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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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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2018 – The Year of the Segment

Looking in the rear view mirror, what a year! Some days it’s been hard to catch your breath things have been moving so fast.

What were the major happenings, how did they affect genetic genealogy and what’s coming in 2019?

The SNiPPY Award

First of all, I’m giving an award this year. The SNiPPY.

Yea, I know it’s kinda hokey, but it’s my way of saying a huge thank you to someone in this field who has made a remarkable contribution and that deserves special recognition.

Who will it be this year?

Drum roll…….

The 2018 SNiPPY goes to…

DNAPainter – The 2018 SNiPPY award goes to DNAPainter, without question. Applause, everyone, applause! And congratulations to Jonny Perl, pictured below at Rootstech!

Jonny Perl created this wonderful, visual tool that allows you to paint your matches with people on your chromosomes, assigning the match to specific ancestors.

I’ve written about how to use the tool  with different vendors results and have discovered many different ways to utilize the painted segments. The DNA Painter User Group is here on Facebook. I use DNAPainter EVERY SINGLE DAY to solve a wide variety of challenges.

What else has happened this year? A lot!

Ancient DNA – Academic research seldom reports on Y and mitochondrial DNA today and is firmly focused on sequencing ancient DNA. Ancient genome sequencing has only recently been developed to a state where at least some remains can be successfully sequenced, but it’s going great guns now. Take a look at Jennifer Raff’s article in Forbes that discusses ancient DNA findings in the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and perhaps most surprising, a first generation descendant of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan.

From Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al, Science 07 Dec 2018

Inroads were made into deeper understanding of human migration in the Americas as well in the paper Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al.

I look for 2019 and on into the future to hold many more revelations thanks to ancient DNA sequencing as well as using those sequences to assist in understanding the migration patterns of ancient people that eventually became us.

Barbara Rae-Venter and the Golden State Killer Case

Using techniques that adoptees use to identify their close relatives and eventually, their parents, Barbara Rae-Venter assisted law enforcement with identifying the man, Joseph DeAngelo, accused (not yet convicted) of being the Golden State Killer (GSK).

A very large congratulations to Barbara, a retired patent attorney who is also a genealogist. Nature recognized Ms. Rae-Venter as one of 2018’s 10 People Who Mattered in Science.

DNA in the News

DNA is also represented on the 2018 Nature list by Viviane Slon, a palaeogeneticist who discovered an ancient half Neanderthal, half Denisovan individual and sequenced their DNA and He JianKui, a Chinese scientist who claims to have created a gene-edited baby which has sparked widespread controversy. As of the end of the year, He Jiankui’s research activities have been suspended and he is reportedly sequestered in his apartment, under guard, although the details are far from clear.

In 2013, 23andMe patented the technology for designer babies and I removed my kit from their research program. I was concerned at the time that this technology knife could cut two ways, both for good, eliminating fatal disease-causing mutations and also for ethically questionable practices, such as eugenics. I was told at the time that my fears were unfounded, because that “couldn’t be done.” Well, 5 years later, here we are. I expect the debate about the ethics and eventual regulation of gene-editing will rage globally for years to come.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA was also in the news when she took a DNA test in response to political challenges. I wrote about what those results meant scientifically, here. This topic became highly volatile and politicized, with everyone seeming to have a very strongly held opinion. Regardless of where you fall on that opinion spectrum (and no, please do not post political comments as they will not be approved), the topic is likely to surface again in 2019 due to the fact that Elizabeth Warren has just today announced her intention to run for President. The good news is that DNA testing will likely be discussed, sparking curiosity in some people, perhaps encouraging them to test. The bad news is that some of the discussion may be unpleasant at best, and incorrect click-bait at worst. We’ve already had a rather unpleasant sampling of this.

Law Enforcement and Genetic Genealogy

The Golden State Killer case sparked widespread controversy about using GedMatch and potentially other genetic genealogy data bases to assist in catching people who have committed violent crimes, such as rape and murder.

GedMatch, the database used for the GSK case has made it very clear in their terms and conditions that DNA matches may be used for both adoptees seeking their families and for other uses, such as law enforcement seeking matches to DNA sequenced during a criminal investigation. Since April 2018, more than 15 cold case investigations have been solved using the same technique and results at GedMatch. Initially some people removed their DNA from GedMatch, but it appears that the overwhelming sentiment, based on uploads, is that people either aren’t concerned or welcome the opportunity for their DNA matches to assist apprehending criminals.

Parabon Nanolabs in May established a genetic genealogy division headed by CeCe Moore who has worked in the adoptee community for the past several years. The division specializes in DNA testing forensic samples and then assisting law enforcement with the associated genetic genealogy.

Currently, GedMatch is the only vendor supporting the use of forensic sample matching. Neither 23anMe nor Ancestry allow uploaded data, and MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA’s terms of service currently preclude this type of use.

MyHeritage

Wow talk about coming onto the DNA world stage with a boom.

MyHeritage went from a somewhat wobbly DNA start about 2 years ago to rolling out a chromosome browser at the end of January and adding important features such as SmartMatching which matches your DNA and your family trees. Add triangulation to this mixture, along with record matching, and you’re got a #1 winning combination.

It was Gilad Japhet, the MyHeritage CEO who at Rootstech who christened 2018 “The Year of the Segment,” and I do believe he was right. Additionally, he announced that MyHeritage partnered with the adoption community by offering 15,000 free kits to adoptees.

In November, MyHeritage hosted MyHeritage LIVE, their first user conference in Oslo, Norway which focused on both their genealogical records offerings as well as DNA. This was a resounding success and I hope MyHeritage will continue to sponsor conferences and invest in DNA. You can test your DNA at MyHeritage or upload your results from other vendors (instructions here). You can follow my journey and the conference in Olso here, here, here, here and here.

GDPR

GDPR caused a lot of misery, and I’m glad the implementation is behind us, but the the ripples will be affecting everyone for years to come.

GDPR, the European Data Protection Regulation which went into effect on May 25,  2018 has been a mixed and confusing bag for genetic genealogy. I think the concept of users being in charge and understanding what is happened with their data, and in this case, their data plus their DNA, is absolutely sound. The requirements however, were created without any consideration to this industry – which is small by comparison to the Googles and Facebooks of the world. However, the Googles and Facebooks of the world along with many larger vendors seem to have skated, at least somewhat.

Other companies shut their doors or restricted their offerings in other ways, such as World Families Network and Oxford Ancestors. Vendors such as Ancestry and Family Tree DNA had to make unpopular changes in how their users interface with their software – in essence making genetic genealogy more difficult without any corresponding positive return. The potential fines, 20 million plus Euro for any company holding data for EU residents made it unwise to ignore the mandates.

In the genetic genealogy space, the shuttering of both YSearch and MitoSearch was heartbreaking, because that was the only location where you could actually compare Y STR and mitochondrial HVR1/2 results. Not everyone uploaded their results, and the sites had not been updated in a number of years, but the closure due to GDPR was still a community loss.

Today, mitoydna.org, a nonprofit comprised of genetic genealogists, is making strides in replacing that lost functionality, plus, hopefully more.

On to more positive events.

Family Tree DNA

In April, Family Tree DNA announced a new version of the Big Y test, the Big Y-500 in which at least 389 additional STR markers are included with the Big Y test, for free. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive between 389 and 439 new markers, depending on how many STR markers above 111 have quality reads. All customers are guaranteed a minimum of 500 STR markers in total. Matching was implemented in December.

These additional STR markers allow genealogists to assemble additional line marker mutations to more granularly identify specific male lineages. In other words, maybe I can finally figure out a line marker mutation that will differentiate my ancestor’s line from other sons of my founding ancestor😊

In June, Family Tree DNA announced that they had named more than 100,000 SNPs which means many haplogroup additions to the Y tree. Then, in September, Family Tree DNA published their Y haplotree, with locations, publicly for all to reference.

I was very pleased to see this development, because Family Tree DNA clearly has the largest Y database in the industry, by far, and now everyone can reap the benefits.

In October, Family Tree DNA published their mitochondrial tree publicly as well, with corresponding haplogroup locations. It’s nice that Family Tree DNA continues to be the science company.

You can test your Y DNA, mitochondrial or autosomal (Family Finder) at Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor offering full Y and mitochondrial services complete with matching.

2018 Conferences

Of course, there are always the national conferences we’re familiar with, but more and more, online conferences are becoming available, as well as some sessions from the more traditional conferences.

I attended Rootstech in Salt Lake City in February (brrrr), which was lots of fun because I got to meet and visit with so many people including Mags Gaulden, above, who is a WikiTree volunteer and writes at Grandma’s Genes, but as a relatively expensive conference to attend, Rootstech was pretty miserable. Rootstech has reportedly made changes and I hope it’s much better for attendees in 2019. My attendance is very doubtful, although I vacillate back and forth.

On the other hand, the MyHeritage LIVE conference was amazing with both livestreamed and recorded sessions which are now available free here along with many others at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Family Tree University held a Virtual DNA Conference in June and those sessions, along with others, are available for subscribers to view.

The Virtual Genealogical Association was formed for those who find it difficult or impossible to participate in local associations. They too are focused on education via webinars.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland continues to provide their yearly conference sessions both livestreamed and recorded for free. These aren’t just for people with Irish genealogy. Everyone can benefit and I enjoy them immensely.

Bottom line, you can sit at home and educate yourself now. Technology is wonderful!

2019 Conferences

In 2019, I’ll be speaking at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, Journey of Discovery, in St. Charles, providing the Special Thursday Session titled “DNA: King Arthur’s Mighty Genetic Lightsaber” about how to use DNA to break through brick walls. I’ll also see attendees at Saturday lunch when I’ll be providing a fun session titled “Twists and Turns in the Genetic Road.” This is going to be a great conference with a wonderful lineup of speakers. Hope to see you there.

There may be more speaking engagements at conferences on my 2019 schedule, so stay tuned!

The Leeds Method

In September, Dana Leeds publicized The Leeds Method, another way of grouping your matches that clusters matches in a way that indicates your four grandparents.

I combine the Leeds method with DNAPainter. Great job Dana!

Genetic Affairs

In December, Genetic Affairs introduced an inexpensive subscription reporting and visual clustering methodology, but you can try it for free.

I love this grouping tool. I have already found connections I didn’t know existed previously. I suggest joining the Genetic Affairs User Group on Facebook.

DNAGedcom.com

I wrote an article in January about how to use the DNAGedcom.com client to download the trees of all of your matches and sort to find specific surnames or locations of their ancestors.

However, in December, DNAGedcom.com added another feature with their new DNAGedcom client just released that downloads your match information from all vendors, compiles it and then forms clusters. They have worked with Dana Leeds on this, so it’s a combination of the various methodologies discussed above. I have not worked with the new tool yet, as it has just been released, but Kitty Cooper has and writes about it here.  If you are interested in this approach, I would suggest joining the Facebook DNAGedcom User Group.

Rootsfinder

I have not had a chance to work with Rootsfinder beyond the very basics, but Rootsfinder provides genetic network displays for people that you match, as well as triangulated views. Genetic networks visualizations are great ways to discern patterns. The tool creates match or triangulation groups automatically for you.

Training videos are available at the website and you can join the Rootsfinder DNA Tools group at Facebook.

Chips and Imputation

Illumina, the chip maker that provides the DNA chips that most vendors use to test changed from the OmniExpress to the GSA chip during the past year. Older chips have been available, but won’t be forever.

The newer GSA chip is only partially compatible with the OmniExpress chip, providing limited overlap between the older and the new results. This has forced the vendors to use imputation to equalize the playing field between the chips, so to speak.

This has also caused a significant hardship for GedMatch who is now in the position of trying to match reasonably between many different chips that sometimes overlap minimally. GedMatch introduced Genesis as a sandbox beta version previously, but are now in the process of combining regular GedMatch and Genesis into one. Yes, there are problems and matching challenges. Patience is the key word as the various vendors and GedMatch adapt and improve their required migration to imputation.

DNA Central

In June Blaine Bettinger announced DNACentral, an online monthly or yearly subscription site as well as a monthly newsletter that covers news in the genetic genealogy industry.

Many educators in the industry have created seminars for DNACentral. I just finished recording “Getting the Most out of Y DNA” for Blaine.

Even though I work in this industry, I still subscribed – initially to show support for Blaine, thinking I might not get much out of the newsletter. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. I enjoy the newsletter and will be watching sessions in the Course Library and the Monthly Webinars soon.

If you or someone you know is looking for “how to” videos for each vendor, DNACentral offers “Now What” courses for Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Living DNA in addition to topic specific sessions like the X chromosome, for example.

Social Media

2018 has seen a huge jump in social media usage which is both bad and good. The good news is that many new people are engaged. The bad news is that people often given faulty advice and for new people, it’s very difficult (nigh on impossible) to tell who is credible and who isn’t. I created a Help page for just this reason.

You can help with this issue by recommending subscribing to these three blogs, not just reading an article, to newbies or people seeking answers.

Always feel free to post links to my articles on any social media platform. Share, retweet, whatever it takes to get the words out!

The general genetic genealogy social media group I would recommend if I were to select only one would be Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques. It’s quite large but well-managed and remains positive.

I’m a member of many additional groups, several of which are vendor or interest specific.

Genetic Snakeoil

Now the bad news. Everyone had noticed the popularity of DNA testing – including shady characters.

Be careful, very VERY careful who you purchase products from and where you upload your DNA data.

If something is free, and you’re not within a well-known community, then YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds shady or questionable, it’s probably that and more, or less.

If reputable people and vendors tell you that no, they really can’t determine your Native American tribe, for example, no other vendor can either. Just yesterday, a cousin sent me a link to a “tribe” in Canada that will, “for $50, we find one of your aboriginal ancestors and the nation stamps it.” On their list of aboriginal people we find one of my ancestors who, based on mitochondrial DNA tests, is clearly NOT aboriginal. Snake oil comes in lots of flavors with snake oil salesmen looking to prey on other people’s desires.

When considering DNA testing or transfers, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions, where your DNA is going, who is doing what with it, and your recourse. Yes, read every single word of those terms and conditions. For more about legalities, check out Judy Russell’s blog.

Recommended Vendors

All those DNA tests look yummy-good, but in terms of vendors, I heartily recommend staying within the known credible vendors, as follows (in alphabetical order).

For genetic genealogy for ethnicity AND matching:

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • Family Tree DNA
  • GedMatch (not a vendor because they don’t test DNA, but a reputable third party)
  • MyHeritage

You can read about Which DNA Test is Best here although I need to update this article to reflect the 2018 additions by MyHeritage.

Understand that both 23andMe and Ancestry will sell your DNA if you consent and if you consent, you will not know who is using your DNA, where, or for what purposes. Neither Family Tree DNA, GedMatch, MyHeritage, Genographic Project, Insitome, Promethease nor LivingDNA sell your DNA.

The next group of vendors offers ethnicity without matching:

  • Genographic Project by National Geographic Society
  • Insitome
  • LivingDNA (currently working on matching, but not released yet)

Health (as a consumer, meaning you receive the results)

Medical (as a contributor, meaning you are contributing your DNA for research)

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • DNA.Land (not a testing vendor, doesn’t test DNA)

There are a few other niche vendors known for specific things within the genetic genealogy community, many of whom are mentioned in this article, but other than known vendors, buyer beware. If you don’t see them listed or discussed on my blog, there’s probably a reason.

What’s Coming in 2019

Just like we couldn’t have foreseen much of what happened in 2018, we don’t have access to a 2019 crystal ball, but it looks like 2019 is taking off like a rocket. We do know about a few things to look for:

  • MyHeritage is waiting to see if envelope and stamp DNA extractions are successful so that they can be added to their database.
  • www.totheletterDNA.com is extracting (attempting to) and processing DNA from stamps and envelopes for several people in the community. Hopefully they will be successful.
  • LivingDNA has been working on matching since before I met with their representative in October of 2017 in Dublin. They are now in Beta testing for a few individuals, but they have also just changed their DNA processing chip – so how that will affect things and how soon they will have matching ready to roll out the door is unknown.
  • Ancestry did a 2018 ethnicity update, integrating ethnicity more tightly with Genetic Communities, offered genetic traits and made some minor improvements this year, along with adding one questionable feature – showing your matches the location where you live as recorded in your profile. (23andMe subsequently added the same feature.) Ancestry recently said that they are promising exciting new tools for 2019, but somehow I doubt that the chromosome browser that’s been on my Christmas list for years will be forthcoming. Fingers crossed for something new and really useful. In the mean time, we can download our DNA results and upload to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch for segment matching, as well as utilize Ancestry’s internal matching tools. DNA+tree matching, those green leaf shared ancestor hints, is still their strongest feature.
  • The Family Tree DNA Conference for Project Administrators will be held March 22-24 in Houston this year, and I’m hopeful that they will have new tools and announcements at that event. I’m looking forward to seeing many old friends in Houston in March.

Here’s what I know for sure about 2019 – it’s going to be an amazing year. We as a community and also as individual genealogists will be making incredible discoveries and moving the ball forward. I can hardly wait to see what quandaries I’ve solved a year from now.

What mysteries do you want to unravel?

I’d like to offer a big thank you to everyone who made 2018 wonderful and a big toast to finding lots of new ancestors and breaking down those brick walls in 2019.

Happy New Year!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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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Genealogy Research

Mass Pre-Contact Native Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results

In 2012 during excavation for a shopping mall near San Francisco, a mass grave containing 7 men was unearthed.  The manner in which they were buried led archaeologists to believe that they had been murdered, and quickly buried, not ceremonially buried as tribal members would be.  They were found among more than 200 other burials.

The victims ages ranged from about 18 to about 40 and scientists concentrated on analyzing the wounds, cause of death and DNA of these men.  In part, they wanted to see if they were related to each other and if they originated in this area or came from elsewhere.  In other words, were they unsuccessful invaders as suggested by the circumstances of their burials?

This article tells more about the excavations and includes some photos.

Analysis suggests the men lived about 1200 years ago, clearly before European contact.  Analysis of the men’s teeth provided information about their history.  These men had spent their lives together, but their isotope signatures were clearly different than the individuals in the balance of the burials.  Indeed, they look to have been invaders.

An academic paper titled “Isotopic and genetic analysis of a mass grave in central California: Implications for precontact hunter-gatherer warfare” was published a few weeks ago in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  The article itself is behind a paywall available here.  The abstract is provided below:

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

Analysis of a mass burial of seven males at CA-ALA-554, a prehistoric site in the Amador Valley, CA, was undertaken to determine if the individuals were “locals” or “non-locals,” and how they were genetically related to one another.

METHODS:

The study includes osteological, genetic (mtDNA), and stable (C, N, O, S) and radiogenic (Sr) isotope analyses of bone and tooth (first and third molars) samples.

