Concepts: Inheritance


What is it?

How does it work?

I’m not talking about possessions – but about the DNA that you receive from your parents, and their parents.

The reason that genetic genealogy works is because of inheritance. You inherit DNA from your parents in a known and predictable fashion.

Fortunately, we have more than one kind of DNA to use for genealogy.

Types of DNA

Females have 3 types of DNA and males have 4. These different types of DNA are inherited in various ways and serve different genealogical purposes.

Males Females
Y DNA Yes No
Mitochondrial DNA Yes Yes
Autosomal DNA Yes Yes
X Chromosome Yes, their mother’s only Yes, from both parents

Different Inheritance Paths

Different types of DNA are inherited from different ancestors, down different ancestral paths.

Inheritance Paths

The inheritance path for Y DNA is father to son and is inherited by the brother, in this example, from his direct male ancestors shown by the blue arrow. The sister does not have a Y chromosome.

The inheritance path for the red mitochondrial DNA for both the brother and sister is from the direct matrilineal ancestors, only, shown by the red arrow.

Autosomal DNA is inherited from all ancestral lines on both the father’s and mother’s side of your tree, as illustrated by the broken green arrow.

The X chromosome has a slightly different inheritance path, depending on whether you are a male or female.

Let’s take a look at each type of inheritance, how it works, along with when and where it’s useful for genealogy.

Autosomal DNA

Autosomal DNA testing is the most common. It’s the DNA that you inherit from both of your parents through all ancestral lines back in time several generations. Autosomal DNA results in matches at the major testing companies such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe where testers view trees or other hints, hoping to determine a common ancestor.

How does autosomal DNA work?

22 autosomes

Every person has two each of 22 chromosomes, shown above, meaning one copy is contributed by your mother and one copy by your father. Paired together, they form the two-sided shape we are familiar with.

For each pair of chromosomes, you receive one from your father, shown with a blue arrow under chromosome 1, and one from your mother, shown in red. In you, these are randomly combined, so you can’t readily tell which piece comes from which parent. Therein lies the challenge for genealogy.

This inheritance pattern is the same for all chromosomes, except for the 23rd pair of chromosomes, at bottom right, which determined the sex of the child.

The 23rd chromosome pair is inherited differently for males and females. One copy is the Y chromosome, shown in blue, and one copy is the X, shown in red. If you receive a Y chromosome from your father, you’re a male. If you receive an X from your father, you’re a female.

Autosomal Inheritance

First, let’s talk about how chromosomes 1-22 are inherited, omitting chromosome 23, beginning with grandparents.

Inheritance son daughter

Every person inherits precisely half of each of their parents’ autosomal DNA. For example, you will receive one copy of your mother’s chromosome 1. Your mother’s chromosome 1 is a combination of her mother’s and father’s chromosome 1. Therefore, you’ll receive ABOUT 25% of each of your grandparents’ chromosome 1.

Inheritance son daughter difference

In reality, you will probably receive a different amount of your grandparent’s DNA, not exactly 25%, because your mother or father will probably contribute slightly more (or less) of the DNA of one of their parents than the other to their offspring.

Which pieces of DNA you inherit from your parents is random, and we don’t know how the human body selects which portions are and are not inherited, other than we know that large pieces are inherited together.

Therefore, the son and daughter won’t inherit the exact same segments of the grandparents’ DNA. They will likely share some of the same segments, but not all the same segments.

Inheritance maternal autosomalYou’ll notice that each parent carries more of each color DNA than they pass on to their own children, so different children receive different pieces of their parents’ DNA, and varying percentages of their grandparents’ DNA.

I wrote about a 4 Generation Inheritance Study, here.


Keep in mind that you will only inherit half of the DNA that each of your parents carries.

Looking at a chromosome browser, you match your parents on all of YOUR chromosomes.

Inheritance parental autosomal

For example, this is me compared to my father. I match my father on either his mother’s side, or his father’s side, on every single location on MY chromosomes. But I don’t match ALL of my father’s DNA, because I only received half of what he has.

From your parents’ perspective, you only have half of their DNA.

Let’s look at an illustration.

Inheritance mom dad

Here is an example of one of your father’s pairs of chromosomes 1-22. It doesn’t matter which chromosome, the concepts are the same.

He inherited the blue chromosome from his father and the pink chromosome from his mother.

Your father contributed half of his DNA to you, but that half is comprised of part of his father’s chromosome, and part of his mother’s chromosome, randomly selected in chunks referred to as segments.

Inheritance mom dad segments

Your father’s chromosomes are shown in the upper portion of the graphic, and your chromosome that you inherited from you father is shown below.

On your copy of your father’s chromosome, I’ve darkened the dark blue and dark pink segments that you inherited from him. You did not receive the light blue and light pink segments. Those segments of DNA are lost to your line, but one of your siblings might have inherited some of those pieces.

Inheritance mom dad both segments

Now, I’ve added the DNA that you inherited from your Mom into the mixture. You can see that you inherited the dark green from your Mom’s father and the dark peach from your Mom’s mother.

Inheritance grandparents dna

These colored segments reflect the DNA that you inherited from your 4 grandparents on this chromosome.

I often see questions from people wondering how they match someone from their mother’s side and someone else from their father’s side – on the same segment.

Understanding that you have a copy of the same chromosome from your mother and one from your father clearly shows how this happens.

Inheritance match 1 2

You carry a chromosome from each parent, so you will match different people on the same segment. One match is to the chromosome copy from Mom, and one match is to Dad’s DNA.

Inheritance 4 gen

Here is the full 4 generation inheritance showing Match 1 matching a segment from your Dad’s father and Match 2 matching a segment from your Mom’s father.

Your Parents Will Have More Matches Than You Do

From your parents’ perspective, you will only match (roughly) half of the DNA with other people that they will match. On your Dad’s side, on segment 1, you won’t match anyone pink because you didn’t inherit your paternal grandmother’s copy of segment 1, nor did you inherit your maternal grandmother’s segment 1 either. However, your parents will each have matches on those segments of DNA that you didn’t inherit from them.

From your perspective, one or the other of your parents will match ALL of the people you match – just like we see in Match 1 and Match 2.

Matching you plus either of your parents, on the same segment, is exactly how we determine whether a match is valid, meaning identical by descent, or invalid, meaning identical by chance. I wrote about that in the article, Concepts: Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance.

Inheritance on chromosomes 1-22 works in this fashion. So does the X chromosome, fundamentally, but the X chromosome has a unique inheritance pattern.

X Chromosome

The X chromosome is inherited differently for males as compared to females. This is because the 23rd pair of chromosomes determines a child’s sex.

If the child is a female, the child inherits an X from both parents. Inheritance works the same way as chromosomes 1-22, conceptually, but the inheritance path on her father’s side is different.

If the child is a male, the father contributes a Y chromosome, but no X, so the only X chromosome a male has is his mother’s X chromosome.

Males inherit X chromosomes differently than females, so a valid X match can only descend from certain ancestors on your tree.

inheritance x fan

This is my fan chart showing the X chromosome inheritance path, generated by using Charting Companion. My father’s paternal side of his chart is entirely blank – because he only received his X chromosome from his mother.

You’ll notice that the X chromosome can only descend from any male though his mother – the effect being a sort of checkerboard inheritance pattern. Only the pink and blue people potentially contributed all or portions of X chromosomes to me.

This can actually be very useful for genealogy, because several potential ancestors are immediately eliminated. I cannot have any X chromosome segment from the white boxes with no color.

The X Chromsome in Action

Here’s an X example of how inheritance works.

Inheritance X

The son inherits his entire X chromosome from his mother. She may give him all of her father’s or mother’s X, or parts of both. It’s not uncommon to find an entire X chromosome inherited. The son inherits no X from his father, because he inherits the Y chromosome instead.

Inheritance X daughter

The daughter inherits her father’s X chromosome, which is the identical X chromosome that her father inherited from his mother. The father doesn’t have any other X to contribute to his daughter, so like her father, she inherits no portion of an X chromosome from her paternal grandfather.

The daughter also received segments of her mother’s X that her mother inherited maternally and paternally. As with the son, the daughter can receive an entire X chromosome from either her maternal grandmother or maternal grandfather.

This next illustration ONLY pertains to chromosome 23, the X and Y chromosomes.

Inheritance x y

You can see in this combined graphic that the Y is only inherited by sons from one direct line, and the father’s X is only inherited by his daughter.

X chromosome results are included with autosomal results at both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, but are not provided at MyHeritage. Ancestry, unfortunately, does not provide segment information of any kind, for the X or chromosomes 1-22. You can, however, transfer the DNA files to Family Tree DNA where you can view your X matches.

Note that X matches need to be larger than regular autosomal matches to be equally as useful due to lower SNP density. I use 10-15 cM as a minimum threshold for consideration, equivalent to about 7 cM for autosomal matches. In other words, roughly double the rule of thumb for segment size matching validity.

Autosomal Education

My blog is full of autosomal educational articles and is fully keyword searchable, but here are two introductory articles that include information from the four major vendors:

When to Purchase Autosomal DNA Tests

Literally, anytime you want to work on genealogy to connect with cousins, prove ancestors or break through brick walls.

  • Purchase tests for yourself and your siblings if both parents aren’t living
  • Purchase tests for both parents
  • Purchase tests for all grandparents
  • Purchase tests for siblings of your parents or your grandparents – they have DNA your parents (and you) didn’t inherit
  • Test all older generation family members
  • If the family member is deceased, test their offspring
  • Purchase tests for estimates of your ethnicity or ancestral origins


Y DNA is only inherited by males from males. The Y chromosome is what makes a male, male. Men inherit the Y chromosome intact from their father, with no contribution from the mother or any female, which is why men’s Y DNA matches that of their father and is not diluted in each generation.

Inheritance y mtdna

If there are no adoptions in the line, known or otherwise, the Y DNA will match men from the same Y DNA line with only small differences for many generations. Eventually, small changes known as mutations accrue. After many accumulated mutations taking several hundred years, men no longer match on special markers called Short Tandem Repeats (STR). STR markers generally match within the past 500-800 years, but further back in time, they accrue too many mutations to be considered a genealogical-era match.

Family Tree DNA sells this test in 67 and 111 marker panels, along with a product called the Big Y-700.

The Big Y-700 is the best-of-class of Y DNA tests and includes at least 700 STR markers along with SNPs which are also useful genealogically plus reach further back in time to create a more complete picture.

The Big Y-700 test scans the entire useful portion of the Y chromosome, about 15 million base pairs, as compared to 67 or 111 STR locations.

67 and 111 Marker Panel Customers Receive:

  • STR marker matches
  • Haplogroup estimate
  • Ancestral Origins
  • Matches Map showing locations of the earliest known ancestors of matches
  • Haplogroup Origins
  • Migration Maps
  • STR marker results
  • Haplotree and SNPs
  • SNP map

Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA customers all receive options for Advanced Matching.

Big Y-700 customers receive, in addition to the above:

  • All of the SNP markers in the known phylotree shown publicly, here
  • A refined, definitive haplogroup
  • Their place on the Block Tree, along with their matches
  • New or unknown private SNPs that might lead to a new haplogroup, or genetic clan, assignment
  • 700+ STR markers
  • Matching on both the STR markers and SNP markers, separately

Y DNA Education

I wrote several articles about understanding and using Y DNA:

When to Purchase Y DNA Tests

The Y DNA test is for males who wish to learn more about their paternal line and match against other men to determine or verify their genealogical lineage.

Women cannot test directly, but they can purchase the Y DNA test for men such as fathers, brothers, and uncles.

If you are purchasing for someone else, I recommend purchasing the Big Y-700 initially.

Why purchase the Big Y-700, when you can purchase a lower level test for less money? Because if you ever want to upgrade, and you likely will, you have to contact the tester and obtain their permission to upgrade their test. They may be ill, disinterested, or deceased, and you may not be able to upgrade their test at that time, so strike while the iron is hot.

The Big Y-700 provides testers, by far, the most Y DNA data to work (and fish) with.

Mitochondrial DNA

Inheritance mito

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to both sexes of their children, but only females pass it on.

In your tree, you and your siblings all inherit your mother’s mitochondrial DNA. She inherited it from her mother, and your grandmother from her mother, and so forth.

Mitochondrial DNA testers at FamilyTreeDNA receive:

  • A definitive haplogroup, thought of as a genetic clan
  • Matching
  • Matches Map showing locations of the earliest know ancestors of matches
  • Personalized mtDNA Journey video
  • Mutations
  • Haplogroup origins
  • Ancestral origins
  • Migration maps
  • Advanced matching

Of course, Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testers can join various projects.

Mitochondrial DNA Education

I created a Mitochondrial DNA page with a comprehensive list of educational articles and resources.

When to Purchase Mitochondrial DNA Tests

Mitochondrial DNA can be valuable in terms of matching as well as breaking down brick walls for women ancestors with no surnames. You can also use targeted testing to prove, or disprove, relationship theories.

Furthermore, your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, like Y DNA haplogroups, provides information about where your ancestors came from by identifying the part of the world where they have the most matches.

You’ll want to purchase the mtFull sequence test provided by Family Tree DNA. Earlier tests, such as the mtPlus, can be upgraded. The full sequence test tests all 16,569 locations on the mitochondria and provides testers with the highest level matching as well as their most refined haplogroup.

The full sequence test is only sold by Family Tree DNA and provides matching along with various tools. You’ll also be contributing to science by building the mitochondrial haplotree of womankind through the Million Mito Project.

Combined Resources for Genealogists

You may need to reach out to family members to obtain Y and mitochondrial DNA for your various genealogical lines.

For example, the daughter in the tree below, a genealogist, can personally take an autosomal test along with a mitochondrial test for her matrilineal line, but she cannot test for Y DNA, nor can she obtain her paternal grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA directly by testing herself.

Hearts represent mitochondrial DNA, and stars, Y DNA.

Inheritance combined

However, our genealogist’s brother, father or grandfather can test for her father’s (blue star) Y DNA.

Her father or any of his siblings can test for her paternal grandmother’s (hot pink heart) mitochondrial DNA, which provides information not available from any other tester in this tree, except for the paternal grandmother herself.

Our genealogist’s paternal grandfather, and his siblings, can test for his mother’s (yellow heart) mitochondrial DNA.

Our genealogist’s maternal grandfather can test for his (green star) Y DNA and (red heart) mitochondrial DNA.

And of course, it goes without saying that every single generation upstream of the daughter, our genealogist, should all take autosomal DNA tests.

So, with several candidates, who can and should test for what?

Person Y DNA Mitochondrial Autosomal
Daughter No Y – can’t test Yes, her pink mother’s Yes – Test
Son Yes – blue Y Yes, his pink mother’s Yes – Test
Father Yes – blue Y Yes – his magenta mother’s Yes – Test
Paternal Grandfather Yes – blue Y – Best to Test Yes, his yellow mother’s – Test Yes – Test
Mother No Y – can’t test Yes, her pink mother’s Yes – Test
Maternal Grandmother No Y – can’t test Yes, her pink mother’s – Best to Test Yes – Test
Maternal Grandfather Yes – green Y – Test Yes, his red mother’s – Test Yes – Test

The best person/people to test for each of the various lines and types of DNA is shown bolded above…assuming that all people are living. Of course, if they aren’t, then test anyone else in the tree who carries that particular DNA – and don’t forget to consider aunts and uncles, or their children, as candidates.

If one person takes the Y and/or mitochondrial DNA test to represent a specific line, you don’t need another person to take the same test for that line. The only possible exception would be to confirm a specific Y DNA result matches a lineage as expected.

Looking at our three-generation example, you’ll be able to obtain a total of two Y DNA lines, three mitochondrial DNA lines, and 8 autosomal results, helping you to understand and piece together your family line.

You might ask, given that the parents and grandparents have all autosomally tested in this example, if our genealogist really needs to test her brother, and the answer is probably not – at least not today.

However, in cases like this, I do test the sibling, simply because I can learn and it may encourage their interest or preserve their DNA for their children who might someday be interested. We also don’t know what kind of advances the future holds.

If the parents aren’t both available, then you’ll want to test as many of your (and their) siblings as possible to attempt to recover as much of the parents’ DNA, (and matches) as possible.

Your family members’ DNA is just as valuable to your research as your own.

Increase Your Odds

Don’t let any of your inherited DNA go unused.

You can increase your odds of having autosomal matches by making sure you are in all 4 major vendor databases.

Both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage accept transfers from 23andMe and Ancestry, who don’t accept transfers. Transferring and matching is free, and their unlock fees, $19 at FamilyTreeDNA, and $29 at MyHeritage, respectively, to unlock their advanced tools are both less expensive than retesting.

You’ll find easy-to-follow step-by-step transfer instructions to and from the vendors in the article DNA File Upload-Download and Transfer Instructions to and from DNA Testing Companies.


You can order any of the tests mentioned above by clicking on these links:





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Genealogy Research

The Saga of the Three Johann Michael Kirschs – 52 Ancestors #288

Which Johann Michael Kirsch, wife Anna Margaretha, was the father of Elias Nicolaus Kirsch born in the beautiful little village of Fussgoenheim, Germany on May 6, 1733?

That’s the million-dollar question!

When I began this journey, we didn’t know that there were three different Johann Michael Kirschs that were candidates to be the father of Elias Nicolaus, nor that all three men were married to women named Anna Margaretha with no surname.

I mean, this was a tiny village, estimated to be 150-200 people total in 1720, or 30-40 families – not a city – so what are the chances that we would encounter this level of same-name confusion?

Most genealogical puzzles become easier as one obtains additional information. Not this one. Every new piece of information simply complicated the original question.

I wanted to pull my hair out. Even Tom, my trusty friend, was ready to throw in the towel from time to time. But thankfully, that’s not Tom, and he didn’t, viewing Johann Michael Kirsch as a challenge instead. Neither Tom nor Christoph bailed on me, and it’s a good thing because this would NEVER have been solved without the combined information and resources of both of them and several other people over the decades.

This is arguably the most difficult genealogical puzzle I’ve ever faced.

Just this week, Tom found the almost impossibly elusive nail that sealed the deal. I’ll share the answer after we work through the process, because our path of discovery may be beneficial to you as well. Additionally, I don’t want to waste any of the information we gathered that pertains to other Kirsch family members. Anyone who hits the Johann Michael Kirsch wall will need this.

Building Blocks  

First, I need to express my gratitude.

Over the years:

  • Tom and Christoph searched out, found, and translated innumerable documents – and I mean probably hundreds. Several years ago, Tom told me that solving this one would require reading and translating every Kirsch record in Fussgoenheim, and it would take a lifetime. I would never have asked him to do that, but alas, he wasn’t going to let Johann Michael Kirsch get the best of him. As it turns out, not only did it require reading every Kirsch record in Fussgoenheim but in other locations as well, PLUS records of other families besides Kirsch.
  • My cousin Marliese in the 1940s sent wonderful letters and photos of the ancestral Kirsch home in Fussgoenheim to her Kirsch relatives in Aurora, Indiana, descendants of my ancestors who immigrated in the 1850s. Marliese’s daughter corresponded with me years later. I’ve written several articles about my Kirsch ancestors and finding their paths, here. Those paths were quite the forked road in many cases.
  • Another 2 cousins, Irene and Joyce, long deceased, wrote letters in the 1970s and 1980s mentioning a German man, Walter Schnebel, who had provided some Kirsch information that has turned out to be quite accurate. That was long before the days of the internet, email, or sourcing genealogy, and as they aged, their letters stopped, leaving unanswered questions hanging. Not to mention, I had no idea how to find Walter.
  • My blog follower, and now friend, Noél, took a detour on her vacation and actually found the original Kirsch home in Fussgoenheim, based on location work I did from the photos Marliese sent and Google maps. You can read that article here. The day I received those photos is one I’ll never forget. This was AMAZING!!! I am so grateful!
  • Walter Schnebel researched and compiled information for decades about Fussgoenheim families and planned to publish a book, but unfortunately, he died in October 2018. Walter grew up next door to the Kirsch home in Fussgoenheim, and of course, was related as well.
  • Blog follower William lives nearby in Germany and reached out to Walter’s family, obtaining a spreadsheet of Walter’s Kirsch family research and very kindly shared with me.

Walter’s research notes were invaluable, but his sources were not always listed. I’m sure those would have been in his book.

Walter had assigned my Elias Nicolaus Kirsch to one of the three Johann Michael Kirsch’s but never provided information as to why. As it turned out, Walter was right, and one simple note as to why he assigned Elias to that specific Johann Michael would have saved me (and Tom and Christoph) years of frustration trying to retrace Walter’s steps. By the way, those steps ultimately led to a different village altogether to locate that elusive proof. I’m not even sure that Walter found those same records. Having said that, trying to retrace Walter’s steps has provided me with the opportunity to get to know Fussgoenheim and her families much better.

During this process, I composed theories about the various relationships, and what information suggested which Johann Michael Kirsch was the father of my Elias Nicolaus. Tom and Christoph would review my theories and poke holes in them – often finding new records to add to our pile of evidence. We make an amazing team!!!

Proof, however, was maddeningly elusive – that is – until just recently.

The Earliest Records

Unfortunately, Fussgoenheim church records are limited and incomplete. I think Tom said they are the worst record set he has ever dealt with, and that’s saying something coming from a retired German genealogist.

  • Baptisms: 1726-1798 and 1816-1839
  • Marriages: 1727-1768 and 1816-1839
  • Deaths: 1733-1775 and 1816-1839

While death records reportedly began in 1733, truth be told, they are nonexistent for many of those years entirely, especially early years, and spotty during other times. In other words, the absence of a record doesn’t imply the absence of the person.

I’ve wondered why some of these records are so sparse, and I did find a hint or two. In one record I discovered, it was mentioned that the residents were, or weren’t, paying for building a Lutheran church in the early 1730s. Given that they already had a church, why would they need to build another one? There were never two.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim 1734 field camp

The answer may lay on this map titled “The Conquest of the Left Rhine Territories by France” that shows a military field camp near, at or in Fussgoenheim in August 1734, during the War of Polish Succession. Battle lines were drawn directly through the neighboring village of Mutterstadt.

There some script in the front of the 1733 church book that might explain this situation. I have vague memories of Elke, my translator back in the 1980s, discovering some text about the residents escaping over the Rhine for some time, and eventually, returning, but I can’t recall if it was the Mutterstadt or Fussgoenheim church books. This warfare might well explain both a lack of complete records during that timeframe, the absence of earlier records, and the need to rebuild a church.

The church itself dates from before 1728. Fussgoenheim’s history indicates that the village had been entirely Protestant since 1728. Christoph found information that states there are three remaining stones in the churchyard.

Christoph found information about two of the three old gravestones: There is one from 1605 for a son of Elias Roschel and one from 1606 for the wife of Elias Roschel. Elias Roschel is thought to have been the first Lutheran pastor in Fussgoenheim. Of course, this dates the existance of the Lutheran church to at least this time, albeit in an earlier building.

I would love to have interior photos of this quaint little church where my ancestors were baptized.

