His heroic conduct in giving his own life to save a comrade was in the finest tradition of the military service.

The commendations awarded to these men were recorded in the unit history for their service on Leyte Island.

It’s worth noting the extremely difficult conditions revealed by in the Bronze Star justification for Staff Sergeant Leland Jorsch:

When enemy machine gun and sniper fire began inflicting heavy casualties among our troops, medical aid men were not available for the evacuation of casualties.

Many of these awards reference highly concealed enemy positions. Several discussed injured men lying helplessly in a swamp and one mentions a soldier who exposed his position as a decoy to allow fellow soldiers to escape. Miraculously, the decoy lived and didn’t even appear to have been injured. Another man was killed within 6 feet of the man he was attempting to rescue. Yet another saved the man he was attempting to help, but was killed while giving aid.

All is not fair in war. One report tells of the enemy force masquerading under a white flag opening fire, killing 11 and wounding 33. One soldier crawled into a flooded rice paddy three times under enemy fire to save those wounded soldiers.

Another man crawled into the same enemy fire that had just killed his fellow soldier attempting to rescue a wounded man.

Yet another hero was assisting a wounded soldier when the platoon fell back, stranding them both – necessitating crossing enemy sniper fire carrying the wounded soldier to reach safety.

The posthumous award to Virgil Carrick based on his valiant behavior on October 21, 1944 reads like the description of what was said to have happened to Frank:

When a comrade was wounded while his platoon was moving through a rice field under heavy enemy fire, Private Carrick, without hesitation, went to his aid. In full view of the enemy, he administered first aid to the wounded soldier until he was himself mortally wounded by sniper fire. His heroic sacrifice exemplifies the finest traditions of the service.

Ryukyus Islands

Sadowski Ryukyus.png

The opening page of this report states that the 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division was ordered to land April 1, 1945 on the Southern Hagushi Beaches on the West Coast of Okinawa Shima and attack south.

Sadowski Okinawa beachhead.jpg

This photo shows Marines wading ashore on Okinawa on April 1st.

In the Pentagon document detailing the history off the 382nd Infantry unit provided with Frank’s hospital admissions record, the description of Frank’s unit’s activities during this time begins about page 72 with instructions to land behind the 96th and assist in the execution of the Corps mission of driving across the narrow neck and splitting the island in half. The 382nd infantry was tightly tied with the 381st and 383rd.

Page 75 and 76 discuss rehearsals and training, including:

  • Short and distance fighting
  • Target practice
  • The requirement that all men be able to swim 50 yards
  • Using tanks for fighting and protection
  • Close combat and booby traps
  • Combat in villages, clearing houses
  • Perimeters
  • Scouting and patrolling
  • Ambushes and surprise attacks
  • Disarming and destruction of booby traps and gapping mine fields
  • Map reading, compasses and sketching exercises
  • Physical hardening – calisthenics, hardening marches and athletics
  • Identification of friendly and enemy aircraft
  • Weapons inspection and maintenance
  • Ordinance and signal equipment
  • Amphibious vehicles

The soldiers spent much of the month of March practicing before actually landing on Okinawa Shima on April 1st known as L-Day. Of course, Frank wasn’t practicing because he was desperately ill.

The typed images that follow are from the governmental history of the 392nd included with Frank’s report.

Sadowski 382 history 1.pngSadowski 382 history 2.png

On April 4th, the 3rd Battalion took up positions in Nodake. Frank had not yet joined the unit, but he would on April 6th while this fighting was underway. Okinawa, at this point, is only about 3 miles wide with Nodake and Ginowan being about half way across.

Sadowski 382 history 3.png

In the The US Army in WWII, Chapter 5, we discover that on April 5th:

In the center of the island, troops of the 382d Infantry advanced more than two miles south from Nodake along the division’s east boundary (shown below).

Sadowski Nodake.jpg

On the west coast, the 96th’s right-flank units swept along the flatlands from Isa to Uchitomari. Progress was only a little slower in the division’s center along Route 5. Enemy resistance, which included artillery fire from the area to the south, varied from sniper fire to intense machine-gun and mortar fire directed out of scattered Japanese strong points.

For the 96th Division, 5 April marked the beginning of iron resistance on Okinawa. The 383d estimated at one time during the day that its forward elements were receiving fire from 20 machine guns and from 15 to 20 mortars, besides artillery pieces. Driving through the green, rolling country east of the Ginowan road, the 382d unmasked a series of fortified positions, many of them protected by mine fields. Each position caused American casualties and required enveloping movements. Well-camouflaged Japanese troops, supported by tanks, attacked the 1st Battalion during the afternoon, but the attack was broken up by artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire. During the day, the 382d gained about 400 yards on the left (east) and 900 yards on the right.

Those fortified hills are shown in the red box on the map, above.

Page 106 of the document shows a photo of Frank’s Unit, and for all we know, Frank could be in the photo.

Sadowski Japanese defense.png

Published in a weekly intelligence report from 1945, the above example of the techniques used by Japanese to fortify defensive positions was provided with the following commentary:

The diagram does not show all the defensive positions in the area depicted and is designed only to indicate the method by which the enemy attained mobility even in fighting from positions underground. In describing this position, the bulletin states: About 50 yards south of the approach road was the camouflaged entrance to a typical tunnel system within the hill. The entrance was a square log-shored shaft 30 feet deep. A smaller curved shaft which came to the surface about 15 feet away was probably designed for ventilation purposes. The main tunnel to the hill installations ran from this shaft, under the road to the first of a series of caves approximately 100 feet from the shaft entrance. This tunnel was from four to five feet high and three feet wide. Walls were reinforced with logs six to eight inches in diameter, loose coral rock on the ceilings was held in place by logs. The tunnel apparently was used for ammunition storage as well as communication.

This is the environment that Frank and other soldiers would encounter in the region of Nodake, Ginowan, Kaniku, Kakazu, Nishibaru, Tombstone Ridge and the fortified hills and ridges.

Sadowski Tombstone Ridge.jpg

This reconnaissance photo of Tombstone Ridge, near the village of Kaniku, was taken with North appearing at the bottom, not the top.

Sadowski Okinawa map.jpg

This map illustrates troop movements.

On the Google map below, you’ll note Kakazu Ridge to the left and the locations of Nishibaru, Tanabaru to the east with Ginowan in the upper right. It’s also worth noting that the large word, Ginowan in the middle of the map is the US Futenma Air Force Base.

Sadowski Okinawa google map.png

Kaniku is located where the red arrow points, and Tombstone Ridge is located between the red arrow and Tanabaru according to the 1940s map.

Referring now to the activities of April 9th:

The 382nd was ordered to the ridge just east of Kaniku, also known as Tombstone Ridge, which was literally covered with caves, pillboxes and fortified tombs and dominated the flat terrain on both sides and front.

Sadowski 1945 aerial map.png

This aerial photograph taken in 1945 when the US built the Futenma Air Base would include the villages along with Tombstone Ridge. Flat areas were described as flanking the sides of Tombstone Ridge.

I can’t tell how far the ridge runs, but the darkest areas would hide the thickest vegetation. I’ve marked Tombstone Ridge with a red star, but the hilly area clearly stretched along the south of the base and then along the east side as well. Prime ambush terrain for troops attempting to travel along the southbound road from or to Ginowan.

The men fought their way very slowly south on this road.

From 6 to 8 April the 382d Infantry advanced slowly east of the Ginowan road.

Unfortunately, I cannot find Kaniku on Google maps, although GoMapper shows Kaniku as a small place-name, below, not far from the Okinawa National Hospital. That’s all I needed.

Sadowski Kaniku map.png

Based on the military maps, Google maps and GoMapper, it appears that Tombstone Ridge is the area between Kaniku and Tanabaru, closer to Kaniku, today dissected by the expressway and ramps.

Sadowski Kaniku and Tombstone Ridge.png

This area is generally quite built up – but “driving” down these tiny roads in the green area today, you can still feel the remoteness and steepness of the terrain. Some roads aren’t paved.

It was here that Frank died, on the ridge named for the burial tombs on either side.

Sadowski Tombstone road.png

This Google Maps Street View photo is from the top of the ridge looking down the west side, where our soldiers were fighting.

Other roads are still 2-track and dirt in these hills today.

The enemy fought stubbornly from hilly ground north and west of Kaniku and delivered heavy fire from his strong positions on Tombstone Ridge, just south of Kaniku, and from Nishibaru Ridge, southwest of Tombstone.

Sadowski Tombstone Ridge area.png

The hills north of Kaniku would likely be the green undeveloped area.

Quantities of rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire were poured on the troops as they moved south. Savage hand-to-hand encounters marked the slow progress of the regiment, which suffered numerous casualties. By night of 8 April the regiment was strung out on a wide front just north of Kaniku and Tombstone Ridge. Heavy fire from the front, from the Kakazu area on the right (west), and from its exposed left (east) flank, where the 184th was slowed by strong opposition, had brought the 382d virtually to a dead stop.

Frank might have only landed 2 days before, but by this time, he was in the thick of the fighting and that beach landing must have seemed a lifetime ago.

Sadowski 4 locations.png

All 4 locations, Kakazu, Nishibaru, Kaniku and Tanabaru are shown above. The distance as the crow flies between Kaniku and Tanabaru is about 2000 feet, but of course, that would be directly over Tombstone Ridge, through the green area. All green areas are undeveloped for a reason – they are terribly difficult terrain, or very low along a river.

As we read the events that took place over of the next few days, note that the 382nd was divided into three Battalions. I did not find any direct information as to which one of the Batillions of the 382nd Frank was fighting in, at least not in his records. However, based on where the 1/382 was located on the fateful day of Frank’s death, I suspect he may have been assigned to the 1st, but that’s far from a fact. Therefore, as I read this, I realize that regardless of exactly where Frank was fighting at any specific moment in time, all men were embroiled in the fight for their life – a fight many would not survive. Half of one Battalion was annihilated.

Back to April 9th, 1945 in the government report, below.

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Sadowski, ridge east of Kaniku

Looking over Tombstone Ridge from the the ramp of a bridge over the expressway, today.

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My God, this was brutal. One LMG (light machine gun) section killed entirely. The rest running low on ammunition, and all while being attacked from the hills above.

Among other things, the soldiers were exhausted.

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The government report begins discussing the 19th, above, describing how the 382nd assaulted the ridge, struggling to fight their way to the top through the foothills through a brutal attack under a hailstone of bullets and mortar fire.

The 1st Battalion led the assault, but all 3 Battalions were fighting close to each other, with the 1st and 2nd moving together to assault and attempt to take Tombstone Ridge, passing through the ranks of the 3rd Battallion. Clearly Frank could have served in any of these – men were mowed down in all three.

Sadowski soldiers.jpg

Photos from Okinawa show all vegetation destroyed including leaves entirely stripped from trees and plants by the intensity of the warfare. It’s no wonder that this battle was nicknamed the “typhoon of steel” by American troops and “rain of steel” by the Japanese based upon the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of the Japanese kamikaze attacks and the sheer number of troops and vehicles involved in the assault on Okinawa.

In another document, we find additional information about the days before Frank’s death. This verbiage from the US Army in WWII: Okinawa: The Last Battle tells us the following:

The 382d Infantry of the 96th Division, in the center of the XXIV Corps line, also came to a standstill during 9-12 April. The 382d had three battalions on line by 10 April – the 2d on the right (west), the 1st in the center, and the 3d on the left. On the west the 2d Battalion tied in loosely with the 383d Infantry on Highway 5; on the east a large gap lay between the 184th Infantry of the 7th Division and the 382d.

The terrain fronting the 382d was notable for its irregularity but had a few prominent features lending themselves to defense. The enemy had fortified Tombstone Ridge, a long low hill running northeast southwest just south of Kaniku, as well as high ground south of Nishibaru. Kakazu Ridge extended across much of the regiment’s right (west) front; and the upper part of the gorge, east of Highway 5, was an effective obstacle even if less precipitous here than on the other side of the highway north of Kakazu.

Sadowski Tombstone ridge expressway.jpg

Tombstone Ridge at Kaniku cut by the expressway.

The main effort of the 382d during this period was made on 10 April, while the 381st and 383d on the west were attempting their “powerhouse” attack on Kakazu. The 382d attacked southwest with three battalions in line. On the west the Battalion advanced several hundred yards and crossed the gorge, only to halt in the face of heavy fire from its front and flanks. On the regimental left (east) the 3d Battalion gained one of the knobs east of Tombstone Ridge, but continual rain, which bogged down the tanks and decreased visibility, combined with heavy enemy mortar, machine-gun, and 47-mm. fire to force the battalion to withdraw to its original position north of the Ginowan road.

Sadowski Okinawa infantry.jpg

This photo donated to the WWII Museum by Thomas Hanlon shows the 96th infantry advancing through Okinawa – clearly in a flat area.

The 382d suffered its worst setbacks of 10 April in the center of its line. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Charles W. Johnson, attacked Tombstone Ridge, which dominated the ground across the entire regimental front. By 0840 Company A had seized the northern nose of the ridge, but it was stopped by small-arms fire from the steep slopes of the ridge and by heavy artillery and mortar fire. Colonel Johnson then swung Companies B and C around west of Kaniku for an assault on the ridge from the northwest. The Japanese were unusually quiet while Companies B and C advanced to the crest, but shortly afterward they delivered a 15-minute concentration of mortar and artillery fire, at the conclusion of which they swarmed out of pillboxes, trenches, and caves.

A furious struggle followed. From the reverse slope of Tombstone machine guns opened up on the Americans at almost point-blank range. The Americans used portable flame throwers, but the Japanese brought forward flame throwers of their own.

Sadowski flamethrower

Soldier using a flame thrower.

Spigot mortar shells burst on the hill. Colonel Johnson, who had previously extricated Company A from its deadlocked position on the north of Tombstone, now committed it on the right (southwest) of the other two companies. It was of no avail. On the northeast flank, now open, the Japanese overran a machine-gun position; only one man was able to escape. The American troops on the right made a few more yards in a desperate effort to gain a firm foothold on the ridge. By 1415 it was obvious to Colonel Johnson that further attack would be fruitless, and he secured permission from regiment to pull out of the fire-swept area. The men made an orderly retreat to high ground north of Kaniku. More spigot mortar fire fell during the withdrawal, but the troops remained calm; they were “too tired to give a damn.”

Sadowski Spigot

WWII Spigot Mortar, an anti-tank device known as the Blacker Bombard.

The abortive attacks of the 382d Infantry on 10 April were its last attempts to move forward until the Corps’ offensive opened on 19 April.

On 11 and 12 April this regiment, like the 7th Division to the east, mopped up small bypassed.

On April 13th: The attack on the 32d and 184th Infantry was not in regimental strength, as planned. Two infiltration attempts by about a squad each were repulsed by the 184th before midnight. Two squads also attacked the 3d Battalion of the 382d Infantry, just to the west of the 184th, and a savage fight ensued, during which an American private killed a Japanese officer with his bare hands, but the enemy did not follow through with this assault. While groups of two or three tried to infiltrate behind the 7th Division front, the only attack of any weight came shortly after midnight against Company G of the 184th. By the light of flares it discovered to its front from thirty to forty-five Japanese, carrying rifles and demolitions; the company opened fire and sent the enemy running for the cover of caves and trenches. Perhaps, as Colonel Yahara later said, the 22d Regiment, which was not familiar with this part of the island as was the 62d Division, was bewildered by the terrain and became too broken up for a coordinated attack. Perhaps another change of plans further weakened the enemy’s attack on the east. Possibly the 22d Regiment moved by design or by chance to the west and ended by taking part in the attacks on the 96th Division.

The assault on the 96th was heavy, sustained, and well organized. The enemy artillery and mortar preparation began promptly at 1900 as planned and continued in heavy volume until about midnight, when it lifted over the center of the division line. Japanese in groups ranging from platoon (about 50) to company size (about 200), with radio communications to their own command posts, began to infiltrate in strength into the American lines in the general area between Kakazu Ridge and Tombstone Ridge. (See Map No. XIII and also this map.)

