Concepts – Segment Size, Legitimate and False Matches

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match!

One of the questions I often receive about autosomal DNA is, “What, EXACTLY, is a match?”  The answer at first glance seems evident, meaning when you and someone else are shown on each other’s match lists, but it really isn’t that simple.

What I’d like to discuss today is what actually constitutes a match – and the difference between legitimate or real matches and false matches, also called false positives.

Let’s look at a few definitions before we go any further.


  • A Match – when you and another person are found on each other’s match lists at a testing vendor. You may match that person on one or more segments of DNA.
  • Matching Segment – when a particular segment of DNA on a particular chromosome matches to another person. You may have multiple segment matches with someone, if they are closely related, or only one segment match if they are more distantly related.
  • False Match – also known as a false positive match. This occurs when you match someone that is not identical by descent (IBD), but identical by chance (IBC), meaning that your DNA and theirs just happened to match, as a happenstance function of your mother and father’s DNA aligning in such a way that you match the other person, but neither your mother or father match that person on that segment.
  • Legitimate Match – meaning a match that is a result of the DNA that you inherited from one of your parents. This is the opposite of a false positive match.  Legitimate matches are identical by descent (IBD.)  Some IBD matches are considered to be identical by population, (IBP) because they are a result of a particular DNA segment being present in a significant portion of a given population from which you and your match both descend. Ideally, legitimate matches are not IBP and are instead indicative of a more recent genealogical ancestor that can (potentially) be identified.

You can read about Identical by Descent and Identical by Chance here.

  • Endogamy – an occurrence in which people intermarry repeatedly with others in a closed community, effectively passing the same DNA around and around in descendants without introducing different/new DNA from non-related individuals. People from endogamous communities, such as Jewish and Amish groups, will share more DNA and more small segments of DNA than people who are not from endogamous communities.  Fully endogamous individuals have about three times as many autosomal matches as non-endogamous individuals.
  • False Negative Match – a situation where someone doesn’t match that should. False negatives are very difficult to discern.  We most often see them when a match is hovering at a match threshold and by lowing the threshold slightly, the match is then exposed.  False negative segments can sometimes be detected when comparing DNA of close relatives and can be caused by read errors that break a segment in two, resulting in two segments that are too small to be reported individually as a match.  False negatives can also be caused by population phasing which strips out segments that are deemed to be “too matchy” by Ancestry’s Timber algorithm.
  • Parental or Family Phasing – utilizing the DNA of your parents or other close family members to determine which side of the family a match derives from. Actual phasing means to determine which parts of your DNA come from which parent by comparing your DNA to at least one, if not both parents.  The results of phasing are that we can identify matches to family groups such as the Phased Family Finder results at Family Tree DNA that designate matches as maternal or paternal based on phased results for you and family members, up to third cousins.
  • Population Based Phasing – In another context, phasing can refer to academic phasing where some DNA that is population based is removed from an individual’s results before matching to others. Ancestry does this with their Timber program, effectively segmenting results and sometimes removing valid IBD segments.  This is not the type of phasing that we will be referring to in this article and parental/family phasing should not be confused with population/academic phasing.

IBD and IBC Match Examples

It’s important to understand the definitions of Identical by Descent and Identical by Chance.

I’ve created some easy examples.

Let’s say that a match is defined as any 10 DNA locations in a row that match.  To keep this comparison simple, I’m only showing 10 locations.

In the examples below, you are the first person, on the left, and your DNA strands are showing.  You have a pink strand that you inherited from Mom and a blue strand inherited from Dad.  Mom’s 10 locations are all filled with A and Dad’s locations are all filled with T.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t keep your Mom’s and Dad’s strands on one side or the other, so their DNA is mixed together in you.  In other words, you can’t tell which parts of your DNA are whose.  However, for our example, we’re keeping them separate because it’s easier to understand that way.

Legitimate Match – Identical by Descent from Mother


In the example above, Person B, your match, has all As.  They will match you and your mother, both, meaning the match between you and person B is identical by descent.  This means you match them because you inherited the matching DNA from your mother. The matching DNA is bordered in black.

Legitimate Match – Identical by Descent from Father

In this second example, Person C has all T’s and matches both you and your Dad, meaning the match is identical by descent from your father’s side.


You can clearly see that you can have two different people match you on the same exact segment location, but not match each other.  Person B and Person C both match you on the same location, but they very clearly do not match each other because Person B carries your mother’s DNA and Person C carries your father’s DNA.  These three people (you, Person B and Person C) do NOT triangulate, because B and C do not match each other.  The article, “Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation” provides more details on triangulation.

Triangulation is how we prove that individuals descend from a common ancestor.

If Person B and Person C both descended from your mother’s side and matched you, then they would both carry all As in those locations, and they would match you, your mother and each other.  In this case, they would triangulate with you and your mother.

False Positive or Identical by Chance Match

This third example shows that Person D does technically match you, because they have all As and Ts, but they match you by zigzagging back and forth between your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA strands.  Of course, there is no way for you to know this without matching Person D against both of your parents to see if they match either parent.  If your match does not match either parent, the match is a false positive, meaning it is not a legitimate match.  The match is identical by chance (IBC.)


One clue as to whether a match is IBC or IBD, even without your parents, is whether the person matches you and other close relatives on this same segment.  If not, then the match may be IBC. If the match also matches close relatives on this segment, then the match is very likely IBD.  Of course, the segment size matters too, which we’ll discuss momentarily.

If a person triangulates with 2 or more relatives who descend from the same ancestor, then the match is identical by descent, and not identical by chance.

False Negative Match

This last example shows a false negative.  The DNA of Person E had a read error at location 5, meaning that there are not 10 locations in a row that match.  This causes you and Person E to NOT be shown as a match, creating a false negative situation, because you actually do match if Person E hadn’t had the read error.


Of course, false negatives are by definition very hard to identify, because you can’t see them.

Comparisons to Your Parents

Legitimate matches will phase to your parents – meaning that you will match Person B on the same amount of a specific segment, or a smaller portion of that segment, as one of your parents.

False matches mean that you match the person, but neither of your parents matches that person, meaning that the segment in question is identical by chance, not by descent.

Comparing your matches to both of your parents is the easiest litmus paper test of whether your matches are legitimate or not.  Of course, the caveat is that you must have both of your parents available to fully phase your results.

Many of us don’t have both parents available to test, so let’s take a look at how often false positive matches really do occur.

False Positive Matches

How often do false matches really happen?

The answer to that question depends on the size of the segments you are comparing.

Very small segments, say at 1cM, are very likely to match randomly, because they are so small.  You can read more about SNPs and centiMorgans (cM) here.

As a rule of thumb, the larger the matching segment as measured in cM, with more SNPs in that segment:

  • The stronger the match is considered to be
  • The more likely the match is to be IBD and not IBC
  • The closer in time the common ancestor, facilitating the identification of said ancestor

Just in case we forget sometimes, identifying ancestors IS the purpose of genetic genealogy, although it seems like we sometimes get all geeked out by the science itself and process of matching!  (I can hear you thinking, “speak for yourself, Roberta.”)

It’s Just a Phase!!!

Let’s look at an example of phasing a child’s matches against those of their parents.

In our example, we have a non-endogamous female child (so they inherit an X chromosome from both parents) whose matches are being compared to her parents.

I’m utilizing files from Family Tree DNA. Ancestry does not provide segment data, so Ancestry files can’t be used.  At 23andMe, coordinating the security surrounding 3 individuals results and trying to make sure that the child and both parents all have access to the same individuals through sharing would be a nightmare, so the only vendor’s results you can reasonably utilize for phasing is Family Tree DNA.

You can download the matches for each person by chromosome segment by selecting the chromosome browser and the “Download All Matches to Excel (CSV Format)” at the top right above chromosome 1.


All segment matches 1cM and above will be downloaded into a CSV file, which I then save as an Excel spreadsheet.

I downloaded the files for both parents and the child. I deleted segments below 3cM.

About 75% of the rows in the files were segments below 3cM. In part, I deleted these segments due to the sheer size and the fact that the segment matching was a manual process.  In part, I did this because I already knew that segments below 3 cM weren’t terribly useful.

Rows Father Mother Child
Total 26,887 20,395 23,681
< 3 cM removed 20,461 15,025 17,784
Total Processed 6,426 5,370 5,897

Because I have the ability to phase these matches against both parents, I wanted to see how many of the matches in each category were indeed legitimate matches and how many were false positives, meaning identical by chance.

How does one go about doing that, exactly?

Downloading the Files

Let’s talk about how to make this process easy, at least as easy as possible.

Step one is downloading the chromosome browser matches for all 3 individuals, the child and both parents.

First, I downloaded the child’s chromosome browser match file and opened the spreadsheet.

Second, I downloaded the mother’s file, colored all of her rows pink, then appended the mother’s rows into the child’s spreadsheet.

Third, I did the same with the father’s file, coloring his rows blue.

After I had all three files in one spreadsheet, I sorted the columns by segment size and removed the segments below 3cM.

Next, I sorted the remaining items on the spreadsheet, in order, by column, as follows:

  • End
  • Start
  • Chromosome
  • Matchname


My resulting spreadsheet looked like this.  Sorting in the order prescribed provides you with the matches to each person in chromosome and segment order, facilitating easy (OK, relatively easy) visual comparison for matching segments.

I then colored all of the child’s NON-matching segments green so that I could see (and eventually filter the matchname column by) the green color indicating that they were NOT matches.  Do this only for the child, or the white (non-colored) rows.  The child’s matchname only gets colored green if there is no corresponding match to a parent for that same person on that same chromosome segment.


All of the child’s matches that DON’T have a corresponding parent match in pink or blue for that same person on that same segment will be colored green.  I’ve boxed the matches so you can see that they do match, and that they aren’t colored green.

In the above example, Donald and Gaff don’t match either parent, so they are all green.  Mess does match the father on some segments, so those segments are boxed, but the rest of Mess doesn’t match a parent, so is colored green.  Sarah doesn’t match any parent, so she is entirely green.

Yes, you do manually have to go through every row on this combined spreadsheet.

If you’re going to phase your matches against your parent or parents, you’ll want to know what to expect.  Just because you’ve seen one match does not mean you’ve seen them all.

What is a Match?

So, finally, the answer to the original question, “What is a Match?”  Yes, I know this was the long way around the block.

In the exercise above, we weren’t evaluating matches, we were just determining whether or not the child’s match also matched the parent on the same segment, but sometimes it’s not clear whether they do or do not match.


In the case of the second match with Mess on chromosome 11, above, the starting and ending locations, and the number of cM and segments are exactly the same, so it’s easy to determine that Mess matches both the child and the father on chromosome 11. All matches aren’t so straightforward.

Typical Match


This looks like your typical match for one person, in this case, Cecelia.  The child (white rows) matches Cecelia on three segments that don’t also match the child’s mother (pink rows.)  Those non-matching child’s rows are colored green in the match column.  The child matches Cecelia on two segments that also match the mother, on chromosome 20 and the X chromosome.  Those matching segments are boxed in black.

The segments in both of these matches have exact overlaps, meaning they start and end in exactly the same location, but that’s not always the case.

And for the record, matches that begin and/or end in the same location are NOT more likely to be legitimate matches than those that start and end in different locations.  Vendors use small buckets for matching, and if you fall into any part of the bucket, even if your match doesn’t entirely fill the bucket, the bucket is considered occupied.  So what you’re seeing are the “fuzzy” bucket boundaries.

(Over)Hanging Chad


In this case, Chad’s match overhangs on each end.  You can see that Chad’s match to the child begins at 52,722,923 before the mother’s match at 53,176,407.

At the end location, the child’s matching segment also extends beyond the mother’s, meaning the child matches Chad on a longer segment than the mother.  This means that the segment sections before 53,176,407 and after 61,495,890 are false negative matches, because Chad does not also match the child’s mother of these portions of the segment.

This segment still counts as a match though, because on the majority of the segment, Chad does match both the child and the mother.

Nested Match


This example shows a nested match, where the parent’s match to Randy begins before the child’s and ends after the child’s, meaning that the child’s matching DNA segment to Randy is entirely nested within the mother’s.  In other words, pieces got shaved off of both ends of this segment when the child was inheriting from her mother.

No Common Matches


Sometimes, the child and the parent will both match the same person, but there are no common segments.  Don’t read more into this than what it is.  The child’s matches to Mary are false matches.  We have no way to judge the mother’s matches, except for segment size probability, which we’ll discuss shortly.

Look Ma, No Parents


In this case, the child matches Don on 5 segments, including a reasonably large segment on chromosome 9, but there are no matches between Don and either parent.  I went back and looked at this to be sure I hadn’t missed something.

This could, possibly, be an instance of an unseen a false negative, meaning perhaps there is a read issue in the parent’s file on chromosome 9, precluding a match.  However, in this case, since Family Tree DNA does report matches down to 1cM, it would have to be an awfully large read error for that to occur.  Family Tree DNA does have quality control standards in place and each file must pass the quality threshold to be put into the matching data base.  So, in this case, I doubt that the problem is a false negative.

Just because there are multiple IBC matches to Don doesn’t mean any of those are incorrect.  It’s just the way that the DNA is inherited and it’s why this type of a match is called identical by chance – the key word being chance.

Split Match


This split match is very interesting.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that Diane matches Mom on the entire segment on chromosome 12, but the child’s match is broken into two.  However, the number of SNPs adds up to the same, and the number of cM is close.  This suggests that there is a read error in the child’s file forcing the child’s match to Diane into two pieces.

If the segments broken apart were smaller, under the match threshold, and there were no other higher matches on other segments, this match would not be shown and would fall into the False Negative category.  However, since that’s not the case, it’s a legitimate match and just falls into the “interesting” category.

The Deceptive Match


Don’t be fooled by seeing a family name in the match column and deciding it’s a legitimate match.  Harrold is a family surname and Mr. Harrold does not match either of the child’s parents, on any segment.  So not a legitimate match, no matter how much you want it to be!

Suspicious Match – Probably not Real


This technically is a match, because part of the DNA that Daryl matches between Mom and the child does overlap, from 111,236,840 to 113,275,838.  However, if you look at the entire match, you’ll notice that not a lot of that segment overlaps, and the number of cMs is already low in the child’s match.  There is no way to calculate the number of cMs and SNPs in the overlapping part of the segment, but suffice it to say that it’s smaller, and probably substantially smaller, than the 3.32 total match for the child.

It’s up to you whether you actually count this as a match or not.  I just hope this isn’t one of those matches you REALLY need.  However, in this case, the Mom’s match at 15.46 cM is 99% likely to be a legitimate match, so you really don’t need the child’s match at all!!!

So, Judge Judy, What’s the Verdict?

How did our parental phasing turn out?  What did we learn?  How many segments matched both the child and a parent, and how many were false matches?

In each cM Size category below, I’ve included the total number of child’s match rows found in that category, the number of parent/child matches, the percent of parent/child matches, the number of matches to the child that did NOT match the parent, and the percent of non-matches. A non-match means a false match.

So, what the verdict?


It’s interesting to note that we just approach the 50% mark for phased matches in the 7-7.99 cM bracket.

The bracket just beneath that, 6-6.99 shows only a 30% parent/child match rate, as does 5-5.99.  At 3 cM and 4 cM few matches phase to the parents, but some do, and could potentially be useful in groups of people descended from a known common ancestor and in conjunction with larger matches on other segments. Certainly segments at 3 cM and 4 cM alone aren’t very reliable or useful, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t potentially be used in other contexts, nor are they always wrong. The smaller the segment, the less confidence we can have based on that segment alone, at least below 9-15cM.

Above the 50% match level, we quickly reach the 90th percentile in the 9-9.99 cM bracket, and above 10 cM, we’re virtually assured of a phased match, but not quite 100% of the time.

It isn’t until we reach the 16cM category that we actually reach the 100% bracket, and there is still an outlier found in the 18-18.99 cM group.

I went back and checked all of the 10 cM and over non-matches to verify that I had not made an error.  If I made errors, they were likely counting too many as NON-matches, and not the reverse, meaning I failed to visually identify matches.  However, with almost 6000 spreadsheet rows for the child, a few errors wouldn’t affect the totals significantly or even noticeably.

I hope that other people in non-endogamous populations will do the same type of double parent phasing and report on their results in the same type of format.  This experiment took about 2 days.

Furthermore, I would love to see this same type of experiment for endogamous families as well.


If you can phase your matches to either or both of your parents, absolutely, do.  This this exercise shows why, if you have only one parent to match against, you can’t just assume that anyone who doesn’t match you on your one parent’s side automatically matches you from the other parent. At least, not below about 15 cM.

Whether you can phase against your parent or not, this exercise should help you analyze your segment matches with an eye towards determining whether or not they are valid, and what different kinds of matches mean to your genealogy.

If nothing else, at least we can quantify the relatively likelihood, based on the size of the matching segment, in a non-endogamous population, a match would match a parent, if we had one to match against, meaning that they are a legitimate match.  Did you get all that?

In a nutshell, we can look at the Parent/Child Phased Match Chart produced by this exercise and say that our 8.5 cM match has about a 66% chance of being a legitimate match, and our 10.5 cM match has a 95% change of being a legitimate match.

You’re welcome.


Concepts – Why DNA Testing the Oldest Family Members is Critically Important

Recently, someone asked me to explain why testing the older, in fact, the oldest family members is so important. What they really wanted were talking points in order to explain to others, in just a few words, so that they could understand the reasoning without having to understand the details or the science.

Before I address that question, I want to talk briefly about how Y and mitochondrial DNA are different from autosomal DNA, because the answer to the “oldest ancestor” question is a bit different for those two types of tests versus autosomal DNA.