RESULTS:

Isotopes in first molars, third molars, and bone show they spent the majority of their lives living together. They are not locals to the Amador Valley, but were recently living to the east in the San Joaquin Valley, suggesting intergroup warfare as the cause of death. The men were not maternally related, but represent at least four different matrilines. The men also changed residence as a group between age 16 and adult years.

CONCLUSIONS:

Isotope data suggest intergroup warfare accounts for the mass burial. Genetic data suggest the raiding party included sets of unrelated men, perhaps from different households. Generalizing from this case and others like it, we hypothesize that competition over territory was a major factor behind ancient warfare in Central California. We present a testable model of demographic expansion, wherein villages in high-population-density areas frequently fissioned, with groups of individuals moving to lower-population-density areas to establish new villages. This model is consistent with previous models of linguistic expansion. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26331533

Genetic Information

I was extremely disappointed with the genetic information.  Working with the local Ohlone community, the scientists did attempt to extract DNA from the 7 individuals in the mass grave, with 6 extractions being successful.

They only analyzed the HVR1 region of the mitochondrial DNA.

Eerkens 2015 table

In the paper, the authors indicate that nuclear DNA which would include the Y chromosome as well as autosomal DNA was too degraded to recover.  While disappointing, there is nothing they can do about that.

However, only analyzing the mitochondrial DNA, which they clearly were able to amplify, at the HVR1 level is an incredible lost opportunity.  They obtained enough resolution in 6 of the individuals to obtain general haplogroup assignments.  However, the HVR2 and coding regions would have provided the defining information about extended haplogroups and individual mutations, including, perhaps, haplogroups rarely or never seen previously in the Americas.

Furthermore, given the information above, we can’t tell if the D1 individuals are related to each other matrilineally or not.  The B2 individuals are clearly not related in a recent timeframe nor are the A2, B2 and D1 people related to each other on their matrilineal line.  What a shame more information wasn’t obtained.

While I’m grateful that DNA testing was undertaken, I’m saddened by the partial results, especially in this day of full genomic sequencing for ancient DNA specimens.  I’m perplexed as to why they would not have obtained as much information as was possible, given the significant effort expended in recovering any ancient DNA specimen.

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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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Anzick (12,707-12,556), Ancient One, 52 Ancestors #42

anzick burial location

His name is Anzick, named for the family land, above, where his remains were found, and he is 12,500 years old, or more precisely, born between 12,707 and 12,556 years before the present.  Unfortunately, my genealogy software is not prepared for a birth year with that many digits.  That’s because, until just recently, we had no way to know that we were related to anyone of that age….but now….everything has changed ….thanks to DNA.

Actually, Anzick himself is not my direct ancestor.  We know that definitively, because Anzick was a child when he died, in present day Montana.

anzick on us map

Anzick was loved and cherished, because he was smeared with red ochre before he was buried in a cave, where he would be found more than 12,000 years later, in 1968, just beneath a layer of approximately 100 Clovis stone tools, shown below.  I’m sure his parents then, just as parents today, stood and cried as the laid their son to rest….never suspecting just how important their son would be some 12,500 years later.

anzick clovis tools

From 1968 until 2013, the Anzick family looked after Anzick’s bones, and in 2013, Anzick’s DNA was analyzed.

DNA analysis of Anzick provided us with his mitochondrial haplogroup,  D4h3a, a known Native American grouping, and his Y haplogroup was Q-L54, another known Native American haplogroup.  Haplogroup Q-L54 itself is estimated to be about 16,900 years old, so this finding is certainly within the expected range.  I’m not related to Anzick through Y or mitochondrial DNA.

Utilizing the admixture tools at GedMatch, we can see that Anzick shows most closely with Native American and Arctic with a bit of east Siberian.  This all makes sense.

Anzick MDLP K23b

Full genome sequencing was performed on Anzick, and from that data, it was discovered that Anzick was related to Native Americans, closely related to Mexican, Central and South Americans, and not closely related to Europeans or Africans.  This was an important discovery, because it in essence disproves the Solutrean hypothesis that Clovis predecessors emigrated from Southwest Europe during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago.

anzick matches

The distribution of these matches was a bit surprising, in that I would have expected the closest matches to be from North America, in particular, near to where Anzick was found, but his closest matches are south of the US border.  Although, in all fairness, few people in Native tribes in the US have DNA tested and many are admixed.

This match distribution tells us a lot about population migration and distribution of the Native people after they left Asia, crossed Beringia on the land bridge, now submerged, into present day Alaska.

This map of Beriginia, from the 2008 paper by Tamm et all, shows the migration of Native people into (and back from) the new world.

beringia map

Anzick’s ancestors crossed Beringia during this time, and over the next several thousand years, found their way to Montana.  Some of Anzick’s relatives found their way to Mexico, Central and South America.  The two groups may have split when Anzick’s family group headed east instead of south, possibly following the edges of glaciers, while the south-moving group followed the coastline.

Recently, from Anzick’s full genome data, another citizen scientist extracted the DNA locations that the testing companies use for autosomal DNA results, created an Anzick file, and uploaded the file to the public autosomal matching site, GedMatch.  This allowed everyone to see if they matched Anzick.  We expected no, or few, matches, because after all, Anzick was more than 12,000 years old and all of his DNA would have washed out long ago due to the 50% replacement in every generation….right?  Wrong!!!

What a surprise to discover fairly large segments of DNA matching Anzick in living people, and we’ve spent the past couple of weeks analyzing and discussing just how this has happened and why.  In spite of some technical glitches in terms of just how much individual people carry of the same DNA Anzick carried, one thing is for sure, the GedMatch matches confirm, in spades, the findings of the scientists who wrote the recent paper that describes the Anzick burial and excavation, the subsequent DNA processing and results.

For people who carry known Native heritage, matches, especially relatively large matches to Anzick, confirm not only their Native heritage, but his too.

For people who suspect Native heritage, but can’t yet prove it, an Anzick match provides what amounts to a clue – and it may be a very important clue.

In my case, I have proven Native heritage through the Micmac who intermarried with the Acadians in the 1600s in Nova Scotia.  Given that Anzick’s people were clearly on a west to east movement, from Beringia to wherever they eventually wound up, one might wonder if the Micmac were descended from or otherwise related to Anzick’s people.  Clearly, based on the genetic affinity map, the answer is yes, but not as closely related to Anzick as Mexican, Central and South Americans.

After several attempts utilizing various files, thresholds and factors that produced varying levels of matching to Anzick, one thing is clear – there is a match on several chromosomes.  Someplace, sometime in the past, Anzick and I shared a common ancestor – and it was likely on this continent, or Beringia, since the current school of thought is that all Native people entered the New World through this avenue.  The school of thought is not united in an opinion about whether there was a single migration event, or multiple migrations to the new word.  Regardless, the people came from the same base population in far northeast Asia and intermingled after arriving here if they were in the same location with other immigrants.

In other words, there probably wasn’t much DNA to pass around.  In addition, it’s unlikely that the founding population was a large group – probably just a few people – so in very short order their DNA would be all the same, being passed around and around until they met a new population, which wouldn’t happen until the Europeans arrived on the east side of the continent in the 1400s.  The tribes least admixed today are found south of the US border, not in the US.  So it makes sense that today the least admixed people would match Anzick the most closely – because they carry the most common DNA, which is still the same DNA that was being passed around and around back then.

Many of us with Native ancestors do carry bits and pieces of the same DNA as Anzick.  Anzick can’t be our ancestor, but he is certainly our cousin, about 500 generations ago, using a 25 year generation, so roughly our 500th cousin.  I had to laugh at someone this week, an adoptee who said, “Great, I can’t find my parents but now I have a 12,500 year old cousin.”  Yep, you do!  The ironies of life, and of genealogy, never fail to amaze me.

Utilizing the most conservative matching routine possible, on a phased kit, meaning one that combines the DNA shared by my mother and myself, and only that DNA, we show the following segment matches with Anzick.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
2 218855489 220351363 2.4 253
4 1957991 3571907 2.5 209
17 53111755 56643678 3.4 293
19 46226843 48568731 2.2 250
21 35367409 36761280 3.7 215

Being less conservative produces many more matches, some of which are questionable as to whether they are simply convergence, so I haven’t utilized the less restrictive match thresholds.

Of those matches above, the one on chromosomes 17 matches to a known Micmac segment from my Acadian lines and the match on chromosome 2 also matches an Acadian line, but I share so many common ancestors with this person that I can’t tell which family line the DNA comes from.

There are also Anzick autosomal matches on my father’s side.  My Native ancestry on his side reaches back to colonial America, in either Virginia or North Carolina, or both, and is unproven as to the precise ancestor and/or tribe, so I can’t correlate the Anzick DNA with proven Native DNA on that side.  Neither can I associate it with a particular family, as most of the Anzick matches aren’t to areas on my chromosome that I’ve mapped positively to a specific ancestor.

Running a special utility at GedMatch that compared Anzick’s X chromosome to mine, I find that we share a startlingly large X segment.  Sometimes, the X chromosome is passed for generations intact.

Interestingly enough, the segment 100,479,869-103,154,989 matches a segment from my mother exactly, but the large 6cM segment does not match my mother, so I’ve inherited that piece of my X from my father’s line.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
X 100479869 103154989 1.4 114
X 109322285 113215103 6.0 123

This tells me immediately that this segment comes from one of the pink or blue lines on the fan chart below that my father inherited from his mother, Ollie Bolton, since men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father.  Utilizing the X pedigree chart reduces the possible lines of inheritance quite a bit, and is very suggestive of some of those unknown wives.

olliex

It’s rather amazing, if you think about it, that anyone today matches Anzick, or that we can map any of our ancestral DNA that both we and Anzick carry to a specific ancestor.

Indeed, we do live in exciting times.

Honoring Anzick

On a rainy Saturday in June, 2014, on a sagebrush hillside in Montana, in Native parlance, our “grandfather,” Anzick was reburied, bringing his journey full circle.  Sarah Anzick, a molecular biologist, the daughter of the family that owns the land where the bones were found, and who did part of the genetic discovery work on Anzick, returns the box with his bones for reburial.

anzick bones

More than 50 people, including scientists, members of the Anzick family and representatives of six Native American tribes, gathered for the nearly two-hour reburial ceremony. Tribe members said prayers, sang songs, played drums and rang bells to honor the ancient child. The bones were placed in the grave and sprinkled with red ocher, just like when his parents buried him some 12,500 years before.

Participants at the reburial ceremony filled in the grave with handfuls, then shovelfuls of dirt and covered it with stones. A stick tied with feathers marks Anzick’s final resting place.

Sarah Anzick tells us that, “At that point, it stopped raining. The clouds opened up and the sun came out. It was an amazing day.”

I wish I could have been there.  I would have, had I known.  After all, he is part of me, and I of him.

anzick grave'

Welcome to the family, Anzick, and thank you, thank you oh so much, for your priceless, unparalleled gift!!!

tobacco

If you want to read about the Anzick matching journey of DNA discovery, here are the articles I’ve written in the past two weeks.  It has been quite a roller coaster ride, but I’m honored and privileged to be doing this research.  And it’s all thanks to an ancient child named Anzick.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Jack the Ripper???

The DNA community had some exciting news this past week about the identity of Jack the Ripper, notorious serial killer of prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888.  In total, there were 11 murders potentially linked to Jack the Ripper, with 5 being considered the most likely to be positively his victims.  He slit the throats of his victims, in some cases disemboweled them and mutilated their faces.

ripper1

While there were many suspects and much speculation, the identity of the murderer was never established.  Among the suspects was one 23 year old Polish immigrant, Aaron Kosminski.  Aaron worked and lived in Whitechapel and was reportedly seen with one of the victims, but incriminating evidence was not given by the witness and he was released.  In 1891 he was committed to an insane asylum, probably a paranoid schizophrenic, where he eventually died.  He heard “solitary voices” and indulged in “unmentionable vices” which typically means activity of a sexual nature.

Last week, the British tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail, ran a “world exclusive” article that Jack the Ripper has actually been identified as Aaron Kosminski utilizing DNA evidence found at the scene of one of the murders, that of Catherine Eddowes.

This was followed almost immediately by articles much more skeptical in nature, one in the Oregon Live and one by our own Judy Russell.

The reader’s digest version of the DNA part of the story is that a shawl was found with Catherine when she was murdered, although there is no evidence that the shawl was hers.  It’s believed that the killer left the shawl for some unknown reason.

The first problem with this story is that there is no proof that this shawl was indeed found with the body.  Catherine was so poor she reportedly hawked her shoes the night before, and the shawl in question was worth more than the shoes.  She has also just been released from jail for drunkenness before she was found murdered, and no shawl was mentioned by anyone.  Just the same, that doesn’t mean the shawl didn’t exist, and there is powerful DNA evidence, if it’s accurate, suggesting that this shawl was found exactly as stated, with Catherine’s body.

Russell Edwards purchased the blood-soaked shawl at auction, the shawl purportedly being found by a policeman the night of the murder and taken home to his wife, a dressmaker, who put it away unwashed.   Edwards hoped to somehow use the shawl to prove it was not only authentic, but to identify Jack the Ripper.

Edwards contacted Dr Jari Louhelainen, a leading expert in genetic evidence from historical crime scenes who combines his day job as senior lecturer in molecular biology at Liverpool John Moores University with working on cold cases for Interpol and other projects. He agreed to conduct tests on the shawl in his spare time.

Catherine’s DNA

He was able to extract DNA from some of the blood on the shawl and eventually managed to obtain mitochondrial DNA results.

Edwards managed to track down an individual, Karen Miller, who descends from the same matrilineal line as Catherine Eddowes, her three times great-granddaughter, and the mitochondrial DNA matched.  This is interpreted as confirming the identity of the blood on the shawl as that of Catherine.

Herein lies the second problem.

The article states that they “managed to get six complete DNA profiles from the  shawl” and that they were “a perfect match.”

I’m assuming, here, and I passionately hate to assume, because we all know what assume does…but I’m assuming that they are referring to mitochondrial full sequences here, all 16,569 locations on the mitochondria.  It would have been very helpful had they stated exactly what they tested.

They also don’t tell us what haplogroup they are working with.  If this is haplogroup H, it’s possible to have hundreds of “exact matches” because haplogroup H, itself, comprises almost 50% of Europeans today.  Of course, if they managed to sequence the entire mitochondria, the results would likely fall into a subclade, and some subclades are very rare, even within haplogroup H.

Because haplogroup H is so large, there is a great deal of diversity within H, and many of the subclades are small.  Furthermore, some people have no “unusual markers,” and those people tend to have many more matches than people who do have “unusual markers.”  Unusual markers are those mutations that have probably occurred in a family line and are not generally found in the majority of those of that particular subclade.

By way of example, here are the results from someone who is a member of haplogroup V, from eastern Europe.  They do not fall into a subclade of V and they have several extra mutations and one missing mutation compared to what is typically found in haplogroup V participants.

ripper2

This individual has 3 full sequence matches, two of which are exact matches, but neither of those lead to the same ancestor.  This is a rather typical situation, not out of the ordinary.

The Ripper’s DNA

Another discovery on the shawl was that of semen, possible evidence of the Ripper himself.  They enlisted the help of Dr. David Miller who found surviving epithelium cells, a type of tissue that coats organs, in this case, thought to have come from the urethra during ejaculation.

Here a quote from Dr. Louhelainen about the DNA findings from these cells.

“Then I used a new process called whole genome amplification to copy the DNA 500 million-fold and allow it to be profiled.

Once I had the profile, I could compare it to that of the female descendant of Kosminski’s sister, who had given us a sample of  her DNA swabbed from inside  her mouth.

The first strand of DNA showed a 99.2 per cent match, as the analysis instrument could not determine the sequence of the missing 0.8 per cent fragment  of DNA. On testing the second strand, we achieved a perfect 100 per cent match.

Because of the genome amplification technique, I was also able to ascertain the ethnic and geographical background of the DNA I extracted. It was of a type known as the haplogroup T1a1, common in people of Russian Jewish ethnicity. I was even able to establish that he had dark hair.”

Here is the third problem.

This description seems to combine two types of sequencing.  Now, that’s not a bad thing, it’s simply confusing.  Based on the haplogroup of T1a1, we know that they sequenced mitochondrial DNA and that they did in fact manage to sequence it to the full sequence level.  How do we know this?  Because each mitochondrial haplogroup is designated by certain specific mutations.  In this case, the final 1 of T1a1 is indicated by location 9899 in the coding region of the mitochondria – so in order to designate this individual as a member of haplogroup T1a1, they had to sequence the coding region.  Again, we presume (the cousin of assume – with the same consequences) that they were able to successfully sequence the entire mitochondria.

Now for the fly in the ointment, I have not found this haplogroup in Russian Jewish people.  In fact, the clients who I have done DNA Reports for who fall into this haplogroup are not Jewish – none of them, nor do they have Jewish matches.  Neither does Dr. Behar identify this as a Jewish haplogroup in his founding mother’s paper.  Nor is this identified elsewhere as a Jewish haplogroup.  Of course, this Daily Mail article has no sources, so we can’t independently verify what was said, but it looks like this assertion of T1a1 typical of Jewish people may be in error.

However, from his discussion, we can also tell that additional sequencing has been done on the DNA retrieved, because you can’t determine traits like hair color without autosomal sequencing.  Therefore, if the descendant is truly related to Jack the Ripper, then at least part of their autosomal DNA should match as well, and that was not addressed.  If the autosomal DNA does not match, at least in part, then it calls into question the conclusions drawn by the mitochondrial DNA match.

We know that Kosminski was born about 1865 if he was 23 in 1888 when the crimes were committed.  The DNA matches a descendant of his sister.  Let’s assume, for purposes of argument that his sister was born about the same time.  And let’s use the standard genealogy generation of 30 years.  This means that the sister’s child was born in 1895, her child in 1925, her child in 1955 and maybe yet another child in 1985.  That’s a total of 6 DNA transmission events to a common ancestor, being the parents of the Kosminski siblings.  Therefore, Kosminski is the great-great-uncle to the child born in 1955.  Therefore, the individual born in 1955 should share about 6.25 of their autosomal DNA with Kosminski.  If they don’t, then there’s a problem.

If they do, then why didn’t the article tell us that.  This information would, in essence, seal the deal – well, assuming all of the other presuming is remedied.

Is It True???

First, let me state that in science, I’m always very, very skeptical of publication via newspaper or internet, especially publication via tabloid.  This has been fraught with problems.  Debbie Kennett has covered this repeatedly on her blog.  Another example is the announcement of  Pict DNA being identified – published and never proven.  I know of other cases in which DNA evidence is intentionally twisted, inaccurately, to fit the intentions of the publishing entity.  So, yes, I’m a rabid skeptic without provable evidence.