On April 12-14th, the three Battalions of the 382nd were shown by blue lines, with the Japanese in red, in this section of Map XIII above. Regardless of which Battalion Frank was embedded with, he was in the midst of this Hell.

Sadowski 382 map.png

The 96th Division front in the area under attack was thinly held by the 382d and 383d Regiments. There was a large bulge in the lines where the 382d had been held up by strong enemy positions in the Nishibaru Kaniku Tombstone Ridge area. A series of fire fights broke out as the Japanese closed with elements of the 382d strung along Highway 5 and with troops of the 383d just west of the highway. Troops of the 2d Battalion, 383d Infantry, saw a group of sixty soldiers coming down the highway in a column of twos. Thinking they were troops of the 382d, the 383d let twenty of them through before realizing that they were Japanese; then it opened fire and killed most of the enemy group. At 0100 the 2d Battalion of the 382d, calling for artillery fire, repulsed an attack by a group estimated as of company strength. Although troops of the two regiments in this sector killed at least a hundred Japanese during the night, a number of the enemy managed to make their way into the Ginowan area. Japanese proved to be the only ones who attained any measure of success in the entire offensive of 12-13 April.

Sadowski 382 map 2.png

This map reports the movements of April 6-15; the movements of April 15th shown by dots with the heavy hashed lines indicating their positions as of 4 PM. The 382-1 marched to the east of Kaniku and the 382-2, if I’m understanding this correctly, marched directly to the west of Kaniku. Regardless of who moved exactly where, Frank was in one of these units that surrounded Kaniku along Tombstone Ridge and where he would remain until the 19th.

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Given those movements, it looks like Frank was fighting someplace in the area triangulated by the red arrows, probably near the upper arrow.

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The government report on the 19th, the day Frank died, reports the following:

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Based on this verbiage and the report from the 20th, Frank died taking Tombstone Ridge. Mop up probably meant not only removing the Japanese, but also assisting our injured soldiers and removing our dead.

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The gorge above, is likely the area just north of Kaniku where the river cuts through the ridge.

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The description of April 19thon this page, including a few photos, tells us a little more:

Meanwhile the 96th Division was attacking with the 382d Regiment on the left (east) and the 381st on the right (west). The 382d Infantry had the task of taking Tombstone Ridge and the Tanabaru Escarpment; the 381st, that of seizing Nishibaru Ridge and the Urasoe-Mura Escarpment beyond. The 3d Battalion, 381st Infantry, on the division right at the saddle between Kakazu and Nishibaru Ridges, was a mile ahead of the division left. Facing the 96th in the Kaniku-Nishibaru sector, the 12th Independent Infantry Battalion, which had absorbed the depleted 14th Independent Infantry Battalion, defended the center. It had the 1st Light Machine Gun Battalion attached, and altogether numbered about 1,200 men.

On the left, the 2d Battalion of the 382d Infantry moved out at 0640 and began occupying the series of small hills to the front, only a few of which were held by the enemy. Sniper and mortar fire from the Rocky Crags on the left was a source of trouble and caused casualties. A few spots of resistance developed but were easily overcome. At one point a Japanese popped out of a small roadside cave and satchel-charged the lead tank of a column; by a strange quirk the tank toppled over against the hole and closed it. The road was now effectively blocked to the other tanks. A few scattered grenade fights took place but did not prevent a gain of 800 yards on the division’s left.

Immediately to the right there was no opposition to the advance of the 1st Battalion until Company C on the left and Company A on the right started a pincer move against the northern tip of Tombstone Ridge, so named because of the large number of burial tombs on either side. About seventy-five feet high and half a mile long, it was the dominating terrain feature of the vicinity.

Sadowski Tombstone half mile.jpg

On this contemporary map, the red broken arrow in the lower right hand corner marks 500 feet, so the combination of red arrows above marks a half mile, roughly 2500 feet. The information about the ridge elsewhere says that it runs northeast to southwest, and we know there is a gully marking the northern end, which is likely the river.

The current location of the area known as Kaniku, which is probably close to but possibly not the exact same location as the village in 1945, is marked with a red star. The Ginowan Road is the curved road to the north of the star where foliage today overlays a tunnel under the Ginowan road.

Frank and the soldiers had unknowingly walked into a trap.

As soon as the two companies moved forward the Japanese positions on the ridge broke their silence. Company C was stopped on the east side by machine-gun and mortar fire, Company A on the west side by grenades. Artillery and tank fire was brought on the position to neutralize it. At noon Company A charged up the west slope only to find that it could neither stay on top nor go down the other side. The company commander was killed on the crest. In the midst of this action a supporting tank was lost to a 47-mm. antitank gun. At the end of the day the 1st Battalion held only a precarious position across the northwest nose of the ridge and along a portion of the west slope. The crest was nowhere tenable and the east side was wholly in the hands of the Japanese. Though Tombstone Ridge was unimposing from a distance, it harbored a maze of mutually supporting underground positions that opened on either face and made it a formidable strong point.

Sadowski April 19 Tombstone Ridge.jpg

You can see in the above excerpt from Map 23 that the 382nd in blue was pressing south and the Japanese, in red, were entrenched on Tombstone Ridge. Given that Frank died, these troop movements might suggest that he was fighting in the 1/382.

April 19th could well be described as the worst, bloodiest, most difficult battle of the war on Okinawa – aside from the fact that Frank was killed.

This next section of the government report is very telling – 43% of their men, almost half, has been killed or wounded. An utterly horrific day from which no soldier would emerge unchanged.

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By noon on the 24th, the top of Tombstone Ridge has been reached by all Battalions. Frank would have been proud. His body probably lay someplace on that ridge where his blood had been spilled and his lifeblood seeped into the earth by the Okinawan tombs.

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The 382nd went on to move south until the end of June when the island was once again swept for final cleanup.

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The end of the report contains statistics about equipment and rounds of ammunition in addition to a summary of the Japanese defenses and why they were so costly in terms of American lives. In essence, the Japanese dug into the natural terrain, taking advantage of caves, causing the Americans to literally fight an uphill battle in terribly difficult terrain that offered a great deal of camouflage to the Japanese.

Sadowski 382 history 13.pngSadowski 382 history 14.png

One interesting comment was that on Okinawa, “there has been a noticeable decrease in infectious hepatitis which has assumed epidemic proportions during the rehabilitation period on Leyte and aboard ship enroute to this target.”

This commentary about insects is telling as well and may provide a significant clue as to what happened to Frank’s body.

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Their recommendation was also to increase the medical detachment to 36 from 32 men. It was noted elsewhere that the medical detachment experienced much higher mortality rates than the regular troops.

In the section about enemy tactics, we find further information. Note that blue means US troops and red, Japanese.

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The Japanese soldier’s apparent expectation and welcoming of death seemed to make them appear fearless. The US soldier may have won the battle, but clearly, they respected the character of the Japanese soldiers.

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Near the end, a summary of the losses was included.

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I didn’t realize that this area is only comprised of 6.3 square miles. That’s not much. 380 Americans killed, 1997 wounded and 11 missing means that we sacrificed 60.32 men for every square mile. There are 640 acres in a square mile, so we gave one life for every 10.61 acres and a man was wounded or killed for every 1.69 acres. If you include Japanese casualties, there were bodies everyplace – literally 2.54 Japanese dead per acre, in addition to the American casualties. No wonder they had problems with retrieving bodies, burials and flies. I would wager that the caves and existing tombs provided a fortuitous ready-made solution.

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We won, and Frank’s service certainly helped to achieve that.

But Frank lost, making the ultimate sacrifice.

Frank’s Remains

Truthfully, I expected a much higher American casualty count. This makes me wonder if indeed Frank’s body could have been initially missing and since no Japanese were left on the island except for prisoners, that’s how it was determined that Frank was in fact dead. In other words, there were no American POWs from this battle. Was Frank’s body found later? Is that why his grave marker was ordered almost 4 years later?

That report caused me to wonder if the rest of the men killed were shipped home and buried right away, so I checked. I discovered that Thomas Beeman’s military headstone was ordered in February 1949, just before Frank’s was ordered. I checked another man who was listed as killed in November 1944 and his military headstone was ordered in October of 1948. This looks like a pattern.

Was Frank already laid to rest, and the headstone just ordered later for some reason?

I called All Saints Cemetery in Chicago where Frank is buried and they informed me that Frank was actually buried on March 23rd, 1949, the day his marker was ordered. They have no further information except that he was killed in action. They don’t know where his body was shipped from, nor do they have an obituary nor funeral home information.

Where was Frank’s body for almost 4 years?

You will note that the events of the day Frank was killed are vague and later, reports said that the battle and terrain were so rough that they were unable to retrieve either our men or the Japanese for burial.

Given the description of what happened beginning April 10th, I wonder if Frank actually was killed on April 19th, or if that was when they recorded his death and that it actually occurred a few days before in the fighting.

Was Frank’s body actually recovered? If it was, does Frank’s body rest someplace in Okinawa? Was he either buried there, or not found and actually not buried? So many questions. Are there any answers at all? Not in Frank’s file, that’s for sure, but maybe elsewhere?

In an article by Ian Michael Spurgeon in the publication, Army History in the winter of 2017, titled, “The Fallen of Operation Iceberg,” the name for the Okinawan invasion, Michael discussed the burials of the men killed during this period:

The US Army moved across Okinawa in a steady, but bloody, march. Though successful, the campaign cost the lives of more than 12,000 Americans. By 1945, after nearly 4 years of operational experience in the Pacific, the US efforts to recover those killed in action – called graves registration activities – were at their wartime peak. Usually American forces rapidly evacuated most casualties for treatment or burial behind the front lines. As a result, over 95% of those killed in ground fighting were recovered and identified. However, the intensity of the fighting on Okinawa as well as the poor weather resulted in the loss of identification material for many remains. They became the unknown soldiers of Operation Iceberg.

Spurgeon goes on to say that specific platoons were tasked with collecting the dead which were to be brought down from battlefield positions to collection points where men retrieved the bodies and the balance of the platoon processed the dead elsewhere. Sometimes due to this practice, the deceased soldiers bodies were actually separated in the records from the location where they were killed.

On April 10th, these soldiers tasked with removing the bodies found themselves in the midst of the fighting among the 96th Infantry division.

This page shows the hills on Okinawa honeycombed with caves and dugouts. Perhaps this was Tombstone Ridge.

Sadowski Okinawa tomb 2

Taken by “photolibrarian”

The photo above of a large sacred tomb cave taken by “photolibrarian” on Kadena Air Base illustrates that tombs, some quite large, were concealed in caves and often camouflaged. These tombs held the bones of generations of ancestors and were revered in Okinawan families. You can read more about those traditions here.

Below that photo, we see the 96th Division Cemetery of Okinawa.

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The above photo taken in 1945 of the entrance to the 96th Division Cemetery, where Frank was probably initially laid to rest, was donated to the National WWII Museum by Charles Reed.

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This photo of the cemetery from June 1945 with its rows of stark white crosses was donated by Thomas Hanlon.

The article goes on to say that the bodies were to be delivered as soon as possible to the nearest military service cemetery. Due to the climate, injuries and terrain, not all bodies were complete or in good condition and some soldiers were not buried intact.

While the wooden white cross markers in these photos appear to be orderly and graves individual, that’s not exactly the case as shown in this YouTube video where servicemen are being buried in the 96th Division Cemetery during WWII. Bulldozers cleared trenches and canvas-wrapped bodies, men still wearing their boots, were buried in mass graves, side by side in long orderly rows with their fallen brethren, where their remains were covered by hand with shovels. White crosses were placed in rows above the graves.

As best I can tell based on the map in the article, the 96th Infantry Cemetery was located someplace close to the star on the map, below.

Sadowski 96th cemetery.jpg

These cemeteries were intended to be temporary, until the end of the war, and battlefield burials were discouraged.

In December 1945, the War Department began the process of removing and returning fallen Americans to their homes from across the world. On Okinawa, remains of servicemen were scattered over rough terrain and found in isolated areas. American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) investigation teams recovered few remains from the battlefields since most of the remains had already been removed and buried. Civilians often found remains before teams arrived.

In July 1947, AGRS established a mobile identification laboratory in Okinawa where disinternment teams removed remains from graves and all identification material buried with them. They looked for the original report buried alongside the remains, in a bottle or other weather-proof vessel, and compared it with the cemetery records. Remains were then transferred to tables and examined for decomposition, bones, damage, teeth to be compared with dental records, personal effects and ID tags. After positive identification, the remains were then reburied for later transfer.

In March 1948, the AGRS ordered the relocation of more than 9000 remains from Okinawa to a processing laboratory on Saipan where they were stored in a temporary mausoleum at Naha. In the end, of more than 10,000 burials, only 203 sets of remains remain unidentified in 2017.

It sounds like Frank was buried several times; initially in the 96th Cemetery, reburied waiting for shipment, then interred in a mausoleum at Naha, next shipped home on a refrigerated vessel, likely sent by train to Chicago and finally buried one last time in All Saints Cemetery. That’s a long nearly 4-year final journey no one knew about.

Curtis mentioned that Frank’s father had a difficult time getting Frank’s body shipped home. This article explains why. It doesn’t say how long the remains stayed in Naha, but I browsed through several Headstone Applications for Military Veterans killed in April 1945 in Okinawa, and nearly all of those headstones were ordered in the same timeframe as Frank’s, so it appears that Frank arrived home about a year after his body was sent to Naha.

Soldiers cards marked as “nonrecoverable” had headstones ordered in 1960 which gives me at least some confidence that Frank’s body is actually buried in his grave in All Saints Cemetery in Chicago.

Assuming that Frank’s body did make a final journey home inside that casket, we also know that part of him remains in the earth on Tombstone Ridge as well as in soil of the long-defunct 96th Cemetery.

In reality, I don’t think where Frank’s actual body is matters now, because whether any part or all of Frank’s remains came home in that wooden box, his grave celebrates his life, honors his sacrifice and provided at least some modicum of closure for his family. Not only that, Frank’s grave served as inspiration for Bert and will continue by its very existance to stand as a silent sentry, whispering encouragement to others for decades to come.


My biggest disappointment is that while the unit report detailed who received medals of honor for the earlier battle on the Island of Leyte, it doesn’t include that information for Okinawa, the battle in which Frank died.

Margie, Frank’s sister, indicated than he posthumously received an award for “bravery under fire.” Mom told me that he died trying to save another soldier on the battlefield. I’m presuming of course that a family member told Mom that. She would have no other way to know.

Frank would have worn a Combat Medic Badge based on his assignment.

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Frank’s Purple Heart medal to which he was unquestionably entitled may have disappeared over time, but I found one that I’m awarding him by proxy, right here and now.

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If Frank was awarded a Bronze Star, which would have been for “heroic or meritorious achievement or service,” it could also have included a “V” for valor.

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I was unable to determine what medals Frank was awarded, or why. If any of you have any idea how I might make that discovery, I’m all ears.


Unless new information comes to light, I feel that I’m closing this final chapter of Frank’s story, at least the portion that I can tell. You never know, Frank might not be finished quite yet😊

He seems to be quite a character!

Frank died in 1945, was later laid to rest, a few times apparently, then brought back to life by the combined efforts of many people (plus fate) in order that his story have a heartbeat of its own.

Bert ring hand.JPG

I take comfort knowing that Frank is with Mom and that his ring is with Bert where I feel with all my heart that both he and Mom would unquestionably want it to live on.

After all, it’s within the Sadowski family that Frank will be fondly remembered, his story told and retold to future generations, having become not the famed doctor, but instead a courageous legendary hero, his memory bathed forever in the colors of our flag.

Gone, but never, ever, forgotten.

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DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents

Philip Gammon, our statistician friend has been working with crossover simulations again in order to tell us what we might expect relative to how much DNA we actually inherit from grandparents and great-grandparents.

