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

Results

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.

Documentation

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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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Concepts: Chromosome Browser – What Is It, How Do I Use It, and Why Do I Care?

The goal of genetic genealogy is to utilize DNA matches to verify known ancestors and identify unknown ancestors.

A chromosome browser is a tool that allows testers to visualize and compare their DNA on each chromosome with that of their genetic matches. How to utilize and interpret that information becomes a little more tricky.

I’ve had requests for one article with all the information in one place about chromosome browsers:

  • What they are
  • How and when to use them
  • Why you’d want to

I’ve included a feature comparison chart and educational resource list at the end.

I would suggest just reading through this article the first time, then following along with your own DNA results after you understand the basic landscape. Using your own results is the best way to learn anything.

What Does a Chromosome Browser Look Like?

Here’s an example of a match to my DNA at FamilyTreeDNA viewed on their chromosome browser.

browser example.png

On my first 16 chromosomes, shown above, my 1C1R (first cousin once removed,) Cheryl, matches me where the chromosomes are painted blue. My chromosome is represented by the grey background, and her matching portion by the blue overlay.

Cheryl matches me on some portion of all chromosomes except 2, 6, and 13, where we don’t match at all.

You can select any one person, like Cheryl, from your match list to view on a chromosome browser to see where they match you on your chromosomes, or you can choose multiple matches, as shown below.

browser multiple example.png

I selected my 7 closest matches that are not my immediate family, meaning not my parents or children. I’m the background grey chromosome, and each person’s match is painted on top of “my chromosome” in the location where they match me. You see 7 images of my grey chromosome 1, for example, because each of the 7 people being compared to me are shown stacked below one another.

Everyplace that Cheryl matches me is shown on the top image of each chromosome, and our matching segment is shown in blue. The same for the second red copy of the chromosome, representing Don’s match to me. Each person I’ve selected to match against is shown by their own respective color.

You’ll note that in some cases, two people match me in the same location. Those are the essential hints we are looking for. We’ll be discussing how to unravel, interpret, and use matches in the rest of this article.

browser MyHeritage example.png

The chromosome browser at MyHeritage looks quite similar. However, I have a different “top 7” matches because each vendor has people who test on their platform who don’t test or transfer elsewhere.

Each vendor that supports chromosome browsers (FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GedMatch) provides their own implementation, of course, but the fundamentals of chromosome browsers, how they work and what they are telling us is universal.

Why Do I Need a Chromosome Browser?

“But,” you might say, “I don’t need to compare my DNA with my matches because the vendors already tell me that I match someone, which confirms that we are related and share a common ancestor.”

Well, not exactly. It’s not quite that straightforward.

Let’s take a look at:

  • How and why people match
  • What matches do and don’t tell you
  • Both with and without a chromosome browser

In part, whether you utilize a chromosome browser or not depends on which of the following you seek:

  • A broad-brush general answer; yes or no, I match someone, but either I don’t know how are related, or have to assume why. There’s that assume word again.
  • To actually confirm and prove your ancestry, getting every ounce of value out of your DNA test.

Not everyone’s goals are the same. Fortunately, we have an entire toolbox with a wide range of tools. Different tools are better suited for different tasks.

People seeking unknown parents should read the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching because the methodology for identifying unknown parents is somewhat different than working with genealogy. This article focuses on genealogy, although the foundation genetic principles are the same.

If you’re just opening your DNA results for the first time, the article, First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water would be a great place to start.

Before we discuss chromosome browsers further, we need to talk about DNA inheritance.

Your Parents

Every person has 2 copies of each of their 22 chromosomes – one copy contributed by their mother and one copy contributed by their father. A child receives exactly half of the autosomal DNA of each parent. The DNA of each parent combines somewhat randomly so that you receive one chromosome’s worth of DNA from each of your parents, which is half of each parent’s total.

On each chromosome, you receive some portion of the DNA that each parent received from their ancestors, but not exactly half of the DNA from each individual ancestor. In other words, it’s not sliced precisely in half, but served up in chunks called segments.

Sometimes you receive an entire segment of an ancestor’s DNA, sometimes none, and sometimes a portion that isn’t equal to half of your parent’s segment.

browser inheritance.png

This means that you don’t receive exactly half of the DNA of each of your grandparents, which would be 25% each. You might receive more like 22% from one maternal grandparent and 28% from the other maternal grandparent for a total of 50% of the DNA you inherit from your parents. The other 50% of your DNA comes from the other parent, of course. I wrote about that here.

There’s one tiny confounding detail. The DNA of your Mom and Dad is scrambled in you, meaning that the lab can’t discern scientifically which side is which and can’t tell which pieces of DNA came from Mom and which from Dad. Think of a genetic blender.

Our job, using genetic genealogy, is to figure out which side of our family people who match us descend from – which leads us to our common ancestor(s).

Parallel Roads

For the purposes of this discussion, you’ll need to understand that the two copies you receive of each chromosome, one from each parent, have the exact same “addresses.” Think of these as parallel streets or roads with identical addresses on each road.

browser street.png

In the example above, you can see Dad’s blue chromosome and Mom’s red chromosome as compared to me. Of course, children and parents match on the full length of each chromosome.

I’ve divided this chromosome into 6 blocks, for purposes of illustration, plus the centromere where we generally find no addresses used for genetic genealogy.

In the 500 block, we see that the address of 510 Main (red bar) could occur on either Dad’s chromosome, or Mom’s. With only an address and nothing more, you have no way to know whether your match with someone at 510 Main is on Mom’s or Dad’s side, because both streets have exactly the same addresses.

Therefore, if two people match you, at the same address on that chromosome, like 510 Main Street, they could be:

  • Both maternal matches, meaning both descended from your mother’s ancestors, and those two people will also match each other
  • Both paternal matches, meaning both descended from your father’s ancestors, and those two people will also match each other
  • One maternal and one paternal match, and those two people will not match each other

Well then, how do we know which side of the family a match descends from, and how do we know if we share a common ancestor?

Good question!

Identical by Descent

If you and another person match on a reasonably sized DNA segment, generally about 7 cM or above, your match is probably “identical by descent,” meaning not “identical by chance.” In this case, then yes, a match does confirm that you share a common ancestor.

Identical by descent (IBD) means you inherited the piece of DNA from a common ancestor, inherited through the relevant parent.

Identical by chance (IBC) means that your mom’s and dad’s DNA just happens to have been inherited by you randomly in a way that creates a sequence of DNA that matches that other person. I wrote about both IBD and IBC here.

MMB stats by cM 2

This chart, courtesy of statistician Philip Gammon, from the article Introducing the Match-Maker-Breaker Tool for Parental Phasing shows the percentage of time we expect matches of specific segment sizes to be valid, or identical by descent.

Identical by Chance

How does this work?

How is a match NOT identical by descent, meaning that it is identical by chance and therefore not a “real” or valid match, a situation also known as a false positive?

browser inheritance grid.png

The answer involves how DNA is inherited.

You receive a chromosome with a piece of DNA at every address from both parents. Of course, this means you have two pieces of DNA at each address. Therefore people will match you on either piece of DNA. People from your Dad’s side will match you on the pieces you inherited from him, and people from your Mom’s side will match you on the pieces you inherited from her.

However, both of those matches have the same address on their parallel streets as shown in the illustration, above. Your matches from your mom’s side will have all As, and those from your dad’s side will have all Ts.

The problem is that you have no way to know which pieces you inherited from Mom and from Dad – at least not without additional information.

You can see that for 10 contiguous locations (addresses), which create an example “segment” of your DNA, you inherited all As from your Mom and all Ts from your Dad. In order to match you, someone would either need to have an A or a T in one of their two inherited locations, because you have an A and a T, both. If the other person has a C or a G, there’s no match.

Your match inherited a specific sequence from their mother and father, just like you did. As you can see, even though they do match you because they have either an A or a T in all 10 locations – the As and Ts did not all descend from either their mother or father. Their random inheritance of Ts and As just happens to match you.

If your match’s parents have tested, you won’t match either of their parents nor will they match either of your parents, which tells you immediately that this match is by chance (IBC) and not by descent (IBD), meaning this segment did not come from a common ancestor. It’s identical by chance and, therefore, a false positive.

If We Match Someone Else In Common, Doesn’t That Prove Identical by Descent?

Nope, but I sure wish it did!

The vendors show you who else you and your match both match in common, which provides a SUGGESTION as to your common ancestor – assuming you know which common ancestor any of these people share with you.

browser icw.png

However, shared matches are absolutely NOT a guarantee that you, your match, and your common matches all share the same ancestor, unless you’re close family. Your shared match could match you or your match through different ancestors – or could be identical by chance.

How can we be more confident of what matching is actually telling us?

How can we sort this out?

Uncertainties and Remedies

Here’s are 9 things you DON’T know, based on matching alone, along with tips and techniques to learn more.

  1. If your match to Person A is below about 20cM, you’ll need to verify that it’s a legitimate IBD match (not IBC). You can achieve this by determining if Person A also matches one of your parents and if you match one of Person A’s parents, if parents have tested.

Not enough parents have tested? An alternative method is by determining if you and Person A both match known descendants of the candidate ancestors ON THE SAME SEGMENT. This is where the chromosome browser enters the picture.

In other words, at least three people who are confirmed to descend from your presumptive common ancestor, preferably through at least two different children, must match on a significant portion of the same segment.

Why is that? Because every segment has its own unique genealogical history. Each segment can and often does lead to different ancestors as you move further back in time.

In this example, I’m viewing Buster, David, and E., three cousins descended from the same ancestral couple, compared to me on my chromosome browser. I’m the background grey, and they show in color. You can see that all three of them match me on at least some significant portion of the same segment of chromosome 15.

browser 3 cousins.png

If those people also match each other, that’s called triangulation. Triangulation confirms descent from a common ancestral source.

In this case, I already know that these people are related on my paternal side. The fact that they all match my father’s DNA and are therefore all automatically assigned to my paternal matching tab at Family Tree DNA confirms my paper-trail genealogy.

I wrote detailed steps for triangulation at Family Tree DNA, here. In a nutshell, matching on the same segment to people who are bucketed to the same parent is an automated method of triangulation.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of having their parents tested, so testing other family members, finding common segments, and assigning people to their proper location in your tree facilitates confirmation of your genealogy (and automating triangulation.)

The ONLY way you can determine if people match you on the same segment, and match each other, is having segment information available to you and utilizing a chromosome browser.

browser MyHeritage triangulation.png

In the example above, the MyHeritage triangulation tool brackets matches that match you (the background grey) and who are all triangulated, meaning they all also match each other. In this case, the portion where all three people match me AND each other is bracketed. I wrote about triangulation at MyHeritage here.

  1. If you match several people who descend from the same ancestor, John Doe, for example, on paper, you CANNOT presume that your match to all of those people is due to a segment of DNA descended from John Doe or his wife. You may not match any of those people BECAUSE OF or through segments inherited from John Doe or his wife. You need segment information and a chromosome browser to view the location of those matches.

Assuming these are legitimate IBD matches, you may share another common line, known or unknown, with some or all of those matches.

It’s easy to assume that because you match and share matches in common with other people who believe they are descended from that same ancestor:

  • That you’re all matching because of that ancestor.
  • Even on the same segments.

Neither of those presumptions can be made without additional information.

Trust me, you’ll get yourself in a heap o’ trouble if you assume. Been there, done that. T-shirt was ugly.

Let’s look at how this works.

browser venn.png

Here’s a Venn diagram showing me, in the middle, surrounded by three of my matches:

  • Match 1 – Periwinkle, descends from Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy
  • Match 2 – Teal, descends from Joseph Bolton and Margaret Claxton
  • Match 3 – Mustard, descends from John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson

Utilizing a chromosome browser, autocluster software, and other tools, we can determine if those matches also match each other on a common segment, which means they triangulate and confirm common ancestral descent.

Of course, those people could match each other due to a different ancestor, not necessarily the one I share with them nor the ancestors I think we match through.

If they/we do all match because they descend from a common ancestor, they can still match each other on different segments that don’t match me.

I’m in the center. All three people match me, and they also match each other, shown in the overlap intersections.

Note that the intersection between the periwinkle (Match 1) and teal (Match 2) people, who match each other, is due to the wives of the children of two of my ancestors. In other words, their match to each other has absolutely nothing to do with their match to me. This was an “aha’ moment for me when I first realized this was a possibility and happens far more than I ever suspected.

The intersection of the periwinkle (Match 1) and mustard (Match 3) matches is due to the Dodson line, but on a different segment than they both share with me. If they had matched each other and me on the same segment, we would be all triangulated, but we aren’t.

The source of the teal (Match 2) to mustard (Match 3) is unknown, but then again, Match 3’s tree is relatively incomplete.

Let’s take a look at autocluster software which assists greatly with automating the process of determining who matches each other, in addition to who matches you.

  1. Clustering technology, meaning the Leeds method as automated by Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom help, but don’t, by themselves, resolve the quandary of HOW people match you and each other.

People in a colored cluster all match you and each other – but not necessarily on the same segment, AND, they can match each other because they are related through different ancestors not related to your ancestor. The benefit of autocluster software is that this process is automated. However, not all of your matches will qualify to be placed in clusters.

browser autocluster.png

My mustard cluster above includes the three people shown in the chromosome browser examples – and 12 more matches that can be now be researched because we know that they are all part of a group of people who all match me, and several of whom match each other too.

My matches may not match each other for a variety of reasons, including:

  • They are too far removed in time/generations and didn’t inherit any common ancestral DNA.
  • This cluster is comprised of some people matching me on different (perhaps intermarried) lines.
  • Some may be IBC matches.

Darker grey boxes indicate that those people should be in both clusters, meaning the red and mustard clusters, because they match people in two clusters. That’s another hint. Because of the grid nature of clusters, one person cannot be associated with more than 2 clusters, maximum. Therefore, people like first cousins who are closely related to the tester and could potentially be in many clusters are not as useful in clusters as they are when utilizing other tools.

  1. Clusters and chromosome browsers are much less complex than pedigree charts, especially when dealing with many people. I charted out the relationships of the three example matches from the Venn diagram. You can see that this gets messy quickly, and it’s much more challenging to visualize and understand than either the chromosome browser or autoclusters.

Having said that, the ultimate GOAL is to identify how each person is related to you and place them in their proper place in your tree. This, cumulatively with your matches, is what identifies and confirms ancestors – the overarching purpose of genealogy and genetic genealogy.

Let’s take a look at this particular colorized pedigree chart.

Browser pedigree.png

click to enlarge

The pedigree chart above shows the genetic relationship between me and the three matches shown in the Venn diagram.

Four descendants of 2 ancestral couples are shown, above; Joseph Bolton and Margaret Claxton, and John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson. DNA tells me that all 3 people match me and also match each other.

The color of the square (above) is the color of DNA that represents the DNA segment that I received and match with these particular testers. This chart is NOT illustrating how much DNA is passed in each generation – we already know that every child inherits half of the DNA of each parent. This chart shows match/inheritance coloring for ONE MATCHING SEGMENT with each match, ONLY.

Let’s look at Joseph Bolton (blue) and Margaret Claxton (pink). I descend through their daughter, Ollie Bolton, who married William George Estes, my grandfather. The DNA segment that I share with blue Match 2 (bottom left) is a segment that I inherited from Joseph Bolton (blue). I also carry inherited DNA from Margaret Claxton too, but that’s not the segment that I share with Match 2, which is why the path from Joseph Bolton to me, in this case, is blue – and why Match 2 is blue. (Just so you are aware, I know this segment descends from Joseph Bolton, because I also match descendants of Joseph’s father on this segment – but that generation/mtach is not shown on this pedigree chart.)

If I were comparing to someone else who I match through Margaret Claxton, I would color the DNA from Margaret Claxton to me pink in that illustration. You don’t have to DO this with your pedigree chart, so don’t worry. I created this example to help you understand.

The colored dots shown on the squares indicate that various ancestors and living people do indeed carry DNA from specific ancestors, even though that’s not the segment that matches a particular person. In other words, the daughter, Ollie, of Joseph Bolton and Margaret Claxton carries 50% pink DNA, represented by the pink dot on blue Ollie Bolton, married to purple William George Estes.

Ollie Bolton and William George Estes had my father, who I’ve shown as half purple (Estes) and half blue (Bolton) because I share Bolton DNA with Match 2, and Estes DNA with Match 1. Obviously, everyone receives half of each parent’s DNA, but in this case, I’m showing the path DNA descended for a specific segment shared with a particular match.

I’ve represented myself with the 5 colors of DNA that I carry from these particular ancestors shown on the pedigree chart. I assuredly will match other people with DNA that we’ve both inherited from these ancestors. I may match these same matches shown with DNA that we both inherited from other ancestors – for example, I might match Match 2 on a different segment that we both inherited from Margaret Claxton. Match 2 is my second cousin, so it’s quite likely that we do indeed share multiple segments of DNA.

Looking at Match 3, who knows very little about their genealogy, I can tell, based on other matches, that we share Dodson DNA inherited through Rutha Dodson.

I need to check every person in my cluster, and that I share DNA with on these same segment addresses to see if they match on my paternal side and if they match each other.

  1. At Family Tree DNA, I will be able to garner more information about whether or not my matches match each other by using the Matrix tool as well as by utilizing Phased Family Matching.

At Family Tree DNA, I determined that these people all match in common with me and Match 1 by using the “In Common With” tool. You can read more about how to use “In Common With” matching, here.

browser paternal.png

Family Matching phases the matches, assigning or bucketed them maternally or paternally (blue and red icons above), indicating, when possible, if these matches occur on the same side of your family. I wrote about the concept of phasing, here, and Phased Family Matching here and here.

Please note that there is no longer a limit on how distantly related a match can be in order to be utilized in Phased Family Matching, so long as it’s over the phase-matching threshold and connected correctly in your tree.

browser family tree dna link tree.png

Bottom line, if you can figure out how you’re related to someone, just add them into your tree by creating a profile card and link their DNA match to them by simply dragging and dropping, as illustrated above.

Linking your matches allows Family Matching to maternally or paternally assign other matches that match both you and your tree-linked matches.

If your matches match you on the same segment on the same parental side, that’s segment triangulation, assuming the matches are IBD. Phased Family Matching does this automatically for you, where possible, based on who you have linked in your tree.

For matches that aren’t automatically bucketed, there’s another tool, the Matrix.

browser matrix.png

In situations where your matches aren’t “bucketed” either maternally or paternally, the Matrix tool allows you to select matches to determine whether your matches also match each other. It’s another way of clustering where you can select specific people to compare. Note that because they also match each other (blue square) does NOT mean it’s on the same segment(s) where they match you. Remember our Venn diagram.

browser matrix grid.png

  1. Just because you and your matches all match each other doesn’t mean that they are matching each other because of the same ancestor. In other words, your matches may match each other due to another or unknown ancestor. In our pedigree example, you can see that the three matches match each other in various ways.
browser pedigree match.png

click to enlarge

  • Match 1 and Match 2 match each other because they are related through the green Jones family, who is not related to me.
  • Match 2 and Match 3 don’t know why they match. They both match me, but not on the same segment they share with each other.
  • Match 1 and Match 3 match through the mustard Dodson line, but not on the same segment that matches me. If we all did match on the same segment, we would be triangulated, but we wouldn’t know why Match 3 was in this triangulation group.
  1. Looking at a downloaded segment file of your matches, available at all testing vendors who support segment information and a chromosome browser, you can’t determine without additional information whether your matches also match each other.

browser chr 15.png

Here’s a group of people, above, that we’ve been working with on chromosome 15.

My entire match-list shows many more matches on that segment of chromosome 15. Below are just a few.

browser chr 15 all

Looking at seven of these people in the chromosome browser, we can see visually that they all overlap on part of a segment on chromosome 15. It’s a lot easier to see the amount of overlap using a browser as opposed to the list. But you can only view 7 at a time in the browser, so the combination of both tools is quite useful. The downloaded spreadsheet shows you who to select to view for any particular segment.

browser chr 15 compare.png

The critical thing to remember is that some matches will be from tyour mother’s side and some from your father’s side.

Without additional information and advanced tools, there’s no way to tell the difference – unless they are bucketed using Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA or bracketed with a triangulation bracket at MyHeritage.

At MyHeritage, this assumes you know the shared ancestor of at least one person in the triangulation group which effectively assigns the match to the maternal or paternal side.

Looking at known relatives on either side, and seeing who they also match, is how to determine whether these people match paternally or maternally. In this example below, the blue people are bucketed paternally through Phased Family Matching, the pink maternally, and the white rows aren’t bucketed and therefore require additional evaluation.

browser chr 15 maternal paternal.png

Additional research shows that Jonathan is a maternal match, but Robert and Adam are identical by chance because they don’t match either of my parents on this segment. They might be valid matches on other segments, but not this one.

browser chr 15 compare maternal paternal.png

  1. Utilizing relatives who have tested is a huge benefit, and why we suggest that everyone test their closest upstream relatives (meaning not children or grandchildren.) Testing all siblings is recommended if both parents aren’t available to test, because every child received different parts of their parents’ DNA, so they will match different relatives.

After deleting segments under 7 cM, I combine the segment match download files of multiple family members (who agree to allow me to aggregate their matches into one file for analysis) so that I can create a master match file for a particular family group. Sorting by match name, I can identify people that several of my cousins’ match.

browser 4 groups.png

This example is from a spreadsheet where I’ve combined the results of about 10 collaborating cousins to determine if we can break through a collective brick wall. Sorted by match name, this table shows the first 4 common matches that appear on multiple cousin’s match lists. Remember that how these people match may have nothing to do with our brick wall – or it might.

Note that while the 4 matches, AB, AG, ag, and A. Wayne, appear in different cousins’ match lists, only one shares a common segment of DNA: AB triangulates with Buster and Iona. This is precisely WHY you need segment information, and a chromosome browser, to visualize these matches, and to confirm that they do share a common DNA segment descended from a specific ancestor.

These same people will probably appear in autocluster groups together as well. It’s worth noting, as illustrated in the download example, that it’s much more typical for “in common with” matches to match on different segments than on the same segment. 

  1. Keep in mind that you will match both your mother and father on every single chromosome for the entire length of each chromosome.

browser parent matching.png

Here’s my kit matching with my father, in blue, and mother, in red on chromosomes 1 and 2.

Given that I match both of my parents on the full chromosome, inheriting one copy of my chromosome from each parent, it’s impossible to tell by adding any person at random to the chromosome browser whether they match me maternally or paternally. Furthermore, many people aren’t fortunate enough to have parents available for testing.

To overcome that obstacle, you can compare to known or close relatives. In fact, your close relatives are genetic genealogy gold and serve as your match anchor. A match that matches you and your close relatives can be assigned either maternally or paternally. I wrote about that here.

browser parent plus buster.png

You can see that my cousin Buster matches me on chromosome 15, as do both of my parents, of course. At this point, I can’t tell from this information alone whether Buster matches on my mother’s or father’s side.

I can tell you that indeed, Buster does match my father on this same segment, but what if I don’t have the benefit of my father’s DNA test?

Genealogy tells me that Buster matches me on my paternal side, through Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy. Given that Buster is a relatively close family member, I already know how Buster and I are related and that our DNA matches. That knowledge will help me identify and place other relatives in my tree who match us both on the same segment of DNA.

To trigger Phased Family Matching, I placed Buster in the proper place in my tree at Family Tree DNA and linked his DNA. His Y DNA also matches the Estes males, so no adoptions or misattributed parental events have occurred in the direct Estes patrilineal line.

browser family tree dna tree.png

I can confirm this relationship by checking to see if Buster matches known relatives on my father’s side of the family, including my father using the “in common with” tool.

Buster matches my father as well as several other known family members on that side of the family on the same segments of DNA.

browser paternal bucket.png

Note that I have a total of 397 matches in common with Buster, 140 of which have been paternally bucketed, 4 of which are both (my children and grandchildren), and 7 of which are maternal.

Those maternal matches represent an issue. It’s possible that those people are either identical by chance or that we share both a maternal and paternal ancestor. All 7 are relatively low matches, with longest blocks from 9 to 14 cM.

Clearly, with a total of 397 shared matches with Buster, not everyone that I match in common with Buster is assigned to a bucket. In fact, 246 are not. I will need to take a look at this group of people and evaluate them individually, their genealogy, clusters, the matrix, and through the chromosome browser to confirm individual matching segments.

There is no single perfect tool.

Every Segment Tells a Unique History

I need to check each of the 14 segments that I match with Buster because each segment has its own inheritance path and may well track back to different ancestors.

browser buster segments.png

It’s also possible that we have unknown common ancestors due to either adoptions, NPEs, or incorrect genealogy, not in the direct Estes patrilineal line, but someplace in our trees.

browser buster paint.png

The best way to investigate the history and genesis of each segment is by painting matching segments at DNAPainter. My matching segments with Buster are shown painted at DNAPainter, above. I wrote about DNAPainter, here.

browser overlap.png

By expanding each segment to show overlapping segments with other matches that I’ve painted and viewing who we match, we can visually see which ancestors that segment descends from and through.

browser dnapainter walk back.png

These roughly 30 individuals all descend from either Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy (grey), Elizabeth’s parents (dark blue), or her grandparents (burgundy) on chromosome 15.

As more people match me (and Buster) on this segment, on my father’s side, perhaps we’ll push this segment back further in time to more distant ancestors. Eventually, we may well be able to break through our end-of-line brick wall using these same segments by looking for common upstream ancestors in our matches’ trees.

Arsenal of Tools

This combined arsenal of tools is incredibly exciting, but they all depend on having segment information available and understanding how to use and interpret segment and chromosome browser match information.

One of mine and Buster’s common segments tracks back to end-of-line James Moore, born about 1720, probably in Virginia, and another to Charles Hickerson born about 1724. It’s rewarding and exciting to be able to confirm these DNA segments to specific ancestors. These discoveries may lead to breaking through those brick walls eventually as more people match who share common ancestors with each other that aren’t in my tree.

This is exactly why we need and utilize segment information in a chromosome browser.

We can infer common ancestors from matches, but we can’t confirm segment descent without specific segment information and a chromosome browser. The best we can do, otherwise, is to presume that a preponderance of evidence and numerous matches equates to confirmation. True or not, we can’t push further back in time without knowing who else matches us on those same segments, and the identity of their common ancestors.

The more evidence we can amass for each ancestor and ancestral couple, the better, including:

  • Matches
  • Shared “In Common With” Matches, available at all vendors.
  • Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal or paternal sides based on shared, linked DNA from known relatives.
  • The Matrix, a Family Tree DNA tool to determine if matches also match each other. Tester can select who to compare.
  • ThruLines from Ancestry is based on a DNA match and shared ancestors in trees, but no specific segment information or chromosome browser. I wrote about ThruLines here and here.
  • Theories of Family Relativity, aka TOFR, at MyHeritage, based on shared DNA matches, shared ancestors in trees and trees constructed between matches from various genealogical records and sources. MyHeritage includes a chromosome browser and triangulation tool. I wrote about TOFR here and here.
  • Triangulation available through Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA and the integrated triangulation tool at MyHeritage. Triangulation between only 3 people at a time is available at 23andMe, although 23andMe does not support trees. See triangulation article links in the Resource Articles section below.
  • AutoClusters at MyHeritage (cluster functionality included), at Genetic Affairs (autoclusters plus tree reconstruction) and at DNAGedcom (including triangulation).
  • Genealogical information. Please upload your trees to every vendor site.
  • Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA confirmation, when available, through Family Tree DNA. I wrote about the 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, here and the importance of Y DNA confirmation here, and how not having that information can trip you up.
  • Compiled segment information at DNAPainter allows you to combine segment information from various vendors, paint your maternal and paternal chromosomes, and visually walk segments back in time. Article with DNAPainter instructions is found here.