I want to see this assertion go through the verification process with a second, reputable, lab.  By reputable, I mean one not associated with any of these other questionable assertions.  Then, I’d like to see the results published in an industry accepted journal.  Yes, that takes time, and yes, there are questions to answer, but the resulting paper carries with it credibility that is impossible to obtain otherwise.  Unfortunately, publishing results in a tabloid paper immediately causes me to question why they would have made that choice if they had solid proof.

Ok, now that I’ve said that, I want to address the question at hand.  Is it true?  Might it be true?

I’d like to make two points.  First, while I used random examples of mitochondrial matching, this isn’t a random situation.  This is a known individual in both cases, with known and I’m assuming, provable, genealogy to both Catherine Eddowes and to Aaron Kosminski.  We’re not looking at random matches here and we’re not looking for a common ancestor.  We know who the common ancestor is in both of these situations and we’re looking for matches to confirm that identity.  This, by the way, is exactly how our armed forces identify remains of soldiers and repatriate them to the family.  This uses the exact same premise – that we’re not looking for random matches, but for a match with a known family member of known provenance – with possibly, hopefully, family line mutations.

Now, let’s use a bit of math, which is sometimes, but not always, my friend.

I’m going to use two examples, haplogroup T1a1 and haplogroup J1c2f because it’s mine and I have easy access to those results.  We know that the mitochondrial DNA attributed to Kosminski is T1a1 and we’ll just let mine stand in for Catherine Eddowes.

In the Family Tree DNA data base, haplogroup T represents 8.06% of the participants and haplogroup J, 7.77%.  As of September 8, they have a total of 43,329 full sequence mitochondrial DNA results in their data base.  I calculated the number of members of each haplogroup based on that percentage and then I checked the corresponding DNA project at Family Tree DNA.  Then I checked to see how many occurrences of the subgroups of J1c2f and T1a1 were found and calculated the percentage of haplogroup J and T they represent.  The total subgroup percentage is the percentage of J1c2f and T1a1 of the entire FTDNA full sequence population.

  % FTDNA # Members Hap Project # #J1c2f/ T1a1 % of  Hap Proj Total % subgroup
J1c2f 7.77 3336 2165 6 .2 .01
T1a1 8.06 3492 673 52 .73 .12

London’s population was estimated to be 1 million in 1800 and 6.7 million in 1900, so let’s use the figure of 6 million for 1888 as an estimate.

Of 6 million people, you would expect to find 600 people carrying haplogroup J1c2f and 7200 people carrying T1a1.  Therefore to find two of those individuals whose DNA is found on the same scarf, who have a forensic tie, or a suspicion of a tie, is astronomically small.

If math is my friend today, we would multiple values of each haplogroup in the population together to find the odds of finding both in one place.

That would be .0001 times .0012, which equals 1.2e-7 which means, 0.00000012, in other words, about one in 1.2 billion.  The population of the world in 1875 was calculated to be about 1.3 billion

So, assuming their work is accurate, and assuming that this isn’t a huge elaborate hoax, it’s very likely accurate, and Jack the Ripper is very probably Aaron Kosminski.

Where’s the Beef???

ripper3

Remember the old Wendy’s refrain, “Where’s the Beef?’’

Well, I want to believe this story, especially since it’s such a feel good fairy tale story involving a Jack the Ripper hobbyist and DNA, of course.  But I’m really left waiting for some kind of corroboration.  Was it Carl Sagan that said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?”  Well, they do and I really hope the authors will subject their findings to peer review and authenticate their claims.  If this isn’t true, it’s a hugely elaborate and well-planned hoax perpetrated probably to sell a resulting book or movie which should, if that is true, be named “Jack the Ripoff.”

I want this to be true, and I want the authors to make a believer out of me.  I want no presumes or assumes left standing.  So….where’s the beef???

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Samuel Estwell H. Bolton (1894-1918), WWI Casualty, 52 Ancestors #32

This article is about only one chapter in the lives of my great-grandparents, Joseph “Dode” Bolton (1853-1920) and his wife, Margaret Claxton (Clarkson) Bolton (1851-1920.)  That chapter is the life, and death, of their son, Samuel Estwell H. Bolton (1894-1918).  Samuel gave his life for his country in World War I.Samuel Bolton Plank Cem

This week, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war, not something one would celebrate, but something to give us pause to reflect upon those who died for the cause of freedom.

In London this week, the Tower of London is decorated with hundreds of thousands of poppies, 888,246, to be exact, to remember, and honor each British soldier who perished.  The red “Remembrance Poppy” has been used since 1920 to commemorate those killed in war.  Poppies bloomed across the battlefields in France after the horrific battles of WWI, symbolizing the bloodshed there.

tower of london poppies

Additionally, 116,516 Americans died in WWI, among them, Samuel Bolton from Hancock County, Tennessee, my grandmother’s younger brother.

Joseph Bolton and Margaret Clarkson (Claxton) Bolton had 10 or 11 children, but only one died in the service of their country, and that one was Samuel.  A second son served in WWII, after their deaths.

Joseph and Margaret has been married more than 20 years when Samuel arrived on June 12, 1894.  He had a younger sibling as well, although the 1910 census shows Sammie as the youngest at that time.  He wasn’t in 1900, as the 8th Civil District, Hancock Co., TN, shows.

1900 Bolton census

The 1900 census shows Sammie, listed as Estwell, his middle name, age 5, with younger brother Henry.  Samuel’s middle initial, H., probably stood for Henry as well.  I wonder if his parents changed his middle name from Estwell to Henry after Henry died.

The 1910 census shows Sammie as the youngest child at home.  It looks like Henry has died, and the daughter, Cerenia that family oral history shows as the youngest child, was never shown on a census.  Regardless, it looks like Sammie is their youngest child in 1910, the baby of the family.

1910 bolton census

The 1910 census also shows us that they lived on Back Valley Road, very near the intersection with the main Mulberry Road in Hancock County, Tennessee not terribly far from the Claiborne County border.

When Sammie enlisted in the service in September of 1917, two days after his father’s 64th birthday, it’s difficult to surmise how his parents felt.

I’m sure that while they were swelled with pride, they were also more than a little apprehensive.  In addition, they were older people and losing help on the farm meant more work for them that they might not have been physically able to do.   Margaret, I’m sure, cried as she saw her baby leave, on his way to defend his country.  Having lost her youngest child or children already, did she know that he would never come home?  Was she worried?  Did she have a mother’s second sense?

Samuel’s military record is so cold and lifeless.  Just the facts.

1.306.789 W
Bolton, Samuel H.;
Service: Over Seas
Residence: Sneedville, Tennessee
Inducted: Sneedville, Tennessee on 9/20/1917
Born: Tazewell, Tennessee
Age: 23 years, 4 months
Organization: Hq Company 328th Infantry, 9/21/1917-10/14/1917; Company A 117th Infantry to 10/18/1918.
Grade: Private 9/20/1917; Private 1st Class Mch. January 1918.
Overseas service: 5/11/1918-10/8/1918
Killed in Action 10/8/1918.
Person notified of death: Joseph B. Bolton, Father, RFD #1, Hoop, Tennessee

Person notified of death – Joseph B. Bolton, Father – what a terrible visit to receive.

It was in Europe, in France, the furthest, I’m sure, that any Bolton had ever been from home, that Samuel would perish.

bolton europe map

Cousin Dillis found a wonderful summary of Samuel’s unit written by Billie McNamara.  It tells us what Samuel was doing, and when.  I wonder if his parents ever had this level of information, or if they simply knew that he died.  They both died just 16 months after Samuel’s death, and only 16 days apart.

Samuel served in the 117th Infantry, known at the Third Tennessee Infantry, headquartered out of Knoxville.  Called into service, they recruited heavily and left with the new recruits for Camp Sevier, SC in September of 1917.

The first part of the work at Camp Sevier was clearing a camp from a pine forest.  All military drill was impossible until the large pine trees and undergrowth had been removed and the holes leveled.  This hard physical work proved excellent for the men, as they hardened into fine condition and most of them gained in weight.  After fair grounds had been prepared, a strenuous daily schedule of infantry drill was carried out, discipline stiffened, and during the winter and spring of 1918, instruction was given by English officers and noncommissioned officers in trench warfare.  During the winter, which was a very severe one, one officer and twenty-nine enlisted men died from disease, principally pneumonia.

Orders were received May 2, 1918, to entrain for duty overseas, and on the night of May 10, 1918, the regiment went on board transports at New York.

I expect that Sammie, like many of the men, wrote a letter home to his parents during this time between receiving orders and shipping out.  He probably also sent a picture of himself proudly wearing his uniform.  Most servicemen did.  I would love to know what he was thinking.  Was he welcoming the adventure for which he had been training, or did he dread and fear the possible conflict that was waiting?  Was he confident, like so many, that we would “kick their butts?”  Did he put on a brave face for his parents, or perhaps try to persuade them that they didn’t need to worry about him and he would see them soon.

Some ten days later, after an attack by submarines off the Irish Coast, in which the convoy escaped without loss, landing was made at Liverpool, England, where special trains carried the regiment straight through London to Folkestone.  Transports ferried it across the English Channel by night to Calais, France.  American equipment was turned in there and British was issued in its stead.  The Thirtieth Division was one of seven American divisions which were concentrated in the British area for training and for use in case the Germans made their threatened drive for the Channel ports.  The enemy was said to have 20 divisions at this time just back of Ypres, ready to make this attack, but their withdrawal was made necessary later by the allied resistance on other parts of the front.

ypres

This is the sight that would have greeted Samuel in Ypres.  This is all that remained of Ypres, the cathedral in the center of the picture, and below, after Germans had shelled it for four years.  He had probably never seen the devastation of war.  Now, he was seeing it first hand.  It looked like the apocalypse.  If the reality of the situation hadn’t set in before, it surely did now.  I would suspect it was a very somber, quiet unit that surveyed this scene spread before them.

ypres cathedral

The 117th proceeded from Calais to Norbecourt, where, under British officers and non-commissioned officers, the officers and men of the regiment were trained strenuously for five weeks.  Detachments went up from time to time to the Canal Sector, between Ypres and Mont Kemmel, for front line work.  This was most important, for it gave the regiment some experience in actual warfare before it was ordered later to take over a part of the line.

About July 1, 1918, the Thirtieth Division was ordered to move into Belgium.  The 59th Brigade, which crossed the border on July 4, was the first unit of American forces to enter the war-torn little country, which bore the first assault of the German attack in the world war.

The 117th was assigned to Tunneling Camp, where it was given its final training in trench warfare and in attacking strong points.  After a few days of this work, the regiment was ordered into the battle line.  One battalion held the front line trenches, another was kept in support, while the third was held in reserve on the East Popperinghe Line.  The battalions alternated in these positions for twenty-four days, each receiving the same amount of real front line work.  On August 17, when it became evident that the Americans were fully able to handle the situation, the sector was turned over to the Thirtieth Division by the Thirty-third British Division, which had been stationed in the line there.  The extent of the sector was from the southern outskirts of Ypres to Voormezeele and was known as the Canal Sector.

With the exception of a limited offensive, conducted in cooperation with the British, in which Mont Kemmel was outflanked, Voormezeele captured, and an advance of about 1500 yards made, the Thirtieth Division was purely on the defensive in all the fighting in Belgium.  Yet this type of warfare was, perhaps, the most harassing through which it went during the whole war.  The Germans knew the location of every trench, and their artillery played upon them day and night.  Night bombers also made this a very uncomfortable sector, for they dropped tons of explosives both upon the front and at the rear.  There was little concealment on either side, because this part of Belgium was very flat.  Artificial camouflage provided what little deception was practiced upon the enemy.

The casualties of the 117th in the two months in which it was stationed in the Canal Sector were not heavy.  Only a few men were killed, and the number of wounded was less than 100.  King George of England and Field Marshal Haig, commander of the English armies, honored the regiment with a visit and made an inspection of its companies, shown below.

king george

So, it would appear that Samuel met, or at least saw, King George.

On the night of September 4, the 117th, together with the other units of the division, was withdrawn from the English Second Army and placed in British G. H. Q. reserve.  The next two weeks were given to intensive training with tanks, with a view to coming offensive operations with them.

September 1st, trucks and busses were provided and the regiment moved through Albert, Bray, and Peronne to near Tincourt, just back of the celebrated Hindenburg Line.  The Thirtieth and Twenty-seventh Divisions, which were the only American division left with the British, were assigned now to the British Fourth Army, General Rawlinson commanding, for the great attack which was soon to be launched at this most vital and highly fortified part of the whole line.  They were fresh, they had shown their mettle in the defensive operations in Belgium, and so they were chosen for the spearhead of the attack.

 They had earned the honor.

The 59th Brigade went into the line first, relieving the Australians on the night of September 26.  The 118th Infantry took over the front line, with the 117th Infantry in close support.  The casualties of the latter were rather heavy from gas shells in making the relief, one company losing 62 men to the hospital.

The celebrated Hindenburg Line, which the German commander-in-chief, General von Hindenburg, built as a great defensive system to hold against capture of France and Belgium east of it, extended from the English Channel to the Swiss border.  It was not a local defensive system at all.  Yet at various parts of the line there were key positions, dominating a large area, the fortifications of which had been made much stronger.  The area between St. Quentin and Cambrai held the key to the German defenses on the northern end of the line.  It was fortified accordingly with all the ingenuity and deviltry of the Hun mind.

bellicourt tunnel

View of Bellicourt, above:  In lower left hand corner is entrance to the formidable Hindenburg Tunnel.

road beside tunnel

Soldiers on the road beside the Hindenburg Tunnel, protected by barbed wire, on October 4, 1918.

In front of Bellicourt, near the center of the American sector of attack, the Hindenburg Line, which curved west of the St. Quentin Canal, consisted of three main trench systems, each protected by row after row of barbed wire entanglements.  These trench systems were on high ground and gave the Germans the advantage of being able to sweep the whole area in front of them with machine guns.  Along the canal were concrete machine gun emplacements.  Back of this formidable system of defenses was the canal tunnel, built by Napoleon in 1802-10 and running underground for a distance of three miles.  From this tunnel there were thirty-eight exits, each carefully camouflaged.

The tunnel was lighted by electricity, a narrow gauge railroad brought in supplies from the outside, while canal boats provided quarters for a large number of men.  Thus there was complete shelter for a large garrison of the enemy against heavy shelling, and in case of a real attack, an almost impregnable defense.

The attack upon this part of the line was set for the morning of September 29, 1918.  The 27th American Division was on the left, the 46th British on the right of the 30th American Division.  The American sector passed across the tunnel, but the British on the right and left were prepared to swim the canal in case no bridges were found to afford them passage.  The assault of the infantry upon these fortifications was to be preceded by a bombardment of 72 hours — with gas shells for 24 hours and with shell and shrapnel from light and heavy artillery for 48 hours.

In the Thirtieth Division sector, the 119th and 120th Infantry were assigned to make the opening attack, with the 117th Infantry following in close support, and prepared to exploit their advance after the canal had been crossed.  The 118th Infantry was held in reserve.  The 119th Infantry had the left half of the sector, while the 120th, strengthened by Company H, of the 117th, covered the right half.  In addition to his regimental strength, Colonel Spence, of the 117th, had under his command for the attack 92 guns of Australian artillery, 24 British tanks, and two extra machine gun companies.  The plan of battle was that the regiment, following the 120th, should cross the canal between Bellicourt on the left and the entrance to the canal on the right, then turn at right angles, and proceed southeasterly down the main Hindenburg Line trench, mopping up this territory of the enemy for about a mile.  Connection was to be made with the British on the right, if they succeeded in crossing the canal.

The facts of the case are that this paper plan of battle worked out somewhat differently under battle conditions.  Most of the assaulting companies became badly confused in the deep fog and smoke, strayed off somewhat from their objectives, and their attack swung to the left of the sector.  The 117th, which followed, went off in the opposite direction fortunately and cleaned out a territory which otherwise would have been left undisturbed.  While it caused endless confusion and the temporary intermingling of platoons, companies, and even regiments, this pall of mist and smoke on the morning of the attack undoubtedly contributed to the success of the battle.  The Germans did not know how to shoot accurately, for no targets were visible.  During the morning hours it was impossible for a man to see his hand more than a few inches in front of him.  Men in the combat groups joined hands to avoid being lost from each other.  Officers were compelled, in orienting their maps, to lay them on the ground, as it was impossible to read them while standing in the dense cloud of smoke and mist.  The atmosphere did not clear up completely until after the canal had been crossed.

The barrage for the attack went down at 5:50 a.m.  The First Battalion, under Major Dyer, jumped off promptly on time, with C and D Companies in the line, A and B Companies in support.  The Second Battalion followed at about 500 yards, while the Third Battalion, with a company of engineers, was held in reserve on the crest of a hill.  The tanks, for the most part, became separated from the infantry, but their work was invaluable in plowing through the barbed wire, which had been cut up very little by the barrage.  Like nearly everyone else, the tanks lost sense of direction in the smoke and fog cloud, while the majority of them were disabled before noon of the 29th.

hindenburg line

Past the Hindenburg Line, members of Co.”K,” 117th Infantry, digging themselves in for the night after an advance which started in the morning at Molain, France.

The taking of the Hindenburg Tunnel was a turning point in the war.  The Australians who had units present as well document the events, with maps, here. Fallen American soldiers on the 29th, shown below.  I wonder if placing crosses on the bodies was a symbolic tradition or was simply a signal that “this one needs to be buried.”

Fallen Americans

Most of the morning was consumed by the 117th in clearing out the area south and west of the tunnel entrance.  Some units, mistaking one of the trench systems for the canal, turned southward before actually reaching the genuine canal.  They cleaned out thoroughly the Germans, who were in this pocket, but toward 10 o’clock turned northward and began to pass over the tunnel, the left flank skimming Bellicourt and the right crossing near the tunnel entrance.

The casualties of the 117th on September 29 were 26 officers and 366 men.  Seven field pieces, 99 machine guns, 7 anti-tank rifles, many small arms and 592 German prisoners were the trophies of the day.  Though the casualties were rather heavy, in view of the machine gun and artillery resistance which the Germans offered from powerfully held positions, they should be regarded as rather light.  With a clear day, without fog or smoke, they would have been double or treble this number.

hindenburg tunnel

American and Australian soldiers at the entrance to the breached Hindenburg Tunnel, October 4, 1918.

The 117th was relieved from the line about noon of October 1, and before night the regiment was on its way back to the Herbicourt area on the Somme River for rest and reorganization.  This period, however, was very brief, for on October 5 orders were issued to relieve an Australian brigade.

The offensive of the division, with the 59th Brigade making the attack, was scheduled for the morning of October 8.

This is the day Samuel Bolton would die.

The 59th Brigade offensive was launched the morning of October 8, the 117th on the left, the 118th on the right.  The British were on the flanks.  The jumping off line was northeast of Wiancourt, while the objective was slightly beyond Premont.  The First Battalion of the 117th launched the attack for the regiment, the Second Battalion was in close support, while the Third Battalion, which had been cut up badly the day before, was in reserve.  The attack got off on time in spite of the difficulties that were encountered the previous night in getting into position under fire and in the dark.