We know that on average, we’re going to inherit 25% of our DNA from each grandparent – but we also know in reality that’s not what happens. We get more or less than exactly 25% from each person in a grandparent pair. It’s the total of the DNA of both grandparents that adds up to 50% for the couple.

How does this work, and does it make a difference whether we inherit our grandparent’s DNA through males or females?

Philip has answers for us as a result of his simulations.

DNA Inheritance from Grandparents

Philip Gammon:

When we consider the DNA that we inherit from our ancestors the only quantity that we can be certain of is that we receive half of our autosomal DNA from each parent. This is delivered to us in the form of the 22 segments (i.e. chromosomes) provided by our mothers in the ova and the 22 segments/chromosomes provided by our fathers in the sperm cell. Beyond parent-child relationships we tend to talk about averages. For instance, we receive an average of one quarter of our DNA from each of our four grandparents and an average of one-eighth of our DNA from each of our eight great-grandparents etc.

These figures vary because our parents didn’t necessarily pass on to us equal portions of the DNA that they received from their parents. The level of variation is driven by the number (and location) of crossover events that occur when the ova and the sperm cells are created.

The statistics relevant to the recombination process were discussed in detail in a previous article (Crossovers: Frequency and Inheritance Statistics – Male Versus Female Matters). With the availability these days of abundant real data from direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies (such as the 23andMe data utilised by Campbell et. al. in their paper titled “Escape from crossover interference increases with maternal age”) we can use this information as a basis for simulations that accurately mimic the crossover process. From these simulations we can measure the amount of variation that is expected to be observed in the proportions of DNA inherited from our ancestors. This is precisely what I have done in simulations run on my GAT-C model.

Before looking at the simulation results let’s anticipate what we expect to see. The previous article on crossover statistics revealed that there are an average of about 42 crossovers in female meiosis and about 27 in male meiosis. So, on the set of 22 chromosomes received from our mothers there will have been an average of 42 crossover locations where there was a switch between DNA she inherited from one parent to the other. That means that the DNA we inherit from our maternal grandparents typically comes in about 64 segments, but it won’t necessarily be 32 segments from each maternal grandparent. Chromosomes that experienced an odd number of crossovers contain an even number of segments (half originating from the grandmother, the other half from the grandfather) but chromosomes with an even number of crossovers (or zero!) have an odd number of segments so on these chromosomes you must receive one more segment from one grandparent than the other. And of course not all segments are the same size either. A single crossover occurring close to one end of the chromosome results in a small segment from one grandparent and a large segment from the other. All up there are quite a few sources of variation that can affect the amount of DNA inherited from grandparents. The only certainty here is that the amount inherited from the two maternal grandparents must add to 50%. If you inherit more than the average of 25% from one maternal grandparent that must be offset by inheriting less than 25% from the other maternal grandparent.

Gammon grandparents maternal percent.png

The above chart shows the results of 100,000 simulation runs. Excluding the bottom and top 1% of results, 98% of people will receive between 18.7% and 31.3% of their DNA from a maternal grandparent. The more darkly shaded region in the centre shows the people who receive a fairly even split of between 24% and 26% from the maternal grandparents. Only 28.8% of people are in this region and the remainder receive a less even contribution.

On the set of 22 chromosomes received from fathers there will have been an average of around 27 crossovers so the DNA received from the paternal grandparents has only been split into around 49 segments. It’s the same amount of DNA as received from mothers but just in larger chunks of the grandparent’s DNA. This creates greater opportunity for the father to pass on unequal amounts of DNA from the two grandparents so it would be expected that results from paternal inheritance will show more variation than from maternal inheritance.

Gammon grandparents paternal percent.png

The above chart shows the results of 100,000 simulated paternal inheritance events. They are more spread out than the maternal events with the middle 98% of people receiving between 16.7% and 33.3% of their DNA from a paternal grandparent. Only 21.9% of people receive a fairly even split of between 24% and 26% from each paternal grandparent as shown by the more darkly shaded region in the centre.

Gammon grandparents percent cM.png

To help with the comparison between maternal and paternal inheritance from grandparents the two distributions have been overlayed on the same scale in the chart above. And what are the chances of receiving a fairly even split of grandparents DNA from both your mother and your father? Only 6.3% of people can be expected to inherit an amount of between 24% and 26% of their DNA from all four grandparents.

Now I’ll extend the simulations out to the next generation and examine the variation in proportions of DNA inherited from the eight great-grandparents. There are effectively four groups of great-grandparents:

  • Mother’s maternal grandparents
  • Mother’s paternal grandparents
  • Father’s maternal grandparents
  • Father’s paternal grandparents

The DNA from group 1 has passed to you via two maternal recombination events, from your mother’s mother to your mother, then from your mother to you. On average there would have been 42 crossovers in each of these recombination events. Group 4 comprised two paternal recombination events averaging only 27 crossovers in each. The average amount of DNA received along each path is the same but along the group 1 path it would comprise of more numerous smaller segments than the group 4 path. Groups 2 and 3 would be somewhere between, both consisting of one maternal and one paternal recombination event.

Gammon greatgrandparents percent cM.png

The above chart shows the variation in the amount of DNA received from members of the four groups of great-grandparents. 25,000 simulations were performed. The average amount from any great-grandparent is 12.5% but there can be considerably more variation in the amount received from the father’s paternal grandparents than from the mother’s maternal grandparents. Groups 2 and 3 are between these two extremes and are equivalent. It doesn’t matter whether a paternal recombination follows a maternal one or vice versa – the end result is that both paths consist of the same average number of crossovers.

The table below shows the range in the amount of DNA that people receive from their great-grandparents. The bottom and top 1% of outcomes have been excluded. Note that these are based on a total of 3,418 cM for the 22 autosomes which is the length observed in the Campbell et. al. study. The average of 12.5% of total DNA is 854.5 cM:

Group 1st percentile 99th percentile
Mother’s maternal grandparents 522 cM 1219 cM
Mother’s paternal grandparents 475 cM 1282 cM
Father’s maternal grandparents 475 cM 1281 cM
Father’s paternal grandparents 426 cM 1349 cM

As a matter of interest, in each of the 25,000 simulations the amount of DNA received from the eight great-grandparents were sorted into order from the highest cM to the lowest cM. The averages of each of these eight amounts were then calculated and the results are below:

Gammon greatgrandparents average cM.png

On average, a person receives 1,129 cM from the great-grandparent that they inherited the most of their DNA from and only 600 cM from the great-grandparent that they received the least of their DNA from. But none of us are the result of 25,000 trials – we are each the product of recombination events that occurred once only. The above chart shows the average or typical variation in the amount of DNA received from the eight great-grandparents. Half of people will have experienced more variation than shown above and half of people will have experienced less variation.

Could you have received the same amount of DNA from all eight grandparents? Of course, it is possible, but it turns out that it is extremely unlikely. The average is 12.5% (854.5 cM) so anything between 12% (820.4 cM) and 13% (888.7 cM) could be considered as being close to this figure. The results reveal that this did not occur in any of the 25,000 simulations. Not one person received amounts between 12% and 13% from all eight great-grandparents.

Widening the criteria, I observe that there were 13 instances in the 25,000 simulations where people received between 11.5% and 13.5% of their DNA from all eight great-grandparents. That is still an extremely rare occurrence. Expanding the range further to between 11% and 14% saw a total of 126 instances, but this still only represents about half a percent of all observations. I think that we just have to face the fact that unless we are an extremely rare individual then we will not have inherited close to equal amounts of DNA from our eight great-grandparents.

Now, back to Roberta.

Thanks Philip.

Now we see why we might not inherit the same amount of DNA from our grandparents and great-grandparents.

We Don’t Have Equal Numbers of Matches on Tree Branches

This also might explain, at least in part, why people don’t have the same number of DNA matches on each branch of their tree.

Of course, other reasons include:

  • Uneven family sizes
  • Fewer or more cousins testing on different branches
  • Recent immigration meaning there are few people available to test
  • Family from a region where DNA testing and/or genealogy is not popular
  • Endogamy which dramatically increases the number of people you will match

Real Life Example

In our real-life example, two grandchildren are fortunate to have three grandparents and one great-grandparent available for matching.

For comparison purposes, let’s take a look at how many matches each grandchild has in common with their grandparents and great-grandparent.

The line of descent is as follows:

Gammon line of descent.png

Both end of line testers are female children.

The transmission path from their great-grandmother is:

  • Female to their paternal grandmother
  • Female to their father
  • Male to female tester

The transmission path from their maternal grandfather is:

  • Male to their mother
  • Female to female tester

The transmission path from their maternal grandmother is:

  • Female to their mother
  • Female to female tester

This first chart shows the number of common matches.

Matches Grand 1 Grand 2 GGF GGM Grand 3 Grand 4
Female 1 absent 1061 absent 238 529 1306
Female 2 absent 1225 absent 431 700 1064

It’s interesting that the matches in just 3 generations to the great-grandmother vary by 55%. The second tester has almost twice as many matches in common with her great-great-grandmother as she does the first tester. There a difference in the earlier generation, meaning matches to Grand 2, but only about 23%. That difference increased significantly in one generation.

The second chart shows the total number of matching cM with the matching family member.

Total cM Grand 1 Grand 2 GGF GGM Grand 3 Grand 4
Female 1 absent 1688 absent 713 1601 1818
Female 2 absent 1750 absent 852 1901 1511

We can see that the amount of DNA inherited from a grandparent does correlate with the number of matches to that grandparents. The more DNA shared, of course the better the chances of sharing that DNA with another person. However, multiple factors may be involved with why some people have more or fewer matches.



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What is a Quilt? – 52 Ancestors #268

Morning Star Medicine.jpg

A few weeks ago, someone from Scandinavia asked me the question, “What is a quilt?”

First, I was a bit stunned because of all the locations in the world, people in the far north need quilts more than people in warmer latitudes – so the question itself surprised me. However, when I visited Scandinavia, I realized that quilts are not nearly as popular there as in the US. There are few if any quilt shops – and apparently, judging from that question, few quilts.

Then, I began to answer the question technically. A quilt is three layers of textiles, sandwiched together.

  • The bottom layer is typically utilitarian, one piece of fabric that you won’t see became it’s face down, or against you.
  • The middle layer is something called quilt batting which is most often cotton or wool, warm and insulating, which also serves to give the top a kind of puffy effect – filling out the wrinkles a bit.
  • The top is often multiple coordinating fabrics pieced in a pattern, or artistic.

A quilt is not only warm and wonderful, but it’s beautiful too.

You can see the 3-layer sandwich and the quilting in the example below of a quilt edge waiting to be trimmed and a binding applied to secure the three layers together so it looks attractive and the layers don’t ravel.

Quilt 3 layers

The back is larger than the front and waiting to be trimmed. The batting is the white middle layer.

The quilt top itself is generally smaller pieces of fabric sewn together to create either a pattern or some type of art work as illustrated by the same quilt’s corner, shown below.

Quilt pattern.jpg

All three layers are then quilted, sewn together in a pattern which serves to hold the quilt together and is decorative at the same time. You can see the swirl pattern on this quilt which is the quilting.

Quilts serve as blankets on beds, personal napping companions, as art, or as utilitarian items like table runners, clothes and much more. I keep one in my car for picnics, emergencies and naps. My quilts have been used for almost everything over the years including animal rescue.

Quilts can be self-expressive clothing too.

Quilt DNA vest

In this photo, I’m wearing a quilted vest with a matching laptop bag. Actually, that bag’s large enough to carry half of what I own! I might have been a little bit overexuberant when I made the bag.

I dug around on my phone and showed this next example of a quilt to the person who asked. I’m particularly fond of this quilt, made out of scraps of fabric, most of which I hand-dyed myself using a marbling technique. Translated, this means I made both the fabric, except the solid red and dark grey, designed the pattern and then made the quilt. I love it because it’s bright and cheery and holds many good memories.

Losing my Marbles.jpg

This is what happens when life gives you scraps and you are losing your marbles.

My friend told me it made him dizzy. Well, this quilt, named “Losing Your Marbles,” was quite complex and kind of made me dizzy in a different way too.

Sigh. I think I failed to convert or even convince him.

A Quilt is Not About Fabric

Later, as I thought more about the question, I realized that while I gave my friend a technically accurate answer, quilts are really much more and I failed to convey the beauty behind quilts which has little to do with the fabric or pattern.

Quilts are love. Pure and simple. You don’t make a quilt for someone you don’t love.

Full stop.

Yes, there are different kinds of love, but quilts are the quintessential expression of love and caring for others.

Quilters Create Quilts, and Quilts Define Quilters

As with our ancestors, what we do defines who we are. Who we are also determines what we do. My great-grandmother who died in 1949, more than anything else, is remembered for being a quilter who graced everyone in the family with one or more lovingly hand-made quilts that have now been passed on for 3 going on 4 generations.

I just might have picked up the quilting bug from my great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore (1866-1949).

Climbing vine family photo2

Nora was a quilter extraordinaire, representing the State of Indiana in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair with her Climbing Vine quilt, above. Long after her death, Mom, me and my daughter posed in front of her quilt at a quilt show.

Nora's pink and green quilt

Nora created stunning quilts that took years to complete as well as utilitarian quilts, like the pink and green hand-quilted Depression Era quilt that graced Mom’s bed for years.

Handkerchief quilt

Nora made what is now known as “The Handerchief Quilt.” This old blue “Drunkard’s Path” quilt was so loved and worn that I had to find a way to salvage it. There were literally holes, in several places, but my kids loved it so much they cried at the prospect of using it to make something else.

“You can’t cut Mawmaw’s quilt, ” they sobbed. They had know it their entire lives as their grandmother’s quilt that they used to snuggle underneath with her. Little did they know it was her grandmother, Nora, that made the quilt they so loved.

Regardless, I certainly couldn’t cut sometime that priceless to my children so a solution had to be found. I dug around in Mom’s “heritage drawer” and took some of my grandmother, Edith’s handkerchiefs to repair her mother, Nora’s quilt.

Now this quilt embodies 5 generations – Nora, the original quilter, her daugher Edith’s handkerchiefs,  then Barbara, my mother snuggled under it with her grandchildren, and I restoring the quilt to something useable. Of course, then my kids insisted I immediately put it away for safekeeping! Someday it will belong to one of them.

And so it goes, quilts embody love, being a virtual hug from the quilter every time you wrap the quilt around you. Quilts are a method of passing love on generation after generation.

Quilts are wonderful family heirlooms, even tattered old ones – but that’s not all. They are also for family-of-heart.



I was reminded of that, in spades, the day my second-mother of sorts passed away. I don’t remember ever not knowing Mrs. Larsen – Louise as I came to call her as an adult. She was our neighbor before I started school, my friends’ mother, my Girl Scout leader and then my friend. She inspired me, she disciplined me when I needed it, and sometimes when I didn’t – she was my mentor and cheerleader. She wasn’t always right, but she always cared. She was sometimes at odds with my quite conservative and strict mother, so the Larsen household was a safehaven of sorts for the neighborhood kids.

After high school, I moved away but kept in touch with Louise for decades through her family and sporadic visits. I attended her daughter’s funeral, a horribly sad day when we buried one of my best friends. Years later, I went home for another daughter’s wedding and visited with Louise when I managed to get back home, which wasn’t often. My mother moved, then died, so there was no reason to go back anymore, but I manage a last visit about a decade ago and spent time with Louise.

A few years later, Louise began to slip into dementia and moved, albeit reluctantly, in with her daughter in a distant state. Nothing was familiar and Louise was not happy.

I made a quilt for her, quickly so she could have it immediately. I included fabrics I thought she would enjoy and wrote a letter tucked into the box with the quilt saying that the floral fabrics represented the lives of the girls in her scout troop. We had bloomed from the seeds she had planted. Her daughters told me that she couldn’t remember much from the present, but she could name each of “her girls” from the Scout troop. She would reminisce and wonder what happened to each of us.

Eventually, Louise entered hospice. I knew the end was near and wished her GodSpeed through this final trial.

Louise passed over, released from the terrible burden of dementia, comforted by her quilt over these increasingly difficult four+ years as dementia consumed her.