Early Generations of Kirschs

The earliest record of the Kirsch family in Fussgoenheim is that of Jerg Kirsch who married in Durkheim in 1650 and is noted in other records as the co-lessee of the Josten estate in Fussgoenheim.

Jerg Kirsch, a nickname for Johann Georg, is the progenitor of the Kirsch family in Fussgoenheim.

Since church records don’t begin until long after Jerg’s children were born, the records of his children had to be assembled from later and scarce sources, such as births, marriages, deaths, and baptisms that identified people by their parents.

Jerg’s children were, in brief:

  • Johann Jacob Kirsch born about 1655 and died before 1723, married Maria Catharina, surname unknown
  • Daniel Kirsch born about 1660, died before 1723
  • Johannes Kirsch born about 1665 and died in 1738, in Ellerstadt, never married
  • Andreas born in 1666 and died in 1734, lived in Ellerstadt and Oggersheim, married Anna Barbara, surname unknown
  • Johann Michael Kirsch, the Judge, and referred to as “the eldest” when he died, born in 1668 and died in 1743, married Anna Margaretha Spanier – he had a son Johann Michael
    • Johann Michael Kirsch, the Baker, born about 1705 and died after 1753, married first to Anna Margaretha, surname unknown, married second to Anna Margaretha Wohlfahrt in 1739
  • Johann Wilhelm Kirsch born about 1760, died before 1723, lived in Oggersheim
  • Johann Adam Kirsch born in 1677 and died before 1740, first married the daughter of Adam Greulich and married second to Anna Maria Koob – he also had a son Johann Michael
    • Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, born about 1700, died between 1757 and October 1759, married first to Anna Margaretha, between surname unknown, who died in 1738, second to Maria Magdalena Michet in 1739

Here we see the three candidate Johann Michael Kirschs living in Fussgoenheim in 1733 when Elias Nicolaus was born.

I feel compelled to point out that we didn’t know any of this when we embarked on this journey, and none of it, not one iota, was easy to reassemble.

1743 and 1744

1743 and 1744 were watershed years in Fussgoenheim for our Kirsch family, as well as for the rest of the residents.

Fussgoenheim was a small village comprised of the upper village and lower village. Upper and lower refer to elevation, not north and south, and they are reversed from what you would expect, with under being the north side. The church was the dividing line, and the village was controlled historically by two different lords.

Christoph purchased a book about the history of Fussgoenhiem, written in German, and summarizes the following:

One of the strange stories about Fussgoenheim is that the town has been divided into two parts for centuries – ruled and owned by different lords. It has two parts, >Oberdorf< (upper village) and >Unterdorf< (lower village). The Lutheran church in the town center represented the border between the two parts. In 1728, the family von Hallberg acquired the upper village, later on around 1730, also the lower village.

Kirsch 1743 Fussgoenheim over village

The upper village, above, was actually to the south of the lower village, below. The Lutheran church is the dividing line, and just below the church is the residence of William Kirsch, the only Kirsch to live on this side of town. It looks like there are a total of 10 households. On the right side of the road, the Hallberg castle was built about 1740, but wasn’t shown on this map.

Kirsch 1743 Fussgoenheim under village

The lower village is north of the upper village. You can see the Lutheran church parsonage on this map, just north of the church. On the same side of the road, we see 8 properties, and across the road, in the bend, we see 14 properties.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim Kirsch property

Those 14 properties include 6 that can be attributed to Kirsch men, as follows:

  • Michael Kirsch, Schultheiss, which means mayor – three properties on the right-hand side
  • Martin Kirsch, red arrow upper left
  • Peter Kirsch, red arrow center left
  • Michael Kirsch’s widow, who we know if Anna Margaretha Spanier. Her son is Peter Kirsch.

The green arrows are:

  • Center left – may be another Kirsch male, beside Martin, but I can’t read clearly – could be Andreas
  • Upper right on bend – clearly a Kirsch surname, but can’t read the first name

Johann Michael Kirsch, the eldest, not the elder, died in 1743, suggesting that there were, in fact, more than 2 Johann Michael Kirschs living in Fussgoenheim at that time.

We know from other records that in 1743, there was a Johann Michael Kirsch the Mayor and Johann Michael Kirsch the Baker, who were cousins, but we don’t know where the Baker lives. He could live in one of the properties of his clearly better-off cousin, the Mayor.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim under village numbered

Kirsch Fussgoenheim over village numbered

I numbered the residences, hoping to be able to read the names and correlate with other records.

The surnames on the 1743 maps are difficult to read, but looking at Ancestry for the indexed Fussgoenheim church records for 1740-1743, I find the following 63 surnames which I attempted to match with names/locations on the map. Bolded names are found on a partial list of individuals who refused to sign the land register – a story of bravery we’ll get to in a minute.

Surnames 1743 Map Location 1743 Map Location 1743 Map Location 1743 Map Location 1743 Map Location 1743 Map Location
Beer 19 – Abraham Beet
Braun 16 – Math Braun
Eigel 18 – Georg Eichel
Haas 21 – Michael Haas
Hauck 2- Hauk? 31 – Wilh Hauck 33 – And? Hauck
Kirsch 1 – Martin Kirsch 7 – Peter Kirsch 8 – widow of Michael Kirsch 12 – ? Kirsch 14, 15, 22 – Michael Kirsch Mayor 24 – William Kirsch
Kob/Koob 6 – George Koob 15, 22 – Theob Koob
Sahler 13 – Sahler?
Sonntag/Stuntag 3 – Seantag
Map Names/Locations Not in Church Records
4 – Bastian See
5 – Bastian Umslatter?
9 – Lutheran church & parsonage
10 – Seebach
11 – Herrschmat?
20 – ? Schmitt
25 – Saalee?
26 – ?
27 – ?
28 – Seel
29 – ?
30 – Bingemann
32 – Elspermann

A few surnames are found only once or twice in the records, some may be misspelled duplicates, but many surnames are found repeatedly. This makes me wonder where all of these people lived since their homes are not on the map.

I think I have the answer, but I’m not positive. Based on the history I can glean, I think the 1743 map has to do with private land ownership and the Hallberg family acquiring the two halves of the village in 1728 and 1730. If this is the case, then serfs, or people without land that was privately owned would not be shown on the map.

Conversely, there seem to be several surnames on the maps, but not in the Lutheran church records, at least not for those years. This is somewhat confusing, unless those people were older and there were no births are deaths during this timeframe. There’s also another possibility.

There is a mention of a Jewish community in Fussgoenheim as early as 1684, associated with the Jewish community in Ruchheim, or, maybe some of those surnames were associated with the Hallberg castle and dynasty, which was Catholic. Either would explain why we don’t find those surnames in the Lutheran Church records.

Looking at the existing church records and residences, both, it’s quite evident that the Kirsch family was the most prevalent in the village. Ironic since they had only lived in the village since about 1650, so about 90 years by that time. Still, that’s roughly 3 generations, but with large families, the progenitor could and did have a lot of descendants.

Even today, the village has grown, but the original property lines haven’t changed a lot from that 1743 map.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim today lots

It’s interesting that you can see the same layout of the properties and lands that correlate to earlier maps.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim Kirsch Koob church

You can see the Protestant church at the green arrow, the Kirsch home at the red arrow, and the Koob home with the gold arrow, exactly as Marliese described in the 1940s with the information provided by her grandmother Marie Kirsch who was born in 1871. These locations also match the 1743 map with the Kirsch and Koob families living in the exact same locations.

Fussgoenheim Kirsch Koehler homes

The house to the left of the “X,” above, is the Kirsch property, and the house directly under the “O” is the Koob home.

The following map shows the entire historical village of Fussgoenheim, with arrows pointing to the Kirsch home, the church, and the Hallberg castle, at lower right.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim Kirsch church castle

Of course, I’m left wondering if the 1743 map is the redrawn Hallberg map that caused such an uproar? I suspect so, meaning that the original map would have shown more private ownership. Is that why Michael Kirsch, the Baker, is absent, perchance? The citizens disagreed with the Hallberg map vehemently.

I’m very grateful for the 1743 map, regardless, because, in 1744, things changed dramatically.


All Hell broke loose in 1744.

One Johann Michael Kirsch was dead. The remaining two Johann Michael Kirschs both, BOTH, were expelled from Fussgoenheim in 1744.

As Tom said to me a few years back, “Your guy got kicked out. I wonder what he did.”

Yea, me too!

Christoph provides some history:

After the von Hallberg family acquired the balance of the village in 1730, they seem to have been quite reckless in pressing out money and goods from the town people. Ruthless to the extent that the people opposed them. It should also be noted that all town people were Lutheran, while the ruling family von Halberg was Catholic – a great divide in those days.

Shortly after Baron von Halberg took over the rule, he decided in 1729 to have a new town plan recorded and to divide up the lots differently than before. Doing so, he seems to have cheated here and there and taken land for himself. At least this is what the town people accused him of, and the town`s court members refused to sign the new plan. Von Hallberg`s reaction was to expel these court members along with their families (in total: 15 families with 70 persons) from Fussgoenheim. The expelled settled in nearby Ellerstadt and appealed to the Imperial Chamber Court (>Reichskammergericht<) who ruled in 1750 that von Hallberg had to take back the expelled families and return them their land. The judgment was repeated by the Imperial Chamber Court in 1753. Hence seemingly von Hallberg just ignored the court ruling at first.

Note that the 1743 map only shows a total of 32 properties, so roughly half of those families were expelled. The under-village, to the north that includes the Kirsch and Koob interrelated families includes only 22 parcels of land owned by 19 different people. Mayor Kirsch owns (at least) three and Theop. Koob owns two.

Christoph continues:

In 1752 even the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire accused the town people of not paying their taxes to von Hallberg. The emperor urged von Hallberg to bring to justice the Mayor Kirsch and other town people. In this case, a high court decided against the town people and threatened them with the military, in case they would continue to not pay their taxes.

In the following years, the town people seemingly paid their taxes and just tried, again and again, to appeal to the court.

In September 1744, Jakob Hallberg died, which may have given the Fussgoenheimers some sliver of hope, soon to be dashed. His son inherited Fussgoenheim and the Hallberg dynasty lasted until the conquest of the Palatinate by the French in the 1890s.

An automatically translated portion of the Fussgoenheim town history (with minor edits for clarify) goes on to say:

One of the accusations leveled against Hallberg was that he had confiscated inherited property and community property. At that time, in the course of a property renovation, ownerless properties fell to the onlord – this was the so-called right to the “bona vacamia”.

In 1729 Hallberg had a property renovation carried out in Fußgönheim which is understandable insofar as he, as the new lord of the village, needed to get an overview of the ownership and legal relationships in the village and the resulting obligations for charges and services.

According to the land survey, the district of Fußgönheim comprised at that time 2,869 3/4 acres of land, 95 % of which were in the possession of clergymen or of certain masters or were communal property. Only 146 3/4 acres were owned by private persons. According to the renovation protocol, Hallberg has 386 acres of land in its own property. This could be the so-called “abandoned property” confiscated by him.

Wow, it looks like he confiscated 2.64 times the amount he left in private ownership. No wonder the residents were angry – especially those residents who had owned those 386 acres. This averages 4.59 acres per privately owned parcel as judged by Hallberg, and suggests that the original parcels averaged 16.65 acres. That’s quite a difference, especially if you’re trying to earn a living from the land.

Furthermore, if you look at the Under village, and the Upper village, you’ll notice quickly that the Under village is where the majority of the Lutheran church records match village surnames, and those parcels appear visually much smaller than the parcels allocated to the upper village across from the Hallberg castle, where many of the surnames are not found in the church records and are likely Catholic. It would appear that Hallberg also favored his friends and fellow Catholics.

Hallberg is also said to have confiscated hereditary property if the families have no inheritance or had not used their annual ground rent. Hallberg obviously interpreted the right of the “bona vacanria” very strictly, for his own benefit and to the detriment of the villagers. A 1750 expert opinion of the KurpHilz council of Schnerr confirmed Hallberg in principle that he had the right to confiscate ownerless property, “but whether in such a large excess as he had…a legal investigation would have to clarify.”

Hallberg was widely disliked by the Fussgoenheimers, with good reason. The translation continues:

During the field survey, Hallberg had redirected field paths and redivided the winnings. He had land given to him for the abandoned goods he had confiscated in the best profits.

By reducing the size of the rods, he had achieved that when surveying the individual acres of “leftovers” which were left over, which he is also said to have illegally taken.

No wonder the citizens were furious.

The village’s court officers therefore refused to sign the land book which had been created by Hallberg. Hallberg reacted to this by expelling the court officers and their families – a total of 15 families with 70 persons – from the village.

It’s interesting to note that the average family size was 4.67 persons, two of whom would have been the parents. Evidence of high childhood mortality is recorded within the church books.

Another tidbit about Fussgoenheim tells us that Schimbeneau, Herberich, Schuster, Theobald Koob, and Schultheiß (Mayor) Kirsch are the individuals who refused to sign the 1729 land register, resulting in their 1744 expulsion.

The persons concerned, who had in the meantime settled in Ellerstadt and accepted serfdom there, filed a complaint against this action. In 1750 the Reich Chamber Court in Wetzlar sentenced Hallberg to take back the expelled persons and return their property to them. The order was repeated in 1753, which suggests that Hallberg had defied the judgment. He stated that he tolerated in his village no stranger to serfdom.

Serfdom was a form of semi-slavery in which a person was tied to the land is a form of indentured servitude from which peasants could not escape. Serfs traditionally could not even marry without the approval of their Lord (not church Lord, feudal Lord) and had minimal control of their own lives. It would appear that Hallberg’s goal was to reduce everyone in his village to that status whom he could then entirely control.

Note that this 1753 order is probably the reason for the “1753 accounting” notes that we see in Walter Schnebel’s information. Unfortunately, I don’t have that actual document.

Another dispute arose over the community’s sheep pasture, the lease of which had brought the community an annual income of 100 gulden. Hallberg claimed the pasture for himself in a letter of feudal title dated 30 July 1728. The residents, on the other hand, referred to their “old rights.” The dispute ended in 1733 with a compromise: Hallberg got the sheep pasture under the condition that not too many sheep graze on it.

Another accusation against Hallberg was that he had transferred the tithe income of middle-class farms. In Fußgönheim there were three bourgeois courts which had a share of the tithe income.

Hallberg withdrew this income on the grounds that the owners refused to contribute to the costs of building the Lutheran Church.

The lucrative “Weinschank,” i.e. the right to run a wine tavern, was auctioned by Hallberg for 120 gulden annually; before that it was free.

“Wine tavern,” I love it! I know that my family was involved. I surely would like to know who ran the wine tavern. Too bad that’s not noted on the map.

We know from other sources that the present-day Lutheran church was either built or renovated about the time the new church books began in 1726. I can’t help but wonder if the original church burned, along with the records.

Hallberg also introduced a new levy of 15 Malcer oats to be paid annually to his magistrate.

In the face of massive resistance from the community, Hallberg had the village sized(?) for two months by a corporal and six men. When the inhabitants refused to pay 71 guldens every 114 days for their accommodation, he had 7 cattle, 1 cow, clothes, guns, and household goods taken away without further ado and auctioned them off in Worms.

The community then turned to the Oberlehengericht in 1745. The court ordered Hallberg to return the confiscated objects under threat of a 500 gulden fine. In addition, he had to give an account before the fiefdom court about his actions.

Equally bitter resistance was met by von Hallberg’s increase of the treasury with an annual levy on real property. According to this, each landowner had to pay a guilder for 10 acres of land.

Hallberg countered the resistance of the inhabitants by leaving the village for 10 days with 57 grenadiers.

Grenadiers were a type of large, strong elite soldier. Think “Navy Seal” or “Green Beret” today. Hallberg was clearly trying to intimidate the villagers. This was an extremely high soldier to villager ratio.

During that time, 28 horses and cows were confiscated in the village, which Hallberg then sold at an auction. The Fußgönheim court was put under arrest for 14 days and then expelled from the village.

Woo boy.

Another lucrative source of income was created by Hallberg with the introduction of a tababvaage system, where all tobacco sold in the village had to be weighed against a weighing fee. This provided him with benefits in addition to the usual tobacco tithes of 70-80 gulden per man per year.

In 1752, the emperor even reprimanded the villagers because they refused to pay the levies imposed on them. He called on Mayor Kirsch and other local leaders because of fanned resistance and riots to be held accountable. In 1757, the highest court of the Reich, the Reichshofrar, ruled against the Fußgönheimers: It obliged them to pay frontage money, unpaid money and the fees for the tobacco scales and threatened military intervention by the troops of the Upper Rhine District in the event of any violation.

Hallberg wrote that he was quite happy that proceedings had been instituted against Mayor Kirsch, and that no leniency should be shown towards him.

There is clearly a life-long animosity between these two families. Michael Kirsch must have hated everything Hallberg, but he would not cave.

A similar statement by the Hallberg official of Bissing: “The farmers have so far been whitewashed unruly heads and stiff flails, so it does not do them any harm now if you make them feel the effect of a permitted revenge. The previous executions will have dazed their overconfidence in something, but now they have to crawl to Creutz.”

The old language and translation didn’t work perfectly, but I think the word revenge portrays the sentiment. Hallberg wanted to punish Johann Michael Kirsch as an example meant to keep other unruly villagers in line who dared to think they should retain their own land or expect justice.

In time, however, the people of Fußgönheim came to terms with the Hallberg dominion.

In other words, Hallberg wore them down. Their resistance, along with hope, seemed to wane, especially after the death of Mayor Kirsch. Who wanted to sign up to be the target of the Hallberg empire? Everyone saw what happened to him and his family.

A list from the year 1785 shows that all once-disputed duties and taxes had been paid. The people of Fußgönheim no longer offered open resistance, but tried to enforce their rights through the courts: in 1770 they asked the imperial chancellery whether their files had been mislaid, since nothing had happened in respect of their claims for 24 years now (since 1746), – a trial of such a length was not possible in the complicated proceedings before the Reichshofrar. But that was nothing out of the ordinary.

Obviously, the court was never going to address the grievances of the villagers after 24 years of intentional silence. That’s in essence a generation, and many of the originally “wronged” people had since died. I’m sure that’s what Hallberg was counting on – and eventually – everyone just accepted and forgot and he achieved exactly what he wanted – their lands, in perpetuity.

He had subdued the Fussgoenheim village families, but they must have hated him.

The original landowners were all-in though, willing to risk it all, to sacrifice for justice by participating in civil disobedience and “riots,” whatever that means in this context. These families were irreversibly committed – even being kicked out of Fussgoenheim, in exile, as peasants, serfs in Ellerstadt, which seems to have lasted for about a decade. Still, they didn’t capitulate.

Even in 1753, after returning to Fussgoenheim, which was a victory in and of itself, it appears that they were never able to fully regain what was rightfully theirs – meaning the land before the 1729 Hallberg reorganization of the village.

It may be difficult to fight city hall, but it appears impossible to win against the House of Hallberg, a hereditary Lordship. The Hallbergs simply had too much power.

Return to Fussgoenheim

We know that the two Johann Michael Kirschs, plus Johann Jacob Kirsch, adult married son of the Mayor are three of the families who were evicted to Ellerstadt. We don’t know who all of the other families were, but I’m wagering they were some of, or a majority of, the families who were listed as owning land on that 1743 map. There were only 17 landowners who also appeared in the church records, in total. This might suggest that some of the other landowners were not Protestant – implying Catholic which means that Hallberg would likely have treated them differently. There were a total of 32 parcels of owned land, and 29 landowners, with many of the families in the upper village having no church records. The upper village was the portion on the south side of the village, south of the Lutheran church, directly across from the Hallberg castle that included a small Catholic church.

Both Johann Michael Kirschs returned to Fussgoenheim about 1753 when an accounting took place that involved several grandchildren of the original Jerg Kirsch. Johann Jacob Kirsch, the Mayor’s son who had been evicted, had children baptized in Ellerstadt as late as 1759. It appears that some of the Kirsch family members settled into Ellerstadt and never returned.

However, Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, was forcibly removed from his position after returning to Fussgoenheim. Hallberg dismissed Johann Michael Kirsch as mayor in 1757 by decree of cassation from the highest court of appeals.

Clearly, Johann Michael Kirsch hadn’t gone and didn’t go willingly, probably kicking and screaming every inch of the way – beginning about 1729/1730 when Hallberg acquired the entire village and began his resurvey. Johann Michael would have been about 29 or 30 then, about 43 or 44 when he was evicted, about 53 when he returned, and about 57 when he was stripped of his title and responsibilities as Mayor – serving as a thorn in Hallberg’s side the entire time.

Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor was dead by October 1759. This final chapter of his life must have been incredibly stressful. I wonder if it hastened his demise. In fact, I can’t help but wonder how he died.

This never-ending battle defined Johann Michael Kirsch’s life.

Johann Michael spent literally half of his life, most of his entire adult life, in a life-and-death struggle with the Hallberg dynasty, first father, then son, trying to thwart their attempts to take the Kirsch family lands, and in his capacity as Mayor, that of other Fussgoenheim residents as well.

The classic good versus evil battle. Except this time, good didn’t entirely win. But then again, neither did evil.

The Goal

My goal is to figure out which Johann Michael Kirsch is the father of Elias Nicolaus Kirsch born in 1733.

All three Johann Michael Kirschs have wives named Anna Margaretha in 1733. How frustrating is this!

  • Three men with exactly the same name.
  • All 3 related to each other.
  • All three with wives named Anna Margaretha with no known surname.
  • In the same small village.

That should be illegal!

Elias Nicolaus’s baptism record doesn’t provide a surname for his mother, nor an occupation for his father, but we do have some scattered threads of evidence.

We have a family grouped spreadsheet from Walter Schnebel, with some sources, and a translation spreadsheet of Fussgoenheim church records assembled by Tom. We have historical records provided by Christoph.

Let’s take a look at how we sorted through this mess.

Sifting Through the Evidence

One Johann Michael Kirsch, designated as “the eldest,” died in 1743 at the age of 83, so born in 1661. It’s possible that he had a child in 1733, at the age of 73, but not as likely as the two other younger Michaels.

Kirsch 1743 Michael Kirsch burial

Tom’s translation:

“On 12 January 1743 in the morning between 3 and 4 o’clock died in the Lord, Johann Michael Kirsch, the Eldest [!], after 15 weeks of sickbed, and was buried on the 13th of the same month. First Sunday after Epiphany. Age: 82 [years].”

As Tom mentioned, the Eldest suggests at least two younger men by the same name, the Elder and the Younger.

Name Birth Death Job Parents Spouse
(Johann) Michael d. Ä. 1668 12.01.1743 Ackerer † Gerichtsmann – judge Jerg u. Margaretha Koch Anna Margaretha Spanier (als Witwe in Rechnungslegung 1753 erwähnt) –
Anna Margaretha Spanier (mentioned as a widow in accounting 1753)

Walter Schnebel’s spreadsheet states that Anna Margaretha Spanier was mentioned in 1753 as the widow in the accounting. Given that the other two Johann Michael Kirschs are living, she has to be the widow of Johann Michael Kirsch, the Judge, who died in 1743.

