RockStars Shine at Midnight

Open till midnight

When John Reid, of Anglo-Celtic Connections sent me an e-mail telling me he was posting the results of the Rockstar Genealogist voting at midnight, you know I had to stay up waiting.

Yes, he did give me a bit of a hint…but not a big hint…and I was dying to see.

Drum roll please….

My friend Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, is so far scooping the voting.  And if anyone deserves to do so, she does.  Not only is she a personal friend, I would take advantage of any opportunity to hear her speak, on literally any topic.  She could make growing mushrooms in the outback interesting.  By the time she was done with the topic, you’d know all about the history and legalities of growing and selling mushrooms, find them utterly fascinating, and you would want to start growing mushrooms too.

We really are extremely fortunate to have Judy, and her wonderful blog in our community.  I still have no idea how she manages to travel, speak and post daily articles.  The woman is super-human.  Truly.  I think Judy has the EveryReady Bunny genetic mutation which might explain her signature pink jacket.

Judy received the silver medal in International, silver in the USA and bronze in the Genetic Genealogy category.  A three category winner!  Triple crown!

There are lots of other noteworthy people as well.  Everyone knows Dick Eastman who I think has the longest running online newsletter in genealogy.  He’s the CNN of genealogy – if you want to know what’s going on, visit Dick’s website or better yet, sign up for his free newsletter.

And Thomas MacEntee – who doesn’t know and love his blogs, although he’s on sabbatical right now and making some major life changes.  I take this win for Thomas as a vote of confidence for him as well – and I’m sure he will too.

I love these categories, because now when I need someone in say, Ireland, or England, I’ll have a handy-dandy list of who to turn to.  And I have a few new sites to check out too.  What fun.  And I already know they are great – because you’ve all told me so by voting for them.

Congratulations to all of the candidates and the winners!

What about me you ask?  Well, ahem, yes, I’m on the list too – in the best of company – right with Judy Russell in two categories.  Judy and I are doing a dance of sorts.  I received silver in Genetic Genealogy, and shocker of all, bronze in the US.  I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Genetic Genealogy be recognized as a full-fledged citizen along with the more traditional genealogy methodologies.

I started this blog in 2012 in an effort to help people learn, and to reduce the number of questions that arrive daily.  Well, I know, based on your votes that I’ve accomplished at least the first item.  I’m very humbled and a little embarrassed.  Thank you so very much.  It’s really very nice to know you’re making a difference.

Wait…you want to know who came in first?  Well, me too….but we’re all going to have to wait until midnight Monday when John publishes that list!!!  Beats the heck out of turning into a pumpkin.  Meet you tomorrow at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connection at the witching hour!


2015 Voting for Rock Star Genealogist(s) Now Open

Rock star

Voting is open for your favorite genealogists and closes this Sunday, September 12th, so vote early and often.  No, no, you can only vote once – this isn’t Chicago.  But please, do vote.  It’s a lovely way to say thank you to those who give above and beyond in our community.

Last year, in 2014, I was thrilled to see genetic genealogists among the winners.

Genetic genealogy went from a topic you had to beg to get on the agenda at any conference a decade ago to a high interest topic today with many available speakers.  That’s great because genetic genealogy more than any other genealogy activity must be collaborate.  I mean, DNA testing with no one to compare to would be, for the most part, fruitless.

So take a look at the candidates and vote for someone.  I guarantee – you’ll know some of them.

The great thing about this kind of voting is that no one is campaigning, there is no mud- slinging and no negative ads.  There are only winners because we are very fortunate to have all of the candidates in our community!

Click here to vote. by Jim Bartlett


Today, I want to talk about another blogger – a new blogger – Jim Bartlett.  I’m very glad to see Jim enter the blogging space.  Welcome Aboard!!!!

You might be surprised to see one blogger recommending another.  Don’t be.  There are few people in any field who agree 100% of the time, but Jim is the ultimate, respectful professional and shares graciously and willingly with others, and has for years.

I want to take this opportunity to welcome Jim, and to tell you something about him and why you might want to follow what he has to say.  He may be a novice blogger, but he certainly is not a novice genetic genealogist.