I hope when she could no longer remember who I was, or who family was, that the flowers in the quilt still brought her solace in some deeply visceral way – even though she could not remember why. I hope she felt love when someone tucked her in or covered her with the quilt.

I hope the quilt enveloped her and helped her feel safe when no one was present. I hope the quilt served its purpose, embraced her and shepherded her to the next world.

A few hours after her passing, her daughter sent this:

She was covered with the quilt you made for her for the past week. You were with her the entire time.

I sobbed. The quilt, send on a mission of comfort and love had worked its magic.

That is what a quilt is.

And then:

I took the quilt home. It’s a family heirloom now. Thank you.

This, my friends, is why we quilt.

And now, I hope the quilt brings comfort and warm memories to her family members for many years to come.

Quilts Document Lives

As a genealogist, I’ve come to realize that quilts often document life’s journey – both for recipients as well as the quilter. You might want to read about Sarah’s Quilt, found in her estate inventory, as an example. In fact, throughout this article, all of the links tell stories that are important parts of the lives of quilters and the people who received those gifts of love.

Quilt Google Hangout Studio.jpg

I recently did a Google Hangout for WikiTree about using quilts and other forms of personal handwork as documentation, which you can watch here. As you can see, my producer, Chai, was making sure everything is in order before the hangout started. She, along with her rescue cat-sisters, help me quilt.

Why Quilt?

Quilters make quilts for many reasons – as varied as there are people and quilts. Almost any opportunity suffices!


Because a new baby is on the way.


Or has just arrived!

Then they start growing up.


You might make a quilt because you’re a grandma and your granddaughter mentions that she likes warm, fuzzy flannel.

quilt dialysis.jpg

Or to comfort a man who suffered through dialysis as single parent and unable to work while he waited for a kidney transplant that he did eventually receive, but it was touch and go for a long time. Whew!

quilt cousin husband death.jpg

Because your cousin and genealogy buddy’s husband passed away, so you take some scraps from a quilt you made for yourself, assemble it into a quilt overnight, quilt it and have it to her in another state within a week. Who needs sleep? It’s overrated!

quilt castle 2.jpg

When your granddaughter wants a “princess castle.” Note this is a card table cover with an adult doing something on top of the table.

quilt Netherlands.jpg

As a gift to celebrate a trip to the Netherlands with, and the retirement of my cousin, Cheryl, with whom I share the Dutch Ferwerda (Ferverda, Fervida) ancestral line and a lot of Frisian DNA. This quilt is so full of symbolism. Delft blue, Netherlands orange, tulips, windmills and more.

Ferverda windmill.jpg

Cheryl and I visiting “our” family windmill, above, discovered by ace Dutch genealogist Yvette Hoitink.

Quilt Dutch Yvette.jpg

And yes, Yvette received a quilt too during my next visit. We’ve become fast friends. I keep waiting for Yvette to discover that we’re related. Hurry up, Yvette!

quilt friendship.jpg

You might make a quilt as a going away gift (sniffle) for a dear friend who moved (too) far away. This friendship quilt was made by several people, each adding a row with personal meaning for our dear friend. The cats helped!

Quilt Friendship center.jpg

The center of the friendship quilt is embroidered with “You never really leave a place you love. Part of it you will take with you and part of you will be left behind.”

The bordering row is photos of our quilt group and memories that we shared. This quilt has been passed on to the next generation now, as a healing care quilt gifted with love.

Quilt Dave.jpg

I made this quilt for my long-haul truck-driver brother to use in his rig. Yes, that’s Dave, my brother who wasn’t my brother, but I couldn’t have loved him more. DNA isn’t everything. (Did that really come out of my mouth???)

crane quilt 2.JPG

After my brother who was my brother, John, and my brother who wasn’t my brother, Dave, both passed away (a few months apart no less), I adopted another brother, John. So yes, I really do have my brother John and my other brother John, who has now survived cancer! John lived in Japan and sent me Japanese kimono fabric, part of which I turned into his care quilt during his chemo. Cranes have a special healing significance in Japanese culture, believed to live for a thousand years and referred to as the “bird of happiness.”


My daughter loves shoes and handbags! This one is titled “Diva’s Dreams.” You should see what’s on the back. No, I’m not showing.


Lifetime achievement awards honoring the lifework of Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan establishing the genetic genealogy industry.

Quilt DNA me.jpg

Of course, then I wanted a DNA quilt for myself too. And before you ask, sorry, this is not a published pattern but is similar to a free pattern published by “In The Beginning” fabrics. Unfortunately, since the DNA/science fabric is no longer available, neither is the pattern…but you can always try and ask them for a copy.

Quilt England.jpg

This quilt was made for cousin to celebrate a trip together to the homeland of our Speak and Bowling ancestors in Lancashire, England, spending time in London on the way, of course. What fun we had and memories we made!

Quilt Eagle veteran.jpg

Thank you to a veteran for their service. Again, no pattern. I charted this out on graph paper. I’d like to make another one for myself. So many quilts needing to be made, so little time.

Quilt English tea.jpg

One might make a quilt to relive wonderful memories of a trip to England, represented by lovely English flowers. Never mind that my spouse left me stranded in London. I found a quilt shop to self-medicate with fabric and make myself feel better. I also learned a few new words in the process.

In Gisburn, the village of my Speak family ancestors, we found a lovely tea shop, represented in the four corners by teapots, of course.


For the unborn child of a woman whose firefighter husband was intentionally targeted, run down and killed while participating in the volunteer “Fill-the-Boot” program for Muscular Dystrophy – as she was pregnant with their first child. Worse yet, she was the nurse on duty in the emergency room where her husband was taken after he was hit.

Talk about your worst nightmare. I still shudder to think about this. Many of the care quilts I make are for people who need hope or comfort – or maybe just a hug and reminder that there is love in this world.

Quilt frozen.jpg

Because somebody’s doll needed a “Frozen” quilt. How could I resist this face?

Quilt floral window.jpg

When you need to make a “ garden window” for a friend’s mother who was diagnosed with cancer in the fall and was afraid that she wouldn’t live to see the next spring. She lived to greet several more springtimes.


To say thank you to a wonderful benefactor for funding an archaeological dig.

I absolutely love this quilt! It’s a good thing I made it “for” someone specific or it would never have left my house.

Quilt Pink Panther.jpg

Because your granddaughter loves the Pink Panther and wants to live in Paris.

Always support the dreams of young people! They will be the ones to bring you fabric in your elder years. Someday I’ll explain to her how difficult this multicolor sawtooth block border was to design and construct.

Oh yes, and her doll needed a matching Paris quilt too.


For a police officer shot and nearly killed in the line of duty while responding a domestic dispute in process. His partner was killed that night, in cold blood, by the same perpetrator, a felon previously convicted of murder. I met this quilt’s recipient quite by accident a few years later. A friend and the granddaughters helped.

Quilt sunflower wedding.jpg

As a wedding gift for a lovely couple where sunflowers were the theme.

Quilt Nativity.jpg

This amazing quilt was a thank you to a wonderful friend whose generosity I could never repay. This is one of my all-time favorite quilts and if I didn’t love him so much, I would have kept it and sent him something else.

I believe that when you make something “for” someone, it must go to them. I create with “intention” and thoughtful focused positive energy – so it would not be right for the quilt to go elsewhere. In essence, it would be “quilt cheating.”

In rare cases where the person passes over before I can finish a care quilt that I was making for them, I ask the family if they would like to have the quilt or would like for me to pass it on to another special person who needs a care quilt.

Quilt ocean sunrise.jpg

This cheery quilt hopefully eased the ravages of chemo by allowing the recipient to take his mind elsewhere – to the ocean. The amazing center seascape fabric was painted by Mickey Lawler. Another quilt I loved.

Quilt purple.jpg

Just because you love purple is a great reason to make a quilt. I originally created this for myself, but then…someone else needed it more than me, so it’s on a journey of its own. I birthed it, but it was not mine to steward. Maybe I’ll make another one and see if I can manage to keep the next one😊

Quilt retirement.jpg

To celebrate a public safety officer’s retirement, where he can finally be safe. Thank God!

That officer is my son, and I sewed patches from his uniforms in the 4 blue corners after I gave him the quilt. It was a very long career for a police officer’s mother to endure. I tried not to worry, but there was just no helping myself. Now he’s on to act two and I hope to live long enough to make him a retirement quilt from his second career!


A cheerful quilt for a family member to celebrate life’s fun moments. The recipient participates in triathlons and the family takes the quilt along for picnics.

Quilt Outside the Box.jpg

Feeling creative with scraps and “thinking outside the box.” This wall hanging is about 5 feet tall.

Quilt One Block Wonder.jpg

As a housewarming gift for my daughter. I love her a lot, because I made this quilt for me!😊 Now I get to enjoy it at her house where it was obviously meant to live because it’s absolutely perfect there.

Quilt rose.jpg

A rose quilt for my son-in-law’s grandmother when she became ill. She loved pink and roses.

Quilt Grandma apron.jpg

After Grandma passed over, I made this memory quilt featuring spare fabric from her rose quilt, other fabrics to commemorate her interests, a couple sweatshirt fronts including a turkey at the top made by her grandchildren along with Grandma’s apron that she made and wore every Christmas holiday to make special cookies – for as long as my son-in-law can remember. The brown border fabric is St. Louis arch fabric to celebrate good memories.

Not all quilts are made for humans, however.

Quilt Ellie.jpg

Ellie, my grandpuppy had a “baby quilt” that I made the week my daughter rescued her and she was living with me because my daughter then left for vacation. We bonded.

A year or so later, Ellie rescued another fur-family member.

Quilt couch cover.jpg

One might make a quilt as a couch cover. (Ok, truth – I gave this to my grandpuppies who loved it…to death.)

Quilt girls.jpg

Then, they received their own “dog quilts.” They love them, especially when grandma comes over to babysit when they don’t feel well and snuggle with them. (What do you mean by, “are they spoiled?”)


As a memory quilt for a father whose son died a tragic, long, painful death, the result of a drunk driver who hit his car head on. I officiated at the funeral of this young man. Heartbreaking is an understatement. So many lives destroyed and others indelibly changed.


And another quilt for the mother of that same son. I hope these quilts brought them more peace than sadness. Each parent chose the items they wanted in their individual quilts. All of the fabric in the front of both quilts is from the son’s clothing. Knowing the family well, these quilts were extremely difficult for me as the quiltmaker.

This next quilt, on the other hand, was a lot of fun! You might recognize this as the Texas state flag.

Quilt Texas.jpg

I made this quilt for my good friend, Janine, who is a proud 5th generation Texan, loves Texas, and we have such wonderful memories together.

Quilt Texas icons.jpg

Quilted with boots and other Texas symbols.


With NASCAR fabric on the back, because Janine is an awesome reporter on the NASCAR circuit.


Gifted to her as a surprise alongside a Texas road one spring day taking photographs together when the bluebonnets were blooming. What wonderful memories we’ve made and continue to make!

I kept hoping Janine and I would discover that we are cousins! It finally happened along with a DNA match. Viva genealogy!!!


A wall-hanging made for my mother to celebrate her dancing career, titled “Stars Over Broadway,” made from ribbons Mom won for crocheting and other handwork at various state and county fairs. Mom was an incredible multi-talented lady.

This quilt is also nicknamed, “Never Again” as it fought me every step of the way and was much more difficult than it looks due to the intertwined custom “dancing” design and the unforgiving nature of the ribbons.


This is what happens when your husband mentions that he wants a table cover for his ham radio work. Yes, that is printed circuit board fabric! Electronics is his passion and he loves his geeky quilt!

Quilt Apollo.png

Said husband and I made this quilt together on the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing to celebrate that historic day that inspired Jim to enter the world of electronics. One day that choice would allow him to contribute to the Mars Insight project – 50 years later.

And look, they found the cat that jumped over the moon. Who knew?


When your quilt-sister helps you finish the quilt (at her son’s house) because your brother (John) had just been diagnosed with cancer and you need to have the quilt done by, literally, tomorrow morning. Yes, you might say that Mary and my families are intertwined now. Families of heart for decades, that’s for sure. Weddings, births, deaths, surgeries, Christmas Eves, memories, love. May we have many more years.

Quilt Mom's for John.jpg

A memory quilt for my brother, John, after my mother passed away. The blocks in the quilt are Mom’s clothes and linen calendar towels that she collected every year. She also gave them as gifts every year too.

Every. Single. Year.

I selected calendar towel years in which something significant happened in John’s life. There are more towels on the back too.

Quilt Mom for me.jpg

I made a quilt commemorating Mom’s life for myself too, and one for all 5 of her grandchildren. I even included a piece of my Dad’s tie that he wore walking me down the aisle – blue diagonal striped material in the right border, beside the pig towel. Yes, I grew up on a hog farm and wouldn’t trade it for the world. This quilt graces “Mom’s” bed in the spare bedroom, so keeps her grandson and family warm when they visit.

Quilt Christmas for Ronnie.jpg

A fun I-spy quilt for a senior citizen who lives in a group care facility and still loves Santa. His communication is limited but the smile on his face was a mile wide and he wants to keep this quilt on his bed year-round!

Ronnie says of his quilt, “Heaven might be like this.” I hope so Ronnie!

Quilt blue flower.jpg

Flowers for my close friend who is now cancer-free. This quilt accompanied her through the rough times, and now will see her through many wonderful years too.


To celebrate the new millennium and that I survived Y2K in a technology field. LHM!!!

My husband and I selected these fabrics and made this quilt before we were married. Don’t tell him, but that just might have had something to do with why I said “yes.”


When your young rescue cat, Elizabeth, at left, only 18 months old, has cancer and isn’t going to be with you very long. Elizabeth loved her soft quilt.

Both of these fur children came to live with me after abuse and starvation at the hands of a monster. Kitters, at right, still loves the quilts, now hers via right of inheritance.

Quilt Tabitha.jpg

Some quilts get loved so much they have to be patched. The original owner of this quilt, an amazing cat named Tabitha, has passed on now, but the family is still loving her quilt (and her.)

Sometimes quilts receive a Second Act that is more important, and sometimes more appreciated than the first one. Ellie and Libby, my grandpuppies, had possession of this quilt for awhile, but Kitters, Chai and Mandy, cats who are infinitely disgusted by dogs have taken possession now, when Jim isn’t napping under it. And sometimes when he is. The battle continues.

Film at 11.

Quilt Loren.jpg

This quilt went to the family of a young man who tragically perished in a housefire, along with everything in the house including their fur-family.

Another two quilts went to his mother and sister as well. I’m very negligent about taking pictures before the quilts leave for their intended homes.

Literally hundreds of these “care quilts” have been created over the years by the quilt-sisters, sometimes alone, but often working together on the spur of the moment, between jobs and families, to create a healing gift for someone in need.


Sometimes fur-family members get into the act too. I needed all the help I could get with the blocks of a wedding quilt!

Quilt Code Talker.jpg

This Navajo Code Talker quilt of love was made for Code Talker, USMC William Brown. Sadly, he passed over as the quilt was on its way, but it served him at his funeral in a place of honor, and now comforts his daughter.

Quilt Anniversary.jpg

A surprise by the quilt-sisters to celebrate Mary’s 50th anniversary.

Quilt Mary baby.jpg

Indeed, quilts are expressions of love to celebrate births, anniversaries and everything in-between. To commemorate lives well-lived and lost too soon. For people we know and love and “care quilts” for people we’ve never met but need a helping hand or a lift of their spirits.

Quilt Love Heart.jpg

So to answer my friend who, by now, is probably extremely sorry he asked and dozed off long ago. Quilts are the spirit of humanity, pedestrian scraps of life joined together to create beauty, but most of all, quilts are simply expressions of love.



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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Triangulation in Action at 23andMe

Recently, I published the article, Hitting a Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters. The “Home Run” article explains why you want to use a chromosome browser, what you’re seeing and what it means to you.