Michael Kirsch Sr.

There are two births recorded with the designation of Michael “Sr.”, one in February of 1738 to Michael Sr. and Anna Margaretha, daughter, Anna Margaretha, godparents Johann Georg Eigel, the court member and wife Margaretha nee Ritthaler.

Father Wife Child Godparents
1738-02-10 Kirsch Johann Michael Sr Anna Margaretha Anna Margaretha Eigel Johann Georg the court member and wife Margaretha nee Ritthaler

The second birth attributed to Michael Sr. occurred March 23, 1741, daughter Maria Catharina, godparents Johann Jacob Kirsch, citizen here and wife Maria Catharina NN (no name). Note that Johann Jacob Kirsch appears to be Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor’s sibling. This also fits given that several of these births had important government people as godparents.

Father Wife Child Godparents
1741-03-23 Kirsch Johann Michael Sr Anna Margaretha Maria Catharina Kirsch, Johann Jacob citizen here and wife Maria Catharina NN

 This second birth attributed to Michael Sr. occurred after the 1743 death, so this birth is clearly NOT the Judge.

Elias Nicolaus Kirsch – Known Ancestor

Johann Michael Kirsch with no wife’s surname had son Elias Nicolaus Kirsch in May of 1733. This is my ancestor. Godparents were Elias Nicolaus Specht from Durkheim, and wife. I can find nothing on Ancestry or FamilySearch about the identity of Elias Nicolaus Specht, or his wife.

Father Wife Child Godparents
1733-05-06 Kirsch, Johann Michael Anna Margaretha Elias Nicolaus Specht Elias Nicolaus from Durckheim and wife

Given this birth date, the next child would have been born to this couple about 18-24 months later, and the previous child, if it lived, about 18-24 months prior.

Two Michael’s

Births to the two Johann Michael Kirschs who would have been having children during this timeframe are shown in the following table. Michael who died in 1743 is excluded because I am, perhaps wrongly, assuming that he was no longer having children at 65 years of age (in 1726 when baptism records begin) and then older. His known children were born between 1700 and 1717.

I created a chart compiling information about each birth, assigning relationships where possible.


  • White rows – I don’t have any idea which Michael, the Mayor or the Baker, to assign this birth to. There may be conflicting snippets of information.
  • Peach rows – either known to be the Baker, or probably the Baker due to the witnesses. Some are from Walter’s spreadsheet whom he attributed to Michael the Baker, but I don’t know why.
  • Green – definitely not my Michael
  • Grey – the Mayor or probably the Mayor. One thing that makes sense is that the Baker would have stayed closer to home, baking daily, while the Mayor was cultivating influential friendships in other villages. This shows in the godparent selections.
  • Yellow – mine or important evidence about mine

Kirsch Michael baptisms 1Kirsch Michael baptisms 2Kirsch, Michael baptisms 3

Note 1: The Mayor’s second wife. They married in 1739, after Elias was born, so unfortunately this has nothing to do with Elias’s mother.

Note 2: Walter Schnebel shows the following for Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor:

Name Birth Death Job Parents Spouse Notes
Johann Michael sen. um 1700 vor 1759 1750 Schultheiß, Erbbeständer (heiress) in Fgh. u. Ellerstadt Johann Adam u. Anna Maria Koob 1. Anna Margaretha N.N. (†17.12.38); 2. Maria Magdalena Michet (*26.10.00 Als †6.1.84 Als, verw. Saar, T.v. Johann Michael u. Eva Ramsauer) ~ 23.6.39 in Rechnungslegung 1753 erfasst; v. Halberg 1757 durch Kassasionsdekret als Schultheiß abgesetzt; um 1744 mit seinem Vetter Michael (Bäcker) ausgewiesen, hatte 1753, 2 Söhne u. 4 Töchter in Ellerstadt, Deepl Translation: recorded in 1753; v. Halberg dismissed as mayor in 1757 by decree of cassation; around 1744 shown with his cousin Michael (baker), had 2 sons and 4 daughters in Ellerstadt in 1753

I can’t decipher all of Walter’s German notes under spouse, except to understand that Anna Margaretha died in December of 1738 and Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, remarried. Additionally, his cousin was Michael (born circa 1705), the Baker, which suggests common grandparents, or further back depending on how the word cousin was used, was also expelled to Ellerstadt in 1744.

Walter shows Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor’s siblings as:

  • Johann Wilhelm Kirsch, born 1706, married Maria Catharina Spanier in November 1727. Note that in 1730, Johann Michael Kirsch and his wife Anna Margaretha were witnesses for his child named Johann Michael.
  • Johann Jacob Kirsch, born about 1710, married Maria Catharina. Note: Maria Catharina N.N., Wtw.v.Joh.Nicolaus Schumacher,Schneidermstr.aus Fgh.) ~ 9.2.40 Also note: Tz. 1730
  • Maria Catharina Kirsch, born about 1715, died Sept 1778 Als, married Johannes Neumann (aus Gronau) ~ 5.5.1739 Fgh
  • Johann Peter Kirsch, born 1716, died before 1760, married 1. Maria Barbara Spanier (†6.7.37) ~ 8.5.1736; 2.Maria Magd.Gutermann ~ 18.2.38 Gönn; Anna Elisabetha Löw ~ 19.1.1740. There is a note that he is in Rechnungslegunt (accounting) in 1753. In 1737, Johann Jacob Kirsch, living in Durkheim, witnessed the baptism of a child for Johann Peter.

Here are Walter’s notes for Johann Michael Kirsch, the Baker:

Name Birth Death Job Parents Spouse Notes
Johann Michael um 1705 Bäcker Johann Michael u. Anna Margaretha Spanier 1. Anna Margaretha N.N.; 2. Anna Margaretha Wohlfahrt ~ 1.12.1739 mit seinem Vetter, Schultheiß Joh. Michael 1744 nach Ell ausgewiesen, hatte dort 1753 1 Sohn u.      1 Tochter; in Rechnungslegung 1753 – with his cousin, Schultheiß Joh. Michael was expelled to Ell in 1744, and had 1 son there in 1753. 1 daughter; in Accounting 1753 – Deepl translation: with his cousin, Sheriff Joh. Michael expelled to Ell in 1744, had 1 son and 1 daughter there in 1753; in accounting 1753 – with his cousin, Sheriff Joh. Michael was expelled to Ell in 1744, and had 1 son there in 1753. 1 daughter; in accounting 1753

Walter shows the siblings of Johann Michael Kirsch, the Baker, as:

  • Johann Daniel Kirsch, born circa 1700, died 1737, married Anna Margaretha Storck (2. Ehe Valentin Schweitzer ~22.12.39).
  • Johann Jacob Kirsch, born December 1693 in Fussgoenheim, died 1762 Durkheim, married Susanna Magdalena Müller (*1710 DÜW, T.v. Johann Georg) ~ 2.5.30 Dürkheim.
  • Johann George Kirsch, born circa 1704, Schmiedemstr., Gerichtsmann (court man translation), married Anna Maria Margaretha Hartmann ~ 27.01.1728. Also in (accounting) in 1753, Note that in 1732, Johann Michael and his wife, Anna Margaretha were witnesses for this man’s child named Johann Michael.
  • Johann Nichlaus “Nickel” Kirsch, born circa 1710, married Anna Maria Scheuer (aus Großniedesheim) ~ before 1731 ?, Note: in accounting in 1753; Tz. 1766 bei Enkelin See: Note that in February 1742 Michael Kirsch and Anna Maria were godparents for a child born. This suggests that this is the Baker, not the Mayor.
  • Anna Catharine Kirsch, born 1717, confirmed 1730, but nothing more found.

Who’s Connected to Durkheim?

We find connections in the godparents’ records to Durkheim, in particular, the godparents of Elias Nicolaus. Is the connection to Durkheim through the wives of one or the other Johann Michael Kirschs?

Who is the wife of Elias Nicolaus Specht? Would that provide a clue? Or his mother, perhaps?

Who were the wives of the Johann Michael Kirschs? Don’t I wish I knew.

Michael, the Baker, was the son of Johann Michael Kirsch who died in 1743 and Anna Margaretha Spanier.

Michael, the Mayor, was the son of Johann Adam Kirsch and Anna Maria Koob.

What are the Durkheim connections?

  • Both Johann Michael Kirsch (died 1743) and Johann Adam Kirsch were the son of Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha Koch, apparently from Durkheim. Here is Walter’s note about her: Margaretha Koch (*um 1630, T.v. Stephan u. N.N.) married 09.09.1650 in Dürkheim
Kirsch Jerg Michael Adam

click to enlarge

  • Johann Michael, the Baker’s brother, Johann Jacob died in Durkheim by 1762.
  • Johann Jacob Kirsch, the brother of Johann Michael, the Mayor, lived in Durkheim in 1737.
  • Child of Johann Wilhelm Kirsch and Anna Maria in 1739 – godparents of child Johann Adam Hoffmann, butcher and wife Anna Maria of Durkheim. Johann Wilhelm is the of Johann Adam Kirsch and Anna Maria Koob, brother of the Mayor.

The Durkheim connection appears to stem from Margaretha Koch originally. Furthermore, this is where Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha was married, so the Kirsch line could also be from Durkheim.  So, the Durkheim connection is not through one of the wives of one of the Johann Michael Kirschs, providing us with no further clues. This was a red herring.

Kirsch Children and Siblings

My next tactic.

I am hopeful that by making a chart looking at naming patterns that we can discern a useful pattern and maybe a few hints. Elias Nicolaus is not as common as other names, like Johannes.

I’ve assigned people with question marks to columns based on what I think, or Walter thinks.

Keep in mind that the same child’s name could be a result of the name of the godparents, not because of an intentional naming after someone. Wouldn’t it be nice if Elias Nicolaus’s children all lined up with the children of one of the Johann Michael Kirschs? Let’s see.

  • ? means uncertainly assigned

Kirsch child chart

Unfortunately, we don’t have all the records for the children of Elias Nicolaus, and the ones we do have are inconclusive in terms of naming patterns.

The naming patterns don’t provide us with any additional hints either. Rats!

Who Were Elias Nicolaus Kirsch’s Parents?

Based on the above data, here’s what we know.

  • The first name of all 3 wives of the Michael Kirschs in 1733 was Anna Margaretha.
  • The widow, Anna Margaretha, of Michael Kirsch who died in 1743 (born 1661), was mentioned in the 1753 accounting. He is unlikely to be the father of Elias Nicholas born in 1733. If she is his only wife, she would have been about age 45 in 1717, so certainly not having another child in 1733.
  • Both younger Michael Kirsch’s, who were cousins, remarried, both after 1733 when Elias Nicholas was born. Their second wives are irrelevant to this equation, although both are widely assigned as his mother by some genealogists, especially in public trees.
  • The surname of Anna Margaretha, the first wife of Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, remains unknown, but he remarried to Maria Magdalena Michet on June 23, 1739. At least she had a different first name.

Kirsch Michael marriage Maria Magdalena Michet

Tom’s translation:

Marriage: the 23rd of June 1739, the Ehrengracht? Herr Johann Michael Kirsch from here mayor of the area governed by von Hallberg with the widow of the late Jean Saaren, former Palatinate tax collector from Grunau?, Maria Magdalena, in the local parish church.

  • The surname name of Anna Margaretha married to Michael Kirsch, the Baker, remains unknown. She died in 1738, and he remarried to Anna Margaretha Wohlfahrt in 1739 (see below).

Kirsch Michael marriage Anna Margaretha Wohlfart

  • Elias’s mother cannot be Anna Margaretha Wohlfahrt who married Johann Michael, the Baker, in 1739, after his first wife, Anna Margaretha surname unknown, died in 1738. Elias’s mother also cannot be Maria Margaretha Michet who married Johann Michael, the Mayor, in 1739 after his wife died in 1738 as well. Those two Michael’s must have felt like they were living parallel lives in many cases.
  • There is no conclusive naming pattern.
  • The godparents suggest that Elias Nicolaus might be the child of the Mayor, especially since the child born to the “other Johann Michael Kirsch” four months earlier has as a godparent the son of the brother of Michael, the Baker.

Nothing definitive yet.

Where else can I look?

Is there more to be learned in the 1753 accounting that Walter mentions? This one’s tough, because not only do I not have this document, I have absolutely no idea where to find it. I’ll use Walter’s notes since he states who is mentioned and clearly had access.

1753 Accounting

I suspect this accounting has to do with the Hallbergs and Fussgoenheim land inherited from Jerg, based on who is and is not mentioned.

Which Kirschs were in the 1753 accounting, and how are they related?

Name in Accounting Kirsch Parents/Husband Walter’s Comments My Comments
Anna Margaretha Spanier – alive in 1753 Widow of Johann Michael who died in 1743 Anna Margaretha Spanier (als Witwe in Rechnungslegung 1753 erwähnt) –
Anna Margaretha Spanier (mentioned as a widow in accounting 1753)
Johann Michael who died was the son of Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha Koch
Johann Michael Kirsch who died in 1743 Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha Koch Wife Anna Margaretha Spanier in 1753 is mentioned as Johann Martin Kirsch’s widow in accounting
Johann Martin Kirsch (died before 1723) Son of Johann Jacob Kirsch, son of Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha Koch Wife Anna Elisabetha Börstler (als Witwe in Rechnungslegung 1753) ~ um 1727: translation: Anna Elisabetha Börstler (as widow in accounting 1753) ~ about 1727


Johann Jacob is the son of Jerg
Johann Michael Kirsch Sr. (died 1757-1759) (Mayor) Johann Adam Kirsch died 1740 & Maria Koob. Johann Adam is the son of Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha Koch in Rechnungslegung 1753 erfasst; v. Halberg 1757 durch Kassasionsdekret als Schultheiß abgesetzt; um 1744 mit seinem Vetter Michael (Bäcker) ausgewiesen, hatte 1753, 2 Söhne u. 4 Töchter in Ellerstadt, Deepl Translation: recorded in 1753; v. Halberg dismissed as mayor in 1757 by decree of cassation; around 1744 shown with his cousin Michael (baker), had 2 sons and 4 daughters in Ellerstadt in 1753


There are obviously some records in Ellerstadt in 1753
Johann Peter Kirsch who died in 1760 Johann Adam Kirsch and Anna Maria Koob, Johann Adam Kirsch is the son of Jerg Kirsch and Margaretha Koch In 1753 accounting
Johann Georg Kirsch Johann Michael Kirsch died 1743 & Anna Margaretha Spanier In 1753 accounting
Johann Michael Kirsch, (the Baker) Johann Michael Kirsch died 1743 and Anna Margaretha Spanier In 1753 accounting
Johann Nicholas Kirsch Johann Michael Kirsch died 1743 and Anna Margaetha Spanier In 1753 accounting
Johann Adam Kirsch born 1731 died 1777 Either Johann Nicholas (son of Johann Daniel) or Johann Jacob (son of Johann Michael died 1743, or Johann Adam) In 1753 accounting

I’d like to see where these people fit in a common pedigree chart, and I do a lot better with a visual.

Kirsch Fussgoenheim 1743 1753 pedigree

click to enlarge

I’ve color-coded people found on the 1743 map, in the 1753 accounting, individuals who are known to be dead, and those believed to be alive.

Kirsch pedigree legend

Elias Nicolaus Kirsch was not mentioned by name, so one would have to assume that is because his father is still alive. That pretty much puts the nail in the coffin, permanently, of Michael who died in 1743 being Elias’s father. But it does nothing to differentiate between the other two men, the Mayor and the Baker.

End of My Rope

I was officially at the end of my rope. I had learned a lot, but I still didn’t have a definitive answer. Furthermore, I didn’t know where to search.

I was not entirely convinced that Elias Nicolaus was the son of Michael Kirsch the Mayor, but Walter who had access to local, original records has him assigned as such. Furthermore, IF indeed the Johann Nicholas Kirsch baptized in January 1733 was the son of Michael Kirsch, the Baker, then my Elias Nicolaus, born four months later, HAS to be the son of Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, and Anna Margaretha.

I hate those “if” words, because so far, every piece of evidence has an associated “if.”

I organized and typed up the information we have and sent it off to Tom and Christoph for review. My head was spinning. So much data and so little hard and fast information.

Tom and Christoph both began looking at baptism records in Ellerstadt, and at records in Durkheim which came up dry.

From Chris:

– I found a baptism of an Elias Hohl on 25 March 1751 in Ellerstadt, where the young Elias Kirsch, son of Michael Kirsch, was the godfather. Unfortunately, no further clue about which Michael his father was.

This is indeed my Elias, but no further identification.

– On 17 January 1753 in Ellerstadt, one of the Michael Kirschs was a godfather for a Michael Kirsch, son of Jacob Kirsch.

– On 4 Feb 1753 a baptism of Johann Jacob, son of Conrad Schumacher. Godfather was the stepfather Johann Jacob Kirsch from Fussgoenheim. (A Johann Jacob Kirsch, stepson of mayor Kirsch, is again godfather on 21 August 1754 in Ellerstadt. Is he the same Johann Jacob?)

Stepson and stepfather may not mean the same thing it means in today. Regardless, no further information about Elias.

– 4 March 1753 in Ellerstadt: baptism of Johann Nicolaus Moeser. Godmother was Catharina, daughter of mayor Kirsch.

Great information, but no cigar.


After running out of Kirsch records, Tom checked more records in Ellerstadt, where we knew they had lived, and some family members remained. As Christoph did, Tom searched for children baptized with the first name Elias or Nicolaus, given that children were named after the name of their godparent.

And there it was, tucked away in the godparent notes – a field almost never indexed, but where the nugget of gold we desperately needed was waiting:

Kirsch 1759 baptism Elias father identified

Baptism: No. 11

Parents: Christoph Gutteberger, citizen here & wife, Anna Margaretha

A son, born and baptized and named Elias

Godparents: the unmarried Elias Kirsch, the legitimate son of the former praiseworthy mayor, Michael Kirsch; and the unmarried Maria Catharina Koob(in).

Born the 16th of October 1759

Baptized the 19th of the same

Tom, always understated simply said:

Important as it designated the father of our Elias Kirsch, the praiseworthy mayor, Johann Michael Kirsch and is the only Elias born in the correct time period.

Not only that, but this record is a twofer because we know that “former” typically indicates that Johann Michael Kirsch, Elias’s father, is deceased. The word praiseworthy makes me feel good, because that one word, not found in any other baptisms that I’ve ever seen, speaks volumes about how Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, was perceived by the townspeople. Clearly, he was revered, at least by the good reverend who penned this record, probably for his lifelong battle and personal sacrifice, stepping forward and absorbing the brunt of Hallberg’s wrath for almost three decades.


That alone is an honoring and fitting legacy for our Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, who spent his life on this earth fighting the righteous battle against a powerful, wealthy foe. Kind of a David versus Goliath situation.

Praiseworthy, indeed.

Life Summary of Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor

Now that we know that Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, is the father of Elias Nicolaus, let’s do a quick summary to order the facts of his life:

  • Born about 1700 to Johann Adam Kirsch and Anna Maria Koob in Fussgoenheim.
  • Married probably in 1724 or 1725 to Anna Margaretha whose surname has remained stubbornly unknown.
  • Son, Johann Jacob, born about 1725, confirmed in 1739, died in 1760, married Anna Catharina Elisabetha Klamm.
  • Daughter, Anna Barbara, born in 1726, married Abraham Zeitler, died in 1805 in Dannstadt.
  • 1726 – New Lutheran church records begin. This could be when the current church was built, or it could have been as late as 1733/34 when Hallberg complained that the residents weren’t paying for the church construction.
  • Daughter, Maria Barbara, born in 1727, nothing more.
  • 1728 – Hallberg inherited half of Fussgoenheim and claimed common sheep pasture.
  • 1729 – Hallberg began a resurvey of Fussgoenheim to divide land differently, cheating townspeople by shortening survey rod and claiming lands were abandoned that were not.
  • 1730 – Hallberg obtained the other half of Fussgoenheim.
  • Daughter, Maria Veronica, born in 1731.
  • 1733 – Sheep pasture suit ends in compromise, with Hallberg obtaining pasture, but residents allowed to use it so long as not many sheep grazed.
  • Son, Elias Nicolaus, born in 1733, died in 1804, married Susanna Elisabetha Koob, my ancestor.
  • In 1733 and 1734, the War of Polish Succession was fought from 1733-1735, with portions fought in the Palatinate. In 1734, a camp for soldiers existed not far from Fussgoenheim.
  • 1734 – Johann Michael’s mother, Anna Maria Koob died.
  • Daughter, Anna Catharina, born in 1735, witnessed baptism in Ellerstadt in 1753, single.
  • Daughter, Anna Margaretha, born in February 1738, died in September 1739.
  • Death of Anna Margaretha, his wife, on December 10, 1738.
  • We don’t know when Michael first became Mayor, but his wife’s death in 1738 identifies her as the wife of Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor. It appears that he remained mayor until 1757, throughout his exile, and into his return. That must have gauled Hallberg immensely. At least, I hope so:)
  • 1739 – Married Maria Magdalena Michet, widow of the Palatinate tax collector Jean Saar, from Grunau on June 23, 1739. It’s likely that Maria Magdalena had children from her first marriage, so Johann Michael probably became a step-father to a number of children. Based on the fact that their last child was born in 1742, Maria Magdalena was probably about the same age as Johann Michael Kirsch, so she had likely welcomed 7 or 8 babies into the world.
  • 1740 – Johann Michael’s father, Johann Adam Kirsch died something before 1740.
  • Daughter, Maria Catharina, born 1741, probably died shortly thereafter.
  • Son, Johann Theobald, born 1742.
  • 1743 – Johann Michael refused to sign the Hallberg survey. He is listed as mayor, owning three properties and possibly more if I could read the entire list of names.
  • 1743/1744 – Grendardiers stationed in Fussgoenheim, residents property confiscated.
  • 1744 – Jailed for 14 days, then expelled to Ellerstadt.
  • 1745 – Residents filed suit to obtain the return of confiscated items, which they won, but Hallberg raised taxes in retribution.
  • 1746 – Additional suits filed, but the court did absolutely nothing with them. Twenty-four years later, long after Johann Michael’s death, the residents were still inquiriting about the suite.
  • 1750 – Court rules that Hallberg had to allow expelled families to return and return their land to them, but he ignored the edict.
  • 1752 – Holy Roman Emperor accused townspeople of not paying taxes and encouraged Hallberg to bring justice to Mayor Kirsch and the other townspeople. Hallberg threatened them with the military.
  • 1753 – Court repeated decision and Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, returned from Ellerstadt.
  • 1753 – Accounting in Fussgoenheim includes Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor.
  • 1757 – Removed as Mayor by order of the highest court at the request of Hallberg. The order included forcing villagers to pay all unpaid taxes, frontage money fees for tobacco scales, and threatened military intervention if they violated any part of the order. Hallberg wrote that he was very pleased, and no leniency should be shown to Mayor Kirsch.
  • In October 1759, Johann Michael’s son, Elias, served as a godparent in Ellerstadt, where the records refer to him as the son of the “former praiseworthy mayor, Johann Michael Kirsch,” indicating that Johann Michael Kirsch had gone on to receive his just rewards.