Autosomal Tool Summary Table

In order to help you determine which tool you need to use, and when, I’ve compiled a summary table of the types of tools and when they are most advantageous. Of course, you’ll need to read and understand about each tool in the sections above. This table serves as a reminder checklist to be sure you’ve actually utilized each relevant tool where and how it’s appropriate.

Family Tree DNA MyHeritage Ancestry 23andMe GedMatch
DNA Matches Yes Yes Yes Yes, but only highest 2000 minus whoever does not opt -in Yes, limited matches for free, more with subscription (Tier 1)
Download DNA Segment Match Spreadsheet Yes Yes No, must use DNAGedcom for any download, and no chromosome segment information Yes Tier 1 required, can only download 1000 through visualization options
Segment Spreadsheet Benefits View all matches and sort by segment, target all people who match on specific segments for chromosome browser View all matches and sort by segment, target all people who match on specific segments for chromosome browser No segment information but matches might transfer elsewhere where segment information is available View up to 2000 matches if matches have opted in. If you have initiated contact with a match, they will not drop off match list. Can download highest 1000 matches, target people who match on specific segments
Spreadsheet Challenges Includes small segments, I delete less than 7cM segments before using No X chromosome included No spreadsheet and no segment information Maximum of 2000 matches, minus those not opted in Download limited to 1000 with Tier 1, download not available without subscription
Chromosome Segment Information Yes Yes No, only total and longest segment, no segment address Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes, requires $19 unlock if transfer Yes, requires $29 unlock or subscription if transfer No Yes Yes, some features require Tier 1 subscription
X Chromosome Included Yes No No Yes Yes, separate
Chromosome Browser Benefit Visual view of 7 or fewer matches Visual view of 7 or fewer matches, triangulation included if ALL people match on same portion of common segment No browser Visual view of 5 or fewer matches Unlimited view of matches, multiple options through comparison tools
Chromosome Browser Challenges Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal matches without additional info if don’t select bucketed matches Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal without additional info if don’t triangulate or you don’t know your common ancestor with at least one person in triangulation group No browser Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal without other information Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal without other information
Shared “In Common With” Matches Yes Yes Yes Yes, if everyone opts in Yes
Triangulation Yes, Phased Family Matching, plus chromosome browser Yes, included in chromosome browser if all people being compared match on that segment No, and no browser Yes, but only for 3 people if “Shared DNA” = Yes on Relatives in Common Yes, through multiple comparison tools
Ability to Know if Matches Match Each Other (also see autoclusters) Yes, through Matrix tool or if match on common bucketed segment through Family Matching Yes, through triangulation tool if all match on common segment No Yes, can compare any person to any other person on your match list Yes, through comparison tool selections
Autoclusters Can select up to 10 people for Matrix grid, also available for entire match list through Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom which work well Genetic Affairs clustering included free, DNAGedcom has difficulty due to timeouts No, but Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom work well No, but Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom work well Yes, Genetic Affairs included in Tier 1 for selected kits, DNAGedcom is in beta
Trees Can upload or create tree. Linking you and relatives who match to tree triggers Phased Family Matching Can upload or create tree. Link yourself and kits you manage assists Theories of Family Relativity Can upload or create tree. Link your DNA to your tree to generate ThruLines. Recent new feature allows linking of DNA matches to tree. No tree support but can provide a link to a tree elsewhere Upload your tree so your matches can view
Matching and Automated Tree Construction of DNA Matches who Share Common Ancestors with You Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with you Not available Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with you No tree support Not available
Matching and Automated Tree Construction for DNA Matches with Common Ancestors with Each Other, But Not With You Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with each other, but not with you Not available Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with each other, but not with you No tree support Not available
DNAPainter Segment Compilation and Painting Yes, bucketed Family Match file can be uploaded which benefits tester immensely. Will be able to paint ethnicity segments soon. Yes No segment info available, encourage your matches to upload elsewhere Yes, and can paint ethnicity segments from 23andMe, Yes, but only for individually copied matches or highest 1000.
Y DNA and Mitochondrial Matching Yes, both, includes multiple tools, deep testing and detailed matching No No No, base haplogroup only, no matching No, haplogroup only if field manually completed by tester when uploading autosomal DNA file

Transfer Your DNA

Transferring your DNA results to each vendor who supports segment information and accepts transfers is not only important, it’s also a great way to extend your testing collar. Every vendor has strengths along with people who are found there and in no other database.

Ancestry does not provide segment information nor a chromosome browser, nor accept uploads, but you have several options to transfer your DNA file for free to other vendors who offer tools.

23andMe does provide a chromosome browser but does not accept uploads. You can download your DNA file and transfer free to other vendors.

I wrote detailed upload/download and transfer instructions for each vendor, here.

Two vendors and one third party support transfers into their systems. The transfers include matching. Basic tools are free, but all vendors charge a minimal fee for unlocking advanced tools, which is significantly less expensive than retesting:

Third-party tools that work with your DNA results include:

All vendors provide different tools and have unique strengths. Be sure that your DNA is working as hard as possible for you by fishing in every pond and utilizing third party tools to their highest potential.

Resource Articles

Explanations and step by step explanations of what you will see and what to do, when you open your DNA results for the first time.

Original article about chromosomes having 2 sides and how they affect genetic genealogy.

This article explains what triangulation is for autosomal DNA.

Why some matches may not be valid, and how to tell the difference.

This article explains the difference between a match group, meaning a group of people who match you, and triangulation, where that group also matches each other. The concepts are sound, but this article relies heavily on spreadsheets, before autocluster tools were available.

Parental phasing means assigning segment matches to either your paternal or maternal side.

Updated, introductory article about triangulation, providing the foundation for a series of articles about how to utilize triangulation at each vendor (FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, GEDmatch, DNAPainter) that supports triangulation.

These articles step you through triangulation at each vendor.

DNAPainter facilitates painting maternally and paternally phased, bucketed matches from FamilyTreeDNA, a method of triangulation.

Compiled articles with instructions and ideas for using DNAPainter.

Autoclustering tool instructions.

How and why The Leeds Method works.

Step by step instructions for when and how to use FamilyTreeDNA’s chromosome browser.

Close family members are the key to verifying matches and identifying common ancestors.

This article details how much DNA specific relationships between people can expect to share.

Overview of transfer information and links to instruction articles for each vendor, below.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags, and other items

Shared cM Project 2020 Analysis, Comparison & Handy Reference Charts

Recently, Blaine Bettinger published V4 of the Shared cM Project, and along with that, Jonny Perl at DNAPainter updated the associated interactive tool as well, including histograms. I wrote about that, here.

The goal of the shared cM project was and remains to document how much DNA can be expected to be shared by various individuals at specific relationship levels. This information allows matches to at least minimally “position” themselves in a general location their trees or conversely, to eliminate specific potential relationships.

Shared cM Project match data is gathered by testers submitting their match information through the submission portal, here.

When the Shared cM Project V3 was released in September 2017, I combined information from various sources and provided an analysis of that data, including the changes from the V2 release in 2016.

I’ve done the same thing this year, adding the new data to the previous release’s table.

Compiled Comparison Table

I initially compiled this table for myself, then decided to update it and share with my readers. This chart allows me to view various perspectives on shared data and relationships and in essence has all the data I might need, including multiple versions, in one place. Feel free to copy and save the table.

In the comparison table below, the relationship rows with data from various sources is shown as follows:

  • White – Shared cM Project 2016
  • Peach – Shared cM Project 2017
  • Purple – Shared cM Project 2020
  • Green – DNA Detectives chart

I don’t know if DNA Detectives still uses the “green chart” or if they have moved to the interactive DNAPainter tool. I’ve retained the numbers for historical reference regardless.

Additionally, in some places, you’ll see references to the “degree of relationship,” as in “third degree relatives always match each other.” I’ve included a “Degree of Relationship” column to the far right, but I don’t come across those “relationship degree” references often anymore either. However, it’s here for reference if you need it.

23andMe still gives relationships in percentages, so I’ve included the expected shared percent of DNA for each relationship and the actual shared range from the DNA Detectives Green Chart.

One column shows the expected shared cM amount, assuming that 50% of the DNA from each ancestor is passed on in each generation. Clearly, we know that inheritance doesn’t happen that cleanly because recombination is a random event and children do NOT inherit exactly half of each ancestor’s DNA carried by their parents, but the average should be someplace close to this number.

shared cm table 2020

click to open separately, then use your magnifier to enlarge

The first thing I noticed about V4 is that there is a LOT more data which means that the results are likely more accurate. V4 increased by 32K data points, or 147%. Bravo to everyone who participated, to Blaine for the analysis and to Jonny for automating the results at DNAPainter.

Methods

Blaine provided his white paper, here, which includes “everything you need to know” about the project, and I strongly encourage you to read it. Not only does this document explain the process and methods, it’s educational in its own right.

On the first page, Blaine discusses issues. Any time you are crowd sourcing information, you’re going to encounter challenges and errors. Blaine did remove any entries that were clearly problematic, plus an additional 1% of all entries for each category – .5% from each end meaning the largest and smallest entries. This was done in an attempt to remove the results most likely to be erroneous.

Known issues include:

  • Data entry errors – I refer to these as “clerical mutations,” but they happen and there is no way, unless the error is egregious, to know what is a typo and what is real. Obviously, a parent sharing only a 10 cM segment with a child is not possible, but other data entry errors are well within the realm of possible.
  • Incorrect relationships – Misreported or misunderstood relationships will skew the numbers. Relationships may be believed to be one type, but are actually something else. For example, a half vs full sibling, or a half vs full aunt or uncle.
  • Misunderstood Relationships – People sometimes become confused as to the difference between “half” and “removed” from time to time. I wrote a helpful article titled Quick Tip – Calculating Cousin Relationships Easily.
  • Endogamy – Endogamy occurs when a population intermarries within itself, meaning that the same ancestral DNA is present in many members of the community. This genetic result is that you may share more DNA with those cousins than you would otherwise share with cousins at the same distance without endogamy.
  • Pedigree Collapse – Pedigree collapse occurs when you find the same ancestors multiple times in your tree. The closer to current those ancestors appear, the more DNA you will potentially carry from those repeat ancestors. The difference between endogamy and pedigree collapse is that endogamy is a community event and pedigree collapse has only to do with your own tree. You might just have both, too.
  • Company Reporting Differences – Different companies report DNA in different ways in addition to having different matching thresholds. For example, Family Tree DNA includes in your match total all DNA to 1 cM that you share with a match over the matching threshold. Conversely, Ancestry has a lower matching threshold, but often strips out some matching DNA using Timber. 23andMe counts fully identical segments twice and reports the X chromosome in their totals. MyHeritage does not report the X chromosome. There is no “right” or “wrong,” or standardization, simply different approaches. Hopefully, the variances will be removed or smoothed in the averages.
  • Distant Cousin Relationships – While this isn’t really an issue, per se, it’s important to understand what is being reported beyond 2nd cousin relationships in that the only relationships used to calculate these averages is the DNA from people who DO share DNA with their more distant cousins. In other words, if you do NOT match your 3rd cousin, then your “0” shared DNA is not included in the average. Only those who do match have their matching amounts included. This means that the average is only the average of people who match, not the average of all 3rd cousins.

Challenges aside, the Shared cM Project provides genealogists with a wonderful opportunity to use the combined data of tens of thousands of relationships to estimate and better understand the relationship range of our matches.

The Shared cM Project in combination with DNAPainter provides us with a wonderful tool.

Histograms

When analyzing the data, one of the first things I noticed was a very unusual entry for parent/child relationships.

We all know that children each inherit exactly half of their parent’s DNA. We expect to find an amount in the ballpark of 3400, give or take a bit for normal variances like read errors or reporting differences.

Shared cM parent child.png

click to enlarge

I did not expect to see a minimum shared cM amount for a child/parent relationship at 2376, fully 1024 cM below expected value of 3400 cM. Put bluntly, that’s simply not possible. You cannot live without one third of one of your parent’s DNA. If this data is actually accurate from someone’s account, please contact me because I want to actually see this phenomenon.

I reached out to Blaine, knowing this result is not actually possible, wondering how this would ever get through the quality control cycle at any vendor.

After some discussion, here’s Blaine’s reply:

If you look at the histogram, you’ll see that those are most likely outliers. One of my lessons for the ScP (Shared cM Project) lately is that people shouldn’t be using the data without the histograms.

People get frustrated with this, but I can’t edit data without a basis even if I think it doesn’t make sense. I have to let the data itself decide what data to remove. So I removed 1% from each relationship, the lowest 0.5% and the highest 0.5%. I could have removed more, but based on the histograms, [removing] more appeared to be removing too much valid data. As people submit more parent/child relationships these outliers/incorrect submissions will be removed. But thankfully using the histograms makes it clear.

Indeed, if you look on page 23 on Blaine’s white paper, you’ll see the following histogram of parent/child relationships submitted.

shared cm histogram.png

click to enlarge

Keep in mind that Blaine already removed any obvious errors, plus 1% of the total from either end of the spectrum. In this case, he utilized 2412 submissions, so he would have removed about 24 entries that were even further out on the data spectrum.

On the chart above, we can see that a total of about 14 are still really questionable. It’s not until we get to 3300 that these entries seem feasible. My speculation is that these people meant to type 3400 instead of 2400, and so forth.

shared cm parent grid.png

click to enlarge

The great news is that Jonny Perl at DNAPainter included the histograms so you can judge for yourself if you are in the weeds on the outlier scale by clicking on the relationship.

shared cm parent submissions.png

click to enlarge

Other relationships, like this niece/nephew relationship fit the expected bell shaped curve very nicely.

shared cm niece.png

Of course, this means that if you match your niece or nephew at 900 cM instead of the range shown above, that person is probably not your full niece or nephew – a revelation that may be difficult because of the implications for you, your parent and sibling. This would suggest that your sibling is a half sibling, not a full sibling.

Entering specific amounts of shared DNA and outputting probabilities of specific relationships is where the power of DNAPainter enters the picture. Let’s enter 900 cM and see what happens.

shared cm half niece.png

That 900 cM match is likely your half niece or nephew. Of course, this example illustrates perfectly why some relationships are entered incorrectly – especially if you don’t know that your niece or nephew is a half niece or nephew – because your sibling is a half-sibling instead of a full sibling. Some people, even after receiving results don’t realize there is a discrepancy, either because their data is on the boundary, with various relationships being possible, or because they don’t understand or internalize the genetic message.

shared cm full siblings.png

click to enlarge

This phenomenon probably explains the low minimum value for full siblings, because many of those full siblings aren’t. Let’s enter 1613 and see what DNAPainter says.

shared cm half sibling.png

You’ll notice that DNAPainter shows the 1613 cM relationship as a half-sibling.

shared cm sibling.png

And the histogram indeed shows that 1613 would be the outlier. Being larger that 1600, it would appear in the 1700 category.

shared cm half vs full.png

click to enlarge

Accurately discerning close relationships is often incredibly important to testers. In the histogram chart above, you can see that the blue and orange histograms plotted on the same chart show that there is only a very small amount of overlap between the two histograms. This suggests that some people, those in the overlap range, who believe they are full siblings are in reality half-siblings, and possibly, a few in the reverse situation as well.

What Else is Noteworthy?

First, some relationships cannot be differentiated or sorted out by using the cM data or histogram charts alone.

shared cm half vs aunt.png

click to enlarge

For example, you cannot tell the difference between half-siblings and an aunt/uncle relationship. In order to make that determination, you would need to either test or compare to additional people or use other clues such as genealogical research or geographic proximity.

Second, the ranges of many relationships are wider than they were before. Often, we see the lows being lower and the highs being higher as a result of more data.

shared cm low high.png

click to enlarge

For example, take a look at grandparents. The expected relationship is 1700 cM, the average is 1754 which is very close to the previous average numbers of 1765 and 1766. However, the minimum is now 984 and the new maximum is 2462.

Why might this be? Are ranges actually wider?

Blaine removed 1% each time, which means that in V3, 6 results would have been removed, 3 from each end, while 11 would be removed in V4. More data means that we are likely to see more outliers as entries increase, with the relationship ranges are increasingly likely to overlap on the minimum and maximum ends.

Third, it’s worth noting that several relationships share an expected amount of DNA that is equal, 12.5% which equals 850 cM, in this example.

shared cm 4 relationships.png

click to enlarge

These four relationships appear to be exactly the same, genetically. The only way to tell which one of these relationships is accurate for a given match pair, aside from age (sometimes) and opportunity, is to look at another known relationship. For example, how closely might the tester be related to a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or first cousin, or one of their other matches. Occasionally, an X chromosome match will be enlightening as well, given the unique inheritance path of the X chromosome.

Additional known relationships help narrow unknown relationships, as might Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing, if appropriate. You can read about who can test for the various kinds of tests, here.

Fourth, it’s been believed for several years that all 5th degree relatives, and above, match, and the V4 data confirms that.

shared cm 5th degree.png

click to enlarge

There are no zeroes in the column for minimum DNA shared, 4th column from right.

5th degree relatives include:

  • 2nd cousins
  • 1st cousins twice removed
  • Half first cousins once removed
  • Half great-aunt/uncle

Fifth, some of your more distant cousins won’t match you, beginning with 6th degree relationships.

shared cm disagree.png

click to enlarge

At the 6th degree level, the following relationships may share no DNA above the vendor matching threshold:

  • First cousins three times removed
  • Half first cousins twice removed
  • Half second cousins
  • Second cousins once removed

You’ll notice that the various reporting models and versions don’t always agree, with earlier versions of the Shared cM Project showing zeroes in the minimum amount of DNA shared.

Sixth, at the 7th degree level, some number of people in every relationship class don’t share DNA, as indicated by the zeros in the Shared cM Minimum column.

shared cm 7th degree.png

click to enlarge

The more generations back in time that you move, the fewer cousins can be expected to match.

shared cm isogg cousin match.png

This chart from the ISOGG Wiki Cousin statistics page shows the probability of matching a cousin at a specific level based on information provided by testing companies.

Quick Reference Chart Summary

In summary, V4 of the Shared cM Project confirms that all 2nd cousins can expect to match, but beyond that in your trees, cousins may or may not match. I suspect, without evidence, that the further back in time that people are related, the less likely that the proper “cousinship level” is reported. For example, it would be easier to confuse 7th and 8th cousins as compared to 1st and 2nd cousins. Some people also confuse 8th cousins with 8 generations back in your tree. It’s not equivalent.

shared cm eighth cousin.png

click to enlarge

It’s interesting to note that Degree 17 relatives, 8th cousins, 9 generations removed from each other (counting your parents as generation 1), still match in some cases. Note that some companies and people count you as generation 1, while others count your parents as generation 1.

The estimates of autosomal matching reaching 5 or 6 generations back in time, meaning descendants of common 4 times great-grandparents will sometimes match, is accurate as far as it goes, although 5-6 generations is certainly not a line in the sand.

It would be more accurate to state that:

  • 2nd cousins, people descended from common great-grandparents, 3 generations back in time will always match
  • 4th cousins, people descended from common 3 times great grandparents, 5 generations back in time, will match about half of the time
  • 8th cousins, people descended from 7 times great grandparents, 9 generations back in time still match a small percentage of the time
  • Cousins from more distant ancestors can possibly match, but it’s unlikely and may result from a more recent unknown ancestor

I created this summary chart, combining information from the ISOGG chart and the Shared cM Project as a handy quick reference. Enjoy!

shared cm quick reference.png

click to enlarge

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Triangulation in Action at DNAPainter

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

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

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

What is Triangulation?

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

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

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

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

Boundaries

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

FTDNA Triangulation boundaries

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

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

Triangulation Group 1

FTDNA triangulation 1

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

Triangulation Group 2

FTDNA triangulation 2

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

Triangulation Group 3 and 4

FTDNA triang 3

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

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

Triangulation Groups 5 and 6

FTDNA triang 5

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

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

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

Triangulation Group 7

FTDNA triang 7

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

Slight Variations

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

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

Shared or In-Common-With Matching

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

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

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

Imputation Can Affect Matching

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

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

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

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

Triangulation Solutions

All vendors except Ancestry offer some type of triangulation.

If you and your Ancestry matches have uploaded to GedMatch, Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage, you can triangulate with them there. Otherwise, you can’t triangulate Ancestry results, so encourage your Ancestry matches to transfer.

I wrote more specifically about triangulation here and here.

Transfer your results in order to obtain the maximum number of matches possible. Every vendor has people in their data base that haven’t tested elsewhere.

Transfers

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

Here’s how to transfer:

Now that we’ve reviewed triangulation at each vendor; FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch, let’s looking at utilizing triangulation at DNAPainter.

Triangulation at DNAPainter

Once you identify your ancestral segments with matches, or using triangulation, you can paint them on your maternal or paternal chromosomes utilizing DNAPainter.

The great aspect of DNAPainter is that you don’t have to triangulate in order to use DNAPainter. Just identifying matches as maternal or paternal allows you to visually see where on your maternal or paternal chromosomes your matches fall, in essence triangulating groups for you.

DNAPainter assigns colors to each ancestor and shows your match names, which I’ve disabled in this example for privacy. I’ve also optionally painted my ethnicity segments from 23andMe, which I discussed in this article.

Triangulation DNAPainter chr 22.png

Above, on chromosome 22, I’ve painted matches that I know descend from either my mother’s (pink) or father’s (blue) side. At DNAPainter, I DO have both a maternal and paternal chromosome, but they are only useful AFTER I figure out which side of my family a match comes from, or if I paint my Family Matching bucketed maternal and paternal matches in an upload file from Family Tree DNA. I wrote instructions for how to do that, here. The combination of Family Matching and DNAPainter is awesome!

Looking at the graphic above, I know that three separate people who match me descend from the bright pink ancestor on my maternal chromosome; Curtis Lore and his wife. I’ve assigned Curtis the bright pink color, and now every match that I paint assigned to Curtis and his wife is colored pink.

One person descends from Curtis’s parents, Anthony Lore and his wife Rachel Hill who I’ve assigned as green.

Until someone else matches me and descends either from Anthony Lore’s parents or Rachel Hill’s parents on this green segment, I won’t know which of those two ancestors, or both, provided (pieces of) that segment to me.

Anthony Lore and Rachel Hill are my great-great-grandparents and Curtis Lore is their son. Even if I only have 2 matches on this segment, one pink and one green, I would know that the green portion of my maternal chromosome 22 is attributed to Anthony and Rachel which means I inherited that green segment from my pink ancestor, Curtis Lore.

In order to determine the source of the two pink triangulated matches at far right, I’ll need to wait until someone from either Curtis’s line or his wife Nora Kirsch’s line match me on that same segment.

We build these groups of triangulated segments slowly, creating in essence a timeline on our chromosomes. It seems like it’s taking forever, but four generations distance with 2 separate triangulated segments really isn’t bad at all!

At DNAPainter, triangulation is as simple as painting your identified matches, either individually, one by one, or using the group import features. I would only recommend utilizing that feature at Family Tree DNA where their Family Matching software divides your matches into maternal and paternal, allowing DNAPainter to paint them on the correct chromosome. Otherwise, the segments are painted, but you can’t tell which side, maternal or paternal, they come from, so I don’t find painting all matches useful without some way to differentiate between maternal and paternal. After all, the point and power of a chromosome browser is to determine how each person is related, from which side, and from which ancestor.

In the article, DNAPainter Instructions and Resources, I compiled my various articles about the many ways to use DNAPainter, including an introduction.

Transfer

Be sure to test at or transfer to each vendor who provides segment information. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not, but you can transfer your ancestry results to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch, each of which has unique features that the others don’t have. Transferring and matching is free at each vendor.

I wrote transfer instructions for each vendor, here.

Then, paint and triangulate all in one step at DNAPainter.

Have fun!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Fun Genealogy Activities for Trying Times

My mother used to say that patience is a virtue.

patience stones.jpg

I’m afraid I’m not naturally a very virtuous person, at least not where patience is concerned. I don’t seem to take after my ancestor, Patience Brewster (1600-1634.) Perhaps those “patience” genes didn’t make it to my generation. Or maybe Patience wasn’t very patient herself.

Not only does patience not come naturally to me, it’s more difficult for everyone during stressful times. People are anxious, nerves are frazzled and tempers are short. Have you noticed that recently?

I guess you could say that what we’ve been enduring, in terms of both health issues and/or preparation for the Covid-19 virus along with the economic rollercoaster – not to mention the associated politics, is stress-inducing.

patience stress.png

Let’s see:

  • Worry about a slow-motion epidemic steamrollering the population as it wraps around the world – check.
  • Worry about family members – check.
  • Worry about TP, hand sanitizer, food, medication and other supplies – check.
  • Worry about jobs and income – check.
  • Worry about retirement accounts and medical bills – check.
  • Worry about long-term ramifications – check.

Nope, no stress here. What about you?

And yes, I’m intentionally understated, hoping to at least garner a smile.

Once you’ve stocked up on what you need and decided to stay home out of harm’s way – or more to the point, out of germ’s way – how can you feel more patient and less stressed?

I have some suggestions!

patience stress relief.png

The Feel Better Recipe

First, just accept that once you’ve done what you can do to help yourself, which includes minimizing exposure – there’s little else that you can do. I wrote about symptoms and precautions, here. The best thing you can do is wash, stay home and remain vigilant.

If someone you know or love doesn’t understand why we need to limit or eliminate social interaction at this point, here’s an article that explains how NOT to be stupid, as well as an article here about what flattening the curve means and why social distancing is our only prayer at this point to potentially avoid disaster. We are all in this together and we all have a powerful role to play – just by staying at home.

Educating and encouraging others to take precautionary steps might help, but worrying isn’t going to help anything because you can’t affect much beyond your own sphere of influence. As much as we wish we could affect the virus itself, or increase the testing supply, or influence good decision-making by others, we generally can’t.

What can we do, aside from sharing precautionary information and hoping that we are “heard?”

We can try to release the worry.

patience zen.png

If you sit there thinking about releasing the worry, which means you’re focused on worrying – that’s probably not going to be very productive.

Neither is drinking your entire supply of Jack Daniels in one sitting – not the least of which is because you may need that as hand sanitizer down the road a bit. Oh, wait, hand sanitizer is supposed to be more than 60% alcohol, which would be 120 proof. Never mind, go ahead and drink the Jack Daniels😊

What you really need is a distraction. Preferably a beneficial distraction that won’t give you a hangover. Not like my distraction this past month when the washing machine flooded through the floor into the basement including my office below. No, not that kind of distraction.