This article, and the rest in the “Triangulation in Action” series introduces triangulation at FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, GedMatch and DNAPainter, explaining how to use triangulation to confirm descent from a common ancestor. You may want to read the introductory article first.

This first section, “What is Triangulation” is a generic tutorial. If you don’t need the tutorial, skip to the “Triangulation at 23andMe” section.

What is Triangulation?

Think of triangulation as a three-legged stool – a triangle. Triangulation requires three things:

  1. At least three (not closely related) people must match
  2. On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA and
  3. Descend from a common ancestor

Triangulation is the foundation of confirming descent from a common ancestor, and thereby assigning a specific segment to that ancestor. Without triangulation, you might just have a match to someone else by chance. You can confirm mathematical triangulation, numbers 1 and 2, above, without knowing the identity of the common ancestor.

Reasonably sized segments are generally considered to be 7cM or above on chromosomes 1-22 and 15cM or above for the X chromosome.


Triangulation means that all three, or more, people much match on a common segment. However, what you’re likely to see is that some people don’t match on the entire segment, meaning more or less than others as demonstrated in the following examples.

FTDNA Triangulation boundaries

You can see that I match 5 different cousins who I know descend from my father’s side on chromosome 15 above. “I” am the grey background against which everyone else is being compared.

I triangulate with these matches in different ways, forming multiple triangulation groups that I’ve discussed individually, below.

Triangulation Group 1

FTDNA triangulation 1

Group 1 – On the left group of matches, above, I triangulate with the blue, red and orange person on the amount of DNA that is common between all of them, shown in the black box. This is triangulation group 1.

Triangulation Group 2

FTDNA triangulation 2

Group 2 – However, if you look just at the blue and orange triangulated matches bracketed in green, I triangulate on slightly more. This group excludes the red person because their beginning point is not the same, or even close. This is triangulation group 2.

Triangulation Group 3 and 4

FTDNA triang 3

Group 3 – In the right group of matches, there are two large triangulation groups. Triangulation group 3 includes the common portions of blue, red, teal and orange matches.

Group 4 – Triangulation group 4 is the skinny group at right and includes the common portion of the blue, teal and dark blue matches.

Triangulation Groups 5 and 6

FTDNA triang 5

Group 5 – There are also two more triangulation groups. The larger green bracketed group includes only the blue and teal people because their end locations are to the right of the end locations of the red and orange matches. This is triangulation group 5.

Group 6 – The smaller green bracketed group includes only the blue and teal person because their start locations are before the dark blue person. This is triangulation group 6.

There’s actually one more triangulation group. Can you see it?

Triangulation Group 7

FTDNA triang 7

Group 7 – The tan group includes the red, teal and orange matches but only the areas where they all overlap. This excludes the top blue match because their start location is different. Triangulation group 7 only extends to the end of the red and orange matches, because those are the same locations, while the teal match extends further to the right. That extension is excluded, of course.

Slight Variations

Matches with only slight start and end differences are probably descended from the same ancestor, but we can’t say that for sure (at this point) so we only include actual mathematically matching segments in a triangulation group.

You can see that triangulation groups often overlap because group members share more or less DNA with each other. Normally we don’t bother to number the groups – we just look at the alignment. I numbered them for illustration purposes.

Shared or In-Common-With Matching

Triangulation is not the same thing as a 3-way shared “in-common-with” match. You may share DNA with those two people, but on entirely different segments from entirely different ancestors. If those other two people match each other, it can be on a segment where you don’t match either of them, and thanks to an ancestor that they share who isn’t in your line at all. Shared matches are a great hint, especially in addition to other information, but shared matches don’t necessarily mean triangulation although it’s a great place to start looking.

I have shared matches where I match one person on my maternal side, one on my paternal side, and they match each other through a completely different ancestor on an entirely different segment. However, we don’t triangulate because we don’t all match each other on the SAME segment of DNA. Yes, it can be confusing.

Just remember, each of your segments, and matches, has its own individual history.

Imputation Can Affect Matching

Over the years the chips on which our DNA is processed at the vendors have changed. Each new generation of chips tests a different number of markers, and sometimes different markers – with the overlaps between the entire suite of chips being less than optimal.

I can verify that most vendors use imputation to level the playing field, and even though two vendors have never verified that fact, I’m relatively certain that they all do. That’s the only way they could match to their own prior “only somewhat compatible” chip versions.

The net-net of this is that you may see some differences in matching segments at different vendors, even when you’re comparing the same people. Imputation generally “fills in the blanks,” but doesn’t create large swatches of non-existent DNA. I wrote about the concept of imputation here.

What I’d like for you to take away from this discussion is to be focused on the big picture – if and how people triangulate which is the function important to genealogy. Not if the start and end segments are exactly the same.

Triangulation Solutions

Each of the major vendors, except Ancestry who does not have a chromosome browser, offers some type of triangulation solution, so let’s look at what each vendor offers. If you and your Ancestry matches have uploaded to GedMatch, Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage, you can triangulate with them there. Otherwise, you can’t triangulate Ancestry results, so encourage your Ancestry matches to transfer.

I wrote more specifically about triangulation here and here.

Let’s look at triangulation at 23andMe.

Triangulation at 23andMe

At 23andMe, click on “DNA Relatives” in the Ancestry dropdown at the top of your page.

Triangulation 23andMe DNA Relatives.png

You will then see your list of matches.

23andMe does offer a Mom’s side and Dad’s side option, but only if at least one of your parents has tested AND you and that parent BOTH elect to share with each other. It’s not automatic.

To view your relationship with someone on your match list, click on that person’s name. I selected a known relative on my father’s side, Stacy.

Scroll down to the “Relatives in Common” section where you will see your matches in common with the person you selected. Stacy and I have 284 matches in common.

Triangulation 23andMe shared DNA.png

You can view the relationships of the match to you, and also to the person you’ve selected.

“Yes,” in the shared DNA column indicates that you, the person you selected (Stacy) and this match share DNA on a common segment. In other words, you triangulate.

In this example, Stacy and I share a triangulated segment with my own V4 kit (of course), and with both James and Diana, but not with George or Everett. We both match James and Everett, just not on the same segment, so we don’t triangulate.

Let’s look at James. By clicking on “Yes,” I can view the chromosome browser.

Scrolling down, I see that Stacy (purple), me (background grey) and James (orange) share DNA on only one segment, on chromosome 17.

Triangulation 23andMe chromosome 17.png

That segment triangulates between the three of us. I know how I am related to Stacy, but not how I am related to James. I can tell via my matches and triangulation with James that our common segment descends to me through my Vannoy line.

Unfortunately, 23andMe does not support trees in the traditional way, but some people enter surnames and locations, and you can download some Family Search ancestors to 23andMe or place a link to a tree elsewhere. I wrote about that here.

Check your 23andMe matches for surnames, common locations and links to trees.

You can also download your 23andMe segment matches and their information by clicking on Download Aggregate Data at the bottom of your matches page. Segment matches tell you exactly where on each chromosome you match other people.

Triangulation 23andMe download.png

Segment matches is NOT the same thing as downloading your raw DNA data file to upload to another vendor. See the Transfer section for those instructions.

Other 23andMe Resources to Identify Common Ancestors

23andMe provides additional tools, noted below, with the links to instructional articles I’ve written.


Have you tested family members, especially everyone in the older generations? You can transfer their kits from Ancestry or 23andMe if they have already tested there to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA or GedMatch.

Here’s how to transfer:

I wrote recently about how to work with triangulation at FamilyTreeDNA. and MyHeritage. Join me soon for similar articles about how to work with triangulation at GedMatch and DNAPainter.

Most of all – have fun!



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Top 10 All-Time Favorite DNA Articles

Top 10

I’ve been writing about DNA is every shape and form for approaching 8 years now, offering more than 1200 free (key word seachable) articles.

First, thank you for being loyal subscribers or finding my articles and using them to boost your genealogy research with the power of DNA.

You may not know this, but many of my articles stem from questions that blog readers ask, plus my own genealogical research stumbling-blocks, of course.

DNAeXplain articles have accumulated literally millions and millions of page views, generating more than 38,000 approved comments. Yes, I read and approve (or not) every single comment. No, I do not have “staff” to assist. Staff consists of some very helpful felines who would approve any comment with the word catnip😊

More than twice that number of comments were relegated to spam. That’s exactly why I approve each one personally.

Old Faithful

Looking at your favorites, I’ve discovered that some of these articles have incredible staying power, meaning that people access them again and again. Given their popularity and usefulness, please feel free to share by linking or forwarding to your friends and genealogy groups.

Subscribe for FREE

Don’t forget, you can subscribe for free by clicking on the little grey “follow” box on the upper right hand side of the blog margin.

Top 10 subscribe

Just enter your e-mail address and click on follow. I don’t sell or share your e-mail, ever. I’ve never done a mass e-mailing either – so I’ll not be spamming you😊

You will receive each and every article, about 2 per week, in a nice handy e-mail, or RSS feed if you prefer.

Your Favorites

You didn’t realize it, but every time you click, you’re voting.

So, which articles are reader favorites? Remember that older articles have had more time to accumulate views.

I’ve noted the all-time ranking along with the 2019 ranking.

Starting with number 10, you chose:

  • Number 10 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum – Published in 2016 – How ethnicity testing works – and why sometimes it doesn’t work like people expect it will.

Ethnicity results from DNA testing. Fascinating. Intriguing. Frustrating. Exciting. Fun. Challenging. Mysterious. Enlightening. And sometimes wrong. These descriptions all fit. Welcome to your personal conundrum! The riddle of you! If you’d like to understand why your ethnicity results might not have … Continue reading →

  • Number 9 all time and number 4 in 2019: How Much Indian Do I Have in Me? – Published in 2015 – This article explains how to convert that family story into an expected percentage.

I can’t believe how often I receive this question. Here’s today’s version from Patrick. “My mother had 1/8 Indian and my grandmother on my father’s side was 3/4, and my grandfather on my father’s side had 2/3. How much would … Continue reading →

  • Number 8 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy – Published in 2012 – Short, basic and THE article I refer people to most often to understand DNA for genealogy.

Let’s talk about the different “kinds” of DNA and how they can be used for genetic genealogy. It used to be simple. When this “industry” first started, in the year 2000, you could test two kinds of DNA and it was … Continue reading →

Yep, there’s a gene for these traits, and more. The same gene, named EDAR (short for Ectodysplasin receptor EDARV370A), it turns out, also confers more sweat glands and distinctive teeth and is found in the majority of East Asian people. This is one … Continue reading →

  • Number 6 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: What is a Haplogroup? – Published in 2013 – One of the first questions people ask about Y and mitochondrial DNA is about haplogroups.

Sometimes we’ve been doing genetic genealogy for so long we forget what it’s like to be new. I’m reminded, sometimes humorously, by some of the questions I receive. When I do DNA Reports for clients, each person receives a form to … Continue reading

  • Number 5 all-time and number 10 in 2019: X Marks the Spot – Published in 2012 – This article explains how to use the X chromosome for genealogy and its unique inheritance path.

When using autosomal DNA, the X chromosome is a powerful tool with special inheritance properties. Many people think that mitochondrial DNA is the same as the X chromosome. It’s not. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited maternally, only. This means that mothers … Continue reading →

  • Number 4 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: Ethnicity Results – True or Not? – Published in 2013 – Are your ethnicity results accurate? How can you know, and why might your percentages reflect something different than you expect?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many questions I receive that go something like this: “I received my ethnicity results from XYZ. I’m confused. The results don’t seem to align with my research and I don’t know what … Continue reading →

  • Number 3 all-time and number 1 in 2019: Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages – Published in 2017 – With the huge number of ethnicity testers, it’s no surprise that the most popular article discussed how those percentages are calculated.

There has been a lot of discussion about ethnicity percentages within the genetic genealogy community recently, probably because of the number of people who have recently purchased DNA tests to discover “who they are.” Testers want to know specifically if ethnicity percentages are right … Continue reading →

  • Number 2 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: Which DNA Test is Best? – Published in 2017 – A comprehensive review of the tests and major vendors in the genetic genealogy testing space. The answer is that your testing goals determine which test is best. This article aligns goals with tests.

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place. The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is … Continue reading →

Every day, I receive e-mails very similar to this one. “My family has always said that we were part Native American.  I want to prove this so that I can receive help with money for college.” The reasons vary, and … Continue reading →

2019 Only

Five articles ranked in the top 10 in 2019 that aren’t in the top all-time 10 articles. Two were just published in 2019.

  • Number 8 for 2019: Migration Pedigree Chart – Published in 2016 – This fun article illustrates how to create a pedigree charting focused on the locations of your ancestors.

Paul Hawthorne started a bit of a phenomenon, whether he meant to or not, earlier this week on Facebook, when he created a migration map of his own ancestors using Excel to reflect his pedigree chart. You can view … Continue reading →

Just as they promised, and right on schedule, Family Tree DNA today announced X chromosome matching. They have fully integrated X matching into their autosomal Family Finder product matching. This will be rolling live today. Happy New Year from Family … Continue reading →

  • Number 6 for 2019: Full or Half Siblings – Published in April 2019 – Want to know how to determine the difference between full and half siblings? This is it.

Many people are receiving unexpected sibling matches. Every day on social media, “surprises” are being reported so often that they are no longer surprising – unless of course you’re the people directly involved and then it’s very personal, life-altering and you’re … Continue reading →

Ancestry’s new tool, ThruLines has some good features and a lot of potential, but right now, there are a crop of ‘gators in the swimmin’ hole – just waiting for the unwary. Here’s help to safely navigate the waters and … Continue reading →

One of the most common questions I receive, especially in light of the interest in ethnicity testing, is how much of an ancestor’s DNA someone “should” share. The chart above shows how much of a particular generation of ancestors’ DNA … Continue reading →

In Summary

Taking a look at a summary chart is interesting. From my perspective, I never expected the “Thick Hair, Small Boobs” article to be so popular.

“Which DNA Test is Best?” ranked #2 all time, but not in the 2019 top 10. I wonder if that is a function of the market softening a bit, or of fewer people researching before purchasing.

I was surprised that 5 of the top 10 all-time were not in the top 10 of 2019.

Conversely, I’m equally as surprised that 3 of the older 2019 articles not in the all-time top 10.

I’m very glad these older articles continue to be useful, and I do update them periodically, especially if I notice they are accessed often.

Article All-time Top 10 2019 Top 10
Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum 10 0
How Much Indian Do I Have in Me? 9 4
4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy 8 0
Thick Hair, Small Boobs, Shovel Shaped Teeth, and More 7 9
What is a Haplogroup? 6 0
X Marks the Spot 5 10
Ethnicity Results – True or Not? 4 0
Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages 3 1
Which DNA Test is Best? 2 0
Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA 1 2
Migration Pedigree Chart 0 8
X Chromosome Matching at Family Tree DNA 0 7
Full or Half Siblings Published in 2019 6
Ancestry’s ThruLines Dissected: How to Use and Not get Bit by the ‘Gators Published in 2019 5
Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? 0 3

What Would You Like to See in 2020?

Given that your questions are often my inspiration, what articles would you like to see in 2020?

Are there topics you’d like to see covered? (Sorry, I don’t know the name of your great-great-grandfather’s goat.)

Burning questions you’d like to have answered? (No, I don’t know why there is air.)

Something you’ve been wishing for? (Except maybe for the 1890 census.)

Leave a comment and let me know. (Seriously😊)

I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2020 and hope you’ll come along!



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Thank you so much.

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Michael McDowell (c1747-1840): Elusive Death Record – 52 Ancestors #267

While an ancestor’s death record might not seem like much to write about – Michael’s is – at least to this descendant.

We’ve looked for informatoin about his death for what seems like forever.

Michael was a Revolutionary War pensioner, so you’d think his death would be recorded in his pension records.


Maybe on the Tennessee roster of pensioners and payments?


Well, then was he listed in the 1840 census in someone’s household as having been a pensioner?