This – THIS – is what leadership looks like.

Rest in Peace, Johann Michael Kirsch, you certainly deserve at least that.



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Pandemic Journal: Trouble in the Heart Land

No words black3

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough, there’s more.

This week, two more deaths, mothers of friends who both died horrific Covid deaths, alone – one after a physician declined to test her and sent her back home to isolate. Turns out, he sent her home to die.

I delivered yet another care quilt. There aren’t enough tears or enough quilts to assuage the unrelenting hemorrhaging.

There is overwhelming grief in so many families as the number ticks up to and passes 109,000 deaths in this country. 5890 people have died of Covid in the US in the past seven days, and 1500 just yesterday.

It’s not stopping and it’s not over. Not even close.

And yet, I observe people in public, walking around in stores, many with children, with no masks for anyone.

They may be “done with Covid” as one t-shirt proclaimed, but mark my words, Covid is not done with us yet.

My friend’s mother’s death occurred after a family member infected her on Mother’s Day weekend, and now her husband, my friend’s father, has it too. So, killing Grandma just got very real for this family, not just a platitude people think is meant to scare them into compliance with something as horribly personally invasive as wearing a face mask.

Once it’s too late, it’s too late. There is no redo.

As my friend said, “We would do anything, absolutely anything, to bring her back.” She explained, in detail, her mother’s horrific death, alone. I desperately wanted to put my hands over my ears and block it out, but my friend had to live it, and her mother had to die it, so the least I could do was listen to it. My friend is suffering too.

She said, “All we had to do was NOT visit her, or wear masks, and everyone didn’t. I didn’t press the issue. It seemed like it was OK – and now she’s dead. I’ll never forgive myself.”

And now, with the focus shifted to what borders on a national emergency, the importance of masks, social distancing and other prevention measures has retreated to a much less visible back burner.

Trouble in the Heart Land

There are few times in my life that I’ve been left entirely without words, bereft of inspiration. This day, this past week, is that time. So please forgive no DNA article this week.

I. Just. Can’t.

Furthermore, I feel that publishing about genealogy right now is disrespectful of the gravity of what this nation, and we as citizens, are facing. I’m not referring solely to the pandemic.

With the unrelenting pandemic, mounting deaths, unemployment, dams breaking in Michigan causing thousands to be evacuated, their homes destroyed, and then the horrific death of George Floyd last week and resulting violence – many of us have been pushed beyond the limits of our personal emotional endurance.

Not only that, but life’s “regular” frustrations and challenges continue too, complicated sometimes by our new reality, in addition to these added stressors.

It’s almost impossible to discuss this situation without an injection of politics, but I’m going to, because right now, the toxicity of politics is fueling all of these fires.

These “problems” belong to everyone, regardless of their politics, because we will all suffer the consequences – good or bad.

I am strongly, with every ounce of my being, opposed to what I saw happen to George Floyd in Minneapolis. I’m opposed as well to the system that allows that to happen to anyone.

Secondarily, I’m heartsick to see our cities and property within those cities burned and looted. Many of those mom-and-pop businesses were barely surviving Covid, and may not survive at all now.

Not only is that behavior unacceptable in and of itself, but it also distracts from and diminishes the message of non-violent protesters, whose voices clearly need to be heard – because obviously change wasn’t going to happen otherwise.

Opportunistic looting and violence detract attention that should be focused on George Floyd’s death and the cumulative situation and actions across days, months, years, and decades that allowed and caused this day to arrive.

George Floyd’s homicide was a horrific human rights violation that we have all now seen, from several, indisputable angles thanks to readily available video technology.

And yes, it just so happens to have occurred while the US is a tinder box, in the middle of a pandemic with record unemployment and the most toxic, divisive, political climate of my lifetime. Everyone is on edge and many are frustrated and angry for any variety of reasons. All it took was a spark and the result is a explosive fire stoked with gasoline.

Having said that, I also feel compelled to say that not all police officers are like the man, men, whose names I won’t utter, that murdered George Floyd.

My son is an officer, and so are my friends, both black and white, male and female, and I know first hand that the majority of officers choose to serve and protect and do so honorably. Those officers are horrified too, and right now, many officers are being targeted with violence because of their uniform, both on and off duty, along with their families, which is also wrong.

The difference this time, in Minneapolis, with George Floyd’s murder, is that with multiple public videos, there is no question about what happened before or during the encounter. The “resisting arrest,” excuse falls short, because one can’t “resist” very effectively after being handcuffed face down. After being restrained, there is no need to be “held down” for another 10 minutes by 3 men until the very life-breath is squeezed out of you.

We, the public, don’t have to try to figure out who to believe this time, because we can see the situation unfolding with our own eyes, watching every horrific second, for nearly 10 minutes in total, as even bystanders begged the officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck to stop and an EMT repeatedly asked to check his pulse. Yet, that officer continued compressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes as George repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, called for his mother near the end, and finally, begged the officer not to kill him. Then, the officer continued for almost another 3 minutes after George lost consciousness. There is absolutely no possible justification.

George Floyd died, face down in the street, at the hands of 4 (now former) officers, in the full light of day, in front of a crowd, nonchalantly – like this was nothing out of the ordinary and happens every day.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s because it does.

I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

We need answers.

We need an impartial investigation.

Justice needs to occur.

Along with change.

Not just for George Floyd, but for all of the George Floyds in the future – regardless of the color of their skin.

The next George Floyd could be your father, son, brother, spouse, uncle…

We need to do better, as a society.

As humans.

Not just in Minneapolis.

We need to find ways to unite and not divide.

To heal these freshly re-opened wounds so that the next generation, and the next, don’t have to replay this scenario over and over again.

I thought we were past this as a society. We aren’t.

We need to provide the same protections for all Americans, all humans, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, sex or gender – whether or not they look or act the same as or different from us.

People should not be demonized or vilified because of the color of their skin, their sex, or anything about them that they do not have control of. People must be held accountable for behaviors they do control.

Racism and systemic discrimination are what needs to die. Not just related to policing, but in each and every one of our hearts. That’s where evil lives and takes root.

We Are in This Stew Pot Together

I had hoped that this pandemic might convey a much-needed message that indeed, we, all of us, ARE IN THIS TOGETHER, because we are.

“This” isn’t just a pandemic, it’s life on this earth, and if we sanction and ignore crimes against any person or people unjustly, we ourselves become potential candidates for that same behavior when the tides turn one day.

We or another family member could be the next George Floyd – black, white, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ, female, whatever – fueled by hate and rage. It has happened before and it’s up to us to be sure it never happens again.

Or our mother, grandmother or another family member could be the next to die because we failed to take what really amounts to minor, inconvenient, pandemic precautions. Because we simply CHOOSE not to.

These deaths are all unjust, unnecessary, and preventable.

We just have to “want to” badly enough to do what’s necessary. Before someone dies, not after.

In reality, both situations boil down to respect and acting respectful to others. Wearing a mask is simple, painless and easy. Officers may need to arrest a man, but they don’t need to kill him in the circumstances we saw. There are appropriate situations for deadly force, and that clearly wasn’t one.

Do unto others…

Remember that?

These aren’t other people’s problems; the responsibility belongs to each and every one of us – individually and personally.

There is no us-versus-them. There is only “us.” There is no “them.”

Don’t allow any of these three deaths to be wasted. They didn’t die peacefully, but their final chapter has not yet been written. That’s up to us. We can assure that their legacy serves a larger purpose – these deaths being catalysts for good, for doing better, for change.

Look in the mirror.

What actions are you taking?

We need to ask ourselves how each and every one of us can make a difference, and act, so there won’t be more.




Catharina Baur (1608-1688), Survived the Destruction of Heiningen – 52 Ancestors #287

Catharina Baur was born August 21, 1608 in Heiningen to Leonhardt Baur & Margareta Jauss.

Catharina Baur birth

Baptism: the 21st of August 1608, child: Catharina. Father Lientin? Baur, Ulrich’s son. Mother Margaretha. Godparents Petter Wolff and Anna, wife of Jacob Ganss.

This record also tells us the name of Catharina’s grandfather, Ulrich Baur.

Catharina would have been 10 years old when the Thirty Years’ War brought waves of devastation that consumed much of Europe over the next 30 years.

Still, war didn’t stop love, although it might have inconvenienced it a bit. One might suggest that perhaps warfare delayed marriages, but it might actually have had just the opposite effect, encouraging people to marry more quickly than they might have otherwise. The sense that time might be short, and there was none to waste might have prompted relationships to be solidified in days or weeks instead of a courtship taking months.

When Catharina was 29 years old, she became the second wife of Johannes Haag, also known by the names of both Hanss and Koss. The Haag surname was often written as Haga in the early records, perhaps a phonetic spelling.

Catharina was not Koss’s first wife. He had married Margaretha, whose surname is unknown, in 1628. They baptized a child in 1631, but no further records exist for either Margaretha or their child. Burial records for that timeframe are missing.

We know that Margaretha died sometime before 1637 when Hanss Haga married for the second time on August 27, 1637, in Heiningen to Catharina Baur.

Johannes Haag marriage 1637

Marriage: the 27th of August 1637 Hanss Haga called Kos a widower here and Catharina, surviving legitimate daughter of Leonhardt Baur, of blessed memory, from here.

“Of blessed memory,” tells us that Leonhardt was probably deceased.

The Thirty Years’ War

Not only did Catharina marry in the midst of a war, by the time she married, she had already survived the destruction of the village of Heiningen in 1734 by Imperial Catholic soldiers marauding the countryside after the Battle of Nordlingen. The Lutheran Michaelskirche church history in Heiningen tells us about the death, devastation, and trauma to the people, and that many were killed through unspeakable atrocities.

I wonder if Catharina’s father died in 1734.

None of Catharina’s 8 siblings survived to adulthood. Due to the lack of death records and no mention of her mother in Catharina’s marriage record, we don’t know if her mother attended her wedding or was a few feet away, outside in the churchyard.

We do know that none of Catharina’s mother’s siblings appear to have survived either. Life was tough in Germany in the 1500s, and one was significantly less likely to survive to adulthood than to perish.

During the 30 years that the war lasted, Heiningen’s population dropped from 1000 in 1618 to just 200 in 1648. Catharina, Koss, and one child were three of those surviving residents.

By that time, Catharina had buried 4 children in the churchyard, clearly along with hundreds of close and distant family members.


Katharina would have baptized all of her babies in the beautiful Michaelskirche, located in the center of Heiningen, inside the village’s fortified wall surrounding the church. Then Lutheran, Michaelskirche was built in the 1200s and was Catholic before the Reformation in 1534.

Catharina Baur Michelskirche aisle

Of course, the church would have looked somewhat different at that time, but probably not substantially. The entrance, through the north tower would have been to the left rear, and the sacristy to the right, near the cross.

It would have been here that Catharina sat and squirmed as a child, wept tears of grief during funerals and tears of joy at weddings, especially those of her children. It was here that she prayed for the weak and ill to survive, and for the souls of those who did not.

It was probably here that Catharina sheltered in 1634 when the troops destroyed the village, the “house of God,” literally protecting her, allowing her to survive.

And it was here that Catharina would have married widower, Koss Haga in 1637, in the midst of a war. Perhaps he had sheltered her or her family in 1634.


Catharina Baur baptismal font

The 16th-century gothic baptismal font, minus the copper bowl added recently, held the water as each of Catharina’s 7 children were baptized, their godparents standing with the parents, promising to raise them in the ways of the Protestant church and the Lord.

How hopeful Catharina must have been for her newborn babies on baptismal days.

Godparents were crucial at that time because all-too-many children were orphaned by warfare, infections, childbirth, typhoid, dysentery, and other afflictions and diseases. Godparents stepped in to raise parentless children.

Catharina herself was baptized in this very font and, eventually, would have stood by this baptismal bowl as a godmother herself. She may well have stood up with her two grandchildren, baptized in 1671 and 1686, named Catharina in her honor.


All things considered, it’s absolutely amazing that Catharina lived to be almost 80 years old and died of an “old person’s” affliction, a stroke.

Catharina Baur Haag died on July 16, 1688 in Heiningen.

Catharina Baur burial

Burial: 16 July 1688

Catharina, Hanss Haag(en) Koss, surviving widow died from a stroke; her age 80 years, less two months.

Reaching 80 years of age was probably remarkable. Similar to what the minister scribed, her neighbors, who were likely all family members of some description, probably referred to her as “almost 80,” quite a landmark, especially given everything she had seen, endured, and survived.

Catharina’s funeral would have been attended by the entire village of course, among them her 3 surviving children and 12 grandchildren. Another 4 grandchildren would be born and baptized in that same baptismal font after Catharina’s death.

Catharina Baur church yard

Catharina would be joining 4 children and 13 grandchildren in the churchyard, meaning that she had buried her husband and more than half of her children and grandchildren.

Catharina must have been an incredibly strong person. Peasant life in Germany was not for the faint of heart.


Catharina had a total of 7 children, all in Heiningen, 3 of whom lived to adulthood. At least she was able to enjoy her grandchildren during her decade of widowhood.

  1. Elisabetha Haag, born June 29, 1640; married August 1, 1665 in Heiningen to Johannes Alt, born 1640 in Regensburg, Bavaria.
  2. Anna Haag, born August 13,1641; no family found.
  3. Barbara Haag, born July 5,1643; no family found.
  4. Johannes Haag, born February 19, 1645; no family found.
  5. Leonhard Haag, born June 27, 1647; no family found.
  6. Michael Haag, born January 4, 1649; married 28 July 1671 to Margareta Bechtold; died 9 April 1727 in Heiningen. My direct ancestral couple.
  7. Johannes Haag, born May 20, 1653; married Margareta Hässler on May 18, 1680; died February 24, 1703 in Heiningen.

Unfortunately, none of Catharina’s daughters lived to adulthood, married, and had surviving daughters themselves, so Catharina’s mitochondrial DNA does not descend to living people today – at least not through Catharina directly. Typically, we would look to Catharina’s sisters or her mother’s sisters to see if they had female offspring who have descendants through all females to the current generation. That won’t work in Catharina’s case, because none of Catharina’s sisters survived either, and her mother’s parents are unknown.

Catharina’s mitochondrial DNA line has daughtered out, meaning it’s extinct to us today. Perhaps it lives on in unknown family members.


A special thank you to my friends Tom and Christoph for their never-ending assistance, research and patience, and to the Michaelskirche in Heiningen for the beautiful church photos and history.



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Johannes “Koss” Haag (1604-1678), Survived the Thirty Years’ War – 52 Ancestors #286

Johannes, known as Hanss, Haag was born November 9, 1604 in Heiningen, Göppingen, Württemberg to Johannes Haag and Margareta Reich.

Johannes Haag 1604 birth

Baptism: the 9th of November: child: Johannes. Father Hanss Haga and mother Margaretha. Godparents: Mark Rapp, ? and Dorothea, wife of Vid? Hamss?

Haag is written as Haga in all of the old records, and Johannes of course is Hanss.

Hanss Haga married for the first time on November 21, 1628 in Heiningen to Margareta, widow of Hanss Ganssen.

Johannes Haag marriage 1628

Marriage: Hanss Haga, the smith’s son called Koss and Anna (x) Margaretha!, Hanss Ganssen widow

Note that the minister corrected his entry from Anna to Margaretha. How does the minister make a mistake on the bride’s name?

Margaretha’s identify remains a mystery. The Ortsippenbucher for Heiningen does not reveal a Hanss Ganss married to a Margaretha from the necessary time frame. Fortunately, she is not my direct ancestress.

It’s from this record that we learn that Hanss’ nickname was Koss and that he was the “smith’s son.” His name is also given again as Hanss Haga, not Haag, which makes me wonder if Haga was an early word or surname that over time became Haag.

Hanss Haga amd Margaretha had one child, also by the name of Margaretha. This child was born on June 10, 1631 in Heiningen.  No further information is available about this child or Margaretha, her mother.

There are no death records in the church register of Heiningen for 1631-1637, so we have no way of knowing when Margaretha and the child died. Given that there was no second child born in 1633, one might speculate that Margaretha died before then, but maybe not. It’s possible that Koss was absent, because a war was raging.

The Thirty Year’s War

Koss, as he was called, was 14 years old in 1618 when the Thirty Years’ War began in Germany, ultimately devastating Heiningen.

Koss witnessed the entire three decades of carnage, 11,000 days. How terribly that must have affected him. From 14 through age 44.

In 1618, when the war began, Heiningen had 1000 inhabitants; in 1648 there were only 200. According to the Michaelskirche history, generously provided by the reverend, the town did not recover from the war until around 1800, 150 years later. While Heiningen was not often the center of the action, the war advanced in waves, washing over the country. Württemberg was particularly affected.

Then, in 1634, Heiningen was destroyed and looted by the “Kaiserliche,” soldiers of the Imperial Army that were either German or under the control of the Catholic German Kaiser. Those soldiers marauded through the country after the Battle of Nördlingen fought on September 5 and 6.

In that battle, the Roman Catholic Imperial Army of the Hapsburg Dynasty, aided by 15,000 Spanish soldiers crushed the combined Protestant armies of Germany and Sweden.

Johannes Haag Nordlingen

After the Battle of Nordlingen, Imperial soldiers ransacked the countryside.

We don’t know if Koss served as a soldier, but he likely did. I don’t know how any able-bodied man would avoid service with battles consuming the countryside all around.

The war killed soldiers and civilians directly, caused famines, destroyed livelihoods, disrupted commerce, postponed marriages and childbirth, and forced large numbers of people to relocate. The overall reduction of population in the German states was typically 25% to 40%, but Württemberg was disproportionally affected and lost three-quarters of its population during the war.

Johannes Haag Wurttemberg

By Ssch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

On the map above, Heiningen is located near Goppingen and Nordlingen is located just over the border in the green area of Bayern.

Much of the destruction of civilian lives and property was caused by the cruelty and greed of mercenary soldiers. Villages, like Heiningen, were especially easy prey to the marauding armies. Many did not survive. The Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.

In Heiningen, those who could not find safety were in dire straits. Contemporary witnesses stated that their children and grandchildren were traumatized. Three-fourths of the population died.

Johannes Haag crucifix

The Michaelskirche church history tells us that the face of the crucified man on the Gothic altar crucifix from early 16th century, the time of the Thirty Years’ War, reflects the furies of war: torture, plunder, desolation of the fields, hunger, plague, typhus and dysentery.

The residents of the village were devastated. Certainly, no family was untouched by death, but the village does not appear to have been abandoned at any point. While there are no burial records conserved today, we do find one or more baptisms and marriages each month beginning in September 1634 through the first half of 1635. Clearly, children conceived before the war were going to be born, regardless, but baptisms could have been performed at a later date, as could marriages.

There were people living in the village during that entire time, although I’d wager there were an inordinate number of burials. Koss, being one of the survivors, then age 30, was probably digging graves as rapidly as he could – possibly for his own wife and child. That is, when he wasn’t defending the village.

Given what we know about the village of Heiningen, I do wonder if the villagers took shelter inside the walls surrounding the church. The church walls were thick as well, providing a second barrier, and the church itself may have served as protection and fortification to protect the village.

The terror that took place in the fall of 1634 endures in the history of the village to this day. That seemed to be the darkest of times. Those who escaped death were grief-stricken, traumatized and impoverished.

Although Margaretha and her child died sometime after June 10, 1631, Koss survived and remarried.


We know that Margaretha died sometime before 1637 when Hanss, aka Koss, married for the second time on August, 27th to Catharina Baür in Heiningen, still before the end of the Thirty Years’ War.

Johannes Haag marriage 1637

Marriage: the 27th of August 1637 Hanss Haga called Kos a widower here and Catharina, surviving legitimate daughter of Leonhardt Baür, of blessed memory, from here.

“Of blessed memory” tells us that Catharina’s father, Leonhardt, is probably deceased.

How I wish they had stated Koss’s occupation. Maybe at that point, there were no more “occupations,” per se, the only occupation being survival. If only we knew more.

Hanss Haag, aka Koss, died February 3, 1678 in Heiningen.

Johannes Haag death 1678

Burial: Hanss Haga called Koss, 73 years, 3 months old with a sermon.

I wish the church record had included what Biblical references were used in that sermon. I wonder if his funeral service mentioned his first wife or deceased children, or the war that he survived. What was this man’s legacy?

Johannes Haag Heiningen early church photos

The Michelskirche on the day of Koss’s funeral probably looked much as it does in these photos taken before a 1904 renovation.

At the time Koss’s funeral sermon was preached, the miserable War had been over for 20 years. Those atrocious memories surely hadn’t faded, especially given that of Koss’s 6 children born during that War, only one survived to adulthood.

The family likely sat on those wooden benches, the minister standing in the pulpit with the staircase overlooking the coffin, center front, preaching Koss’s funeral sermon to his widow, Catharina, three surviving children and 6 surviving grandchildren. None, not one of Kos’s 17 siblings appears to have survived to have children, or if they did, they are not reflected in any Heiningen records. How did Koss managed to survive?

Of course, after the funeral, Koss’s casket was carried out the side door of the church, through the sacristy, and was buried outside in the churchyard, someplace between the church itself and the defensive wall.

Was the churchyard full? Later records mention that at one time, the ground became so elevated outside due to all of the “digging” that parishoners actually had to walk down steps into the church from the churchyard.

Johannes Haag Michaelskirche layout

At least 800 people died between 1618 and 1648 and had to be buried. Historical records elsewhere in Germany indicate that bodies were buried minimally 2-3 years before being removed to the ossuary.

Did bodies buried in 1734 have to be exhumed and taken to the now-sealed ossuary beneath the sacristy on the south side of the church to make room for Koss, or had those bones already been disinterred? Was the ossuary still in use at that time, or had it already been sealed? Were families buried in family grave plots, and if so, was Koss buried where his parents or first wife, Margaretha, had lain?


The births recorded in the early records all reflect the surnames as Haga, not Haag. In the Heiningen heritage book, the surname is recorded as Haag, which tellus us that today, the surname is Haag.

Hanns, Koss, had a total of 8 children, one with his first wife, and 7 with Catharina Baür. Of those children, we have no further information about 3 females and two males, which suggests they perished young.

Koss had two surviving sons who were born, married and died in Heiningen:

  1. Michael Haag, born January 4, 1649, just 8 months after the end of the Thirty Years’ War; married July 28, 1671 to Margareta Bechtold; died April 9, 1727. Michael, my ancestor, had three sons, at least one of whom had sons who lived to marry and have children.
  2. Johannes Haag, born May 20, 1653; married Margareta Hässler on May 18, 1680; died February 24, 1703. Johannes had 4 sons who survived, married and had sons who may descendants who are Haag males today.

Any male born to Michael or Johannes who descends through all Haag males to men today carries the Y DNA of Hanss, or Koss, Haag or Haga.

By testing the Y DNA of those male Haag descendants, we can determine where the Haag family originated, before they settled in Heiningen.