It’s interesting to learn about your fellow genetic genealogists.  None of us began in this field, because most of us began our careers long before this field existed.  For the most part, we were or are professionals in another scientific or technical field.  Jim is no exception and he, like others, brought the best of his professional experience to genetic genealogy.

Jim is an engineer by education (Bachelor and Masters degrees), and spent 50 years in various aspects of construction, including a Design Engineer for the Smithsonian Institution; Program Manager for the $2 billion TRIDENT Base in GA; Program Manager for US NATO Construction, etc.  Jim has a knack for puzzles and spatial design. Jim says, “As soon as I learned about autosomal DNA, I caught on pretty quickly. I view the mapping of my chromosomes to my ancestors as the ultimate puzzle.”  Isn’t that the truth!

Jim has been active in genealogy since 1974 (visiting courthouses, scrolling microfilms, lunches at DAR Library, etc.  In 2002 he began the BARTLETT-DNA Project, which has grown to over 300 participants and has identified 23 separate lines.  Jim cut his genetic genealogy teeth on the Y chromosome.

Since 2010 Jim has been involved with the newest DNA tool, autosomal DNA, which provides matches with cousins from any/all of your ancestors. He has tested at all 3 companies, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry, and also uses GEDmatch.

The simple version of Jim’s advice is: communicate; share; find common ancestors!

The more complex version involves spreadsheets, segment analysis, and triangulation and that’s what his new blog will address.

In any up-and-coming field, new experts appear on a daily basis.  If you follow any of the social media or genetic genealogy lists, you’ll probably notice from time to time that a new “expert” whom you’ve never heard of before appears and states “facts” or opinions as facts.

There are but a handful of individuals whom I truly consider to be experts in this field.  Some are very specialized in one area and some are both wide and deep.  One characteristic in common with them all is that they have years, as in many, MANY years of experience in both genetic genealogy AND genealogy.  None of them are newcomers by any definition.

Jim is one of these seasoned experts with a very unique claim to fame.  Jim has mapped more of his autosomal DNA than anyone else that I know of.  And I mean bar none.  He is #1!  Jim is one of the most dedicated researchers I have ever met.  He is the example that the rest of us aspire to.  That’s because Jim is both retired and committed – working on his genetic genealogy every day!

I asked Jim how much of his autosomal DNA he has been able to attribute to a particular ancestor or ancestral group.

“I now have over 4,000 different Matches in my spreadsheet. I’ve mapped over 88 percent of my 45 chromosomes (based on base pairs). I’ve determined Common Ancestors for about 70 percent of my DNA (based on base pairs). Most of my 340 triangulation groups are heel-and-toe on the chromosomes with only a few gaps over 10cM left (mostly from my maternal grandmother’s immigrant ancestor from Scotland and Germany in the 1850s.)

This has been a fantastic journey. I’m now working with the matches in my triangulation groups to dig deeper into finding our Common Ancestors.”

Fortunately for the rest of us, Jim has decided to share his experiences, advice and puzzle solving expertise with the genetic genealogy community and recently created his new blog,  You can follow his blog by clicking on the little grey follow button on the right hand side of his main blog page.

So far, Jim has published four articles:

What is a Segment?
Benefits of Triangulation
Does Triangulation Always Work?
How to Triangulate?

If you subscribe today, you won’t miss any of what Jim has to say.

Milestone 5000

double helix band

In our personal lives, we have milestones.  Some milestones we work towards and others happen, whether we do anything or not – like birthdays.

Some birthdays are considered milestone birthdays – like – when I was a kid – 16 – because it brought with it the freedom of driving.

On the night of April 19, 2015, sometime in the darkest hours of overnight (at least here in the US,) the blog reached a blogging milestone of sorts – 5000 subscribers.  And those are just the folks I know about.  Blogging management software tells us how many subscribers via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter we have, but it doesn’t tell us how many people are following us by RSS feeds.  I know there are quite a few, because one of the very first requests I received when I began the blog in July of 2012 was to set up the RSS feed subscription ability.

We also can’t tell how many times our article has been shared, reposted, tweeted and retweeted.

Bloggers using the WordPress platform have software that tells us how many page hits we receive, per day or per article, broken down in various ways.  Many people who subscribe via e-mail read the articles in their e-mail, so they don’t actually visit the page itself.  A normal day sees get about 10,000 page hits, so that’s in addition to e-mail subscribers.  A really popular or controversial article sends that off the charts.