1839 and 1940

I knew that Michael was taxed in Claiborne County, Tennessee in 1839 for 40 acres of land total, and that on June 20th, 1840, Michael sold 2 of those 40 acres to his granddaughter Margaret Herrell and her husband, Anson Martin.

Michael would have been 93 or 94 years years old. He was not listed individually in the 1840 census, but that’s not surprising. If he was alive, he would probably have been living with one of his children – at least one would presume, especially if his wife was deceased or equally as elderly too.

Michael doesn’t appear in his sons’ households, but in 1840, Rev. Nathan S. McDowell, not a son but possibly a grandson, has a male of age 80-90 that could be Michael living with him.

I would have thought that were the man living with Nathan, Michael, he would have been listed as a pensioner, but there was no such listing on the second census page.

Therefore, I initially figured that Michael gone by the census enumeration date of June 1st until I realized he sold land on June 20th, so he was very clearly alive then. Not only that, but he was healthy enough to sign the deed, possibly going to town to do so.

Given that information, Michael’s military service had probably simply been overlooked in the census. After all, he was a quite elderly man.

Obviously, the census can’t be taken everyplace on the same day, so the census is taken as of a specific date. At the end of the Claiborne County census, it’s signed as being completed as of October 1.

Maybe Michael had died between June 20th and October 1st? If that was the case, then who was that man living with Nathan and if it was Michael, why was his military service overlooked? Something doesn’t add up.

Speaking of adding up, even more confounding is the fact that Michael apparently died owning 38 acres of land.

Why was there no will or probate in the Will and Probate books? Why was there no deed recorded? One or the other had to have happened. You can’t just die owning land and have it flopping around in a the state of limbo. SOMEONE had to own it which means that the disposition of Michael’s estate had to be managed by an executor or administrator unless Michael sold the land before his death. But there’s no record of that either.

Surely, at his age, Michael had prepared a will? One would think.

Ummm, nope.

Michael was obviously an optimist.

Court Notes

The Claiborne County Court Notes are not indexed and published, at least not completely. I decided to read them page by page because I had at least three ancestors who died in the span of a decade or so, and I wanted to obtain as much information as possible.

In Michael’s case, I was hoping that I would find some evidence of at least a year, and maybe a month that he died.

I found quite a few McDowell references.

Michael’s son John was assigned as a road hand or was responsible for overseeing road maintenance. He was allowed to purchase a sledge hammer to break up unyielding rocks in the road. Backbreaking work, and Michael would have done that as a younger man. But that’s not what I was looking for.

I discovered that Nathan McDowell had a “sugar camp.” Interesting, but that’s not what I was looking for.

John, Michael’s son, and Nathan were assigned as jurors in court several times, commissioners and even guardians. That’s not what I was looking for either.

John P. McDowell, also related and probably a grandson, not to be confused with John McDowell was assigned as a Justice of the Peace. Still not finding what I was looking for.

But then…there it was.

The Death Record

On Monday, September 7, 1840, William McDowell, in his first court record ever, appeared in court at Tazewell, gone to do a son’s sad duty.

Michael McDowell death.png

Satisfactorily evidence was produced in open court to prove that Michael McDowell a pensioner departed this life on the 6th day of July 1840 and there upon came William McDowell and took upon himself the administration of said estate who gave bond and security that was accepted by the court after taking the oath requested by law.

Wow, that’s wonderful – not that Michael died of course – but that we found evidence of when. Happy dancing a little jig.

Hmm, I wonder was constituted “satisfactory evidence.” If Michael had a will, it would have stated that a will was produced, so there was none.

William McDowell was administrator, so that would mean an inventory would be filed. We’ll be able to see what Michael owned. We’ll discover what happened to his land, and we’d know if Isabel outlived Michael. It’s possible since a female of the same age was living with daughter Mary McDowell who was married to William Herrell.

Dead Silence (Pardon the Pun) and Unresolved Questions

I read the court notes through 1842 and nothing at all.



How is that even possible when an administrator WAS appointed. There had to be assets or an administrator would not have been required, nor would bond and security.

I discovered that the court records through 1850 had been at least semi-indexed by WPA back in the 1930s, but nothing there either.

One question answered, and several left twisting in the wind, like fall’s final leaves.

Michael died only 17 days after selling 2 acres to his granddaughter and that deed was recorded. Furthermore, Michael clearly had $50, a substantial sum in addition to his pension payments. That cash would surely need to be accounted for. Michael was no pauper.

Isabel could have still been alive and they had at least 6 living children, and possibly more, to share an estate. I had hoped to obtain a full list of Michael’s legatees in an estate settlement, but that didn’t happen either☹


Perhaps Michael had already given all his possessions away?

Buried on Slanting Misery

Standing at the top of the hill on Michael’s land, aptly named Slanting Misery, you’d never know you were overlooking the cemetery where Michael is assuredly buried.

Claxton land from Slanting Misery

The family stood in Michael’s field under that cedar tree, directly between me and the barn, on July 6th, or 7th at the latest, in the mid-summer heat of 1840, dug a grave and said their final farewells. Reverend Nathan S. McDowell likely preached Michael’s funeral sermon about everlasting life with a final Amen.

The heat was likely oppressive in the heavy clothing of the time, and the funeral probably correspondingly short.

Michael’s granddaughter, Margaret Herrell Martin who bought land just days before was probably pregnant for a child who would soon be laid to rest beside her beloved grandfather.

Margaret would have sheltered her 6 stair-step children as they ceremonially dropped their single handfuls of dirt onto the planks of their great-grandfather’s coffin after the wooden box was lowered into his grave – as was the custom.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

No stone marked Michael’s final resting place, or if one did, it was a wooden cross or a fieldstone. Perhaps that Cedar tree was planted in Michael’s honor or memory, to shade family members who came to visit.

Michael’s remaining acreage, along with his human remains, simply melted back into the remote, achingly beautiful, mysterious, Slanting Misery.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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Y DNA: Part 1 – Overview

This is Part 1 of a series about Y DNA and how to use it successfully for genealogy.

If you’re in need of a brief DNA testing overview, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

Y DNA testing has so much to offer. In this overview article, I’m touching briefly on each of the major functions and features of Y DNA testing. Following articles in this series will focus on how to utilize each tool for genealogy and harvesting every snippet of information available.

If you have Y DNA results, you can sign on to your account at Family Tree DNA and follow along. Throughout these articles, we’ll step through every tab and function, how to use them, and what they mean to you.

What is Y DNA and Why Do I Care?

Y DNA is what makes males, well, male.

The 23rd pair of human chromosomes consists of an X and a Y chromosome.

Female children inherit an X from both parents.

Male children inherit an X chromosome from their mother, but a Y from their father.

Generally, the Y chromosome follows the male surname line, so Estes males pass their Estes Y chromosome to their sons.

When adoptions occur, of course the surname of record does not match the biological surname associated with the Y chromosome – which is exactly why male adoptees take Y DNA tests.

Inheritance Path

In the example below, you can see that the light blue Y chromosome is passed from father to son to son to son to the male child in the current generation.

Y overview inheritance path

Click to enlarge

The dark blue maternal great-grandfather in this example also passes his Y chromosome to his son, but it stops there since the next generation in this tree is a female.

The light blue son at the bottom inherits a Y chromosome from his father, from ancestors all the way up that light blue line – along with his surname. The daughter doesn’t receive a Y chromosome nor do any females.

If you’re a male, you can test your own Y DNA of course.

If you’re a female, like the daughter, above, you must find a male in the line you seek to test. In this case, the brother, father, grandfather, paternal uncles and so forth represent her father’s Y DNA.

If you want information from any of the Y chromosome lineages in this chart that you don’t personally carry, you must find a male descended directly patrilineally from that line to test. It’s generally fairly easy to identify those people, because they will also carry the relevant surname. There are several examples in the article, Concepts – Who to Test for Your Father’s DNA.

Every Y DNA line has its own unique story for genealogists to harvest – assuming we can find an appropriate candidate for testing or find someone who has already tested. We’ll talk about how to see if your line may have already tested in the Projects section later in this article.

Why Y DNA Works

Y DNA is inherited from the patrilineal line directly. Unlike autosomal DNA, there is no genetic contribution from any females.

This uniquely male inheritance path allows us to use Y DNA for matching to other males beginning with the first generation, the father, then reaching back many generations providing a way to view our ancestral heritage beyond the line-in-the-sand boundary of surnames.

In other words, because Y DNA is not mixed with any DNA from the mothers, it’s very nearly identical to our patrilineal ancestors’ Y DNA – meaning it matches that of the father, and grandfather, reaching back many generations.

Some people, especially new autosomal testers, believe that Y DNA is ONLY useful for deep ancestry and not for genealogy. That’s ENTIRELY mistaken. Y DNA is extremely important in confirming descent from known ancestors. In fact, without Y DNA, you can’t tell the difference with autosomal testing between a child born to a male and a child born to the female of a couple. I wrote about that hereNo one wants to spend years barking up the wrong tree.

Y DNA testing is also the single best way to push the Y DNA genealogy back further in time. It can and does identify the geographic source, overseas, of the DNA lineage, through matches to other testers as well as haplogroup matches. These are things autosomal DNA simply cannot accomplish.

In fact, Y DNA did exactly that for my own Speak(es) line, connecting us genetically to the Speak family from Downham, Lancashire, England which then facilitated discovering the actual baptism document of our immigrant ancestor. Finding our English geographic source had eluded researchers for decades. A year later, a group of 20+ descendants visited Downham and stood in that very church.

Speak Family at St Mary Whalley

There simply is no better success story.

Migration Path Identified

Not only can Y DNA confirm recent ancestors and find ones more distant, by tracing a series of mutations, we can track our ancestor over time beginning with Y Line Adam, born in Africa tens of thousands of years ago to that church in an ancestral country and then to where we are today.

Y overview migration path.png

Mutations Happen

If mutations never occurred, the Y DNA of all males would be identical and therefore not useful for us to use for genealogy or to peer back in time beyond the advent of surnames.

Mutations do occur, just not on any schedule. This means that it’s difficult to predict how long ago we shared a common ancestor with someone else based solely on Y DNA mutations – although some types of mutations are better predictors than others.

A mutation might occur between a male and his father, or there might be no mutations for hundreds or even, potentially, thousands of years – depending on the marker type.

For example, in the Estes DNA project, one group of men have no STR (short tandem repeat) mutations in 8 generations. Others have several in the same number of generations.

Part of the success of matching genealogically with Y DNA testing has to do with:

  • The type of markers tested
  • The number of markers tested – testing fewer marker locations results in matches that are much less specific and therefore less relevant.
  • The luck of whether anyone else from your line has tested

The best results are between men who have taken the Big Y-700 test which provides for the largest number of STR markers and all SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) , both previously known and discovered individually during that person’s Big Y test result.

Let’s take a look at the two different kinds of Y DNA markers and their mutations.

Two Kinds of Mutations

Y DNA can be tested for two different kinds of mutations, STR (short tandem repeat) markers and SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms.)

All DNA is comprised of four different nucleotides, abbreviated by A, C, G and T.

  1. A=adenine
  2. C=cytosine
  3. G=guanine
  4. T=thymine

When mutations take place, they can take the form of three types of mutations:

  • A deletion occurs when a nucleotide, or multiple nucleotides, fail to copy during reproduction. Therefore, that location or locations are then blank, with no DNA at that location permanently.
  • A replacement occurs when a nucleotide is replaced or swapped out with a different nucleotide. For example, an A could be replaced with one of the other nucleotides, and so forth.
  • An insertion occurs when a nucleotide or a group of nucleotides is duplicated and inserted between existing nucleotides.

Let’s look at how this actually works.

Indel example 1

Here’s an example segment of DNA.

A deletion would occur if the leading A (or a series of nucleotides) were simply gone.

Indel example 3

A replacement would occur if the first A above were to change to T or G or C as in the example below:

Indel example 2

A replacement is a SNP mutation.

An insertion would be where DNA is inserted between existing nucleotide locations.

STR example

Note the extra red CTs that have been inserted. Specifically, 4 extra CTs, for a total of 5 sets of CT. This is the definition of a STR, a short tandem repeat mutation.

STR markers, known as short tandem repeats, accrue what are similar to copy machine errors. This occurs when a specific segment of Y DNA gets repeated several times in a row. In other words, the copy machine gets stuck.

STR Markers

We purchase STR Y DNA tests from Family Tree DNA grouped into panels that include a specific number of markers.

Y overview STR results

Example of 37 marker results – click to enlarge

These panels consist of the following number of marker locations:

  • 12 markers (now obsolete)
  • 25 markers (now obsolete)
  • 37 markers
  • 67 markers (replaced by 111)
  • 111 markers
  • 500 markers bundled as part of the now-obsolete Big Y-500
  • 700 markers bundled with the Big Y-700

The more markers purchased, the more data points to be compared, and the more relevant and convincing the results.

What Matches See

The STR matches and SNP matches look different on the tester’s results page.

Y overview matches

Click to enlarge

People whom you match on STR panels can see that you do match, if you’ve opted-in to matching, but they can’t see specific differences or mutations. They see the name you’ve entered for yourself, your earliest known ancestor and your match can send e-mail to you. Aside from that, they can’t see your results or mutations unless you’ve joined a public project.

Y overview project

Click to enlarge

Within projects, participant names cannot be listed publicly. In other words, your matches can’t tell that it’s you unless you tell them your kit number or they recognize your earliest known ancestor on the project page and you are the only person with that ancestor.

The Big Y-700 test tests all STR markers in addition to scanning the entire Y chromosome for all SNP (haplogroup defining) mutations. They have the STR matches page like everyone else, but they also have an additional Big Ypage.

People who have taken the Big Y test see a different view of matches on their Big Y matches tab. This is true for either the original Big Y, Big Y-500 which includes a minimum of 500 STR markers or the current Big Y-700 test which includes a minimum of 700 STR markers. (You can always upgrade to the Big Y-700 from earlier tests.)

Y overview Big Y.png

For SNP markers only, above, Big Y matches can see who they match and the SNPs they do and don’t match with that person in common.

For STR markers available only under the Big Y umbrella, meaning above 111 markers, results are displayed under the Y DNA Matches tab in the Big Y STR Differences column, below.

Y overview Big Y STRs

Click to enlarge

You can easily see that only one man on this match list has also taken the Big Y test, and he had 2 differences out of 440 markers. That’s in addition to 2 differences in the first 111 markers, for a total of 4 differences (mutations) in 551 markers.

Researching Without Testing

The great news is that even if you’ve just ordered your test and are waiting for results, you can research and join projects now.

For that matter, you can research using public projects without testing by going to the main Family Tree DNA webpage, scroll down and simply entering the surname of interest into the search box.

New dashboard surname search

You’ll be directed to surname projects where you can view ancestors and results of anonymized project members.

Give it a try to see what comes up for your surnames of interest.

Project Results

Projects at Family Tree DNA provide testers with access to volunteer administrators who help users with various types of information. Administrators also cluster users in projects that are meaningful to their research.

Most Y DNA testers immediately join their surname project.

Using the Estes surname project as an example, you can see that I’ve grouped the project members in ways I feel will be helpful to their genealogy.

Y overview Estes project.png

The Paternal Ancestor Names are particularly helpful to testers as well as people who are interested in testing in order to determine whether or not they are descended from a specific line.

It’s very useful to be able to discern if someone from your line has already tested – because it provides someone for you to match against, or not, as the case may be.

Y overview hap C project.png

The haplogroup C-P39 Y DNA project is shown above with the Paternal Ancestor Name as provided by testers that reflects Native American and First Nations ancestors.

Another important project feature is the project map function, allowing testers in a specific haplogroup (C-P39 below) to view the locations of the earliest known ancestors of other members of the same haplogroup – whether project members match each other or not. Your Native ancestors traveled with theirs and descended from a common ancestor. Cool, huh!

Y overview C map.png

What’s the story associated with the pin distribution of the C-P39 project, above? I wish we knew, and we may someday as research progresses. Whatever it is, it’s probably important genealogically.

Another type of project to join is a geographical or interest group project.