The attack started before six o’clock in the morning, after a heavy barrage had been laid down by the accompanying artillery.  In spite of heavy shelling by German machine guns and artillery on both flanks, especially from the towns of Ponchaux and Geneve, the companies made fairly good gains during the day, fighting almost every foot of the way.

oct 8 1914 map

In the face of furious German resistance with all kinds of machine gun nests and an abundance of light artillery, the battalions advanced very rapidly, skillfully knocking out machine guns and maneuvering to the best advantage over the broken ground.  The Second Battalion suffered heavy losses during the morning and two companies of the brigade reserve were ordered to its support.  Before noon Major Hathaway, who commanded it, announced the capture of Premont and his arrival at the prescribed objective.  Positions were consolidated during the afternoon and preparations made for a possible counter-attack.

Today, the scene n the road between Wiancourt and Premont, near Ponchaux, looks idyllic, but on October 8th, 1914, it was pure and utter hell.

oct 8 1914 countryside

This operation was a very costly one, perhaps the most bloody of the whole division in proportion to the number of men engaged, for out of the battalion, 12 officers and about 400 men were either killed or wounded.  The casualties of the 117th on October 8 were the heaviest of any day of fighting in which it was engaged on the front.

For Samuel Bolton, the war ended on October 8th, but for the rest of the 117th, it continued the next day beginning at daybreak.

During these three days of fighting, October 7, 8, and 9, the regiment lost 34 officers and 1051 men as casualties.  A count of the spoils taken included 113 machine guns, 28 field pieces, 907 small arms and about 800 prisoners.  The great majority of the latter, 703, were captured on October 8, showing that on the final day the men, enraged by the losses of their comrades the day previous, killed most of the Germans they took.  This became not an uncommon practice in the latter days of fighting, especially against the German machine gunners, who would kill or wound from their place of concealment a half platoon or more of men before their gun was located and put out of action.  This custom of taking no prisoners was confined to no single regiment, but became common practice throughout the division.

Samuel’s trip home began on October 8th.  I don’t know how long it took in those days to notify family of a death, but it certainly wasn’t by telephone.

Cousin Dillis indicated that at that time, officers would have visited the family to deliver the news in person.  This regiment was out of Knoxville, so the men who would have made that sad trip would have had to have gotten as far as Springdale in Claiborne County, where Little Sycamore Road turns to the east to enter the labyrinth of backroads into the mountains.

claiborne map

They probably had to stop at the store or the gas station at Springdale and ask directions.  That means, of course, that everyone at the store knew where they were going, and could easily surmise why, if the men didn’t tell them outright.  Many of the Bolton cousins lived down Little Sycamore, on the side roads, up the mountains and in the valleys, between Springdale and Hoop Creek where Joseph and Margaret lived, assuming they had moved from Back Valley Road since the 1910 census.  In fact, the men would pass by the Plank Cemetery, on Little Sycamore Road, where Samuel’s remains would rest, under these trees, and just a few months later, those of his parents as well.  Samuel’s grandfather, Joseph Bolton, Sr., who died in 1887 was already waiting there.

Plank cem

As they neared the intersection of Back Valley Road and Mulberry Gap Road, they would have had to ask again, at least once – as houses didn’t have numbers at that time and these men weren’t familiar with local roads that were often more like 2 tracks..

back valley at mulberry

If Joseph and Margaret had moved to Hoop Creek between the 1910 census and 1918, then they would have had to ask directions at Hoop Creek Road.  Back Valley, Hoop Creek and Rebel Holler roads all interconnect is a mountaintop and mountainside interwoven maze that is impossible for anyone but locals to navigate, even today.

When the car pulled up in front of the house, if Joseph and Margaret were home, they would have likely known immediately that someone had arrived.  The chickens in the yard scattered and the dogs began to bark.  They would have looked outside to see who, in a car, had arrived, and when they saw the uniforms, they would have known.  Margaret would have begun to cry.  Their son Estel, age 30, a machinist, lived at home in the 1920 census, so he likely lived at home in 1918 as well.  Perhaps he was in the barn that day, and came to the house when he saw the car as well.  The neighbors, of course, already knew because they had given directions to the gentlemen in uniform to find Joseph Bolton’s house.  They were already preparing to come to the house to comfort the family as soon as the car left.  The grapevine already had the news.

Sometime later, Samuel’s body would have arrived home, in a coffin, with a flag draped over it.  The brothers and sisters who lived distant, like my grandmother who was living in Chicago by then, would have been summoned home, and the Bolton family would have gathered to say their goodbyes in the Plank Cemetery. My father, William Sterling Estes and his brother, Joseph “Dode” Estes were also serving in the war, so it’s unlikely that either of them were able to attend Samuel’s funeral.  Ironically, Ollie Bolton Estes, my grandmother, had named one of her children Samuel, and that Samuel had died as well.

Just one month and 3 days after Samuel’s death, the armistice was signed, signaling the end of WWI.  Was that bittersweet for his parents?  While Samuel Bolton didn’t survive to return home, the heavy fighting and breach and taking of the Hindenburg Tunnel were certainly part and parcel in turning the tide of the war, defeating Germany, so his death was certainly not in vain.  If anything, Joseph and Margaret Bolton could take pride that their son had played a critical role in changing the world, and the tide of world affairs, for the better.  But that’s awfully hard to convey to grieving parents.

Samuel’s unit spent the winter in Europe, just in case they were needed, returning home to celebrate their return with parades in Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and throughout Eastern Tennessee in April of 1919.  Sadly, Samuel wasn’t among them.  I wonder if Joseph and Margaret attended any of the celebratory events or if it was just too painful for them.

117th homecoming

The 177th lost a total of 2184 officers and men in September and October of 1918.  The regiment’s total advance into hostile territory was 11-2/3 miles and the towns captured by it were Premont, Busigny and Molaine.

In a sense, Joseph and Margaret were one of the lucky ones – their son’s body was returned, or I presume that it was because he does have a grave marker.  I guess one should never assume.  If a local newspaper could be found, articles would likely answer that question.  A surprising number of dead were never sent home – many were simply buried where they fell or nearby.  The number of WWI dead was unprecedented, especially in what came to be known as the “100 Days Offensive” that preceded the end of the war.  Remains continue to be found today.

This page discusses the WWI war dead, battlefields and burials.

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, yes, that’s her real name, is a professional genealogist who specialized in repatriating remains of soldiers.  She is probably best known for finding the Irish roots of Barack Obama, but her love and calling into this profession was through using DNA to identify the families of soldiers’ remains from the various wars, so that the bodies of the soldiers can be returned to their families and given a burial at home.

http://www.honoringourancestors.com/library_military.html

I asked Megan if she works on many WWI cases.  After all, it has been 96 years since that war, the “War to End All Wars,” ended.

Megan said, “Most of my cases (over 1,000) have been WWII & Korean War.  In the early days, I had a fair number of Southeast Asia ones, and very rarely, I’ve had WWI cases. I’ve been to one funeral for a WWI case – a fellow originally from Ireland. So it happens, but not terribly often.”

As the child of an Army family, it’s somehow fitting that repatriation was her calling into genetic genealogy.

“It was the Army’s repatriation efforts that first got me into DNA – 15 years ago now! I knew I wanted to write “Trace Your Roots with DNA” in 2001, but disciplined myself to wait because I knew folks weren’t ready for it yet. Spent 2 years getting articles and talks on DNA rejected even though I was already established. Ah, memories! But as an Army brat myself, I’ve always loved the application that first drew me to DNA. Still love it when any of my fellows get identified after all these years.”

Trace Your Roots with DNA was the first of Megan’s books, and the first genetic genealogy DNA basics book published in 2004.  You can read more about Megan’s work here.

I find it fitting though, that the DNA of the families, of the mothers, or the sisters, in particular is used to identify and return these soldiers.  There is never much question about maternal parentage, so the mother’s mitochondrial DNA is utilized.  Furthermore, mitochondrial DNA is much more easily extracted from decomposed remains – and the most likely DNA to survive intact.  So, fittingly, it’s the mother who ultimately brings her son home.

Rest in peace Samuel, and thank you.

Poppies in a Meadow

Acknowledgements to Pam Bolton for providing the Descendants of Henry Bolton Facebook page and Dillis Bolton for information provided in this article.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

St. Nicholas’ Church at Shoulden and St. Leonard’s at Deal

pier sunrise day 3

Day three in Deal turned out to be a great day.  It began with another beautiful sunrise over the pier.  I could get used to this and the sound of the ocean.  Unfortunately, it makes me sleepy – not the sun, the ocean rhythmically lapping on the shore.  I think this means I’ve finally relaxed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Each morning, we had breakfast in the pub.  The Clarendon is sort of a B&B above a pub.  Most of the hotels here are just that.  There are no chain hotels, so it’s all local, waterfront and quaint.  Most people eat dinner in the pub – but not us – breakfast.  We’ve learned a lot – like egg sandwiches do not come on toast, but cold buttered bread.  But everything can be made right with a latte.

We didn’t need to be anyplace until noon when St. Nicholas’ church in Shoulden opens. Jim and I decided to walk back to town a slightly different way and explore a bit.  These beautiful old streets are very inviting.  We noticed that at the end of the street there was a visitor information location that had a walking tour map of the historical signs, so we set out to find that map.

deal map

I wish we had found this map two days ago.  It’s available at the Dover Visitor Information Center, and there is a branch in Deal too, in case you ever need one!  Our hotel was on Beach Street, just to the right of the pier.

On the way, Jim found the solution to the driving challenge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Actually, Jim and I designed a dual navigation plan.  I give Jim numbers for the left side, like “a foot” or “6 inches” and Jim is going to go very slow and stop if he feels uncomfortable. While that’s not a good plan at home, it is here because people actually park into the street making 2 lanes impossible and impassible, so people stop in the road all of the time here.  It’s very disconcerting actually.  The dual navigation plan actually worked very well and we had no incidents today.  Thankfully.

We did, however, find some local color.

hairy dog mother

You just never know what you’re going to see.

pink english car

England is not boring.

orange pants deal

By any stretch of the imagination.

???????????????????????????????

Is this a mutant gene?

I keep requesting purple from my hair stylist and she keeps refusing…mutters something about acting my age….

This next photo was actually in London on our way back home the following day.

posh girls on tour

Can you see the back of her outfit?  It says “POSH GIRLS ON TOUR.”

posh girl

We were told earlier in the trip that posh, as it’s used today to mean swanky or rich was derived from the following:

The much-repeated tale is that ‘Posh’ derives from the ‘port out, starboard home’ legend supposedly printed on tickets of passengers on P&O (Peninsula and Orient) passenger vessels that travelled between UK and India in the days of the Raj. Another version has it that PO and SH were scrawled on the steamer trunks used on the voyages, by seamen when allocating cabins.

Anyone who enjoys people watching will love the British Isles.

We found a Subway sandwich shop and bought lunch so we could have a picnic later.  We found out the hard way the other day that many locations have no resources whatsoever, not even a convenience store or a gas station (which means no bath rooms.)  Many of the churches have no heat or toilets, for example.  However, those places that do have public restrooms avoid that confusing Scotland issue where the men’s restrooms have figures with kilts and the women’s have figures with skirts and you can’t tell the difference.

pink door  blue door

Seems so simple – what a good idea.

We still had quite a bit of time after Subway, before we had to be at the churches, so we took a walk along High Street in Deal which was by now becoming quite familiar.

As luck would have it, I found a bookstore.  I’m drawn to these in local places like a moth to a flame, so I had to go in and take a look.  I needed a map anyway, just in case we decided to try to go to Nonington, about 10 miles away.  After looking at the map, we decided not to because the roads aren’t marked and the only way to get there included a lot of back roads.  Our track record wasn’t so good and we decided to stay and enjoy Deal and not play automobile roulette anymore than was absolutely necessary.

In any event, while in the bookstore, I discovered, quite by accident while perusing a history book, the reason why we could not find Richard Estes’s tomb in St. Peters at Westcliffe.  We were in the wrong church, AGAIN, but the name was right.  However, the church being referred to in Richard’s 1506 will was St. Peter’s in Dover which no longer exists.  The original St. Peter’s in Dover church was mentioned in the 1200s, but they know nothing more of it until in 1827 when the church needed to be either remodeled or expanded.  Someone needs to show them the 1596 Symonson map where Dover very clearly has a church, shows the location and a drawing of the church itself, albeit small.

dover 1596 map

In 1895, St. Peter’s was destroyed and a new, larger church built either beside or on top of the old one.  It’s unknown whether any part of the old church was utilized in the new one.  The church was rededicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, so the name changed.  That church was again destroyed during WW2, so it has been rebuilt yet a third time.  So if indeed Richard Eustace was buried in the floor, that floor no longer exists.  While we’ll never have a photo of that tombstone, we now know why we won’t, and why there is no St. Peter’s church today in Dover.  At least that mystery is now solved!

At noon, we drove to St. Leonards, parked, and picnicked in the car, then walked to Shoulden about a quarter mile away, shown below.  That explains why our ancestor, Robert Eastye, might have been married there – it’s so close to his home church and Anne Woodward would have been a local gal.  St. Nicholas Shoulden was probably her church.

St Nicholas Sholden

I’d love to peruse those Shoulden records for the Woodward family line.  Take a look at this beautiful church in the article about Anne Woodward.

shoulden

The bride would have come in from the rear of the church, through these doors, and walked down this aisle.

shoulden door

 

This door, dating from 1795, is not in use today except for special occasions.  The original, pre-1795, door was on the other side of the church, today, the back, because the original road was routed on the other side of the church, where the cemetery is today.  The original doorway has now been enclosed and is the vicar’s vestry, shows as the little add-on with a chimney in the photo below.

shoulden back

Regardless of how one entered the church, the inside, especially the nave, probably looks much the same now as it did then, except for carpet, of course.  This church dates from the 1200s with one portion in the north wall believed to be from the 1100s.

St Nicholas Sholden interior

The church is beautiful, inside and out.

shoulden cemetery

It’s very likely that the ashes of Anne Woodward’s ancestors lie in this churchyard.

In Europe, I often think about the discussions in the US about exhumation and DNA testing of forensic remains for genealogy.  While I only know of one instance where this was actually done for genealogical purposes, and it was couched as an archaeology/history project because it involved a famous historical figure, Jesse James, it could never be done in Europe with graves that have been shared, not once or twice, but for centuries, and with unknown persons.  The only way exhumation would be viable is if a crypt was involved, protecting the remains from contamination from those who had come, or gone, before.  Either that, or exhumation would have to occur within a timeframe that would involve the decomposition of tissue, but not the decomposition of bone.  Still, there would be enough doubt that it would call into question the validity of non-confirming results.

shoulden cemetery2

Robert Estes married Anne Woodward here at Shoulden on December 2, 1591.  Their first child, Matthew, born in June of 1692 would be baptized in this church, but subsequent children born 1596-1616 were baptized in Ringwould.

Did they look out these same windows, daydreaming, or perhaps thinking about things that needed to be done after church?

shoulden window

This ancient oak in the churchyard, struck by lightning and half burned speaks to the age of this church. It’s possible that this oak was here when the original church, probably celtic and pagan, first met outside under an oak on a hilltop.

shoulden oak

We told the ladies at St. Nicholas Shoulden goodbye and walked back to St. Leonard’s along the ancient Sandwich Road, the same pathway, then road, our ancestors undoubtedly trod for generations.

St. Leonard’s Church in Deal

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We are so fortunate that Ruth Doughty, the archivist, historian and verger of St. Leonard’s was not only available but spent the afternoon with us at the church.  What a font of knowledge.  I’m guessing that Ruth is in her mid-80s as she was christened in 1930 in St. Leonard’s.  She is a fixture, loves the church and absolutely belongs there.  She made this an incredibly amazing day!  I hope you’ll come along, because even if this isn’t your family church, an awful lot of the history pertains to churches throughout England.  Besides, you never know when you’ll discover an Estes in your tree or in your DNA matches!!

St. Leonard’s, shown below, is extremely difficult to photograph from a distance due to its location on a busy round-about.

st leonard roundabout

I have always felt like St. Leonard’s was the home church of the Estes family.  I know that my ancestors migrated down the road to St. Nicholas at Ringwould and Robert was married at Shoulden, but the first Estes records are here, and the heart of the Estes family seems to be in Deal.  Some family straggled a few miles away but many returned and there is Estes history at St. Leonard’s for generations.

From the Friends of St. Leonard’s website, here are a couple of drawings of St. Leonard’s in earlier times.

st leonard's 1

This is probably close to the church the Estes ancestors knew.  We know it’s before the 1819 addition.

st leonard's 2

This last drawing, with the color, looks more modern and is similar to a black and white print dated about 1820.  We can also see the 1819 addition.

st leonard's 3

St. Leonard’s is on a high mound, possibly originally a pagan moot hill, or meeting place.  The sides of the hill are walled, so you enter by either ascending stairs or walking around the wall to the front or side door.  You can easily see the wall in the 1800s print above.

Ruth Doughty, before her retirement, was a printer.  She graced us with copies of her prints of St. Leonard’s.  Below, thanks to Ruth, the oldest known image of St. Leonard’s, clearly before the north addition in 1819.

st leonard oldest sketch

The church is surrounded on the 2 street sides with a wall.

st leonard wall

Inside the wall, a walkway is paved about half way around the church, the other half being cemetery. However, gravestones are interspersed everyplace and one can rest assured that there are graves in every possible location, given that this church has been in existence since at least 1180.  Some historians believe that some form of worship has occurred here since Saxon times.

st leonard front

The front door of the church is shown below, original to the rebuilding of the church tower in 1686.

st leonard front door crop

We were meeting Ruth at the church at an appointed time, and we were a few minutes early.   I spent the time perusing the cemetery.  In a few days, we’ll meet Nicholas Ewstas, the first documented Estes ancestor in Deal, and we’ll take a tour of cemetery in his article.

Because the church is so old, it has been constructed, and reconstructed, many times over the centuries.  This shows in its eclectic layout, which I think gives it an extremely unique character and very interesting historical perspective.

It’s easiest to see the original outline of the church and the additions from the back outside.  The entrance is under the cupola in the tower at the west end of the church.  The nave is to the east with the cross above the triple windows.  The south addition from the 1200s and the original north addition, also from the 1200s, can be seen easily as they are not finished with flint.  The second north addition, at right, with more modern white lattice windows can also easily be discerned.

st leonard rear

You can also see the layout on this Google Map satellite view.

st leonard aerial

Directly across the street from the north entrance is the beginning, or end, depending on your perspective, of Church Path, a mile long path from Lower Deal directly to the north church door at St. Leonard’s.

st leonard aerial church path

The nave and chancel is original to the 1100s.  A hundred years later, the chancel was remodeled, enlarging the north and south aisles and adding doors, which are now gone but can be seen on the outside walls.

st leonard south door

The current tower was completed in 1686 after the original tower fell in 1658, after years of neglect prior to the Reformation, causing immeasurable damage including the destruction of the pilot’s gallery.  The cupola on the tower, which held a lantern, was and continues to be an important landmark to ships on the Goodwin Sands.