I have a DNA testing scholarship for Y DNA for any Haag male descending from this line. Please let me hear from you.


We know so very little about Koss’s life.

He was unquestionably Protestant as was the entire village of Heiningen. The Reformation had occurred only 70 years before Kos’ birth, so the remnants of Catholicism and the troubled times surrounding that tumultuous religious transition still haunted Europe. The Thirty Years’ War was, again, a Catholic/Protestant conflict that literally depopulated large swaths of Protestant Germany.

Koss almost assuredly served in some capacity at some time in the military. Military service was probably synonymous with self-defense in that time and place and may have been required. In the midst of a devastating war, there was probably no avoiding military service, especially as a young man, even if he had wanted to – and I’m guessing he would have taken pride in serving and protecting his family, village and fighting for his religion.

Koss was 24 years old when he married the first time. For all we know, he may have already served for years as a soldier, which might be why no occupation was listed.

Koss buried one wife and at least 5 children, along with a few grandchildren. He didn’t have many grandchildren, because not many of his children survived.

The fact that Koss managed to live through the entire Thirty Years’ War, through incessant religious turmoil, through the destruction of Heiningen by Catholic soldiers in 1734, and until the age of 73 years and 3 months is nothing short of miraculous. He probably never expected to survive that long, given the destruction and devastation swirling around him most of his life. Most people died much younger.

I shudder to think about the atrocities that Kos assuredly witnessed, and how those memories probably haunted him.

As I reflect upon Koss’s life and times, I reach the conclusion that I’m very, very fortunate to be here today.


A special thank you to my friends Tom and Christoph for their never-ending assistance, research and patience, and to the Michelskirche in Heiningen for the beautiful church photos and history.



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Y DNA: Step-by-Step Big Y Analysis

Many males take the Big Y-700 test offered by FamilyTreeDNA, so named because testers receive the most granular haplogroup SNP results in addition to 700+ included STR marker results. If you’re not familiar with those terms, you might enjoy the article, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities.

The Big Y test gives testers the best of both, along with contributing to the building of the Y phylotree. You can read about the additions to the Y tree via the Big Y, plus how it helped my own Estes project, here.

Some men order this test of their own volition, some at the request of a family member, and some in response to project administrators who are studying a specific topic – like a particular surname.

The Big Y-700 test is the most complete Y DNA test offered, testing millions of locations on the Y chromosome to reveal mutations, some unique and never before discovered, many of which are useful to genealogists. The Big Y-700 includes the traditional Y DNA STR marker testing along with SNP results that define haplogroups. Translated, both types of test results are compared to other men for genealogy, which is the primary goal of DNA testing.

Being a female, I often recruit males in my family surname lines and sponsor testing. My McNiel line, historic haplogroup R-M222, has been particularly frustrating both genealogically as well as genetically after hitting a brick wall in the 1700s. My McNeill cousin agreed to take a Big Y test, and this analysis walks through the process of understanding what those results are revealing.

After my McNeill cousin’s Big Y results came back from the lab, I spent a significant amount of time turning over every leaf to extract as much information as possible, both from the Big Y-700 DNA test itself and as part of a broader set of intertwined genetic information and genealogical evidence.

I invite you along on this journey as I explain the questions we hoped to answer and then evaluate Big Y DNA results along with other information to shed light on those quandaries.

I will warn you, this article is long because it’s a step-by-step instruction manual for you to follow when interpreting your own Big Y results. I’d suggest you simply read this article the first time to get a feel for the landscape, before working through the process with your own results. There’s so much available that most people leave laying on the table because they don’t understand how to extract the full potential of these test results.

If you’d like to read more about the Big Y-700 test, the FamilyTreeDNA white paper is here, and I wrote about the Big Y-700 when it was introduced, here.

You can read an overview of Y DNA, here, and Y DNA: The Dictionary of DNA, here.

Ok, get yourself a cuppa joe, settle in, and let’s go!

George and Thomas McNiel – Who Were They?

George and Thomas McNiel appear together in Spotsylvania County, Virginia records. Y DNA results, in combination with early records, suggest that these two men were brothers.

I wrote about discovering that Thomas McNeil’s descendant had taken a Y DNA test and matched George’s descendants, here, and about my ancestor George McNiel, here.

McNiel family history in Wilkes County, NC, recorded in a letter written in 1898 by George McNiel’s grandson tells us that George McNiel, born about 1720, came from Scotland with his two brothers, John and Thomas. Elsewhere, it was reported that the McNiel brothers sailed from Glasgow, Scotland and that George had been educated at the University of Edinburgh for the Presbyterian ministry but had a change of religious conviction during the voyage. As a result, a theological tiff developed that split the brothers.

George, eventually, if not immediately, became a Baptist preacher. His origins remain uncertain.

The brothers reportedly arrived about 1750 in Maryland, although I have no confirmation. By 1754, Thomas McNeil appeared in the Spotsylvania County, VA records with a male being apprenticed to him as a tailor. In 1757, in Spotsylvania County, the first record of George McNeil showed James Pey being apprenticed to learn the occupation of tailor.

If George and Thomas were indeed tailors, that’s not generally a country occupation and would imply that they both apprenticed as such when they were growing up, wherever that was.

Thomas McNeil is recorded in one Spotsylvania deed as being from King and Queen County, VA. If this is the case, and George and Thomas McNiel lived in King and Queen, at least for a time, this would explain the lack of early records, as King and Queen is a thrice-burned county. If there was a third brother, John, I find no record of him.

My now-deceased cousin, George McNiel, initially tested for the McNiel Y DNA and also functioned for decades as the family historian. George, along with his wife, inventoried the many cemeteries of Wilkes County, NC.

George believed through oral history that the family descended from the McNiel’s of Barra.

McNiel Big Y Kisumul

George had this lovely framed print of Kisimul Castle, seat of the McNiel Clan on the Isle of Barra, proudly displayed on his wall.

That myth was dispelled with the initial DNA testing when our line did not match the Barra line, as can be seen in the MacNeil DNA project, much to George’s disappointment. As George himself said, the McNiel history is both mysterious and contradictory. Amen to that, George!

McNiel Big Y Niall 9 Hostages

However, in place of that history, we were instead awarded the Niall of the 9 Hostages badge, created many years ago based on a 12 marker STR result profile. Additionally, the McNiel DNA was assigned to haplogroup R-M222. Of course, today’s that’s a far upstream haplogroup, but 15+ years ago, we had only a fraction of the testing or knowledge that we do today.

The name McNeil, McNiel, or however you spell it, resembles Niall, so on the surface, this made at least some sense. George was encouraged by the new information, even though he still grieved the loss of Kisimul Castle.

Of course, this also caused us to wonder about the story stating our line had originated in Scotland because Niall of the 9 Hostages lived in Ireland.

Niall of the 9 Hostages

Niall of the 9 Hostages was reportedly a High King of Ireland sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries. However, actual historical records place him living someplace in the mid-late 300s to early 400s, with his death reported in different sources as occurring before 382 and alternatively about 411. The Annals of the Four Masters dates his reign to 379-405, and Foras Feasa ar Eirinn says from 368-395. Activities of his sons are reported between 379 and 405.

In other words, Niall lived in Ireland about 1500-1600 years ago, give or take.


Generally, migration was primarily from Scotland to Ireland, not the reverse, at least as far as we know in recorded history. Many Scottish families settled in the Ulster Plantation beginning in 1606 in what is now Northern Ireland. The Scots-Irish immigration to the states had begun by 1718. Many Protestant Scottish families immigrated from Ireland carrying the traditional “Mc” names and Presbyterian religion, clearly indicating their Scottish heritage. The Irish were traditionally Catholic. George could have been one of these immigrants.

We have unresolved conflicts between the following pieces of McNeil history:

  • Descended from McNeil’s of Barra – disproved through original Y DNA testing.
  • Immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland, and schooled in the Presbyterian religion in Edinburgh.
  • Descended from the Ui Neill dynasty, an Irish royal family dominating the northern half of Ireland from the 6th to 10th centuries.

Of course, it’s possible that our McNiel/McNeil line could have been descended from the Ui Neill dynasty AND also lived in Scotland before immigrating.

It’s also possible that they immigrated from Ireland, not Scotland.

And finally, it’s possible that the McNeil surname and M222 descent are not related and those two things are independent and happenstance.

A New Y DNA Tester

Since cousin George is, sadly, deceased, we needed a new male Y DNA tester to represent our McNiel line. Fortunately, one such cousin graciously agreed to take the Big Y-700 test so that we might, hopefully, answer numerous questions:

  • Does the McNiel line have a unique haplogroup, and if so, what does it tell us?
  • Does our McNiel line descend from Ireland or Scotland?
  • Where are our closest geographic clusters?
  • What can we tell by tracing our haplogroup back in time?
  • Do any other men match the McNiel haplogroup, and what do we know about their history?
  • Does the Y DNA align with any specific clans, clan history, or prehistory contributing to clans?

With DNA, you don’t know what you don’t know until you test.

Welcome – New Haplogroup

I was excited to see my McNeill cousin’s results arrive. He had graciously allowed me access, so I eagerly took a look.

He had been assigned to haplogroup R-BY18350.

McNiel Big Y branch

Initially, I saw that indeed, six men matched my McNeill cousin, assigned to the same haplogroup. Those surnames were:

  • Scott
  • McCollum
  • Glass
  • McMichael
  • Murphy
  • Campbell

Notice that I said, “were.” That’s right, because shortly after the results were returned, based on markers called private variants, Family Tree DNA assigned a new haplogroup to my McNeill cousin.

Drum roll please!!!

Haplogroup R-BY18332

McNiel Big Y BY18332

Additionally, my cousin’s Big Y test resulted in several branches being split, shown on the Block Tree below.

McNIel Big Y block tree

How cool is this!

This Block Tree graphic shows, visually, that our McNiel line is closest to McCollum and Campbell testers, and is a brother clade to those branches showing to the left and right of our new R-BY18332. It’s worth noting that BY25938 is an equivalent SNP to BY18332, at least today. In the future, perhaps another tester will test, allowing those two branches to be further subdivided.

Furthermore, after the new branches were added, Cousin McNeill has no more Private Variants, which are unnamed SNPs. There were all utilized in naming additional tree branches!

I wrote about the Big Y Block Tree here.

Niall (Or Whoever) Was Prolific

The first thing that became immediately obvious was how successful our progenitor was.

McNiel Big Y M222 project

click to enlarge

In the MacNeil DNA project, 38 men with various surname spellings descend from M222. There are more in the database who haven’t joined the MacNeil project.

Whoever originally carried SNP R-M222, someplace between 2400 and 5900 years ago, according to the block tree, either had many sons who had sons, or his descendants did. One thing is for sure, his line certainly is in no jeopardy of dying out today.

The Haplogroup R-M222 DNA Project, which studies this particular haplogroup, reads like a who’s who of Irish surnames.

Big Y Match Results

Big Y matches must have no more than 30 SNP differences total, including private variants and named SNPs combined. Named SNPs function as haplogroup names. In other words, Cousin McNeill’s terminal SNP, meaning the SNP furthest down on the tree, R-BY18332, is also his haplogroup name.

Private variants are mutations that have occurred in the line being tested, but not yet in other lines. Occurrences of private variants in multiple testers allow the Private Variant to be named and placed on the haplotree.

Of course, Family Tree DNA offers two types of Y DNA testing, STR testing which is the traditional 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker testing panels, and the Big Y-700 test which provides testers with:

  • All 111 STR markers used for matching and comparison
  • Another 589+ STR markers only available through the Big Y test increasing the total STR markers tested from 111 to minimally 700
  • A scan of the Y chromosome, looking for new and known SNPs and STR mutations

Of course, these tests keep on giving, both with matching and in the case of the Big Y – continued haplogroup discovery and refinement in the future as more testers test. The Big Y is an investment as a test that keeps on giving, not just a one-time purchase.

I wrote about the Big Y-700 when it was introduced here and a bit later here.

Let’s see what the results tell us. We’ll start by taking a look at the matches, the first place that most testers begin.

Mcniel Big Y STR menu

Regular Y DNA STR matching shows the results for the STR results through 111 markers. The Big Y section, below, provides results for the Big Y SNPs, Big Y matches and additional STR results above 111 markers.

McNiel Big Y menu

Let’s take a look.

STR and SNP Testing

Of Cousin McNeil’s matches, 2 Big Y testers and several STR testers carry some variant of the Neal, Neel, McNiel, McNeil, O’Neil, etc. surnames by many spellings.

While STR matching is focused primarily on a genealogical timeframe, meaning current to roughly 500-800 years in the past, SNP testing reaches much further back in time.

  • STR matching reaches approximately 500-800 years.
  • Big Y matching reaches approximately 1500 years.
  • SNPs and haplogroups reach back infinitely, and can be tracked historically beyond the genealogical timeframe, shedding light on our ancestors’ migration paths, helping to answer the age-old question of “where did we come from.”

These STR and Big Y time estimates are based on a maximum number of mutations for testers to be considered matches paired with known genealogy.

Big Y results consider two men a match if they have 30 or fewer total SNP differences. Using NGS (next generation sequencing) scan technology, the targeted regions of the Y chromosome are scanned multiple times, although not all regions are equally useful.

Individually tested SNPs are still occasionally available in some cases, but individual SNP testing has generally been eclipsed by the greatly more efficient enriched technology utilized with Big Y testing.

Think of SNP testing as walking up to a specific location and taking a look, while NGS scan technology is a drone flying over the entire region 30-50 times looking multiple times to be sure they see the more distant target accurately.

Multiple scans acquiring the same read in the same location, shown below in the Big Y browser tool by the pink mutations at the red arrow, confirm that NGS sequencing is quite reliable.

McNiel Big Y browser

These two types of tests, STR panels 12-111 and the SNP-based Big Y, are meant to be utilized in combination with each other.

STR markers tend to mutate faster and are less reliable, experiencing frustrating back mutations. SNPs very rarely experience this level of instability. Some regions of the Y chromosome are messier or more complicated than others, causing problems with interpreting reads reliably.

For purposes of clarity, the string of pink A reads above is “not messy,” and “A” is very clearly a mutation because all ~39 scanned reads report the same value of “A,” and according to the legend, all of those scans are high quality. Multiple combined reads of A and G, for example, in the same location, would be tough to call accurately and would be considered unreliable.

You can see examples of a few scattered pink misreads, above.

The two different kinds of tests produce results for overlapping timeframes – with STR mutations generally sifting through closer relationships and SNPs reaching back further in time.

Many more men have taken the Y DNA STR tests over the last 20 years. The Big Y tests have only been available for the past handful of years.

STR testing produces the following matches for my McNiel cousin:

STR Level STR Matches STR Matches Who Took the Big Y % STR Who Took Big Y STR Matches Who Also Match on the Big Y
12 5988 796 13 52
25 6660 725 11 57
37 878 94 11 12
67 1225 252 21 23
111 4 2 50 1

Typically, one would expect that all STR matches that took the Big Y would match on the Big Y, since STR results suggest relationships closer in time, but that’s not the case.

  • Many STR testers who have taken the Big Y seem to be just slightly too distant to be considered a Big Y match using SNPs, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
  • However, this could easily be a function of the fact that STRs mutate both backward and forwards and may have simply “happened” to have mutated to a common value – which suggests a closer relationship than actually exists.
  • It could also be that the SNP matching threshold needs to be raised since the enhanced and enriched Big Y-700 technology now finds more mutations than the older Big Y-500. I would like to see SNP matching expanded to 40 from 30 because it seems that clan connections may be being missed. Thirty may have been a great threshold before the more sensitive Big Y-700 test revealed more mutations, which means that people hit that 30 threshold before they did with previous tests.
  • Between the combination of STRs and SNPs mutating at the same time, some Big Y matches are pushed just out of range.

In a nutshell, the correlation I expected to find in terms of matching between STR and Big Y testing is not what I found. Let’s take a look at what we discovered.

It’s worth noting that the analysis is easier if you are working together with at least your closest matches or have access via projects to at least some of their results. You can see common STR values to 111 in projects, such as surname projects. Project administrators can view more if project members have allowed access.

Unexpected Discoveries and Gotchas

While I did expect STR matches to also match on the Big Y, I don’t expect the Big Y matches to necessarily match on the STR tests. After all, the Big Y is testing for more deep-rooted history.

Only one of the McNiel Big Y matches also matches at all levels of STR testing. That’s not surprising since Big Y matching reaches further back in time than STR testing, and indeed, not all STR testers have taken a Big Y test.

Of my McNeill cousin’s closest Big Y matches, we find the following relative to STR matching.

Surname Ancestral Location Big Y Variant/SNP Difference STR Match Level
Scott 1565 in Buccleuch, Selkirkshire, Scotland 20 12, 25, 37, 67
McCollum Not listed 21 67 only
Glass 1618 in Banbridge, County Down, Ireland 23 12, 25, 67
McMichael 1720 County Antrim, Ireland 28 67 only
Murphy Not listed 29 12, 25, 37, 67
Campbell Scotland 30 12, 25, 37, 67, 111

It’s ironic that the man who matches on all STR levels has the most variants, 30 – so many that with 1 more, he would not have been considered a Big Y match at all.

Only the Campbell man matches on all STR panels. Unfortunately, this Campbell male does not match the Clan Campbell line, so that momentary clan connection theory is immediately put to rest.

Block Tree Matches – What They Do, and Don’t, Mean

Note that a Carnes male, the other person who matches my McNeill cousin at 111 STR markers and has taken a Big Y test does not match at the Big Y level. His haplogroup BY69003 is located several branches up the tree, with our common ancestor, R-S588, having lived about 2000 years ago. Interestingly, we do match other R-S588 men.

This is an example where the total number of SNP mutations is greater than 30 for these 2 men (McNeill and Carnes), but not for my McNeill cousin compared with other men on the same S588 branch.

McNiel Big Y BY69003

By searching for Carnes on the block tree, I can view my cousin’s match to Mr. Carnes, even though they don’t match on the Big Y. STR matches who have taken the Big Y test, even if they don’t match at the Big Y level, are shown on the Block Tree on their branch.

By clicking on the haplogroup name, R-BY69003, above, I can then see three categories of information about the matches at that haplogroup level, below.

McNiel Big Y STR differences

click to enlarge

By selecting “Matches,” I can see results under the column, “Big Y.” This does NOT mean that the tester matches either Mr. Carnes or Mr. Riker on the Big Y, but is telling me that there are 14 differences out of 615 STR markers above 111 markers for Mr. Carnes, and 8 of 389 for Mr. Riker.

In other words, this Big Y column is providing STR information, not indicating a Big Y match. You can’t tell one way or another if someone shown on the Block Tree is shown there because they are a Big Y match or because they are an STR match that shares the same haplogroup.

As a cautionary note, your STR matches that have taken the Big Y ARE shown on the block tree, which is a good thing. Just don’t assume that means they are Big Y matches.

The 30 SNP threshold precludes some matches.

My research indicates that the people who match on STRs and carry the same haplogroup, but don’t match at the Big Y level, are every bit as relevant as those who do match on the Big Y.

McNIel Big Y block tree menu

If you’re not vigilant when viewing the block tree, you’ll make the assumption that you match all of the people showing on the Block Tree on the Big Y test since Block Tree appears under the Big Y tools. You have to check Big Y matches specifically to see if you match people shown on the Block Tree. You don’t necessarily match all of them on the Big Y test, and vice versa, of course.

You match Block Tree inhabitants either:

  • On the Big Y, but not the STR panels
  • On the Big Y AND at least one level of STRs between 12 and 111, inclusive
  • On STRs to someone who has taken the Big Y test, but whom you do not match on the Big Y test

Big Y-500 or Big Y-700?

McNiel Big Y STR differences

click to enlarge

Looking at the number of STR markers on the matches page of the Block Tree for BY69003, above, or on the STR Matches page is the only way to determine whether or not your match took the Big Y-700 or the Big Y-500 test.

If you add 111 to the Big Y SNP number of 615 for Mr. Carnes, the total equals 726, which is more than 700, so you know he took the Big Y-700.

If you add 111 to 389 for Mr. Riker, you get 500, which is less than 700, so you know that he took the Big Y-500 and not the Big Y-700.

There are still a very small number of men in the database who did not upgrade to 111 when they ordered their original Big Y test, but generally, this calculation methodology will work. Today, all Big Y tests are upgraded to 111 markers if they have not already tested at that level.

Why does Big Y-500 vs Big Y-700 matter? The enriched chemistry behind the testing technology improved significantly with the Big Y-700 test, enhancing Y-DNA results. I was an avowed skeptic until I saw the results myself after upgrading men in the Estes DNA project. In other words, if Big Y-500 testers upgrade, they will probably have more SNPs in common.

You may want to contact your closest Big Y-500 matches and ask if they will consider upgrading to the Big Y-700 test. For example, if we had close McNiel or similar surname matches, I would do exactly that.

Matching Both the Big Y and STRs – No Single Source

There is no single place or option to view whether or not you match someone BOTH on the Big Y AND STR markers. You can see both match categories individually, of course, but not together.

You can determine if your STR matches took the Big Y, below, and their haplogroup, which is quite useful, but you can’t tell if you match them at the Big Y level on this page.

McNiel Big Y STR match Big Y

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Selecting “Display Only Matches With Big Y” means displaying matches to men who took the Big Y test, not necessarily men you match on the Big Y. Mr. Conley, in the example above, does not match my McNeill cousin on the Big Y but does match him at 12 and 25 STR markers.

I hope FTDNA will add three display options:

  • Select only men that match on the Big Y in the STR panel
  • Add an option for Big Y on the advanced matches page
  • Indicate men who also match on STRs on the Big Y match page

It was cumbersome and frustrating to have to view all of the matches multiple times to compile various pieces of information in a separate spreadsheet.

No Big Y Match Download

There is also no option to download your Big Y matches. With a few matches, this doesn’t matter, but with 119 matches, or more, it does. As more people test, everyone will have more matches. That’s what we all want!

What you can do, however, is to download your STR matches from your match page at levels 12-111 individually, then combine them into one spreadsheet. (It would be nice to be able to download them all at once.)

McNiel Big Y csv

You can then add your Big Y matches manually to the STR spreadsheet, or you can simply create a separate Big Y spreadsheet. That’s what I chose to do after downloading my cousin’s 14,737 rows of STR matches. I told you that R-M222 was prolific! I wasn’t kidding.

This high number of STR matches also perfectly illustrates why the Big Y SNP results were so critical in establishing the backbone relationship structure. Using the two tools together is indispensable.

An additional benefit to downloading STR results is that you can sort the STR spreadsheet columns in surname order. This facilitates easily spotting all spelling variations of McNiel, including words like Niel, Neal and such that might be relevant but that you might not notice otherwise.

Creating a Big Y Spreadsheet

My McNiel cousin has 119 Big Y-700 matches.