In the article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, I explain the differences between Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, who can take each, and how they differ from autosomal DNA testing.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA

In the graphic below, you can see that the Y chromosome, represented by blue squares, is inherited only by males from direct patrilineal males in the male’s tree – meaning inherited from his father who inherited the Y chromosome from his father who inherited it from his father, on up the tree. Of course, along with the Y chromosome, generally, the males also inherited their surname.

Y and mito

Mitochondrial DNA, depicted as red circles, is inherited by both genders of children, but ONLY the females only pass it on. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from your mother, who inherited it from her mother, who inherited it from her mother, on up the tree in the direct matrilineal path.

  • Neither Y or mitochondrial DNA is ever mixed with the DNA of the other parent, so it is never “lost” during inheritance. It is inherited completely and intact. This allows us to look back more reliably much further in time and obtain a direct, unobstructed, view of the history of the direct patrilineal or matrilineal line.
  • Changes between generations are caused by mutations, not by the DNA of the two parents being mixed together and by half being lost during inheritance.
  • This means that we test the oldest relevant ancestor in that line to be sure we have the “original” DNA and not results that have incurred a mutation, although generally, mutations are relatively easy to deal with for both Y and mitochondrial DNA since the balance of this type of DNA is still ancestral.

Testing the oldest generation is not quite as important in Y and mitochondrial DNA as it is for autosomal DNA, because most, if not all, of the Y and mitochondrial DNA will remain exactly the same between generations.  That is assuming, of course, that no unknown adoptions, known as Nonparental Events (NPEs) occurred between generations.

However, autosomal DNA is quite different. When utilizing autosomal DNA, every person inherits only half of their parents’ DNA, so half of their autosomal ancestral history is lost with the half of their parents’ DNA that they don’t inherit. For autosomal DNA, testing the oldest people in the family, and their siblings, is critically important.

Autosomal DNA

In the graphic below, you can see that the Y and mitochondrial DNA, still represented by a small blue chromosome and a red circle, respectively, is inherited from only one line.  The son received an entirely intact blue Y chromosome and both the son and daughter receive an entirely intact mitochondrial DNA circle.

Autosomal DNA, on the other hand, represented by the variously colored chromosomes assigned to the 8 great-grandparents on the top row, is inherited by the son and daughter, at the bottom, in an entirely different way.  The autosomal chromosomes inherited by the son and daughter have pieces of blue, yellow, green, pink, grey, tan, teal and red mixed in various proportions.

Autosomal path

In fact, you can see that in the first generation, the grandfather, for example, inherited both a pink and green chromosome from his mother, and a blue and yellow chromosome from his father, not to be confused with the smaller blue Y chromosome which is shown separately. The grandmother inherited a grey and tan chromosome from her father and a teal and red chromosome from her mother, again not to be confused with the red mitochondrial circle.

In the next generation, the father inherited parts of the pink, green, blue and yellow DNA. The mother inherited parts of the grey, tan, teal and red DNA.

The answer to part of the question of why it’s so important to test older generations is answered with this graphic.

  • The children inherit even smaller portions of their ancestor’s autosomal DNA than their parents inherited. In fact, in every generation, the child inherits half of the DNA of each parent. That means that the other half of the parents’ autosomal DNA is not inherited by the child, so in each generation, you lose half of the autosomal DNA from the previous generation, meaning half of your ancestors’ DNA.
  • Each child inherits half of their parents’ DNA, but not the same half. So different children from the same parents will carry a different part of their parents’ autosomal DNA, meaning a different part of their ancestors’ DNA.

The best way to understand the actual real-life ramifications of inheriting only half of your parent’s DNA is by way of example.

I have tested at Family Tree DNA and so has my mother. All of my mother’s DNA and matches are directly relevant to my genealogy and ancestry, because I share all of my mother’s ancestors. However, since I only inherited half of her DNA, she will have many matches to cousins that I don’t have, because she carries twice as much of our ancestor’s DNA than I do.

Mother’s Matches My Matches in Common With Mother Matches Lost Due to Inheritance




As you can see, I only share 371 of the matches that mother has, which means that I lost 549 matches because I didn’t inherit those segments of ancestral DNA from mother. Therefore, mother matches many people that I don’t.

That’s exactly why it’s so critically important to test the oldest generation.

It’s also important to test siblings. For example, your grandparent’s siblings, your parent’s siblings and your own siblings if your parents aren’t living. These people all share all of your ancestors.

I test my cousin’s siblings as well, if they are willing, because each child inherits a different half of their parent’s DNA, which is your ancestor’s DNA, so they will have matches to different people.

How important is it to test siblings, really?

Let’s take a look at this 4 generation example of matching and see just how many matches we lose in four generations. We begin with my mother’s 920 matches, as shown above, but let’s add two more generations beyond me.


As you can see in the above example, the two grandchildren inherited a different combination of their parent’s DNA, given that Grandchild 1 has 895 matches in common with one of their parents and Grandchild 2 has 1046 matches in common the same parent. Those matches aren’t to entirely the same set of people either – because the two siblings inherited different DNA segments from their parent. The difference in the number of matches and the difference in the people that the siblings match in common with their parent illustrates the difference that inheriting different parental DNA segments makes relative to genealogy and DNA matching.

However, if you look at the matching number in common with their grandparent and great-grandparent, the differences become even greater and the losses between generations become cumulative. Just think how many matches are really lost, given that in our illustration we are only comparing to one of two parents, one of four grandparents and one of 8 great-grandparents.

The really important numbers are the Lost Matches, shown in red. These are the matches that WOULD BE LOST FOREVER IF THE OLDER GENERATION(S) HAD NOT TESTED.

Note that the lost matches are much higher numbers than the matches.


In summary, here are the talking points about why it’s critically important to test the oldest members of each generation, and every generation between you and them.

Autosomal DNA:

  1. Every person inherits only half of their parents’ DNA, meaning that half of your ancestors’ DNA is lost in each generation – the half you don’t receive.
  2. Siblings each inherit half of their parents’ DNA, but not the same half, so each child has some of their ancestor’s DNA that another child won’t have.
  3. The older generations of direct line relatives and their siblings will match people that you don’t, and their matches are as relevant to your genealogy as your own matches, because you share all of the same ancestors.
  4. Being able to see that you match someone who also matches a known ancestor or cousin shows you immediately which ancestral line the match shares with you.
  5. Your cousins, even though they will have ancestral lines that aren’t yours, still carry parts of your ancestors’ DNA that you don’t, so it’s important to test cousins and their siblings too.

Y and mitochondrial DNA:

  1. Testing older generations allows you to be sure that you’re dealing with DNA results that are closer to, or the same as, your ancestor, without the possibility of mutations introduced in subsequent generations.
  2. In many cases, your cousins, father, grandfather, etc. will carry Y or mitochondrial DNA that you don’t, but that descends directly from one of your ancestors. Your only opportunity to obtain that information is to test lineally appropriate cousins or family members. This is particularly relevant for males such as fathers, grandfathers, paternal aunts and uncles who don’t pass on their mitochondrial DNA.

I wrote about creating your DNA pedigree chart for Y and mitochondrial DNA here.

Be sure to test the oldest generations autosomally, but also remember to review your cousins’ paths of descent from your common ancestors closely to determine if their Y or mitochondrial DNA is relevant to your genealogy! Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA are all different parts of unraveling the ancestor puzzle for each of your family lines.

You can order the Y, mitochondrial DNA and Family Finder tests from Family Tree DNA.

Happy ancestor hunting!

Margaret Lentz (1822-1903), The Seasons and the Sundays, 52 Ancestors #124

Margaret Elizabeth Lentz was born on December 31, 1822, New Year’s Eve, in Pennsylvania, probably in Cumberland County near Shippensburg, to Jacob Lentz and Johanna Fridrica Ruhle or Reuhle. Her mother went by the name Fredericka for her entire lifetime, with the exception of the 1850 census where she was listed as Hannah. Using the middle name is the normal German naming pattern.

Margaret Elizabeth, however, was different, parting for some reason with German naming tradition, she was always called by her first name, Margaret.

Margaret was the 7th of 10 children born to her parents, although two of her siblings had died before she was born. Her brother Johannes died as a small child in Germany in 1814, just two and a half years old. In 1813, Fredericka had a daughter, Elizabeth Katharina who would die on the ship coming to America at age 4 or 5. It appears that Margaret Elisabeth was named, in part, for her deceased sister.

Jacob and Fredericka had immigrated from Germany, beginning in the spring of 1817 and finally arriving in January 1819 after being shipwrecked in Norway and surviving two perilous voyages. Their trials and tribulations arriving in America are documented in Fredericka’s article. In 1822 when Fredericka had Margaret, the couple would have completed their indenture to pay for their passage and would likely have been farming on their own, although we don’t find them in either the 1820 nor the 1830 census in either Pennsylvania or Ohio.

Pennsylvania to Ohio

Jacob and Fredericka and their entire family moved from Shippensburg to Montgomery County in about 1829 or 1830.

Fredericka would have been about 7 or 8 years old and probably found riding in a wagon to a new home in a new location quite the adventure. Perhaps she laid in the back on her tummy, kicking her bare feet in the air and watched the scenery disappear.  Or perhaps she rode on the seat with the driver, probably her father or oldest brother, and watched the new landscape appear in the distance. Maybe she cradled a doll on her lap, or maybe a younger sibling.

Margaret Lentz map PA to Indiana

At about 10 miles a day, the trip would have taken about 40 days. They may have made better time, or worse, depending on the weather.

Margaret’s mother may have been pregnant for her last sibling, Mary. For all we know, Mary may have been delivered in that wagon. I shudder to think.

We find Margaret’s parents on tax records beginning in the mid-1830s in Madison Township in Montgomery County, Ohio where they would purchase land from their son, Jacob F. Lentz in 1841.

Margaret Lentz 1851 Montgomery co map

Cousin Keith Lentz provided the 1851 tract map above with an arrow pointing to Jacob Lentz’s land, with his name misspelled, but located in the correct location on Section 3, according to deeds.


We don’t have much direct information about Margaret during this time, other than we know the family was Brethren. Jacob and Fredericka had been Lutheran when they left Germany, according to church records, but sometime after that and before their deaths, they converted to the Brethren religion.

Their two oldest children were not Brethren, but the rest of their children were practicing Brethren for the duration of their lifetimes, except for the youngest, Mary, who died a Baptist in Oklahoma – although she assuredly was raised Brethren if her older siblings were.

Jacob and Fredericka’s eldest children, Jacob L. and daughter Fredericka, were born in 1806 and 1809, respectively. Son Jacob remained Lutheran for his lifetime, from the age of 17, according to his obituary. This suggests that perhaps his parents converted when Jacob F. was a teenager, so maybe in the early/mid 1820s. If that is the case, Margaret would have been raised from childhood in the Brethren Church, so she likely never knew anything different.

The Brethren, as a general rule, avoided records like the plague, including church records and what we know today as civil records. They didn’t like to file deeds, wills and especially did not like to obtain marriage licenses. However, because Jacob and Fredericka did not begin life as Brethren and the German Lutherans recorded everything, perhaps they were more tolerant of those “necessary evils.” At least some of their children did obtain marriage licenses and deeds were registered, albeit a decade later, although Jacob had no will.

The Happy Corners Brethren Church was located about two miles from where Margaret lived with her family, at the intersection of current Shiloh Springs and Olive Road on the western edge of Dayton. At that time, Happy Corners was known as the Lower Stillwater congregation, named for nearby Stillwater River.

Lentz Jacob church to home

The current church was built in 1870. At the time Margaret attended, the church was a log cabin and Margaret had moved to Indiana decades before the new church was built.


Margaret is recorded in the 1840 census with her family, or at least there is a female recorded in an “age appropriate” location for Margaret. On the last day of 1840, her 18th birthday, she married Valentine Whitehead III, the son of another Brethren family.

I can’t help but wonder if there is some significance to the fact that she married ON her 18th birthday. Was her family for some reason opposed to the union and this was the first day she could marry without her father’s signature? Did he refuse to sign on “Brethren” principles or for some other, unknown, reason?

Was this birthday marriage a celebration or a not-so-covert act of rebellion?

Valentine Whitehead was born on February 1, 1821, so he was about 23 months older than Margaret.

The Whitehead land can be seen on the 1851 plat map about a mile and a half distant from Jacob’s land, in section 12, to the east. The families would have been near-neighbors and given that there was only one Brethren Church in the vicinity, they assuredly attended the same church. Margaret and Valentine had probably known each other since they were children.

Elkhart County, Indiana

The newly married couple wasted little time leaving Ohio and settling in Elkhart County, Indiana. That trip took between a week and two weeks by wagon according to other settlers who undertook that same journey. They were among the pioneers in Elkhart County, but they weren’t the first who had arrived nearly a dozen years earlier and spent their first winter in lean-tos before they could build rudimentary cabins. Many of the earliest families were Brethren too, so by the time Margaret and Valentine arrived, a community had been established for a decade, was welcoming and thirsty for news and letters from “back home.”

The 1850 census suggests that Margaret and Valentine can both read and write.  The final column showing to the right of the form designates ” persons over 20 years of age who cannot read and write.”  That column is not checked.  What we don’t know is whether than means English or German, or both.  We also don’t know how well they might have understood the census taker if the census taker didn’t speak German.

Margaret Lentz 1850 census

The 1850 census confirms that Margaret’s first child, Lucinda, was born on December 13, 1842 in Ohio, but her second child, Samuel, was born a year later in Indiana, as were the rest of their children. From this, we know that sometime between December 1842 and June 1844, at the ripe old age of 21 or 22, Margaret, Valentine and their baby made their way to the frontier grasslands of Elkhart County. She too may have been pregnant on that wagon ride.

Margaret Lentz OH to IN map

I have to wonder if Margaret ever saw her parents again. It’s very unlikely even though they only lived what is today about a 4 hour drive. There were men who made the trip back and forth a couple of times on horseback, bringing news and shepherding more settlers, but women were tied at home with children and tending livestock.

Margaret’s parents didn’t pass away for another 20+ years, 1863 for Fredericka and 1870 for Jacob, so Margaret would have spent a lot of years of missing them, or perhaps sending letters back and forth. Receiving a letter telling you about the death of your parents would be a devastating letter to receive. I can only imagine the excitement of receiving a letter combined with the dread of the news it might hold. Talk about mixed emotions. Did her hands shake as she opened letters as her parents aged? Was she able to read the letters herself, or did she have to have someone read them to her?

When I was a young mother, I was constantly asking my mother something…for family recipes, advice about how to deal with childhood illness or tantrums of a 2 year old, exasperating husbands, and more. I talked to Mother by phone or in person at least once a day. While I was all too happy to leave home as a teen, I grew up quickly and can’t imagine leaving my mother at that age, knowing I would never see or speak with her again. I left the area where my parents lived in my mid-20s, and it nearly killed me, even with telephones and returning to visit every couple of weeks, for decades. There is nothing like the security of knowing Mom lives nearby.

I don’t know if Margaret was brave or foolhearty. Regardless, she would have formed other bonds with older women with advice to offer within the church in Elkhart County. Furthermore, nearly all of the Whitehead family settled in Elkhart County, including Valentine’s parents and most of his siblings, one of whom was also married to Margaret’s brother, Adam. Adam Lentz married Margaret Whitehead who then became Margaret Lentz, which caused a great deal of confusion between Margaret Lentz Whitehead and Margaret Whitehead Lentz.

Adam’s wife, Margaret Whitehead Lentz, died in Elkhart County on July 17, 1844 and is buried in the Whitehead Cemetery under the name of Margaret Lentz and was mistaken for our Margaret Lentz Whitehead for many years.

Margaret Lentz Whitehead marriages

We know that our Margaret spoke German, possibly exclusively, as she lived in a German farming community. The Brethren Church in Elkhart County was still holding German language services into the 1900s and the Brethren families still spoke German, although by then, they spoke English too.  My mother remembered her grandmother, Margaret’s daughter Evaline, speaking German, but her primary language by that time, in the 1920s and 1930s, was English.

The first Brethren church services in Elkhart County were held in private homes and barns, so it’s entirely possible that Margaret took her turn and had “church” at her house, with the entire neighborhood attending and then having a good old-fashioned German “pot-luck” afterwards.

The Whitehead School was established in 1836.

From the book “Elkhart County One Room Schools, The 3 Rs” by Dean Garber, I found the following:

Whitehead School, district #6, began on he west side of present day CR 19 north of CR 48 in Sect 17. Samuel Whitehead 1811-1874 settled in what became known as the Whitehead settlement, southwest of New Paris, Indiana. About 1836 a round log cabin with a clapboard roof was built on his property. This first schoolhouse was about 12X16 in size and was replaced by a wood frame building and was in use until the 1880s when it was replaced by a brick school building. For some reason this school is not shown on any of the county maps before 1874. But it has been found that David B. Miller born in 1838 did attend this school in 1854. This school closed in 1913 because of the consolidation of the township schools.

In the 1850s, Valentine Whitehead taught at this school.

This 1874 plat map of Jackson Township in Elkhart County, below, shows a school on the D. Whitehead property on the northeast corner of Section 8, and the “D. Ch” across from a cemetery on the border between sections 8 and 17. “D Ch” means Dunker Church and the cemetery across from the church is the Whitehead Cemetery.

Margaret Lentz 1874 Jackson Twp map

The Whitehead descendants erected a marker in the cemetery in 1939 commemorating the early Whitehead settlers.

Margaret Lentz Whitehead memorial

The verbiage on the commemoration stone says that 9 of Valentine Whitehead’s children settled in Elkhart County with him, including Valentine Jr. and his wife, Margaret Lentz. Three of Valentine Sr.’s children remained in Ohio. According to Whitehead genealogists, the Whitehead family began purchasing land in Elkhart County the 1830s and moved from Ohio in the early 1840s. It’s likely that they formed the “Whitehead Wagon Train” and all relocated together to the prairie frontier so that they could mutually assist each other with clearing land, building homes and establishing farms. Land was plentiful in northern Indiana, but was all taken in Montgomery County, Ohio.