Originally, the tower apparently also had a steeple.  The Philip Symonson 1596 map of Kent shows both Sholdon and Deale churches, along with all three castles.  Ringwould, as Kyngewold is visible at the bottom.

symonson 1596 map kent crop

Normally, the main alter of a church is in the east.  In this case, you enter St. Leonard’s church via the west door and the nave is directly opposite in the east end of the church, but to your left, north, a significant extension was added in the 1200s and again in the 1819.  There is a small aisle, or wing, to the south, your right, original to the 1200s, but the largest “wing” is the one to the North which means that the majority of the congregation cannot see what is going on in the Nave.  Because of this, a new alter was installed forward of its normal position in a church, where the chancel, north and south aisles intersect, between the arches, in front of the nave.  Note that these original arch pillars are beautifully carved by a master mason.

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This photo is looking east, into the original nave.  The South extension (to the right) can be partially seen and the portion visible in the photo is the Lady’s Chapel.

The photo below is taken near the door of the North extension, looking completely across the center aisle into the South extension.  Notice all of the plaques and commemorations on the walls, along with the three hatchments at the top.  Also, note the floor burials.  Gregory Holyoake in his book, Deal, Sad Smuggling Town, states that before 1668 anyone who could afford to do so was buried in the church itself.  However, based on the fact that the north extension wasn’t added until 1819, that practice obviously did not cease.

st leonard north wing looking south

Below, the long northern wing is shown with Ruth and I chatting.

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Here’s a direct shot down the North aisle.  That arched door exits to find Moses Estes headstone directly on the right outside.  You can also see one of three galleries above the seating to extend the church’s seating capacity. There are two other galleries as well, one being the Pilot’s Gallery and the other beside the pilot’s gallery, over the entrance to the vestry, above the rood screen’s home.

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In essence, the church started out as a rectangle with the long part east to west.  Small chapels or aisleways were added in the 1200s on the left and right which made it into a cross.  Later the North arm of the cross was extended to be longer than the original triangle, so it’s somewhat misshapen today.  In fact, one of the Bishops said, “This is the most cockeyed church in Christendom.”

Standing inside the church in the area where the original church and the extensions cross, I looked back and took this photograph of the entrance area, which includes the “modern” organ and mariner’s gallery that was rebuilt in 1705 after the 1686 rebuild of the tower, the original tower having fallen in 1658.  The organ was later moved to this location.

st leonard entryway

The next photo is of the entryway, standing in the doorway from the entryway to the chancel.  You can see the doorway arch in the upper left hand corner.

st leonard bellringer stairs

Jim took these lovely panoramic photos inside the church while Ruth and I were talking.

st leonard pano1

You can see that the nave with the three arched stained glass windows is the centerpoint of these pictures where they would be “glued” together.

st leonard pano2

Ruth told us that there are no church records prior to Queen Elizabeth the First’s reign because Elizabeth was the one who gave the directive for the churches to keep track of the births, deaths and marriages.  Queen Elizabeth was born in 1533, ascended the throne in 1558 and died in 1603.  I believe church records began in 1559.

Our earliest proven Estes ancestor who lived in Deal was reportedly born in 1495.  Actually, the present town of Deal itself, on the waterfront, or Lower Deal, wasn’t there then.  It built up after the construction of Deal Castle in the late 1630s, so they probably lived in the little village by St. Leonard’s, if not in Ringwould where they would be found for the next several generations, or maybe someplace between the two locations which are only a couple miles distant from each other.

St. Leonard’s Church, a mile distant from Lower Deal on the waterfront, existed originally to serve the tiny hamlet of Addelam.  Addelam Road is directly behind the church.  The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, renders the phrase “at Deal” as “ad Delam” which is possibly a latinized version of the Saxon word “aet del ham” meaning “at the valley settlement.”

Even though St. Leonard’s is known as a maritime church today, original inhabitants were concerned with farming, not fishing.  The first written records from 1327 reveal that the rector, a nonresident, offended his parishioners by causing corn to be winnowed in the churchyard and a local farmer, Robert Byng, allowed his sheep to graze in the grounds and was “flogged thrice.”[i]

We do know for sure that in the 1600s the Estes family attended St. Leonard’s.  The early St. Leonard parish registers are reported to be complete from 1559.

One of our best pieces of evidence of our family’s association with this church, is the seating chart from 1618 and the Moses Estes burial from 1708.  There is a 1621 church record that shows the burial of Hugh Estie of Harwitch who was bound from Germinie (Netherlands) in a ship called the Sion of London, according to Neil Gunson in the 1992 Spring issue of Estes Trails.  Additionally, we find earlier mentions of Eastes (1581) Este (1601), Estis (1618) and Eastis (1726).  In 1590, a Henry Eastice, fisherman at Deal, made his will and his widow, Mary was buried at St Leonard’s in 1601, although the burial location is unknown.  Their children were baptized at St. Leonard’s between 1581 and 1589.

Moses’s stone, the oldest Estes gravestone known, is shown below.  It’s not easily readable today, but from earlier transcriptions, he died in March of 1707/1708.  His wife, Ellen, the sister of Abraham the immigrant, was buried in here in 1729, but there is no known headstone for her unless she is buried here, along with Moses.

st leonard moses estes

“Here lyeth interred ye body of Moses Estes who departed this life 19 of March 1708 age 65 years.  Also ye body of Constance Estes his daughter who departed this life November 1708 aged 36 years.”

This Moses is not my ancestor, Moses, son of Abraham the immigrant, but either my Moses was named after this Moses, or they were both named after the same ancestor.  I’d surely love to know who that was.  This Moses Estes married the sister, Ellen, of our Abraham Estes, the immigrant. Ellen and Moses would have been second cousins, both great-grandchildren of Sylvester, “fisherman of Deal” (in 1549) who died in Ringwould in 1579.

In this side view of the church where the Moses stone is found, the sidewalk has been changed.  Today, it crosses Moses’s grave, but initially, before the church wing expansion in 1819, the door was to the right further and smaller, so the grave would not have been in the sidewalk at that time.  Moses stone is directly behind the left hand railing at the top.  At the time of the addition, walking on graves was very common as there are many burials inside the church with the stone flat on top in the aisle.  It was considered an honor to be buried inside the church and only the wealthy or perhaps ministers in the church were buried inside.  This is the side, north, door, not the main entryway.

st leonard north door crop

Visiting the Church

Let’s go inside, just like our ancestors would have done, through the main doorway under the tower.

The doors on the tower entrance are original to the rebuilding of the tower in 1686, including the ironwork and fittings.

st leonard north door close

The outside of the entrance doors and the inside look a bit different.  The door is original with hand wrought hinges, bolts, studs and a lock consisting of a latch and bolt.

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The Estes ancestors would have known the doors just prior to these.  Born in 1647, Abraham Estes immigrated to Virginia in 1673, after the tower fell in 1658, but before the 1686 reconstruction.  When he knew this church, it was in a terrible state of disrepair.  He would probably have been surprised, had he heard that it still existed after his immigration.  I can imagine that everyone went to see the church after the tower fell, and it obviously fell through the roof if it destroyed the pilot’s gallery.  Abraham would have been an orphan of 11, and a fallen church tower, probably after a storm, was assuredly the talk of the town.

In 1715, several years after Abraham immigrated, a clock was added to the side of the tower.  That was probably the primary method that the residents had to know what time it was, except for sundials.

st leonard clockface

The outer doors lead into a very small entryway at the base of the tower where an inner door opens into the church chancel itself.

st leonard inner door

This paneled entry door dates from the second half of the 1500s or the first quarter of the 1600s, so my ancestors very likely touched this very door, pushing its creaking hinges open to enter.

Inside the small entryway of the church, between the 2 sets of doors, is a room the size of the tower base.  It holds the stairs that lead to the bells in the top of the tower.

st leonard bell ringer stairs

Just inside the outer door, are found the bell ringer’s stairs – metal stairs forming a spiral – or a helix – depending on your perspective.  These are about a foot side-to-side, each – and according to Ruth who used to ring the bells from the time she was a child, into her 60s, this climb isn’t even the frightening part.  At the next level, at the clock face, is a ladder followed by walking across lattice type wood, probably joists, above that.

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By 1638, the church had bells because there is a record entry for the purchase of a rope, and three bells are mentioned.  The bells would have also fallen in 1658 when the tower fell.  It’s no wonder the tower went through the roof.  Five bells were cast for the tower in 1686 and in 1866, a sixth was added.

Interestingly enough, there is a sign right by the steps that they are recruiting bell-ringers.  As a kid, I’d think this would have been great fun.  Maybe not so much now.  I wonder, did my ancestors ring the original St. Leonard’s bells?

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Entering the church body or chancel through the next set of doors was quite moving.  I knew I was literally walking where my ancestors trod so many times, in joy and in sorrow, with newborn babies to baptize and the bodies of loved ones to bury – and sometimes the baby baptized today was the loved one buried tomorrow.  This was the church of hopes and dreams, of tears, both happy and sad.  As I opened the door, I was greeted by the stunning stained glass windows, the Ascension, at the other end of the church in the nave.

st leonard nave view2

For me, in my heart, it was like stepping back in time and actually being with my ancestors in a place that I know was dear to their hearts.  The church was cool, slightly moist, and silent.  It was timeless.

st leonard nave windows

These stained glass windows in the nave were not there when my Estes ancestors lived, but they are stunningly beautiful and bathe the area in a serene blue light.  I wonder what the windows were like when my ancestors attended this church.  Did they bathe the nave in color or were they clear?

Knowing that my ancestors worshipped here is just so overwhelming.  I wanted to internalize it and breathe it all into my soul.  I cannot come any closer to touching my ancestors, unless it’s through their DNA that I carry in my own body.

While Ruth and I talked, Jim went upstairs to where the organ is located today, but which was the mariner’s (pilot’s) balcony before the organ was installed.  That balcony had a rear exit so when those men heard the horn from the sea which meant an emergency, they could leave without disrupting the service.  I bet they ran that mile down Church Path to Lower Deal in record time.  The original pilot’s gallery was destroyed when the original tower and steeple fell in 1658, but it was eventually rebuilt in 1705 among much political controversy.

st leonard organ

The pilot’s gallery might explain why Richard Estes’s wife has a seat below, but he does not.  He could well have been in the balcony or having been born in 1578, age 40, he could have been deceased, but it does not say “widow Estes” like the second Estes seating assignment says.

The seating chart from 1618 shows two Estes family members who had assigned seats.  One, “Widow Estes,” we believe is our direct ancestor, Anne Woodward Estes who would, having married in 1591, been about age 50.  We know she died in 1630, because she had a will.  She was the bride who was married at St. Nicholas Shoulden, just up the street, in 1591.  It’s believed that Robert, her husband, died about 1616, so this would make sense.  If she is not the widow mentioned in the seating chart, then it’s her nephews’ wives, but there are no other records to rely on and no hint that those nephews who were orphaned young (by Robert’s brother Henry in 1590), other than Richard, even survived to adulthood.  This is most likely Anne’s seat, so we can see the church through her eyes.

Judging from the arrangement of the “pews” and the history of the timeframe, these were likely what was known as horsepen or box pews.  St. Leonard’s were removed long ago, in 1860, but we saw several examples in other churches in England.  In essence you bought your “pew” for the family and built an enclosure, example shown below.  Of course, the extravagance of your pew said a lot about your social status.  We also know that at St. Leonard’s, poor people sat along the west wall on “formes,” or stood.  In 1718, there were about 20 poor households.

example box pew

St Leonard’s seating roster from 1618 is shown below.

st leonard 1618 seating

I look at these names and wonder how many of them I’m related to, if I only knew.  Donald Bowler provided this seating chart oiginally to Estes Trails, along with some of the genealogical history of the folks involved.  People below marked with a red X are Estes or related to the Estes family.  In the front, Henry Baker’s wife is shown.  Jone Estes, daughter of Sylvester and Jone Estes, married a Henry Baker in 1763.

st leonard 1618 seating1

st leonard 1618 seating2

The two individuals on the second half of the chart marked with a red X are “Richard Estes wife” on the left and “Estes Widdow” on the right.

This seating information was extracted from Roy Eastes’s book, “The Estes/Eastes Family” and he in turn extracted the seating diagram from the Estes Trails periodical, the March 2001 issue.  Ruth graciously provided a seating chart when we visited St. Leonard’s as well.

The pews are arranged differently today, and the location where widow Estes, probably Anne Woodward Estes, sat, is an aisle way today, as the original pews have been replaced.  But here is the view of the front of the church that she would have seen from that location.  The pews may have changed, but the pillars did not, so it was easy to locate her “seat.”  We are truly looking through her eyes.

st leonard anne's seat

Jim took a panoramic shot of what she would have seen as she looked around.  Of course, the second north wing extension had not yet been built at that time, so the north wing would have ended about halfway down its length.  That’s OK, she couldn’t see much of that wing past the pillar anyway!  She had a perfect view of the Lady’s Chapel though.  Originally, it would have likely been Mary Magdalene’s chapel.  In the Catholic church, Mary Magdalene was always THE Lady.

st leonard anne's pano

Richard’s wife sat on the other side of the church.  Here’s the view, below, from her seat.  Richard, born in 1578, would have been the nephew of Robert through Robert’s brother Henry, a fisherman, who died and left a will in 1590, naming his children.

st leonard estes widow seat

This church has so many amazing details, but there was one disappointment.  The baptismal font currently in use was dedicated in 1851, and it’s beautiful, but the whereabouts of the older one are unknown.  The old font, the one with so much history, would have been the one to baptize our ancestors.

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Ok, so it may not be “my” baptismal font, but this photo is still quite spiritual and inspirational to me.

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However, maybe all is not lost.  I also took pictures of the pictures and paintings in the church, and you’ll note in the painting below, the baptismal font does not appear to be the one shown above, but an earlier one.  So, while we can’t see the original font today, we at least know what it looked like.

st leonard painting bapistry

You can also see the rood screen that would have been in front of the nave, between the chancel and the nave.  This tells us that this painting was certainly before 1851, when the new baptistery was dedicated.  The pulpit was moved forward in 1979 and the screens removed from the nave/chancel and reinstalled near the vestry in the rear of the church beneath the pilot’s gallery.

st leonard screen and gallery

Another painting shows the church before the modern roads, the roundabout and the walls. Just a lovely village scene showing the beauty of the church.

st leonard neighborhood painting

This painting would likely have been from before the end of the 1700s when the walled burial ground, once called Stone Lane, was purchased.  I see no stone wall in front of the church in this painting.

The church has several stained glass windows and they don’t know much about them.  There are two rather contemporary windows, the Crucifixion in the Lady’s Chapel and the Ascension in the chancel.

st leonard ascension2

The Crucifixion.

st leonard ascension window

The Ascension

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The Good Samaritan window is in the middle of the south wall, in the part that was expanded in the 1200s.

st leonard north window

These windows are in the north wall.

st leonard nave window crop

This window is in the nave.

st leonard piscina window

These two windows are in the nave immediately above the Norman piscina.

st leonard sheep window

This sheep is above the Ascension window and looks possibly to be the oldest window in the church.  This could well have been there when our ancestors sat in these pews and listened to the Catholic priests, before the Reformation.

st leonard sheep window2

Every church loves their stained glass.

St. Leonard’s also has several hatchments.  I had no idea what a hatchment was, but the history is fascinating.  Hatchments came into use in the early 17th century and originated in the Low countries. They started as a replacement for the medieval achievement (the carrying of the shield, helm and other accoutrements) at funerals of knights and other nobles. It was customary in this country for the hatchment to be carried in front of the funeral procession, hung outside the home during mourning and then to be placed in the church.

St. Leonard’s has 16 hatchments, dating from 1673, in various stages of restoration.

Here’s an example of one.

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The nave, is, of course, original to the church.  One of the items in the nave is the Norman piscina.  It is at least as old as the church, and the archway looks to have been carved to hold this piscina.  It’s possible that the piscina is actually older than the church.

st leonard norman piscina

A piscina was used to dispose of holy items, such as holy water and sacramental wines.  They were returned directly to the earth through a hole in the basin that drained into the wall of the church which led, of course, directly into the earth.  This was to assure that black magic could not be performed utilizing the power of the sacred and blessed liquids.

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Most of the piscinas were destroyed during the Reformation and its extremely unusual for this one to remain, and for it to be so ornate.  Often piscinas were simply bowl shapes carved into stone with a hole in the bottom in a tiny nook in the wall of the church.

Prior to the Reformation, there were several side alters in which candles to various saints were kept burning.  People often left bequests for the candles of their saint to be lit.  Today, sometimes, we see the remnants of these areas in churches that were originally Catholic.

st leonard sedilia

At the far right of the right arched sedilia, or carved stone seats, dating from the 1100s, a carved head is found at the base.  This is easy to miss, but it may be one of the most historically important items in the church.

st leonard richard

st leonard richard2

This crowned figure is believed to be King Richard, Richard the Lionheart, possibly in chain-mail, or maybe simply bearded, who is said to have spent the night on his way back from the Crusades in 1194.  This is certainly possible, given Deal’s location and Richard’s piety.

richard effigy

You can see the resemblance with King Richard’s effigy, at Frontevraud Abbey, in Anjou, France, above.

Across the nave from the piscina and sedilia are two inset areas.  One, the square, only partly visible above Ruth, would likely have held a statue of St. Leonard to whom the church is dedicated.  St. Leonard is the patron saint of political prisoners, imprisoned people, captives, prisoners of war, women in labor and horses.  He died in 559 and his feast day is November 6 .

This icon, below, of St. Leonard is from St. Leonard’s Church in Streatham and shows St. Leonard, St. Laura and a prisoner.

st leonard icon

The arched inset where Ruth is sitting would have been where sacred vessels were kept.

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The floor in the original portion of the church, is, of course, Deal tile.

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There are several floor burials and memorial plaques throughout the church.

st leonard floor burials

One of the most noted is that of Thomas Baker, sometimes called Barbor.  He was the first known deputy appointed by the Mayor of Sandwich to act for him in Deal.  When he died in 1508, he left money for the maintenance of the church steeple which was apparently already in disrepair, although it didn’t fall for another 150 years.

In 1598, a petition was submitted to Parliament to grant Deal the status of a “borough and market town.” In 1599, the petition, signed by Parliament, was triumphantly posted on St. Leonard’s church porch by Joshua Coppin, who then became Deal’s first mayor.  The new mayor and corporation attended St. Leonard’s with great pomp and dignity every Sunday until St. George’s in Lower Deal was built sometime between 1706 and 1716.