I built a spreadsheet with the following columns facilitating sorting in a number of ways, with definitions as follows:

McNiel Big Y spreadsheet

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  • First Name
  • Last Name – You will want to search matches on your personal page at Family Tree DNA by this surname later, so be sure if there is a hyphenated name to enter it completely.
  • Haplogroup – You’ll want to sort by this field.
  • Convergent – A field you’ll complete when doing your analysis. Convergence is the common haplogroup in the tree shared by you and your match. In the case of the green matches above, which are color-coded on my spreadsheet to indicate the closest matches with my McNiel cousin, the convergent haplogroup is BY18350.
  • Common Tree Gen – This column is the generations on the Block Tree shown to this common haplogroup. In the example above, it’s between 9 and 14 SNP generations. I’ll show you where to gather this information.
  • Geographic Location – Can be garnered from 4 sources. No color in that cell indicates that this information came from the Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) field in the STR matches. Blue indicates that I opened the tree and pulled the location information from that source. Orange means that someone else by the same surname whom the tester also Y DNA matches shows this location. I am very cautious when assigning orange, and it’s risky because it may not be accurate. A fourth source is to use Ancestry, MyHeritage, or another genealogical resource to identify a location if an individual provides genealogical information but no location in the EKA field. Utilizing genealogy databases is only possible if enough information is provided to make a unique identification. John Smith 1700-1750 won’t do it, but Seamus McDougal (1750-1810) married to Nelly Anderson might just work.
  • STR Match – Tells me if the Big Y match also matches on STR markers, and if so, which ones. Only the first 111 markers are used for matching. No STR match generally means the match is further back in time, but there are no hard and fast rules.
  • Big Y Match – My original goal was to combine this information with the STR match spreadsheet. If you don’t wish to combine the two, then you don’t need this column.
  • Tree – An easy way for me to keep track of which matches do and do not have a tree. Please upload or create a tree.

You can also add a spreadsheet column for comments or contact information.

McNiel Big Y profile

You will also want to click your match’s name to display their profile card, paying particular attention to the “About Me” information where people sometimes enter genealogical information. Also, scan the Ancestral Surnames where the match may enter a location for a specific surname.

Private Variants

I added additional spreadsheet columns, not shown above, for Private Variant analysis. That level of analysis is beyond what most people are interested in doing, so I’m only briefly discussing this aspect. You may want to read along, so you at least understand what you are looking at.

Clicking on Private Variants in your Big Y Results shows your variants, or mutations, that are unnamed as SNPs. When they are named, they become SNPs and are placed on the haplotree.

The reference or “normal” state for the DNA allele at that location is shown as the “Reference,” and “Genotype” is the result of the tester. Reference results are not shown for each tester, because the majority are the same. Only mutations are shown.

McNiel Big Y private variants

There are 5 Private Variants, total, for my cousin. I’ve obscured the actual variant numbers and instead typed in 111111 and 222222 for the first two as examples.

McNiel Big Y nonmatching variants

In our example, there are 6 Big Y matches, with matches one and five having the non-matching variants shown above.

Non-matching variants mean that the match, Mr. Scott, in example 1, does NOT match the tester (my cousin) on those variants.

  • If the tester (you) has no mutation, you won’t have a Private Variant shown on your Private Variant page.
  • If the tester does have a Private Variant shown, and that variant shows ON their matches list of non-matching variants, it means the match does NOT match the tester, and either has the normal reference value or a different mutation. Explained another way, if you have a mutation, and that variant is listed on your match list of Non-Matching Variants, your match does NOT match you and does NOT have the same mutation.
  • If the match does NOT have the Private Variant on their list, that means the match DOES match the tester, and they both have the same mutation, making this Private Variant a candidate to be named as a new SNP.
  • If you don’t have a Private Variant listed, but it shows in the Non-Matching Variants of your match, that means you have the reference or normal value, and they have a mutation.

In example #1, above, the tester has a mutation at variant 111111, and 111111 is shown as a Non-Matching Variant to Mr. Scott, so Mr. Scott does NOT match the tester. Mr. Scott also does NOT match the tester at locations 222222 and 444444.

In example #5, 111111 is NOT shown on the Non-Matching Variant list, so Mr. Treacy DOES match the tester.

I have a terrible time wrapping my head around the double negatives, so it’s critical that I make charts.

On the chart below, I’ve listed the tester’s private variants in an individual column each, so 111111, 222222, etc.

For each match, I’ve copy and pasted their Non-Matching Variants in a column to the right of the tester’s variants, in the lavender region. In this example, I’ve typed the example variants into separate columns for each tester so you can see the difference. Remember, a non-matching variant means they do NOT match the tester’s mutation.

McNiel private variants spreadsheet

On my normal spreadsheet where the non-matching variants don’t have individuals columns, I then search for the first variant, 111111. If the variant does appear in the list, it means that match #1 does NOT have the mutation, so I DON’T put an X in the box for match #1 under 111111.

In the example above, the only match that does NOT have 111111 on their list of Non-Matching Variants is #5, so an X IS placed in that corresponding cell. I’ve highlighted that column in yellow to indicate this is a candidate for a new SNP.

You can see that no one else has the variant, 222222, so it truly is totally private. It’s not highlighted in yellow because it’s not a candidate to be a new SNP.

Everyone shares mutation 333333, so it’s a great candidate to become a new SNP, as is 555555.

Match #6 shares the mutation at 444444, but no one else does.

This is a manual illustration of an automated process that occurs at Family Tree DNA. After Big Y matches are returned, automated software creates private variant lists of potential new haplogroups that are then reviewed internally where SNPs are evaluated, named, and placed on the tree if appropriate.

If you follow this process and discover matches, you probably don’t need to do anything, as the automated review process will likely catch up within a few days to weeks.

Big Y Matches

In the case of the McNiel line, it was exciting to discover several private variants, mutations that were not yet named SNPs, found in several matches that were candidates to be named as SNPs and placed on the Y haplotree.

Sure enough, a few days later, my McNeill cousin had a new haplogroup assignment.

Most people have at least one Private Variant, locations in which they do NOT match another tester. When several people have these same mutations, and they are high-quality reads, the Private Variant qualifies to be added to the haplotree as a SNP, a task performed at FamilyTreeDNA by Michael Sager.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear Michael speak, please do so. You can watch Michael’s presentation at Genetic Genealogy Ireland (GGI) titled “The Tree of Mankind,” on YouTube, here, compliments of Maurice Gleeson who coordinates GGI. Maurice has also written about the Gleeson Y DNA project analysis, here.

As a result of Cousin McNeill’s test, six new SNPs have been added to the Y haplotree, the tree of mankind. You can see our new haplogroup for our branch, BY18332, with an equivalent SNP, BY25938, along with three sibling branches to the left and right on the tree.

McNiel Big Y block tree 4 branch

Big Y testing not only answers genealogical questions, it advances science by building out the tree of mankind too.

The surname of the men who share the same haplogroup, R-BY18332, meaning the named SNP furthest down the tree, are McCollum and Campbell. Not what I expected. I expected to find a McNeil who does match on at least some STR markers. This is exactly why the Big Y is so critical to define the tree structure, then use STR matches to flesh it out.

Taking the Big Y-700 test provided granularity between 6 matches, shown above, who were all initially assigned to the same branch of the tree, BY18350, but were subsequently divided into 4 separate branches. My McNiel cousin is no longer equally as distant from all 6 men. We now know that our McNiel line is genetically closer on the Y chromosome to Campbell and McCollum and further distant from Murphy, Scott, McMichael, and Glass.

Not All SNP Matches are STR Matches

Not all SNP matches are also STR matches. Some relationships are too far back in time. However, in this case, while each person on the BY18350 branches matches at some STR level, only the Campbell individual matches at all STR levels.

Remember that variants (mutations) are accumulating down both respective branches of the tree at the same time, meaning one per roughly every 100 years (if 100 is the average number we want to use) for both testers. A total of 30 variants or mutations difference, an average of 15 on each branch of the tree (McNiel and their match) would suggest a common ancestor about 1500 years ago, so each Big Y match should have a common ancestor 1500 years ago or closer. At least on average, in theory.

The Big Y test match threshold is 30 variants, so if there were any more mismatches with the Campbell male, they would not have been a Big Y match, even though they have the exact same haplogroup.

Having the same haplogroup means that their terminal SNP is identical, the SNP furthest down the tree today, at least until someone matches one of them on their Private Variants (if any remain unnamed) and a new terminal SNP is assigned to one or both of them.

Mutations, and when they happen, are truly a roll of the dice. This is why viewing all of your Big Y Block Tree matches is critical, even if they don’t show on your Big Y match list. One more variant and Campbell would have not been shown as a match, yet he is actually quite close, on the same branch, and matches on all STR panels as well.

SNPs Establish the Backbone Structure

I always view the block tree first to provide a branching tree structure, then incorporate STR matches into the equation. Both can equally as important to genealogy, but haplogroup assignment is the most accurate tool, regardless of whether the two individuals match on the Big Y test, especially if the haplogroups are relatively close.

Let’s work with the Block Tree.

The Block Tree

McNIel Big Y block tree menu

Clicking on the link to the Block Tree in the Big Y results immediately displays the tester’s branch on the tree, below.

McNiel Big Y block tree descent

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On the left side are SNP generation markers. Keep in mind that approximate SNP generations are marked every 5 generations. The most recent generations are based on the number of private variants that have not yet been assigned as branches on the tree. It’s possible that when they are assigned that they will be placed upstream someplace, meaning that placement will reduce the number of early branches and perhaps increase the number of older branches.

The common haplogroup of all of the branches shown here with the upper red arrow is R-BY3344, about 15 SNP generations ago. If you’re using 100 years per SNP generation, that’s about 1500 years. If you’re using 80 years, then 1200 years ago. Some people use even fewer years for calculations.

If some of the private variants in the closer branches disappear, then the common ancestral branch may shift to closer in time.

This tree will always be approximate because some branches can never be detected. They have disappeared entirely over time when no males exist to reproduce.

Conversely, subclades have been born since a common ancestor clade whose descendants haven’t yet tested. As more people test, more clades will be discovered.

Therefore, most recent common ancestor (MRCA) haplogroup ages can only be estimated, based on who has tested and what we know today. The tree branches also vary depending on whether testers have taken the Big Y-500 or the more sensitive Big Y-700, which detects more variants. The Y haplotree is a combination of both.

Big Y-500 results will not be as granular and potentially do not position test-takers as far down the tree as Big Y-700 results would if they upgraded. You’ll need to factor that into your analysis if you’re drawing genealogical conclusions based on these results, especially close results.

You’ll note that the direct path of descent is shown above with arrows from BY3344 through the first blue box with 5 equivalent SNPS, to the next white box, our branch, with two equivalent SNPs. Our McNeil ancestor, the McCollum tester, and the Campell tester have no unresolved private variants between them, which suggests they are probably closer in time than 10 generations back. You can see that the SNP generations are pushed “up” by the neighbor variants.

Because of the fact that private variants don’t occur on a clock cycle and occur in individual lines at an unsteady rate, we must use averages.

That means that when we look further “up” the tree, clicking generation by generation on the up arrow above BY3344, the SNP generations on the left side “adjust” based on what is beneath, and unseen at that level.

The Block Tree Adjusts

Note, in the example above, BY3344 is at SNP generation 15.

Next, I clicked one generation upstream, to R-S668.

McNiel Big Y block tree S668

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You can see that S668 is about 21 SNP generations upstream, and now BY3344 is listed as 20 generations, not 15. You can see our branch, BY3344, but you can no longer see subclades or our matches below that branch in this view.

You can, however, see two matches that descend through S668, brother branches to BY3344, red arrows at far right.

Clicking on the up arrow one more time shows us haplogroup S673, below, and the child branches. The three child branches on which the tester has matches are shown with red arrows.

McNiel Big Y S673

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You’ll immediately notice that now S668 is shown at 19 SNP generations, not 20, and S673 is shown at 20. This SNP generation difference between views is a function of dealing with aggregated and averaged private variants on combined lines and causes the SNP generations to shift. This is also why I always say “about.”

As you continue to click up the tree, the shifting SNP generations continue, reminding us that we can’t truly see back in time. We can only achieve approximations, but those approximations improve as more people test, and more SNPs are named and placed in their proper places on the phylotree.

I love the Block Tree, although I wish I could see further side-to-side, allowing me to view all of the matches on one expanded tree so I can easily see their relationships to the tester, and each other.

Countries and Origins

In addition to displaying shared averaged autosomal origins of testers on a particular branch, if they have taken the Family Finder test and opted-in to sharing origins (ethnicity) results, you can also view the countries indicated by testers on that branch along with downstream branches of the tree.

McNiel Big Y countries

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For example, the Countries tab for S673 is shown above. I can see matches on this branch with no downstream haplogroup currently assigned, as well as cumulative results from downstream branches.

Still, I need to be able to view this information in a more linear format.

The Block Tree and spreadsheet information beautifully augment the haplotree, so let’s take a look.

The Haplotree

On your Y DNA results page, click on the “Haplotree and SNPs” link.

McNIel Big Y haplotree menu

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The Y haplotree will be displayed in pedigree style, quite familiar to genealogists. The SNP legend will be shown at the top of the display. In some cases, “presumed positive” results occur where coverage is lacking, back mutations or read errors are encountered. Presumed positive is based on positive SNPs further down the tree. In other words, that yellow SNP below must read positive or downstream ones wouldn’t.

McNIel Big Y pedigree descent

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The tester’s branch is shown with the grey bar. To the right of the haplogroup-defining SNP are listed the branch and equivalent SNP names. At far right, we see the total equivalent SNPs along with three dots that display the Country Report. I wish the haplotree also showed my matches, or at least my matching surnames, allowing me to click through. It doesn’t, so I have to return to the Big Y page or STR Matches page, or both.

I’ve starred each branch through which my McNiell cousin descends. Sibling branches are shown in grey. As you’ll recall from the Block Tree, we do have matches on those sibling branches, shown side by side with our branch.

The small numbers to the right of the haplogroup names indicate the number of downstream branches. BY18350 has three, all displayed. But looking upstream a bit, we see that DF97 has 135 downstream branches. We also have matches on several of those branches. To show those branches, simply click on the haplogroup.

The challenge for me, with 119 McNeill matches, is that I want to see a combination of the block tree, my spreadsheet information, and the haplotree. The block tree shows the names, my spreadsheet tells me on which branches to look for those matches. Many aren’t easily visible on the block tree because they are downstream on sibling branches.

Here’s where you can find and view different pieces of information.

Data and Sources STR Matches Page Big Y Matches Page Block Tree Haplogroups & SNPs Page
STR matches Yes No, but would like to see who matches at which STR levels If they have taken Big Y test, but doesn’t mean they match on Big Y matching No
SNP matches *1 Shows if STR match has common haplogroup, but not if tester matches on Big Y No, but would like to see who matches at which STR level Big Y matches and STR matches that aren’t Big Y matches are both shown No, but need this feature – see combined haplotree/ block tree
Other Haplogroup Branch Residents Yes, both estimated and tested No, use block tree or click through to profile card, would like to see haplogroup listed for Big Y matches Yes, both Big Y and STR tested, not estimated. Cannot tell if person is Big Y match or STR match, or both. No individuals, but would like that as part of countries report, see combined haplotree/block tree
Fully Expanded Phylotree No No Would like ability to see all branches with whom any Big Y or STR match resides at one time, even if it requires scrolling Yes, but no match information. Matches report could be added like on Block Tree.
Averaged Ethnicities if Have FF Test No No Yes, by haplogroup branch No
Countries Matches map STR only No, need Big Y matches map Yes Yes
Earliest Known Ancestor Yes No, but can click through to profile card No No
Customer Trees Yes No, need this link No No
Profile Card Yes, click through Yes, click through Yes, click through No match info on this page
Downloadable data By STR panel only, would like complete download with 1 click, also if Big Y or FF match Not available at all No No
Path to common haplogroup No No, but would like to see matches haplogroup and convergent haplogroup displayed No, would like the path to convergent haplogroup displayed as an option No, see combined match-block -haplotree in next section

*1 – the best way to see the haplogroup of a Big Y match is to click on their name to view their profile card since haplogroup is not displayed on the Big Y match page. If you happen to also match on STRs, their haplogroup is shown there as well. You can also search for their name using the block tree search function to view their haplogroup.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I created a combined match/block tree/haplotree.

And I really, REALLY hope Family Tree DNA implements something like this because, trust me, this was NOT fun! However, now that it’s done, it is extremely useful. With fewer matches, it should be a breeze.

Here are the steps to create the combined reference tree.

Combo Match/Block/Haplotree

I used Snagit to grab screenshots of the various portions of the haplotree and typed the surnames of the matches in the location of our common convergent haplogroup, taken from the spreadsheet. I also added the SNP generations in red for that haplogroup, at far left, to get some idea of when that common ancestor occurred.

McNIel Big Y combo tree

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This is, in essence, the end-goal of this exercise. There are a few steps to gather data.

Following the path of two matches (the tester and a specific match) you can find their common haplogroup. If your match is shown on the block tree in the same view with your branch, it’s easy to see your common convergent parent haplogroup. If you can’t see the common haplogroup, it’s takes a few extra steps by clicking up the block tree, as illustrated in an earlier section.

We need the ability to click on a match and have a tree display showing both paths to the common haplogroup.

McNiel Big Y convergent

I simulated this functionality in a spreadsheet with my McNiel cousin, a Riley match, and an Ocain match whose terminal SNP is the convergent SNP (M222) between Riley and McNiel. Of course, I’d also like to be able to click to see everyone on one chart on their appropriate branches.

Combining this information onto the haplotree, in the first image, below, M222, 4 men match my McNeill cousin – 2 who show M222 as their terminal SNP, and 2 downstream of M222 on a divergent branch that isn’t our direct branch. In other words, M222 is the convergence point for all 4 men plus my McNeill cousin.

McNiel Big Y M222 haplotree

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In the graphic below, you can see that M222 has a very large number of equivalent SNPs, which will likely become downstream haplogroups at some point in the future. However, today, these equivalent SNPs push M222 from 25 generations to 59. We’ll discuss how this meshes with known history in a minute.

McNiel Big Y M222 block tree

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Two men, Ocain and Ransom, who have both taken the Big Y, whose terminal SNP is M222, match my McNiel cousin. If their common ancestor was actually 59 generations in the past, it’s very, very unlikely that they would match at all given the 30 mutation threshold.

On my reconstructed Match/Block/Haplotree, I included the estimated SNP generations as well. We are starting with the most distant haplogroups and working our way forward in time with the graphics, below.

Make no mistake, there are thousands more men who descend from M222 that have tested, but all of those men except 4 have more than 30 mutations total, so they are not shown as Big Y matches, and they are not shown individually on the Block Tree because they neither match on the Big Y or STR tests. However, there is a way to view information for non-matching men who test positive for M222.

McNiel Big Y M222 countries

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Looking at the Block Tree for M222, many STR match men took a SNP test only to confirm M222, so they would be shown positive for the M222 SNP on STR results and, therefore, in the detailed view of M222 on the Block tree.

Haplogroup information about men who took the M222 test and whom the tester doesn’t match at all are shown here as well in the country and branch totals for R-M222. Their names aren’t displayed because they don’t match the tester on either type of Y DNA test.

Back to constructing my combined tree, I’ve left S658 in both images, above and below, as an overlap placeholder, as we move further down, or towards current, on the haplotree.

McNiel Big Y combo tree center

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Note that BY18350, above, is also an overlap connecting below.

You’ll recall that as a result of the Big Y test, BY18350 was split and now has three child branches plus one person whose terminal SNP is BY18350. All of the men shown below were on one branch until Big Y results revealed that BY18350 needed to be split, with multiple new haplogroups added to the tree.

McNiel Big Y combo tree current

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Using this combination of tools, it’s straightforward for me to see now that our McNiel line is closest to the Campbell tester from Scotland according to the Big Y test + STRs.

Equal according to the Big Y test, but slightly more distant, according to STR matching, is McCollum. The next closest would be sibling branches. Then in the parent group of the other three, BY18350, we find Glass from Scotland.

In BY18350 and subgroups, we find several Scotland locations and one Northern Ireland, which was likely from Scotland initially, given the surname and Ulster Plantation era.

The next upstream parent haplogroup is BY3344, which looks to be weighted towards ancestors from Scotland, shown on the country card, below.

McNiel Big Y BY3344

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This suggests that the origins of the McNiel line was, perhaps, in Scotland, but it doesn’t tell us whether or not George and presumably, Thomas, immigrated from Ireland or Scotland.

This combined tree, with SNPs, surnames from Big Y matches, along with Country information, allows me to see who is really more closely related and who is further away.

What I didn’t do, and probably should, is to add in all of the STR matches who have taken the Big Y test, shown on their convergent branch – but that’s just beyond the scope of time I’m willing to invest, at least for now, given that hundreds of STR matches have taken the Big Y test, and the work of building the combined tree is all manual today.

For those reading this article without access to the Y phylogenetic tree, there’s a public version of the Y and mitochondrial phylotrees available, here.

What About Those McNiels?

No other known McNiel descendants from either Thomas or George have taken the Big Y test, so I didn’t expect any to match, but I am interested in other men by similar surnames. Does ANY other McNiel have a Big Y match?

As it turns out, there are two, plus one STR match who took a Big Y test, but is not a Big Y match.

However, as you can see on the combined match/block/haplotree, above, the closest other Big Y-matching McNeil male is found at about 19 SNP generations, or roughly 1900 years ago. Even if you remove some of the variants in the lower generations that are based on an average number of individual variants, you’re still about 1200 years in the past. It’s extremely doubtful that any surname would survive in both lines from the year 800 or so.

That McNeil tester’s ancestor was born in 1747 in Tranent, Scotland.

The second Big Y-matching person is an O’Neil, a few branches further up in the tree.

The convergent SNP of the two branches, meaning O’Neil and McNeill are at approximately the 21 generation level. The O’Neil man’s Neill ancestor is found in 1843 in Cookestown, County Tyrone, Ireland.

McNiel Big Y convergent McNeil lines

I created a spreadsheet showing convergent lines:

  • The McNeill man with haplogroup A4697 (ancestor Tranent, Scotland) is clearly closest genetically.
  • O’Neill BY91591, who is brother clades with Neel and Neal, all Irish, is another Big Y match.
  • The McNeill man with haplogroup FT91182 is an STR match, but not a Big Y match.

The convergent haplogroup of all of these men is DF105 at about the 22 SNP generation marker.


Let’s turn back to STR tests, with results that produce matches closer in time.

Searching my STR download spreadsheet for similar surnames, I discovered several surname matches, mining the Earliest Known Ancestor information, profiles and trees produced data as follows:

Ancestor STR Match Level Location
George Charles Neil 12, 25, match on Big Y A4697 1747-1814 Tranent, Scotland
Hugh McNeil 25 (tested at 67) Born 1800 Country Antrim, Northern Ireland
Duncan McNeill 12 (tested at 111) Married 1789, Argyllshire, Scotland
William McNeill 12, 25 (tested at 37) Blackbraes, Stirlingshire, Scotland
William McNiel 25 (tested at 67) Born 1832 Scotland
Patrick McNiel 25 (tested at 111) Trien East, County Roscommon, Ireland
Daniel McNeill 25 (tested at 67) Born 1764 Londonderry, Northern Ireland
McNeil 12 (tested at 67) 1800 Ireland
McNeill (2 matches) 25 (tested Big Y-  SNP FT91182) 1810, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Neal 25 – (tested Big Y, SNP BY146184) Antrim, Northern Ireland
Neel (2 matches) 67 (tested at 111, and Big Y) 1750 Ireland, Northern Ireland

Our best clue that includes a Big Y and STR match is a descendant of George Charles Neil born in Tranent, Scotland, in 1747.