The Acadian AmerIndian Project welcomes descendants who have tested the Y, autosomal and/or mitochondrial DNA of the various Acadian families which includes French and English settlers along with First Nations indigenous ancestors.

Y overview Acadian.png

The map below shows the distribution of Y DNA members of the Acadian Amerindian project diaspora before and after Le Grand Dérangement” that scattered their descendants to the winds.

Y overview Acadian map.png

The pins on the Acadian Amerindian project map above are color coded by haplogroup.

Projects such as this facilitate genealogists discovering the haplogroup and related information about their direct line ancestor without personally testing.

Y overview Doucet.png

For example, if Germain Doucet born about 1641, part of the mustard-colored group above, is my ancestor, by viewing and/or joining this project, I can obtain this information about my ancestor. Project members can see more than casual browsers, because some testers only choose to display results to other project members and some projects are private, with results only displayed to project members. Many surname projects accept descendants who don’t carry the surname itself.

I obviously can’t personally test for Germain Doucet’s Y DNA myself, but thankfully, others who do descend patrilineally from Germain Doucet have been generous enough to test and share by joining this project.

Furthermore, I can contact the tester through the project administrator(s) and gain a great cousin with potentially LOTS of information.

Just think how useful Y DNA would be to genealogists if everyone tested!

Finding Projects to Join

I encourage all testers to join appropriate haplogroup projects. Often, more than one haplogroup project exists for each Y DNA letter, such as C or R. Generally, there are many subgroups for each core haplogroup and you may want to join more than one depending on your results.

I encourage testers to browse the selections and join other interest projects. For example, there are projects such as the Anabaptist Project which focuses on an endogamous religious sect, French-Swiss which is regional, or the American Indian project for people researching Native ancestry, in addition to relevant surname and haplogroup project(s). There are more than 10,000 total (well-organized) projects to choose from.

Your project selections may be a huge benefit to someone else as well as to your own research. Y DNA testing and matching is your best bet for jumping the pond and finding connections overseas.

How to Join Projects

Sign on to your personal page at Family Tree DNA and click on myProjects at the top, then on “Join A Project.”

Mitochondrial DNA join a project

Next, you’ll see a list of projects in which your surname appears. These may or may not be relevant for you.

Y overview project list

Click to enlarge

You can search by surname.

Y overview surname search.png

More importantly, you can browse in any number of sections.


For Y DNA, I would suggest specifically surnames, of course, Y DNA haplogroups along with Y DNA Geographical Projects, and Dual Geographical Projects.

Y overview haplogroup alpha

Click to enlarge

When you find a project of interest, click to read the description written by the volunteer administrators to see if it’s a good fit for you, then click through to join.

Next Article in the Series

Of course, you’re probably wondering what all of those numbers in your results and shown in projects mean. The next article in a couple weeks will address the meaning of STR marker results.


If you haven’t yet Y DNA tested and you want to know what secrets your Y DNA holds, you can order your Y DNA test here.



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Y2K Twenty Years On


Just looking at those 3 characters, 2 letters and 1 number, probably caused you to do one of three things:

  • Cringe reflexively (that’s me)
  • Roll your eyes, thinking, “what a nothingburger”
  • Wonder, what’s Y2K?

Twenty years ago last evening, I spent the day, and night, fully awake and worrying. Probably obsessing is more like it.

I was responsible for the smooth transition of several governmental clients into the new millennium – and that meant, specifically, making sure we had found and addressed all of the potential Y2K bugs and issues both apparent and inherent.

Y2K, for those of you young whippersnappers in category three, was a computer issue in which the date did not roll correctly from the last day of 1999 to the first say of the year 2000 – the new millennium. Specifically, the date incremented to 1900 (best case,) not 2000. Computers failed and came crashing to a halt with all types of unexpected issues, a combination of both hardware and software – operating systems and applications both.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “how stupid,” there were actually good historical reasons that happened, given the few bytes of memory that programmers had to work with in the decades before the year 2000. Ah, the law of unintended consequences. No one thought about or imagined that foundation code would still be in use decades later. But, it worked and it was.

The biggest issues turned out to be in buried or embedded systems – like systems used in wastewater treatment plants. Systems that literally no one thought about until they stopped working for some reason.

If you’re in category two and think that absolutely nothing happened, that’s not quite accurate either. Lots of things either didn’t work or didn’t work correctly – especially interconnected dependent systems.

More to the point, the very REASON that nothing catastrophic happened is exactly because of the thousands of people who did obsess, who did prepare and who, like me, sat watch just in case. Fortunately, few had to spring into action.

Y2K was a nothingburger because we were successful.

You can read more about Y2K, what did and didn’t work, here.

I Almost Forgot

It’s somehow ironic that I almost forgot about this significant anniversary. Not only did Y2K consume about 2 years of my professional life, ramping up to what we surely hoped was literally nothing at all, Y2K also culminated the literal “decade from Hell” for me personally.

I was incredibly glad to see the new millennium arrive, shepherding out the old and welcoming new opportunity. A transition I desperately needed.

Here’s my Y2K story. What’s yours?

Where were you and what were you doing?

The 1990s

The 1990s began with so much promise. I was living the dream; all-American kids who danced and played football, white picket fence home with a few cats and 2 rescue dogs, along with my husband as my business partner in a high-tech consulting firm. However, tragedy quickly reared its ugly face.

In 1978, I had found my only sister and become quite close. In June of 1990, Edna, who had survived breast cancer, or so we thought, died of a massive heart attack while on vacation in another state. Her loss struck at the core of my being, a devastating loss. I would stand in the hot summer sun burying her ashes, only having 12 short years with her.

My beloved step-father’s health began declining.

In June of 1993, my husband, young and vibrant, in his 40s, suffered a stroke, but didn’t die. We would find a way to survive, feeling like we escaped a very close call.

A month later, in July, he suffered a second, massive stroke, but still didn’t die. Your reaction might be that was good – but trust me – his quality of life was terribly diminished. He was paralyzed and his brain was approximately half destroyed. There was no recovery. That stroke upended the life of everyone in our family, permanently, in indescribable ways.

In the blink of an eye, I became the only bread-winner, inheriting all of the bills while losing his income, plus his massive medical bills. Oy! I had to figure out how to provide full time care for a severely disabled spouse – and work at the same time.

Not to mention, I had children who suffered immensely and whose needs didn’t abate because their parents had become incredibly challenged.

In September of 1994, my step-father died.

My mother struggled, and a year later, she left the farm and moved to town.

You might guess that I was reeling by this time – and you’re right, I was.

Everyone in my family was struggling mightily.

I was and am incredibly grateful for my high-tech profession and the ability it afforded me to work in a less-structured environment – meaning not 8-5, 5 days a week. I don’t think I would have survived otherwise. My clients were incredibly helpful and understanding, and did not abandon me when I needed them most.

My son and husband both were volunteer firefighters. God bless them all, including the fine people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons, of which I am not and was not a member. I was, however, a regular weekly visitor to the Family History Center at the local church and they stepped forward to help.

We were in desperate need for so much help. I, we, would not have survived that first year without them, all of our friends. Nothing in my small 1960s ranch home was wheelchair accessible – but a few months later, it was, allowing my husband to come home, at least for awhile.

My life, however, was upside-down and in a constant state of turmoil where it would remain for the next several years.


People didn’t think much about Y2K until about 1998 or so. Generally, there was a widespread belief that either nothing would happen because it was nothing but a lot of hype, or software vendors would magically ‘take care of it.” It wasn’t until we began actually testing hardware, specifically specialized governmental hardware and software combinations that we discovered problems that no one even thought about.

For example, a small computer controlled a drawbridge that raised and lowered the bridge for ships to pass beneath. That “computer” didn’t look like a computer, per se, and no one even thought about the fact that it had an embedded clock and/or date. It did, and yes, when testing, we made the discovery that it wouldn’t work. However, that system was so old there was no “fix” and another solution had to be found, and quickly.

I developed a Y2K evaluation process for governmental clients and prayed that we had unearthed all of the potential issues. If not, then my next prayer was that no one got hurt. That the issues weren’t with something like stop lights, railroad crossing signals or anything that could endanger people.

No Vacation

After I thought I had everything Y2K in hand and was attempting to plan a vacation, to Machu Picchu, to welcome in the millennium far away from any computer, my client announced that they had a different idea entirely.

They did not wish me to be absent.

What I had not told my client was that the visit wasn’t just to be a vacation, but potentially a wedding.

That’s kind of when everything began to unravel, like dominoes falling in a row.

I stepped outside at a client’s office to take a “difficult” personal phone call when I turned around to discover the client standing behind me. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but given what had just transpired, and the fact that I was in tears, he couldn’t exactly ignore the situation.

Suffice it to say that neither the trip, nor wedding, was going to take place.

Don’t ever say, “what the hell else can go wrong?” because fate always takes that as a challenge.

We began counting down to the great unknown of Y2K.

Thanksgiving 1999

The phone woke me ringing at 4:32 AM. Those calls are never good news.

However, I was on call for clients – but the chances of a client calling me before 5AM on Thanksgiving was virtually slim to none.

I grabbed the phone.


In response, my mother said one word, my name, like she didn’t know what else to say.

I barely recognized her voice.

I knew something was very, very wrong.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Gary’s dead.”

Gary was my brother.

I got in my car and drove home, immediately.

Investigators were everyplace.

Gary died unexpectedly, in suspicious circumstances.

The events surrounding Gary’s death would ricochet through my family like a deadly, stray, bullet – and never be resolved.

Christmas Cometh

We were literally counting down, day by day then hour by hour to Y2K. What was initially circumspect confidence on the part of my municipal clients had turned to nervous paranoia – and not necessarily without reason.

Other municipalities continued to find previously undiscovered issues, especially with custom code, sending everyone scurrying to check and recheck everything.

Everyone wanted me to be on site at the same time the last few weeks of the year. If I could have cloned myself, I would have made a small fortune.

Mom was driving to my house on the 22nd for Christmas because I had to work the day before and after. In fact, Mom was pretty much in charge of Christmas that year, because I couldn’t be.

On the morning of December 21st, my phone rang again.

Mom called to inform me that her brother, Lore, had died.

Lore’s death wasn’t exactly unexpected, given that he suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s. His death had been approaching for a long time. In many ways, it was a release. However, for numerous reasons, the timing was terrible .

Lore was mother’s only sibling, and his death left mother as the last of her generation.

Mom never got over Dad’s passing in 1994 and Gary’s death was less than a month old when Lore died. I wasn’t with her when this news arrived and Mom was already feeling extremely sad.

I was entirely overwhelmed.

Worse yet, the funeral was to take place on Christmas Eve – in North Carolina – a day and a half drive from where Mom lived – on icy roads. Who schedules a funeral on Christmas Eve anyway??? Mom made it clear that she was going, with or without us.

Thankfully, my only living sibling and his wife stepped up to the plate and drove Mom to North Carolina, over ice covered mountain roads for her brother’s funeral. Mom could do nothing but cry, for days.

In my world, in 1999, Christmas simply didn’t exist.

New Year’s Eve

While the rest of the world was celebrating the arrival of the new millennium, I was preparing to handle a disaster.

I didn’t know what disaster, but given the way my life had been unraveling recently, I was just SURE that I’d be dealing with SOME disaster.

Y2K Best Buy

Thanks to cousin Kelly for this memory:)

We tested and tested and retested in the days before New Year’s Eve. Every governmental and military agency had people on site and on stand-by with backup plans for how to function if necessary. Emergency preparedness fully deployed.

In the days of inter-dependence, no person and no governmental unit is or was an island.

We began by watching municipalities as the international date line began to roll over to January 1. Our major concern was the power grid.

The first large city was Sydney, Australia. I watched the celebrations closely and carefully, not the fireworks, mind you, but the news channels.

I’ve never watched more New Year’s Eve celebrations in my entire life.

Finally, it was time in Europe, then Iceland, then in Maritime Canada, then in the eastern US. The ball dropped.

Nothing major.

Then, it was time for my clients.

I held my breath.

Nothing, absolutely nothing.

What a HUGE relief.

Finally, about 5 AM, I fell asleep – Champagne untouched.


Y2K came to represent much more in my life than a technology issue. The arrival and non-event of Y2K itself heralded a new millennium – and a new beginning.

The 1990s were indescribably brutal, both due to the unexpected illnesses and deaths, and the surrounding circumstances.

I left that behind when 2000 arrived.

I never thought much about where I would be or what I would be doing in another two decades.

Two decades earlier, on New Year’s Eve of 1980, I would celebrate a milestone of a different sort – my first New Year’s Eve after having moved away from Indiana. I don’t recall what I did, exactly, but my life was new, a bit frightening and full of hope. Wonderful career opportunity in a new location – making new friends.

At Y2K, I was ever so grateful to be shed of the 1990s and that 2000 entered sheepishly, with no fanfare of the type I had been fearing. It was almost like we were being mocked for our feverish anxiety, much like millions of ants scurrying from place to place. It’s ironic that “nothing” was the measure of our success.

It was exactly that OCDish preparation that prevented large-scale catastrophe.

Once again, in spite of the 1990 tragedies, I was full of hope for the future.

Uncharted Path

Unbeknownst to me, Family Tree DNA, the company that would establish the genetic genealogy industry was a fledgling startup in Houston, Texas, with two principles and little else on that fateful New Year’s Day. I found them through genealogy, little dreaming of what the next two decades would hold.

Within a few years, my life would realign in many ways. I would remarry and gradually shift my profession, focusing on DNA, genetic genealogy and writing Personalized DNA Reports.

One day at a time, my career morphed from one type of technology to another.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined where I would be, literally and figuratively, twenty years out from Y2K. The technology and science that I depend on today didn’t yet exist in 2000.

Tasmanian sun.jpg

As I sit in the sunshine this beautiful New Year’s Day, looking forward to the future and embracing a journey I never imagined, I can’t help but wonder where I will be and what I will be doing in 2030, and beyond. What wonderful gifts await? What does DNA hold, for me, and for all of us? Which ancestors are just waiting to be discovered? Who will I discover and get to know?

I’m oh so grateful for this uncharted path. Y2K wasn’t just a technology event. For me, the new millennium signified molting the heavy past in order to embrace a promising future. A transition – an exit from a dark tunnel into the light.

And I thought Y2K was just an inopportune catalyst for change in the computer industry.

2019: The Year and Decade of Change

2019 ends both a year and a decade. In the genealogy and genetic genealogy world, the overwhelmingly appropriate word to define both is “change.”

Everything has changed.

Millions more records are online now than ever before, both through the Big 3, being FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Ancestry, but also through multitudes of other sites preserving our history. Everyplace from National Archives to individual blogs celebrating history and ancestors.

All you need to do is google to find more than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more progress in the past decade that in all of the previous ones combined.

Just Beginning?

If you’re just beginning with genetic genealogy, welcome! I wrote this article just for you to see what to expect when your DNA results are returned.

If you’ve been working with genetic genealogy results for some time, or would like a great review of the landscape, let’s take this opportunity to take a look at how far we’ve come in the past year and decade.

It’s been quite a ride!

What Has Changed?



A decade ago, we had Y and mitochondrial DNA, but just the beginning of the autosomal revolution in the genetic genealogy space.

In 2010, Family Tree DNA had been in business for a decade and offered both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Ancestry offered a similar Y and mtDNA product, but not entirely the same markers, nor full sequence mitochondrial. Ancestry subsequently discontinued that testing and destroyed the matching database. Ancestry bought the Sorenson database that included Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, then destroyed that data base too.

23andMe was founded in 2006 and began autosomal testing in 2007 for health and genealogy. Genealogists piled on that bandwagon.

Family Tree DNA added autosomal to their menu in 2010, but Ancestry didn’t offer an autosomal product until 2012 and MyHeritage not until 2016. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have launched massive marketing and ad campaigns to help people figure out “who they are,” and who their ancestors were too.