Some folks can “escape the world,” in a sense, by watching TV, but I’m not one of those people. I need to engage my mind with some sort of structure and I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something. If you’re a “TV” person, you’re probably watching TV now and not reading this anyway – so I’m guessing that’s not my readership audience, by and large.

Beneficial Distractions

Here are 20 wonderful ideas for fun and useful things to do – and guess what – they aren’t all genealogy related. Let’s start with something that will make you feel wonderful.

labyrinth

  1. Take a walk – outside, but not around other people. Your body and mind will thank you. Your body likes to move and exercise generates beneficial feel-good endorphins, reducing anxiety. Remember to take hand sanitizer with you and open doors by pushing with your arm or hip, if possible. Also, if you need to get fuel for your vehicle, take disposable gloves to handle the pump. Disinfectant, soap and water is your friend – maybe your best friend right now.

patience books.png

  1. Read a book. Escapism, pure and simple. I have a stack of books just waiting. If you don’t, you can download e-books to your Kindle or iPad or phone directly from Amazon without going anyplace or have books delivered directly to your door. Try Libby Copeland’s The Lost Family, which you can order here. It’s dynamite. (My brother and my story are featured, which I wrote about here.) If you’d like DNA education, you can order Diahan Southard’s brand new book, Your DNA Guide: Step by Step Plans, here. I haven’t read Diahan’s book, but I’m familiar with the quality of her work and don’t have any hesitation about recommending it. (Let me know what you think.) And hey, you don’t even need hand sanitizer for this!

patience check box.png

  1. Check your DNA matches at all the vendors where you’ve tested. If you don’t check daily, now would be a good time to catch up. Not just autosomal matches, but also Y and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA. Those tests often get overlooked. Maybe some of your matches have updated their trees or earliest known ancestor information.

patience tree.png

  1. Speaking of trees, update your trees on the three DNA/genealogy sites that support trees: FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and Ancestry. Keeping your tree up to date through at least the 8th generation (including their children) enables the companies to more easily connect the dots for their helpful tools like Phased Family Matching aka bucketing at FamilyTreeDNA, Theories of Family Relativity aka TOFR at MyHeritage and ThruLines at Ancestry.

patience connect.png

  1. Connect your known matches to their appropriate place on your tree at Family Tree DNA, as illustrated above. This provides fuel for Family Tree DNA to be able to designate your matches as maternal or paternal, even if your mother and father haven’t tested. In this case, I’ve connected my first cousin once removed who matches me in her proper location in my tree. People who match my cousin and I both are assigned to my maternal bucket.

patience y dna.pngpatience mtdna.png

  1. Order or upgrade a Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA test or a Family Finder autosomal test for you or a family member at Family Tree DNA. Upgrades, shown above, are easy if the tester has already taken at least one test, because DNA is banked at the lab for future orders. You don’t have to go anyplace to do this and DNA testing results and benefits last forever. Your DNA works for you 24x7x365.

patience join project.png

patience projects.png

  1. Join a free project at FamilyTreeDNA. Those can be surname projects, haplogroup projects, regional projects such as Acadian AmeriIndian and other interest topics like American Indian. You can search or browse for projects of interest and collaborate with others. Projects are managed by volunteer administrators who obviously have an interest in the project’s topic.

patience match.png

  1. At each of the vendors, find your highest autosomal match whom you cannot place as a relative. Work on their line via tree construction and then utilizing clustering using Genetic Affairs. I wrote about Genetic Affairs, an amazing tool, here, which you can try for free.

patience familysearch wiki.png

patience claiborne.png

  1. Check the FamilySearch WIKI for your genealogy locations by googling “Claiborne County, Tennessee FamilySearch wiki” where you substitute the location of where you are searching for “Claiborne County, Tennessee.” FamilySearch is free and the WIKI includes resources outside of FamilySearch itself, including paid and other free sites.

patience familysearch records.png

  1. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, create a FamilySearch account and create or upload a tree to FamilySearch. It will be connected to branches of existing trees to create one large worldwide tree. Yes, you’ll be frustrated in some cases because there are incorrect ancestors sometimes listed in the “big tree” – BUT – there are procedures in place to remediate that situation. The important aspect is that FamilySearch, which is free, provides hints and resources not available any other place for some ancestors. Not long ago, I found a detailed estate packet that I had no idea existed – for a female ancestor no less. You can search at FamilySearch for ancestors, genealogies, records and in other ways. New records become available often.  This will keep you occupied for days, I promise!

Patience Journal.png

  1. Begin a Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic journal. Think of your descendants 100 years in the future. Wouldn’t you like to know what your great-grandparents were doing during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic? Or even their siblings or neighbors, because that was likely similar to what your ancestors were doing as well. You don’t have to write much daily – just write. Not just facts, but how you feel as well. Are you afraid, concerned specifically about someone? What’s going on with you – in your mind? That’s the part of you that your descendants will long to know a century from now.

Quilt rose

  1. Create something with your hands. I made a quilt this week for an ailing friend, unrelated to this epidemic. No, I didn’t “have time” to do that, but I made time because this quilt is important, and I know they need the “get well’’” wishes and love that quilt will wrap them in. It always feels good to do something for someone else.

patience gardening.jpg

  1. Garden, or in my case, that equates to pulling weeds. Not only is weeding productive, you can work off frustration by thinking about someone or something that upsets you as you yank those weeds out by their roots. Of course, that means you’ll have to first decide what is, and is not, a weed😊. That could be the toughest part.

patience smart matches.png

  1. At MyHeritage, you can use Irish records for free this month, plus try a free subscription, here in order to access all the rest of the millions of records available at MyHeritage. Check for Smart Matches for ancestors, shown above, and confirm that they are accurate, meaning that the ancestor the other person has in their tree is the same person as you have in your tree – even if they aren’t exactly identical. You don’t need to import any of their information, and I would suggest that you don’t without reviewing every piece of information individually. Confirming Smart Matches helps MyHeritage build Theories of Family Relativity – not to mention you may discover additional information about your ancestors. While you’re checking Smart Matches, who ARE those other people with your grandmother in their tree. Are they relatives who might have information that you don’t? This is a good opportunity to reach out. And what are those 12 pending record matches? Inquiring minds want to know. Let’s check.
patience newspapers

Click to enlarge.

  1. Check either NewsPapers.com or the Newspaper collection at MyHeritage, or both, systematically, for each ancestor. You never know what juicy tidbits you might discover about your ancestors. Often, things “forgotten” by families are the informative morsels you’ll want to know and are hidden in those local news articles. These newsy community newspapers bring the life and times of our ancestors to light in ways nothing else can. Wait, what? My Brethren ancestor, Hiram Ferverda, pleaded guilty to something??? I’d better read this article!

patience interview.png

  1. Interview your relatives. Make a list of questions you’d like for them to answer about themselves and the most distant common ancestors that they knew, or knew about. You can conduct interviews without being physically together via the phone or Skype or Facetime. Document what was said for the future, in writing, and possibly by recording as well. After someone has passed, hearing their voice again is priceless.

Upload download

  1. Transfer your DNA file to vendors that accept transfers, getting more bang for your testing dollars by finding more matches. 23andMe and Ancestry don’t accept transfers.  At MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, transfers are free and so is matching, but advanced tools require a small unlock fee. I wrote a step-by-step series about how to transfer, here. Each article includes instructions for transferring from or to Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. Don’t forget to upload to GedMatch for additional tools.

patience brick wall.jpg

  1. Focus on your most irritating brick wall and review what records you do, and don’t have that could be relevant. That would include local, county, state and federal records, tax lists, census, church records and minutes and local histories if they exist. Have you called the local library and asked about vertical files or other researchers? What about state archive resources? Don’t forget activities like google searches. Have you utilized all possible DNA clues, including Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, if applicable? How about third-party tools like Genetic Affairs and DNAgedcom?

patience DNApainter.png

  1. Try DNAPainter, for free. Painting your chromosomes and walking those segments back in time to your ancestors from whom they descended is so much fun. Not to mention you can integrate ethnicity and now traits, too. I’ve written instructions for using using DNAPainter in a variety of ways, here.

patience webinars.png

  1. Expand your education by watching webinars at Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Many are free and a yearly subscription is very reasonable. Take a look, here.

patience bucket.png

  1. Spring cleaning your house or desk. Ewww – cleaning – the activity that is never done and begins undoing itself immediately after you’ve finished? Makes any of the above 20 activities sound wonderful by comparison, right? I agree, so pick one and let’s get started!

Let me know what you find. Write about your search activities and discoveries in your Pandemic journal too.

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

RootsTech 2020: It’s a Wrap

Before sharing photos and details about the last three days at RootsTech, I want to provide some general observations.

I expected the attendance to be down this year because of the concern about the Novel Corona Virus. There was a lot of hand-washing and sanitizer, but no hand-wringing.

I don’t think attendance was lagging at all. In fact, this show was larger, based on how my feet feel and general crowd observation than ever before. People appeared to be more engaged too.

According to RootsTech personnel, 4 major vendors pulled out the week before the show opened; 23andMe, LivingDNA, FindMyPast and a book vendor.

I doubt there’s much of a refund policy, so surely something happened in these cases. If you recall, LivingDNA and FindMyPast have a business relationship. 23andMe just laid off a number of people, but then again, so did Ancestry but you’d never know it based on the size of their booth and staffing here.

Family Search has really stepped up their game to modernize, capture stories, scan books and otherwise make genealogy interesting and attractive to everyone.

We got spoiled last year with the big DNA announcements at RootsTech, but nothing of that magnitude was announced this year. That’s not to say there weren’t vendor announcements, there were.

FamilyTreeDNA announced:

  • Their myOrigins Version 3.0 which is significantly updated by adding several worldwide populations, increasing the number from 24 to 90. I wrote about these features here.
  • Adding a myOrigins chromosome browser painted view. I am SOOO excited about this because it makes ethnicity actually useful for genealogy because we can compare specific ethnicity segments with genealogical matches. I can hardly wait.

RootsTech 2020 Sunny Paul

Sunny Morton with Family Tree Magazine interviewing Dr. Paul Maier, FamilyTreeDNA’s population geneticist. You can see the painted chromosome view on the screen behind Dr. Maier.

  • Providing, after initial release, a downloadable ethnicity estimate segment file.
  • Sponsorship of The Million Mito Project, a joint collaborative citizen science project to rewrite the mitochondrial tree of womankind includes team members Dr. Miguel Vilar, Lead Scientist of the National Geographic Genographic Project, Dr. Paul Maier, Population Geneticist at FamilyTreeDNA, Goran Runfeldt, Head of Research and Development at FamilyTreeDNA, and me, DNAeXplain, scientist, genetic genealogist, National Geographic Genographic Affiliate Researcher.

RootsTech 2020 Million Mito

I was honored to make The Million Mito Project announcement Saturday morning, but it was hard for me to contain my enthusiasm until Saturday. This initiative is super-exciting and I’ll be writing about the project, and how you can participate, as soon as I get home and recover just a bit.

  • Michael Sager, aka Mr. Big Y, announced additions to the Y Tree of Mankind in the Demo Theater, including a particularly impressive haplogroup D split.

Rootstech 2020 Sager

RootsTech 2020 Sager 2

RootsTech 2020 Sager hap d

In case anyone is counting, as of last week, the Y tree has 26,600+ named branches and over half a million detected (private variant) SNPs at FamilyTreeDNA waiting for additional testers to be placed on the tree. All I can say is WOW!!! In 2010, a decade ago, there were only 441 Y DNA branches on the entire Y tree. The Y tree has shot up from a twig to an evergreen. I think it’s actually a Sequoia and we just don’t know how large it’s going to grow to be.

RootsTech 2020 FTDNA booth

FamilyTreeDNA stepped up their game with a way-cool new booth that incorporated a lovely presentation area, greatly improved, which featured several guest presenters throughout the conference, including Judy Russell, below.

RootsTech 2020 Judy Russell

Yes, in case anyone is wondering, I DID ask permission to take Judy’s picture, AND to publish it in my article. Just sayin’😊

MyHeritage announced their new photo colorization, MyHeritage in Color, just before RootsTech. I wrote about it, here. At RootsTech MyHeritage had more announcements, including:

  • Enhancements coming soon to the photo colorization program. It was interesting to learn that the colorization project went live in less than 2 months from inception and resulted from an internal “hack-a-thon,” which in the technology industry is a fun think-tank sort of marathon endeavor where ideas flow freely in a competitive environment. Today, over a million photos have been colorized. People LOVE this feature.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage booth

One of their booth giveaways was a magnet – of your colorized ancestor’s photo. Conference attendees emailed the photo to a special email address and came by the booth a few minutes later to retrieve their photo magnet.

The photos on the board in front, above, are the colorized photos waiting for their family to pick them up. How fun!!!

  • Fan View for family trees which isn’t just a chart, but dynamic in that you can click on any person and they become the “center.” You can also add to your tree from this view.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage fan tree

One of the views is a colorful fan. If you sign on to your MyHeritage account, you’ll be asked if you’d like to see the new fan view. You can read about the new tree features on their blog, here.

  • The release of a MASSIVE 100-year US city directory digitization project that’s more than just imaging and indexing. If you’ve every used city directories, the unique abbreviations in each one will drive you batty. MyHeritage has solved that problem by providing the images, plus the “translation.” They’ve also used artificial intelligence to understand how to search further, incorporating things like spouse, address and more to provide you with not just one year or directory, but linear information that might allow you to infer the death of a spouse, for example. You can read their blog article, here.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage city directories

The MyHeritage booth incorporated a very cool feature this year about the Mayflower. Truthfully, I was quite surprised, because the Mayflower is a US thing. MyHeritage is working with folks in Leiden, Netherlands, where some Mayflower family members remained while others continued to what would become Plymouth Colony to prove the connection.

Rootstech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual

MyHeritage constructed a 3D area where you can sail with the Pilgrims.

I didn’t realize at first, but the chair swivels and as you move, your view in the 3D “goggles” changes to the direction on board the ship where you are looking.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual 2

The voyage in 1620 was utterly miserable – very rough with a great deal of illness. They did a good job of portraying that, but not “too much” if you get my drift. What you do feel is the utter smallness of the ship in the immense angry ocean.

I wonder how many descendants “sailed with their ancestors” on the virtual Mayflower. Do you have Mayflower ancestors? Mine are William Brewster, his wife, Mary and daughter, Patience along with Stephen Hopkins and his son, Gyles.

Ancestry’s only announcements were:

  • That they are “making things better” by listening and implementing improvements in the DNA area. I’ll forego any commentary because it would be based on their failure to listen and act (for years) about the absence of segment information and a chromosome browser. You’ve guessed it, that’s not mentioned.
  • That the WWII young man Draft Registration cards are now complete and online. Truthfully, I had no idea that the collection I was using online wasn’t complete, which I actually find very upsetting. Ancestry, assuming you actually are listening, how about warning people when they are using a partially complete collection, meaning what portion is and is not complete.
  • Listing content record additions planned for 2020 including the NYC birth index and other state and international records, some of which promise to be very useful. I wonder which states the statewide digitization projects pertain to and what that means, exactly.

OK, now we’re done with vendor announcements, so let’s just take a walk around the expo hall and see who and what we find. We might run into some people you know!

Walking Around

I sandwiched my walking around in-between my sessions. Not only did I present two RootsTech classes, but hosted the ToolMaker Meetup, attended two dinners, two lunches, announced The Million Mito Project, did two booth talks, one for FamilyTreeDNA and one for WikiTree, and I think something else I’ve forgotten about. Plus, all the planned and chance meetings which were absolutely wonderful.

Oh yes, and I attended a couple of sessions myself as an attendee and a few in the vendors booths too.

The great thing, or at least I think its great, is that most of the major vendors also have booth educational learning opportunities with presentation areas at their booths. Unfortunately, there is no centralized area where you can find out which booths have sessions, on what topics, when. Ditto for the Demo Theater.

Of course, that means booth presentations are also competing for your time with the regular sessions – so sometimes it’s really difficult to decide. It’s sort of like you’re awash in education for 4 days and you just can’t absorb enough. By Saturday, you’re physically and emotionally exhausted and you can’t absorb another iota, nor can you walk another step. But then you see someone you know and the pain in your feet is momentarily forgotten.

Please note that there were lots of other people that I saw and we literally passed, hugged and waved, or we were so engrossed in conversation that I didn’t realize until later that I had failed to take the photo. So apologies to all of those people.

RootsTech 2020 Amy Mags

I gave a presentation in the WikiTree booth about how to incorporate WikiTree into your 52 Ancestor stories, both as a research tool and as a way to bait the hook for cousins. Not to mention seeing if someone has already tested for Y or mtDNA, or candidates to do so.

That’s Amy Johnson Crow who started the 52 Ancestors challenge years ago, on the left and Mags Gaulden who writes at Grandma’s Genes and is a WikiTree volunteer (not to mention MitoY DNA.) Amy couldn’t stay for the presentation, so of course, I picked on her in her absence! I suspect her ears were burning. All in a good way of course.

RootsTech 2020 Kevin Borland

Kevin Borland of Borland Genetics, swabbing at the Family Tree DNA  booth, I hope for The Million Mito Project.

RootsTech 2020 Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage at the blogger dinner. How about that advertising on his laptop lid. I need to do that with DNAexplain. Wonder where I can get one of those decals custom made.

RootsTech 2020 Hasani

Hasani Carter who I know from Facebook and who I discovered volunteering in a booth at RootsTech. I love to see younger people getting involved and to meet people in person. Love your dreads, Hasani.

RootsTech 2020 Randy Seaver

Cousin Randy Seaver who writes at Genea-Musings, daily, and has for YEARS. Believe it or not, he has published more than 13,000 articles, according to the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Dear Myrtle at RootsTech. What an incredible legacy.

If you don’t already subscribe (it’s free), you’re missing out. By the way, I discovered Randy was my cousin when I read one of his 52 Ancestors articles, recognizing that his ancestor and my ancestor had the same surname in the same place. He knew the connection. Those articles really work. Thanks Randy – it was so good to see you again.

RootsTech 2020 univ dundee

The University of Dundee booth, with Sylvia Valentine and Pat Whatley, was really fun.  As part of their history and genealogy curriculum (you an earn certificates, bachelors and masters degrees,) they teach paleography, which, in case you are unaware is the official word for deciphering “ancient handwriting.” You didn’t know that’s what you’d been doing did you?

RootsTech 2020 paleography

They provided ink and quills for people to try their own hand.

RootsTech 2020 Paleography 2

The end of the feather quill pen is uneven and scratchy. Pieces separate and splatter ink. You can’t “write,” you draw the letters very, very carefully and slowly. I must say, my “signature” is more legible than normal.

Rootstech 2020 scribe

I now have a lot more empathy for those scribes. It’s probably a good thing that early records are no worse than they are.

RootsTech 2020 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet at the MyHeritage luncheon. I have attended other vendor sponsored (but paid by the attendee) lunches at RootsTech in the past and found them disappointing, especially for the cost. Now MyHeritage is the only sponsored lunch that I attend and I always enjoy it immensely. Yes, I arrived early and sat dead center in front.

I also have a confession to make – I was so very excited about being contacted by Mary Tan Hai’s son that I was finishing colorizing the photos part of the time while Gilad was talking. (I did warn him so he didn’t think I was being rude.) But it’s HIS fault because he made these doggone photos so wonderful – and let’s just say time was short to get the photos to Mary’s family. You can read this amazing story, here.

Gilad always shares part of his own personal family story, and this time was no different. He shared that his mother is turning 85 soon and that the family, meaning her children and grandchildren all teamed up to make her a lovely video. Trust me, it was and made us all smile.

I’m so grateful for a genealogy company run by a genealogist. Speaking of that, Gilad’s mother was a MyHeritage board member in the beginning. That beginning also included a story about how the MyHeritage name came to be, and how Gilad managed to purchase the domain for an unwilling seller. Once again, by proxy, his mother entered into the picture. If you have the opportunity to hear Gilad speak – do – you won’t be disappointed. You’ll hear him speak for sure if you attend MyHeritage LIVE in Tel Aviv this October.

RootsTech 2020 Paul Woodbury

Paul Woodbury who works for Legacy Tree Genealogists, has a degree in both family history and genetics from BYU. He’s standing with Scott Fisher (left). Paul’s an excellent researcher and the only way you can put him to work on your brick wall is through Legacy Tree Genealogists. If you contact them for a quote, tell them I referred you for a $50 discount.

Rootstech 2020 Toolmaker meetup

From The ToolMaker’s Meetup, at far left, Jonny Pearl of DNAPainter, behind me, Dana Leeds who created The Leeds Method, and at right, Rob Warthen, the man behind DNAGedcom. Thanks to Michelle Patient for the photo.

RootsTech 2020 Toolmaker meetup 2

The meetup was well received and afforded people an opportunity to meet and greet, ask questions and provide input.

RootsTech 2020 Campbell baby

In fact, we’re working on recruiting the next generation. I have to say, my “grandma” kicked in and I desperately wanted to hold this beautiful baby girl. What a lovely family. Of course, when I noticed the family name is Campbell, we had a discussion of a different nature, especially since my cousin, Kevin Campbell and I were getting ready to have lunch. We will soon find out if Heidi’s husband is our relative, which makes her and her daughter our relative too!

Rootstech 2020 Kevin Campbell

It was so much fun to sit and develop a research plan with Kevin Campbell. We’re related, somehow on the Campbell line – we just have to sort out when and where.

Bless Your Heart

The photo I cherish most from RootsTech 2020 is the one that’s not pictured here.

A very special gentleman told me, when I asked if we could take a picture together, after he paid me the lovely compliment of saying that my session was the best one he had ever attended, that he doesn’t “do pictures.” Not in years, literally. I thought he was kidding at first, but he was deadly seriously.

The next day, I saw him again a couple of times and we shares stories. Our lives are very different, yet they still intersected in amazing ways. I feel like I’ve known him forever.

Then on the last day, he attended my Million Mito presentation and afterwards came up and told me a new story. How he had changed his mind, and what prompted the change of heart. Now we have a wonderful, lovely photo together which I will cherish all the more because I know how special it is – and how wonderful that makes me feel.

To my friend – you know who you are – thank you! You have blessed my heart. Bless yours😊

The Show Floor

I think I actually got all the way through the show floor, but I’m not positive. In some cases, the “rows” weren’t straight or had dead ends due to large booths, and it was possible to miss an area. I didn’t get to every booth I wanted to. Some were busy, some I simply forgot to take photos.

RootsTech 2020 everything

You can literally find almost anything.

I focused on booths related to genetic genealogy, but not exclusively.

RootsTech 2020 DNAPainter

Jonny Perl and the DNAPainter booth. I’ve written lots of articles, here, about using DNAPainter, one of my very favorite tools.

RootsTech 2020 Rootstech store

The RootsTech store was doing a brisk business.

RootsTech 2020 DNA basics

The RootsTech show area itself had a DNA Basics area which I thought was brilliant in its simplicity.

Inheritance is show by jellybeans.

Rootstech 2020 dNA beans

Put a cup under the outlet and pull the lever.

Rootstech 2020 beans in cup

How many of which color you receive in your cup is random, although you get exactly the same number from the maternal and paternal side.

Now you know I wanted to count these, don’t you?

Rootstech 2020 JellyGenes

And they are of course, called, “JellyGenes.” Those must be deletions still laying in the bin.

RootsTech 2020 Wikitree

WikiTree booth and volunteers. I love WikiTree – it’s “one great tree” is not perfect but these are the people, along with countless others that inject the “quality” into the process.

RootsTech 2020 MitoYDNA

MitoYDNA with Kevin Borland standing in front of the sign.

RootsTech 2020 Crossley

This amazing artist whose name I didn’t get. I was just so struck by her work, painting her ancestor from the picture on her phone.

RootsTech 2020 painter

I wish I was this talented. I would love to have some of my ancestor’s painted. Hmm….

Rootstech 2020 GeneaCreations

Jeanette at GeneaCreations makes double helix zipper pulls, along with lots of other DNA bling, and things not so blingy for men. These are just SOOO cool.

RootsTech 2020 zipper pull

I particularly love my “What’s Your Haplogroup” t-shirt and my own haplogroup t-shirt. Yes, she does custom work. What’s your haplogroup? You can see those goodies here.

Around the corner, I found CelebrateDNA.

RootsTech 2020 Celebrate DNA

Is that a Viking wearing a DNA t-shirt?

Rootstech 2020 day of the dead

CelebrateDNA has some very cool “Day of the Dead” bags, t-shirts and mouse pads, in addition to their other DNA t-shirts. I bought an “Every day is Day of the Dead for Genealogists” mouse pad which will live permanently in my technology travel bag. You can see their other goodies, here.

RootsTech 2020 skeleton

Hey, I think I found a relative. Can we DNA test to see?

Rootstech 2020 Mayflower replica

The Mayflower Society had a fun booth with a replica model ship.

RootsTech 2020 Mayflower passengers

Along with the list of passengers perched on a barrel of the type that likely held food or water for the Pilgrims.

RootsTech 2020 Webinar Marathon

Legacy Family Tree Webinars is going to have a 24-hour Genealogy Webinar Marathon March 12-13. So, who is going to stay up for this?Iit’s free and just take a look at the speakers, and topics, here. I’m guessing lots of people will take advantage of this opportunity. You can also subscribe for more webinars, here.

On March 4th, I’m presenting a FREE webinar, “3 Genealogy DNA Case Studies and How I Solved Them,” so sign up and join in!

Rootstech 2020 street art

Food at RootsTech falls into two categories. Anything purchased in the convention center meaning something to stave off starvation, and some restaurant with friends – the emphasis being on friends.

A small group went for pizza one evening when we were too exhausted to do anything else. Outside I found this interesting street art – and inside Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana I had the best Margarita Pizza I think I’ve ever had.

Then, as if I wasn’t already stuffed to the gills, attached through a doorway in the wall is Capo Gelateria Italiana, creators of artisan gelato. I’ve died and gone to heaven. Seriously, it’s a good thing I don’t live here.

Rootstech 2020 gelatto

Who says you can’t eat ice cold gelato in the dead of winter, outside waiting for the Uber, even if your insides are literally shivering and shaking!! It was that good.

This absolutely MUST BE a RootsTech tradition.

Rootstech 2020 ribbons

That’s it for RootsTech 2020. Hope you’ve enjoyed coming along on this virtual journey and that you’ve found something interesting, perhaps a new hint or tool to utilize.

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Thank you so much.

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  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons

If you’re involved in genetic genealogy, you’ve probably noticed the recent announcements by both 23andMe and Ancestry relative to workforce layoffs as a result of declining sales.

Layoffs

In January, 23andMe announced that it was laying off 100 people which equated to 14% of its staff.

Following suit, Ancestry this week announced that they are laying off 100 people, 6% of their work force. They discuss their way forward, here.

One shift of this type can be a blip, but two tends to attract attention because it *could* indicate a trend. Accordingly, several articles have been written about possible reasons why this might be occurring. You can read what TechCrunch says here, Business Insider here, and The Verge, here.

Depending on who you talk to and that person’s perspective, the downturn is being attributed to:

  • Market Saturation
  • No Repeat Sales
  • Privacy Concerns
  • FAD Over

Ok, So What’s Happening?