The great irony is that when I started the blog, I wondered if even 100 people would be interested.  My real reason for creating the blog was so that I would have a public location to write about topics that I felt needed answers.  Additionally, I manage several projects at Family Tree DNA, and I wanted a way to provide information to project members about items such as sales and new features without having to send group e-mails to each project.  Why?  The Cumberland Gap projects have about 10,000 members between the Y and mtDNA groups, and sending that many messages with your e-mail address listed as the sender is a really good way to get your e-mail address blacklisted as a spammer. Blogging solves that problem, because I write it once and anyone who is interested can subscribe – and anyone who isn’t interested, isn’t bothered.

I started by taking the most common questions I received and writing the answer – one time – in the format of an article so that I can forever refer people to that article for the answer.  So you might say I started blogging in self-defense:)

From the beginning, I set up topic categories so that searching would be more effective.  (The blog is fully searchable.)  Categories are anything that might be a key word, like DNA types (Y, mitochondrial, autosomal), company names, or topics one might be searching for, like Native American, haplogroups or admixture.

What do you think the most viewed categories might be?

  • Autosomal
  • Family Tree DNA
  • Y DNA
  • 23andMe
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Admixture
  • Haplogroups
  • Native American

What are the most popular articles, over the entire timespan of the life of the blog?

Proving Native American Ancestry

Ethnicity Results – True or Not?

What is a Haplogroup?

Of course, these articles are older as well, so they have had more time to accumulate views.

I can tell you unequivocally that the article I refer people to the most to answer the question, “What kind of DNA test should I take?” is:

4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy

I try to vary the types of articles from general interest to education to technical.  Previously, I wrote and published research articles in JOGG, but now I can publish just as effectively on my own blog, and write for a non-academic audience.

One of the really surprising things, to me, has been the popularity of my 52 Ancestors series.  I almost didn’t do this series.  I really didn’t think people would be terribly excited about reading about MY ancestors, even if they would also be ancestors to a few other people.  I was wrong.  People love stories.

I have written this series in my own voice – documenting the good, the bad and the ugly, warts and all – including the mistakes I’ve made, and I think I’ve made them all at least once.  Hopefully it will help someone else avoid those pitfalls.  I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for the many helpful suggestions I’ve received as a result of these articles.  Genealogists are overwhelmingly fantastic, sharing, people.

Every article in the series also ties to DNA, in some fashion.  How I’ve used it, how it could be used if I could find a proper test candidate, or why it can’t be used.  Case studies make great examples.  Twice now, I’ve had people reply and have found a suitable DNA candidate to represent an ancestral line.  So yes, these articles also serve as “cousin bait.”

I want to thank all 5000 of you e-mail subscribers plus the unknown number of RSS subscribers and everyone who reads this blog forwarded, reposted, retweeted or reblogged.  I hope you all enjoy reading the articles as much as I enjoy writing them.

Please feel free to share these articles with others so that we can continue to educate people about genetic genealogy.  There are still far more people out there that haven’t tested, than have.  Together, we can illustrate how genetic genealogy is a game changer – and hopefully whittle that number of genealogists who haven’t tested to zero.

Overly optimistic?  Possibly.  But hey, you have to have goals or you can’t achieve milestones!

2014 in Review for DNA-eXplained

The prepared a 2014 annual report for  I found the results quite interesting.  However, the stats don’t take into account the nearly 5000 subscribers who receive this blog via e-mail, and those who subscribe via RSS feed.

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 970,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 42 days for that many people to see it.  Thank goodness, no standing in line here!

I also realized that I have published just shy of 450 articles.  My goal has been two per week, and given that this blog began mid 2012, so roughly 130 weeks ago, I think I’ve reached my goal, hands down.  Thank you one and all!

Attractions in 2014

These are the posts that you liked best, the ones that received the most views in 2014.

I must admit, some of these were a surprise to me, in particular, the “Warrior Gene” article.  However, I’ve known the “Proving Native Ancestry” article has been extremely popular since I wrote it, and the “4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy” is a staple.  It’s also interesting that these articles were all written prior to 2014 – so these seems to be ones most useful over time.