Cousin Keith Lentz visited Elkhart County in 2015 and located the land owned by Valentine Whitehead and Margaret Lentz Whitehead near the intersection of County Roads 50 and 21. Margaret’s brother, Adam Lentz who married Margaret Whitehead, owned land just a couple miles up the road.

Margaret Lentz Keith map

Thanks to Keith for providing this map.

Valentine Dies

The first decade of Margaret’s married life blessed her with 4 children and a migration to the Indiana frontier. Valentine and Margaret became established in their new community and like all farm families, lived by the routine of the seasons and the Sundays. Sunday was church and sometimes a bit of leisure or rest. Baths in washtubs were taken on Saturday night, hair was washed, and on Sunday morning, women wore their best dresses and prayer bonnets and rode in the wagon to church, after feeding the livestock of course. Little changed in the next hundred years, except you rode to church in a car or buggy.

The rest of the week was work from sunup to sundown, and sometimes longer by candlelight.

However, life was not to remain rosey for Margaret.

Margaret, the bride at 18 was a widow at 29 with 4 children and one on the way. Margaret was 2 months pregnant for Mary when Valentine died. Mary was born in February 1852 after Valentine’s death on July 24, 1851.

Margaret buried Valentine in the Whitehead Cemetery, just down the road from where they lived and across the road from the church she attended every Sunday.  I wonder if she sat in church and stared out at the cemetery, where he lay.  Did she wander over to visit his grave every Sunday?

I surely wonder what took Valentine at age 30 in the middle of summer. I wonder about things like appendicitis, farm accidents, falling from a horse or perhaps something like typhoid.  The only clue we have is that Valentine did write a will on June 3rd, 1851, recorded in Will Book 1, page 59 and 60 wherein he does not name his wife but does name children Lucinda, Jacob, Samuel and Emanual.  This executor was Adam Lantz (Lentz) and Samuel Whitehead and Robert Fenton were the witnesses.  If Valentine was ill, then he was ill from June 3rd until August 10th when he died.

In the book, “The Midwest Pioneer, His Ills, Cures and Doctors” by Madge Pickard and R. Carlyle Buley published in 1946, we discover that Elkhart County was plagued by “bilious disorders” and typhoid.

For fifty years after their first settlement the river towns along the Ohio and the Wabash suffered from malarial diseases.

In the middle 1830’s the people of Elkhart County had an epidemic of typhoid and pneumonia and in 1838 almost half the population was affected with bilious disorders. The wave of erysipelas which enveloped the whole Northwest in the early 1840’s struck Indiana with unusual severity. Dysentery, scarlatina, phthisis (consumption), pneumonia, bronchitis, occasionally yellow and spotted fevers, whooping cough, and diphtheria appeared in many parts of the state. The summer of 1838 was a bad one, and “the afflicting dispensations of Providence” laid many low along the Ohio, the Wabash, the Illinois and lakes Michigan and Erie.

The Milwaukee Sentinel of October 9, 1838, boasted that, notwithstanding the fact that the season had been bad in most sections, Wisconsin had no prevailing diseases. The Sentinel and the Green Bay Wisconsin Democrat reported that canal work had been suspended in Illinois and Indiana, that the people were much too sick to harvest crops, and that there was nothing that looked like life, even in the populous towns. The Daily Chicago American, May 2, 1839, declared that “the whole West was unusually sickly” the preceding fall, that Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana suffered most, but that Illinois was affected only among the Irish laborers along the canal lines.

There were those who felt that the habits of the settlers were as much to blame for prevailing illness as the environment. James Hall of Vandalia, in years to come to be the West’s most famous historian and advocate, took this view. In his address at the first meeting of the Illinois Antiquarian and Historical Society in 1827 he stated that the pioneer’s exposure to the weather, his food — too much meat and not enough fresh vegetables, excessive use of ardent spirits, and lack of attention to simple diseases, were more responsible than the climate.

Again in 1845 came a “disastrous and melancholy sickly season” in the West; the South Bend St. Joseph Valley Register noted that it was the seventh year from the last bad outbreak, as if that explained it.

Granted, this doesn’t say anything about 1851, but it is suggestive of a recurring health issue in this area – and the family did live along Turkey Creek which fed the Elkhart River, emptying in a swampy area a few miles distant.

Margaret Lentz Valentine stone

Margaret’s children with Valentine were:

  • Lucinda born Dec. 13, 1842
  • Samuel born January 7, 1844
  • Jacob Franklin born October 10, 1846
  • Emmanuel born January 15, 1849
  • Mary J. born February 11, 1852

The book Pictorial and Biographical Memoirs of Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties of Indiana published by Goodspeed in 1893 says:

Valentine Whitehead removed to Indiana at an early day, having married Margaret Lentz in Ohio and settled on a woodland farm of 160 acres in Jackson Twp., Elkhart Co, which he did much to improve prior to his death which occurred July 24, 1851. He was a member of the German Baptist church, a democrat in early life and afterward became a Republican in political principles, although he but seldom exercised the privilege of suffrage. Five children were the result of this union, Lucinda wife of Joseph B. Haney was born Dec 13, 1842, Samuel, a carpenter of Goshen was born in 1845, Jacob is a farmer of Bates Co, Missouri, Emanuel of Kosciusko Co., Indiana is married to Elizabeth Ulery by whom he has 4 children, Argus, Jesse, Clayton and Calvin. Mary J., born February 11 1852, is the wife of John D. Ulery. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Whitehead married John D. Miller of New Paris who was born near Dayton Ohio in 1812, a son of David Miller. To her union with Mr. Miller 3 children were born, Evaline, Ira and Perry. Mr. and Mrs. Miller are residents of Jackson Twp., Elkhart Co.

We don’t know how Margaret survived after Valentine’s death. Her children were too young to help on the farm, at least not significantly, the oldest being 9.

However, Margaret’s father-in-law and eight of Valentine’s siblings lived in close proximity, as did some of Margaret’s siblings.

  • Adam Lentz and his wife, Margaret Whitehead were in Elkhart County by 1844 when Margaret Whitehead Lentz died. Adam remarried to Elizabeth Neff in 1845 and remained in Elkhart County until sometime between 1867 and 1870 when he moved on to Macoupin County, Illinois.
  • Benjamin Lentz moved to Elkhart County between 1854 and 1859 and remained until his death in 1903.
  • Margaret’s sister Mary who was married to Henry Overlease (Overleese) moved to Elkhart County between 1852 and 1854. She and Henry moved on to Illinois between 1866 and 1870.
  • If Louis or Lewis Lentz was Margaret’s brother, he was living a couple counties away, in Peru in Miami County – too far away to help Margaret. He moved from Ohio between 1857 and 1859.

Marriage to John David Miller

Five years later, on March 30, 1856, Margaret Lentz Whitehead married the Brethren widower, John David Miller. His wife had died a year earlier, in March of 1855, leaving him with 7 children, ages 4 to 22.

The Lentz and Miller families were both from Montgomery County before arriving in Elkhart County, so not only did they know each other, their families knew each other the generation before as well. Margaret and John David probably knew each other as children and attended the same church, although he was a decade older than Margaret.

Margaret Lentz John David Miller marriage

At the time of their marriage, their living children were stairstepped.

Margaret Lentz blended family

Hester Miller had already married, but the rest of the children were at home when Margaret married John David Miller. They had 11 children living with them between the ages of 4 and 18.

The 1860 census in Elkhart County shows the two families merged.  This census indicates that John David Miller can read and write, but Margaret cannot.

Margaret Lentz 1860 census

It’s no wonder census documents confuse genealogists. This was a blended family and although Margaret’s children from her first marriage are listed last, they are not listed with their Whitehead surname.

Three of Margaret’s children are listed, but two are missing. Jacob Whitehead was born in 1846, so would certainly still be living at home in 1860 as would Samuel who was born in 1844. Where are these children? They aren’t found living with relatives or elsewhere in the county either, and we know they survived to adulthood.

Furthermore, John D. Miller’s age looks for all the world to be 21, but he was 47. Maybe they wrote the 4 and forgot the 7. Lastly, some of the children’s ages are illegible as well, and Martha Miller, who would have been age 13, is missing entirely and we know she lived to marry and have children.

Margaret and John David Miller have had two children of their own by 1860, Louisa Evaline born March 29, 1857, my mother’s grandmother, and Ira, born July 26, 1859.

Margaret Lentz 1870 census

In the 1870 census, the last child born to Margaret and John David Miller, Perry, is also shown. I wonder where they came up with that name? It’s certainly not a family name. Perhaps Brethren naming traditions were changing a bit.

According to Rex Miller, Ira Miller’s grandson, Perry Miller born in 1862 died at the age of 18 from appendicitis, so about 1880.

The 1870 census does not show that Margaret is unable to read and write.

The 1880 census shows Margaret and John Miller with their three youngest children and a Whitehead grandson.

Margaret Lentz 1880 census

The 1880 census indicates that Margaret cannot read and write.

The 1900 census is our last census glimpse of the family before John and Margaret’s deaths. By now, both John and Margaret are elderly, with no children or grandchildren living with them. At their age, I don’t know if that is a blessing or a curse.

Margaret Lentz 1900 census

The 1900 census may hold the key to why 2 of the past 4 census schedules said Margaret could read AND write and 2 said she could not.  In 1900, the categories of read and write are separated and the census says Margaret can read but cannot write, and that she can speak English.  It also tells us that they have been married for 45 years, and that Margaret has had 9 children, with 8 living.

This also gives Margaret’s birth year and month as December 1821 which is a little perplexing because her death certificate gives her year of birth as 1822.

Interestingly enough, they had a boarder who was a medicine peddler. You know there’s a story there!

When Margaret married John David Miller, she moved to his farm. I don’t know what happened to the Valentine Miller land, but it stands to reason that his children would have inherited that land (or the proceeds therefrom) as soon as they were of age.

It’s not like Margaret had far to move.

On the 1874 plat map below, you can see the J. Miller (John David) property abutting the D.B. Miller property, in green. D. B. Miller is John David’s brother, David, based on the 1860 and 1870 census.

Margaret Lentz 1874 Jackson Twp map

You can see on the plat map above that John David Miller’s land was about a mile from the school and a little more than a mile from the church. A section of land is one mile square. The land owned by Margaret and Valentine was about another mile and a half or so further south, not shown on this part of the map.

The Whitehead School was located on the western edge of section 5 and 8. Both the Whitehead and Miller children would have attended this school as it was the only school in the area.  We know from the census that the children attended school.

The Brethren Church on the Whitehead land was the first Brethren Church, other than meeting within members’ homes, in Elkhart County. Margaret Lentz Whitehead and John David Miller would have known each other for decades, and been well acquainted since moving to Elkhart County. John David, I’m sure, was at Valentine Whitehead’s funeral, and Margaret would have attended Mary Miller’s.

I wonder if Margaret and John David’s marriage was one of love or convenience, or maybe a bit of both. It surely stands to reason that with a combined family when they married of 12 children, many of them small, they both needed a spouse badly in a culture and economy where couples shared work and responsibilities. Farming was almost impossible without a helpmate. Someone had to work the land and do the chores, daily, and someone had to cook and clean and watch the children. One person couldn’t do both.

To help put things in perspective, I’ve created the map below which shows the approximate locations of important landmarks.

Margaret Lentz Jackson Twp map

The top arrow is the Baintertown Cemetery, also known as the Rodibaugh Cemetery where most of the early Millers are buried including John David Miller, Margaret Lentz Whitehead Miller and John David’s first wife, Mary Baker. It stands to reason that the child born to Margaret and John David Miller that died is buried here as well, although the grave is not marked.

The bottom arrow is the land where Valentine Miller lived with Margaret Lentz Miller.

The arrow above that is the Whitehead Cemetery, also known as Maple Grove along with Maple Grove Church of the Brethren.  The arrow directly above that at the intersection of 142 and 21 is the location of John David Miller’s land where Margaret Lentz Whitehead Miller lived for more than half of her life.

The house built by John David Miller which incorporates the cabin first built when he first arrived in the 1830s still stands today. This is where Margaret Miller would live for almost half a century, the most stable period of her life, although it got quite “exciting” towards the end.

Margaret Lentz home

This property today is located at 67520 County Road 21, New Paris, Indiana. It sits sideways because the road has been substantially changed since the house was built.

John David Miller Photo

This is the only semi-decent picture we have of either Margaret or John David.

The above people are John David Miller and Margaret Lentz Whitehead Miller seated in the front row. Rear, left to right, Matilda Miller Dubbs, David Miller, Eva Miller Ferverda, Washington Miller and Sarah Jane Miller Blough. Matilda and Washington are children from John David’s first marriage and the other three are Margaret’s children with John David.

Margaret raised the Miller children and was their step-mother for substantially longer than their own mother, Mary Baker, was able to remain on this earth. I think after that long, and after raising step-children as your own, you tend to forget that they are step-children aren’t yours biologically – that is – until something brings it to light…which would happen soon for Margaret.

Margaret Lentz outside home2

These are two traditionally garbed Brethen elders, noting her full length skirt, apron and prayer bonnet and his beard, hat and dark clothing.

Rex Miller allowed me to scan this photo of John David Miller and Margaret by their home. The woman looks to be the same person as above and the part of the house looks to be the center section today, which Rex indicated was the log cabin portion.

Margaret was destined to outlive yet another husband.

John David Miller died on Feb. 10, 1902 of senile gangrene. He wrote his will in 1897, but in 1901, before his death, his son David B. Miller filed an injunction in court asking for a guardian to be provided for his father who, in his words, “had a substantial estate and could no longer manage his affairs.” I can only imagine what a ruckus this must have caused within the family. One knows that there had to be some event or situation arise to cause this level of concern. However, before the case was heard, John David died.

John David had a very controversial will that left everything to Margaret until her death, and then one third of John’s estate was to be divided between Margaret’s nephew and Margaret and John David’s three children, with the balance of two thirds of his estate to be divided among his children by his first wife.

Things don’t always work out as intended. By law, Margaret had the right to one third of his estate as her dower, in fee simple, meaning in full ownership. She elected to take her one third as indicated by the following widow’s election. The balance of John’s estate would them be divided according to the will.

Widow’s election recorded on page 111.

The undersigned widow of John D. Miller decd late of Elkhart County Indiana who died testate and whose last will and testament has been duly admitted to probate and record in the Elkhart Circuit Court hereby make election as such widow to hold and retain her right of dower in the personal estate of said decedent and to hold and retain her right to one third of the lands of which her husband died testate notwithstanding the terms of the said will, and she refuses to accept any devise or provision whatever made by said will in her favor, for, or in lieu of her said statutory right as widow in and to the personal property and real estate of said decedent.

Margaret (x her mark) E. Miller

Margaret was no push-over.

Recorded in Deed Book 108-422, Margaret then sells her dower to Eva Ferverdy, Ira and Miley Miller, Perry A. Miller and Edward E. Whitehead for $2241.66 which is 1/3rd of W ½ of NW ¼ and the N ½ of SE ¼ Section 5 Twp 35 Range 6e on Sept. 25, 1902.  She probably desperately needed that money to live, in the days before social security and retirement benefits of any type.

Later, recorded in book 112-440, the same group who bought the land above sells the land to George and Alice G. Method for $5000.

Margaret died on July 4th, 1903, just 17 months after John David. I’m sure the stress level on the poor woman with the infighting between her children and his children must have been nearly intolerable. Several of the children lived within the community and it’s not like Margaret could ever get away from the situation. It would have followed her to church, which was likely the only place she ever went. I’m sure it was the talk of the community, and it didn’t end until after her death.

Cousin Rex indicated that Perry died at age 18, but he was still alive when his parents died. In fact, Perry died at age 44 on December 22, 1906 in Goshen.

John David’s estate was controversial, to say the least, and eventually the bank became the estate’s administrator. One of the children, Perry, and Margaret’s nephew, Edward Whitehead, had done a great deal in the years before John’s death to help the elderly couple and had never been reimbursed for their efforts or expenses. They submitted receipts to the estate and those charges were disputed by the older set of children by Mary Baker. There was obviously a great deal of resentment between the two sets of children. Finally, in the end, Washington Miller refused to contribute $10 of his portion of the estate (near $1000 in the settlement) for his father’s tombstone. Edward Whitehead, the nephew, paid Washington Miller’s share. That is surely the last, final insult one could inflict on a parent. Edward Whitehead obviously cared a great deal for his uncle by marriage, John David Miller.

The inventory for John David’s estate is as follows, and the widow took everything except the wheat, rye and corn against her 1/3 dower. Otherwise, she would have been left with, literally, an empty house to live in until she died. At that time, all of the estate was considered to be the property of the man, so the contents of their entire house were listed and valued.

Number Items Appraised Value
1 Jewell oak heating stove 4.00
1 Eight day clock .25
1 Sewing machine .05
4 Rocking chairs 1.50
1 Bedstead and spring 1.25
1 Old rag carpet 25 yards .50
1 Bureau 1.00
1 Stand .10
1 Bedstead .05
1 Bedspring and bedding 2.00
1 Rag carpet 15 yards .50
1 Ingrain carpet 15 yards .50
12 Winsor chairs 1.50
1 Dining table .25
1 Cupboard .50
1 Dough tray .25
1 Kitchen sinc .10
1 Hanging lamp .25
1 Pantry safe .50
1 Churn .05
1 Milch trough 1.25
15 Milch crocks .45
1 Lounge .05
1 110 lb lard 11.00
1 Cooking stove and furniture .50
1 Cross cut saw and brush cythe .05
1 Bucksaw .10
1 Log chain .05
1 Horse 3.00
1 Cow 30.00
1 Ladder and maul 1.25
1 Wheelbarrow and ax .75
1 Spring seat .25
30 Chickens 7.50
30 Acres growing wheat land lord ½ 150.00
32 Acres rye landlords 2/5 40.00
66 Bushels corn 38.34
1 Small looking glass .05
A few Old dishes, spoons, knives and forks 1.00
20 Bushels corn in crib 9.00
Total 309.69

This is as close as we’ll ever get to a peek into Margaret’s house. We know from this inventory that she sewed, on a machine, which was valued at 5 cents, the same as a bedstead and half of a kitchen sink. It was worth one fifth of a chicken which was worth a quarter.