Between Ancestry and 23andMe alone, more than 26 million DNA tests have been sold, without counting the original DNA testing company, FamilyTreeDNA along with MyHeritage who probably have another 4 or 5 million between them.

Let’s say that’s a total of 30 million people in DNA databases that offer matching. The total population of the US is estimated to be about 329 million, including children, which means that one person in 10 or 11 people in the US has now tested. Of course, DNA testing reaches worldwide, but it’s an interesting comparison indicating how widespread DNA testing has become overall.

This slowing of new sales shouldn’t really surprise anyone. In July 2019, Illumina, the chip maker who supplies equipment and supplies to the majority of the consumer DNA testing industry said that the market was softening after a drop in their 2019 second quarter revenue.

Also last year, Ancestry and MyHeritage both announced health products, a move which would potentially generate a repeat sale from someone who has already tested their DNA for genealogy purposes. I suspected at the time this might be either a pre-emptive strike, or in response to slowed sales.

In November 2019, Family Tree DNA announced an extensive high-end health test through Tovana which tests the entire Exome, the portion of our DNA useful for medical and health analysis.

In a sense, this health focus too is trendy, but moves away from genealogy into an untapped area.

23andMe who, according to their website, has obtained $791 million in venture capital or equity funding has always been focused on medical research. In July of 2018 GlaxoSmithKline infused $300 million into 23andMe in exchange for access to DNA results of their 5 million customers who have opted-in to medical research, according to Genengnews. If you divide the 300 million investment by 5 million opted-in customers, 23andMe received $60 per DNA kit.

That 5 million number is low though, based on other statements by 23andMe which suggests they have 10 million total customers, 80% of which opt-in for medical research. That would be a total of 8 million DNA results available to investors.

Divide $791 million by 8 million kits and 23andMe, over the years, has received roughly $99 for each customer who has opted in to research.

We know who Ancestry has partnered with for research, but not how much Ancestry has received.

There’s very big money, huge money, in collaborating with Big Pharma and others. Given the revenue potential, it’s amazing that the other two vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, haven’t followed suit, but they haven’t.

Additionally, in January, 23andMe sold the rights to a new drug it developed in-house as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases for a reported (but unconfirmed by 23andMe) $5 million.

It’s ironic that two companies who just announced layoffs are the two who have partnered to sell access to their opted-in customers’ DNA results.

My Thoughts

I’ve been asked several times about my thoughts on this shift within the industry. I have refrained from saying much, because I think there has been way too much “hair on fire” clickbait reporting that is fanning the flames of fear, not only in the customer base, but in general.

I am sharing my thoughts, and while they are not entirely positive, in that there is clearly room for improvement, I want to emphasize that I am very upbeat about this industry as a whole, and this article ends very positively with suggestions for exactly that – so please read through.

Regardless of why, fewer new people are testing which of course results in fewer sales, and fewer new matches for us.

My suspicion is that each of the 4 reasons given above is accurate to some extent, and the cumulative effect plus a couple of other factors is the reason we’re seeing the downturn.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Market Saturation

Indeed, we’ve come a very long way from the time when DNA was a verboten topic on the old RootsWeb mailing lists and boards.

Early DNA adopters back then were accused of “cheating,” and worse. Our posts were deleted immediately. How times have changed!

As the technology matured, 23andMe began offering autosomal testing accompanied by cousin matching.

Ancestry initially stepped into the market with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, but ultimately destroyed that database which included Y and mitochondrial DNA results from Relative Genetics, a company they had previously acquired. People in those databases, as well as who had irreplaceable samples in Sorenson, which Ancestry also purchased and subsequently took offline permanently have never forgotten.

Those genealogists have probably since tested at Ancestry, but they may be more inclined to test the rest of their family at places like Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage who have chromosome browsers and tools that support more serious researchers.

I think a contributing factor is that fewer “serious genealogists” are coming up in the ranks. The perception that all you need to do is enter a couple of generations and click on a few leaves, and you’re “done” misleads people as to the complexity and work involved in genealogical research. Not to mention how many of those hints are inaccurate and require analysis.

Having said that, I view each one of these people who are encouraged for the first time by an ad, even if it is misleading in its simplicity, as a potential candidate. We were all baby genealogists once, and some of us stayed for reasons known only to us. Maybe we have the genealogy gene😊

But yes, I would agree that the majority, by far, of serious genealogists have already tested someplace. What they have not done universally is transferred from 23andMe and Ancestry to the other companies that can help them, such as MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch. If they had, the customer numbers at those companies would be higher. We all need to fish in every pond.

Advertising and Ethnicity

The DNA ads over the last few years have focused almost exclusively on ethnicity – the least reliable aspect of genetic genealogy – but also the “easiest” to understand if a customer takes their ethnicity percentages at face value. And of course, every consumer that purchases a test as a result of one of these ads does exactly that – spits or swabs, mails and opens their results to see what they “are” – full of excited anticipation.

Many people have absolutely no idea there’s more, like cousin matching – and many probably wouldn’t care.

The buying public who purchases due to these ads are clearly not early adopters, and most likely are not genealogists. One can hope that at least a few of them get hooked as a result, or at least enter a minimal tree.

Unfortunately, of the two companies experiencing layoffs, only Ancestry supports trees. Genealogy revolves around trees, pure and simple.

23andMe has literally had years to do so and has refused to natively support trees. Their FamilySearch link is not the same as supporting trees and tree matching. Their attempt at creating a genetic tree is laudable and has potential, but it’s not something that can be translated into a genealogical benefit for most people. I’m guessing that there aren’t any genealogists working for 23andMe, or they aren’t “heard” amid the vervre surrounding medical research.

All told, I’m not surprised that the two companies who are experiencing the layoffs are the two companies whose ads we saw most often focused on ethnicity, especially Ancestry. Who can forget the infamous kilt/leiderhosen ad that Ancestry ran? I still cringe.

Many people who test for ethnicity never sign on again – especially if they are unhappy with the results.

Ancestry and 23andMe spent a lot on ad campaigns, ramped up for the resulting sales, but now the ads are less effective, so not being run as much or at all. Sales are down. Who’s to say which came first, the chicken (fewer ads) or the egg (lower sales.)

This leads us to the next topic, add on sales.

No Repeat Sales

DNA testing, unless you have something else to offer customers is being positioned as a “one and done” sale, meaning that it’s a single purchase with no potential for additional revenue. While that’s offered as a reason for the downturn, it’s not exactly true for DNA test sales.

Ancestry clearly encourages customers to subscribe to their records database by withholding access to some DNA features without a subscription. For Ancestry, DNA is the bait for a yearly repeat sale of a subscription. Genealogists subscribe, of course, but people who aren’t genealogists don’t see the benefit.

Ancestry does not allow transfers into their database, which would provide for additional revenue opportunity. I suspect the reason is twofold. First, they want the direct testing revenue, but perhaps more importantly, in order to sell their customer’s DNA who have agreed to participate in research, or partner with research firms, those customers need to have tested on Ancestry’s custom chip. This holds true for 23andMe as well.

Through the 23andMe financial information in the earlier section, it’s clear that while the consumer only pays a one time fee to test, multiple research companies will pay over and over for access to that compiled consumer information.

Ancestry and 23andMe have the product, your opted-in DNA test that you paid for, and they can sell it over and over again. Hopefully, this revenue stream helps to fund development of genetic genealogical tools.

MyHeritage also provides access to advanced DNA tools by selling a subscription to their records database after a free trial. MyHeritage has integrated their DNA testing with genealogical records to provide their advanced Theories of Family Relativity tool, a huge boon to genealogists.

While Family Tree DNA doesn’t have a genealogical records database like Ancestry and MyHeritage, they provide Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, in addition to the autosomal Family Finder test. If more people tested Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, more genealogical walls would fall due to the unique inheritance path and the fact that neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with DNA from the other parent.

Generally, only genealogists know about and are going to order Y DNA and mtDNA tests, or sponsor others to take them to learn more about their ancestral lines. These tests don’t provide yearly revenue like an ongoing subscription, but at least the fact that Family Tree DNA offers three different tests does provide the potential for at least some additional sales.

Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA encourage uploads, and neither sell, lease or share your DNA for medical testing. You can find upload instructions, here.

In summary of this section, all of the DNA testing companies do have some sort of additional (potential) revenue stream from DNA testing, so it’s not exactly “one and done.”

Health Testing Products

As for health testing, 23andMe has always offered some level of health information for their customers. Health and research has always been their primary focus. Health and genealogy was originally bundled into one test. Today, DNA ancestry tests with the health option at 23andMe cost more than a genealogy-only test and are two separate products.

MyHeritage also offers a genealogy only DNA test and a genealogy plus health DNA test.

In 2019, both Ancestry and MyHeritage added health testing to their menu as upgrades for existing customers.

In November 2019, FamilyTreeDNA announced an alliance with Tovana for their customers to order a full exome grade medical test and accompanying report. I recently received mine and am still reviewing the results – they are extensive.

It’s clear that all four companies see at least some level of consumer interest in health and traits as a lucrative next step.

Medical Research and DNA Sales

Both Ancestry and 23andMe are pursuing and have invested in relationships with research institutions or Big Pharma. I have concerns with how this is handled. You may not.

I’m supportive of medical research, but I’m concerned that most people have no idea of the magnitude and scope of the contracts between Ancestry and 23andMe with Big Pharma and others, in part, because the details are not public. Customers may also not be aware of exactly what they are opting in to, what it means or where their DNA/DNA results are going.

As a consumer, I want to know where my DNA is, who is using it, and for what purpose. I don’t want my DNA to wind up being used for a nefarious purpose or something I don’t approve of. Think Uighurs in China by way of example. BGI Genetics, headquartered in China but with an Americas division and facilities in Silicon Valley has been a major research institute for years. I want to know what my DNA is being used for, and by whom. The fact that the companies won’t provide their customers with that information makes me makes me immediately wonder why not.

I would like to be able to opt-in for specific studies, not blindly for every use that is profitable to the company involved, all without my knowledge. No blank checks. For example, I opted out of 23andMe research when they patented the technology for designer babies.

Furthermore, I feel that if someone is going to profit from my DNA, it should be me since I paid for the sequencing. At minimum, a person whose DNA is used in these studies should receive some guarantee that they will be provided with any drug in which their DNA is used for development, in particular if their insurance doesn’t pay and they cannot afford the drug.

Drug prices have risen exponentially in the US recently, with many people no longer able to afford their medications. For example, the price of insulin has tripled over the last decade, causing people to ration or cut back on their insulin, if not go without altogether. It would be the greatest of ironies if the very people whose DNA was sold and used to create a drug had no access to it.

Of course, Ancestry and 23andMe are not required to inform consumers of which studies their DNA or DNA results are used for, so we don’t know. Always read all of the terms and conditions, and all links when authorizing anything.

Both companies indicate that your DNA results are anonymized before being shared, but we now know that’s not really possible anymore, because it’s relatively easy to re-identify someone. This is exactly how adoptees identify their biological parents through genetic matches. Dr. Yaniv Erlich reported in the journal Science November 2018 that more than 60% of Europeans could be reidentified through a genealogy database of only 1.28 million individuals.

I think greater transparency and a change in policy favoring the consumer would go a long way to instilling more confidence in the outside research relationships that both Ancestry and 23andMe pursue and maintain. It would probably increase their participation level as well if people could select the research initiatives to which they want to contribute their DNA.

Privacy Concerns

The news has been full of articles about genetic privacy, especially in the months since the Golden State Killer case was solved. That was only April 2018, but it seems like eons ago.

Unfortunately, much of what has been widely reported is inaccurate. For example, no company has ever thrown the data base open for the FBI or anyone to rummage through like a closet full of clothes. However, headlines and commentary like that attract outrage and hundreds of thousands of clicks. In the news and media industry, “it’s all about eyeballs.”

In one case, an article I interviewed for extensively in an educational capacity was written accurately, but the headline was awful. The journalist in question replied that the editors write the headlines, not the reporters.

One instance of this type of issue would be pretty insignificant, but the news in this vein hasn’t abated, always simmering just below the surface waiting for something to fan the flames. Outrage sells.

For the most part, those within the genealogy community at least attempt to sort out what is accurate reporting and what is not, but those people are the ones who have already tested.

People outside the genealogy community just know that they’ve now seen repeated headlines reporting that their genetic privacy either has been, could be or might be breached, and they are suspicious and leery. I would be too. They have no idea what that actually means, what is actually occurring, where, or that they are probably far more at risk on social media sites.

These people are not genealogists, and now they look at ads and think to themselves, “yes, I’d like to do that, but…”

And they never go any further.

People are frightened and simply disconnect from the topic – without testing.

If, as a consumer, you see several articles or posts saying that <fill in car model> is really bad, when you consider a purchase, even if you initially like that model, you’ll remember all of those negative messages. You may never realize that the source was the competition which would cause you to interpret those negative comments in a completely different light.

I think that some of the well-intentioned statements made by companies to reassure their existing and potential customers have actually done more harm than good by reinforcing that there’s a widespread issue. “You’re safe with us” can easily be interpreted as, “there’s something to be afraid of.”

Added to that is the sensitive topic of adoptee and unknown parent searches.

Reunion stories are wonderfully touching, and we all love them, but you seldom see the other side of the coin. Not every story has a happy ending, and many don’t. Not every parent wants to be found for a variety of reasons. If you’re the child and don’t want to find your parents, don’t test, but it doesn’t work the other way around. A parent can often be identified by their relatives’ DNA matches to their child.

While most news coverage reflects positive adoptee reunion outcomes, that’s not universal, and almost every family has a few lurking skeletons. People know that. Some people are fearful of what they might discover about themselves or family members and are correspondingly resistant to DNA testing. Realizing you might discover that your father isn’t your biological father if you DNA test gives people pause. It’s a devastating discovery and some folks decide they’d rather not take that chance, even though they believe it’s not possible.

The genealogical search techniques for identifying unknown parents or close relatives and the technique used by law enforcement to identify unknown people, either bodies or perpetrators is exactly the same. If you are in one of the databases, who you match can provide a very big hint to someone hunting for the identify of an unknown person.

People who are not genealogists, adoptees or parents seeking to find children placed for adoption may be becoming less comfortable with this idea in general.

Of course, the ability for law enforcement to upload kits to GedMatch/Verogen and Family Tree DNA, under specific controlled conditions, has itself been an explosive and divisive topic within and outside of the genealogy community since April 2018.

These law enforcement kits are either cold case remains of victims, known as “Does,” or body fluids from the scenes of violent crimes, such as rape, murder and potentially child abduction and aggravated assault. To date, since the Golden State Killer identification, numerous cases have produced a “solve.” ISOGG, a volunteer organization, maintains a page of known cases solved, here.

GEDmatch encourages people to opt-in for law-enforcement matching, meaning that their kit can be seen as a match to kits uploaded by law enforcement agencies or companies working on behalf of law enforcement agencies. If a customer doesn’t opt-in, their kit can’t be seen as a match to a law enforcement kit.

Family Tree DNA initially opted-out all EU kits from law enforcement matching, due to GDPR, and provides the option for their customers to opt-out of law-enforcement matching.

Neither MyHeritage, Ancestry nor 23andMe cooperate with law enforcment under any circumstances and have stated that they will actively resist all subpoenaes in court.

ISOGG provides a FAQ on Investigative Genetic Genealogy, here.

The two sides of the argument have rather publicly waged war on each other in an ongoing battle to convince people of the merits of their side of the equation, including working with news organizations.

Unfortunately, this topic is akin to arguing over politics. No one changes their mind, and everyone winds up mad.

Notice I’m not linking any articles here, not even my own. I do not want to fan these flames, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the topic of law enforcement usage itself, the on-going public genetic genealogy community war and resulting media coverage together have very probably contributed to the lagging sales. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that while a great division of opinion exists, and many people are opposed, there are also many people who are extremely supportive.

All of this, combined, intentionally or not, has introduced FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt – a very old disinformation “sales technique.”

In a sense, for consumers, this has been like watching pigs mud-wrestle.

As my dad used to say, “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, you get muddy and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” The spectators in this case vote with their lack of spending and no one is a winner.

DNA Testing Was A FAD

Another theory is that genealogy DNA testing was just a FAD whose time has come and gone. I think the FAD was ethnicity testing, and that chicken has come home to roost.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry clearly geared up for testers attracted by their very successful ads. I was just recently on a cruise, and multiple times I heard people at another table discussing their ethnicity results from some unnamed company. They introduced the topic by saying, “I did my DNA.”

The discussion was almost always the same. Someone said that they thought their ethnicity was pretty accurate, someone else said theirs was awful, and the discussion went from there. Not one time did anyone ever mention a company name, DNA matching or any other functionality. I’m not even sure they understood there are different DNA testing companies.

If I was a novice listening-in, based on that discussion, I would have learned to doubt the accuracy of “doing my DNA.”

If most of the people who purchased ethnicity tests understood in advance that ethnicity testing truly is “just an estimate,” they probably wouldn’t have purchased in the first place. If they understood the limitations and had properly set expectations, perhaps they would not have been as unhappy and disenchanted with their results. I realize that’s not very good marketing, but I think that chicken coming home to roost is a very big part of what we’re seeing now.

The media has played this up too, with stories about how the ethnicity of identical twins doesn’t match. If people bother to read more than the headline, and IF it’s a reasonably accurate article, they’ll come to understand why and how that might occur. If not, what they’ll take away is that DNA testing is wrong and unreliable. So don’t bother.

Furthermore, most people don’t understand that ethnicity testing and cousin matching are two entirely different aspects of a DNA test. The “accuracy” of ethnicity is not related to the accuracy of cousin matching, but once someone questions the credibility of DNA testing – their lack of confidence is universal.

I would agree, the FAD is over – meaning lots of people testing primarily for ethnicity. I think the marketing challenge going forward is to show people that DNA testing can be useful for other things – and to make that easy.

Ethnicity was the low hanging fruit and it’s been picked.

Slowed Growth – Not Dead in the Water

The rate of growth has slowed. This does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that genetic genealogy or DNA testing is dead in the water. DNA fishes for us 365x24x7.

For example, just today, I received a message from 23andMe that 75 new relatives have joined 23andMe. I also received match notifications from Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.  Hey – calorie-free treats!!!

These new matches are nothing to sneeze at. I remember when I was thrilled over ONE new match.

I have well over 100,000 matches if you combine my matches at the four vendors.

Without advanced tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity, ThruLines, DNAPainter, DNAgedcom and Genetic Affairs, I’d have absolutely no prayer of grouping and processing this number of matches for genealogy.

Even if I received no new matches for the next year, I’d still not be finished analyzing the autosomal matches I already have.

This Too Shall Pass

At least I hope it will.

I think people will still test, but the market has corrected. This level of testing is probably the “new normal.”

Neither Ancestry or 23andMe are spending the big ad dollars – or at least not as big.

In order for DNA testing companies to entice customers into purchasing subscriptions or add-on products, tools need to be developed or enhanced that encourage customers to return to the site over and over. This could come in the form of additional results or functionality calculated on their behalf.

That “on their behalf” point is important. Vendors need to focus on making DNA fun, and productive, not work. New tools, especially in the last year or two, have taken a big step in that direction. Make the customer wonder every day what gift is waiting for him or her that wasn’t there yesterday. Make DNA useful and fun!

I would call this “DNA crack.” 😊

Cooking Up DNA Crack!

In order to assist the vendors, I’ve compiled one general suggestion plus what I would consider to be the “Big 3 Wish List” for each of their DNA products in term of features or improvements that would encourage customers to either use or return to their sites. (You’re welcome.)

I don’t want this to appear negative, so I’ve also included the things I like most about each vendor.

If you have something to add, please feel free to comment in a positive fashion.

Family Tree DNA

I Love: Y and Mitochondrial DNA, Phased Family Matching, and DNA projects

General Suggestion – Fix chronic site loading issues which discourage customers

  • Tree Matching – fix the current issues with trees and implement tree matching for DNA matches
  • Triangulation – including by match group and segment
  • Clustering – some form of genetic networks

MyHeritage

I Love: Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation, wide variety of filters, SmartMatches and Record Matches

General – Clarify confusing subscription options in comparative grid format

  • Triangulation by group and segment
  • View DNA matches by ancestor
  • Improved Ethnicity

Ancestry

I Love: Database size, ThruLines, record and DNA hints (green leaves)

General – Focus on the customers’ needs and repeated requests

  • Accept uploads
  • Chromosome Browser (yes, I know this is a dead horse, but that doesn’t change the need)
  • Triangulation (dead horse’s brother)

23andMe

I Love: Triangulation, Ethnicity quality, ethnicity segments identified, painted and available for download

General – Focus on genealogy tools if you’re going to sell a genealogy test

  • Implement individual customer trees – not Family Search
  • Remove 2000 match limit (which is functionally less after 23andMe hides the people not opted into matching)
  • DNA + Tree Matching

Summary

In summary, we, as consumers need to maintain our composure, assuring others that no one’s hair is on fire and the sky really is not falling. We need to calmly educate as opposed to frighten.

Just the facts.

Other approaches don’t serve us in the end. Frightening people away may “win” the argumentative battle of the day, but we all lose the war if people are no longer willing to test.

This is much like a lifeboat – we all succeed together, or we all lose.

Everybody row!

As genealogists, we need to:

  • Focus on verifying ancestors and solving genealogy challenges
  • Sharing those victories with others, including family members
  • Encourage our relatives to test, and transfer so that their testing investment provides as much benefit as possible
  • Offer to help relatives with the various options on each vendor’s platform
  • Share the joy

People share exciting good news with others, especially on Facebook and social media platforms, and feel personally invested when you share new results with them. Collaboration bonds people.

A positive attitude, balanced perspective and excitement about common ancestors goes a very, very long was in terms of encouraging others.

We have more matches now than ever before, along with more and better tools. Matches are still rolling in, every single day.

New announcements are expected at Rootstech in a couple short weeks.

There’s so much opportunity and work to do.

The sky is not falling. It rained a bit.

The seas may have been stormy, but as a genealogist, the sun is out and a rising tide lifts us all.

Rising tide

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Disclosure

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Thank you so much.

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DNAPainter: Painting “Bucketed” Family Tree DNA Maternal and Paternal Family Finder Matches in One Fell Swoop

DNAPainter has done it again, providing genealogists with a wonderful tool that facilitates separating your matches into maternal and paternal categories so that they can be painted on the proper chromosome – in one fell swoop no less.

Of course, the entire purpose of painting your chromosomes is to identify segments that descend from specific ancestors in order to push those lines back further in time genealogically. Identifying segments, confirming and breaking down brick walls is the name of the game.

DNA Painter New Import Tool

The new DNAPainter tool relies on Family Tree DNA’s Phased Family Matching which assigns your matches to maternal and paternal buckets. On your match list, at the top, you’ll see the following which indicates how many matches you have in total and how many people are assigned to each bucket.

DNAPainter FF import.png

Note that these are individual matches, not total matching segments – that number would be higher.

In order for Family Tree DNA to create bucketed matches for you, you’ll need to:

  • Either create a tree or upload a GEDCOM file
  • Attach your DNA kit to “you” in your tree
  • Attach all 4th cousins and closer with whom you match to their proper location on your tree

Yes, it appears that Family Tree DNA is now using 4th cousins, not just third cousins and closer, which provides for additional bucketed matches.

How reliable is bucketing?

Quite. Occasionally one of two issues arise which becomes evident if you actually compare the matches’ segments to the parent with whom they are bucketed:

  • One or more of your matches’ segments do match you and your parent, but additionally, one or more segments match you, but not your parent
  • The X chromosome is particularly susceptible to this issue, especially with lower cM matches
  • Occasionally, a match that is large enough to be bucketed isn’t, likely because no known, linked cousin shares that segment

Getting Started

Get started by creating or uploading your tree at Family Tree DNA.

DNAPainter mytree.png

After uploading your GEDCOM file or creating your tree at Family Tree DNA, click on the “matches” icon at the top of the tree to link yourself and your relatives to their proper places on your tree. Your matches will show in the box below the helix icon.

DNAPainter FF matches.png

I created an example “twin” for myself to use for teaching purposes by uploading a file from Ancestry, so I’m going to attach that person to my tree as my “Evil Twin.” (Under normal circumstances, I do not recommend uploading duplicate files of anyone.)

DNAPainter FF matches link.png

Just drag and drop the person on your match list on top of their place on the tree.

DNAPainter Ff sister.png

Here I am as my sister, Example Adoptee.

I’ve wished for a very, very long time that there was a way to obtain a list of segment matches sorted by maternal and paternal bucket without having to perform spreadsheet gymnastics, and now there is, at DNAPainter.

DNAPainter does the heavy-lifting so you don’t have to.

What Does DNAPainter Do with Bucketed Matches?

When you are finished uploading two files at DNAPainter, you’ll have:

  • Maternal groups of triangulated matches
  • Paternal groups of triangulated matches
  • Matches that could not be assigned based on the bucketing. Some (but not all) of these matches will be identical by chance – typically roughly 15-20% of your match list. You can read about identical by chance, here.

I’ll walk you through the painting process step by step.

First, you need to be sure your relatives are connected to your tree at Family Tree DNA so that you have matches assigned to your maternal and paternal buckets. The more relatives you connect, per the instructions in the previous section, the more matching people will be able to be placed into maternal or paternal buckets.

Painting Bucketed Matches at DNAPainter

I wrote basic articles about how to use DNAPainter here. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use DNAPainter or it’s new to you, now would be a good time to read those articles. This next section assumes that you’re using DNAPainter. If not, go ahead, register, and set up a profile. One profile is free for everyone, but multiple profiles require a subscription.

First, make a duplicate of the profile that you’re working with. This DNAPainter upload tool is in beta.

DNAPainter duplicate profile.png

Since I’m teaching and experimenting, I am using a fresh, new profile for this experiment. If it works successfully, I’ll duplicate my working profile, just in case something goes wrong or doesn’t generate the results I expect, and repeat these steps there.

Second, at Family Tree DNA, Download a fresh copy of your complete matching segment file. This “Download Segments” link is found at the top right of the chromosome browser page.

DNAPainter ff download segments.png

Third, download your matches at the bottom left of the actual matches page. This file hold information about your matches, such as which ones are bucketed, but no segment information. That’s in the other file.

DNAPainter csv.png

Name both of these files something you can easily identify and that tells them apart. I called the first one “Segments” in front of the file name and the second one “Matches” in front of the file name.

Fourth, at DNAPainter, you’ll need to import your entire downloaded segment file that you just downloaded from Family Tree DNA. I exclude segments under 7cM because they are about 50% identical by chance.

DNAPainter import instructions

click to enlarge

Select the segment file you just named and click on import.

DNAPainter both.png

At this point, your chromosomes at DNAPainter will look like this, assuming you’re using a new profile with nothing else painted.

Let’s expand chromosome 1 and see what it looks like.

DNAPainter chr 1 both.png

Note that all segments are painted over both chromosomes, meaning both the maternal and paternal copies of chromosome 1, partially shown above, because at this point, DNAPainter can’t tell which people match on the maternal and which people match on the paternal sides. The second “matches” file from Family Tree DNA has not yet been imported into DNAPainter, which tells DNAPainter which matches are on the maternal and which are on the paternal chromosomes.