Another notable historical item is the painting commemorating the Great Storm of 1703, hanging on the front of the Pilot’s Gallery, in which 13 ships of Her Majesty’s Navy were wrecked on the Goodwin Sands and 1200 lives were lost.  The ship looks curved, so you can see both the bow and the stern.

st leonard 1703 painting

This model of the Man ‘O War ship is also patterned after this painting.  The model was made in 1949 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the granting of the Deal charter.  Our ancestors would have been very familiar with these ships, as would all people living along this shoreline.

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Every old church has it’s mystery and this one is no different.  This rock, obviously with a Christian, perhaps Celtic, cross of some sort, looking very medieval, was found here, but nothing is known about its provenance.

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One very special area of the church is the Lady’s Chapel.

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It harkens back to the days of Catholicism when this would have been Mary’s Chapel.  This was part of the southern aisle extension in the 1200s.

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The Crucifixion window was added just over 100 years ago, in the early 1900s, and that, of course, makes this area simply stunning.

This Chapel also has its own piscina, to the right of Ruth, above, although nothing like the Norman piscina in the nave.

st leonard lady chapel piscina

I found one particular photo, taken in the Lady’s Chapel, incredibly compelling.  Ruth paused for a moment of reflection and the picture simply speaks for itself.

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At the day’s end, the light was disappearing in the church and it was getting quite chilly.  We said goodbye to Ruth, after she gifted me with several prints of the church and area.  She is a retired printer and rode a bike to work every day.  She doesn’t now, and never has driven a car.  Smart lady!  She is certainly an amazing woman.  St. Leonard’s is very fortunate to have such a caring steward among their flock and we felt incredibly blessed that she spent the afternoon with us.  It made all of the difference in the world.

As a final goodbye, St. Leonard’s gave me a gift too.  I don’t quite know how this happened, but it did.  I decided to take a photograph of this beautiful piece of needlework.  I was worried about the glare on the glass, but little did I realize, until I got home, that the “glare” is really the Lady’s Chapel and the Ascension windows.  Indeed, the only way this could be more perfect would be to discover that it was my ancestor who stitched this lovely Madonna and Child.

st leonard needlework

[i] Deal, A Sad Smuggling Town by Gregory Holyoake, page 24

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William Sterling Estes – The Missing Years – 52 Ancestors #5

William Sterling Estes was my father.  He was commonly called Bill, and sometimes Sterl, by family members.  He was probably born in either 1902 or 1903, or maybe 1901, records vary, and he died, positively, in 1963.  That’s one of the few positive things we know about him.  His life was anything but ordinary, and he was missing for many years.  And that’s just the beginning…

My father was a study in polar opposites.  He was extremely intelligent, helping his step-son with physics in graduate school, yet did incredibly stupid things that landed him in a heap o’ trouble – and I’m not talking just about that Ilo incident where he married under a fictitious name and then went AWOL.  There were more.  Many more….

Moonshine and Rough Beginnings

My father’s issues began when he was young.  This isn’t meant as overtly critical, but my father’s early years were anything but stable.  He was born near the turn of the century in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  That area, deep in Appalachia was both stunningly beautiful and equally as poverty stricken.

cumberland gap panoramic

Land there, what was farmable, was already taken and the “next generation” had to find something else to do.  But there was nothing else there, so many moved on west.  In the case of my grandparents, they tried several avenues, one of which was moonshining.

Moonshining wasn’t anything unusual in the hills, nor among the original settlers. In fact making your own liquor had been a staple on every farm for hundreds of years in the US, until the law made it illegal over taxation.  It was never a moral issue until Prohibition.  Moonshining or bootlegging has been illegal for awhile, actually a long while, in one form or another, but in Appalachia, mostly everyone ignored that.  Moonshining increased during Prohibition and has been a staple of that region ever since.  My family shares stories of painting milk jugs white and having the kids deliver moonshine in milk jugs in the coal camps from their red wagon.  The family survived and ate together, or didn’t.  Everyone was expected to contribute.  There wasn’t any other choice.

The Estes family in Halifax County, Virginia, some 4 generations earlier had been known for their fine brandies distilled from their orchards.  The difference was, I’m guessing, is that they paid taxes, or they greased the right palm.

In any case, my grandfather, William George Estes was a moonshiner, a photographer and a farmer, among other things.  A veritable Appalachian Renaissance man.  He married my grandmother, Ollie Bolton, in September of 1892.  In July of 1893, their first child, was born, and a year later, in August of 1893, that son, Samuel would pass away and was buried in the family cemetery in Estes Holler behind his grandfather, Lazarus Estes’, house.

Estes cem

Three months later, a second child was born, Estel, who lived.  Two years later, another child whose name we don’t even know for sure, and in another 2 years, Robert, who would burn to death.

Life was rough.  The 1900 census gives us a glimpse. William George Estes states that he was out of work for 9 months the previous year.

Sometime between 1900 and 1910, the family moved to Springdale. Arkansas where Ollie took care of the children and ran a boarding house and William George fished off the bridge down the street from the boarding house, and drank.  By this time, they had several children, and it seemed there were always more on the way.  In the 1910 census, Ollie has borne 8 children and only 5 were living.

Ollie 1907

This picture of Ollie and the children was taken in 1907.  The child, Robert, the blond boy on the chair, would perish when their cabin burned, sometime before the 1910 census.  Cousin George Estes, in the 1980s, showed me where that cabin stood and told me he planted a willow tree there in honor of the child.  Estel, the oldest child, standing in the rear in this photo, age 13 in 1907, had been left in charge and tried to save Robert, who hid under the bed, to no avail.  Estle did manage to get my father, standing in front, and Margaret, held by Ollie, out safely.  That memory alone could scar a person for life.  Robert too is probably buried in the family cemetery just a few feet away, but there is no marker.

By 1913, the family had moved to Fowler, Indiana and become tenant farmers.  Ollie and William George’s marriage was coming unraveled too.  It seems that Ollie’s young female cousin was visiting from Tennessee, and Ollie came home and caught William George and her cousin “in the act.”  She grabbed either a bull whip or a horse whip and proceeded to use it on them, specifically on him, with the full intention of killing him.  The family stories are that it took 5 adult men to restrain her long enough for him to escape.  The family story, from the Crazy Aunts, of course, also says she was pregnant with twins which she subsequently had prematurely and died. If so, the Benton County, Indiana death records contain no record of this birth/death.  They could have been too small, or not born alive.

Divorce followed, but according to Aunt Margaret’s letters which she wrote to my step-mother after my father’s death, Ollie went to Chicago, taking the two girls with her, and William George headed back for Tennessee, but no one wanted the two middle boys, my father and Joseph.  Estel by this time, about 20, was old enough to make his own way. My father was about 12 and Joseph, about 10.

Joseph and my father hopped a train in Indiana and found their way back to Tennessee, and when they arrived at their grandparents house in Estes Holler, extremely hungry, dirty and threadbare, having walked a great distance, and with stories to tell…there was hell to pay.  When William George Estes, their father, arrived sometime later, he was literally run out of Estes Holler by his father, Lazarus Estes, under threat of death, for what he had done both to Ollie and to those boys.  William George crossed over the mountains and settled in Harlan County, Kentucky, known as bloody Harlan, where he very successfully moonshined for decades up in the roughest section of Black Mountain, the roughest area in Kentucky, near the coal camps. My Mom visited once with my father and refused to ever return.

Unfortunately, all of William George’s boys learned to drink, and none of them learned to drink in moderation.  I was told that when there was no food to eat, the children were given liquor to drink, to make them feel better, or maybe, to make them go to sleep.  I found that hard to believe…until I found the death certificate of a child from William George’s third marriage, William James, who died at the age of 2 years and 6 months, in 1935, and the coroner indicated that the child had died from “improper feeding.”  I was sick the day I read that, physically ill, because I knew all the things I had heard about my father’s young life and were too horrible to believe, were probably true.

The reason I mention this at all is because while my father certainly had a huge number of issues, perhaps not all of them were entirely his fault.  He was probably an alcoholic while yet still a child.  Alcohol both ruled and ruined his life, and certainly affected the lives of all the people around him, including, and maybe especially those who loved him.  Alcohol certainly affected the lives of his brothers the same way, and his sisters, well, they became the Crazy Aunts.

William Sterling Estes Joins the Military

My father joined the military in 1917 during WWI, “adjusting” his birthdate to be 1898 instead of 1901, 1902 or 1903. So did his even younger brother Joseph, nicknamed “Dode,” after his grandfather, Joseph “Dode” Bolton.  The military was most likely a better option for my father than any of the alternatives.

Bill and Virgie

Sometime about this time, my father met a young gal in Dunkirk, Indiana, named Virgie.  My father was extremely handsome, and he certainly understood how to win a young girl’s heart.  Look at this picture.  He brought Virgie a kitten (see his shoulder) and two baby ducks.

Bill ducks

These photos were sent to me after her death in 1989 by her daughter, along with the flag from my father’s coffin.

Bill kitten

Now the kitten is on her lap.  I wonder who took the photos.

Bill gone

This photo is just heart-wrenching to me.  I suspect this is when he married Ilo or maybe my sister’s mother, or at least during that timeframe.

Why did Virgie still have these photos, some 70 year later?  Because, she did eventually marry my father, in 1961, some 44 years after these pictures were taken.  She was his last wife.  They both claimed they were soulmates, and indeed, perhaps they were.  She was the only woman I ever met that had something good to say about my father.  In fact, she never said one bad thing about him.  She was a truly lovely lady.

As a child, I had no concept of my father’s constant woman problems, the betrayal of trust, his problem drinking, or the fact that he had “another family.”  I didn’t know I had a brother, Dave, who was only 5 months older than I was.  My mother, who was terribly embarrassed about the situation, managed to hide that from me, as did the “other woman,” from her child too.

My Father’s Daughter

I never knew my father as an adult.  I knew him as a child and I loved him, wholly and completely, in my childish way.  My father would come and visit and I would absolutely adore him, much to my mother’s chagrin.  It must have been tough from her perspective.  She did all the work and he got all the glory for simply showing up.  I remember once when he bought me a rocking chair, which I still have to this day, at Krogers.  I was maybe 4 or 5 and it was for my birthday or maybe Christmas.  Mother was so angry with him, because that is what she was going to get me and he “scooped” her.

I remember another time too when she was furious with him.  I understood that she was angry, very angry, and that it wasn’t directed at me, but I didn’t know why.  The phone rang, very late at night.  She got me up and we went for a drive. I was excited as this was a great adventure in my pajamas.  When we got “there,” my Dad was there, which made me very happy.  I got to sit on his lap for a few minutes, but then we had to leave, taking his little dog, Timmy, with us, who I thought was my dog.  Turns out, Dave thought Timmy was his dog too, and we both had photos of us with Timmy.  Here I am in that coveted rocking chair holding Timmy.

Me and Timmy

Years later, I asked Mom about this very foggy recollection.  Turns out, “there” was the jail in the next county. Why?  Because he has been arrested for drunk driving.  That’s what we called it then, no politically correct terms like “impaired operation of a motor vehicle.”  I asked Mom why she went at all and she said, in a semi-growl, “for the dog.”  Yep, she would have done that and she would have been furious with him both for having to go and retrieve the dog that wasn’t even hers, and for doing what he did….again.

His Death

My father’s death in 1963 in an automobile accident, like every other event in his life, was filled with contradictions.  My step-mother told me he was on the way to the preacher’s house to pick him up to go fishing, stone cold sober.  Her daughter told me that my father had been seen at the park earlier in the day, intoxicated.  Regardless, he reportedly had an angina attack while driving, missed the brake, stomping instead on the gas, and hit a telephone pole head on.

As an adult, after talking to my mother and his part-time employer at the time, which happened to be the funeral home, I wonder if he committed suicide.  On Friday, he backed the hearse into the garage, which in that small town doubled as an ambulance (isn’t that creepy – imaging waking up in the hearse and not knowing if you are dead or alive), and telling the funeral director that he would need it over the weekend.  And indeed, he did.  My father rode in it as an ambulance to the hospital on Sunday and a few days later rode in it as a hearse to the cemetery.

As I got older, everything I knew about my father seemed to be contradicted by something or someone else.  I wanted to love the man, but in some ways, he didn’t seem to be very nice – rather unlovable.  I finally came to the conclusion that while my adult woman self would not like him very much at all,  it was just fine for my young child self to continue to love him.  My mother once said to me in a fit of unbridled honesty that the best thing my father probably ever did for me was to die when I was young before I painfully discovered his betrayals personally. She managed to shield me from most of his drinking.

If I couldn’t know him personally, I wanted to know of him, to understand him.  I was insatiably curious about him.  He seemed so mysterious.  After all, I carried part of him in me.  What was that part and what made my Dad tick, aside from alcohol?  Sadly, I came to discover that alcohol and the actions he took under its influence truly did rule his life.

The Timeline

I started creating a timeline trying to make sense of my father’s life.  There were so many disjoint pieces. I wrote for his military records, but most of them were destroyed in a fire in the St. Louis records center in 1973.  The military helped reassemble as much as possible from other sources.

1917 – In a letter from the VA it says that he served in the Army from Aug. 24, 1917 until honorably discharged on May 19, 1919.  His last rank was private.  He was born Oct. 1, 1898 and died on Aug. 27 1963.  He enlisted May 14, 1917 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, 18 years 24 days of age, born in Tazewell, Tennessee. Subsequent service – enlisted May 20, 1919.

I have a copy of this discharge, Sergeant first class, honorably discharged on May 19, 1919 at Camp Custer, Michigan.  His second discharge was honorable as well, even given his time spent in the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, which really surprised me.

1919, May 20 – My father reenlisted in the Army at Camp Custer.

November 1919 – AWOL from the Army.

December 1919 – Married Ilo Bailey in Battle Creek, Michigan, under the name of Don Carlos.  Aunt Margaret remembered her name as Laila LaFountaine and said that “she hooked him to the plow and drove him like a horse.”

February 1920 – Son Lee born, eventually to be called Lee Devine, in Battle Creek to Ilo.

April 1920 – Arrested for being AWOL – sent to Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks in Kansas.

May 1920 – My sister, Edna born, also in Battle Creek, Michigan, to Martha Dodderer.

November 28, 1921 – Honorably discharged from the military at Fort Leavenworth.

December 12, 1921 – Married Edna’s mother in Battle Creek, Michigan.

1924 – Martha Estes (Edna’s mother) was paying an attorney for her divorce.  His name was Joseph Hooper and he lived in Battle Creek.  The divorce appears to have been final Feb. 26, 1924. Edna stated in a 1960 letter than before 1950, no one had heard from him in 29 years.  We don’t know where William Sterling Estes was in 1924.

1927 – William Sterling Estes enlisted in the military January 8, 1927 at Fort Sheridan in Chicago.  He was AWOL on May 23, 1927.

1924-1930 – William Sterling Estesmarried” again during this time, probably in southwestern Michigan, possibly Benton Harbor, having a daughter named Violet, about whom very little is known.  Violet married a Golliday or Galliday.  Violet later married a Blevins and joined a religious commune in the Ozark Mountains in or near Licking, Missouri.  Given this and some additional information provided by my sister Edna, who knew Violet, I decided not to pursue this relationship.  Violet was still living in the 1980s, to the best of my knowledge.

The Crazy Aunts told me that Violet’s mother may have been underage, because there was a statutory rape allegation, charge or conviction in western Michigan, possibly in the Benton Harbor area, having to do with the age of the pregnant female.  Michigan prison records held in the State Archives don’t reveal any William Estes having been a prisoner during this timeframe.

Apparently, the Crazy Aunts weren’t the only ones who were suspicious, because Ellen, the “other woman” to whom my father was married in the 1950s wrote a letter to the warden at Jackson State Prison in Michigan inquiring about whether or not my father could have been a prisoner there under an alias.

A letter from the warden of Jackson State Prison to Ellen on Feb. 21, 1957 states that inmate number #24884, Paul LeMarr, alias William Estes, sentenced March 2, 1929 to 10-15 years for statutory rape, was discharged on March 20, 1942.  He was sentenced in Benton Harbor, Michigan and he was age 29 in 1929.  The warden believed that from photos submitted by Ellen that Paul LaMarr could have been William Sterling Estes.

1937 – William Sterling Estes filed for his social security card in Chicago, Illinois.  He is working at Printers Finishing Company and gives his birth date as Oct. 1, 1902, which I believe to be correct.  The signature is my father’s.

Estes, William SS 1937

This proves that my father is not Paul LeMarr, because Paul LeMarr was not released from prison until 1942.  Was Paul LeMarr using William Estes as an alias?  Finally, something in Dad’s favor!  But where did that statutory rape rumor come from?  Was it Violet’s mother and did the charge “go away” because he married her?

So if he wasn’t in prison in Michigan, where was he from 1927 to 1937?

The Crazy Aunts said he was in prison or jail in Michigan at one time, and that one of them visited him there.  But then again, they are the Crazy Aunts and he could have been in “jail” for a few days for who knows what.

There is a rumor about him being in prison in Illinois (Joliet) based on a statement he made to my mother about where he had made someone’s acquaintance.  On the way to Florida in the early 1950s, he stopped at the Georgia prison and visited with the prison guards, the very men who had been his guards.  He made friends with everyone everyplace he went and the man did not know a stranger.  I suspect he could have sold ice cubes to Eskimos.

It’s hard to believe that after being married 3 or 4 times in less than 10 years that he became a monk for the next decade.  Maybe he wasn’t as good at getting divorced as he was at getting married.   He had to be someplace doing something.  And I’m betting that there may be children out there someplace lurking that were conceived between the 1920s when Edna, Lee and Violet were born, and the 1950s when Dave and I were born.  I doubt that he discovered how to prevent pregnancy in the late 1920s and suddenly forgot in the 1950s.

The next hint we have about William Sterling Estes is about 1938.

In March 2006, I visited with the daughter of Estel Estes.  My cousin said that my father came to stay with their family in Fleming, Kentucky in 1938 or 1939.  She was a little girl at the time.  They went for walks together and they found a baby duck without a mother, which they rescued and raised.  She said that the duck was old when it finally died.  My father stayed with their family for a month or 6 weeks.  She said that there was talk that he had gotten out of prison.  There was diphtheria wherever he had been.

1938, Oct. 31 – Discharged from Service – “Other than honorable.”  This is maddeningly brief.  Is this the discharge that matches up with the enlistment from 1927?  This makes no sense.  This also doesn’t tell us where he is, just that this action occurred.

The Unbelievable Story – 2 for 1

Now, let me tell you an unbelievable story.  This is one of two, actually, that kind of fit together like two insane puzzle pieces, and you’ll see why I was convinced that my Crazy Aunts were indeed, crazy.  As time went on, it wasn’t just the Crazy Aunts though that told this story, but my step-mother and others who lived in Claiborne County at the time this was happening.