Rag carpets were homemade. My mother still made them throughout her lifetime. Ingrain carpets, on the other hand, were commercially made, causing me to wonder about that in a Brethren household too.

By Birmingham Museums Trust – Birmingham Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I learned to sew on an old treadle sewing machine exactly like the one above, which was likely identical to Margaret’s machine. Electricity wasn’t available in farm country in the early 1900s, so a treadle machine which replaced hand sewing was a true luxury. I wonder how well this “convenience” was tolerated by the conservative Brethren who were very resistant to change.

Margaret Lentz Whitehead Miller died on July 4, 1903 and is buried beside John David Miller in Baintertown Cemetery. It’s sad that her last year and several months were spent tied up in a family conflict that I’m sure mentally consumed her waking hours. She made several trips to the courthouse in that time period and she clearly took care of her three Miller children’s interests relative to their father’s estate.

Margaret Lentz signature

On one document located in John David’s estate packet, we find the signatures of Margaret plus her three Miller children. Margaret could not write, so she made her mark, a rather unsteady X.

Perry, Ira and Evaline bought their mother’s dower share of the estate and subsequently sold the land. Margaret did not have a will or an estate, so we don’t know what happened to that money, but I’m suspecting that she distributed it among her children before her death. Her children from her first marriage had already shared in their father’s estate and were already well established.

Margaret Lentz stone

As it turns out, John David’s tombstone was Margaret’s as well, with a small marker on either side for each of his wives.

Margaret Lentz Miller 07

It has always been stated that Margaret’s middle name was Elizabeth, but given that her daughter’s name was Evaline, now I’m wondering…

Margaret’s Children

Recently, Indiana death certificates have become available through Ancestry.  Previously, obtaining a death certificate for someone involved begging, then submitting 2 forms of ID, explaining why you wanted the death certificate, signing a form, swearing you were a direct descendant of that person, and more begging, waiting, and about $30 or so – with nu guarantee of results.  Oh and all while patting the top of your head and rubbing your belly while standing on your head…in a corner…taking a selfie.

Now all you have to do is sign on and search, although the indexing leaves much to be desired.  Death certificates provide us with a unique view of Margaret’s children, at least those who had the good judgement to die in Indiana.  Death certificates begin about 1899 and detecting trends might alert us to a health condition that could be hereditary.  Additionally, most death certificates provide a burial location.

1. Lucinda A. Whitehead, Margaret’s oldest daughter, was born on December 13, 1842 in Montgomery County, Ohio. She died on January 30, 1935 in Milford, Kosciusko County, Indiana, just over the border from Elkhart County at the age of 92 of a cerebral hemorrhage. She married Joseph B. Haney on October 7, 1860 in Elkhart County at the age of 17. He died in 1920.

Margaret Lentz Lucinda Whitehead

According to her death certificate, she was buried in the Baintertown Cemetery, also known as the Rodibaugh Cemetery, where Margaret is buried as well.

Margaret Lentz Lucinda Whitehead death

Lucinda had 4 known children:

  • Emma Rose Haney born in 1861.
  • Allen Ottis Haney born Sept. 24, 1862 in Milford, Kosciusko County, Indiana and died May 8, 1953 in Florida.
  • Harry Haney born in 1864.
  • Cecil Marie Haney born Sept. 4, 1884 in VanBuren, Kosciusko County, Indiana,  died February 9, 1977 in Rochester, Fulton County, Indiana and is buried in the Baintertown Cemetery. Cecil married Bert Eugene Dausman and had daughters:

Dorothy Loretta Dausman (1902-1987) who married Edward Poppenger or Pippinger and had one daughter

Helen Nadine Dausman (1905-1994) who married Joseph Osborn Perkins and had one daughter

Trella B. Dausman (1909-1983) who married Laddie Straka

2. Samuel Whitehead, Margaret’s oldest son, was born June 7, 1844 in Elkhart County, Indiana and died on April 26, 1923 in Goshen, Elkhart County of chronic bronchitis.

Margaret Lentz Samuel Whitehead death

Samuel is buried in the Baintertown Cemetery. He married Henrietta Dietz on November 18, 1865 in Elkhart, Indiana.

Margaret Lentz Samuel Whitehead stone

Samuel and Henrietta had:

  • Lizzie Whitehead (1867-1937)
  • Charlie Whitehead (1869-1939)

Samuel later remarried to Martha J. Vail on March 26, 1874 and they had the following children:

  • Earl R. Whitehead (1875-1945)
  • Mabel J. Whitehead (1883-1953)
  • Ina Whitehead (1886-1971)
  • Hazel Whitehead (1888-1958)
  • Ross Whitehead (1889-1958)
  • Boyd A. Whitehead (1894-1968)
  • Carlisle Whitehead (1897-1967)

3. Jacob Franklin Whitehead, Margaret’s second son, was born October 10, 1846 in Elkhart County and died on April 1, 1932, in Adrian, Bates County, Missouri where his uncle, Adam Lentz had settled. He is buried in the Crescent Hill, Cemetery He married Eva Bowser (1847-1933) on May 21, 1865 in Elkhart County.

Margaret Lentz Jacob Whitehead stone

They had:

  • John Bertus Whitehead (1879-1961)
  • Charles Whitehead born 1872
  • Maggie Whitehead born 1875
  • Claudie Whitehead born 1883

4. Emmanual Whitehead, Margaret’s third son, was born January 15, 1849 in Elkhart County, died on April 10, 1924 in Kosciusko County, Indiana and is buried in the Salem Cemetery.

Margaret Lentz Emanuel Whitehead stone

Emmanuel married Elizabeth Ullery on November 26, 1871 in Elkhart County, Indiana and they had:

  • Argus Burtis Whitehead (1875-1962)
  • Jessie Whitehead born (1877-1947)
  • Clayton S. Whitehead born (1879-1949)
  • Calvin E. Whitehead (1881-1971)

Margaret Lentz Emanual Whitehead history

Emmanual Whitehead remarried on February 9, 1900 to Sarah Foster (1856-1940).

5. Mary Jane Whitehead, Margaret’s second daughter and last child by Valentine Whitehead, was born February 11, 1852. She died on Sept. 30, 1930 in Nappanee, Elkhart County, Indiana of angina pectoritis and was buried at the Union Center Brethren Church cemetery.

Margaret Lentz Mary Jane Whitehead death

Mary Jane married John D. Ullery (1846-1928) on March 10, 1872 in Elkhart, Indiana.

They had:

  • Edward W. Ulery (1872-1942)
  • Margaret Elizabeth Ulery (1874-1959) and married Albert Mutschler on June 10, 1897 in Elkhart County, Indiana. They had one daughter:

Mary L. born July 1898

  • David Leatherman, an adopted son, who died in 1903

It’s somehow ironic that my line of the family never heard the “shipwreck story” of Jacob and Fredericka Lentz, but buried in the John Ulery biography we find that same story, handed down for posterity – but somehow never making it to the current generation.

From the book, Pictorial and Biographical Memoirs of Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties, Indiana; Chicago, Goodspeed Brothers; 1893:

JOHN D. ULERY. During the forty-six years that have passed over the head of the gentleman whose name stands at the head of this sketch, he has witnessed a wonderful transformation in Elkhart county, and during all these years he has been an active observer of the trend of events. He has not been merely a “looker on in Venice,” but a citizen who has, through his enterprise, his integrity and his public ¬spirit, contributed his full share to the magnificent development of the section in which he resides. He comes of an honored ancestry, for the well-known old pioneer, Daniel Ulery, was his father, from whom he inherited many of his most worthy characteristics. He was the third of his children and first saw the light of day on the old home farm in Union township, February 3, 1846, and like the majority of farmer’s boys of that region, obtained his initiatory education in what was known far and near as the Ulery School. This he alternated with tilling the soil until he had almost attained man’s estate, when he quit school to devote his attention to agricultural pursuits, which calling occupied his time and attention until he was about twenty-seven years of age. He then, on March 10, 1872, united his fortunes with those of Mary J. Whitehead, who was the youngest child born to Valentine and Margaret (Lentz) Whitehead; the former was a son of Valentine and Elizabeth (Rodebaugh) Whitehead, who were of German descent and were early pioneers of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Valentine lost his wife, Elizabeth, in Ohio, after which he removed to the Hoosier State and died in Elkhart county in 1867, at which time he was a retired farmer and nearly ninety years of age. He was the father of eleven children, all of whom are dead, with the exception of three: Louis, Peter and David. Valentine, one of the children of the above mentioned family, was the father of Mrs. John Ulery. He removed to Indiana at an early day, having mar¬ried Margaret Lentz, in Ohio, and settled on a woodland farm of 160 acres in Jackson township, Elkhart county, which he did much to improve prior to his death, which occurred on July 24, 1851. He was a member of the German Baptist Church, a Democrat in early life and afterward became a Republican in political principle, although he but seldom exercised the privilege of suffrage. Five children were the result of his union: Lucinda, wife of Joseph B. Haney, was born December 13, 1842; Samuel, a carpenter of Goshen, was born in 1845; Jacob is a farmer of Bates county, Mo.; Emanuel, of Kosciusko county, Ind., is married to Elizabeth Ulery, by whom he has four children–Argus, Jesse, Clayton and Calvin; Mary J. is the wife of John D. Ulery. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Whitehead married John D. Miller, of New Paris, who was born near Dayton, Ohio, in 1812, a son of David Miller (a more complete sketch of this gentleman is found in the sketch of David B. Miller). He has resided for years in the vicinity of New Paris, where he is highly honored and esteemed. Mrs. Miller is now seventy-one years of age, but is still healthy and active. To her union with Mr. Miller three children were given: Evaline, Ira and Perry. Mr, and Mrs. Miller are residents of Jackson township, Elkhart county. Mrs. John D. Ulery was born in this county, February 11, 1852, and has presented her husband with two children : Edward W., born December 13, 1872, who has the principal charge of the home farm and is a steady, kindly and intelligent young man, and Lizzie, who was born November 28, 1874, and is an accomplished young lady. Mr. Ulery is classed among the foremost citizens of Union township, and is at the head of his business, owing to the energy and en¬terprise he has displayed. He owns an exceptionally fertile farm of 135 acres, on which are probably the best buildings of any farm in the township. He is a man of wealth and owns an interest in the Nappanee Furniture Company, as well as in other paying interests. He has followed in his father’s footsteps in regard to meeting with accidents, as well as in other respects, for on July 4, 1881, he was badly injured by a reaping machine and for about a year thereafter was an invalid. He is deservedly classed among the public-spirited and intelligent men of the county and is warm personal friends can be numbered by the score. Mrs. Ulery is a member of the German Baptist Church. Her maternal grandfather came to this country at an early day, having started from his native land a rich man. The voyage by water occupied nine months, and upon landing he found himself without means, owing to the tyranny and dishonesty of the captain of the vessel. On this voyage some three hundred souls died. Mr. and Mrs. Ulery took to rear as their own child, David A. Leatherman, who, at that time was six years of age, and the orphan son of John and Elizabeth Leatherman, gave him every advantage and provided means for him to graduate from the University at Valparaiso, Ind. He is a young man of much promise and at the present time is a traveling man. He remained with his foster parents until he was twenty years old and still holds them in grateful and honored remembrance, for they proved to him a friend in his need and were always as kind and thoughtful of his wants as though he were one of their own family. This is but one instance of the many kind and disinterested actions done by Mr. Ulery in his walk through life, and clearly indicated the true character of the man.

Margaret Lentz had 4 children with John David Miller, three of whom lived. We don’t know the name of the 4th child or when they were born, although I suspect 1861. John David’s obituary says that 4 children were born to Margaret and John David, 3 of whom survive, which is also confirmed by the 1900 census.

6. Evaline Louis Miller, Margaret’s first child with John David Miller was born March 29, 1857 in Elkhart County, Indiana and died on December 20, 1939 in Leesburg, Kosciusko County, Indiana of an inflammation of the heart (acute myocarditis) following a 3 month kidney infection (nephritis).

Margaret Lentz Evaline Miller Ferverda death

She is buried in the Salem Brethren Church cemetery.

Hiram and Eva Ferverda stone

Evaline married to Hiram B. Ferverda on March 10, 1876 in Goshen, Indiana.

Ferverda family

The photo above is Eva Miller Ferverda with her husband Hiram and their entire family, including my grandfather John Ferverda, 2nd from right in the rear. Hiram died in 1925, and their youngest child was born in 1902, so I’d estimate that this photo was taken close to 1920, or perhaps slightly earlier, based on the WWI stars in the window and a son in uniform.

Evaline Louise Miller Ferverda had 11 children:

  • Ira Otta Ferverda (1877-1950) who married Ada Pearl Frederickson.
  • Edith Estella Ferverda (1879-1955) who married Tom Dye. They had the following daughter:

Ruth Dye

  • Irvin Guy Ferverda (1881-1933) who married Jessie Hartman.
  • John Whitney Ferverda (1882-1962) who married Edith Barbara Lore.
  • Elizabeth Gertrude Ferverda (1884-1966) who married Louis Hartman and had the following daughters.

Louisa Hartman married Ora Tenney

Helen Tenney married Norman Nine

Lisa Nine

Roberta Hartman married Rulo Frush

Carol Frush married William Slaymaker

Nadine Slaymaker

                              Nancy Slaymaker

  • Chloe Evaline Ferverda (1886-1984) and married Rolland Robinson and had one daughter:

Charlotte Robinson married Bruce Howard

Susan Howard married Richard Higg

Mary Carol Howard married David Bryan

Kerrie Bryan

Julie Bryan

Sally Howard

  • Ray Edward Ferverda (1891-1975) who married Grace Driver.
  • Roscoe H. Ferverda (1893-1978) who married Effie Ringo and Ruby Mae Teeter.
  • George Miller Ferverda (1885-1970) who married Lois Glant.
  • Donald D. Ferverda (1899-1937) who married Agnes Ruple.
  • Margaret Ferverda (1902-1984) who married Chester Glant and had the following daughters:

Mary Glant married Varrill Wigner.

Kari Anne Wigner

Joyce Ann Glant married Delferd Zimmerman

Nancy Zimmerman

                      Beth Zimmerman

7. Ira J. Miller, Margaret’s 2nd child with John David Miller was born July 26, 1859 in Elkhart County and died on December 17, 1948 in Elkhart County of coronary breast disease.

Ira Miller death cert

Ira is buried in the Baintertown Cemetery.

Margaret Lentz Ira Miller stone

Ira married Rebecca Rodibaugh on November 23, 1882 in Elkhart and they had the following child:

  • Everett Miller born 1897

Margaret Lentz Ira Miller

The above photo is Ira J. Miller with his wife, Rebecca. The photo below includes Ira Miller and his sister, Evaline Louise Miller Ferverda.

Margaret Lentz Ira and Evaline Miller

Last row, rear left to right, Rebecca Rodibaugh Miller, Ira Miller, one of Eva Miller Ferverda’s children,

Middle row, Eva Miller’s child, Eva Miller Ferverda

Front row, Mame Smoker Miller and Everett Miller (son of Ira.)

8. Perry Miller, Margaret’s final surviving child was born on June 25, 1862 in Elkhart County and died on December 22, 1906 in Goshen, Indiana of a bowel obstruction.

Perry Miller death cert

Perry buried in the Violett Cemetery in Goshen.

Margaret Lentz Perry Miller stone

Perry married Mary Jane Lauer on October 2, 1881 in Elkhart, Indiana and they had the following children:

  • Maud Miller born 1882-1902, buried with her parents
  • Purl Miller born 1885-1960, a painter, buried in the Violett Cemetery
  • Otto M. (Ottie) Miller born 1889-1976, a railroad engineer

DNA – Mitochondrial and Autosomal

You’d think with all of the people who descend from Margaret, someone who descends through all females would have taken a mitochondrial DNA test, but apparently not. If anyone has, please let me know.

If you haven’t and you descend from Margaret through all females to the current generation, where males can test too, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!

The individuals bolded in the section above descend through Margaret Lentz Whitehead Miller through all females.  These individuals or their descendants through all females from Margaret carry Margaret’s mitochondrial DNA and are eligible to test.

Testing for Margaret’s mitochondrial DNA will tell us about her deep ancestry and help us learn the path our ancestors took to and through Europe.

Margaret still has more secrets to reveal about herself.

Identifying Lentz DNA vs Miller DNA

One of the challenges we have in genetic genealogy is that when we autosomally test descendants of couples, like Margaret Lentz and John David Miller, we can’t tell which DNA comes from which parent.

However, because Margaret had children with a different husband, Valentine Whitehead, if some of the descendants of Margaret’s children with Valentine were to take an autosomal DNA test and they match the DNA of the descendants of Margaret through John David Miller – then we’ll know that the matching DNA comes from the Margaret’s Lentz line and not the Miller line.

Anyone descended from Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Reuhle Lentz through children other than Margaret who have DNA tested and match the descendants of Margaret and John David Miller – that DNA is also Lentz DNA as distinguished from Miller DNA.

Let’s do a little experiment to see if we can isolate snippets of Margaret Lentz’s DNA.

I have 4 people who have tested that are descendants of Margaret Lentz Miller, all through her children with John David Miller. I have two Lentz males who have tested that descend from different sons of Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Reuhle. People in the bottom row are all testers.