Perhaps our second-best clue comes in the form of a 111 marker match to a descendant of one Thomas McNeil who appears in records as early as 1753 and died in 1761 In Rombout Precinct, Dutchess County, NY where his son John was born. This line and another match at a lower level both reportedly track back to early New Hampshire in the 1600s.

The MacNeil DNA Project tells us the following:

Participant 106370 descends from Isaiah McNeil b. 14 May 1786 Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co. NY and d. 28 Aug 1855 Poughkeepsie, Dutchess Co., NY, who married Alida VanSchoonhoven.

Isaiah’s parents were John McNeal, baptized 21 Jun 1761 Rombout, Dutchess Co., NY, d. 15 Feb 1820 Stillwater, Saratoga Co., NY and Helena Van De Bogart.

John’s parents were Thomas McNeal, b.c. 1725, d. 14 Aug 1761 NY and Rachel Haff.

Thomas’s parents were John McNeal Jr., b. around 1700, d. 1762 Wallkill, Orange Co., NY (now Ulster Co. formed 1683) and Martha Borland.

John’s parents were John McNeal Sr. and ? From. It appears that John Sr. and his family were this participant’s first generation of Americans.

Searching this line on Ancestry, I discovered additional information that, if accurate, may be relevant. This lineage, if correct, and it may not be, possibly reaching back to Edinburgh, Scotland. While the information gathered from Ancestry trees is certainly not compelling in and of itself, it provides a place to begin research.

Unfortunately, based on matches shown on the MacNeil DNA Project public page, STR marker mutations for kits 30279, B78471 and 417040 when compared to others don’t aid in clustering or indicating which men might be related to this group more closely than others using line-marker mutations.

Matches Map

Let’s take a look at what the STR Matches Map tells us.

McNiel Big Y matches map menu

This 67 marker Matches Map shows the locations of the earliest known ancestors of STR matches who have entered location information.

McNiel Big Y matches mapMcNiel Big Y matches map legend

My McNeill cousin’s closest matches are scattered with no clear cluster pattern.

Unfortunately, there is no corresponding map for Big Y matches.


The SNP map provided under the Y DNA results allows testers to view the locations where specific haplogroups are found.

McNiel Big Y SNP map

The SNP map marks an area where at least two or more people have claimed their most distant known ancestor to be. The cluster size is the maximum amount of miles between people that is allowed in order for a marker indicating a cluster at a location to appear. So for example, the sample size is at least 2 people who have tested, and listed their most distant known ancestor, the cluster is the radius those two people can be found in. So, if you have 10 red dots, that means in 1000 miles there are 10 clusters of at least two people for that particular SNP. Note that these locations do NOT include people who have tested positive for downstream locations, although it does include people who have taken individual SNP tests.

Working my way from the McNiel haplogroup backward in time on the SNP map, neither BY18332 nor BY18350 have enough people who’ve tested, or they didn’t provide a location.

Moving to the next haplogroup up the tree, two clusters are formed for BY3344, shown below.

McNIel Big Y BY3344 map

S668, below.

McNiel Big Y S668 map

It’s interesting that one cluster includes Glasgow.

S673, below.

McNiel Big Y S673 map

DF85, below:

McNiel Big Y DF85 map

DF105 below:

McNiel BIg Y DF105 map

M222, below:

McNiel Big Y M222 map

For R-M222, I’ve cropped the locations beyond Ireland and Scotland. Clearly, RM222 is the most prevalent in Ireland, followed by Scotland. Wherever M222 originated, it has saturated Ireland and spread widely in Scotland as well.


R-M222, the SNP initially thought to indicate Niall of the 9 Hostages, occurred roughly 25-59 SNP generations in the past. If this age is even remotely accurate, averaging by 80 years per generation often utilized for Big Y results, produces an age of 2000 – 4720 years. I find it extremely difficult to believe any semblance of a surname survived that long. Even if you reduce the time in the past to the historical narrative, roughly the year 400, 1600 years, I still have a difficult time believing the McNiel surname is a result of being a descendant of Niall of the 9 Hostages directly, although oral history does have staying power, especially in a clan setting where clan membership confers an advantage.

Surname or not, clearly, our line along with the others whom we match on the Big Y do descend from a prolific common ancestor. It’s very unlikely that the mutation occurred in Niall’s generation, and much more likely that other men carried M222 and shared a common ancestor with Niall at some point in the distant past.

McNiel Conclusion – Is There One?

If I had two McNiel wishes, they would be:

  • Finding records someplace in Virginia that connect George and presumably brothers Thomas and John to their parents.
  • A McNiel male from wherever our McNiel line originated becoming inspired to Y DNA test. Finding a male from the homeland might point the way to records in which I could potentially find baptismal records for George about 1720 and Thomas about 1724, along with possibly John, if he existed.

I remain hopeful for a McNiel from Edinburgh, or perhaps Glasgow.

I feel reasonably confident that our line originated genetically in Scotland. That likely precludes Niall of the 9 Hostages as a direct ancestor, but perhaps not. Certainly, one of his descendants could have crossed the channel to Scotland. Or, perhaps, our common ancestor is further back in time. Based on the maps, it’s clear that M222 saturates Ireland and is found widely in Scotland as well.

A great deal depends on the actual age of M222 and where it originated. Certainly, Niall had ancestors too, and the Ui Neill dynasty reaches further back, genetically, than their recorded history in Ireland. Given the density of M222 and spread, it’s very likely that M222 did, in fact, originate in Ireland or, alternatively, very early in Scotland and proliferated in Ireland.

If the Ui Neill dynasty was represented in the persona of the High King, Niall of the 9 Hostages, 1600 years ago, his M222 ancestors were clearly inhabiting Ireland earlier.

We may not be descended from Niall personally, but we are assuredly related to him, sharing a common ancestor sometime back in the prehistory of Ireland and Scotland. That man would sire most of the Irish men today and clearly, many Scots as well.

Our ancestors, whoever they were, were indeed in Ireland millennia ago. R-M222, our ancestor, was the ancestor of the Ui Neill dynasty and of our own Reverend George McNiel.

Our ancestors may have been at Knowth and New Grange, and yes, perhaps even at Tara.

Tara Niall mound in sun

Someplace in the mists of history, one man made a different choice, perhaps paddling across the channel, never to return, resulting in M222 descendants being found in Scotland. His descendants include our McNeil ancestors, who still slumber someplace, awaiting discovery.



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Margaretha Bechtold (1646-1726), Born During the 30 Years War – 52 Ancestors #285

Margaretha’s marriage record in Heiningen, Germany provided us with the names of her parents which led us to her birth record.

Margaretha Bechtold birth

On May 1, 1646, Margaretha was born in Ebersbach, Germany to Christoph Bechtold  and Margaretha Ziegeler.

Christoph’s name was also spelled Bechtoldt when twins, Maria and Margaretha were baptized in 1640, Christophorus Bachtoldt in the baptism of Leonhardus in 1642, and Bechteles when Jacobus was baptized in 1644.

Margaretha was born in 1646, two years before the end of the 30 Years War, a time of massive heartache and depopulation in this part of Germany. Neighbor villages were sacked in 1634, with many villagers being massacred, leading to a population drop to 20% of pre-war levels. By the time Margaretha was born, the war had raged for 28 years, an entire generation, and villagers probably wondered if they would ever be safe.

Yet, life went on. People married and babies were born. According to church records, there were a total of 25 baptisms in 1646, suggesting a reproductive population of about 50 families.

Growing up, Margaretha would have heard the first-person stories about the war that shaped the lives of her parents and grandparents, literally changing the course of history in every village in Wurttemberg. Those weren’t stories passed down, but actual memories of experiences lived.

Ebersbach is a small village on the River Fils. Margaretha’s father was the village baker. We know little about her parents, other than her father was dead by July 28, 1671, when Margaretha married Michael Haag nine miles down the road, in Heiningen.

Haag Michael marriage

Marriage: Friday, the 28th of July 1671

Michael Hag, legitimate son of Hanss Hag, Koss, & Catharina Bäur(in) and Margaretha, legitimate daughter of Christoph Bechtold deceased baker in Ebersbach and Margaretha Ziegeler. Bride pregnant.

A Family of Bakers

Michael Haag was a baker too, and that fact may indeed hold clues about how he and Margaretha met and their courtship – especially given that they lived in different villages that were 9 miles distant.

Although not where she was born or where her family lived, Heiningen would have felt quite familiar to Margaretha. The villages were about the same size. The local church in Ebersbach looked eerily similar to the church in Heiningen and was likely built around the same time, in the 1200s. By the time Margaretha married in the Lutheran church in Heiningen, that church was already 400 years old, or maybe even older.

Margaretha was already comfortable with baking, growing up as a baker’s daughter – she became a baker’s wife at the age of 25. She likely helped Michael as much as she could, between taking care of their children who began arriving shortly.

Heiningen was recovering from the 30 Years War too. At the beginning of the war, the population was about 1000, and at the end, 200. Diseases including typhoid and dysentery were rampant which becomes evident in the death records, as are deaths from emaciation.

Given a total population of 200, roughly, and an average household size of perhaps 5, the total number of families probably wasn’t more than 40 or maybe 50.


Margaretha and Michael had 8 children, all born and baptized in Heiningen over the next 20 years.

  1. Catharina Haag, born September 18, 1671; married Michael Sattler on January 26, 1692, in Heiningen; died September 20, 1745, in Heiningen. Catharina had three children, two sons that reached adulthood and one daughter who died of typhus in 1710, just before her 18th birthday. Margaretha would have known these children, and attended the funeral of Magdalena when she was 64 years old.
  2. Michael Haag, born September 3, 1673; married Barbara Widmann on  February 2, 1723, in Heiningen; died April 4, 1745, in Heiningen of decrepit senility. He was a baker by occupation and had 3 children, one who was born in 1727, but no further information is available. Generally that means the child died. One child was born and died in 1733 and a daughter, Anna Catharina lived to adulthood. These children were all born after Margaretha’s death, so she wouldn’t have known them. I do wonder if the records are complete, because it’s odd that this young couple didn’t have children for the first 4 years of their marriage.
  3. Margaretha Haag, born July 21, 1677; married Ulrich Traub on November 3, 1705, in Heiningen; died May 29, 1724 of typhoid fever and dysentery when her mother was 78 years old. It must have been extremely difficult on elderly Margaretha to bury her adult daughter. That’s not how the cycle of life is supposed to work. Margaretha had 6 children, but left 4 living, the eldest being 18. She had 3 sons and 1 daughter who lived to adulthood. Two daughters died, one in 1717 of dysentery at the age of 2, and one born in 1720 with no further information. Margareta Traub, the daughter who lived, married Georg Haag and had one daughter who lived to adulthood, had children and passed Margaretha Bechtold’s mitochondrial DNA on to future generations. Margaretha would have known all 6 of these grandchildren and buried two of them.
  4. Johann Georg Haag, born April 22, 1682; married Anna Hofschneider on February 2, 1706, in Heiningen; died June 4, 1762, in Heiningen of “weakness of old age.” His occupation was a baker. Johann George had 8 children, 4 of whom lived to adulthood. One daughter was born in 1797 with no further information and one in 1716, one died in 1715 at one year of age and a son died in 1722, just a year old. Margaretha would have known all of these children as well and buried the last 3 in her 70s.
  5. Anna Haag, born December 15, 1684; died July 4, 1685, when Margaretha was 39. Twin births are very unusual, and either twin surviving is even more so. Unfortunately, this twin died a few months later. It’s interesting that Margaretha’s mother also had twins that died.
  6. Maria Haag, born December 15, 1684 when her mother was 38 and died the next day, December 16, 1684. This must have been a miserable Christmas with one twin gone and the other struggling. Twins are often born prematurely and underweight.
  7. Jacob Haag, born June 26, 1687; married Margareta Stolz on May 12, 1711, in Heiningen; died January 17, 1755, in Heiningen of fever and stroke(?). He had 6 children, all born before Margaretha’s death, and 4 of whom lived to adulthood. A daughter was born in 1713 with no further information and a son the following year who died in 1715 wen Margaretha would have been 69 years old.
  8. Anna Maria Haag, born March 4, 1691; married Peter Horn on November 15, 1712, in Heiningen; died December 15, 1768, in Heiningen. She had 5 children, 4 of whom lived to adulthood. One daughter, born in 1718 has no further information. Three daughters married and had children, 2 having daughters who survived to pass on their mitochondrial DNA to future generations. Margaretha would have known all of these children. Her namesake granddaughter Margareta married Lorenz Widmann and Anne Marie Horn married Johann Georg Kummel, both having daughters who had children whose descendants might carry Margaretha Bechtold’s mitochondrial DNA today.

Mitochondrial DNA

Margaretha’s mitochondrial DNA is carried by anyone, male or female in the current generation, descended from Margaretha through all females. Her mitochondrial DNA can give us a view into the past to understand more about her ancestors, where they came from, and when.

The females whose names are bolded, above, had daughters who produced daughters – candidates for having descendants who carry Margaretha’s mitochondrial DNA. You can read more about that, here.

I have a DNA testing scholarship for anyone descending directly from Margaretha through all females. I’d love to hear from you.

Funerals – So Many Funerals

By the time Margaretha passed on, she had borne 8 children, 6 of whom graced her with 31 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. One of her great-grandchildren died in 1725, but the other lived and Margaretha likely enjoyed that baby, born in 1723, and named for her.

Margaretha buried her husband, the twin girls, and then her daughter Margaretha in 1724 who died of dysentery at the age of 47. It’s likely that Margaretha helped raise her name-sake daughter’s children after her daughter’s death. Margaretha also buried 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Life was tough and grief was always nearby. I expect there were always freshly dug graves in the churchyard. Looking at just the recorded deaths for 1712, and I suspect that not all babies/childrens deaths were entered into the books, there were 22 burials. Given that the entire village knew each other well and were probably related, the entire village population would have attended every funeral, one every couple of weeks.

Then, it was Margaretha’s turn. Margaretha (Bechtold) Haag died on the 27th of June 1726, in Heiningen.

Margaretha Bechtold death

Burial: the 27th of June 1726 died between 5 and 6 a.m. of a preceding half stroke, Margaretha, legitimate wife of Michael Haag aka Coß, baker and oldest judge here and was buried on the feast of Peter & Paul.  Age 80 years. Offering?

I’m not sure what a half stroke is, exactly. Perhaps she was only half paralyzed? Regardless, it’s well known today that people who have experienced one stroke are at risk for complications and additional strokes. Reaching the age of 80 was a remarkable feat in a time of tainted water, minimal medical care, and no antibiotics.

After her death, Margaretha’s body would have been taken to the sacristy in the church after being washed, dressed, and prepared for her funeral.

Margaretha Bechtold sacristy

After the funeral service, her body would have been carried out the door in the sacristy, directly into the churchyard for burial.

A chameleon guards the doorway lintel. The pastor tells us:

During church tours, we declare the small creature to be a chameleon, which traditionally symbolizes change, the change of life transitions: being born, growing up, learning to think, becoming an adult, building trust, also in one’s own abilities. Taking responsibility for doing and not doing. Accepting change, dealing with illness, decrepitude and death. This is sometimes exhausting. The chameleon admonishes to accept change and to keep the ability to change alive.

A hidden ossuary beneath the sacristy, sealed long in the past and only rediscovered in the 1990s, may indeed have been the final resting place of Margaretha’s bones some years later.

Margaretha’s funeral was on the Feast Day of Peter and Paul.

Feast of Peter and Paul

Margaretha Bechtold Peter and Paul

This painting from 1564 shows Jesus being resurrected, surrounded by Peter and Paul, two of his apostles, and two angels.

The Feast of Peter and Paul, Christian martyrs, is always celebrated on June 29th, that date either being the date of their deaths or the translation of their relics. Relics in this sense generally meant a venerated body part and translation means the relic was moved from one location to another.

Some traditions hold that they were both martyred on June 29 in 67 AD, but others state that it was on that day in 258 that their remains were moved to the catacombs.

For centuries, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul was treated as a Holy Day equal to Christmas or Easter. Three masses were celebrated, one for St. Peter, one for St. Paul, and one for the Apostles.

It’s unclear exactly how the Lutheran Church in Heiningen would have celebrated this Holy Feast Day in 1726, but someplace during this feast day, Margaretha’s funeral was held. A sermon was preached and an offering taken.

I would expect that the scriptures typically used on this feast day, telling the story of Peter’s imprisonment and rescue, here, and Christ’s instructions to go and preach before ascending into Heaven, here, were woven into Margaretha’s service.

Then, Margaretha joined her family members someplace outside in the churchyard.

Margaretha Bechtold Heiningen church south side

The sacristy on the south side of the church is the extended portion of the building, at right, behind the flowering tree.

Margaertha Bechtold Heiningen church north side

Burials surrounded the church, on both the north and south sides. The north side is marked by the tower, at far right, the top hidden behind the tree.

No graves remain in the churchyard today, having been removed many years ago. Given that an ossuary is speculated to be buried beneath the sacristy, the parishoners likely removed bones from older graves to make room for new burials for hundreds of years. In other words, the ossuary practice is nothing new in Europe and extended into antiquity.

Three stones in the churchyard, one from the 1600s, are all that is left to remind us of those early burials.

Margaretha Bechtold churchyard

Margaretha was buried here, someplace between the church and the surrounding wall. Remnants of her bones, long ago turned to dust, still remain in this churchyard.



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Pandemic Journal: Memorial Day 2020

Memorial half mast

This year, in addition to honoring our brave soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice, the US flag will be flown at half-mast as a national expression of grief. The brutal trail of Covid as it rips through our country and the world.

5,288 deaths in my state, alone, 98,004 in the US as I write this – probably rolling across the threshold of 100,000, ironically, on Memorial Day.

Why didn’t I round 98,004 to 98,000?

Because every single one of those people matter.

Those 1, 2, 3 and 4 people above 98,000 may seem like a rounding error, but they aren’t. They have names, families and they suffered, just like those 98,000 other souls.

They may not have been old – not that being older should make anyone expendable.

The best of their life may not have been lived. We are all deprived and diminished by the loss of their potential – as are they.

But they all, every single one of them, have something in common.

They were all infected unintentionally and probably unknowingly by someone else. No one, not one person, signed up for this. Most of them had no idea they were putting their life on the line as they went about their business. This isn’t the military – no one enlisted fully aware of what the consequences might be.

It pains me greatly to see wearing a mask in public politicized. Wearing a mask is literally the very least we can do. Taking care of each other by doing such a small thing. Like it or not, we really are all in this together. What goes around, comes around.

Let me explain the very basic foundation of decision making that I’ve utilized for most of my life.

What’s the Worst That Will Happen?

If you wear a mask and you don’t need to:

  • You may never know that you didn’t need it
  • You might be a little uncomfortable or inconvenienced
  • You might be made fun of by someone not wearing a mask

Bottom line – you’re slightly inconvenienced if you wear a mask but you might save someone’s life, including your own.

If you DON’T wear a mask and needed to, the worse is:

  • You take the unnecessary chance of getting infected yourself. No, a mask won’t protect you entirely, but it helps.
  • You may, unknowingly, infect others who may suffer and die. They then infect others too, keeping the cycle of infection and death in motion and the numbers rising.
  • You’ll probably never know that you are responsible for infecting others and possibly killing people because you may never develop symptoms yourself, so you think everything is just fine. If you do develop symptoms, it’s too late to undo the exposures of the days before you manifested symptoms.

Bottom line – you may become infected yourself and/or infect others. You’re not just risking yourself, but everyone you come in contact with. They may suffer and die, or live terribly impaired, and be financially devastated in the process.

And…this outcome is avoidable.

The preventative step of wearing a mask in public, especially in public enclosed spaces, is so simple and entirely painless.

Who’s Vulnerable?


My immediate family, consisting of 7 people, 5 adults and 2 children, is healthy.

But…of those 7…

  • One is over 65.
  • One young person has a partial lung.
  • One child has partial kidneys.
  • One has an ongoing undiagnosed health issue.
  • One has a high risk housemate who is over 60 and had a heart issue last year.

If your family member exposes you, and you expose me, I will expose my loved ones, intentionally or not. If my family member dies because I inadvertently exposed them, I would never forgive myself.

If they die, that gaping wound would never heal.

Right now, 98,004 families feel that exact same way.

And some unknown person infected every one of them, accidentally.

Honoring the Dead

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring our military dead who gave their life defending our country.

Memorial poppy

Memorial Day was called Decoration Day when I was a kid. It’s a federal holiday for honoring and mourning military personnel who died while on active duty.

Volunteers often place flags on graves of all veterans.

A single red poppy has come to represent the fallen, symbolizing each life lost.

The US has suffered a total of 666,441 combat casualties during wars and conflicts from 1775-2019, with an additional 673,929 dying of other causes.

Wars are expensive in terms of lives lost and soldiers torn from their futures and families.

War Years Deaths
Civil War (both sides) 1861-1865 755,000 estimated
WWII 1941-1945 405,399
WWI 1917-1918 116,516
Vietnam 1961-1975 58,209
Korea 1950-1953 36,574
Revolutionary War 1775-1783 25,000 estimated
War of 1812 1812-1815 15,000 estimated
Mexican-American 1846-1848 13,283
Iraq 2003-2011 4,576
Philippine-American 1899-1902 4,196
Spanish-American 1898 2,246
Afghanistan 2001-present 2,216

There is no glory in death and warfare. There is, however, immense gratitude and respect.

Thank you seems like so few and such small words for their sacrifice – but it’s all I have.

Thank you one and all.

Memorial Arlington

On Memorial Day, flags decorate the graves of our brave soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

My friend, Bob McLaren, who died in March will be buried there soon. I have decorated his grave in my heart and made masks in his honor.

Family Traditions

Memorial cemetery cleanup

In my family, Decoration Day was expanded to visiting and caring for all graves in the family. A combination of love for those gone, sorrow at the loss of their companionship and celebration of their life and the upcoming summer together – at least for those of us remaining on the green side of the sod.

Grass was manicured from the edges of the stones, stories were told and retold, and fresh-cut flowers lovingly placed.

In some locations, families spread quilts and have picnics in the cemeteries near their loved ones.

Memorial cemetery picnic

Military Family Members Honored

Ironically, few of my family members killed in the service of their country have stones.

James Claxton died in the War of 1812 and was buried in a now-lost hastily-dug grave just outside the stockade of Fort Decatur, Alabama.

My family members who died in the Civil War are buried anonymously; their battlefield resting places lost to time.