If you’re not workign with a new profile, then you’ll also see the segments you’ve already painted. DNAPainter attempts to NOT paint segments that appear to have previously been painted.

Fifth, at DNAPainter, click on the “Import mat/pat info from ftDNA” link on the left which will provide you with a page to import the matches file information. This is the file that has maternal and paternal sides specified for bucketed matches. DNAPainter needs both the segment file, which you already imported, and the matches file.

DNAPainter import bucket

click to enlarge

After the second import, the “matches” file, my matches are magically redistributed onto their appropriate chromosomes based on the maternal and paternal bucketing information.

I love this tool!

At this point, you will have three groups of matches, assuming you have people assigned to your maternal and paternal buckets.

  • A “Shared” group for people who are related to both of your parents, or who aren’t designated as a bucketed match to either parent
  • Maternal group (pink chromosome)
  • Paternal group (blue chromosome)

It’s Soup!!!

I’m so excited. Now my matches are divided into maternal and paternal chromosome groups.

DNAPainter import complete.png

Just so you know, I changed the colors of my legend at DNAPainter using “edit group,” because all three groups were shades of pink after the import and I wanted to be able to see the difference clearly.

DNAPainter legend.png

Your Painted Chromosomes

Let’s take a look at what we have.

DNAPainter both, mat, pat.png

There’s still pink showing, meaning undetermined, which gets painted over both the maternal and paternal chromosomes, but there’s also a lot of magenta (maternal) and blue (paternal) showing now too as a result of bucketing.

Let’s look at chromosome 1.

DNAPainter chr 1 all.png

This detail, which is actually a summary, shows that the bucketed maternal (magenta) and paternal (blue) matches have actually covered most of the chromosome. There are still a few areas without coverage, but not many.

For a genealogist, this is beautiful!!!

How many matches were painted?

DNAPainter paternal total.png

DNAPainter maternal total.png

Expanding chromosome 1, and scrolling to the maternal portion, I can now see that I have several painted maternal segments, and almost the entire chromosome is covered.

Here’s the exciting part!

DNAPainter ch1 1 mat expanded.png

I stared the relatives I know, on the painting, above and on the pedigree chart, below. The green group descends through Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller, the yellow group through Antoine Lore and Rachel Hill. The blue group is Acadian, upstream of Antoine Lore.

DNAPainter maternal pedigree.png

Those ancestors are shown by star color on my pedigree chart.

I can now focus on the genealogies of the other unstarred people to see if their genealogy can push those segments back further in time to older ancestors.

On my Dad’s side, the first part of chromosome 1 is equally as exciting.

DNAPainter chr 1 pat expanded.png

The yellow star only pushed this triangulated group back only to my grandparents, but the green star is from a cousin descended from my great-grandparents. The red star matches are even more exciting, because my common ancestor with Lawson is my brick wall – Marcus Younger and his wife, Susanna, surname unknown, parents of Mary Younger.

DNAPainter paternal pedigree.png

I need to really focus hard on this cluster of 12 people because THEIR common ancestors in their trees may well provide the key I need to push back another generation – through the brick wall. That is, after all, the goal of genetic genealogy.

Woohoooo!

Manual Spreadsheet Compare

Because I decided to torture myself one mid-winter day, and night, I wanted to see how much difference there is between the bucketed matches that I just painted and actual matches that I’ve identified by downloading my parents’ segment match files and mine and comparing them manually against each other. I removed any matches in my file that were not matches to my parent, in addition to me, then painted the rest.

I’ll import the resulting manual spreadsheet into the same experimental DNAPainter profile so we can view matches that were NOT painted previously. DNAPainter does not paint matches previously painted, if it can tell the difference. Since both of these files are from downloads, without the name of the matches being in any way modified, DNAPainter should be able to recognize everyone and only paint new segment matches.

Please note here that the PERSON unquestionably belongs bucketed to the parental side in question, but not all SEGMENTS necessarily match you and your parent. Some will not, and those are the segments that I removed from my spreadsheet.

DNAPainter manual spreadsheet example.png

Here’s a made-up example where I’ve combined my matches and my mother’s matches in one spreadsheet in order to facilitate this comparison. I colored my Mom’s matches green so they are easy to see when comparing to my own, then sorting by the match name.

Person 1 matches me and Mom both, at 10 cM on chromosome 1. Person 1 is assigned to my maternal side due to the matches above 9 cM, the lowest threshold at Family Tree DNA for bucketing.

In this example, we can see that Person 1 matches me and Mom (colored green), both, on the segment on chromosome 1. That match, bracketed by red, is a valid, phased, match and should be painted.

However, Person 1 also matches me, but NOT Mom on chromosome 2. Because Person 1 is bucketed to mother, this segment on chromosome 2 will also be painted to my maternal chromosome 2 using the DNAPainter import. The only way to sort this out is to do the comparison manually.

The same holds true for the X match shown. The two segments shown in red should NOT be painted, but they will be unless you are willing to compare you and your parents’ matches manually, you will just have to evaluate segments individually when you see that you’re working in a cluster where matches have been assigned through the mass import tool.

If you choose to compare the spreadsheets manually to assure that you’re not painting segments like the red ones above, DNAPainter provides instructions for you to create your own mass upload template, which is what I did after removing any segment matches of people that were not “in common” between me and mother on the same chromosomal segment, like the red ones, above.

Please note that if you delete the erroneous segments and later reimport your bucketed matches, they will appear again. I’m more inclined to leave them, making a note.

I did not do a manual comparison of my father’s side of the tree after discovering just how little difference was found on my mother’s side, and how much effort was involved in the manual comparison.

Creating a Mass Upload Template and File

DNAPainter custom mass upload.png

The instructions for creating your own mass upload file are provided by DNAPainter – please follow them exactly.

In my case, after doing the manual spreadsheet compare with my mother, only a total of 18 new segments were imported that were not previously identified by bucketing.

Three of those segments were over 15cM, but the rest were smaller. I expected there would be more. Family Tree DNA is clearly doing a great job with maternal and paternal bucketing assignments, but they can’t do it without known relatives that have also tested and are linked to your tree. The very small discrepancy is likely due to matches with cousins that I have not been able to link on my tree.

The great news is that because DNAPainter recognizes already-painted segments, I can repeat this anytime and just paint the new segments, without worrying about duplicates.

  • The information above pertains to segments that should have been painted, but weren’t.
  • The information below pertains to segments that were painted, but should not have been.

I did not keep track of how many segments I deleted that would have erroneously been painted. There were certainly more than 18, but not an overwhelming number. Enough though to let me know to be careful and confirm the segment match individually before using any of the mass uploaded matches for hypothesis or conclusions.

Given that this experiment went well, I created a copy of my “real” profile in order to do the same import and see what discoveries are waiting!

Before and After

Before I did the imports into my “real” file (after making a copy, of course,) I had painted 82% of my DNA using 1700 segments. Of course, each one of those segments in my original profile is identified with an ancestor, even if they aren’t very far back in time.

Although I didn’t paint matches in common with my mother before this mass import, each of my matches in common with my mother are in common with one or the other of my maternal grandparents – and by using other known matches I can likely push the identity of those segments further back in time.

Status Percent Segments Painted
Before mass Phased Family Match bucketed import 82 1700
After mass Phased Family Match bucketed import 88 7123
After additional manual matches with my mother added 88 7141

While I did receive 18 additional matching segments by utilizing the manually intensive spreadsheet matching and removal process, I did not receive enough more matches to justify the hours and hours of work. I won’t be doing that anymore with Family Tree DNA files since they have so graciously provided bucketing and DNAPainter can leverage that functionality.

Those hours will be much better spent focusing on unraveling the ancestors whose stories are told in clusters of triangulated matches.

I Love The Import Tool, But It’s Not Perfect

Keep in mind that the X chromosome needs a match of approximately twice the size of a regular chromosome to be as reliable. In other words, a 14 cM threshold for the X chromosome is roughly equivalent to a 7 cM match for any other chromosome. Said another way, a 7 cM match on the X is about equal to a 3.5 cM match on any other chromosome.

X matches are not created equal.

The SNP density on the X chromosome is about half that of the other chromosomes, making it virtually impossible to use the same matching criteria. I don’t encourage using matches of less than 500 SNPs unless you know you’re in a triangulated group and WITH at least a few larger, proven matches on that segment of the X chromosome.

Having said that, X matches, due to their unique inheritance path can persist for many generations and be extremely useful. You can read about working with the X chromosome here and here.

I noticed when I was comparing segments in the manual spreadsheet that I had to remove many X matches with people who had identical matches on other chromosomes with me and my mother. In other words, just because they matched my mother and me exactly on one chromosome, that phasing did not, by default, extend to matching on other segments.

I checked my manually curated file and discovered that I had a total of seven X matches that should have been, and were, painted because they matched me and Mom both.

DNAPainter X spreadsheet example.png

However, there were many that didn’t match me and Mom both, matching only me, that were painted because that person was bucketed (assigned) to my maternal side because a different segment phased to mother correctly.

On the X chromosome, here’s what happened.

DNAPainter maternal X.png

You can see that a lot more than 7 bright red matches were painted – 26 more to be exact. That’s because if an individual is bucketed on your maternal or paternal side, it’s presumed that all of the matching segments come from the same ancestor and are legitimate, meaning identical by descent and not by chance. They aren’t. Every single segment has an inheritance path and story of its own – and just because one segment triangulates does NOT mean that other segments that match that person will triangulate as well.

The X chromosome is the worst case scenario of course, because these 7 cM segments are actually as reliable as roughly 3.5 cM segments on any other chromosome, which is to say that more than 50% of them will be incorrect. However, some will be accurate and those will match me and mother both. 21% of the X matches to people who phased and triangulated on other chromosomes were accurate – 79% were not. Thankfully, we have phasing, bucketing and tools like this to be able to tell the difference so we can utilize the 21% that are accurate. No one wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, nor do we want to chase after phantoms.

Keep in mind that Phased Family Matching, like any other tool, is just that, a tool and needs some level of critical analysis.

Every Segment Has Its Own Story

We know that every single DNA segment has an independent inheritance path and story of its own. (Yes, I’ve said that several time now because it’s critically important so that you don’t wind up barking up the wrong tree, literally, pardon the pun.)

In the graphic above of my painted X chromosome matches, only the six matches with green stars are on the hand-curated match list. One had already been painted previously. The balance of the bright red matches were a part of the mass import and need to be deleted. Additionally, one of the accurate matches did not upload for some reason, so I’ll add that one manually.

I suggest that you go ahead and paint your bucketed segments, but understand that you may have a red herring or two in your crop of painted segment matches.

As you begin to work with these clusters of matches, check your matching segments with your parents (or other family members who were used in bucketing) and make sure that all the segments that have been painted by bulk upload actually match on all of the same segments.

If you have a parent that tested, there is no need to see if you and your match match other relatives on that same side. If your match does not match you and your parent on some significant overlapping portion of that same segment, the match is invalid. DNA does not “skip generations.”

If you don’t have a parent that has tested, your known relatives are your salvation, and the key to bucketed matches.

The great news is that you can easily see that a bulk match was painted from the coloring of the batch import. As you discover the relevant genealogy and confirm that all segments actually match your parent (or another family member, if you don’t have parents to test,) move the matching person to the appropriately colored ancestral group.

I further recommend that you hand curate the X chromosome using a spreadsheet. The nature of the X makes depending on phased matching too risky, especially with a tool like DNAPainter that can’t differentiate between a legitimate and non-legitimate match. The X chromosome matches are extraordinarily valuable because they can be useful in ways that other chromosomes can’t be due to the X’s unique inheritance path.

What About You?

If you don’t have your DNA at Family Tree DNA and you have tested elsewhere, you can transfer your DNA file for free, allowing you to see your matches and use many of the Family Tree DNA tools. However, to access the chromosome browser, which you’ll need for DNA painting, you’ll need to purchase the unlock for $19, but that’s still a lot less than retesting.

Here are transfer instructions for transferring your DNA file from 23andMe, Ancestry or MyHeritage.

If you have not purchased a Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA and don’t have a DNA file to transfer, you can order a test here.

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Robert Shepherd (1739-1817), Died of the Stone and Gravel – 52 Ancestors #271

I’m incredibly indebted to a cousin, David Stielow, with whom I corresponded in 1991 about the Shepherd family. David proudly signed his correspondence with “6 great-grandson of Robert and Sarah (Rash) Shepherd.” Unfortunately, I lost touch with David decades ago. David, wherever you are – thank you!

David sent me a copy of the long-rumored but never-produced Bible record of Robert Shepherd including information that at that time, Mildred Judd Hodkins (1922-2015) who descended through Robert’s daughter, Sarah Shepherd, wife of William Judd was the then-current owner of the Bible.

The Shepherd Bible

It’s a beauty, that’s for sure!

Shepherd Bible0004.jpg

The marriage or Robert Shepherd and Sarah Rash in Spotsylvania County, and their removal to Wilkes County 12 years later.

Shepherd Bible0003.jpg

Births, including Robert and Sarah themselves. A spouse’s name and a death date sprinkined in for good measure.

Shepherd Bible0002.jpg

The last child was born when Sarah was 43, then Robert’s death is recorded 30 years later.

The handwriting is ornate, rendered artistically in stunningly beautiful script. Was it Robert or Sarah who lovingly penned these entries by the light of candles in front of a fireplace? I would love to see the original Bible.

I’ve come to doubt that the handwriting is either Robert’s or Sarah’s. To begin with, the handwriting recording Robert’s death entry looks just like the first entry recording his birth. That’s pretty difficult to accomplish. Sarah’s entry refers to her as “now the espoused wife,” which suggests that Sarah and Robert are living, and that it’s after 1765 when they married.

Robert’s wife, Sarah Rash’s death is not recorded for some reason, so perhaps the handwriting is actually hers – except that in 1819 records regarding Robert’s estate, Sarah signed her name with an X. So the entries couldn’t have been written by Sarah unless something dramatic happened to her ability to write between 1817 and 1819.

This might be the “church Bible” that was sold at Robert’s estate sale, or perhaps a later Bible altogether.

It’s probable that this entire Bible record was recopied from an earlier Bible belonging to Robert and Sarah, because the entries all appear to be in exactly the same penmanship except for a couple obvious additions later. This wouldn’t be unusual if the old Bible wore out, burned or was sold at the estate sale, and a new Bible was purchased. It could also be expected if the original Bible descended to one child and another child copied the original records into their own Bible. Seeing the Bible printing information in the front might help narrow these possibilities.

My guess, and that’s all it will ever be, is that this Bible belonged to daughter Sally who married William Judd because it’s her descendant who had the Bible in 1991. Furthermore, William Judd’s name is written above Sally, along with her proper name, “Sarah” and a death month and year of November 1858.

I suspect that the original Bible was probably distributed to another family member after Robert’s death in 1817 – hence the last entry in the “original” handwriting is about Robert’s death.

There is a confusing date conflict which might be explained by recopying and adding a bit of information. Daughter Rhoda is reported to have been born in Wilkes County on March 23, 1777, which clearly could not have happened if the family didn’t leave Spotsylvania County until December of 1777. One of those two years or Rhoda’s birth location has to be wrong.

This amazing Bible doesn’t just tell us that Robert and his wife Sarah Rash were born, but when and where they were born, their parents’ names, marriage date and who married them, their children’s names, birth dates and locations, along with a couple death dates.

But it doesn’t end there either. The last page records Robert’s death:

“Robert Shepherd father of the aforementioned family deceased June fifth one thousand eight hundred and seventeen 1817 – at his own house, on Reddies River, Wilkes County, North Carolina State where to he removed and settled his family from Spottsylvania County, Virginia, December 7, 1777.

After 17 days illness with his old disorder the Stone and Gravel, after residing about 40 years in the aforesaid spot.

Aged according to this record exactly seventy seven years eleven months and seven days subtracting elven days for his old stile birth.”

I initially thought that Stone and Gravel meant gall stones, but according to medical references, I suspect it was kidney stones. Gall stones appear to have been referred to as colic at that time. Regardless of which kind of stones – they had to be absolutely agonizing and probably became lodged where they shouldn’t, killing the man.

“His old disorder” tells us that Robert had suffered from this previously, probably repeatedly over a very long time. I’d guess he either died of uremic poisoning, if the stone lodged in the ureter between the kidney and the bladder, or sepsis if he developed an infection. Either would have been horrifically painful.

How much more could we ask of a Bible record? This is hands-down the most informative Bible record I have ever found in my family.

Joyce Dancy McNiel (1937-2003), another now-deceased cousin, transcribed the Bible record and sent me the following information from her files. I’m so indebted to these researchers from the generation that preceded mine. They were immeasurably kind when I was beginning.

Shepherd Stielow letter.png

Robert’s Birth

Robert was born on June 17, 1739 in St. George’s Parish, Spotsylvania County, Virginia to George Shepherd and Elizabeth Mary Angelique (or Angelicke) Day Shepherd.

St. George’s Parish was formed in 1714, initially in Essex County until Spotsylvania County was formed in 1720.

In 1730, the parish was split with the new St. Marks Parish incorporating in the upper portion which was made into Orange County, and eventually Orange, Madison, Culpepper and Rappahannock counties, according to the book, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia published by Bishop Meade in two volumes in 1861.

Shepherd Spotsylvania County.png

Spotsylvania County, where Robert was born, is located about 50 miles north of Richmond, near the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.

In 1732, Colonial William Byrd visited, saying of the place, “Besides Colonel Willis, who is the top man of the place, there are only one merchant, a tailor, a smith, an ordinary-keeper and a lady who acts both as a doctress and coffee-woman.” What the heck else do you need?

I have to ask, what exactly is a coffee-woman? Susanna Livingston, a widow was indeed that person and you can read about her colonial Virginia coffee house here.

Keep in mind that this description was just 7 years before Robert’s birth.

The first church in Spotsylvania County was built in 1732. There was an earlier church near Fredericksburg built in 1728 and one near Mattapony as well called the Mother-Church.

In the 1720s and 1730s, Spotsylvania County was literally the unsettled frontier.

Marriage

Robert Shepherd was married to Sarah Rash on October 1st, 1765 in Spotsylvania County by church parson, James Mcrae. Bishop Meade’s books don’t show a James Mcrae, but do include a Christopher Mcrae and someone by the initial of A.

Mcrae is a decidedly Scottish name, which might provide a hint as to the origins of the Shepherd or Rash families, either or both.

Spotsylvania County Deeds

Deeds tell more of the story of the Shepherd family in Spotsylvania County. The first record of George Shepherd is found in 1749, although he was clearly married prior to that time, given that son George was born about 1728, supposedly in Spotsylvania County as well. This suggests that the elder George, Robert’s father, was probably born about 1700.

On November 6, 1749, George Shepperd of St. George’s Parish of Spotsylvania County and Elizabeth Mary Angelicke Day, his wife, sold land to Benjamin Holiday of same parish and county, 25 pounds current money, 60 acres, part of the land whereon the said Shepperd lives, etc. Witnesses were Joseph Holloday, William Miller and Margaret Randolph. Everyone signs with an X except for Joseph Holloday.

In Deed books D and E, on August 31, 1751, we find a deed from Benjamin Holloday husband of Robert’s sister, Susanna, for her father George Shepherd’s land conveyed to Robert Shepherd and his brother George Shepherd.

Shepherd Spotsylvania Holloday land purchase.png

On November 5, 1775, John Shepherd, Robert’s older brother by 5 years, sold his 500 acres of land to William Arnold, a transaction witnessed by George McNiel who also moved to Reddies River, settling land adjacent Robert and John Shepherd.

On November 20, 1776, Robert Shepherd (who signed with an X) and his wife Sarah, George Shepherd and his wife Mary, of Spotsylvania County sold to Benjamin Holloday of the same county for 54 pounds current money, 108 acres in Spotsylvania County. Witnesses: Charles Yates, Edward Herndon, John Chew, Jr, Anthony Gholston, Clayton Coleman, John Herndon and John Holloday. Recorded January 16, 1777.

It appears that Robert was laying the groundwork for their move to Wilkes County, along with his brother, John Shepherd and the George McNiel family.

Robert’s family, probably along with the others, made the journey from Spotsylvania County to Wilkes County, according to the Bible, on December 7, 1777 – clearly a turning point in the lives of these families. I’d wager there was a wagon train that “removed from” Spotsylvania County, pulling out on December 7th and hoping to reach Wilkes by Christmas. They were probably bumping along those rough roads until at least the second week of January. The average distance for a wagon was 10 miles a day, and that’s without problems.

The family had to decide which path to take.

Shepherd Spotsylvania to Wilkes.png

A more westerly path, down the old wagon road through the Shenandoah Valley would have been slightly shorter, but much more treacherous through high mountains, especially in the slippery winter.

I believe they chose the route shown above that took them through South Boston in Halifax County. Not only is this route flatter, James Shepherd, brother of Robert Shepherd settled in Halifax County for several years before moving on to Wilkes County to join the rest of the family.

For all we know, the entire group could have stopped there for some time, either to rest or to evaluate Halifax County as a place of settlement. It’s ironic that a few generations later in Claiborne County, Tennessee, the McNiel/Shepherd/Rash descendants of Wilkes County, NC would intermarry with the Estes/Moore/Dodson/Younger lines of Halifax County, VA.

Halifax County, like Wilkes County, was on the generational migration path westward for many families.

Robert Shepherd and George McNiel were more or less contemporaries. George was somewhat older, born about 1720 as compared to Robert born 19 years later.

About 1784, George McNiel’s son, William McNiel would marry Robert Shepherd’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd, born in 1766. Clearly, they knew each other from Spotsylvania County and undertook the overland journey to Wilkes together, but she was a bit young to have been flirting on that journey. The Rash, Shepherd and McNiel families have been hopelessly intertangled since they arrived in Wilkes County and began intermarrying. For all we know, they could have already been somehow related in colonial Virginia and before.

The Revolutionary War

The War wasn’t far behind these families. In fact, that could be part of what encouraged the Shepherd family to pull up stakes and move. Robert’s future son-in-law, William McNiel, served in Virginia from June through November 1777, fighting in the Battle of Brandywine. By this time, the Revolutionary War was in full swing.

The Revolutionary War began in April of 1775 when shots were exchanged at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Shortly, both Virginia and North Carolina had joined the war. For the next 8 years, the residents of both Virginia and North Carolina would suffer from warfare, deaths and injuries, shortages of food and clothing, destruction, loss of property and constant fear.

But Virginia and North Carolina, as states, would also lead the way. In May of 1775, the King’s Governor in North Carolina fled the palace and the seat of government in New Bern was taken over by Abner Nash, the eventual governor, leading the Whigs.

North Carolina proceeded to create a Bill of Rights, placing the power with the people instead of a king, providing for independent branches of government. In other words, they voted for a form of democracy that would be mirrored on a national level a few years later.

Similar events occurred in Virginia, with independence from England declared in May of 1776 following the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775, about 150 miles south of Spotsylvania Courthouse, near Norfolk.

Of course, Robert Shepherd couldn’t know how things would eventually work out in November of 1776 when he sold his land, nor in December of 1777 when he left for North Carolina, probably via Halifax County, Virginia. He may have anticipated a great deal more warfare with accompanying devastation to land and crops. Or, the move may have had absolutely nothing to do with the war. Regardless, these families moved during the war, while a literal revolution was occurring. I have to wonder what types of precautions they put in place to attempt to stay safe, and why they chose that time to migrate westward into an area plagued by Tories and Cherokee uprisings.

There’s no record of Robert Shepherd actually serving as a soldier, but he did provide supplies according to North Carolina Army accounts, in the form of a horse and 13.5 bushels of corn, or about enough corn to feed a horse for 54 days at 8 quarts of corn per day.

Life on the Reddies River

Cousin Joyce’s handwritten letters provide both general and specific information about the Shepherd family.

They lived in what is known as the Reddies River and Parlier section, west of North Wilkesboro some 12 to 14 miles. John Shepherds’s entry no. 64 called for 405 acres of land at the Deep Ford on Reddies River. Robert’s entry was next, #65-B-1-M188 for 200 acres and Rowland Judd’s entry #145-A-!-M276 was for 514 acres. John Shepherd also owned A-1-#233 calling for 333 acres on the north side of the Yadkin. George McNiel was a neighbor too, his line joined Rowland Judd’s line.

The name Deep Ford was derived from the fact that the original road leading from New River in what is now Ashe Co to the Yadkin Valley crossed the Reddies River at the foot of this hill, and that the ford at this crossing was unusually deep – thus the name that remains today; Deep Ford Hill.

Paul Gregory in his book, The Early Settlers of Reddies River tells us that:

When John arrived on Reddies River, only a few scattered families were living there. It must have been a highly satisfying experience for them to find that the fertile bottom land on both sides of the stream beginning ‘at the bend in the river’ and extending North­ward to the forks of the river was still uninhabited and unclaimed. The place where the wagons crossed the river was just north of the bend in the river. The water was unusually deep at this crossing, hence the name deep ford. The crossing was also located at the base of a hill, giving the name Deep Ford Hill. It is here that John settled.

Reddies River was flanked on either side not only with wide, fertile bottom land but also with mountain land covered with heavy timber, abounding in an assortment of wildlife. The waters of Reddies River were clear, clean, swift, and cold. This is the place that John sank his roots never to move again.

When John arrived on Reddies River, most land of this area belonged to Earl Granville, Lord Proprietor for the British Government. Furthermore, no land was available for sale or lease, as the British land office had been closed several years prior to this date. Only a very few settlers actually owned the property on which they lived. Thus, more early settlers took possession (squatted on) land of their choice, with the idea of later buying or leasing the property when the land office was reopened. This is what John did.

On July 4th, 1776 all land was confiscated and all land transactions with the British Government were invalidated. The confiscation act provided a way for the early settlers to own the land they had improved and to which they laid claim. The settlers were required to register their land with the local government as a basis for subsequent land grants. On April 24th, 1778, John entered his land, claiming 405 acres, beginning at the bend in the river near Deep Ford and extending northward to the forks of the river, including property on both sides of the river. Although John later bought many additional acres of land, it was here that he reared his family, and it is here that John and his wife, Sarah, lived for the rest of their lives.

John’s land provides an important clue about Robert. Cousin Broderick Shepherd has been compiling information about the older generations of the Shepherd family for years at http://www.reddiesrivershepherds.com/ and more recently on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Reddies-River-Shepherds-363723261156/

Broderick’s research about Robert can be found here, brother John, here, James here who fought at King’s Mountain. Brother George never left Spotsylvania County.

According to land grants, Robert Shepherd lived adjacent his brother, John Shepherd, on the Reddies River.

Shepherd grant 847.png

In 1775 Robert applied for 200 acres and in 1788 obtained 199 acres of land on the Reddies River.

Shepherd 199 acres.png

This document says that Robert is already living on this land, “for comfort.” There is no record that he ever lived elsewhere in Wilkes County.