Margaret Lentz chart

Benjamin, Margaret and George Lentz are siblings. The relationship of the people in the pink box to the descendants of Benjamin and George in the next generation are 1st cousins. Within the pink box, the relationship is different. Evaline and Ira are siblings, but Evaline and Ira are 1st cousins to both Whitney and Ira (son of George) as are Ira (son of George) and Whitney to each other.

Let’s see if any of the two Lentz males match the DNA of the 4 descendants of Margaret Lentz Miller. If so, those matching segments would have been inherited from Margaret Lentz by her children.

In order to do this easily, we’re going to run the chromosome browser at Family Tree DNA for each of the Lentz men, William and C., individually, against all 4 of the people who descend from Margaret Lentz.

Ironically, the two Lentz males, William and C. Lentz, don’t match each other above the vendor’s testing threshold, but do match each of the other 4 individuals.

William and C. Lentz do, however, match each other on 3 segments above 6cM at GedMatch where you can adjust the matching thresholds.

Margaret Lentz Gedmatch

After selecting the four pink descendants of Margaret and comparing on the chromosome browser to each of the Lentz men, we’re going to download their matching segments to each of the Lentz men and drop those results into a common spreadsheet.

In this example, I’m using William Lentz as the background person we’re comparing against, and the 4 pink testers who descend from Margaret Lentz Miller are the 4 people being compared to William.  On William’s chromosome displayed below:

  • Rex=orange
  • Barbara=blue
  • Cheryl=green
  • Don=bright pink

Margaret Lentz chr browser

At the top of the chromosome browser you’ll see a selection on the left side next to the Chromosome Browser Tutorial that says “download to Excel (CSV format).” That selection will only download matching segments of the people you’re comparing, so I made that selection.

Margaret Lentz chr browser2

I repeated the process for C. Lentz as compared to these same 4 pink people, and combined the results into one spreadsheet where I color coded the results of the two Lentz men differently and deleted the segments below 3cM. C. Lentz is blue and William Lentz is apricot.

Margaret Lentz William and C

This chart took my breath away. We are literally looking at segments of Margaret Lentz’s DNA inherited by her descendants (assuming there no other family connection between these individuals.)

Let’s sort this in segment and chromosome order and see what we come up with.

Each of these rows is able to “stand alone” since we already know how these individuals are related.  They are closely related, 3rd cousins, and we’re trying to see which of their DNA is from a common source – meaning the Lentz DNA from Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Reuhl.

However, even though these individual matches work, due to the close known relationships, triangulation groups are always preferable.  But first, let’s look at matching groups.

Margaret Lentz match groups

In the chart above, I colored the 5 columns beginning with chromosome green when there is more than one match that includes any part of the same segment. Remember, we can’t see triangulation on this spreadsheet, because we only looking at matches to William and C. Lentz individually. These are just match groups at this point.

I added the column “Match Set” so that you can easily see the different matching groups. Because the green color used to indicate matching groups butts up against neighboring groups, it’s difficult to tell where one group ends and the next begins, so I’ve indicated that in the “Match Set” column by labeling each matching set of DNA.

The yellow match sets aren’t to siblings and may well triangulate.  The match sets colored green in the Match Set column are to both Don and Cheryl, who are siblings, and you can’t count matches to siblings in triangulation groups.

  • A match is when any two people match – like Barbara and William Lentz.
  • A match set is when any two pairs match on the same segment.
  • Triangulation occurs when any three people match on any portion of the same segment of DNA AND share a known common ancestor. Without the known ancestor or ancestral line, it’s just a match set.

Match set 1 doesn’t count as triangulation because William matches Don and Cheryl both who are siblings. Triangulation needs to occur between more distant matches.

Match set 2, which is yellow, could triangulate. To verify triangulation, we need to verify that Barbara matches Don on this part of the same segment.

I went back to Barbara’s chromosome browser and indeed, she does match Don on part of this same segment.  This segment does triangulate, as shown below – because all three people match each other on a portion of this same segment.

Margaret Lentz triangulation

The actual overlapping segment between all three individuals is from 121,679, 417 through 128,527,507 for probably about 6cM.

Of course, now if I could just find a Lenz descendant from upstream of Jacob, or a Reuhl upstream of Fredericka that matches some of these folks, I could determine if Margaret’s DNA is Lenz (Lentz) or Reuhl.

If you’re thinking this could go on forever, you’re right – except that the further out in time, the less likely to find a match, let alone on a common segment. It’s a genetic genealogical end of line instead of a more traditional one. What a fun challenge though.  And hey, there’s always hope that someone from Germany or another line that immigrated will test and match. That’s the beauty of DNA. You can learn from autosomal matches, Y DNA matches and mitochondrial as well, so you have three genetic educational opportunities for each ancestor.


Margaret’s early life is shrouded in a bit of mystery, other than we know she was born in Pennsylvania and was raised Brethren. Her first entrance on her own is when she married on her 18th birthday. Celebration or rebellion, or both? We’ll never know, but marrying ON her 18th birthday does cause the question to be asked.

Margaret’s life seemed to be typical in every way, which for women of that timeframe means we find them in census records and not much else. However, that would change in July of 1851 when her husband, Valentine Whitehead, suddenly died.

Margaret was just two months pregnant at that time with her 5th child, a daughter that would never meet her father. Margaret probably farmed for the next 5 years as best she could, in addition to being a mother to her children. Yes, she had the resources of the Brethren community, but the fact that she did not hurriedly remarry suggests she might have been far more independent that most women of her time. She also didn’t sell out and go back home, to Ohio, to her parents. That must have been a temptation for a young widow under 30 with 5 children. Was she simply that iron-willed, resilient and determined?

Five years later, Margaret remarried to John David Miller. They combined their 12 children into a blended family and added 3 more of their own, for a total of 15 altogether. If the photo of John David and Margaret indeed is in front of the cabin portion of their home, they did not add on during their lifetime and lived in just the cabin portion – a small house for such a large family.

John David’s obituary tells us that Margaret had 4 children after their marriage, but only 3 survived. There was a span of 3 years between Ira and Perry, so the child who died was likely born in 1861. There are no candidate children buried either at Baintertown or in the Whitehead Cemetery, but many graves don’t have markers. It appears that Mary Baker Miller didn’t have a marker until John David Miller died, more than 50 years later.

However, looking at the births of Margaret’s children, she may have had one more. Her first child wasn’t born for 2 years after she was married – something almost unheard of at that time. She could well have had a first child that died and Lucinda, born two weeks shy of Margaret’s 20th birthday could have been her second child.  The 1900 census doesn’t reflect that in the number of birthed vs living children, but the census has been known to be incorrect.

Margaret may have buried her first child in the Happy Corners cemetery where her parents would later rest. If so, that grave too is unmarked.

Margaret bore her last child when she was just 6 months shy of her 40th birthday.

By the sunset years of Margaret’s life, her 8 children who survived childhood gave her 38 known grandchildren, at least one and likely seven whose funerals she attended. Multiple grandchildren are noted once in the census, and then no more. There were likely additional grandchildren born who didn’t live long enough for a census to be taken. Unfortunately, losing multiple children was a way of life and expected before the era of modern medicine, in particular, antibiotics.

Margaret and John David Miller both lived to be quite elderly. He apparently became senile before he died, just shy of his 90th birthday and Margaret died not long afterwards of progressive heart disease.

Unfortunately, the blended family that seemed to work so well, from outward appearances anyway, came unraveled before John’s death. His children from his first marriage petitioned the court for guardianship, which appears to have driven a significant wedge between the two sets of children. That rift never healed, and in fact, became worse after John David’s death, pushing Margaret to the point where she withdrew her dower rights from John’s estate, deeding that third to her Miller children. John’s children from his first marriage would have been far better to let the will stand uncontested, but they didn’t.

It’s through this contested will that we discover that while Margaret’s children can read and write, she cannot – or at least she can’t at 80 years of age. We don’t know if she could have signed her name when she was younger.

Margaret was no pushover – and if those 7 Miller children thought they could push their elderly step-mother around, they were wrong. I bet both John David’s and Margaret’s funerals were “interesting,” to say the least, given the division within the family.  John David’s funeral was at the house, not the church, so I’d wager that Margaret’s funeral took place at home too.  I have to wonder what she might have thought, watching from above.  Was she chuckling to herself, or was she angry?

Even at her advanced age and in ill health, it appears that Margaret was still something of a spit-fire. She didn’t let her Brethren religion keep her from going to the courthouse and taking care of business several times in her last year.

Margaret died of hydro pericardium, an accumulation of fluid in the membrane that surrounds the heart. She also had mitral incompetency which means the mitral valve of the heart does not close properly, eventually causing congestive heart failure.

Margaret Lentz death

This ailment would not have manifested itself suddenly. It’s likely that as she cared for her aging husband, she was short of breath herself. As the stressful situation following his death unfolded, her health was worsening as well.

Margaret passed away on the 4th of July. Independence Day indeed!  Margaret’s death leaves me wondering once again if this was her way of making a triumphant exit statement, much as her marriage on her 18th birthday was her grand entrance.

I suspect that Margaret was part rebel, in spite of her Brethren upbringing.  In any case, she appeared to be a lot more independent  than was acceptable for Brethren girls or women – and it showed from time to time!

Perhaps I came by that trait honestly and it’s carried from generation to generation in some of those DNA segments!

Concepts – Parental Phasing

I recently used a technique called parental phasing as part of the proof that one Curtis Lore found in Pennsylvania was the same person as Curtis Benjamin Lore, found later in Indiana.  Given that I’ve already used parental phasing as part of a proof argument, I’d like to break it down further and explain the concepts behind parental phasing, what it is, why it is so important, and why it works so well.

For those of you who don’t have at least one parent available to test, I’m truly sorry, and not just because of the lost DNA opportunity. But please do read this article, because you may be able to substitute other family members and derive at least some of the benefits, although clearly not all.

What is Parental Phasing?

The fundamental concept of parental phasing is that the only way you can obtain your DNA is through one or the other of your parents, so every one of your matches should match you plus one of your parents. Right?

Should, yes, but that’s not exactly how autosomal matching works in real life.

You can match someone in one of two ways:

  1. Because you received the matching segment from one of your two parents, and they received that same segment from one of their two parents, a circumstance that is called identical by descent or IBD.
  2. Because your match’s DNA is zigzagging back and forth between the DNA you inherited from both of your parents, or your DNA is zigzagging back and forth between their parents, either of which is called identical by chance or IBC.

I wrote about his in the article titled, Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance.

Here’s the matching “Identical By” cheat sheet since you may find it helpful in this article as well.

Identical by Chart

How Does Parental Phasing Work?

Parental phasing works by comparing your DNA against your matches DNA, then comparing your matches DNA against your parents DNA, and telling you which, if either, or both, parents they match in addition to you. Oh yes, and there’s one more tiny tidbit – they must match you and your parent(s) on the same segment(s).

As bizarre as it sounds, sometimes your match will match you on one segment, and match your parents on an entirely different segment.  While this was not an expected finding, it does happen, and frequently enough that it was found in every parental phasing test run – so it’s not an anomaly or something so rare you won’t see it.

Therefore, parental phasing may be a two part process, where:

  • Step 1 is determining whether or not your match matches either or both of your parents.
  • Step 2 is determining if your match matches you and your parent on the same segment(s), or at least part of the same segment? If not, then it’s not a phased IBD match – even though they do match you and your parent.

Conceptually, each of your matches will fall nice and cleanly into one, or both, of your parent’s buckets. Let’s look at a couple of examples.  For each of the people who match you, they will also match your parents on the same segment as follows:

Match Matches Your Mother Matches Your Father Matches Neither Parent Comment
Susie Yes No From Mom’s side, IBD
John No Yes From Dad’s side, IBD
Bob Yes Yes Matches both parents lines, IBD and may be IBP
Roxanne No No Yes Identical by Chance, IBC

Please Note: Your match list will change if you change your matching threshold, and so will your phased matches to your parents.  In other words, while someone might not match you and a parent both on the same segment at 15cM, you might well match on a common segment at a 10, 7 or 5cM threshold.

So in essence, parental phasing puts your matches into very useful buckets for you and helps eliminate false positives – or matches that appear real but aren’t.

How Can Someone Match Me But Not My Parents?

That’s a really good question. Sometimes you match someone because you received common DNA from an ancestor, through your parents, which means you’re identical by descent (IBD), a legitimate genealogical match.  But other times, you match someone just by chance because their DNA is matching pieces of both of your parents’ DNA, and not because you actually share a common ancestor.

Let’s take a look.

This first graphic shows you with an identical by descent match to your match’s father’s DNA. Your match’s father shares a common relative with (at least) one of your mother’s lines.

Phase IBD

In the most basic terms, an identical by descend (IBD) match looks like this, where your match is matching you on one of your parent’s strands of DNA. Both matching strands are colored green in this example.

Of course, your DNA does not come labeled as to which side is mother’s and which side is father’s. You can read more about that here. If it did, we wouldn’t even need to be having this discussion at all – because that’s what parental phasing does.  It tells you which side of your family your DNA match came from.

You can see in the above example that you and your match both share an actual strand of DNA. You inherited yours from your Mom and your match inherited theirs from their Dad, which means your Mom and their Dad share a common ancestor.  However, to be able to discern that fact, that your Mom and your match’s Dad share a common ancestor, you need to be able to phase the DNA of both you and your match to know which parent that strand came from.

In reality, your DNA and their DNA is entirely mixed in each of you, shown in the chart below, and without additional information, neither of you will know which strand of DNA you match on, or who you inherited it from.  Initially, you will only know THAT you match.

Phase IBD2

So here’s what your DNA really looks like. It’s up to the DNA matching software to look at the two strands of your DNA that’s mixed together, and the two strands of your match’s DNA that’s mixed together and see if there is a common grouping of DNA at each location that extends for at least 10 locations in length, which is the “threshold” for our example that signifies a match that is likely to be “real” versus IBC, or identical by chance.  In my example, that common grouping is the green “Matching Portions” column, above.

An identical by chance match looks like the chart below. You can see that the green matching DNA is zigzagging back and forth between your parents’ DNA.

Phase IBC

It can even be worse where your match’s Mom’s and Dad’s DNA is also zigzagging back and forth, but you can certainly get the idea that there are all kinds of ways to NOT match but only three ways to legitimately match – Mom’s side, Dad’s side, or both.

So you can see that indeed, you do technically match, but not because you share a DNA segment of any size with one parent, but because your match’s DNA matches part of your Mom’s DNA and part of your Dad’s, which means that DNA segment does NOT come from one common ancestor, meaning not IBD. However, the matching software can’t tell the difference, because your strands aren’t coded to Mom and Dad.

What parental phasing does is to assign your matches to “sides” or buckets based on whether they match your Mom or Dad in addition to you.

One Parent Matches

In my case, I only have one parent whose DNA is available. Therefore, all of my matches will either match both my mother and me, or not.  The balance that do not match me and my mother, both, will either match to my father or will be IBC, identical by chance matches.  Unfortunately, just by utilizing one-parent phasing, I can’t tell if the “non-Mom” matches are really to my father or are IBC.

Let’s look at an example.

Match Mom’s Side Dad or IBC Comment
Denny Yes Probably not Mom’s side, could also match on Dad’s side but we have no way to tell. My parents lines come from different parts of the world except that they both married into Native American lines.
Sally No Yes Can’t tell whether Dad’s side or IBC
Derrell No Yes Also matches cousin on Dad’s side on same segments, so Derrell is assigned to Dad’s side pending triangulation.

By using the ICW tool at Family Tree DNA, shown below, I can see who matches me and my matches, both – in this case, me and my mother.

No Parent Matches

If I have no parents in the system, but several other close family members, like uncles or cousins, I can easily see who else I match in common with my match.

In other words, without my mother to match, Denny will either match my Mom’s side family members, and I can tentatively group him there, my Dad’s side family members, and I can tentatively group him there, or neither, in which case I can’t do anything with him except note that fact.

An Example

I’m going to use my proven cousin Denny for my examples, because that’s who I used in my Curtis Lore case study and our connection is proven both genetically and genealogically.

Here’s Denny’s match list. My mother is Denny’s closest match and I’m his second closest.

Phase match list

Therefore, I can use the ICW technique to effectively put my matches into buckets that divide my DNA in half, if I have both parents.

If I have one parent, I can fill one bucket for sure by putting everyone who matches both my mother and me into the “mother” bucket. The balance will be in the “Father +IBC” bucket.

This is easy to do at Family Tree DNA by using the crossed arrow ICW tool to find everyone who matches me in common with my mother.

Phase iCW

If I don’t have either parent, but I have an uncle or a cousin, I can still assign some matches to buckets by utilizing this same ICW tool. What I can’t do without both parents is to eliminate IBC or identical by chance matches from my match list.  I need both parents or at least well fleshed out match groups to do that.  There are examples of using match groups to identify IBC matches in the article, Identical By…Descent, Chance, Population and State.

Furthermore, I will need to download my match lists for both my mother and myself to verify that each person matches both my mother and myself on a common segment.

Testing the Theory

Let’s use my real life example and see how this works. I’m going to utilize three generations, because this gives us the ability to see the parental phasing work twice.  In this illustration, below, four people have tested, Denny, Mother, Me and My Child.

Phase pedigree

Denny and my child, who are 3rd cousins once removed, match on the following DNA segments, utilizing the Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.  We are comparing against Denny, meaning he is the “background” black chromosome.  The orange illustrates where my child matches Denny.

Phase browser denny child

There are no matching segments on chromosomes 18-22.  I have not included X chromosome matching.

Here’s the same information in chart format.

Phase chart denny child

You can see that Denny and my child have several fairly significant segment matches, along with some smaller ones too. The question is, which of those segments are legitimate, meaning IBD and which are not, meaning IBC?

Let’s phase my child against my DNA and see which of these segment matches hold up.