The Doctor

I remember, when I was a child, there was an old doctor who had his Norman Rockwellish office in the front part of his home down the street from where we lived in Indiana.  I went there one time when I was older, maybe a teen, for something, when the old gentleman said that he remembered my father and that my father was a doctor too. I told him that I was sure he had the wrong man, and he repeated his name and told me, no, that he was not mistaken, that he remembered me, and that my father was indeed a doctor.  He dug around in a drawer, pulled out my father’s file, and showed me where it said he was a doctor.

Being raised in a time when one did not contradict your elders, at least not ones that weren’t your mother, I didn’t say anything, but I was sure this man was wrong.  However, I never forgot the story.  It always nagged at me, the feeling that something wasn’t quite right or that there was something that I didn’t know.

I went to visit my step-mother from the time I was a child.  I first went to visit my Dad and Virgie, my step-Mom, when I was young, before Dad passed away.  I loved to visit.  Virgie’s elderly mother lived there too, Grandma, whom I dearly loved.  Grandma would tell me how smart my Dad was.  I found this kind of odd.  He worked on furnaces and had his own furnace shop at that time in Dunkirk, Indiana.  She said not to let that fool me, that he had once been a great man.  Oh, the rantings of an old woman.  I loved her just the same.  We contented ourselves looking at ViewMaster reels and its predecessor, the stereoscope.  My favorite was Niagara Falls.  Grandma would tell me all about the images while I looked and they came to life.  I loved spending time with Grandma.

Niagara stereograph

After my father and Grandma were both gone, I visited Virgie from time to time until her death.  They were always such pleasant visits.  She told me wonderful stories about the loving man she knew as her husband.  Yes, I mean my father.

Before his death, he hid love letters and notes around the house for her to find later.  I’m sure he knew his time was limited.  My mother told me that based on his health, she thought he might have had cancer.  I’m more suspicious of cirrhosis of the liver, but regardless, he was not a healthy man.  One time, Virgie shared with me a note she had just found stuck behind a picture frame.  It was so sweet and personal and it was nice to know him in this lovely way.  She also kept all of his letters he wrote to her when he was in the service.  Her daughter sent those to me after Virgie’s death.  Even though I felt like I was intruding into a personal vignette, I did read them.  They were both sorrowful and beautiful, especially from my perspective, looking backwards in time and knowing what happened.

Virgie told me that my father understood physics and helped her son when he was studying for his PhD.  I questioned this, and she said that she didn’t know how he had come upon that knowledge, but that he had worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and that at some time, in some way, he was a doctor.  Truthfully, I found all of this quite unbelievable.  I knew that Virgie was not one of the Crazy Aunts, and that she would never tell me something she didn’t believe. She told me that he had done those things before he “went into the hospital.”  What she didn’t add was that the hospital stay was the VA hospital to “dry out.”

Apparently, he “dried out” several times, but never was able to stay dry, although he desperately wanted to.  It’s too bad that Alcoholics Anonymous did not exist then. He might have stood a fighting chance.  I discounted all of this, figuring that most of it was fanciful stories he had made up – but that didn’t explain how he could ever help a college student studying for an advanced degree that included physics.

When I started my genealogy search, I contacted people in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  All I started with was the name of a town, from my mother, Tazewell.  I called the telephone operator and told her to connect me to any Estes family there – and she did.  I eventually made my way from person to person to the family historian and my relatives.  They told me stories about my father and grandparents.  They knew them.  Of course, all of those old people are gone now.

I went to visit and met many of these lovely people who opened their hearts, shared their photos albums and family stories with me.  They told me that my father was a doctor and he treated people locally, for years.  In fact, people would find out when he was coming home and line up to see him.  He was a favorite.  And he performed surgery.  Surgery?  More than one person told me this.  They also told me that he practiced at the VA hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee until a patient bit him and he hit the patient.

They told me that at one time, he worked at Oak Ridge, and that he worked on ‘the bomb,” and that he was never “right” after that.  His drinking increased.  At that time, he was living in Claiborne County and these people knew him.  He was their neighbor.  These were family members who had known him their entire life.  They were not all making this up – but where was the kernel of truth in these seemingly conflicting, albeit very interesting, stories?

How could he have been a doctor, as in medical doctor, and also a physicist?  Furthermore, he had no more than a high school education to the best of my knowledge, if that, except that we really don’t know what he did or where he was for that 10 year period.  Was he in the military that entire time doing something “special’ that we don’t know about?  Those records for that time are entirely missing.

He could have learned about medicine while serving in a hospital someplace, but I don’t think you can learn physics that way.  Physics is extremely difficult under the very best of circumstances.

The requirement for a doctor to practice, legitimately, in Tennessee at that time are foggy, but in general, by 1930, nearly all medical schools required a liberal arts degree for admission and provided a 3- to 4-year graded curriculum in medicine and surgery. Many states also required candidates who wanted to get their medical license to complete a 1-year internship in a hospital setting in addition to holding a degree from a recognized medical school.  That presumes that one is doing things legally and by the book.  Of course, in Appalachia, healers had been treating their families and those of their neighbors for decades, and local neighborhood healers were probably trusted much more closely that “outsiders.”  Joseph, my father’s brother, was also a practitioner, a family herbal healer.  Death certificates during that time in Claiborne County are rife with comments like “refused to go to the hospital because did not want to split up the family” and many included reports of people refusing to see a doctor.

My brother, Dave, told me that he thought William Sterling was arrested for performing illegal abortions in or near Chicago in the 1950s or 1960s.

There is obviously some truth in here someplace, because there were too many witnesses….but where…and what was that truth?  Back to the timeline.

Many Wives – Too Many

1944 – I reached out to the Tennessee State Archives who provided me with information that William Sterling Estes began working for the Eastern State Mental Hospital on Dec. 29, 1944 and that he was dismissed March 12, 1945.  He was an attendant.  His legal voting residence was Claiborne Co., Tn. but he lived in Harlan Ky., while he worked at the State Hospital.  He was married, no wife’s name given, but he had relatives in state service – Dortha Estes also at Eastern State.

They could provide me no information about Oak Ridge or the VA Hospital.

1940s – Per Aunt Margaret’s (his sister) letter to Virgie, William Sterling was married to a woman in Oak Ridge, Tn., although she knew of no children by her.  Margaret also states that he got in trouble in the 1940s by “taking a girl over the state line,” perhaps to Kentucky, and spent some time in jail, but Ethel was apparently faithfully waiting for him.  Who was Ethel?

Late 1940s – The next we know of William Sterling was in the (possibly) late1940s when he was married to a woman named Ethel and living with his aunt, Cornie Epperson in Claiborne County, working at Oak Ridge Tennessee, possibly in a hospital there.  We know of no children from this marriage.  Cornie’s daughter says he was a doctor in the VA hospital.  Aunt Dorothy says he operated on her foot.  While this was reported as late 1940s, it sounds to me like it may have occurred before 1945.

1945 – March 15 – William Sterling Estes, now about age 42 or 43, married a 17 year old young female in Walker County, Georgia.  Note that this is only 3 days after his dismissal from Eastern State Mental Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, assuming that he was actually present in Knoxville at the time he was dismissed.  He could have been dismissed for not showing up at work. Regardless, the Georgia courtship seems very abbreviated.

I am not including the name of the gal he married in Walker County, because I believe she is still living.  He gives his age as 34, born Oct. 1, 1911 and residence as Chicago.  Shortly after this marriage, her father filed papers against him for bigamy, giving his other wife’s name as Dorothy Kilpatrick.  I surely wonder how her father made that discovery.  Did Dorothy show up?  Maybe right after the wedding, shouting, “I object!”

1945 – 1948 – In the Superior Court of Walker Co. Georgia on June 15, 1945, three months to the day after his marriage, William Sterling Estes was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to 5 years in prison.  According to prison records, he was discharged Dec. 13, 1948.  His wife on arrival at the prison was listed as Dorothy Estes, also listed as Dorothy Kilpatrick in court papers, Trailer Camp, NW 5th St., Richmond, Indiana.  He was in the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, Georgia.  The specific court records no longer exist, nor do the prison records.

A few years ago, I spoke to the Georgia wife.  She did not have any children by William Sterling and said the marriage was annulled.  She did marry and have one child, about 5 years later.  I verified this child’s age and he was not born at a time when he could have been my father’s child.

So what happened to Dorothy?  And Ethel? And the young gal he “took over the state line.”  Or was that story really the bigamous marriage in Georgia?

Back to Chicago

1949 – Apparently, after William Sterling was released from prison in Georgia, he returned to Chicago where his mother lived.  He lost no time marrying again, this time to an Ellen in Cook. Co., Illinois on Feb. 19, 1949.  This must be some kind of record.  An entire courtship and marriage in less than 2 months.  Quick courtships seemed to be his style.  Apparently Dorothy divorced him while he was in prison?  But then again….um….maybe not.

1950 – William Sterling Estes finds my sister, Edna, in Michigan after a hiatus of almost 30 years.  Edna’s mother has passed away and Edna was none too pleased with her prodigal father.

1952 – His delayed birth certificate issued in Tennessee gives his address as 2210 Broadway, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The “Other Woman’

1955 – Both my brother David and I were born within 5 months of each other, to different wives.  No, my father was not Mormon.

Mother told me years later that he filed for divorce from Ellen in 1955, in Florida, but somehow the waiting period got “messed up,” as in one day short.  Therefore the divorce didn’t happen, but apparently he thought it had.  My reaction to this?  “Likely story.”

I checked the Florida divorce index and there is nothing for a William, William Sterling or any Estes male involving a woman named Ellen.  That’s assuming that he used his correct name to get divorced.  I did verify the name on his marriage license to Ellen to be sure it was correct.

1956, April 3 – Mom wrote my sister, Edna a letter that includes information about my father.  She says “Bill is working very hard right now and when spring comes his business starts to be pretty heavy.  He wasn’t too well this winter but we hope he will be better when the weather gets nice.  He was out working through in spite of the way he felt.”

The photo below, I believe, is the only photo of me with my father, taken in 1956.  I have no idea who the other child in the photo, beside my father, is.  Makes me wonder…

Me and Dad

1956 – November 3.  My father is a passenger in a head on car accident that nearly kills him.  He flies through the windshield.  This is before the days of seatbelts or safety tempered glass.  I still vividly remember the scar on his forehead and the skin graft they did from his leg to his face and head.  This car accident was his undoing in more than one way though.  You see, it’s how he got caught with 2 wives, in the worst possible soap opera scenario.

Busted

Mom actually heard the sirens that day.  She remembers saying something like “I hope that’s not Bill.”  But it was.  Sometime later, the police came and took us to the hospital.  My father was not expected to live.  He had lost a great deal of blood and was badly injured.

At the hospital, employees had dug through his billfold and other personal information to figure out who to contact.  He was not conscious.

Mother and I were sitting by his bedside.  I remember none of this of course.

A few hours later, another woman, also with a baby walks into the room, looking for her husband.  Mother motioned to the next bed, but the woman came back and said no, that the man in this bed, my father, was her husband.

Both women stared at each other, and their babies, incredulously, as the awful truth slowly sunk in, and then they began to talk, as he lay comatose.  He’s a very lucky man indeed, that they simply did not finish him off.  I think they wanted him to regain consciousness so they could beat him senseless.  Needless to say, they were both furious.

Yes, they were both his wives.  Ellen lived in Chicago (or Fort Wayne) at that time.  My father traveled selling and arranging installations of industrial furnaces and he literally had a wife at both ends of the track, so to speak.   Can you imagine the stories the doctors and nurses had to tell when they went home that day.  “You are not going to believe this…..”  My mother couldn’t believe it either, and neither could Ellen.

There is another family story that has something to do with my father,  my (Brethren) grandfather and a baseball bat…but I never did get that entire story.  I got the general drift though and I’m guessing it might have happened about this time.

Dad Holland car

Above, my father outside one of the Holland Furnace company offices, from my mother’s photos.  Below, my father outside the Holland Furnace company facility from Ellen’s photos.

Dad Holland window cropped

My mother wasn’t as forgiving as Ellen who stayed married to him…at least for awhile.

1960, Oct. 3 – A letter from the Cook Co., Illinois Adult Probation Dept. to my sister saying that William Estes is under the supervision of that office and his whereabouts are no longer known to them.  Unless they are able to locate him, a warrant will be issued for his arrest for probation violation.  William D. Meyering is the person who wrote the letter and he is the chief probation officer.

Edna wrote a letter to the Cook Co. Adult Probation Department, replying to their letter of inquiry.  She said she had not had contact with him for 4 years and had not seen him in 6.  She says in 1956 he was with my mother and working for Holland Furnace Co.  She said she did not believe he would come to her house because she did not know him well, had only seen him about 10 times in her life, and all in the past 10 years.  Before then it had been 29 years since anyone had heard from him.  Doing the math, this means that she corresponded with him from 1950-1956 to some degree, and before that it had been 1921, the year she was born.  She asked why he was on probation, but did not receive a reply.

Mother said that about this time, Bill was working in Wisconsin, near Chicago.  He showed up in Indiana with a small station wagon that was brand new, an electric skillet, a toaster, clothes and toys.  The police arrested him for something to do with fraud.  The title for the car he traded was not clear, or something to that effect.  She said he served several months in the Chicago jail, which ironically would be the same Cook Co. jail where I installed inmate tracking software some 20 years later.

David thought he might have been sent to jail for performing illegal abortions in Wisconsin.

1960 – There is a dated photo of Bill sitting in the living room at Ellen’s house in Fort Wayne.  David remembers him living with them in Fort Wayne.  The city directory confirms that as well.

1960-1962 – This is the timeframe when Mom and I went to pick Timmy up from the jail.  My mother did not bail him out, much to his dismay, but took Timmy and left.  Mom said that when he got out of jail, the time we went to get Timmy, that he came by the house, and then went to Virgie’s in Dunkirk, and was unhappy that no one had come to see him.

Mom said that he spent time in jail in Terre Haute, Indiana, at some time, for repeated drunk driving offences.  I am unclear about when that might have been, but I got the idea it was when she knew him and perhaps after she was no longer romantically involved with him.

Married for the Last Time

1961, April 24 – William Sterling Estes married Virgie, his childhood sweetheart, in Rome, Georgia under the name William S. Este’ (no final s).  I would think that given what happened to him previously in Georgia when he was married to two women, he would have avoided Georgia entirely and would have been as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers just being in the state.  Can you believe he did this again, and in Georgia no less?  He was not divorced from Ellen.

According to mother, she is the one who told Virgie that he was not legally divorced from Ellen so Virgie and my father had to go to Florida and “take care of it.”

Virgie’s daughter says he worked in a heating place in Fort Wayne for about a year before they married.  He was likely living with Ellen during this time, unbeknownst to Virgie.  This man could never pull this off today in the age of cell phones, texting, e-mail and FaceBook.

Despite his “misrepresentation” of things, Virgie loved him dearly.  Apparently, among other things, he told Virgie that my mother was his sister.  My Mom was hopping mad about that one.  Virgie wrote to me after his death “that no matter what people say, there is a lot that goes into human behavior and your father is not ALL bad.”

1961 – There is an envelope from Jopling, Darby and Duncan, Attorneys at Law, People’s Hardware Building, Lake City, (Columbia County) Florida dated October 17, 1961 addressed to William S. Estes at 501 Hickory St., Dunkirk, Indiana.  This may have to do with the divorce from Ellen that somehow went awry.  Someone said that the lawyers filed it a day late.

Dad and Virgie

This is the last known picture of William Sterling Estes, with Virgie, obviously at Christmas time, in the early 1960s.  I would guess this is Christmas 1961 or 1962.

1963, Aug. 27 – William Sterling Estes died.   From funeral home information, it says in WWI he was hit ?? in a??.  Looks like he was hit in the arm with something.  It also says that he had a ruptured right col??.  Right side of page is cut off.

His obituary says he is a member of the Ralph Burgess post 227 of the American Legion “here”, the Williamson-Smiley Post 401 of Redkey, and the DAV post in Portland.

After my step-mother died, her daughter sent me items related to my father.  In fact, one day, I went to the mailbox to discover the flag from my father’s coffin stuffed in the back of the mailbox in one of those heavy Tyvek mailing envelopes.  Thankfully, the envelope held.

Among other things she sent me, unfortunately, attempting to reuse the same envelope some 30 years later, was a condolence card from the White House, to Virgie, “signed” by President Kennedy and postmarked Sept. 10, 1963, just a few weeks before Kennedy’s own untimely death.

White House Envelope

Estes condolence from Kennedy

My Favorite Memories

Although I don’t have a lot of memories of my father, I do have some and a few that stand out.

There are a couple things that have struck me over the years.  Most all of the photos I have ever seen of him show him in either a suit or a dress shirt.  There is maybe one or two in a t-shirt and jacket.  He did not talk, act or look like a “jailbird,” in any way.  He always looked and acted professional and sophisticated, from my perspective and that of many others as well.  He either was as he appeared, or he was a supreme con artist – or maybe both.

Dad against wall

Dad in suit 2

He loved to fish.  Dave and I both share memories of fishing with him.  Here he is with his can of worms and his ever-present coffee cup.  Wherever he was in his lifetime, he found a place to fish. He was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Dad fishing

And speaking of coffee, Dad started me drinking coffee.  Actually, today they would be called lattes because they consisted mostly of milk and sugar with a little coffee added in.  I loved them then and still do.

My Dad also rescued critters, animals in need.  Dogs, cats, ducks and even a raccoon.  The mother raccoon got killed.  He scooped the baby up and rescued it off of the road.  It traveled with him for a long time, but I don’t know what ever happened to said raccoon.  I believe Timmy was a rescue of some kind too.

You’re going to laugh when I tell you this, but he loved kids.  I’m not sure he loved the responsibility that went along with them, but he did love them, and I don’t just mean creating them.  Dave and I both have very good memories with him.

I remember going to the VFW post with Virgie and my Dad and he used to let me pull the arm of the slot machine.  I thought watching the spinning dials was great fun, and if I ever won anything, I got to keep it.  I was a very rich 5 or 6 year old with a jarfull of pennies!  My mother was appalled, both about the slots and the coffee drinking!

I remember one Easter when I was maybe 2 or 3 that Mom and Dad hid a little red wagon behind the couch.  I was ecstatic, and I found a purple easter egg too.  I’ve always loved purple and that egg was so richly colored.

And I remember when Dad brought me a small handmade stuffed doll we named Sleepy because her eyes were simply stitches and she appeared to be asleep all of the time.  She was maybe 6 inches long, and we made a bed for her out of a tomato crate that held 3 tomatoes and we made her a blanket for her bed that fit her perfectly.  I had Sleepy until I was an adult when she disintegrated.