Shepherd 199 acres 2.png

Shepherd grant 65.png

Robert applied for 200 acres but was actually granted 199. This made me wonder if an acre was set aside for either a church or a cemetery or if that’s just how the survey fell. Robert’s land is very irregularly shaped.

Shepherd grant survey.png

Looking at this survey, grant and map, John Sheppard’s line is shown below. A pole is 16.5 feet, so their joint line is 2145 feet, or about half a mile.

Shepherd survey.png

The land grant process took several steps and each step had an associated fee.

According to A. B. Pruitt, in 1777, North Carolina passed a law allowing people to take over the title to all “vacant” land in the state, meaning the land formerly the property of the King or his representative, the Earl of Granville, in addition setting forth the process, grants, for land to be sold to anyone who could pay the fees.

Land was located by prospective owners and claims were entered into books, with associated fees paid. After a waiting period, in case someone else claimed the same land, a warrant was issued which meant the county surveyor would survey the claimed land. Of course, the surveyor needed to be paid. After the survey, shown above, the survey and associated information was returned to the Secretary of State. Beginning in 1783, the state charged 10 pounds per hundred acres, or less if the land was somehow substandard and included swampland or was mountainous. In other words, if the land couldn’t all be farmed. Prior to 1783, only 50 shillings was charged per hundred acres. With Robert’s 199 acre grant, he would have paid 1990 pounds if every acre was deemed farmable.

Next, the governor would sign a land grant, attaching one of the two copies of the survey which was sent to the grantee in one way or another – sometimes being delivered to the local courthouse where ads were placed stating that the grant could be picked up.

Shepherd grant book.png

At the same time the governor wrote the grant, it would be recorded in a grant book, shown above. That wasn’t the end of the process though, because the grantee only had a year in which to register their new grant with the Register of Deeds in the county where the land was located. That filing also cost a small fee, but no one checked to assure that registering of  grants in the deed book was ever actually done.

I’ve seen cases where patents and grants were sold at these various steps, possibly because the man couldn’t pay the upcoming fees and wanted to recover his initial investment. Often, he had staked the land out and already made improvements by clearing land, planting crops, adding fences and building a cabin and outbuildings.

Robert’s actual grant in the land patent book occurred three years after the original application. I’m sure the offices and surveyors were absolutely swamped initially. Robert probably didn’t care, because he had been living there and farming the land all along. The grant was just making things official.

Shepherd 199 acre certificate.png

In 1796, Robert obtained another 50 acres abutting his original 199 acres.

Shepherd 1201.png

Shepherd 50 acres.png

Shepherd 50 acre warrant.png

Notice on the survey that north is not at the top.

Shepherd 50 acre survey.png

Shepherd 50 acre certificate.png

Robert’s brother, John’s land grant is shown below, a total of 405 acres, 180 by 360 poles, or 2970 feet by 5940 – a little over half a mile east to west by a little over a mile north to south.

Shepherd John survey.png

Note that west is at the top, so north is to the right on the survey.

Aligning the two surveys, along with the marker for the location of the old Deep Ford Cemetery with the red pin, we see the following.

Shepherd both surveys.png

George McNiel’s survey was adjacent the land of both brothers.

By comparison, here’s the first official NC map by Strother in 1808.

Shepherd Strother 1808 map.png

Church and Cemetery

Fortunately, there are contemporary roads that we can “drive” down using Google Street view.

At the top of Deep Ford Hill, the cemetery was located where these mobile homes are today, according to George McNiel during a 2004 visit when he took me to visit these sacred ancestral locations.

George and his wife, cousin Joyce Dancy McNeil, spent their lives documenting both history and cemeteries in Wilkes County. George and Joyce are both descendants of the McNiel, Vannoy, Shepherd and Rash lines. Our collective roots and blood run deep in this land.

Shepherd Deep Ford HIll Cemetery.png

In the early 1900s, the Deep Ford cemetery was abandoned by the families. The landowner used the gravestones to build the foundation of a chicken house, then the chicken house was bulldozed sometime later, reportedly in the 1960s or 1970s. George McNiel was just sick about this.

George stated that, “there was a cemetery just over from the church where Vance Lovett in the 1930s took the stones to build a chicken house, then years later bulldozed them into a ravine.” He took me to that location and showed me the 2 or 3 trailers there in 2004. I can’t help but wonder if they are haunted.

According to Brodrick Shepherd, family members believed to be buried in this lost cemetery include:

  • John Shepherd Sr. born August 10, 1734 and died June 11, 1810, married to Sarah Jennings 1738 – >1810
  • Robert Shepherd born June 17, 1739, died June 5, 1817, married to Sarah Rash born April 23, 1749. Her death in unknown.
  • John Shepherd Jr., c1760 – May 7, 1812, son of John Sr.
  • Phoebe Shepherd c1770 – >1812

I’d wager that there are more, including Sarah Rash and one if not both of their sons, James and John.

The cemetery isn’t the only thing that’s missing today.

According to historian George McNeil, one of the very early churches was established before 1800 on the top of the hill at Deep Ford. It would make sense that the church and cemetery were very close or adjacent.

Shepherd deep ford intersection.png

If the church was located at the top of Deep Ford Hill, the area across from the cemetery is flat, where a gas station is located today.

Shepherd deep ford hill store.png

The only other location would be the northwest quadrant of the intersection, below.

Shepherd deep ford nw.png

An aerial shows the location of the old destroyed cemetery along with the possible church site at the top of the hill.

Shepherd deep ford aerial.png

However, a map drawn by George shows the possible old church site at the base of Deep Ford Hill, marked with the red star below. I notice the road today crossing the river is called “Old Campground” and “camps” were held at revivals, which could have been held at the location of the old church. People came tp “camp meetings” from miles in any direction, staying from days to a few weeks as preachers cycled through, stood on stumps, and whipped up religious fervor in the audience, hoping to save souls. Baptisms took place immediately in the adjacent streams.

Shepherd deep ford hill base.png

The old cemetery location is marked with the gold star.

Regardless of where the original church was located, George McNiel who accompanied the Shepherd family from Spotsylvania County was the preacher and the Shepherds and McNiels made up most of the congregation along with their immediate neighbors, the Rowlands, Judd family and others.

According to Brodrick, Robert Shepherd, along with his brother John, and George McNeil, established the first church in Reddies River which was located on the crest of Deep Ford Hill, just above lands owned by John Shepherd, Sr. The Deep Ford Hill Church was established as early as 1783 and was in existence as late as 1796.

The location of the original church has been lost to time.

Following the church at Deep Ford Hill was the Reddies River Baptist Church that was constituted on April 7, 1798. Robert and Sarah Shepherd were founding members of this new church.

Shepherd Reddies River Church.png

Robert assuredly attended and probably helped built this church. It’s possible that he’s buried in the yard here as well given that he had been attending this church for 19 years when he died.

When the Reddies River Baptist Church was created, its members gathered for services alternately at the Deep Ford Meeting House and Brother Robert Shepherd’s house. This probably answers the question about whether the missing acre in Robert’s land was for a church – it clearly wasn’t if churchgoers were meeting at his house.

Shepherd Deep Ford to Reddies River churches.png

The Reddies River Church is shown with the red pin at the top, above, the location of the now-destroyed cemetery with the gold star, and the general location of the Deep Ford Meeting House at the base of the hill with a red star, according to George’s map. Robert Shepherd’s land was at the branching of the North Fork and South Fork of the Reddies River, almost exactly at the half-way point beneath the white mileage text box.

Shepherd Reddies River church distance.png

The church is shown from the road, above, although there’s a bend in the road that leads directly to the church. A cemetery was established at the new church, of course, with the list of burials here and here. Unfortunately, few are documented on FindaGrave.

Paul Gregory provided the Reddies River membership list, here, in which he says that the original Deep Ford Meeting House was established as early as 1784 and that all members of the newly constituted Reddies River Church were members of the Deep Ford Hill Church when it closed its doors in 1797. Reddies River opened in 1798 with the following 24 charter members.

Shepherd Reddies River 1798 charter membership.png

It’s worth noting that there are no McNiel’s on the list.

Deeds and Property

While Robert Shepherd’s land claims were first filed in 1785, according to files found at the North Carolina archives, he apparently entered land as early as 1778 according to the land entry books.

I’ve compiled related land information in date order. Eventually, Robert owned a great deal of land.

  • March 12, 1778 – George McKniel entered 120 acres on the South Fork of Reddies River, side mountain, along Roland Jud’s line. Robert Shephard’s line.

Clearly, Robert was already living in this location by 1778 and George McNiel from Spotsylvania County was living adjacent Robert. Two of Robert’s daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, would marry George’s sons, William and James, respectively.

  • April 24, 1778 – Robert Shepherd entered 200 acres near the ford of Readys River on John Shepherds line, including improvement where said Shepherd now lives. Entry 65

At that time, Reddies was spelled a wide variety of ways.

  • December 26, 1778 – Barnard (Barnet) Owens entered 200 acres both sides Reddies River in Robert Shepherds line including improvement whereon said Owens now lives. Entry 614
  • April 15, 1780 – George McNiel entered 100 acres on the south side of the south fork Reddeys River at his and Robert Shepherd’s corner. Entry 1769

In 1782, the tax list is quite interesting, both in terms of Robert and also of the men he is associated with in land transactions and on road crews, which reflect the men living along the road in question assigned as road hands and road jurors in the court records.

Name Acres of land All negroes Mules/horses Cattle
Capt Cleveland’s District
Nathaniel Vannoy 150 1 5 7
Capt. Nathaniel Gordan’s Dist
Daniel Vannoy 100 1 1 4
Capt Rowland Judd Dist
James Shepherd (single man) 0 0 6 0
Andrew Vannoy 650 0 7 11
John Sheppard 505 0 7 20
William Owens Sr. 250 0 3 5
Charles Hickerson 320 0 3 4
Leonard Miller 50 0 2 4
David Hickerson 50 0 6 4
Mordica Fuller 200 0 3 7
John Owen 200 0 3 4
William Owens Jr 530 0 5 6
James Sheppard 110 2 4 11
Robert Shepard 200 0 3 8
Francis Vannoy 1070 0 8 10
Thomas Owen 150 0 1 6
David Owen 50 0 1 3
Barnet Owin 350 0 5 7
George McNeal 160 0 3 6

This tax record tells us that Robert was paying tax on 200 acres, which is likely the 200 that he does not yet own, but for which he has entered a claim. He has no slaves, thankfully, 3 mules or horses and a total of 8 cattle.

  • October 23, 1782 – Grant to George McNiel 132 acres both sides south fork Reddis River…Robert Shepherd line, page 358
  • November 9, 1784 – Grant to Barnet Owen 200 acres Reddis River…Robert Shepherds line, page 463
  • Date obscured on my copy – Barnet Owen ? ac Reddies River…Robert Shepherd line, witness Rowland Judd and Elijah Denney, signed Barnet Owen page 127 in deed book
  • February 21, 1787 – Deed between Josiah Sartain and Robert Shepherd, 40 pounds, 50 acres north side of south fork of Reddies River. Wit Alexander Buchanan, Andrew Baker and James Sartain. Signed Josiah X Sartain Page 114
Date Robert’s Land Acres Location Running Total
1782 Entry (granted 199 acres in 1788) +200 Near ford of Reddy’s River, joining John Sheppard 200
1787 Purchase from Josiah Sartain +50 North side south fork Reddies River 250
1788 Grant +100 Reddies River line between Shepherd and Barnet Owen 350
1790 Purchase from James Sartain +70 Line between Sartan and Shepherd, both sides south fork Reddies River 420
1795 Purchase from Josiah Sarten (Sartain) +50 470
1795 Purchase from James Sartin +70 540
1796 Grant +50 Reddies River 590
1799 Purchase from George McNiel +120 710
1800 Sale from Robert Sheppard and Nathaniel to John Judd -130 South fork Reddies River 580
1800 Sale from Robert Sheppard and Nathaniel to John Judd -50 530
1800 Purchase from George McNeil +100 Reddy’s River 630
1802 Sale to James McNeil -50 North fork Reddies River, old wagon ford, south fork Reddies River 580
1802 Sale to James McNeil -50 North fork Reddies 530
1804 Sale to William Judd -100 South fork Reddies River, south side river upon the mountain Ridge formerly called Joes Hill 430
1814 Sale to William and Nathaniel Judd -100 North side south fork Reddies River crossfence between Larkin Pumphrey and Shepherd, crossfence conditional line between John Judd and Shepherd, conditional line between Reuben and Humphrey Kilby and Shepherd. Road runs from head Sport Branch to the Mill, across top of ridge” Carrells old field, top main ridge between William and John Judds field 330

Given that George McNiel sold his land in 1799 and moved to the Parsonville area, and the church building at the base of Deep Ford Hill was abandoned in 1797, with the new church opening in 1798, I have to wonder if George’s land sale and church closing were somehow related.

  • July 10, 1788 – Grant to Robert Shepherd, 100 ac, Reddies River, line between said Shepherd and Barnet Owen, Page 188
  • February 16, 1790 – Between James Sartain and Robert Shepherd, 75 pounds, 70 acres, Nathaniel Judds corner line, conditional line between Josiah Sartain and Robert Shepherd, both sides south fork of Reddies River. Wit William McNiel, Nathaniel Judd and William McQueary, Signed James Sartain page 115
  • December 9, 1794 – Samuel Carter, Miller and William Kilby, yeoman, 300 pounds, 299 acres, two plantations or tracts of land with grist mill on the north fork Reddis River as appears by deeds from David Owen to Samuel Carter April 21 1791, Robert Shepherd’s line, William Owens line. Wit Nathaniel X Judd, Reuben Kilby and David James, Signed Samuel Carter page 412
  • February 2, 1795 – Deed from Josiah Sarten to Robert Sheppard 50 acres, oath of Andrew Baker, ordered registered
  • Deed from Joseph Sartin to James Sartin 70 acres, oath Robert Sheppard
  • Deed from James Sartin to Robert Sheppard 70 acres, oath William Mcqeary
  • February 3, 1800 – Between Robert Shepherd and Nathaniel Judd and John Judd, 50 pounds, 130 acres south fork of Reddies River…Shepherd’s line. Wit James Bunyard, Rowland Judd and Rowland Judd Jr. Signed Robert X Shepherd and Nathaniel X Judd page 109

Robert signed with an X, indicating he cannot write.

  • March 1, 1800 – Between George McNiel and Robert Shepherd, 25 pounds, 100 acres waters Reddys River…Robert Shepherds line. Wit Robert X Bingham, Joseph McNiel and Benjamin McNiel. Signed George McNiel page 836
  • June 10, 1800 – Grant to William Kilby 50 acres on waters of Reddies River, his own line…Robert Shepherd’s corner, pages 285 and 286
  • February 27, 1802 – Between William McQuerry and James McNiel, 25 pounds, 42 acres, branch Reddies River, Cane Creek branch, John Shepherd Sr.’s line, Robert Shepherds line. Wit George McNiel and Jonathan X Darnal, signed William McQuerry page 367
  • March 13, 1802 – Between Robert Shepherd and James McNiel, 25 pounds, 50 acres, Reddies River said Shepherds line. Wit Squire Lowry and John Shepherd. Signed Robert X Shepherd page 368
  • April 9, 1802 – Between Robert Shepherd and James McNiel, 100 pounds, 50 acres, north fork of Reddies River, John Shepherds corner, old wagon ford, south fork Reddies River, wit Squire Lowry and John Shepherd. Signed Robert X Shepherd page 368
  • September 5, 1804 – Between Robert Shepherd and William Judd, Ashe County NC, $100, 100 acres south fork Reddies River, Robert Shepherds old line south side river upon the mountain Ridge formerly called Joes Hill, John Judd’s line. Wit Thomas Farmer. Signed Robert Shepherd, page 188
  • February 4, 1805 – Between John Judd, Ashe Co, NC and William Judd, $250, 130 acres south fork Reddies River, Robert Shepherds line, Nathaniel Judds corner, Rowland Judd, Sr. line. Wit Robert Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, Rebecca X Shepherd page 187
  • April 10, 1807 – Between John Shepherd Jr. and Amos Harmon, $200, 82 acres Middle fork of Reddies River both sides upper line of Esquire Judds old survey, side old road, conditional line made by Judd and White, wagon road. Wit Robert X Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, William X Felphs. Signed John Shepherd page 530
  • April 10, 1807 – Between John Shepherd Jr. and Amos Harmon, $400, 5 2/3 acres middle fork Reddies River, Wit Robert X Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, William X Phelps, signed John Shepherd page 543
  • April 10, 1807 – Between John Shepherd and Amos Harmon, $200, 37 acres middle fork Reddies River, Spencer White’s line, John Tirey’s line, David Owens line, Johnsons line. Wit Robert X Shepherd, Nathaniel X Judd, William X Phelps, signed John Shepherd Page 552
  • May 9, 1809 – Between Henry Miller and James Welborn and Robert Shepherd, $545, negro woman named Rachel and negro boy named Jerry. Wit Nathaniel Vannoy signed Henry Miller and James Welborn page 3

My heart just sank.

Shepherd 1800 census.png

While Robert had no slaves in the 1800 census, above, it pains me greatly to see that in the 1810 census, Robert Shepherd owned not just Rachel, but also Jerry. He still owned both of these humans at his death in 1817. In 1809, Rachel would have been about 42 and Jerry, about 11.

  • May 1, 1810 – Between William Kilby Sr. and Humphrey and Reubin Kilby, 40 pounds, 340 acres, three tracts of land including 2 plantations where Humphrey and Reubin now live, north fork waters of Reddies River – first 200 acres in Robert Shepherds line, William Owens line…2nd 90 acres waters Reddies River, Owens line, head Top Hill Branch, Elijah Dennys line, 3rd 50 acres joining 1st above tract William Kilby’s own line and Robert Shepherds corner. Wits John Judd and Fanny X Kilby. Signed William X Kilby page 157
  • October 28, 1814 – Between Robert Shepherd and William Judd and Nathaniel Judd Jr., $300, 100 acres north side of south fork of Reddies River, crossfence between Larkin Pumphrey and Shepherd, crossfence conditional line between John Judd and Shepherd, conditional line between Reuben and Humphrey Kilby and Shepherd. Road runs from head Sport Branch to the Mill, across top of ridge” Carrells old field, top main ridge between William and John Judds field “2 plum trees planted by John Judd and Larkin Pumphrey.” Wits Rowland Judd and Nancy Judd. Signed Robert X Shepherd and William X Judd page 542

Surveying the Land

This intersection of Shingle Gap Road with NC 16, where the cemetery and church used to be located, is the top of Deep Ford Hill. We know that John Shepherd lived someplace at the bottom of this hill, and his brother, Robert, did as well. Let’s take a drive.

Shepherd Deep Ford Hill.png

Descending the hill, below.

Shepherd Deep Ford descent.png

It’s a long way down. You can’t see the bottom from the top, or even close due to multiple curves and lots of trees. This area is still heavily forested in many places.

Shepherd Deep Ford curve.png

The road curves around the mountain with vegetation on both sides for most of the distance.

Shepherd Deep Ford bottom.png

At the bottom of the hill, we find beautiful, cleared flat land that belonged to John Shephard. The Deep Ford Meeting House may have been located in this area.

The old State Road turns to the right near where the Deep Ford itself was probably located. The exact crossing location isn’t known today.

Shepherd Deep Ford split.png

At this point, perhaps we can see the Reddies River from the bridge on the right close to where Deep Ford would have been. We arrived from the right in the photo below.

Shepherd Deep Ford bridge.png

Indeed, we can see the river. The original “deep ford” would have been someplace in this vicinity.

Shepherd Reddies River from bridge north.png

From the bridge, looking over John Shepherd’s land to the north.

Shepherd Reddies River from bridge south.png

Looking back south at Deep Ford Hill, above.

Shepherd west.png

This view from the bridge is looking back towards the west at the mountain range. The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes its way along the top.

We are going to drive east, the other way, across the bridge, then north along the east side of the Reddies river.

Shepherd deep ford aerial land.png

On the map above, the original cemetery is marked with a red star, the bottom red arrow points to the bridge in the photos above. We will be driving along the road where the red arrows point to John Shepperd’s land. The gold arrows point to the road along Robert’s land.

The road continues for almost a mile shadowing the river, following the general curving river shape, but sometimes with fields between the road and river as shown below.

Shepherd John's land.png

John Shepperd owned this land between the mountains, crossing the Reddies River located behind the bushes, through the field and across the road.

Shepherd small stream.png

At the point at where the river curves left, marked by that first gold arrow, we find a house on a stream on the right and the Reddies River is evident on the left side (through the trees, above) as the small stream running beside the house empties into the river.

Pioneer cabins would have been located on smaller, clean streams, so I can’t help but wonder if this was Johns’ home. It’s also possible that the mouth of this stream was actually on the land that Robert patented. It’s very near the border of the boundary line between the brother’s lands.

The house on the stream is visible, below, at far right above the words “Old North.”

This begins the area where Robert’s 199 acre land grant can be seen from the road. In fact, according to the court notes, the road is likely driving across Robert and John’s land.

We know Robert owned a lot more land, a total of at least 789 acres at one point by adding other grants as well as purchasing additional acreage. Robert’s additional land abutted his original land. A square mile is 640 acres, so Robert owned more than a mile by roughly a mile and a quarter. His total land holdings were about twice the size of his brother John’s initial land grant.

In essence, it appears that Robert and John at one owned pretty much everthing along this part of the River from mountain to mountain. A few other men owned adjacent lands which were bought and sold over the years.

Shepherd Robert aerial.png

In this area, near the small stream in the upper right of the photo, above, you can’t see the river from the road. Trees line the riverbanks as you can see both above and below, probably providing stability during floods. This would have been part of Robert’s original land. I wonder if the part not cleared isn’t suitable for farming, or if it’s being harvested for trees and logs today.

Shepherd road to river.png

Driving north, farmland lines the road on the west, and mountains form the east boundary.

The map below shows the junction of the north branch of Reddies River where it separates from the south branch.

Shepherd north and south Reddies split.png

We don’t know exactly where the roads today named old and new NC 16 ran at the time, but there weren’t a lot of options based on the lay of the land. The main road, according to the 1808 NC map may have run up the left side, but we know absolutely that there was a road on the right or east side too, because the hill and the ford to get there was named “Deep Ford” very early.

Today we can also see Robert’s land from NC Highway 16 on the west side of Reddies River as the highway cuts across the south branch of the river. George McNiel’s land would have intersected Robert’s in this area, and eventually Robert would purchase 100 acres of George’s land.

Shepherd Robert South Reddies.png

NC 16 is quite hilly until we cross the river at the bottom with the mountains in view ahead.

Shepherd Robert flat.png

Robert’s land is the flat land to the right with several homes today.

Shepherd Robert view.png

This vista is incredibly beautiful. I see why Robert came, put down roots and never left.

Shepherd Robert Deep Ford.png

As we drive away from Robert’s land, I couldn’t help but turn around and take one last look back across his land. Deep Ford Hill rises from the valley floor, a silent sentry marking the location where the earliest pioneers are buried in a long-lost cemetery. Robert traversed this hill innumerable times, on foot. on horseback and in wagons.

I have literally driven in his footsteps.

Court Records

I love court records. They reflect both the ordinary life of being summoned and serving jury duty combined with the excitement of trials. Court was the entertainment of the day, aside from church of course. Men gathered in Wilkesboro in pubs and houses surrounding the courthouse for the week that court was in session. Only local men went home at night, and those men probably arrived very late and often intoxicated. Everyone else stayed someplace in the vicinity of the courthouse for the duration of the court session.

In the early days, not much of a town surrounded the courthouse, and there wasn’t even a proper courthouse. A lot of “make do” went on.

It wasn’t until 1800 that there WAS a town of Wilkesboro when the town was actually platted after land was deeded for that purpose. An actual town began to emerge around the old courthouse that was probably not much more than a log cabin.

In August 1801, court was held for the first time in the new courthouse. Three years later, there appeared to be some concern about the clerk, because the court appointed commissioners to assure that the “County clerk’s office was sufficient or suitable” for the court’s official records.

Three months later, in November the court ordered the former county officials to account for tax collection from 1778 through 1800, 22 years, which they completed satisfactorily in 1802. Most of us today would have trouble reconstructing 22 years worth of records.

The early Wilkes County records are not complete. Some omissions could be due to whatever caused the justices their concern in November 1801, but not entirely. When I first visited Wilkes County, in the 1990s, the courthouse employees quietly told me of old records being used for bonfires in the distant past, but not so long ago as to be purged from memory. From what they said, and George confirmed, back in the depression era no one thought that “old records about dead people” would be of interest to anyone, for any reason.

I. Was. Horrified!

During later visits, after Wilkes County transferred records to the North Carolina State Archives, there was still confusion in the modern-day offices about which records still existed and where they might be located.

Robert Shepherd in the Records

Shepherd was spelled a variety of ways in these early records. Shepherd, Sheperd, Sheppard and just about any way you could think to spell it and a few you probably can’t. There is no “right” way of spelling the name. It appears, based on “signatures” of both Robert and Sarah that neither could write, so the spelling was decided by whomever was recoding the record at the time. Spelling was not standardized at that point in history.

Wilkes County was formed from Surry County and Washington District (now Washington County, TN) North Carolina on April 20, 1778. If the Shepherd family left Spotsylvania County, Virginia on December 7, 1777, they would not have arrived in Wilkes County before January 1778, best case. I did not check Surry County records given that Robert would have only lived in that county for 3 or 4 months, max. My luck, the juciest record EVER is probably hiding there, mocking me.

Robert was first found in Wilkes County court records in December 1778, and thereafter regularly. One had to be male, white, 21 and a property owner to be a juror. According to deed records, Robert filed for land on April 24, 1778. His traveling comparison, George McNiel filed in March, so they arrived sometime between January and March 12th.

At that time, men would be “summoned” for jury duty at the end of one session, then serve at the next, 3 months later. Robert’s entries in the court records regarding jury duty begin in December of 1778.

  • December 10, 1778 – juror
  • March 5, 1779 – juror
  • June 8, 1779 – juror
  • December 8, 1780 – juror
  • September 7, 1781 – juror
  • July 31, 1781 – juror
  • July 29, 1784 – juror
  • April 11, 1784 – juror
  • October 28, 1784 – juror
  • January 28, 1785 – juror
  • July 24, 1785 – juror
  • July 25, 1785 – juror

Another type of court record, road orders, are just wonderful, because they tell us who the neighbors are and often included landmarks, some of which can be found today.

  • January 24, 1786 – Ordered John Sheppard overseer of the road instead of Nathaniel Judd. Ordered William Nall, Morris Baker, James Baker, Martin Adams, John Read, Jesse Ray, John Robins, William Vias, James Sheppard, Barnet Owen, David Owen, Francis Vannoy, Martin Gambill, John Tyre, Nathaniel Vannoy and Robert Sheppard as a road jury from John Sheppards to the foot of the mountain at the head of Reddies River.

This is a very interesting entry. I found the head of Reddies River. Vannoy Road snakes it’s way along the entire branch of the north fork of the Reddies River, all the way to the top.