My child is orange, and I am blue and we are both matching against cousin Denny.

phase browser denny child me

As you can see, many of those segments are legitimate because Denny matches both me and my child on the same segments. So they are not IBC, or identical by chance, but IBD, identical, literally, by descent – because my child received them from me.

In some cases, Denny matches only me, blue, which is fine because all that means is that either our matches are IBC or I didn’t pass that DNA to my child. Both matches on chromosome 3 are to me (blue) and not to my child (orange).

However, in the cases where Denny matches my child (orange,) and not me (blue,) on the same segments, that means that either Denny and my child share an ancestor that is through my child’s father or the matches are IBC.  Those matches are not through me.  In other words, those segments did not pass phasing.  You can see examples of that on chromosomes 1, 4 and 14, and partial matches on 11 and 12.

Chromosome 16 shows a really good example of a crossover event where my child, orange, received part of my DNA, blue, but about half way through my segment, it was divided and my child inherited part of mine and the other half from their father.  So, visually, you can see that my child only matches Denny on about half of the segment where I match Denny.

Matches Spreadsheet

I downloaded the results of both Denny’s matches to me and Denny’s matches to my child into one Matches Spreadsheet and have color coded them so that you can see the relationships.  If Denny matches both me and my child, you will see a common segment on that chromosome for both me and my child in the spreadsheet.  Rows where Denny matches my child are light orange and rows where Denny matches me are light blue, similar to the chromosome browser colors.

Denny Me Child

There are only three possible conditions and I have colored the chromosome column accordingly:

  • Denny matches me only – dark teal – may be a legitimate match but we don’t have enough information to tell at this point
  • Denny matches my child only, but not me – red – NOT a legitimate match – identical by chance (IBC)
  • Denny matches me and my child both – boxed green – a legitimate identical by descent (IBD) match

You’ll note that some of these matches are exact. For example on the first matching segment of chromosome 2, below, my child received this entire segment of my DNA.  It was not divided at all.

Denny Me Child 2

However, in the next two matching groups on chromosome 2, my child received most of the DNA I share with Denny, but some was shaved off, but not half.

Denny Me Child 2 shaved

On chromosome 16, my child received almost exactly half of the DNA segment that I share with Denny.

Denny Me Child 16

On chromosomes 11 and 17, my child shares more DNA with Denny than I do, which means that all of that DNA isn’t ancestral though me. In this case, either there are some fuzzy boundaries, a read error, part of the DNA is IBD and part is IBC or part of the DNA is matching through both parents.

Denny Me Child 17 c

On chromosome 14, I match Denny, but my child received none of that DNA, which is why I’ve added the color teal.

Denny Me Child 14 c

Now, let’s phase me against my mother and see how the DNA matches hold up in a third generation.

Adding the Next Generation

The view of the chromosome browser below shows Denny matching my child, in orange, me in blue and my mother in green.

Amazingly, many of these segments follow through all three generations.

phase browser denny child me mother

Let’s see how the various matches stacked up, pardon the pun.

I’ve added Denny’s matches to mother to the Matches Spreadsheet and her rows are colored green.

On the Matches Spreadsheet from the first example, there were several segments where Denny matched only me and not my child. They were colored teal.  In the chart below, so we can track those segments, I have colored them teal in the matchname column, and you can see the resolution of how they did or didn’t survive phasing against my mother in the chromosome column.

Of those 11 segments, 2 phased with my mother, the rest did not. That makes sense, since none of those are segments I passed on to my child, so they would be more likely to be IBC.

Denny me Child Mom SS

The legend for the spreadsheet above is as follows:

  • Dark teal in chromosome column – Denny matches Mom only – may be a legitimate match but we don’t have enough information to know (chromosomes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12 and 15)
  • Dark teal in matchname column, plus red in chromosome column – previously Denny matched only me, now I do not phase against my mother, so this is an IBC match (chromosomes 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 17)
  • Dark teal in matchname column, plus green box in chromosome column – previously Denny only matched me, but now this segment is parentally phased and considered legitimate (chromosomes 2 and 10)
  • Red in chromosome column – does not phase against parent, so not a legitimate match – IBC (chromosomes 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 17)
  • Green box indicates a phased match – considered IBD and legitimate (chromosomes 1, 2, 10, 14, 15, 16 and 17)


*So what the heck happened with chromosome 11?

In the first example, this segment received a green box because Denny matched both me and my child on a partial segment, which means that partial segment is phased and considered legitimate.

denny me child mom ss 11 grn

When we moved to the next generation, phasing against my mother, Denny does not match my mother on this segment, so it could NOT have arrived in me and my child via my mother, so it is not IBD, even though it appeared that way initially. Because of this, I’ve changed the box color to red for a non-IBD match.

Denny me Child Mom SS 11

How could this happen?

First, it’s a very small segment overlap match, and second, Denny matched more to my child than to me, which is a neon warning sign that this segment match is suspect, especially those two conditions in combination with each other.

Here’s an example of how, genetically, a match could phase with a parent in one generation, but not hold into the next generation.

phase n o phase

This match matches both me and my child (gold), but not my mother, who has no gold. As you can see, the match does accrue 10 gold location matches in a row, but not 10 green ones, so doesn’t match my mother.  The larger the number of locations in a row required to be considered a match, the less likely this type of random matching will be to occur.

This is both the purpose and the quandry of thresholds.  Finding that sweet spot that doesn’t eliminate real matches, but is high enough to be useful in eliminating false positive (IBC) matches.  And I can tell you, there are just about as many opinions on what that threshold number should be as there are people giving opinions – and everyone seems to have one!  You can read more about this in the article, Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Segment Survival

Let’s take a look and see how many of which size segments survived parental phasing.  Are some of those smaller segments legitimate matches, or did we lose them in phasing?

The chart below shows the results in segment size order, color coded as follows:

  • Red = segments that did not phase and were IBC
  • Teal = segments that match Mom only and may or may not be valid. We don’t have any way to know without additional matches.
  • Green = segments that phased and are IBD

Phased cMs by size

As you would expect, all of the larger segments phased, but surprisingly, so did several of the smaller segments, through three generations.

Given the fact that teal matches did not phase, for the most part, in the previous example, and given that the teal segments are mostly small, my suspicion would be that most of  these teal segments would not phase (with the probable exception of the 10.27 cm segment), if we have the opportunity to find out – which we don’t.

This example is for a non-endogamous line, or better stated, with distant endogamous groups in multiple lines. Endogamous results would probably be different.


What do our statistics look like?

There were 58 matching segments between Denny, my child, me and my mother.

  Match To Whom # Segments # Phased %
Denny My Child 12 8 75
Denny Me 22 11 50
Denny Mother 24 Probably at least 11
Total 58

Of those 58 total matches, 16 were IBC meaning they did not match up through my mother.


Segment Matches

IBC (no phase) IBD (phase) Just Mother Match Groups 2 gen Groups 3 gen Groups
58 16 29 13 12 3 9
% 28% 50% 22% 25% 75%

Thirteen match just to mother (teal), of which one, on chromosome 12 for 10.27 centiMorgans, is the most likely to be legitimate, or IBD. The rest were smaller segments and none were passed to a the child, so they are less likely to be legitimate, or IBD.

There are a total of 12 matching groups, of which 3 are for only two generations, me and mother. In other words, not all of that DNA got passed on to my child, but at least some of it did 9 of those 12 times.

Does Size Matter?

I wanted to see how the small versus large segments faired in terms of three generations of parental phasing. Are smeller segments legitimate or not?  Do they stand up?  The “Phased cMs by Size” chart above was sorted in chromosome order, with teal being a match to mother only (so we don’t know if it phased), green meaning the segment DID phase and red meaning it DID NOT phase with the parent.

Removing the teal blocks, which match to mother only, meaning we don’t know if they would parentally phase or not, leaves us with the blocks that had the opportunity to phase, and whether they passed or failed. 100% of the blocks 3.57cM and above phased.  A natural dividing line seems to occur about the 3.5 cM level, shown below.

phased cms by size less teal

It’s interesting that all matches above 3.36 cM phased, several of them twice, through three generations or two transmission (inheritance) events. Of those, 9, or 43% were under the 10cM threshold suggested by some, and 7, or 33% were under the 7cM threshold.

Most of the segments 3.36 cM and below, did not pass phasing. Of those, 6 or 26% did pass phasing, while 17, or 74%, did not.  Note that this cM level is with the SNP threshold set to 500 SNPs, which is generally the lowest number I use.

Segment Size # of Segments # Segments Phased %
Larger than 3.5 cM 21 21 100
Smaller than 3.5 cM 23 6 26

Are these results a function of this particular family, or would this hold if more parental generational phasing studies were performed?

Let’s see. 

The Threshold Study

I was surprised by the seemingly low threshold of 3.5 cM that appeared to be the rough dividing line for cMs that passed parental phasing and those that did not. I undertook a small study of four additional 3 generation non-endogamous families.

I’ve included the Lore study that we discussed above in the first column.

I have also removed all duplicates in the results below, since the duplicates were an artifact of matching groups where we had three generations to match.

I completed 4 different three-generation studies in 4 unrelated non-endogamous families and noted the rough threshold for where matches seem to pass or fail phasing – in other words, the fall line. In all 4 examples below, the threshold was between 2.46 and 3.16 cM.  You could move it slightly higher, depending on what criteria you use for the “fall line,” which is why I’ve included the raw data.  In all cases, the SNP threshold was at 500 so you would not see any matches with fewer than 500 SNPs.

The black bar in the results below marks the location where the shift from fail to pass occurs in the various studies.

4 family phasing

Additionally, I have one 4-generation study available as well. The closest related of the 4 generations that were being matched against were first cousins, then first cousins once removed, then first cousins twice removed (equal to 2nd cousins) then 1st cousins three times removed (equal to second cousins once removed).

You can see, below, that the pass/fail threshold for this 4 generation, 3 transmission study was also at 3.69 cM for valid segments that survived. The segments labeled “2 match” mean that they did not get passed to the younger generations, so they only matched in the oldest two generations, 3 match the oldest 3 generations and 4 match meaning the match survived through all 4 generations.

It’s interesting that even some of the smaller segments held through all 4 generations.

4 gen phasing

Ethnicity Matters

Clearly, parental phasing is only successful when you have matches. Of the three data bases available for autosomal DNA comparisons today, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe likely have the largest representation of non-US participants, because the test was not sold outside the US for quite some time.  The Family Tree DNA Family Finder test was sold in the most locations outside the US.

Family Tree DNA probably has the best representation of Jewish DNA of all of the data bases.

Family Tree DNA projects facilitate the grouping of individuals by self-selected interest which includes ethnic categories, making those relationships visible by virtue of project membership wherein they are not readily evident in other data bases.

Therefore, by virtue of who has tested, if your ancestry is not “US” meaning a melting pot type of environment who are not recent arrivals, then you are likely to have less matches, so less phased matches too.  If you have a high degree of any particular ethnicity, even if your ancestry is “US,” you may still have fewer matches.  For example, 3 of 4 of my mother’s grandparents were either German or Dutch, and she has 710 matches, or roughly half the matches that I have.  My father’s heritage was Appalachian, meaning Colonial American.

Here’s a quick chart showing the total matches as of April, 2016 for a number of individuals who contributed their match totals in Family Finder and who carry either no US heritage or a specific ethnicity.  For purposes of comparison, three individuals with typical mixed colonial US heritage are shown at the top.

Ethnicity match chart

People with high percentages of African heritage tend to have few matches today, as do those of purely European heritage. Unfortunately, not many Africans or African-Americans test their DNA and DNA testing is not as popular in Europe as it is in the US.  Many people in Europe are leary of DNA testing or don’t feel they need to test, because “we’ve always lived here.”   I’m hopeful that the sustained popularity of programs like Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots will encourage more people of all ethnicities and locations to test from around the globe.

People from highly endogamous populations have a different issue to deal with, as you can see from the very high number of Jewish matches in the chart above. Since these people descend from a common founder population, they share a lot of ancestral DNA that is identical by population, meaning they did receive it from an ancestor, so it’s not IBC, but they received that segment because that particular segment is very prevalent within that population.  Determining which ancestor contributed that piece of DNA is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible because several ancestors carried that same segment.

Therefore, while the segment is identical by descent, it’s probably not genealogically useful in a 100% endogamous scenario.

In an unpublished study, we discovered that while working with parentally phased Jewish results, it’s not unusual for up to half of the matches to not match the participant plus either parent on the same segments. Or conversely, they may match both parents, but the segments are comparatively small.  Matching to both parents in an endogamous population, without a known familial relationship, and without at least one relatively large segment, is an indicator of IBP, identical by population, matches.  For Jewish and other endogamous people, parental phasing is very promising, and will help them sort through irrelevant “diamond in the rough” matches indicated by no parent matches or smaller both parent matches to find the genealogically relevant gems.

In all parental phasing groups studied, no one lost less than 10% of their matches utilizing parental phasing and most people lost significantly more, up to half.  I would very much like to see these same kinds of 3 or 4 generation parental phasing studies done for groups of Jewish, other endogamous and African American families.  In order to do a study of one family, you need at least 3 generations who have tested and another known family member, like a first or second cousin perhaps, to match against.

In Summary

Dual parental phasing works wonderfully.  One parent phasing works pretty well too.  Even close relative phasing works, just not as well as parental phasing.  You can only work with the people you have available to test, so test every relative you can convince!

If you have one or both parents to test, by all means, do. You’ll be able to phase your matches against both of your parents individually and eliminate the majority of IBC matches.

If you have grandparents or their siblings available to test, do, and quickly so you don’t lose the opportunity. Test the oldest person/generation in each line that you can.

If you don’t have both parents, test your half and full siblings, all of them, the more the better, because they inherited parts of your parents DNA that you didn’t.

Find your closest relatives and test them, yes, all of them.

If you are testing parents, you don’t need to test their children too, because their children will only receive half of their parent’s DNA, and you already have the parents DNA.

Even if you can’t phase your matches utilizing your parents DNA, you can use the combination of your matches with other relatively close family members to assign or suggest matches to both sides of your family along family lines – creating match groups. For example, if your match matches you and your great-uncle Charlie on the same segment, then it’s very likely that match is from the common ancestral line shared by your common ancestor with great-uncle Charlie – your great-grandparents.  Triangulation, of course, will prove that.

Some of your relatives will be quite interested in DNA testing and others will be happy to test simply because it helps you, and they like to hear about the result of the genealogy research. I’ve discovered that providing a scholarship for the testing, especially for those people you really want to test, goes a very long way in convincing people that DNA testing for genealogy is something they might be interested in doing.  If you can’t personally afford a scholarship for everyone, try the old fashioned collection jar.  And no, I’m not kidding.  It works wonders and gives everyone an opportunity to participate and invest as well, as much as they can afford.

Ethnicity testing has a lot of sizzle for some folks too – so don’t just deliver the dry facts – be sure to talk about the sizzle too. Sizzle sells!  People get excited about the possibilities and of course, you’ll explain the result to them, so they get to visit with you a second time as well.  Something to look forward to at next summer’s picnic!

Be sure to take swab kits to family events; picnics, reunions, graduation parties, weddings and holiday gatherings. Believe me, I have a DNA kit in my purse or car at all times.  And maybe, if your extended family lives close by, resurrect the old-time Sunday afternoon tradition of “going calling.”  Not only can you collect DNA, you can collect family memories too and I guarantee, you’ll make a new discovery with every visit.  Take this opportunity to interview your relatives.

It’s amazing isn’t it, the things we do for this “DNA phase” that we’re all going through!


I want to thank Family Tree DNA for their ongoing support of projects and citizen scientists which makes these types of research studies possible. I also want to thank several individuals in the genetic genealogy community who provided their information and gave permission for me to incorporate their results into this article.  Without sharing and collaboration, these types of efforts would simply not be possible.

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Welcome to the concepts articles. This series presents the concepts of genetic genealogy, not the details.  I have written a lot of detailed articles, and I’ve linked to them for those of you who want more.  My suggestion would be to read this article once, entirely, all the way through to understand the concepts with continuity of thought, then go back and reread and click through to other articles if you are interested.

All of autosomal genetic genealogy is based on these concepts of inheritance and matching, so if you don’t understand these, you won’t understand your matches, how they work, why, or how to interpret what they do or don’t tell you.

The Question 

Someone sent me this question about autosomal DNA matching.

“I do not quite understand how the profiles can be identified to an ancestor since that person is not among us to provide DNA material for “testing” and “comparison.”

That’s a really good question, so let’s take a shot at answering this question conceptually.

Do you have a cat or dog?

Chica Pixie Quilt

I bet I could tell if I could see your clothes, your house, your car or your quilt. Why or how?  Because pets shed, and try as you might, it’s almost impossible to get rid of the evidence.  I went to the dentist once and he looked at my sweatshirt and said, “German Shepherd?” I laughed.

When your ancestor had children, he or she shed their DNA, half of it, and it’s still being passed down to their descendants today, at least for the next several generations. Let’s look, conceptually, at how and why this works.

In the following diagram, on the left you can see the generations and the relationships of the people both to the ancestor and to each other.

Our ancestor, John Doe, married a wife, J, and had 2 children. Gender of the children, in this example, does not matter.

Everyone receives one strand of DNA from their mother and one from their father. If you’re interested in more detail about how this works, click here.

In our example below, I’ve divided this portion of John’s DNA into 10 buckets. Think of each of these buckets as having maybe 100 units of John’s DNA.  You can think of pebbles in the bucket if you’d like.  Our DNA is passed, often, in buckets where the group of pebbles sticks together, at least for a while.  Since this is conceptual, our buckets are being passed intact from generation to generation.

John’s mother’s strand of DNA has her buckets labeled MATERNALAB and I’ve colored them pink to make them easy to identify. John’s father’s strand of DNA has his buckets labeled FATHERSIDE and is blue.  Important note – buckets don’t come colored coded pink or blue in nature – you have no idea which side your DNA comes from.  Yes, I know, that’s a cruel joke of Nature.