The body of my 1st cousin, Robert Vernon Estes, who died horrifically as a POW in Korea still hasn’t been returned, and likely never will.

Samuel Bolton Plank Cem

Samuel Bolton, my grandmother’s brother, gave his life during WWI. He was brought home and does have a stone. I hope someone is tending his grave today.

Frank Sadowski

And then, there’s Frank Sadowski, my mother’s almost-husband who was killed on Okinawa just days before the end of WWII.

All, lives cut short.

The Covid War

Depending on how you look at this, Covid deaths are approaching the total of all WWI combat deaths, or the combination of Vietnam, Korea and either the War of 1812 or the Revolutionary War.

Since February 28th – just under 3 months – 86 days.

That’s 1116 people on average that have died every single day – that we know of – not counting all the people who died but were never tested or diagnosed.

Look at this another way. The average commercial airliner holds between 150-200 passengers.

Using 150 as the average number, that’s 653 airliners that have crashed in 86 days, with everyone on board perishing. That’s 7.6 crashes per day, or one crash every 3 hours and 15 minutes – in the US alone.

Memorial week planes

Here are today’s planes that crashed and burned with 150 people each on board.

Just today.

Memorial month planes

Here are the planes from just this week.

Now, multiply that picture by 12.29 weeks since February 28th. If you printed that out on your printer it would be about 10 pages of solid airplanes.

And we know there are more coming, tomorrow, and the next day. We just don’t know how many more, or for how long.

So, are you willing to get on a plane and fly? That would take a lot of bravery, right?

But it takes no bravery at all to wear a mask. How about we do that instead, especially since masks can help prevent those Covid-planes from crashing!

Would preventing one plane crash be worth it?


Half of the crashes?

How many lives saved would be worth wearing a simple mask?

Memorial poppy field

If we need an extra 100,000 poppies this Memorial Day to honor the lives of each of the Covid victims since February, God forbid, if we don’t wear masks, stay home when we can and take precautions, how many will we need next Memorial Day?

If our ancestors can march off to war and lay their lives down for the rest of us, we can wear masks. People taking care of people.

And if we don’t, whose graves will you be decorating next Memorial Day?

Genetic Affairs: AutoPedigree Combines AutoTree with WATO to Identify Your Potential Tree Locations

If you’re an adoptee or searching for an unknown parent or ancestor, AutoPedigree is just what you’ve been waiting for.

By now, we’re all familiar with Genetic Affairs who launched in 2018 with their signature autocluster tool. AutoCluster groups your matches into clusters by who your matches match with each other, in addition to you.

browser autocluster

A year later, in December 2019, Genetic Affairs introduced AutoTree, automated tree reconstruction based on your matches trees at Ancestry and Family Finder at Family Tree DNA, even if you don’t have a tree.

Now, Genetic Affairs has introduced AutoPedigree, a combination of the AutoTree reconstruction technology combined with WATO, What Are the Odds, as seen here at DNAPainter. WATO is a statistical probability technique developed by the DNAGeek that allows users to review possible positions in a tree for where they best fit.

Here’s the progressive functionality of how the three Genetic Affairs tools, combined, function:

  • AutoCluster groups people based on if they match you and each other
  • AutoTree finds common ancestors for trees from each cluster
  • Next, AutoTree finds the trees of all matches combined, including from trees of your DNA matches not in clusters
  • AutoPedigree checks to see if a common ancestor tree meets the minimum requirement which is (at least) 3 matches of greater to or equal to 30-40 cM. If yes, an AutoPedigree with hypotheses is created based on the common ancestor of the matching people.
  • Combined AutoPedigrees then reviews all AutoTrees and AutoPedigrees that have common ancestors and combine them into larger trees.

Let’s look at examples, beginning with DNAPainter who first implemented a form of WATO.

DNA Painter

Let’s say you’re trying to figure out how you’re related to a group of people who descend from a specific ancestral couple. This is particularly useful for someone seeking unknown parents or other unknown relationships.

DNA tools are always from the perspective of the tester, the person whose kit is being utilized.

At DNAPainter, you manually create the pedigree chart beginning with a common couple and creating branches to all of their descendants that you match.

This example at DNAPainter shows the matches with their cM amounts in yellow boxes.

xAutoPedigree DNAPainter WATO2

The tester doesn’t know where they fit in this pedigree chart, so they add other known lines and create hypothesis placeholder possibilities in light blue.

In other words, if you’re searching for your mother and you were born in 1970, you know that your mother was likely born between 1925 (if she was 45 when she gave birth to you) and 1955 (if she was 15 when she gave birth to you.) Therefore, in the family you create, you’d search for parents who could have given birth to children during those years and create hypothetical children in those tree locations.

The WATO tool then utilizes the combination of expected cMs at that position to create scores for each hypothesis position based on how closely or distantly you match other members of that extended family.

The Shared cM Project, created and recently updated by Blaine Bettinger is used as the foundation for the expected centimorgan (cM) ranges of each relationship. DNAPainter has automated the possible relationships for any given matching cM amount, here.

In the graphic above, you can see that the best hypothesis is #2 with a score of 1, followed by #4 and #5 with scores of 3 each. Hypothesis 1 has a score of 63.8979 and hypothesis 3 has a score of 383.

You’ll need to scroll to the bottom to determine which of the various hypothesis are the more likely.

Autopedigree DNAPainter calculated probability

Using DNAPainter’s WATO implementation requires you to create the pedigree tree to test the hypothesis. The benefit of this is that you can construct the actual pedigree as known based on genealogical research. The down-side, of course, is that you have to do the research to current in each line to be able to create the pedigree accurately, and that’s a long and sometimes difficult manual process.

Genetic Affairs and WATO

Genetic Affairs takes a different approach to WATO. Genetic Affairs removes the need for hand entry by scanning your matches at Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, automatically creating pedigrees based on your matches’ trees. In addition, Genetic Affairs automatically creates multiple hypotheses. You may need to utilize both approaches, meaning Genetic Affairs and DNAPainter, depending on who has tested, tree completeness at the vendors, and other factors.

The great news is that you can import the Genetic Affairs reconstructed trees into DNAPainter’s WATO tool instead of creating the pedigrees from scratch. Of course, Genetic Affairs can only use the trees someone has entered. You, on the other hand, can create a more complete tree at DNAPainter.

Combining the two tools leverages the unique and best features of both.

Genetic Affairs AutoPedigree Options

Recently, Genetic Affairs released AutoPedigree, their new tool that utilizes the reconstructed AutoTrees+WATO to place the tester in the most likely region or locations in the reconstructed tree.

Let’s take a look at an example. I’m using my own kit to see what kind of results and hypotheses exist for where I fit in the tree reconstructed from my matches and their trees.

If you actually do have a tree, the AutoTree portion will simply be counted as an equal tree to everyone else’s trees, but AutoPedigree will ignore your tree, creating hypotheses as if it doesn’t exist. That’s great for adoptees who may have hypothetical trees in progress, because that tree is disregarded.

First, sign on to your account at Genetic Affairs and select the AutoPedigree option for either Ancestry or Family Tree DNA which reconstructs trees and generates hypotheses automatically. For AutoPedigree construction, you cannot combine the results from Ancestry and FamilyTreeDNA like you can when reconstructing trees alone. You’ll need to do an AutoPedigree run for each vendor. The good news is that while Ancestry has more testers and matches, FamilyTreeDNA has many testers stretching back 20 years or so in the past who passed away before testing became available at Ancestry. Often, their testers reach back a generation or two further. You can easily transfer Ancestry (and other) results to Family Tree DNA for free to obtain more matches – step-by-step instructions here.

At Genetic Affairs, you should also consider including half-relations, especially if you are dealing with an unknown parent situation. Selecting half-relationships generates very large trees, so you might want to do the first run without, then a second run with half relationships selected.

AutoPedigree options


I ran the program and opened the resulting email with the zip file. Saving that file automatically unzips for me, displaying the following 5 files and folders.

Autopedigree cluster

Clicking on the AutoCluster HTML link reveals the now-familiar clusters, shown below.

Autopedigree clusters

I have a total of 26 clusters, only partially shown above. My first peach cluster and my 9th blue cluster are huge.

Autopedigree 26 clusters

That’s great news because it means that I have a lot to work with.

autopedigree folder

Next, you’ll want to click to open your AutoPedigree folder.

For each cluster, you’ll have a corresponding AutoPedigree file if an AutoPedigree can be generated from the trees of the people in that cluster.

My first cluster is simply too large to show successfully in blog format, so I’m selecting a smaller cluster, #21, shown below with the red arrow, with only 6 members. Why so small, you ask? In part, because I want to illustrate the fact that you really don’t need a lot of matches for the AutoPedigree tool to be useful.

Autopedigree multiple clusters

Note also that this entire group of clusters (blue through brown) has members in more than one cluster, indicated by the grey cells that mean someone is a member of at least 2 clusters. That tells me that I need to include the information from those clusters too in my analysis. Fortunately, Genetic Affairs realizes that and provides a combined AutoPedigree tool for that as well, which we will cover later in the article. Just note for now that the blue through brown clusters seem to be related to cluster 21.

Let’s look at cluster 21.

autopedigree cluster 21

In the AutoPedigree folder, you’ll see cluster files when there are trees available to create pedigrees for individual clusters. If you’re lucky, you’ll find 2 files for some clusters.

autopedigree ancestors

At the top of each cluster AutoPedigree file, Genetic Affairs shows you the home couple of the descendant group shown in the matches and their corresponding trees.

Autopedigree WATO chart

Image 1 – click to enlarge

I don’t expect you to be able to read everything in the above pedigree chart, just note the matches and arrows.

You can see three of my cousins who match, labeled with “Ancestry.” You also see branches that generate a viable hypothesis. When generating AutoPedigrees, Genetic Affairs truncates any branches that cannot result in a viable hypothesis for placing the tester in a viable location on the tree, so you may not see all matches.

Autopedigree hyp 1

Image 2 – click to enlarge

On the top branch, you’ll see hyp-1-child1 which is the first hypothesis, with the first child. Their child is hyp-2- child2, and their child is hyp-3-child3. The tester (me, in this case) cannot be the persons shown with red flags, called badges, based on how I match other people and other tree information such as birth and death dates.

Think of a stoplight, red=no, green are your best bets and the rest are yellow, meaning maybe. AutoPedigree makes no decisions, only shows you options, and calculated mathematically how probable each location is to be correct.

Remember, these “children,” meaning hypothesis 1-child 1 may or may not have actually existed. These relationships are hypothetical showing you that IF these people existed, where the tester could appear on the tree.

We know that I don’t fit on the branch above hypothesis 1, because I only match the descendant of Adam Lentz at 44.2 cM which is statistically too low for me to also inhabit that branch.

I’ve included half relationships, so we see hyp-7-child1-half too, which is a half-sibling.

The rankings for hypotheses 1, 2, and 7 all have red badges, meaning not possible, so they have a score of 0. Hypothesis 3 and 8 are possible, with a ranking of 16, respectively.

autopedigree my location

Image 3 – click to enlarge

Looking now at the next segment of the tree, you see that based on how I match my Deatsman and Hartman cousins, I can potentially fit in any portion of the tree with green badges (in the red boxes) or yellow badges.

You can also see where I actually fit in the tree. HOWEVER, that placement is from AutoTree, the tree reconstruction portion, based on the fact that I have a tree (or someone has a tree with me in it). My own tree is ignored for hypothesis generation for the AutoPedigree hypothesis generation portion.

Had my first cousins once removed through my grandfather John Ferverda’s brother, Roscoe, tested AND HAD A TREE, there would have been no question where I fit based on how I match them.

autopedigree cousins

As it turns out they did test, but provided no tree meaning that Genetic Affairs had no tree to work with.

Remember that I mentioned that my first cluster was huge. Many more matches mean that Genetic Affairs has more to work with. From that cluster, here’s an example of a hypothesis being accurate.

autopedigree correct

Image 4 – click to enlarge

You can see the hypothetical line beneath my own line, with hypothesis 104, 105, 106, 107, 108. The AutoTree portion of my tree is shown above, with my father and grandparents and my name in the green block. The AutoPedigree portion ignores my own tree, therefore generating the hypothesis that’s where I could fit with a rank of 2. And yes, that’s exactly where I fit in the tree.

In this case, there were some hypotheses ranked at 1, but they were incorrect, so be sure to evaluate all good (green) options, then yellow, in that order.

Genetic Affairs cannot work with 23andMe results for AutoPedigree because 23andMe doesn’t provide or support trees on their site. AutoClusters are integrated at MyHeritage, but not the AutoTree or AutoPedigree functions, and they cannot be run separately.

That leaves Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.

Combined AutoPedigree

After evaluating each of the AutoPedigrees generated for each cluster for which an AutoPedigree can be generated, click on the various cluster combined autopedigrees.

autopedigree combined

You can see that for cluster 1, I have 7 separate AutoPedigrees based on common ancestors that were different. I have 3 AutoPedigrees also for cluster 9, and 2 AutoPedigrees for 15, 21, and 24.

I have no AutoPedigrees for clusters 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 17, 18, and 22.

Moving to the combined clusters, the numbers of which are NOT correlated to the clusters themselves, Genetic Affairs has searched trees and combined ancestors in various clusters together when common ancestors were found.

Autopedigree multiple clusters

Remember that I asked you to note that the above blue through brown clusters seem to have commonality between the clusters based on grey cell matches who are found in multiple groups? In fact, these people do share common ancestors, with a large combined AutoPedigree being generated from those multiple clusters.

I know you can’t read the tree in the image that follows. I’m only including it so you’ll see the scale of that portion of my tree that can be reconstructed from my matches with hypotheses of where I fit.

autopedigree huge

Image 5 – click to enlarge

These larger combined pedigrees are very useful to tie the clusters together and understand how you match numerous people who descend from the same larger ancestral group, further back in time.

Integration with DNAPainter

autopedigree wato file

Each AutoPedigree file and combined cluster AutoPedigree file in the AutoPedigree folder is provided in WATO format, allowing you to import them into DNAPainter’s WATO tool.

autopedigree dnapainter import

You can manually flesh out the trees based on actual genealogy in WATO at DNAPainter, manually add matches from GEDmatch, 23andMe or MyHeritage or matches from vendors where your matches trees may not exist but you know how your match connects to you.

Your AutoTree Ancestors

But wait, there’s more.

autopedigree ancestors folder

If you click on the Ancestors folder, you’ll see 5 options for tree generations 3-7.

autopedigree ancestor generations

My three-generation auto-generated reconstructed tree looks like this:

autopedigree my tree

Selecting the 5th generation level displays Jacob Lentz and Frederica Ruhle, the couple shown in the AutoCluster 21 and AutoPedigree examples earlier. The color-coding indicates the source of the ancestors in that position.

Autopedigree expanded tree

click to enlarge

You will also note that Genetic Affairs indicates how many matches I have that share this common ancestor along with which clusters to view for matches relevant to specific ancestors. How cool is this?!!

Remember that you can also import the genetic match information for each AutoTree cluster found at Family Tree DNA into DNAPainter to paint those matches on your chromosomes using DNAPainter’s Cluster Auto Painter.

If you run AutoCluster for matches at 23andMe, MyHeritage, or FamilyTreeDNA, all vendors who provide segment information, you can also import that cluster segment information into DNAPainter for chromosome painting.

However, from that list of vendors, you can only generate AutoTrees and AutoPedigrees at Family Tree DNA. Given this, it’s in your best interest for your matches to test at or upload their DNA (plus tree) to Family Tree DNA who supports trees AND provides segment information, both, and where you can run AutoTree and AutoPedigree.

Have you painted your clusters or generated AutoTrees? If you’re an adoptee or looking for an unknown parent or grandparent, the new AutoPedigree function is exactly what you need.


Genetic Affairs provides complete instructions for AutoPedigree in this newsletter, along with a user manual here, and the Facebook Genetic Affairs User Group can be found here.

I wrote the introductory article, AutoClustering by Genetic Affairs, here, and Genetic Affairs Reconstructs Trees from Genetic Clusters – Even Without Your Tree or Common Ancestors, here. You can read about DNAPainter, here.

Transfer your DNA file, for free, from Ancestry to Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage, by following the easy instructions, here.

Have fun! Your ancestors are waiting.



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Genealogy Research


10 Ways I Wish I Had Organized My Research Library


No, I don’t quite have that many books – it just feels that way. Nor are my books that neatly organized, believe me. In fact, that’s the problem.

My organizational lament isn’t so much about the physical locations of my books, but about the organizational tools and methods of finding the correct book when I need it. I know I’m missing things in my research as a result.

Let me explain.

My bookshelves today are organized by county and state, sort of. Keep in mind that I’ve been accumulating books and resources for decades, and I’ve moved during this period, more than once.

Accumulation over time tends to outgrow the originally allotted space. And no, Marie Kondo and books should not even be in the same article. ALL of my books bring me joy – and that’s that.

However, organizing books usefully for genealogy research has been challenging. How is “usefully for genealogy research” defined? Genealogy is in some ways different than library systems and books for pleasure reading.

Let’s take a look.

My Library

To begin with, genealogists often deal with published resources that aren’t published in the traditional manner.

This is (a small) part of my area for Tennessee county records.

library spiral.png

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to shelve or even see the names of spiral bound resources. I also ran out of space, so some books are stacked on top of others. Notice how few names I can see.

library 3 ring.png

Then of course, those 3-ring binders. Real libraries don’t have to deal with 3-ring binders either, but they are an organizational staple for genealogists.

I have bookshelves, but not enough shelf space. Who does?? Some things that probably belong in spiral binders are in filing cabinets, and vice versa. I actually Marie Kondoed something and threw away the printed 1790 NC census (yes, seriously) because it’s available online in lots of places.

My shelving resources were not all created at the same time. It’s kind of like a house that has been added onto for years. I did not redo my shelving plan with each addition. I just started using the added shelf space. So some things are in separate rooms from others. These county and state resources are intermixed.

library place books.png

Another problem is that some books have information that doesn’t really “go” in any one place. For example, the Virginia records could have information for many families and counties. How do I remember to check them for each family that they might/would pertain to?

Some books are even less specific – about Native American, Acadian or Scotch-Irish people, or women of a particular genre. And what is “Lethal Encounters” about, anyway? If I take it off the shelf to look, I may get nothing else done for the rest of the day.

library leftovers.png

Now add into that mixture technical and academic papers about genetics, labels that fell off, misfiled resources (why is Tinkling Springs in with the haplogroup binders?), ebooks that I own but are not on a shelf and therefore, easy to lose or forget about, papers on my computer along with physical overflow – and I’m sunk.

Yes, ahem, I do have two copies of the same book in those pictures. I just noticed. Another reason why I need a better system and to check it before I make purchases.

I know I should be embarrassed to even publish these pictures – but it’s the truth and I’d wager every one of you has something similar.

And I haven’t even gotten to that thing called pleasure reading. Those books are overflowing off of a different shelf in another room with little organization other than by general topic. For the most part, I haven’t touched them with the exception of historical stories, including novels, especially juicy ones. My pleasure reading tends to be something about my ancestors or genetics although I have a shelf full of good intentions.

My Solution

Several years ago, I paid one of my college-student offspring to help me set up a spreadsheet to track my holdings. You can use Excel in MSWord or if you have a Google account, Sheets is free under Google Docs.

Library Docs.png

Library Sheets.png

That student-labor approach worked great for a while, at least until said child no longer needed extra income. The project wasn’t complete, and I didn’t complete or continue the project myself. My bad. I’d rather work on genealogy, genetics or write blog articles.

Library spreadsheet.png

As you can see, this spreadsheet is a good start. Because it’s in spreadsheet format, it’s sortable. This helps immensely, but I’ve discovered it’s not enough.

What I Wish I Had Done

  1. I actually wish I had numbered the books and numbered the shelves too. In essence, similar to a library system, just not as complex. Then the books could be assigned to a shelf and I would know where to look for them. You might notice that I have a general location, but nothing more. If I knew where to look, even if the book was spiral bound, I’d see that in a note, know what I was looking for, and find the location between the shelf number and county affiliation or topic.
  2. I wish I had added a column for geography, probably counties, that the resource pertains to. I could add several in one cell, but that means I’d have to search, not sort, for the county name, like Wilkes, North Carolina. The state would need to be a second column, because county names repeat between states.
  3. Another alternative, of course, would be to work with a database instead of a spreadsheet because databases allow multiple entries for a single field. I could have Wilkes, Ashe, Surry and several more counties and states for a single book. In a different spreadsheet for another topic, I entered a duplicate row for each separate resource. In this case, I would have the book entered once for Wilkes County and once for Ashe County, which negates the need for a database in a bit of a clunky way.
  4. I wish I had added a column for the surname lines that each resource would or might pertain to in my genealogy. For example, I have several surnames in the same county, because that’s what happens when your ancestors stay in the same place for a few generations. When I discover a new surname, or need to recheck something, I need to be able to find the resources that are available for that location, and then add the new surname to all books that could be useful for that ancestral line.
  5. I wish I had added a column to track which resources I’ve used for a particular surname and person. For example, did I search in the 1787 Lunenburg County census for all of the surnames and people, or do I need to review that resources for people I’ve found more recently?
  6. I wish I had recorded when I added that resource to my library which might help me remember who I have and have not used it for.
  7. I have not added any resources that I don’t own, but that are available for counties elsewhere. I use FamilySearch and FamilySearch wiki for county information, but it’s not complete. Generally, it also doesn’t list more general resources that might pertain to that county. For example, I just discovered transcribed court notes for Wilkes County on Now I need to search at Lulu for all of the rest of my research counties and surnames. Who knew?
  8. I wish I had made notes. For example, what exactly is “The 10,000 Year Explosion” about, and how might it pertain to my research, either genealogy or anthropological? I don’t remember if I read it.
  9. I need to add a disposition (de-accessioning) field. Yes, although the thought is traumatizing for me, I will be passing some books on before I pass on, hopefully, and have already begun that process. I need to know when the books left and who they are now living with. Having said that, it might be nice to note where I got the book in the first place and how much it cost. I do have a few rare books and some that are first edition signed collectors’ items. I fear those being sold at a garage sale after my death for a dime. (I think I might have an unnatural attachment to my books😊)
  10. The ever-changing DNA testing landscape and multiple (kinds of) tests providing DNA matches from multiple vendors needs to be recorded, somehow, as a resource too. For example, did I search for a Y DNA tester for my John Combs (1705-1762) line? If so, are they in the Combs surname project at Family Tree DNA? Did I send an Ancestry or MyHeritage message to someone to see if they would take a DNA test, or about their results? Have I used to search for specific target surnames in my match list or GeneticAffairs to look for ancestral clusters? You get the idea.

DNA is a resource by line, surname, individual ancestor, both known and unknown, as well as location because sometimes that’s all we have to work with. I actually have two separate spreadsheets for DNA which I’ll share in a separate article – but DNA results are also a research resource that needs to be tracked along with various tools applied, and when.

What Have You Done?

Have you addressed this research organization problem, and if so, how?

What resources are you using?

What works for you, what didn’t, and why?


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