Family Tree DNA

2019 FTDNA

Family Tree DNA had a banner year with the Big Y-700 product, adding over 211,000 Y DNA SNPs in 2019 alone to total more than 438,000 by year end, many of which became newly defined haplogroups. You can read more here. Additionally, Family Tree DNA introduced the Block Tree and public Y and public mitochondrial DNA trees.

Anyone who ignores Y DNA testing does so at their own peril. Information produced by Y DNA testing (and for that matter, mitochondrial too) cannot be obtained any other way. I wrote about utilizing mitochondrial DNA here and a series about how to utilize Y DNA begins in a few days.

Family Tree DNA remains the premier commercial testing company to offer high resolution and full sequence testing and matching, which of course is the key to finding genealogy solutions.

In the autosomal space, Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide Phased Family Matching which uses your matches on both sides of your tree, assuming you link 3rd cousins or closer, to assign other testers to specific parental sides of your tree.

Family Tree DNA accepts free uploads from other testing companies with the unlock for advanced features only $19. You can read about that here and here.


MyHeritage, the DNA testing dark horse, has come from behind from their late entry into the field in 2016 with focused Europeans ads and the purchase of Promethease in 2019. Their database stands at 3.7 million, not as many as either Ancestry or 23andMe, but for many people, including me – MyHeritage is much more useful, especially for my European lines. Not only is MyHeritage a genealogy company, piloted by Gilad Japhet, a passionate genealogist, but they have introduced easy-to-use advanced tools for consumers during 2019 to take the functionality lead in autosomal DNA.

2019 MyHeritage.png

You can read more about MyHeritage and their 2019 accomplishments, here.

As far as I’m concerned, the MyHeritage bases-loaded 4-product “Home Run” makes MyHeritage the best solution for genetic genealogy via either testing or transfer:

  • Triangulation – shows testers where 3 or more people match each other. You can read more, here.
  • Tree Matching – SmartMatching for both DNA testers and those who have not DNA tested
  • Theories of Family Relativity – a wonderful new tool introduced in February. You can read more here.
  • AutoClusters – Integrated cluster technology helps you to visualize which groups of people match each other.

One of their best features, Theories of Family Relativity connects the dots between people you DNA match with disparate trees and other documents, such as census. This helps you and others break down long-standing brick walls. You can read more, here.

MyHeritage encourages uploads from other testing companies with basic functions such as matching for free. Advanced features cost either a one-time unlock fee of $29 or are included with a full subscription which you can try for free, here. You can read about what is free and what isn’t, here.

You can develop a testing and upload strategy along with finding instructions for how to upload here and here.


Today, 23andMe is best known for health, having recovered after having had their wings clipped a few years back by the FDA. They were the first to offer Health results, leveraging the genealogy marketspace to attract testers, but have recently been eclipsed by both Family Tree DNA with their high end full Exome Tovana test and MyHeritage with their Health upgrade which provides more information than 23andMe along with free genetic counseling if appropriate. Both the Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage tests are medically supervised, so can deliver more results.

23andMe has never fully embraced genetic genealogy by adding the ability to upload and compare trees. In 2019, they introduced a beta function to attempt to create a genetic tree on your behalf based on how your matches match you and each other.

2019 23andMe.png

These trees aren’t accurate today, nor are they deep, but they are a beginning – especially considering that they are not based on existing trees. You can read more here.

The best 23andMe feature for genealogy, as far as I’m concerned, is their ethnicity along with the fact that they actually provide testers with the locations of their ethnicity segments which can help testers immensely, especially with minority ancestry matching. You can read about how to do this for yourself, here.

23andMe generally does not allow uploads, probably because they need people to test on their custom-designed medical chip. Very rarely, once that I know of in 2018, they do allow uploads – but in the past, uploaders do not receive all of the genealogy features and benefits of testing.

You can however, download your DNA file from 23andMe and upload elsewhere, with instructions here.


Ancestry is widely known for their ethnicity ads which are extremely effective in recruiting new testers. That’s the great news. The results are frustrating to seasoned genealogists who get to deal with the fallout of confused people trying to figure out why their results don’t match their expectations and family stories. That’s the not-so-great news.

However, with more than 15 million testers, many of whom DO have genealogy trees, a serious genealogist can’t *NOT* test at Ancestry. Testers do need to be aware that not all features are available to DNA testers who don’t also subscribe to Ancestry’s genealogy subscriptions. For example, you can’t see your matches’ trees beyond a 5 generation preview without a subscription. You can read more about what you do and don’t receive, here.

Ancestry is the only one of the major companies that doesn’t provide a chromosome browser, despite pleas for years to do so, but they do provide ThruLines that show you other testers who match your DNA and show a common ancestor with you in their trees.

2019 Ancestry.png

ThruLines will also link partial trees – showing you ancestral descendants from the perspective of the ancestor in question, shown above. You can read about ThruLines, here.

Of course, without a chromosome browser, this match is only as good as the associated trees, and there is no way to prove the genealogical connection. It’s possible to all be wrong together, or to be related to some people through a completely different ancestor. Third party tools like Genetic Affairs and cluster technology help resolve these types of issues. You can read more, here.

You can’t upload DNA files from other testing companies to Ancestry, probably due to their custom medical chip. You can download your file from Ancestry and upload to other locations, with instructions here.

Selling Customers’ DNA

Neither Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage nor Gedmatch sell, lease or otherwise share their customers’ DNA, and all three state (minimally) they will not in the future without prior authorization.

All companies utilize their customers’ DNA internally to enhance and improve their products. That’s perfectly normal.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe sell consumers DNA to both known and unknown partners if customers opt-in to additional research. That’s the purpose of all those questions.

If you do agree or opt-in, and for those who tested prior to when the opt-in began, consumers don’t know who their DNA has been sold to, where it is or for what purposes it’s being utilized. Although anonymized (pseudonymized) before sale, autosomal results can easily be identified to the originating tester (if someone were inclined to do so) as demonstrated by adoptees identifying parents and law enforcement identifying both long deceased remains and criminal perpetrators of violent crimes. You can read more about re-identification here, although keep in mind that the re-identification frequency (%) would be much higher now than it was in 2018.

People are widely split on this issue. Whatever you decide, to opt-in or not, just be sure to do your homework first.

Always read the terms and conditions fully and carefully of anything having to do with genetics.


The bottom line to genetic genealogy is the genealogy aspect. Genealogists want to confirm ancestors and discover more about those ancestors. Some information can only be discovered via DNA testing today, distant Native heritage, for example, breaking through brick walls.

This technology, as it has advanced and more people have tested, has been a godsend for genealogists. The same techniques have allowed other people to locate unknown parents, grandparents and close relatives.


Not only are genealogists identifying people long in the past that are their ancestors, but adoptees and those seeking unknown parents are making discoveries much closer to home. MyHeritage has twice provided thousands of free DNA tests via their DNAQuest program to adoptees seeking their biological family with some amazing results.

The difference between genealogy, which looks back in time several generations, and parent or grand-parent searches is that unknown-parent searches use matches to come forward in time to identify parents, not backwards in time to identify distant ancestors in common.

Adoptee matching is about identifying descendants in common. According to Erlich et al in an October 2018 paper, here, about 60% of people with European ancestry could be identified. With the database growth since that time, that percentage has risen, I’m sure.

You can read more about the adoption search technique and how it is used, here.

Adoptee searches have spawned their own subculture of sorts, with researchers and search angels that specialize in making these connections. Do be aware that while many reunions are joyful, not all discoveries are positively received and the revelations can be traumatic for all parties involved.

There’s ying and yang involved, of course, and the exact same techniques used for identifying biological parents are also used to identify cold-case deceased victims of crime as well as violent criminals, meaning rapists and murderers.

Crimes Solved

The use of genetic genealogy and adoptee search techniques for identifying skeletal remains of crime victims, as well as identifying criminals in order that they can be arrested and removed from the population has resulted in a huge chasm and division in the genetic genealogy community.

These same issues have become popular topics in the press, often authored by people who have no experience in this field, don’t understand how these techniques are applied or function and/or are more interested in a sensational story than in the truth. The word click-bait springs to mind although certainly doesn’t apply equally to all.

Some testers are adamantly pro-usage of their DNA in order to identify victims and apprehend violent criminals. Other testers, not so much and some, on the other end of the spectrum are vehemently opposed. This is a highly personal topic with extremely strong emotions on both sides.

The first such case was the Golden State Killer, which has been followed in the past 18 months or so by another 100+ solved cases.

Regardless of whether or not people want their own DNA to be utilized to identify these criminals and victims, providing closure for families, I suspect the one thing we can all agree on is that we are grateful that these violent criminals no longer live among us and are no longer preying on innocent victims.

I wrote about the Golden State Killer, here, as well as other articles here, here, here and here.

In the genealogy community, various vendors have adopted quite different strategies relating to these kinds of searches, as follows:

  • Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage – have committed to fight all access attempts by law enforcement, including court ordered subpoenas.
  • MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch allow uploads, so forensic kits, meaning kits from deceased remains or rape kits could be uploaded to search for matches, the same as any other kit. Law Enforcement uploads violate the MyHeritage terms of service. Both Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch have special law enforcement procedures in place. All three companies have measures in place to attempt to detect unauthorized forensic uploads.
  • Family Tree DNA has provided a specific Law Enforcement protocol and guidelines for forensic uploads, here. All EU customers were opted out earlier in 2019, but all new or existing non-EU customers need to opt out if they do not want their DNA results available for matching to law enforcement kits.
  • GEDmatch was recently sold to Verogen, a DNA forensics company, with information, here. Currently GEDMatch customers are opted-out of matching for law enforcement kits, but can opt-in. Verogen, upon purchase of GEDmatch, required all users to read the terms and conditions and either accept the terms or delete their kits. Users can also delete their kits or turn off/on law enforcement matching at any time.

New Concerns

Concerns in late 2019 have focused on the potential misuse of genetic matching to potentially target subsets of individuals by despotic regimes such as has been done by China to the Uighurs.

You can read about potential risks here, here and here, along with a recent DoD memo here.

Some issues spelled out in the papers can be resolved by vendors agreeing to cryptographically sign their files when customers download. Of course, this would require that everyone, meaning all vendors, play nice in the sandbox. So far, that hasn’t happened although I would expect that the vendors accepting uploads would welcome cryptographic signatures. That pretty much leaves Ancestry and 23andMe. I hope they will step up to the plate for the good of the industry as a whole.

Relative to the concerns voiced in the papers and by the DoD, I do not wish to understate any risks. There ARE certainly risks of family members being identified via DNA testing, which is, after all, the initial purpose even though the current (and future) uses were not foreseen initially.

In most cases, the cow has already left that barn. Even if someone new chooses not to test, the critical threshold is now past to prevent identification of individuals, at least within the US and/or European diaspora communities.

I do have concerns:

  • Websites where the owners are not known in the genealogical community could be collecting uploads for clandestine purposes. “Free” sites are extremely attractive to novices who tend to forget that if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Please be very cognizant and leery. Actually, just say no unless you’re positive.
  • Fearmongering and click-bait articles in general will prevent and are already causing knee-jerk reactions, causing potential testers to reject DNA testing outright, without doing any research or reading terms and conditions.
  • That Ancestry and 23andMe, the two major vendors who don’t accept uploads will refuse to add crypto-signatures to protect their customers who download files.

Every person needs to carefully make their own decisions about DNA testing and participating in sharing through third party sites.


Not surprisingly, the DNA testing market space has cooled a bit this past year. This slowdown is likely due to a number of factors such as negative press and the fact that perhaps the genealogical market is becoming somewhat saturated. Although, I suspect that when vendors announce major new tools, their DNA kit sales spike accordingly.

Look at it this way, do you know any serious genealogists who haven’t DNA tested? Most are in all of the major databases, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

All of the testing companies mentioned above (except GEDmatch who is not a testing company) now have a Health offering, designed to offer existing and new customers additional value for their DNA testing dollar.

23andMe separated their genealogy and health offering years ago. Ancestry and MyHeritage now offer a Health upgrade. For existing customers, FamilyTreeDNA offers the Cadillac of health tests through Tovana.

I would guess it goes without saying here that if you really don’t want to know about potential health issues, don’t purchase these tests. The flip side is, of course, that most of the time, a genetic predisposition is nothing more and not a death sentence.

From my own perspective, I found the health tests to be informative, actionable and in some cases, they have been lifesaving for friends.

Whoever knew genealogy might save your life.

Innovative Third-Party Tools

Tools, and fads, come and go.

In the genetic genealogy space, over the years, tools have burst on the scene to disappear a few months later. However, the last few years have been won by third party tools developed by well-known and respected community members who have created tools to assist other genealogists.

As we close this decade, these are my picks of the tools that I use almost daily, have proven to be the most useful genealogically and that I feel I just “couldn’t live without.”

And yes, before you ask, some of these have a bit of a learning curve, but if you are serious about genealogy, these are all well worthwhile:

  • GedMatch – offers a wife variety of tools including triangulation, half versus fully identical segments and the ability to see who your matches also match. One of the tools I utilize regularly is segment search to see who else matches me on a specific segment, attached to an ancestor I’m researching. GedMatch, started by genealogists, has lasted more than a decade prior to the sale in December 2019.
  • Genetic Affairs – a barn-burning newcomer developed by Evert-Jan Blom in 2018 wins this years’ “Best” award from me. Genetic Affairs offers clustering, tree building between your matches even when YOU don’t have a tree. You can read more here.

2019 genetic affairs.png

Just today, Genetic Affairs released a new cluster interface with DNAPainter, example shown above.

  • DNAPainter – THE chromosome painter created by Jonny Perl just gets better and better, having added pedigree tree construction this year and other abilities. I wrote a composite instructional article, here.
  • and Genetic.Families, affiliated with – Rob Warthen in collaboration with others provides tools like clustering combined with triangulation. My favorite feature is the gathering of all direct ancestors of my matches’ trees at the various vendors where I’ve DNA tested which allows me to search for common surnames and locations, providing invaluable hints not otherwise available.

Promising Newcomer

  • MitoYDNA – a non-profit newcomer by folks affiliated with DNAAdoption and DNAGedcom is designed to replace YSearch and MitoSearch, both felled by the GDPR ax in 2018. This website allows people to upload their Y and mitochondrial DNA results and compare the values to each other, not just for matching, which you can do at Family Tree DNA, but also to see the values that do and don’t match and how they differ. I’ll be taking MitoYDNA for a test drive after the first of the year and will share the results with you.

The Future

What does the future hold? I almost hesitate to guess.

  • Artificial Intelligence Pedigree Chart – I think that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the ability to provide testers with a “one and done” pedigree chart. In other words, you will test and receive at least some portion of your genealogy all tidily presented, red ribbon untied and scroll rolled out in front of you like you’re the guest on one of those genealogy TV shows.

Except it’s not a show and is a result of DNA testing, segment triangulation, trees and other tools which narrow your ancestors to only a few select possibilities.

Notice I said, “the ability to.” Just because we have the ability doesn’t mean a vendor will implement this functionality. In fact, just think about the massive businesses built upon the fact that we, as genealogists, have to SEARCH incessantly for these elusive answers. Would it be in the best interest of these companies to just GIVE you those answers when you test?

If not, then these types of answers will rest with third parties. However, there’s a hitch. Vendors generally don’t welcome third parties offering advanced tools and therefore block those tools, even though they are being used BY the customer or with their explicit authorization to massage their own data.

On the other hand, as a genealogist, I would welcome this feature with open arms – because as far as I’m concerned, the identification of that ancestor is just the first step. I get to know them by fleshing out their bones by utilizing those research records.

In fact, I’m willing to pony up to the table and I promise, oh-so-faithfully, to maintain my subscription lifelong if one of those vendors will just test me. Please, please, oh pretty-please put me to the test!

I guess you know what my New Year’s Wish is for this and upcoming years now too😊

What About You?

What do you think the high points of 2019 have been?

How about the decade?

What do you think the future holds?

Do you care to make any predictions?

Are you planning to focus on any particular goal or genealogy problem in 2020?



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