John married J, call her Jean. Jean also has 2 strands of DNA, one from her mother and one from her father, but in order to simplify things, rather than have two colors for the wives, I’d rather you think of this generationally, so the wives in each generation only have one color. That way you can see the wives’ DNA mixing with the husbands by just looking at the colors. Jean’s color is lavender.

DNA “Shedding” to Descendants

So, now let’s look at how John “sheds” his DNA to his two children and their descendants – and why that matters to us several generations later.

Concept ancestor inheritance

Please note that you can click on any of the graphics to make them larger.

In the examples above, the DNA that is descended in each generational line from John is bolded within the colored square. I also intentionally put it at the beginning and ends of the segments for each child so it’s easy to see.

In the first generation, John’s children each receive one strand of DNA from their mother, J, and one from John. John’s DNA that his children receive is mixed between John’s father’s DNA and John’s mother’s DNA – roughly 50-50 – but not exactly.

At every position, or bucket, during recombination, John’s child will receive either the value in John’s Mom’s bucket or the value at that location in John’s Dad’s bucket.  In other words, the two strands of John’s parent’s DNA, in John, combine to make one strand to give to one of John’s children.  Each time this happens, for each child conceived, the recombination happens differently.

Concept Ancestor inheritance John

In this case, John’s children will receive either the M or the F in bucket one.  In buckets 2 and 3, the values are the same.  This happens in DNA.  The child’s bucket 4 will receive either an E or H.  Bucket 5 an R or E.  Bucket 6 an N or R.  And so forth.  This is how recombination works, and it’s called “random recombination” meaning that we have not been able to discern why or how the values for each location are chosen.

Is recombination really random, like a coin flip?  No, it’s not.  How do we know?  Because clumps of neighboring DNA stick often together, in buckets – in fact we call them “sticky segments.”  Groups of buckets stick together too, sometimes for many generations.  So it’s not entirely random, but we don’t know why.

What we do know for absolutely positively sure is that every person get’s exactly half of their parents’ DNA on chromosomes 1-22.  We are not talking about the X chromosome (meaning chromosome 23) or mitochondrial DNA or Y DNA.  Different topics entirely relative to inheritance.

You can see which buckets received which of John’s parents’ DNA based on the pink and blue color coding and the letters in the buckets.  Jean’s contribution to Child 1 and Child 2 would be mixed between her parents’ DNA too.

Concept Ancestor inheritance child

In the first generation, Child 1 received 6 pink buckets (segments) from John’s mother and 4 blue buckets from John’s father – MATHERSLAB.  Child 2 received 6 blue buckets from John’s father and 4 pink buckets from John’s mother – FATHERALAB.  On the average, each child received half of their grandparents’ DNA, but in reality, neither child received exactly half.

Note that Child 1 and 2 did not necessarily receive the SAME buckets, or segments, from John’s parents, although Child 1 and 2 did receive some buckets with the same letters in them – ATHERLAB.

If you’re thinking, “lies, damned lies and statistics” right about now, and chuckling, or maybe crying, join the club!

Looking at the next generation, John’s Child 1 married K and John’s Child 2 married O.

Child 1

Let’s follow John’s pink and blue DNA in Child 1’s descendants.  Child 1 marries K and had one child.

Concept Ancestor inheritance grandchild child 1 c

John’s grandchild by Child 1 has one strand of DNA from Child 1’s spouse K and one strand from Child 1 which reads MATJJJJLAB. You can see this by K’s entire strand and the grandchild’s other strand, contributed by Child 1, being a mixture of John’s DNA along with his wife J’s DNA.  In this case, for these buckets, John’s mother’s pink DNA is only being passed on.  John’s father’s buckets 4-7 were “washed out” in this generation and the grandchild received grandmother J’s DNA instead.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 4 c

In the next generation, 3, John’s grandchild married P and had generation 4, the great-grandchild. Generation 4 of course carries a strand from wife P, but the Doe strand now carries less of John’s original DNA – just MA and LAB at the beginning and end of the grouping.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 5 c

In the next generation, 5, the great-great-grandchild, you can see that now John Doe’s inherited DNA is reduced to only the AB at the right end.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 6

In the next generation, 6, the great-great-great-grandchild carries only the A, and in the final generation, below, the great-great-great-great-grandchild, none of John Doe’s DNA is carried by that descendant in those particular buckets.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 7 c1

Can there be exceptions? Yes.  Buckets are sometimes split and the X chromosome functions differently in male and female inheritance.  But this example is conceptual, remember.

You always receive exactly half of your parents’ DNA, but after that, how much you receive of an ancestor’s DNA isn’t 50% in each generation. You saw that in our examples where both Child 1 and Child 2 inherited a little more or a little less than 50% of each of John’s parents’ DNA.

Sometimes groups of DNA buckets are passed together and sometimes, the entire bucket or group of buckets are replaced by DNA from “the next generation.”

To summarize for Child 1, from John Doe to generation 7, each generation inherited the following buckets from John, with the final generation, 7, having none of John’s DNA at all – at least not in these buckets.

concept child 1

Now, let’s see how the DNA of Child 2 stacks up.

Child 2

You can follow the same sequence with Child 2. In the first generation, Child 2 has one strand of John’s DNA and one of their mother’s, J.

Child 2 marries O, Olive, and their child has one strand from O, and one from Child 2.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 3 c 2

Child 2’s contributed strand is comprised of DNA from John Doe and mother J.  You can see that the grandchild has FA and ALAB from John, but the rest is from mother J.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 4 c 2

The grandchild (above) married Q and their child generation 4, inherits most of John’s DNA, but did drop the A .

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 5 c 2

Sometimes the DNA between generations is passed on without recombining or dividing.  That’s what happened in generation 5, above, and 6 below, with John’s DNA.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 6 c 2

Generations, 5 (great-great-grandchild) and 6 (great-great-great-grandchild) both receive John’s F and AB, above.

Concept Ancestor inheritance gen 7 c 2

However, in the 7th generation, the great-great-great-great-grandchild only inherits John’s bucket with B.  The F and A were both lost in this generation.

concept child 2

This summary of the inheritance of John’s DNA in Child 2’s descendants shows that in the 7th generation, that individual carries only one of John’s DNA buckets, the rest having been replaced by the DNA of other ancestors during the inheritance recombination process in each generation.

Half the Equation

To answer the question of how we can identify the profile of a person long dead is not answered by this inheritance diagram, at least not directly – because we don’t KNOW how much of John’s DNA we inherited, or which parts.  In fact, that’s what we’re trying to figure out – but first, we had to understand how we inherited DNA from John (or not).

Matching with known family members is what actually identifies John’s DNA and tells us which parts of our DNA, if any, come from John.

Generational Matching

Let’s say I’m in the first cousin generation and I’m comparing my autosomal DNA against my first cousin from this line.  First cousins share common grandparents.

Assuming that they are genetically my first cousin (meaning no adoptions or misattributed parentage,) they are close enough that we can both be expected to carry some of our common ancestor’s DNA. I wrote an in-depth article about first cousin matching here, but for our purposes, we know genetically that first cousins are going to match each other virtually 100% of the time.

Here’s a nice table from the Family Tree DNA Learning Center that tells us what to expect in terms of matching at different relationship levels.

concept generational match

The reason our autosomal DNA matches with our reasonably close relatives is because we share a common ancestor and have inherited at least a bucket, if not more than one bucket, of the same DNA from that ancestor.

That’s the ONLY WAY our DNA could match at the bucket level, given what we know about inheritance. The only way to get our DNA is through our parents who got their DNA through their parents and ancestors.  Now, could we share more than one common ancestral line?  Yes – but that’s beyond conceptual, for now.  And yes, there is identical by chance (IBC), which doesn’t apply to close relatives and in general, nor to larger buckets. If you want to read more about this complex subject, which is far beyond conceptual, click here.

Now, let’s see how we identify our ancestor’s DNA!

Concept ancestor matching

Let’s look at people of the same generation of descendants and see how they match each other.  In other words, now we’re going to read left to right across rows, to compare the descendants of child 1 and 2.  Previously, we were reading up and down columns where we tracked how DNA was inherited.

Bolded letters in buckets indicate buckets inherited from John, just like before, but buckets with black borders indicate buckets shared with a cousin from John’s other child.  In other words, a black border means the DNA of those two people match at that location.  Let’s look at the grandchildren of John compared to each other.  John’s grandchildren are first cousins to each other.

Concept ancestor matching 1c

Our first cousins match on 4 different buckets of John’s DNA: A, L, A and B.  In this case, you can see that both individuals inherited some DNA from John that they don’t share with each other, such as their first letters, M for Child 1 and F for child 2.  Because they inherited different pieces from John, because he inherited those pieces from different ancestors, the first cousins don’t match each other on that particular bucket because the letters in their individual buckets are different.

Yes, the first cousins also match on wife J’s DNA, but we’re just talking about John’s DNA here.  Now, let’s look at the next generation.

Concept ancestor matching 2c

Our second cousins, above, match on four buckets of John’s DNA.  Yes, the A bucket was inherited from John’s Mom in one case, and John’s Dad in the other case, but because the letter in the bucket is the same, when matching, we can’t tell them apart.  We only “know” which side they came from, in this case, because I told you and colored the buckets pink and blue to illustrate inheritance.  All the actual software matching comparison has to go by is the letter in the bucket.  Software doesn’t have the luxury of “knowing” because in nature there is no pink and blue color coding.

concept ancestor matching 3c

Our third cousins, above, match, but share only A and B, half as much of John’s DNA as the second cousins shared with each other.

Concept ancestor matching 4c

Our 4th cousins, above, are lucky and do match, although they share only one bucket, A, of John’s DNA, which happens to have come from John’s mother.

Concept ancestor matching 5c

By the time you get down to the 5th cousins, meaning the 7th generation, the cousins’ luck has run out, because these two 5th cousins don’t match on any of John’s DNA.

Most 5th cousins don’t match and few 6th cousins match, at least not at the default thresholds used by the testing companies – but some do.  Remember, we’re dealing with matching predictions based on averages, and actual individual DNA inheritance varies quite a bit.  Lies, damned lies and statistics again!

You can adjust your own thresholds at GedMatch, in essence making the buckets smaller, so increasing the odds that the contents of the buckets will match each other, but also increasing the chances that the matches will be by chance.  Again, beyond conceptual.

concept buckets inherited

While this is how matching worked for these comparisons of descendants, it will work differently for every pair of people who are compared against each other, because they will have, or not have, inherited different (or the same) buckets of DNA from their common ancestor.  That’s a long way of saying, “your mileage will vary.”  These are concepts and guidelines, not gospel.

Now, let’s put these guidelines to work.

Matching People at Testing Companies

Ok, so now let’s say that I match Sarah Doe. I don’t know Sarah, but we are predicted to be in the 2nd or 3rd cousin range, based on the amount of our DNA that we share.

As we know, based on our inheritance example, amounts of shared DNA can vary, but we may well be able to discern a common ancestor by looking at our pedigree charts.

Sure enough, given her surname as a hint, we determined that John Doe is our common ancestor.

That’s great evidence that this DNA was passed from John to both of us, but to prove it takes a third person matching us on the same segment, also with proven descent from John Doe. Why?  Because Sarah and I might also have a second common genealogical line, maybe even one we don’t know about, that’s isn’t on our pedigree chart. And yes, that happens far more than you’d think. To prove that Sarah Doe and my shared DNA is actually from John Doe or his wife, we need a third confirmed pedigree and DNA match on that same bucket.

A Circle is Not a Bucket

If you just said to yourself, “but Ancestry doesn’t show me buckets,” you’re right – and a Circle is not a bucketA Circle means you match someone’s DNA and have a common tree ancestor.  It doesn’t mean that you or any Circle members match each other on the same buckets. A bucket, or segment information, tells you if you match on common buckets, which buckets, and exactly where.  You could match all those people in a Circle on different buckets, from completely different ancestors, and there is no way to know without bucket information.  If you want to read more about the effects of lack of tools at Ancestry, click here and here.


Matching multiple people on the same buckets who descend from the same ancestor through different children is proof – and it’s the only proof except for very close relatives, like siblings, grandparents, first cousins, etc.  Circles are hints, good hints, but far, far from proof.  For buckets, you’ll need to transfer your Ancestry results to Family Tree DNA or to GedMatch, or preferably, both.

I’m most comfortable if at least two of the individuals of a minimum of three who match on the same buckets and share an ancestor, which is called a triangulation group, descend from at least two different children of John.  In other words, the first common ancestor of the matches is John and his wife, not their children.

Cross generational matches 2

The reason I like the different children aspect is because it removes the possibility that people are really matching on the downstream wives DNA, and not John’s.  In other words, if you have two people who match on the same buckets, A and B above, who both descend from John’s Child 1 who married K, they also will share K’s DNA in addition to John’s.  So their match to each other on a given bucket might be though K’s side and not through John’s line at all.

Let’s say A and B have a match to unknown person D who is adopted and doesn’t know their pedigree chart.  We can’t make the presumption that D’s match to A and B is through John Doe and Jean, because it might be through K.

However, a match on the same buckets to a third person, C, who descends through John’s other child, Child 2, assuming that Child 2 did not also marry into K’s (or any other common) line, assures that the shared DNA of A and B (and C) in that bucket is through John or his wife – and therefore D’s match to A, B and C on that bucket is also through the same common ancestor.

If you want to read more about triangulation, click here.

In Summary

The beauty of autosomal DNA is that we carry some readily measurable portion of each of our ancestors, at least the ones in the past several generations, in us. The way we identify that DNA and assign it to that ancestor is through matching to other people on the same segments (buckets) that also descend from the same ancestor or ancestral line, preferably through different children.  In many cases, after time, you’ll have a lot more than 3 people descended from that ancestral line matching on that same bucket.  Your triangulation group will grow to many – all connected by the umbilical lifethread of your common ancestors’ DNA.

As you can see, the concepts, taken one step at a time are pretty simple, but the layers of things that you need to think about can get complex quickly.

I’ll tell you though, this is the most interesting puzzle you’ll ever work on!  It’s just that there’s no picture on the box lid.  Instead, it’s incredible real-life journey to the frontiers inside of you to discover your ancestors and their history:)  Your ancestors are waiting for you, although my ancestors have a perverse sense of humor and we play hide and seek from time to time!

4 Generation Inheritance Study

I’ve recently had the opportunity to perform two, 4-generation, inheritance studies.

In both of these cases, we have the DNA of 4 generations: grandmother, parent, child and grandchild or grandchildren.  I’ll be using the second study because there are two great-grandchildren to compare.

Let me introduce you to the players.

4 gen pedigree

I wanted, with real data, to address some assertions and assumptions that I see being made periodically in the genetic genealogy community.  We need to know if these hold up to scrutiny, or not.  Besides that, it’s just fun to see what happens to DNA with 4 generations and 5 people to compare.

What kinds of information are we looking to confirm or refute in this study?

1 – That small segments don’t occur within a couple generations, meaning that that DNA can’t be or isn’t broken into small segments that quickly.

2 – That small segments can never be used genealogically and are not useful.

3 – That DNA is most of the time passed in 50% packages.  While this is true in the first generation, meaning a child does receive half of each parent’s DNA, they do not receive 25% of each grandparent’s DNA.

4 – That segments over a certain threshold, like 5 or 7 cM, are all reliable as IBD (identical by descent.)

5 – That segments under a certain threshold, like 5 or 7 cM are all unreliable and should never be used, in fact, cannot ever be used and should be discarded.

6 – That there is a rule that you cannot have more than two crossovers per chromosome.

All individuals tested at Family Tree DNA and we’ll be using the FTDNA chromosome browser for comparisons.

First, let’s look at the amount of expected DNA matching versus the actual amount of DNA matching, per generation.  The entire number of cM being measured is 6766.2, per the ISOGG Autosomal Statistics Wiki page.

Expected vs Actual Inheritance Chart

This chart compares the expected versus actual amount of DNA shared between person 1 and person 2,

Person 1 Person 2 Expected DNA Match cM/% Actual DNA Match
Grandmother Parent (grandmother’s child) 3383.1 / 50% 3384.03 / 50.01%
Grandmother Pink Child (grandmother’s grandchild) 1691.5 / 25% 1670.64 / 24.69%
Grandmother Blue Grandchild (grandmother’s great-grandchild) 845.775 / 12.5% 704.84 / 10.39%
Grandmother Green Grandchild (grandmother’s great-grandchild) 845.775 / 12.5% 842.64 / 12.45%

Chromosome Data

Now, let’s take a look at our chromosome data.  Keep in mind, everyone is being compared to the oldest generation – in this case – the great-grandmother’s DNA.


  • The background chromosome belongs to the great-grandmother of the youngest generation – meaning everyone is being compared to her.
  • Grandparent = orange – because the child receives 50% of each parent’s DNA, the orange child of the great-grandmother will match her DNA 100%.
  • Grandchild = pink – since the grandchild is being compared to the grandparent, and not their parent, we will see how much of the grandmother’s DNA the pink child received. The dark spaces are the “ghost image” of the grandfather’s DNA – identified by the lack of the grandmother’s DNA in that location.
  • Oldest great grandchild = blue
  • Youngest great grandchild = green

The two great grandchildren are full siblings.  None of the parents involved are related to each other or to other generational spouses.  This has been confirmed both by genealogy pedigree chart and by utilizing the tools at GedMatch for comparisons to each other as well as the “are your parents related” tool.

The first comparison, below, shows the 4 individuals compared to the great grandmother’s DNA at the Family Tree DNA with the match default set at 5cM

4 gen ftdna default

The image below, shows the same individuals after dropping the match criteria to 1cM.  Several small colored segments appear.