Shepherd Vannoy Road.png

This is my Jeep a few years ago at the intersection with Vannoy Road where it crosses Reddies River at the gold arrow on the map below. It’s very rough terrain and the locals didn’t recommend trying this section of Vannoy Road, even with a Jeep. They said there are some places with switchbacks that only accommodate one car and they are dangerous in the best of circumstances, but treacherous if it rains or snows.

Shepherd Deep Ford to beginning of Reddies River.png

On this map, Thomas Shepherd’s land is the green arrow where the north and south forks of the Reddies River split. The red arrow is where Vannoy Road begins to climb the mountain, near the Reddies River Church.

I know beyond a doubt that the Owens and Vannoy families lived along the north fork of the Reddies River.

  • April 27, 1786 – Ordered William Nall, Esq Thomas Dickson, Morris Baker, Martin Adams, John Reed, Jesse Ray, John Robins, William Owen, James Sheppard, Barnet Owen, Francis Vannoy, David Smith, John Tyre, Nathaniel Vannoy and Robert Sheppard as a road jury from Deep Ford at John Sheppards to foot of mountains at head of Reddies River.

This suggests that John Sheppard lived at or very near Deep Ford. I suspect that this road order was for this entire stretch of road.

  • January 25, 1787 – Ordered John Owens, Thomas Owens, William Owens, David Owens, James Sheppard, Henry Woody, Francis Vannoy, John Robins, Nathaniel Judd, Rowland Judd, Josiah Sartin, Robert Sheppard, John Tirey, Peter Baker, James Sheppard appointed as a road jury road near Francis Kerby’s up north fork of Reddies River to Thomas Owens.
  • April 28, 1790 – Whereas Jervis Smith hath in consequence of an Act of Assembly passed in 1788 to encourage building of Iron Works in the state, entered 2000 acres on both sides of Reddies River adjoining William Kilby, likewise 500 acres on north side Reddies River at line of said Smith adjoining lands of William Kilby and Justice Bowland, incl part of Bull Head Mtn, likewise 500 acres on both sides of Mulberry Creek adjoining land of John Robins and John Hawkins running down creek including vacant land between land of Isaac Perlier and Walter Brown, whereupon, court orders Adam Kilby, Jonathan Wall, Walter Brown, William Kilby, Samuel Carter, Michael Kilby, Justice Rowland, George Owen, John Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, John Hawkins, James Yates, Henry Adams, James Hays and Aaron Cannady to view whether lands above mentioned are fit for cultivation.
  • July 26 1790 – Whereas Jervis Smith hath in consequence of Act of Assembly passed 1788 to encourage building of iron works in state, entered 2000 acres both sides of Reddies River adjoining William Kilby, likewise 500 acres north side Reddies River at line said Smith adjoining lands of William Kilby and Justice Bowland including part of Bull Head Mountain, likewise, 500 acres both sides of Mulberry creek adjoining land John Robins and John Hawkins running down creek including vacant land between land Isaac Parlier and Walter Brown.

Whereupon, ordered Adam Kilby, Jonathan Wall, Walter Brown, William Kilby, Samuel Carter, Michael Kilby, Justice Rowland, George Owen, John Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, John Hawkins, James Yates, Henry Adams, James Hays and Aaron Cannady to view whether lands above mentioned are fit for cultivation.

This huge grant was more than two miles by two miles and, I suspect, further north and east where Mulberry Creek and Bull’s Mountain are found.

  • January 25, 1791 – Jury appointed at last court to view lands of Jarvis Smith as fit for cultivation report found they are not fit for cultivation. (Robert Sheppard included on jury list above.)
  • Ordered John Robins Jr., Robert Sheppard, William McNiel, John Sheppard Sr., Rowland Judd, Esq, Rowland Judd, Nathaniel Judd, Asel Cross, Stephen Sheppard, John McQuary Sr., John McQuary, James McNiel, David Owen Sr., John Judd, John Tyre appointed as a jury to view a road from Deep Ford on Reddies River to Elijah Denneys over said River.
  • October 31, 1792 – Ordered William Copeland, William Kilbee, James Kilbee, Michael Kilbee, Owen Williams, Thomas Owens, William Cash, Thomas Erwin, Benjamin Church, Francis Vannoy, William McNiel, James McNeil, Robert Sheppard, Joel Copeland, Jarvis Smith, Humphrey Smith, Horam Boon, a jury to view a road round Samuel Carter’s Mill pond where water overflows on Reddies River.
  • Wilkes County Will Abstracts Book 1, 1778-1799 by Absher – Page 448 (orig book) page 41 extracted book – February 4, 1792 proved at May term 1795, Power of attorney from James Brown of State of Georgia to Robert Sheppard to convey unto John Forester 200 acres of land and 100 acres whereon Fielding Forister and Benjamin Bruce now live. Wit Rowland Judd, William McNiel, John Sheppard Jr., Stephen Shepherd, signed James X Brown

Did Robert Shepherd have a relationship with James Brown? If so, what?

  • 8, 1793 – juror
  • April 29, 1793 – grand jury
  • November 7, 1793 – juror
  • May 7, 1795 – Power of attorney from James Brown to Robert Sheppard, oath John Sheppard Jr
  • Also, juror at same session.
  • May 8, 1795 – Ordered William Cash, Nathaniel Judd, Thomas Owen, William Owen, Thomas Erwin, Robert Sheppard, William Colvart, James Sheppard, John Owen, Benjamin Pennell, Elijah Denney, Zachariah Denney, Johnson Owen, William Tyre to view a road from William Colvarts to top of Ridge above said Colvarts.
  • February 4, 1796 – Ordered William McNiel, Philip Church, William Owen, Joseph Keslar, Rowland Judd, John Tyre, James Calloway, James McNiel, William Cash, William Colvard, Robert Sheppard, Francis Vannoy, Reuben Stringer, John Yates, John Sheppard to view and lay out a road from oldfields on New River to the Punchion Camp on the ridge.

I believe this is present day Ashe County.

  • May 1, 1797 – Ordered William Colvard, William Cash, Robert Judd, John Judd, Benjamin Viers, Lewis Sheppard, Humphry Kilbee, Reuben Kilbee, David Owens, James Sheppard, Stephen Sheppard view road from Deep Ford of Reddies River to top of hill above John Sheppards.

This tells us that John lived at the bottom of the hill, not at the top. I wonder if this is the road that became Tumbling Shoals Road. I don’t see a lot of other candidates.

  • April term 1799 – Robert Shepherd appraised estate of Michael Kilby
  • November 1, 1803 – William Adkins and John Adkins bound to Robert Shepherd to learn the occupation of farmer until 21 years old. Signed Robert X Sheppard

This confirms that Robert was a farmer. The Adkins boys were probably orphans and Robert, now age 64 with his own children grown could use some extra help.

  • February term 1805 – Deed from Robert Shepherd to William Judd for 100 acres land duly prove in court by oath of John Judd
  • April 30, 1799 – Appraisement of Michael Kilby’s estate returned by William Trible and Robert Sheppard, appraisers.
  • August 2, 1799 – Robert Sheppard summoned as juror to next session
  • November 4, 1799 – Robert Sheppard sworn on grand jury
  • November 8, 1799 – Deed from George McNiel to Robert Sheppard for 120 acres acknowledged in court by George McNiel
  • February 7, 1800 – Ordered that John Forester, Jacob Robards, James Kilby, John Querry, William Querry, John Sheppard, Robert Sheppard, Lewis Sheppard, Nathaniel Judd, John Judd, William Vias, Henry Pumphry, William Trible and Jarvis Smith or any 12 of them be a jury to view a road from where the road crosses the branch at Ambrose Hammon’s house running through the field along a ridge into the old road near the Deep Ford and report the same to the next court.
  • May Term 1800 – Deed from George McNiel to Robert Sheppard for 100 acres ack in court by George McNiel
  • May Term 1800 – Deed from Robert Sheppard and Nathaniel Judd to John Judd for 100 acres proven by oath of Rowland Judd
  • May Term 1802 – Two deeds from Robert Sheppard to James McNiel for 50 acres of land each proven in court by Squire Lowrey.
  • August 4, 1803 – Ordered that Francis Vannoy, Esq., William McQuerry, John Sheppard Sr., Robert Sheppard, Nathaniel Judd Jr., John Judd, William Colvard, Jesse Busy, William Cash, James Hays, Leonard Whittenton, George Owen, Edward Dancy, Thomas Irvin and Zaceriah Denny or any 12 of them to be a jury to review and mark the road the best way from the ford of the river above Robert Sheppards to the mouth of the branch above where Thomas Farmer lived and report the same to the next court.
  • October 31, 1803 – Apprentices rebound – ordered that the indenture binding William Adkins to John Jinnings dated April 30, 1799 and the indenture binding John Adkins aged 15 years the 31st of January last to Elisha Jinnings dated May 3, 1799 be rescinded and that they be bound unto Robert Shepard until they are 21 years old.
  • May 1, 1804 – Jury on Reddies River – Ordered that Thomas Johnson, Nathaniel Judd, Robert Sheppard, John Owen, William Kilby, Nathaniel Judd Jr., William Cash, John Church, John Judd, William McNiel, James McNiel, John Vannoy, Joel Vannoy, James Kilby, Reuben Kilby, Humphrey Kilby, William McQuerry, Henry Pumphrey, John Sheppard Jr., Francis Vannoy, Edward Dancy, George Owen, John Dancy, William Jinkins, William Colvard, John Harmon and Robert Cleveland, or any 12 of them be a jury to view a road from the new meeting house on Reddies River by John Shepherd’s Jr. into the road that leads to New River and if they think it necessary to lay it out and report the same to next court.

We know the location of the new meeting house. I searched for the closest way to reach the New River.

Shepherd to New River.png

This is really rough terrain, crossing the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Shepherd to New River aerial.png

The view near the top of the ridge shows the stunningly beautiful country.

Shepherd ridge top.png

Robert cut this road or one similar and nearby. These men were made of steel, I swear.

  • February 8, 1806 – Road jury to view the road from John Sheppards Sr. on Reddies River to Robert Sheppards on said River and report to next court. Jury James Hays, John McQuerry, Henry Pumphrey, Leonard Whittenton, William Judd, Nathaniel Judd Sr., Nathaniel Judd Jr., William Colvard, Jesse Berry, Thomas Johnson, William Cash, William McQuerry, John Sheppard Jr., Edward Dancy, James Woody, George Owen, Leonard Wingler, Johnson Owen, Francis Vannoy, Abraham Kilbey.

Obviously the brothers already had some type of road or path between their homes. Perhaps just a horse trail, and they wanted a wagon road.

  • May 6, 1808 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from the ford of the (Yadkin? – the extractor called it possibly Yadkin, but it would be Reddies) River at John Shepherd’s Sr. to a branch at James McNeil’s and report the same to next court. Jury James McNiel, Reuben Kilbey, Henry Kilbey, William McQuerry, John Shepherd Jr, Thomas Johnson, William Covard, Nathaniel Judd Sr., Amos Harmon, Nathaniel Judd, Jr., William Judd, Robert Sheppard, John McQuerry, William Viars, Lewis Shepherd, Leonard Whittington
  • May 10, 1806 – Report the jury appointed in February 1806 to view the road from John Sheppards to Robert Sheppards reported and say they find the say sufficient for a road on the foot of the hill round the bottom.

If only they had included maps with these reports.

  • March 1809 – Robert Sheppard juror
  • February Term 1809 – Road Jury to view and lay off a road from the ford of the creek where Stephen Viars lived last summer down to the schoolhouse and make report. Jury William Viars, Henry Pumphrey, John McQuerry, John Shepherd Sr., Robert Shepherd, William Judd, James McNiel, William McQuerry, George Owens, Johnson Owens, Nathaniel Judd, John Shepherd Jr., Andrew Shepherd, William Cash, Jesse Berry, Abraham Kilbey, Esq.

This is the first mention of a schoolhouse. This means that Robert’s grandchildren were probably being educated, at least to some level. It also tells us that the schoolhouse is not the same as the church.

  • May 1, 1809 – Bill of sale from Henry Miller and James Wellborn to Robert Sheppard ack in open court by oath of Miller and Wellborn.
  • January 29, 1810 – Jury to lay off road from the ford of Reddies River below John Sheppards Sr. to the road leading up Mulberry Creek by Ezekiel Browns. Jury Reuben Hays, William Adams, Charles Adams, James McNiel, Jarvis Smith, Joshua Smith, James Kilbey, Thomas Tinsley, James Hays, Reuben Kilbey, William McQuery, Robert Sheppard, Henry Adams, John Roades, Joseph Roberds, Larkin Cash.
  • May 2, 1811 – Road jury to view and lay off road from the sign post at Sheppard’s Hill on Reddies River up the north fork of said river to Johnson Owens. Jury George Owens, James McNeil, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey Kilbey, James Kilbey, John McQuerry, John Sheppard, Larkins Sheppard, William Viars, Abraham Kilbey, Francis Vannoy, Johnson Owens, James Woody, Benjamin Darnall, Edward Dancy, Aaron Wiatt, Nathaniel Juddy, John Judd, William Judd, Robert Sheppard.
  • August 2, 1811 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from the Deep Ford on Reddies River to the fork of the road above Thomas Johnsons. Jury James Hays, William Viars, John McQuerry, John Sheppard, James McNiel, Humphrey Kilbey, Reuben, Kilbey, Larkin Pumphrey, James Kilbey, Leonard Whittington, Henry Pumphrey, Robert Sheppard, John Judd, William Judd, Nathaniel Judd Sr., Nathaniel Judd Jr., Francis Vannoy, Esq, William Colvard.
  • November 6, 1811 – We the jury met and viewed and found a wagon road from the Deep Ford on Reddies River to the Fork Road above Thomas Johnsons and se we say. (entire jury list repeated, including Robert Sheppard).
  • August 6, 1812 – Jury summoned to November term 1812 – Robert Sheppard
  • November 3, 1812 – Ordered that jurors Robert Sheppard, Willis Alexander and William Mooney be fined the sum of 1-/- each. Sci Fa to issue.

Robert could have been having a bout of kidney stones. He seemed quite dependable, for years and years.

  • February 1, 1813 – Fine remitted against Robert Sheppard at last term for nonattendance as a juror be remitted without costs.
  • May 6, 1813 – Road jury to lay off the road from the Deep Ford of Reddies River by Mrs. Sheppards to James McNiels house or against his house. Jury James Hays, Robert Viars, Leo Whittington, Henry Pumphrey, John Judd, John McQuerry, James McNiel, Robert Sheppard, William Judd, Nathaniel Judd, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey Kilbey, Johnson Owens, Benjamin Darnall, Stephen Viars.
  • August 5, 1813 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from the ford of Reddies River by Mrs. Sheppards to James McNeil house, or against his house. Jury James Hays, Leo Whittington, Henry Pumphrey, John Judd, Robert Viars, Robert Sheppard, William Judd, Larkin Pumphrey, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey ilbey, Francis Vannoy, Martin Maker, James Woody, Stephen Viars, Edward Dancy, Thomas Griffin, Aaron Wyatt, Vickory Wyatt.
  • November 4, 1813 – Road jury report – we the jury met according to summons Aug. 5, 1813 and viewed and marked out a way for a road from the first ford of Reddies River above the sign post at the foot of a hill to or against James McNiels house and found no damage. (list of jurors repeated),
  • November 4, 1813 – The following jury viewed and lay off a road near the old road from the foot of the hill by Sarah Sheppards at the sign post to the ford below Thomas Johnsons on Reddies River (list of jurors repeated).
  • October term 1814 – Deed from Robert Sheppard and William Judd to Nathaniel Judd for 100 acres of land proven by oath of Rolin Judd.
  • August 3, 1815 – The following be a jury to view and lay out a road from John Sheppard’s Sr. decd to the ford of Reddies River above William Colvards. Jury James McNeil, Robert Sheppard, James Woody, George Taylor, Thomas Johnson, Solomon Bolin, James Hays, James Fletcher, Larkin McNeil, Johnson Owens, Henry Miller, William Colvard, William Judd, Edward Dancy, Aaron Wiatt, Thomas Tinsley, Reuben Kilbey, Humphrey Kilbey, James Kilbey, John McQuerry, Thomas Griffin.
  • July 31, 1816 – Jury to view and lay off a road from the sign post at John Judds on Lewis Fork road to the Deep Ford on Reddies River. Jury Presley Cleveland, Andrew Vannoy, Jesse Vannoy John Eller, John Harmon, Amos Harmon, Larkin McNeil, John Judd, Thomas Erwin, Henry Miller, Thomas Tninsley, Henry Kilbey, Joseph Baldwin, Henry Hambey, William Judd, Robert Sheppard, James McNeil, Humphrey Kilbey, John Viars, Robert Viars, Leonard Whittington, John Kilbey, Thomas Rash, Hugh Hays.
  • November 7, 1816 – Road jury to view and lay off a road from Robert Sheppards to William Colvards Mill so as not to run into the (Reddies?) River more than crossing the same from Robert Sheppards to said Colvards Mill the best way. Jury Edward Dancy, Vickory Wiatt, James Woody, Johnson Owens, Humphrey Kilbey, Henry Miller, Thomas Johnson, Aaron Wiatt, Reuben Kilbey, Thomas Rash, John Kilbey, Thomas Griffin, William Colvard, John Adams, Solomon Boling.

This is an interesting entry in that Colvard Road still exists today as a two-track between the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Reddies River, near Robert Shepherd’s land, marked with the red star.

Shepherd Colvard Road.png

  • February 6, 1817 – Jury report from Robert Sheppards to William Colvards Mill as follows, begun at a stake near Fletchers house at the hill, then down to a stake, then keeping the road to a wash’d place to a stake, then down the river bank to a persimmon tree, then into the old road, then 20 foot to Robert Sheppards, the damage assessed at $$.75 (jury names repeated here.

Note – a November 23, 1812 deed, Deed book G-H, NC grant number 2860 Jesse Berry 100 acres the waters of the south fork Reddies River, William Colvard’s line, John Adams line.

This February 1817 entry is the last court note – at 77 years of age he was still riding a horse and laying out roads. He died 4 months later, and he was ill for at least 2 weeks before his death.

The next court entries regard Robert’s death and estate in August 1817.

  • August 5, 1817 – Ordered James McNiel administer on the estate of Robert Sheppard decd who gave bond in the sum of $4000 with William Colvard and James Wellborn as security and qualified as the law directs.
  • An inventory of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd was returned on oath by James McNiel, administrator.
  • Commissioners ordered that Humphrey Kilbey, Leonard Whittington, Presley Cleveland and Joshua Smith, Esq be commissioners to lay off one years provision to Salley Sheppard, widow or Robert Sheppard, decd,
  • Ordered that James McNiel, administrator, sell such part of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd as he thinks proper and make return to the next court.
  • November 5, 1817 – Commissioners appointed to layoff one years provision to Robert Sheppards widow, returned their report which was received by the court.
  • February 5, 1818 – Account of the sale of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd was returned on oath by the administrator, James McNiel (August 5, 1817 entry).
  • February term 1818 – Bill of sale James McNiel, administrator of Robert Sheppard, to John Judd was duly proven in open court by the oath or Francis Barnard.
  • August 3, 1819 – Commissioners ordered that Gen. Montfort Stokes, Hamilton Brown and Jesse Vannoy be a committee to settle with James McNiel, administrator of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd and report to next court.
  • May 3, 1820 – Committee appointed to settle with the administrator of Robert Sheppard decd, James McNiel, returned a report which was received.

Unfortunately, the list of the estate inventory items wasn’t included in the court notes, but cousin Carol came to our rescue.

Robert’s Death

Thanks to the Bible, we know exact when Robert Shepperd died, June 5, 1817, and why – “the old stone and gravel” – known today as kidney stones.

Robert was not a young man. He was just 12 days short of his 78th birthday. One would think that he would have had a will, just based on his age alone, but he didn’t. Perhaps Robert was an optimist.

He didn’t die suddenly either. Robert was ill for 17 days, and clearly getting sicker day by day. I’m surprised that at some point, he didn’t construct a will, even a noncupative or spoken will. We know that he did not, not only because a will wasn’t wasn’t recorded or submitted to the court, but because Sarah approached the court and waived her right as administrator.

Entries in Robert’s probate file include Sarah’s petition on August 2nd waiving her administrative right in lieu of her son-in-law, James McNiel.

Shepherd Sally admin.png

Note that Sarah signed with an X. The balance of the documents in his packet include James McNiel’s bond and a receipt for a payment of debt.

Robert’s Estate

I absolutely love estates and estate inventories. They allow us a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors, much like walking through our houses today would tell someone a great deal about us. People wandering through my house would discover that I’m a quilter and a genealogist. Now there’s a surprise!

Robert Sheppard was not a poor man. He had done quite well for himself, amassing, and then selling most of his land except for 122 acres where he lived at his death.

I’m apparently missing a few real estate transactions, because I show Robert’s running total at his death as 330 acres.

What I didn’t have was any detail about the contents of his estate. Cousin Carol did me a HUGE favor, looked up Robert’s estate inventory on microfilm and sent those pages along to be transcribed. Thank you IMMENSELY, Carol!!!

What isn’t included in Wilkes County estate information is a list of purchasers at the estate sales, but we do have the complete inventory thanks to Carol.

In Robert’s estate inventory, his assets were apparently listed in the perceived order of their value. His land came first, and then, sadly, two slaves; Rachel who was about 50 years old and Jerry, between 17 and 18. One has to wonder if Rachel is Jerry’s mother. There is no list of purchasers at the estate sale, so we don’t know who purchased what, or whom, or what became of Rachel and Jerry. Jerry would have been born about 1800, or maybe 1801 and could have still been living in 1865 when the slaves were freed during the Civil War.

In Wilkes County Will Book 3, Robert’s estate inventory items are listed together in one long list, but I’ll transcribe, divide the list at intervals and interject some commentary from time to time.

Robert Shepherd inventory page 1.jpg

Robert Shepherd inventory page 2.jpg

Robert Shepherd inventory page 3.jpg

Robert Shepherd inventory page 4.jpg

Will Book 3, Page 154/155 – August term 1817

An inventory of the estate of Robert Sheppard decd:

  • One tract of land containing 122 acres
  • 1 negro woman named Rachel about 50 years of age
  • 1 negro boy named Jerry between 17 and 18 years of age

I checked the 1850 and 1860 slave census in the hope of finding Jerry, but slaves first names were not recorded in Wilkes County. By 1870, there is no Jerry born about that time that is either black or mulatto in Wilkes County, so either Jerry had died, moved or was recorded under a different name. I can only hope that this information can somehow help Jerry’s descendants connect with their family.

  • 1 black horse rising 5 years old
  • 1 sorrel mare rising 4 years old
  • 1 dark bay horse rising 3 years old

The horses would have been used for transportation and pulling the plows and wagons. Interesting that there were no mules. I’ve not seen the term “rising” in this context before, but would presume it means just under or just over.

  • 14 head of cattle
  • 19 head of sheep
  • Between 20-30 head of hogs

Robert had enough livestock to feed his family and sell some to the neighbors too – for a long time.

  • 1 curry comb

Shepherd curry comb.png

A curry comb is used in horse grooming.

  • 1 waggon and hind gears
  • 1 bar shear plow
  • 1 half shear plow
  • 1 double tree
  • 2 shovel plows
  • 1 swingle tree

A swingletree is a wooden bar used to balance the pull of a draft horse when pulling a vehicle of some sort. This would be used with a horse collar to attach harnesses to both sides of the horse and to the swingletree behind the animal.

  • 1 pair of chins and hames? (chains perhaps?)
  • 1 bark band
  • 2 clwius?
  • 3 axes
  • 4 hacs
  • 1 mattock (a combination of an ax and an adze)
  • 1 cross cut saw
  • 1 hand saw
  • 1 frow
  • 1 log chain
  • 1 augers
  • 2 chisels
  • 1 foot adds (adze)
  • 1 gouge
  • 1 pair pinchers
  • 1 jointer
  • 1 jack plain (type of woodworking bench plane)
  • 1 box of iron lumber

Robert had obviously been clearing land – probably constantly. That makes sense, of course, after he purchased land grants, meaning no settler had lived there before. The different types of plows tell us that he was a farmer, but the joiner and chisels suggest that he was also a carpenter.

Like many colonial settlers, Robert probably had to be a jack-of-all-trades.

  • 1 grindstone

Shepherd grindstone

A grindstone, usually made from sandstone, is a round sharpening stone used for grinding or sharpening metallic tools or knives.

  • 1 pair sheep shears
  • 1 cutting knife and box
  • 6 hogsheads
  • 2 tight casks
  • 4 tubs

Hogsheads were a type of barrel, so either Robert was also a cooper, or he purchased or traded for casks, barrels and tubs.

  • 3 gums

Shepherd bee gum.png

A bee gum is a naturally occurring hive, often cut from trees with the hive portion of the tree intact by early settlers and brought home so that the bees could be cultivated, and the honey harvested.

  • 1 fat tub
  • 1 soap tub
  • 1 washing tub

This looks like a production area for rendering lard and soap-making, assuredly outside.

  • 1 canteen
  • 2 pail and 2 piggins

A piggin is a pail with one stave extended upwards for a handle.

We’ve obviously moved into the kitchen area now.

  • 1 churn
  • 1 cubbard
  • 2 tables
  • 1 chest
  • 1 small trunk
  • 1 knife box
  • Some knives and forks
  • 4 dishes
  • 6 plates
  • 4 basons
  • 6 tin cups
  • 5 crocks
  • 2 earthen pans
  • 2 earthen dishes
  • 2 mugs
  • 1 jug
  • 1 coffee pot
  • 1 sadle
  • 1 skimmer
  • 6 spoons
  • 2 wooden ladles
  • 2 pots
  • 1 gridiron
  • 1 shovel
  • 1 pair tongs
  • 1 flat iron
  • 2 pair of pot hooks
  • 2 ovens
  • 1 skillet
  • 2 iron trammels

Except for the sadle, which could have been in the kitchen for some reason, everything here is kitchen-related. While Robert was not poor, the small number of plates and dishes tell a tale of austerity. 6 plates and 4 dishes wouldn’t even have been enough for each family member – Robert and Sarah had 10 children for a family of 12, assuming no one’s spouse, children or neighbors were visiting. Wooden trenchers were probably in use, although they aren’t listed. There also only 6 cups and 6 spoons.

  • 1 looking glass

The looking glass is the only suggestion of luxury or any item that was not absolutely essential. I initially thought this would have been Sarah’s mirror, but then I realized it might have been Robert’s for shaving. If that’s the case, then it wouldn’t be a luxury at all. I wish we knew if this looking glass was hand-held or wall-mounted.

  • 3 bedsteads with their cords
  • 3 feather beds with their furniture

I wonder if Sarah and Robert had their bed, plus a “boys’ bed” and a “girls’ bed” where the kids slept until they married.

  • 2 under beds and his wearing apparel

This seems to suggest that there was some unit for storing things under the bed – and that Robert’s clothes were stored there. Or perhaps I’m misreading this and an under-bed was a trundle bed. Regardless, I wish Robert’s “wearing apparel” had been detailed.