It’s also interesting to see where the blog visitors came from – a total of 212 countries.  That’s pretty amazing!

2014 blog world visitors

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Round Two


Last year, Amy Johnson Crow started the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.  I was very pleased to hear that she is continuing the challenge, with an optional weekly theme (for inspiration, if you need it,) in 2015.

I decided to give it a try for 2014, and I’m surely glad that I did.  I know, I know…like I really needed something else to do…with a weekly (self-imposed) deadline no less.

And I’m actually astounded to say that I actually haven’t missed any.  And for the record, getting stories 37 and 38 reversed does not count as missing a week:)

I actually enjoyed this exercise a lot.


One of the things I’ve been desperately needing to do is to gather together and organize what I have on each ancestor.  I’m a 35 years (plus) genealogist.  That means I have every kind of record possible…from old letters and scrapbooks from the early 1900s to hand written family groups sheets that I painstakingly completed when I began in the 1970s to digital records received yesterday…and everything in between.  I have file drawers and boxes and files on two computers and a laptop.  I’ve moved several times and never fully unpacked.  You get the drift.

For every ancestor I’ve written about, I pulled out the files, got out the folders filed away, reviewed the records for the county involved, went through files on the computer and old e–mails that are filed by genealogy surname.  I’m amazed what I found.  Not only did I have things I didn’t realize I had, or had forgotten that I had (how is that possible?) but almost none of my holdings were organized by ancestor or family in timeline order.  Add to that the history of what was happening historically or just in that ancestor’s county during their lifetime, and you go from having the chalky outline of an ancestor with their name and a date or two to a real profile – a story about their life with meat on the bones.

Of course, because this is a DNA blog, I’ve tried to write every article with at least some useful reference to DNA and how DNA relates to that individual, without repeating myself.  That was the real challenge, but it forced me to really evaluate different aspects of DNA.  This made me focus on the DNA of that individual, whatever piece of it I had found, and what story it really had to tell. In several cases, I’ve made some amazing discoveries based on DNA evidence, some of which was probably there all along but I didn’t notice.  Some, of course, needed work, but that’s fine.  Work, I can do.

Plus, let me tell you a secret.

fish hookThose articles…..they are bait.  Yep, bait.  Ancestor bait.  Cousin bait.  And they work.

Lastly, I truly, firmly believe in sharing our knowledge.  I think it’s the best way to avoid those horribly wrong copy/paste trees that breed like rabbits overnight when you’re not looking.  If you write about it, and blog, it’s searchable via internet search…and findable without any subscription….and it’s a story all in one place…not pieces and parts attached to a tree without context or connecting threads.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, if you’re reading this…stop here!

While I know I’ve been naughty and not used exactly correct citations in proper format, you will notice that every one of my articles does provide the source, even if it’s simply my notes from 20 or 25 years ago that said the document was found in XYZ County Deed book H, page 432 or perhaps a conversation with Uncle George, or whatever.  I wish I had started out doing everything perfectly, but I didn’t.  If I was lucky, I wrote something down – because, generally, I just knew I’d remember.  I was a lot younger then and a bit naïve.  In fact, back then, I don’t think “perfect” and genealogical standards had even been defined.  If they had, it was news to me.  Besides that, I didn’t start out to do “genealogy,” I just wanted to find out something about my father’s side of the family.  I remember when someone said, “oh, you’re a genealogist” and I thought to myself, “I am?”

While a very big part of me wanted to wait until I had gone back and perfected my records, truthfully, I know that is never going to happen.  Nada.  Wish it were, but it isn’t.  In part, because I simply can’t go back and recreate what has happened over 35 years.  If I have to choose between researching new ground or retreading old ground…I’m going to choose the new…every time.  I have no idea how long I’m going to live, but assuredly not long enough to ever “finish” my genealogy – and I want to get as much done as possible.

So, I made the decision to do the best I can with what I have, make it accurate, and interesting, and sometimes, just state what needs yet to be done.  I can’t do it all…and it’s more important to share what I have than to share nothing because I was waiting for that elusive day, someday, to make it perfect.  Someday is not a day on the calendar….and many times, someday never arrives.

Future researchers can, and I hope, will, improve on what I have.  As new records become available, maybe they’ll add comments or I’ll update the articles.