I remember when Dad took me to my first Indian Powwow.  I was about 5.  Powwows were illegal then, and mother was utterly furious that he had taken me to something illegal.  I, on the other hand, loved it.  They had braided my hair.  I had danced.  For the first time, I felt like I belonged someplace.  They gave me a beautiful beaded belt and braid ties.  He bought me a fringed leather jacket.  But he did more than that, far more than he knew or anyone could have guessed. He introduced me to my people, to my heritage, to a people and heritage I take great pride in.  He introduced me to my future, that day, at the illegal powwow, and planted a seed that blossoms today.  Thank you Dad.

And then, there is my final memory, and it’s not directly of Dad.  Virgie told me that as he lay dieing in the hospital, that gave her a message for me.  First, he asked her to be sure I graduated…although I’m not sure from what, although I expect he meant college.  Then he told her to tell me that I’m smart and I can do absolutely anything I want to do.  His words would be echoed, almost word for word, a decade later from my step-father, almost like an arrow shot through time.

Neither of those men, I’m sure, had any idea of the power or the inspiration of those words, or the comfort they would bring me.  My faith in difficult times, in the face of a fearful future was rooted, in part, in the knowledge that I knew they both had total confidence in me, even if I didn’t, that they loved me to the depth of their souls, and neither of them would ever steer me wrong.

Just because our family members can’t overcome their personal demons doesn’t mean they don’t love us.

The DNA

You might suspect that with all of this chronic uncertainly swirling around in my father’s life that I had some doubt that any or all of his children were actually his, including me.  I desperately, and I do mean desperately, wanted his DNA.  Initially, I was seeking his Yline, but then I realized he had Ollie’s mtDNA and now of course, I’d love to have his autosomal.

I discovered hairs under his hatband and I attempted to have DNA extracted from them, as well as from an envelope mailed in the 1960s from my grandfather to my father.  No luck with any of those, and we tried three times.  You can read all about that in the article, “Digging Up Dad, Exhumation and Forensic Testing Alternatives.”  And for the record, no, I didn’t.  I do, however, still have a couple of hairs and someday when the technology has improved, I’d still love to have his DNA.  Maybe by then, I can do a full genome sequence.

Fortunately, I was able to go back upstream a couple of generations and find one male Estes descended from Lazarus Estes, my father’s grandfather, left to test.  This gave me the Yline, and it did match the known Estes line, which of course, disproved my brother Dave’s descent from my father.  The grown up me thinks that it’s somehow fitting that the ultimate scammer, in terms of women and drama, got scammed himself.

I upgraded that same cousin’s DNA to autosomal when that test became available, and thankfully, I match him.  I heaved a huge sigh of relief that day, let me tell you.

Fortunately, several cousins were willing to test, along with my sister’s granddaughter, so we’ve proven the rest of the relationships, at least those available to us.  And because my mother tested before she passed over, I in essence have half of my father’s autosomal DNA by subtracting my mother’s half from mine.  Not the same, granted, but certainly not bad for a guy who has been dead now for more than half a century.

What’s Next?

I think it’s possible that people are still living who were involved with or knew William Sterling Estes.  For example, there may be someone out there who knows something about Ethel, last name unknown, but probably Estes at one time, or Dorothy Kilpatrick Estes – the two women he was involved with in the 1940s and probably married to in Tennessee…or maybe Indiana.

I suspect that there may be more wives in the 1930s.  I suspect even more strongly that there may be more children.  It find it hard to believe that he [supposedly] fathered 3 children in the 1920s, 2 in the 1950s and none inbetween.  For all I know, he may have had several more families.  He’d certainly get married in the blink of an eye.  His haunt seemed to be from Michigan to Florida, but my mother met him on a train from Philadelphia to Chicago.

I nearly had a coronary writing this article when I found on Ancestry that someone had attached a wife and several children to him in Harlan County, KY in the 1920s and 1930s.  I don’t think it’s him, mostly because if it was, the Crazy Aunts and the rest of the family would have known about a wife, Addie, and a half dozen kids in that vicinity.  And truthfully, I can’t imagine him being with one woman for more than a decade.  It didn’t seem to be his style.  Plus I know he was in Chicago in 1937, but still…he was a slippery guy.  I’ve sent the woman who owns the tree a note asking how she knows that Addie was married to William Sterling Estes….just in case.  She hasn’t answered, and I don’t expect she will.  I figure she just attached Addie to the closest William Estes and my grandfather, William George Estes, was living nearby and had a son, William Sterling, of about the right age.

If you can fill in any blanks, please let me know.  I hope we can complete the missing chapters to his story, one way or another, or at least add some puzzle pieces.  I’ve love to figure out where he was for a decade.

And yes, I’m still waiting for that DNA match that one day, I just know is going to happen!

Dad stone

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Native American Gene Flow – Europe?, Asia and the Americas

Pre-release information from the paper, “Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans” which included results and analysis of DNA sequencing of 24,000 year old skeletal remains of a 4 year old Siberian boy caused quite a stir.  Unfortunately, it was also misconstrued and incorrectly extrapolated in some articles.  Some people misunderstood, either unintentionally or intentionally, and suggested that people with haplogroups U and R are Native American.  That is not what either the prerelease or the paper itself says.  Not only is that information and interpretation incorrect, the paper itself with the detailed information wasn’t published until November 20th, in Nature.

The paper is currently behind a paywall, so I’m going to discuss parts of it here, along with some additional information from other sources.  To help with geography, the following google map shows the following locations: A=the Altai Republic, in Russia, B=Mal’ta, the location of the 24,000 year old skeletal remains and C=Lake Baikal, the region from where the Native American population originated in Asia.

native flow map

Nature did publish an article preview.  That information is in bold, italics and I will be commenting in nonbold, nonitalics.

The origins of the First Americans remain contentious. Although Native Americans seem to be genetically most closely related to east Asians1, 2, 3, there is no consensus with regard to which specific Old World populations they are closest to4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Here we sequence the draft genome of an approximately 24,000-year-old individual (MA-1), from Mal’ta in south-central Siberia9, to an average depth of 1×. To our knowledge this is the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported to date.

Within the paper, the authors also compare the MA-1 sequence to that of another 40,000 year old individual from Tianyuan Cave, China whose genome has been partially sequenced.  This Chinese individual has been shown to be ancestral to both modern-day Asians and Native Americans.  This comparison was particularly useful, because it showed that MA-1 is not closely related to the Tianyuan Cave individual, and is more closely related to Native Americans.  This means that MA-1’s line and Tianyuan Cave’s line had not yet met and admixed into the population that would become the Native Americans.  That occurred sometime later than 24,000 years ago and probably before crossing Beringia into North America sometime between about 18,000 and 20,000 years ago.

The MA-1 mitochondrial genome belongs to haplogroup U, which has also been found at high frequency among Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers10, 11, 12, and the Y chromosome of MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and near the root of most Native American lineages5.

The paper goes on to say that MA-1 is a member of mitochondrial (maternal) haplogroup U, very near the base of that haplogroup, but without affiliation to any known subclade, implying either that the subclade is rare or extinct in modern populations.  In other words, this particular line of haplogroup U has NOT been found in any population, anyplace.  According to the landmark paper,  “A ‘‘Copernican’’ Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root,” by Behar et al, 2012, haplogroup U itself was born about 46,500 years ago (plus or minus 3.200 years) and today has 9 major subclades (plus haplogroup K) and about 300 branching clades from those 9 subclades, excluding haplogroup K.

The map below, from the supplemental material included with the paper shows the distribution of haplogroup U, the black dots showing locations of haplogroup U comparison DNA.

Native flow Hap U map

In a recent paper, “Ancient DNA Reveals Key Stages in the Formation of Central European Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity” by Brandt et al (including the National Geographic Consortium) released in October 2013, the authors report that in the 198 ancient DNA samples collected from 25 German sites and compared to almost 68,000 current results, all of the ancient Hunter-Gatherer cultural results were haplogroup U, U4, U5 and U8.  No other haplogroups were represented.  In addition, those haplogroups disappeared from the region entirely with the advent of farming, shown on the chart below.

Native flow Brandt map

So, if someone who carries haplogroup U wants to say that they are distantly related to MA-1 who lived 24,000 years ago who was also related to their common ancestor who lived sometime prior to that, between 24,000 and 50,000 years ago, probably someplace between the Middle East where U was born, Mal’ta, Siberia and Western Europe, they would be correct.  They are also distantly related to every other person in the world who carries haplogroup U, and many much more closely that MA-1 whose mitochondrial DNA line is either rare as chicken’s teeth (i.e. never found) or has gone extinct.

Let me be very clear about this, there is no evidence, none, that mitochondrial haplogroup U is found in the Native American population today that is NOT a result of post-contact admixture.  In other words, in the burials that have been DNA tested, there is not one example in either North or South America of a burial carrying mitochondrial haplogroup U, or for that matter, male Y haplogroup R.  Native American haplogroups found in the Americas remain subsets of mitochondrial haplogroups A, B, C, D and X and Y DNA haplogroups C and Q.  Mitochondrial haplogroup M has potentially been found in one Canadian burial.  No other haplogroups have been found.  Until pre-contact remains are found with base haplogroups other than the ones listed above, no one can ethically claim that other haplogroups are of Native American origin.  Finding any haplogroup in a contemporary Native population does not mean that it was originally Native, or that it should be counted as such.  Admixture and adoption have been commonplace since Europeans first set foot on the soil of the Americas. 

Now let’s talk about the Y DNA of MA-1.

The authors state that MA-1’s results are found very near the base of haplogroup R.  They note that the sister lineage of haplogroup R, haplogroup Q, is the most common haplogroup in Native Americans and that the closest Eurasian Q results to Native Americans come from the Altai region.

The testing of the MA-1 Y chromosome was much more extensive than the typical STR genealogy tests taken by consumers today.  MA-1’s Y chromosome was sequenced at 5.8 million base pairs at a coverage of 1.5X.

The resulting haplotree is shown below, again from the supplementary material.

Native flow R tree

 native flow r tree text

The current haplogroup distribution range for haplogroup R is shown below, again with comparison points as black dots.

Native flow R map

The current distribution range for Eurasian haplogroup Q is shown on the map below.  Haplogroup Q is the most common haplogroup in Native Americans.

Native flow Q map

Similarly, we find autosomal evidence that MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and genetically closely related to modern-day Native Americans, with no close affinity to east Asians. This suggests that populations related to contemporary western Eurasians had a more north-easterly distribution 24,000 years ago than commonly thought. Furthermore, we estimate that 14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population. This is likely to have occurred after the divergence of Native American ancestors from east Asian ancestors, but before the diversification of Native American populations in the New World. Gene flow from the MA-1 lineage into Native American ancestors could explain why several crania from the First Americans have been reported as bearing morphological characteristics that do not resemble those of east Asians2, 13.

Kennewick Man is probably the most famous of the skeletal remains that don’t neatly fit into their preconceived box.  Kennewick man was discovered on the bank of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington in 1996 and is believed to be from 7300 to 7600 years old.  His anatomical features were quite different from today’s Native Americans and his relationship to ancient people is unknown.  An initial evaluation and a 2010 reevaluation of Kennewick Man let to the conclusion by Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist, that Kennewick Man most closely resembles the Ainu people of Japan who themselves are a bit of an enigma, appearing much more Caucasoid than Asian.  Unfortunately, DNA sequencing of Kennewick Man originally was ussuccessful and now, due to ongoing legal issues, more technologically advanced DNA testing has not been allowed.  Nova sponsored a facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man which you can see here.

Sequencing of another south-central Siberian, Afontova Gora-2 dating to approximately 17,000 years ago14, revealed similar autosomal genetic signatures as MA-1, suggesting that the region was continuously occupied by humans throughout the Last Glacial Maximum. Our findings reveal that western Eurasian genetic signatures in modern-day Native Americans derive not only from post-Columbian admixture, as commonly thought, but also from a mixed ancestry of the First Americans.

In addition to the sequencing they set forth above, the authors compared the phenotype information obtainable from MA-1 to the Tyrolean Iceman, typically called Otzi.  You can see Otzi’s facial reconstruction along with more information here.  This is particularly interesting in light of the pigmentation change from darker skin in Africa to lighter skin in Eurasia, and the question of when this appearance change occurred.  MA-1 shows a genetic affinity with the contemporary people of northern Europe, the population today with the highest frequency of light pigmentation phenotypes.  The authors compared the DNA of MA-1 with a set of 124 SNPs identified in 2001 by Cerquira as informative on skin, hair and eye pigmentation color, although they also caution that this method has limited prediction accuracy.  Given that, they say that MA-1 had dark hair, skin and eyes, but they were not able to sequence the full set of SNPs.  MA-1 also had the SNP value associated with a high risk of male pattern baldness, a trait seldom found in Native American people and was not lactose tolerant, a trait found in western Eurasians.  MA-1 also does not carry the mutation associated with hair thickness and shovel shaped incisors in Asians.

The chart below from the supplemental material shows the comparison with MA-1 and the Tyrolean Iceman.

Native flow Otzi table

The Tarim Mummies, found in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China are another example of remains that seem out of place.  The earliest Tarim mummies, found at Qäwrighul and dated to 1800 BCE, are of a Europoid physical type whose closest affiliation is to the Bronze Age populations of southern Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Lower Volga.

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which date from 1100–500 BCE, 21 of which are Mongoloid—the earliest Mongoloid mummies found in the Tarim Basin—and eight of which are of the same Europoid physical type found at Qäwrighul.

Notable mummies are the tall, red-haired “Chärchän man” or the “Ur-David” (1000 BCE); his son (1000 BCE), a small 1-year-old baby with brown hair protruding from under a red and blue felt cap, with two stones positioned over its eyes; the “Hami Mummy” (c. 1400–800 BCE), a “red-headed beauty” found in Qizilchoqa; and the “Witches of Subeshi” (4th or 3rd century BCE), who wore 2-foot-long (0.61 m) black felt conical hats with a flat brim. Also found at Subeshi was a man with traces of a surgical operation on his neck; the incision is sewn up with sutures made of horsehair.

Their costumes, and especially textiles, may indicate a common origin with Indo-European neolithic clothing techniques or a common low-level textile technology. Chärchän man wore a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. Textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who examined the tartan-style cloth, discusses similarities between it and fragments recovered from salt mines associated with the Hallstatt culture.

DNA testing revealed that the maternal lineages were predominantly East Eurasian haplogroup C with smaller numbers of H and K, while the paternal lines were all R1a1a. The geographic location of where this admixing took place is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.  You can view some photographs of the mummies here.

In closing, the authors of the MA-1 paper state that the study has four important implications.

First, we find evidence that contemporary Native Americans and western Eurasians shareancestry through gene flow from a Siberian Upper  Palaeolithic population into First Americans.

Second, our findings may provide an explanation for the presence of mtDNA haplogroup X in Native Americans, which is related to western Eurasians but not found in east Asian populations.

Third, such an easterly presence in Asia of a population related to contemporary western Eurasians provides a possibility that non-east Asian cranial characteristics of the First Americans derived from the Old World via migration through Beringia, rather than by a trans-Atlantic voyage from Iberia as proposed by the Solutrean hypothesis.

Fourth, the presence of an ancient western Eurasian genomic signature in the Baikal area before and after the LGM suggests that parts of south-central Siberia were occupied by humans throughout the coldest stages of the last ice age.

The times, they are a changin’.

Dr. Michael Hammer’s presentation at the 9th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy may shed some light on all of this seeming confusing and somewhat conflicting information.

The graphic below shows the Y haplogroup base tree as documented by van Oven.

Native flow basic Y

You can see, in the lower right corner, that Y haplogroup K (not to be confused with mtDNA haplogroup K discussed in conjunction with mtDNA haplogroup U) was the parent of haplogroup P which is the parent of both haplogroups Q and R.

It has always been believed that haplogroup R made its way into Europe before the arrival of Neolithic farmers about 10,000 years ago.  However, that conclusion has been called into question, also by the use of Ancient DNA results.  You can view additional information about Hammer’s presentation here, but in a nutshell, he said that there is no early evidence in burials, at all, for haplogroup R being in Europe at an early age.  In about 40 burials from several location, haplogroup R has never been found.  If it were present, especially in the numbers expected given that it represents more than half of the haplogroups of the men of Europe today, it should be represented in these burials, but it is not.  Hammer concludes that evidence supports a recent spread of haplogroup R into Europe about 5000 years ago.  Where was haplogroup R before spreading into Europe?  In Asia.

Native flow hammer dist

It appears that haplogroup K diversified in Southeast Asian, giving birth to haplogroups P, Q and R. Dr. Hammer said that this new information, combined with new cluster information and newly discovered SNP information over the past two years requires that haplogroup K be significantly revised.  Between the revision of haplogroup K, the parent of both haplogroup R, previously believed to be European, and haplogroup Q, known to be Asian, European and Native, we may be in for a paradigm shift in terms of what we know about ancient migrations and who is whom.  This path for haplogroup R into Europe really shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s the exact same distribution as haplogroup Q, except haplogroup Q is much less frequently found in Europe than haplogroup R.

What Can We Say About MA-1?

In essence, we can’t label MA-1 as paternally European because of Y haplogroup R which now looks to have had an Asian genesis and was not known to have been in Europe 24,000 years ago, only arriving about 5,000 years ago.  We can’t label haplogroup R as Native American, because it has never been found in a pre-Columbian New World burial.

We can say that mitochondrial haplogroup U is found in Europe in Hunter-Gatherer groups six thousand years ago (R  was not) but we really don’t know if haplogroup U was in Europe 24,000 years ago.  We cannot label haplogroup U as Native because it has never been found in a pre-Columbian New World burial.

We can determine that MA-1 did have ancestors who eventually became European due to autosomal analysis, but we don’t know that those people lived in what is now Europe 24,000 years ago.  So the migration might have been into Europe, not out of Europe.  MA-1, his ancestors and descendants, may have lived in Asia and subsequently settled in Europe or lived someplace inbetween.  We can determine that MA-1’s line of people eventually admixed with people from East Asia, probably in Siberia, and became today’s First People of North and South America.

We can say that MA-1 appears to have been about 30% what is today Western Eurasian and that he is closely related to modern day Native Americans, but not eastern Asians.  The authors estimate that between 14% and 38% of Native American ancestry comes from MA-1’s ancient population.

Whoever thought we could learn so much from a 4 year old?

For anyone seriously interested in Native American population genetics, “Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans” is a must read.

It’s been a great month for ancient DNA.  Additional recent articles which pertain to this topic include:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/science/two-surprises-in-dna-of-boy-found-buried-in-siberia.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120143631.htm

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2013/11/ancient-dna-from-upper-paleolithic-lake.html

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/11/long-first-age-mankind/#.Uo0eOcSkrIU

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/day-1-at-royal-societys-2013-ancient.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/day-2-at-royal-societys-2013-ancient.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131118081251.htm

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