  • 1 church Bible
  • 1 testament
  • 2 hymn books

I wonder about the definition of a “church Bible.” Compared to what other type of Bible? Does this mean that a “church Bible” is smaller than many of the big Bibles of the time, so transportable to church? Or maybe the opposite, a church Bible is large and therefore stays at church.

I’m also quite curious about the hymn books. I would expect even someone who couldn’t read might own a Bible – but why own a hymn book if you can’t read to sing along? On multiple documents, Robert signs with an X, never signing a signature, suggesting that he cannot write. Here’s an example of what might have been in a Baptist hymnal around 1800.

  • 2 flax wheels
  • 1 cotton wheel
  • 1 counting reel
  • 1 pair wool cards
  • 2 pair cotton cards
  • 1 pair cloth shears

mary-dodson-spinning-wheel

“Woman’s work is never done.” Indeed, Sarah was clearly spinning flax, cotton and wool, probably weaving and assuredly sewing.” Yet, legally, Robert owned everything, so her spinning wheels and literally everything except her clothes were included in Robert’s estate sale.

  • 1 half bushel
  • 4 sides of leather
  • 3 bells
  • 2 collars
  • Mans saddle
  • 8 shears
  • 1 woman’s saddle
  • 2 bridles
  • 1 head stall and bits

These items seem to be associated with equine or animal care.

Rachel Rice cowbell

The bells are probably cattle bells.

  • Some wool
  • Some cotton
  • 1 crop flax
  • 1 flax buck
  • Some spun truck

Obviously wool, cotton and flax are to be spun, but I don’t know what “spun truck” or a “flax buck” is and google isn’t helpful. Any spinners out there?

  • 1 pair of stilyards

Shepherd stilyards.png

A stillyard is a device for weighing things. They came in all sizes to weight a variety of items from small things like coins to large shipping containers using a crane. Scales with a counterbalance on which you’re asked to step at the doctor’s office, before groaning and removing your shoes, are a form of stillyard.

  • Some wheat
  • Some rye
  • Some oats
  • A crop of corn now growing

Crops, obviously. The corn would not be valued or sold until after harvest.

  • Some salt
  • Some bacon
  • Some old corn

Salt was a valuable commodity, available only by mining or near the ocean from evaporation. Based on 1863 court minutes, it appears that salt in Wilkes County came from Saltville, Virginia, some 80 rough miles away, over the mountains. Salt was used for seasoning, but sometimes, more importantly, for the preservation of meats. Meats were also smoked in a smokehouse for preservation. Old corn would have been left from last year’s harvest.

  • 1 bread tray
  • 1 sifter
  • 1 riddle

Obviously, we’ve moved to the oven area, either outside or beside the fireplace. A riddle is a type of sifter.

  • 1 hackle

A hackle or hatchel is a type of carder or brush generally for wool or flax. You can see one here. Notice the bottom side where the square-headed nails are driven through.

  • 1 rasor
  • 1 rasor case

Rachel Rice shaving

The straight edge razor would have been Robert’s. This 1846 illustrates the art of shaving, and presumably, not getting cut.

  • 1 pair horse fetters

Horse fetters are in essence horse handcuffs, chaining the horses legs together to restrict their movement. ☹

  • 1 pair of saddle bags

Robert Shepherd had several debtors. However, a closer looks shows that many of these debts were owed by Robert’s sons-in-law (bolded below) and may have been a method to facilitate early inheritance. The $100 amounts often match the amount of a land sale exactly.

Accounts due by note, to wit:

  • 1 note of William McQuerry for $100
  • 1 note on James McNiel for $25
  • 2 notes on Thomas Erwin for $110
  • 1 note of John Judd for $100
  • Note of William Judd for $100
  • Note of Larkin Pumphrey for $10
  • Note on Amos Harmon for $40
  • Note on Lewis Cash for $22.50
  • Note on John Adams for $15
  • Note on James Persons for $8

Accounts due by book, to wit:

  • Larkin Pumphrey – one tract of land $100
  • William McNiel – $59.50
  • Edmond Woods – $1.25
  • William Wilson – $2
  • John Viars – $24
  • George Taylor – $1.75
  • Alexander Brown – $1
  • William Powell – $1
  • William Nash or Mash – $7 desperate
  • John Wauson – $24.90 desperate
  • Thomas Erwin – $10
  • James McNiel – 6 bushels of rye
  • John Judd – $10.93 ¾
  • William Judd – 15 gallons of brandy, 4 pounds of iron, one bushel of wheat

The William Judd entry is interesting, because no place in Robert’s estate inventory do we find brandy, iron or wheat. Brandy is one way of preserving fruits and alcohol was used medicinally, in addition to the obvious.

  • Amos Harmon – $11
  • Christian Miller – $1.50
  • James Fletcher – $2
  • Joseph D. Baldwin – 1 bushel of wheat
  • Rowland Judd – $1
  • Nancy Irwin – $4

James McNiel admin – Wilkes County, NC August Term 1817 – the above inventory returned on oath of the administrator

Next, we find Sarah’s widow’s allotment of food that was intended to maintain the widow and family during the time that the estate was in probate.

Robert Sheperd estate widow allotment.jpg

Page 167 – November term 1817 – An Allowance to Robert Sheppards Widow and family:

We the commissioners appointed by the county court of Wilkes on August term 1817 for the purpose of saying off one years provisions for the widow of Robert Sheppard decd have met on the 13th of September 1817 at the dwelling house of the said decd and after being duly sworn according to law do allow as followeth, to wit:

  • One cow and calf
  • One small beef
  • Two choice hogs
  • Two choice sheep
  • 5 bushels of wheat
  • 11 barrels of corn
  • One small side of leather
  • One bushel of salt
  • 10 pounds of sugar
  • 4 pounds of coffee
  • And roughness sufficient to winter her cattle and sheep
  • 6 gallons of spirits and all the cloth and spun truck she has in hand
  • 2 pounds of wool
  • Seven pounds of cotton
  • What old corn and bacon that was mentioned on the inventory returned by James McNiel admin

Commissioners:
Leonard Whittington
Humphrey Kilby
Presley Cleveland

The widow was granted enough to “keep her” for a year from her husband’s estate. In Sarah’s case, all of her children were grown and married, and the two remaining slaves would be sold in another month or two. I’d wager the commissioners were generous, granting perhaps more than they deemed necessary. No body wanted tales of a hungry widow and children reaching the court.

Looking at Robert’s estate inventory, Robert had more than 10 times this much livestock, so his family likely never went hungry. Coffee, sugar and spirits were not noted in the inventory taken the month before. All items were supposed to be included, so I wonder why these were omitted.

Robert Shepherd estate.jpg

Page 167 – An account of the sale of the estate of Robert Sheppard, decd

  • On the 19th and 20th of September 1718 was…..$1749.23 ¾
  • On the 20th November 1817 was…..$272.83 ¼
  • Total February term 1818 – $2022.07

Above amount of sale returned on oath by James McNiel, admin.

Thus ends the physical life of Robert Shepard on Earth, but pieces of him live on in me and others today, some 7 generations later.

DNA

Using DNAPainter, I can attribute 4 segments of my autosomal DNA to Robert Shepherd and Sarah Rash specifically. These segments match people who descend from Robert and Sarah through children other than daughter Elizabeth, my ancestor. Because we share these segments, and no other (known) ancestors, our common segments are then attributed to Robert or Sarah.

Of course, until someone matches me on these segments who descends through another child of Robert or Sarah’s parents, I won’t be able to determine whether these segments descend from Robert or Sarah.

Shepherd DNA.png

It’s interesting to observe that the largest segment, slightly under 30cM, is a 5th cousin once removed.

Unfortunately, I have another 109 DNA matches to descendants of Robert and Sarah at Ancestry on ThruLines, but since Ancestry doesn’t provide segment location information, I can’t paint those☹

What I do have though, is ammunition. While today, I can only attribute these four teal segments DIRECTLY to Robert or Sarah, I have many McNiel, Vannoy, Shepherd and other downstream identified matches on these same segments.

Shepherd pedigree.png

Robert and Sarah’s DNA descended to me through the red-starred ancestors, above.

The ammunition is that I also have unidentified matches. It’s in those matches and their trees that the gold nugget I need to break through ancestral brick walls may be buried. What do these trees of unidentified matches have in common? Where do they lead? Their ancestors are clearly my ancestors too, somehow.

Take a look.

Shepherd chr 3 large.png

Every single one of these triangulated people in the red box match me on all or a portion of this same teal Shepherd/Rash segment on chromosome 3. Some matches descend through the Vannoy line, some through the McNiel and Shepherd lines – but some, the ones in dark blue are a bulk import of my paternal bucketed matches list at Family Tree DNA. These people may share an ancestor in their trees with each other that I don’t – who would be a huge hint for me.

But that’s not the only segment that holds hints for me.

Shepherd chr 3 small.png

Here’s another chromosome 3 segment match.

Shepherd chr 8.png

Chromosome 8 has 5 matches plus the teal Robert Shepherd/Sarah Rash match.

Shepherd chr 15.png

This segment on chromosome 15 has more matches than the others, but they are smaller and several only have a small overlaps. Still, the larger matches may yield valueable clues.

Indeed, I need to get busy. While I’ve found all the documentary records that I can for Robert Shepherd, my DNA matches hold the key for deeper discoveries. DNA isn’t limited. As more people test, new matches quietly arrive, waiting for me to notice, and I continue to have additional opportunities for new discoveries.

It’s like Robert is leading me back home by scattering a trail of genetic breadcrumbs.

_____________________________________________________________

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2019: The Year and Decade of Change

2019 ends both a year and a decade. In the genealogy and genetic genealogy world, the overwhelmingly appropriate word to define both is “change.”

Everything has changed.

Millions more records are online now than ever before, both through the Big 3, being FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Ancestry, but also through multitudes of other sites preserving our history. Everyplace from National Archives to individual blogs celebrating history and ancestors.

All you need to do is google to find more than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more progress in the past decade that in all of the previous ones combined.

Just Beginning?

If you’re just beginning with genetic genealogy, welcome! I wrote this article just for you to see what to expect when your DNA results are returned.

If you’ve been working with genetic genealogy results for some time, or would like a great review of the landscape, let’s take this opportunity to take a look at how far we’ve come in the past year and decade.

It’s been quite a ride!

What Has Changed?

EVERYTHING

Literally.

A decade ago, we had Y and mitochondrial DNA, but just the beginning of the autosomal revolution in the genetic genealogy space.

In 2010, Family Tree DNA had been in business for a decade and offered both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Ancestry offered a similar Y and mtDNA product, but not entirely the same markers, nor full sequence mitochondrial. Ancestry subsequently discontinued that testing and destroyed the matching database. Ancestry bought the Sorenson database that included Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, then destroyed that data base too.

23andMe was founded in 2006 and began autosomal testing in 2007 for health and genealogy. Genealogists piled on that bandwagon.

Family Tree DNA added autosomal to their menu in 2010, but Ancestry didn’t offer an autosomal product until 2012 and MyHeritage not until 2016. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have launched massive marketing and ad campaigns to help people figure out “who they are,” and who their ancestors were too.

Family Tree DNA

2019 FTDNA

Family Tree DNA had a banner year with the Big Y-700 product, adding over 211,000 Y DNA SNPs in 2019 alone to total more than 438,000 by year end, many of which became newly defined haplogroups. You can read more here. Additionally, Family Tree DNA introduced the Block Tree and public Y and public mitochondrial DNA trees.

Anyone who ignores Y DNA testing does so at their own peril. Information produced by Y DNA testing (and for that matter, mitochondrial too) cannot be obtained any other way. I wrote about utilizing mitochondrial DNA here and a series about how to utilize Y DNA begins in a few days.

Family Tree DNA remains the premier commercial testing company to offer high resolution and full sequence testing and matching, which of course is the key to finding genealogy solutions.

In the autosomal space, Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide Phased Family Matching which uses your matches on both sides of your tree, assuming you link 3rd cousins or closer, to assign other testers to specific parental sides of your tree.

Family Tree DNA accepts free uploads from other testing companies with the unlock for advanced features only $19. You can read about that here and here.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage, the DNA testing dark horse, has come from behind from their late entry into the field in 2016 with focused Europeans ads and the purchase of Promethease in 2019. Their database stands at 3.7 million, not as many as either Ancestry or 23andMe, but for many people, including me – MyHeritage is much more useful, especially for my European lines. Not only is MyHeritage a genealogy company, piloted by Gilad Japhet, a passionate genealogist, but they have introduced easy-to-use advanced tools for consumers during 2019 to take the functionality lead in autosomal DNA.

2019 MyHeritage.png

You can read more about MyHeritage and their 2019 accomplishments, here.

As far as I’m concerned, the MyHeritage bases-loaded 4-product “Home Run” makes MyHeritage the best solution for genetic genealogy via either testing or transfer:

  • Triangulation – shows testers where 3 or more people match each other. You can read more, here.
  • Tree Matching – SmartMatching for both DNA testers and those who have not DNA tested
  • Theories of Family Relativity – a wonderful new tool introduced in February. You can read more here.
  • AutoClusters – Integrated cluster technology helps you to visualize which groups of people match each other.

One of their best features, Theories of Family Relativity connects the dots between people you DNA match with disparate trees and other documents, such as census. This helps you and others break down long-standing brick walls. You can read more, here.

MyHeritage encourages uploads from other testing companies with basic functions such as matching for free. Advanced features cost either a one-time unlock fee of $29 or are included with a full subscription which you can try for free, here. You can read about what is free and what isn’t, here.

You can develop a testing and upload strategy along with finding instructions for how to upload here and here.

23andMe

Today, 23andMe is best known for health, having recovered after having had their wings clipped a few years back by the FDA. They were the first to offer Health results, leveraging the genealogy marketspace to attract testers, but have recently been eclipsed by both Family Tree DNA with their high end full Exome Tovana test and MyHeritage with their Health upgrade which provides more information than 23andMe along with free genetic counseling if appropriate. Both the Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage tests are medically supervised, so can deliver more results.

23andMe has never fully embraced genetic genealogy by adding the ability to upload and compare trees. In 2019, they introduced a beta function to attempt to create a genetic tree on your behalf based on how your matches match you and each other.

2019 23andMe.png

These trees aren’t accurate today, nor are they deep, but they are a beginning – especially considering that they are not based on existing trees. You can read more here.

The best 23andMe feature for genealogy, as far as I’m concerned, is their ethnicity along with the fact that they actually provide testers with the locations of their ethnicity segments which can help testers immensely, especially with minority ancestry matching. You can read about how to do this for yourself, here.

23andMe generally does not allow uploads, probably because they need people to test on their custom-designed medical chip. Very rarely, once that I know of in 2018, they do allow uploads – but in the past, uploaders do not receive all of the genealogy features and benefits of testing.

You can however, download your DNA file from 23andMe and upload elsewhere, with instructions here.

Ancestry

Ancestry is widely known for their ethnicity ads which are extremely effective in recruiting new testers. That’s the great news. The results are frustrating to seasoned genealogists who get to deal with the fallout of confused people trying to figure out why their results don’t match their expectations and family stories. That’s the not-so-great news.

However, with more than 15 million testers, many of whom DO have genealogy trees, a serious genealogist can’t *NOT* test at Ancestry. Testers do need to be aware that not all features are available to DNA testers who don’t also subscribe to Ancestry’s genealogy subscriptions. For example, you can’t see your matches’ trees beyond a 5 generation preview without a subscription. You can read more about what you do and don’t receive, here.

Ancestry is the only one of the major companies that doesn’t provide a chromosome browser, despite pleas for years to do so, but they do provide ThruLines that show you other testers who match your DNA and show a common ancestor with you in their trees.

2019 Ancestry.png

ThruLines will also link partial trees – showing you ancestral descendants from the perspective of the ancestor in question, shown above. You can read about ThruLines, here.

Of course, without a chromosome browser, this match is only as good as the associated trees, and there is no way to prove the genealogical connection. It’s possible to all be wrong together, or to be related to some people through a completely different ancestor. Third party tools like Genetic Affairs and cluster technology help resolve these types of issues. You can read more, here.

You can’t upload DNA files from other testing companies to Ancestry, probably due to their custom medical chip. You can download your file from Ancestry and upload to other locations, with instructions here.

Selling Customers’ DNA

Neither Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage nor Gedmatch sell, lease or otherwise share their customers’ DNA, and all three state (minimally) they will not in the future without prior authorization.

All companies utilize their customers’ DNA internally to enhance and improve their products. That’s perfectly normal.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe sell consumers DNA to both known and unknown partners if customers opt-in to additional research. That’s the purpose of all those questions.

If you do agree or opt-in, and for those who tested prior to when the opt-in began, consumers don’t know who their DNA has been sold to, where it is or for what purposes it’s being utilized. Although anonymized (pseudonymized) before sale, autosomal results can easily be identified to the originating tester (if someone were inclined to do so) as demonstrated by adoptees identifying parents and law enforcement identifying both long deceased remains and criminal perpetrators of violent crimes. You can read more about re-identification here, although keep in mind that the re-identification frequency (%) would be much higher now than it was in 2018.

People are widely split on this issue. Whatever you decide, to opt-in or not, just be sure to do your homework first.

Always read the terms and conditions fully and carefully of anything having to do with genetics.

Genealogy

The bottom line to genetic genealogy is the genealogy aspect. Genealogists want to confirm ancestors and discover more about those ancestors. Some information can only be discovered via DNA testing today, distant Native heritage, for example, breaking through brick walls.

This technology, as it has advanced and more people have tested, has been a godsend for genealogists. The same techniques have allowed other people to locate unknown parents, grandparents and close relatives.

Adoptees

Not only are genealogists identifying people long in the past that are their ancestors, but adoptees and those seeking unknown parents are making discoveries much closer to home. MyHeritage has twice provided thousands of free DNA tests via their DNAQuest program to adoptees seeking their biological family with some amazing results.

The difference between genealogy, which looks back in time several generations, and parent or grand-parent searches is that unknown-parent searches use matches to come forward in time to identify parents, not backwards in time to identify distant ancestors in common.

Adoptee matching is about identifying descendants in common. According to Erlich et al in an October 2018 paper, here, about 60% of people with European ancestry could be identified. With the database growth since that time, that percentage has risen, I’m sure.

You can read more about the adoption search technique and how it is used, here.

Adoptee searches have spawned their own subculture of sorts, with researchers and search angels that specialize in making these connections. Do be aware that while many reunions are joyful, not all discoveries are positively received and the revelations can be traumatic for all parties involved.

There’s ying and yang involved, of course, and the exact same techniques used for identifying biological parents are also used to identify cold-case deceased victims of crime as well as violent criminals, meaning rapists and murderers.

Crimes Solved

The use of genetic genealogy and adoptee search techniques for identifying skeletal remains of crime victims, as well as identifying criminals in order that they can be arrested and removed from the population has resulted in a huge chasm and division in the genetic genealogy community.

These same issues have become popular topics in the press, often authored by people who have no experience in this field, don’t understand how these techniques are applied or function and/or are more interested in a sensational story than in the truth. The word click-bait springs to mind although certainly doesn’t apply equally to all.

Some testers are adamantly pro-usage of their DNA in order to identify victims and apprehend violent criminals. Other testers, not so much and some, on the other end of the spectrum are vehemently opposed. This is a highly personal topic with extremely strong emotions on both sides.

The first such case was the Golden State Killer, which has been followed in the past 18 months or so by another 100+ solved cases.

Regardless of whether or not people want their own DNA to be utilized to identify these criminals and victims, providing closure for families, I suspect the one thing we can all agree on is that we are grateful that these violent criminals no longer live among us and are no longer preying on innocent victims.

I wrote about the Golden State Killer, here, as well as other articles here, here, here and here.

In the genealogy community, various vendors have adopted quite different strategies relating to these kinds of searches, as follows:

  • Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage – have committed to fight all access attempts by law enforcement, including court ordered subpoenas.
  • MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch allow uploads, so forensic kits, meaning kits from deceased remains or rape kits could be uploaded to search for matches, the same as any other kit. Law Enforcement uploads violate the MyHeritage terms of service. Both Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch have special law enforcement procedures in place. All three companies have measures in place to attempt to detect unauthorized forensic uploads.
  • Family Tree DNA has provided a specific Law Enforcement protocol and guidelines for forensic uploads, here. All EU customers were opted out earlier in 2019, but all new or existing non-EU customers need to opt out if they do not want their DNA results available for matching to law enforcement kits.
  • GEDmatch was recently sold to Verogen, a DNA forensics company, with information, here. Currently GEDMatch customers are opted-out of matching for law enforcement kits, but can opt-in. Verogen, upon purchase of GEDmatch, required all users to read the terms and conditions and either accept the terms or delete their kits. Users can also delete their kits or turn off/on law enforcement matching at any time.

New Concerns

Concerns in late 2019 have focused on the potential misuse of genetic matching to potentially target subsets of individuals by despotic regimes such as has been done by China to the Uighurs.

You can read about potential risks here, here and here, along with a recent DoD memo here.

Some issues spelled out in the papers can be resolved by vendors agreeing to cryptographically sign their files when customers download. Of course, this would require that everyone, meaning all vendors, play nice in the sandbox. So far, that hasn’t happened although I would expect that the vendors accepting uploads would welcome cryptographic signatures. That pretty much leaves Ancestry and 23andMe. I hope they will step up to the plate for the good of the industry as a whole.

Relative to the concerns voiced in the papers and by the DoD, I do not wish to understate any risks. There ARE certainly risks of family members being identified via DNA testing, which is, after all, the initial purpose even though the current (and future) uses were not foreseen initially.

In most cases, the cow has already left that barn. Even if someone new chooses not to test, the critical threshold is now past to prevent identification of individuals, at least within the US and/or European diaspora communities.

I do have concerns:

  • Websites where the owners are not known in the genealogical community could be collecting uploads for clandestine purposes. “Free” sites are extremely attractive to novices who tend to forget that if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Please be very cognizant and leery. Actually, just say no unless you’re positive.
  • Fearmongering and click-bait articles in general will prevent and are already causing knee-jerk reactions, causing potential testers to reject DNA testing outright, without doing any research or reading terms and conditions.
  • That Ancestry and 23andMe, the two major vendors who don’t accept uploads will refuse to add crypto-signatures to protect their customers who download files.

Every person needs to carefully make their own decisions about DNA testing and participating in sharing through third party sites.

Health

Not surprisingly, the DNA testing market space has cooled a bit this past year. This slowdown is likely due to a number of factors such as negative press and the fact that perhaps the genealogical market is becoming somewhat saturated. Although, I suspect that when vendors announce major new tools, their DNA kit sales spike accordingly.

Look at it this way, do you know any serious genealogists who haven’t DNA tested? Most are in all of the major databases, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

All of the testing companies mentioned above (except GEDmatch who is not a testing company) now have a Health offering, designed to offer existing and new customers additional value for their DNA testing dollar.

23andMe separated their genealogy and health offering years ago. Ancestry and MyHeritage now offer a Health upgrade. For existing customers, FamilyTreeDNA offers the Cadillac of health tests through Tovana.

I would guess it goes without saying here that if you really don’t want to know about potential health issues, don’t purchase these tests. The flip side is, of course, that most of the time, a genetic predisposition is nothing more and not a death sentence.

From my own perspective, I found the health tests to be informative, actionable and in some cases, they have been lifesaving for friends.

Whoever knew genealogy might save your life.

Innovative Third-Party Tools

Tools, and fads, come and go.

In the genetic genealogy space, over the years, tools have burst on the scene to disappear a few months later. However, the last few years have been won by third party tools developed by well-known and respected community members who have created tools to assist other genealogists.

As we close this decade, these are my picks of the tools that I use almost daily, have proven to be the most useful genealogically and that I feel I just “couldn’t live without.”

And yes, before you ask, some of these have a bit of a learning curve, but if you are serious about genealogy, these are all well worthwhile:

  • GedMatch – offers a wife variety of tools including triangulation, half versus fully identical segments and the ability to see who your matches also match. One of the tools I utilize regularly is segment search to see who else matches me on a specific segment, attached to an ancestor I’m researching. GedMatch, started by genealogists, has lasted more than a decade prior to the sale in December 2019.
  • Genetic Affairs – a barn-burning newcomer developed by Evert-Jan Blom in 2018 wins this years’ “Best” award from me, titled appropriately, the “SNiPPY.”.

Genetic Affairs 2019 SNiPPY Award.png

Genetic Affairs offers clustering, tree building between your matches even when YOU don’t have a tree. You can read more here.

2019 genetic affairs.png

Just today, Genetic Affairs released a new cluster interface with DNAPainter, example shown above.

  • DNAPainter – THE chromosome painter created by Jonny Perl just gets better and better, having added pedigree tree construction this year and other abilities. I wrote a composite instructional article, here.
  • DNAGedcom.com and Genetic.Families, affiliated with DNAAdoption.org – Rob Warthen in collaboration with others provides tools like clustering combined with triangulation. My favorite feature is the gathering of all direct ancestors of my matches’ trees at the various vendors where I’ve DNA tested which allows me to search for common surnames and locations, providing invaluable hints not otherwise available.

Promising Newcomer

  • MitoYDNA – a non-profit newcomer by folks affiliated with DNAAdoption and DNAGedcom is designed to replace YSearch and MitoSearch, both felled by the GDPR ax in 2018. This website allows people to upload their Y and mitochondrial DNA results and compare the values to each other, not just for matching, which you can do at Family Tree DNA, but also to see the values that do and don’t match and how they differ. I’ll be taking MitoYDNA for a test drive after the first of the year and will share the results with you.

The Future

What does the future hold? I almost hesitate to guess.

  • Artificial Intelligence Pedigree Chart – I think that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the ability to provide testers with a “one and done” pedigree chart. In other words, you will test and receive at least some portion of your genealogy all tidily presented, red ribbon untied and scroll rolled out in front of you like you’re the guest on one of those genealogy TV shows.

Except it’s not a show and is a result of DNA testing, segment triangulation, trees and other tools which narrow your ancestors to only a few select possibilities.

Notice I said, “the ability to.” Just because we have the ability doesn’t mean a vendor will implement this functionality. In fact, just think about the massive businesses built upon the fact that we, as genealogists, have to SEARCH incessantly for these elusive answers. Would it be in the best interest of these companies to just GIVE you those answers when you test?

If not, then these types of answers will rest with third parties. However, there’s a hitch. Vendors generally don’t welcome third parties offering advanced tools and therefore block those tools, even though they are being used BY the customer or with their explicit authorization to massage their own data.

On the other hand, as a genealogist, I would welcome this feature with open arms – because as far as I’m concerned, the identification of that ancestor is just the first step. I get to know them by fleshing out their bones by utilizing those research records.

In fact, I’m willing to pony up to the table and I promise, oh-so-faithfully, to maintain my subscription lifelong if one of those vendors will just test me. Please, please, oh pretty-please put me to the test!

I guess you know what my New Year’s Wish is for this and upcoming years now too😊

What About You?

What do you think the high points of 2019 have been?

How about the decade?

What do you think the future holds?

Do you care to make any predictions?

Are you planning to focus on any particular goal or genealogy problem in 2020?

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