I also discovered that I have a lot more than I realized…and I’m not nearly done with my ancestors at 52.  I have all of my ancestors identified to the 5th generation with the exception of one…and I’m closing in fast on her.  That’s 62 right there, without counting any of the lines I have much further back in time.

So, count me in for Amy’s 2015 Challenge – except I’ll have to label mine 52 Ancestors #53 or some such confusing thing.

If you started last year, I hope you’ll continue as well.

If not, it’s a brand new year.  Here’s the link to Amy’s 2015 article with the optional themes by week – to inspire you if you want to use them…but you don’t have to.

Here’s how it works….you write a story and post it on your blog, including the words “52 Ancestors” in the title.  Subscribe to Amy’s blog.  Every Thursday, more or less, Amy posts a “summary article” and you simply, in the comments, post the surname, article title and link to your blog article.  Here’s this week’s week 50 recap.

I encourage you to go back and scan the comments section of all of Amy’s 52 Ancestor’s blogs, because you may find articles about your ancestors.  I did – two of them – and I was very surprised.  More than I ever expected and wonderful articles too.  Maybe one week when I’m really running out of time, I’ll just link to those articles for my entry.  Yes, I know that’s cheating.

In case you didn’t know, you can get a free blog at WordPress.  I love my WordPress blogs.  Support, when I’ve needed them (seldom), has been wonderful and painless.

In fact, just in case you didn’t know it, I have more interests other than DNA and genealogy.  I know, heresy, pure heresy…

Here are my other public blogs:

Things That Are Pink and Shouldn’t Be (this was my try-my-wings blog)
Native Heritage Project
Victory Garden Day by Day (inspirational)

It’s easy to blog.  Just try it.  And write about your ancestors!!!

Just do it!

Family Tree DNA Launches New Learning Center

Ugly light bulb

Family Tree DNA has launched a new Learning Center.  Meant to be much more comprehensive and interactive than their previous FAQs, with everything available in one centralized place, the new Learning Center encompasses a blog, the former FAQs, Webinar information including currently scheduled and archived past Webinars available,  FTDNA’s Forum, a link to group projects, Users Guides, Group Administrator Guides and tools, a glossary, links to scientific papers and more.

Learning center landing

In fact, the site is so comprehensive that there is even a tutorial about how to utilize the Learning Center.

One of the best aspects of the Learning Center is that it’s fully searchable.  Just as a test, and because I’m a skeptic, I typed the word “heteroplasmy” into the search field.  This term, if you’re not familiar, is a relatively obscure term for mitochondrial DNA.  About 2% of the people who take a full sequence test will have a heteroplasmic mutation, which is really a mutation in process where two different nucleotides are discovered at a single location.

Sure enough, there were several results presented in a drop down box and then each one has a “read more” tab and the ability for questions and comments.  OK, FTDNA, you passed the pop quiz!

learning center heteroplasmy

The Learning Center is a one stop shopping center.  You can also contact customer support through this page, or do things like look at career openings, if you’d like to live in Houston.

Family Tree DNA has made a renewed effort and commitment to stay in touch with their customer base.  I’m particularly encouraged with the “Latest News” tab.  And it’s not just because of my interview, although I was quite honored to be the first of several interviews with leaders in the genetic genealogy field published.  You can read the interview here.

Customers and project administrators have been asking for a central place to find information about products and announcements at Family Tree DNA, and it looks like the Latest News tab is going to be the new “market square” where everyone gathers to find the latest information.

Rebekah Canada, who is responsible for the Learning Center, has also been making a concerted effort to update several other lists and locations such as the genealogy-dna list at Rootsweb, the Family Tree DNA Forum and the FTDNA Facebook page with pertinent information, but it makes sense for the “go to” place linking everything together to be the Learning Center.

Best of all, you can also subscribe to new posts.  To subscribe, click on any of the “Latest News Posts” that you see on the main page.

Learning center splash page

On the right hand side of each article is a subscribe option.  This way, all the news comes directly to you – no signing on to check to see what’s new!  It’s delivered.  I love this!!!

learning center subscribe

My only negative comment…..that’s a really ugly lightbulb.  Just doesn’t seem to convey the same thing as….

bright idea cropped

Seems like the perfect opportunity for a bright idea, some creativity and a double helix design to me!