4 gen ftdna 1 cm

I downloaded all of the matching data for these individuals into a spreadsheet so that I could work with the actual chromosomal data.  I’m not boring you with that here, but I have used the raw matching data for the actual comparisons.


Let’s talk about what a crossover is, because understanding crossovers are important

Crossover example 1 – A crossover is where you start/stop receiving DNA from one grandparent or the other.  This is easy to see if we look at chromosome 1.

4 gen crossover

In this example, the parent is orange and the child is pink but they are both being compared to the grandparent of the pink person, the mother of the orange person.

What this means is that while the orange person will always match the grey background chromosome of their mother, the pink person will only match their grandmother on the portion of the DNA they received from their mother that was from their grandmother.  The pink person received their grandfather’s DNA in some locations, and not their grandmother’s.  Where that transition happens is called a crossover and it is where the colored segment stops, as noted by the arrows above, and the back background begins, indicating no match to the grandmother.

You can see that the matches span the center of the chromosome where the grey area indicates there is no data being read.  There is also a second small grey area to the right of the center.  Ignore these grey areas.  They are in essence DNA deserts where there isn’t enough DNA to be read or useful.  Family Tree DNA (and other vendors) stitch the data on both sides together, so to speak, and matches on both sides of this area are considered to be contiguous matches.

You can see that the pink person has two crossover areas where they stopped receiving DNA from the mother’s mother (background chromosome being compared against) and instead started receiving DNA from the mother’s father.  How do we know that?  There only two people who contributed the orange parent’s DNA that the pink child inherited.  If the pink child did not inherit the orange parent’s Mom’s DNA on this segment, then the pink child had to have inherited the orange parent’s Dad’s DNA.

Crossover example 2 – A second kind of crossover is where you are still receiving DNA from the same parent, but from different ancestors on that parental line

I’ve created a chart to illustrate this phenomenon

The names in the charts at the bottom are the people who tested today.  All of these individuals are known cousins who are from my mother’s side.  The name at the top is the common ancestor of all of the testers.

In the first situation, in locations 1-5, Me, Charlie and David match.  None of the three of us match our cousin, Mary on those locations.  However, moving to locations 6-10, Me, Charlie and Mary match each other, but not David.  Looking at our pedigree charts, we can see that the cousins are matching on different ancestral lines.

4 gen generational crossover

Me, Charlie and David share a wife’s line, Sally (wife of John), that Mary does not share.  Me, Charlie and Mary share common DNA from George, a male further upstream in that line.  George’s son John married Sally.  Mary descends from George through a different child, which is why she does not match any of us on the segments we received from Sally, John’s wife.

Location Me Charlie David Mary
1 Sally Sally Sally No match
2 Sally Sally Sally No match
3 Sally Sally Sally No match
4 Sally Sally Sally No match
5 Sally Sally Sally No match
6 George George No match George
7 George George No match George
8 George George No match George
9 George George No match George
10 George George No match George

If you’re just looking at the question, “do Charlie and I match?” the answer would of course be yes, but until we look at a broader spectrum of cousins, we won’t know that our match is actually from two different people in the same descendancy line and that we have an ancestor crossover between locations 5 and 6.  However, we’re still receiving our DNA from the same parent, but which ancestor of that parent contributed the DNA has switched

How prevalent are crossovers?

Number of Crossover Events

These are all parent/child crossovers where the DNA donor switched.  We can only determine that this happened because we can compare generationally against the grey background great grandmother to the youngest generation

  • Orange parent to Pink child – 49
  • Pink child to Blue child – 47
  • Pink child to Green child – 39

The most segmented chromosome, chromosome 1, has 5 separate matching segments for the blue great grandchild (as compared to the great-grandmother), or 10 crossover events (because neither end was at the beginning or end, although start and end numbers are sometimes “fuzzy”).  You can see where a crossover event occurs when the DNA goes from matching to non-matching.

4 gen chr 1 crossovers


I downloaded all of our matching data into a spreadsheet so that I can work with the segment matches individually.

Looking at the data, there are a few things that jump out immediately:

  • On chromosomes 4 and 14, the pink child received none of the orange grandmother’s DNA. That means that the pink child had to have received the grandfather’s DNA for all of chromosome 15. So, if anyone thinks that the 50% rule really works uniformly across generations – here’s concrete proof that it doesn’t. Furthermore, this occurred for an entire chromosome – twice out of 23 chromosomes, or 8.7% of the time.
  • On chromosome 11, the exact opposite happened. The pink child received all of the grandmother’s chromosome, but barely gave any to their blue child. The blue child received their mother’s DNA in that location. On chromosome 13, the pink child received almost all of the grandmother’s DNA.
  • Please note that while the averages of expected versus inherited DNA work out pretty closely, when averaging across all 23 chromosomes, as shown in the Expected vs Actual Inheritance Chart, the individual chromosomes and how much of which grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s DNA is inherited varies wildly from none to 100%.
  • There are several locations on 10 different chromosomes where the DNA has been passed generationally intact 2 or 3 times, without division.
  • Several small segments have been created within 3 transmission events.There are small green and blue segments on several different chromosomes which reflect very small amounts of the great grandmother’s DNA inherited by the green and blue great-grandchildren. This conclusively dismisses the theory that small segments aren’t ever created within a couple of generations.
  • Chromosome 10 is very choppy, including small blue and green grandchild segments that match the orange grandparent and the great-grandmother without having matches to the pink child. This means that those unconnected blue and green small segments are either identical by chance or there is a read issue with the pink person’s DNA on this chromosome.
  • There are a total of 31 small segments, meaning under 7cM. Of those, a total of 10 do not triangulate, meaning they match the grandmother but they do not match their parent.  The 7 pink segments appear to triangulate, but without another generation of transmission (like the blue and green great-grandchildren), or without the grandfather’s DNA, or without triangulation with a known relative on that segment, it’s impossible to tell for sure. Therefore, 14, or 45% are valid segments and do triangulate.
  • There are a total of 92 chromosomal transmission events that took place, meaning that 23 chromosomes got passed from the background person to their orange child, 23 from the orange child to their pink child, 23 from the pink child to the blue grandchild and 23 from the pink child to the green grandchild.
  • Furthermore, based on this limited study, at least 32.26% of the small segments do not triangulate and are not IBD, but are instead identical by chance.
  • In three instances, the exact DNA (from the great grandmother) was given to both the green and blue great grandchildren. In eight other events, the same DNA, without division, was given from a parent to one child.
  • There are several instances, on chromosomes 3, 4, 9, 14, 15, 16, 20, and 22 where the pink child passed none of their grandmother’s DNA to their child, even though they inherited the grandmother’s DNA.

Individual Chromosomes and Their Messages

I’d like to walk through several chromosomes and chat a little bit about what we’re seeing.

Chromosome 1

4 gen chr 1

First, I’d like to illustrate the difference between chromosome matches at the default level (the first chromosome, above) and at the 1cM level (the lower chromosome.)  At the lower match threshold, you will see additional small segment matches that are not shown at the higher threshold, noted by red arrows.

Let’s take a look at the messages held by our individual chromosomes.

On all of these chromosomes, you’ll see that the orange child matches thier mother, the background person being compared against, exactly, on every location that is measured.  Half of everyone’s DNA comes from their mother, so all of their DNA will match to her on any given chromosome.  Remember, we are only measuring matching DNA (half identical segments) – so the other half of the person’s DNA that matches their father is not shown.

I have left the orange segments in the graphics, even though they all match on the entire chromosome length, so you can see the continuity from generation to generation.  Pink is the orange person’s child, so you can see that the pink child inherited part of the DNA the orange person inherited from their mother, but not all.  The part that is black in the pink row, as compared to the orange segment, means that the pink child inherited that DNA from their grandfather at those locations – and not the grandmother being compared against

In one instance, on chromosome 1, the pink child gave their grandmother’s DNA to both of their children.  You can see that to the far left with the red arrow.

4 gen chr 1 grandmother transmission

You can also see that the blue grandchild only received a small part of their great grandmother’s DNA, but the green grandchild received a much larger segment.

In one area, the pink child clearly received their grandmother’s DNA, but didn’t give any of it to either the blue or green grandchild, shown below at the red arrow.  There is no blue or green matching the great-grandmother’s DNA.

4 gen chr 1 no transmission

To the right of the arrow, top, above, you can see where the pink child contributed their grandmother’s DNA to their blue child, but not to the green child.  The pink child contributed their other parent’s DNA in that instance, bottom, above, because their child does not match their orange mother – so that DNA had to come from the grandfather.

On the chromosome match that includes the smaller segments, below, you can see there are a total of 5 segments not shown with the higher threshold.

4 gen chr 1 small segments

The first two arrows, on the left, point to small segments shared by the blue and green grandchildren with their great-grandmother and their pink parent – so these triangulate and they are fine.

The third arrow, on the right hand side pointing to the green segment that does not match with the pink parent indicates a match that is identical by chance.  We’ll talk more about this in chromosome 3.

The fourth arrow, at the far right, shows a small segment of orange DNA that was passed to their pink child, but the pink child did not pass it on to either of their children.  This segment could be a legitimate segment by descent, but it could also be by chance.  We’ll talk about that more on chromosome 8.

Chromosome 2

4 gen chr 2

Chromosome 2 shows two small segments.  You can see that the pink child gave a significant portion of their grandmother’s DNA to the blue child, but only two small segments to the green child in that region, at the red arrows.  They do triangulate though, because they match their parents.  See how nicely the DNA stacks up between all of the generations.

Chromosome 3

4 gen chr 3

The pink child inherited very little of the grandmother’s DNA in this region.  Of the small amount the pink child did inherit, the pink child gave even less of it to their children.  One small piece to the green grandchild, shown at right, and none to the blue grandchild.

Why, then, is there a lonely blue segment on this comparison chromosome showing that the blue great-grandchild matches their orange grandmother and their great-grandmother, but not their pink parent?  This is the first example of an identical by chance segment (or a read error in the pink parent’s file).

4 gen chr 3 small seg

Three Kinds of DNA Match Segments

There are three kinds of DNA segment matches.

  1. Identical by descent (IBD) where you receive the segment from your ancestors and we can track it as far back up the tree as we have living people. This is the example where the small segment of the great-grandchildren (blue or green) match their parent (pink), their grandparent (orange) and their great-grandmother’s background chromosome being compared against.
  2. Identical by state (IBS) which sometimes is used to mean not identical by descent. What it actually means is that you can still match and receive the DNA from your ancestors, but the segment may be very prevalent in a specific community or ethnic group. An alternative explanation is that the DNA ‘state’ is so common that everyone in that area has it, so it’s virtually useless in identifying ancestors, because you can’t really tell which lines it came from. So IBS does triangulate, because it did come from a common ancestor, but you may match a large number of people at this location. Portions of chromosome 6 are known to fall into this category.  More often than not, I hear IBS used to indicate that there is a match, but the common ancestor isn’t known or hasn’t yet been identified.
  3. Identical by chance (IBC) is where a specific DNA combination is a match, but it’s not a match because it was handed down ancestrally, but simply by the luck of the draw.  Because everyone carries the DNA of both parents, sometimes people can match you by zigzagging back and forth between your father’s and mother’s DNA.  These matches aren’t ancestral, but just by luck or chance.  Shorter matches, meaning small segments, are much more likely to be identical by chance than longer matches. When you have both parents DNA, you can easily eliminate IBC segments because they won’t triangulate – as we have just demonstrated on chromosome 3.

You can read more about this here and here.

Chromosome 4

4 gen chr 4

Chromosome 4 is particularly interesting because the orange person matches their background mother, of course, but apparently their pink child inherited this entire chromosome from the pink person’s grandfather – because the pink person does not match their grandmother – there are no pink matching segments to the background grandmother.

Chromosome 5

On chromosome 5, the pink child matches the grandmother on almost the entire chromosome, except for a small part to the left of center.

4 gen chr 5

You may notice that there is a segment of blue that appears to extend beyond the pink bar at the left arrow – which would mean that the blue area matches the great-grandmother without matching the pink parent.  The segments on the chromosome map are not exactly to scale, and the beginnings and ends are sometimes what is referred to as fuzzy.  This means that they are not exact measurements but that they in essence the absence or presence of DNA in a bucket of a specific size.  If any part of your DNA is in that bucket, then your start or stop segment are the edges of that bucket.  In this case, the entire match is 47.51cM for the pink child and 49.82 for the blue grandchild, so the difference may or may not be relevant.

Although this actually is a small matching segment, or non-matching segment, you would never notice this if you were just looking at the blue grandchild matching to the great grandmother.  It’s only with the introduction of the parent’s pink DNA that you notice that the blue great grandchild’s DNA match with the great grandmother extends beyond that of the parent.

Chromosome 6

4 gen chr 6

Chromosome 6 is rather unremarkable except that the orange person seems to have had a read or file error of some sort.  The orange results are shown in two separate pieces, but we know that the orange person must match their mother 100%.  We know this issue is in the orange person’s file, because their pink child and both of the blue and green grandchildren match the background person, the orange persons’ mother, with no break in their DNA.

Chromosome 7

4 gen chr 7

Chromosome 7 shows another example of 5 generations matching with the stacking of orange, blue, green and pink against the background person’s chromosome, at right.  It also shows another example an identical by chance match, with the blue grandchild showing a match to their great-grandmother but no match to their pink parents, near the center at the red arrow.

Chromosome 8

4 gen chr 8

Chromosome 8 shows another example of the pink child having inherited a small segment of their grandmother’s DNA, but not passing it on to their children.

How do we know if this is a legitimate IBD segment, or if it something else?  Since the pink child will match their mother 100%, and they didn’t pass it on tho their children, how can we prove that the small pink segment where they match their grandmother is  IBD.

How could we prove this one way or the other?

First of all, it probably doesn’t matter, except as a matter of interest – or unless of course this one segment is THE one you need to identify that colonial ancestor.  If this was a normal match, we could just see if the match matched the child and the parent too, which would immediately phase the match against their parent – but we can’t do that when matching to a grandparent because the child will always match their parent 100%.

If you have the grandfather’s DNA at Family Tree DNA, you could compare the pink grandchild to their grandfather. On chromosome 8, the grandfather’s DNA in the pink row is identified by the dark grey – because it’s where the pink grandchild does not match their grandmother – so they must match their grandfather on that segment because their orange parent only had two pieces of DNA to give them, the piece from their mother or the piece from their father.

Therefore, if this is a valid segment, then you won’t see at match in the grandfather’s DNA on same portion of the segment.  If you see a match to both the grandmother and the grandfather, it’s likely that the small segment match to the grandmother is not identical by descent –  you but really don’t know for sure.

How could that be?  I asked David Pike that question and he pointed out that in one case, he discovered that the grandparents both shared the same DNA segment.  The child inherited it from one parent or the other, and passed it on to their child, but since the mother’s and father’s DNA was identical, there is no way to tell which grandparent the segment actually came from.  And in this case, the segment would match both grandparents.  That is a trait of endogamy and of IBS, or identical by population.  If you’re saying, BOO, HISS, about now, I totally understand.

After talking to David, I also realized that if your DNA at those locations just happens to be all homozygous, for example, all Ts, on both sides, for a run of SNPs in a row, and if your parents and grandparents have Ts in either location, you will match them…and anyone else who does too.

So here we have an example of a match that could be IBD if it truly is a small segment by descent and you don’t match the other grandparent at that location.  It could be IBC or IBS (by population) if you match both of your grandparents on this segment – but it might be IBD.  It’s IBD from one and IBC/IBS from the other – but which one is which?

However, since I don’t have the grandfather’s DNA at Family Tree DNA, my only other alternative is to move to GedMatch and create a phased kit for the grandfather by subtracting the grandmother’s DNA from her orange child, which will give me the DNA the orange child received from their father.  Then I can compare the pink grandchild to the grandfather’s phased kit – which is the father’s DNA that the orange child received.  This is fine, even if it is only half of the grandfather’s DNA – it s the half that the pink child’s mother received and passed a portion to the pink child.

I would suggest doing this entire exercise on either Family Tree DNA or on the GedMatch platform, and not jumping back and forth between the two.  The start and stop segments aren’t exactly the same, and sometimes the segments read differently, creating more segments at GedMatch than at FTDNA.  I’m not saying that is wrong, just that it isn’t consistent between the two platforms and when you are dealing with small segments, in particular, you need consistency.

Chromosome 9

4 gen chr 9

On chromosome 9, the pink child received little of the grandmother’s DNA, and gave none of it to their green child.  And yes, if you have a good eye the blue child’s right boundary is slightly beyond the their pink parents – so – you already know what that means.  Either a fuzzy boundary or a slight piece of DNA that happened to match with the great-grandmother identical by chance (IBC.)

Chromosome 10

4 gen chr 10

This chromosome is incredibly interesting because it’s comprised of all small segments.  In fact, this is the exact reason why you NEED to look at the 1cM range.  At the default setting, if there are no matches except the orange person to their mother.  It looks like none of the grandmother’s DNA was passed to the pink child, but in fact, may not be the case.  There are three segments passed to the pink child, although the pink child did not pass these on to either of their children.  See the discussion on segment 8 about how to tell for sure, if you need to.

The blue and green segments, since they do not match their pink parent are not IBD but are instead IBC.  The really interesting part of this is that in one case, the blue and green grandchildren’s DNA matches the orange grandmother on the same segments exactly, but does not match the pink parent.

How can this possible be, you ask, barring a file read issue?  Good question.  Remember, each child inherits half of their parent’s DNA.  In this case, both children apparently inherited the same DNA from both parents, but it wasn’t the orange DNA, but that of the pink child’s father.

It just happened, when the blue and green children’s DNA combined with that of their mother, it just happens to read as a match, for a small segment.  You can read about how this might happen in the article, “How Phasing Works and Determining IBD Versus IBS Matches.”

Unfortunately, all these comparisons can do is to tell us simply what does and does not match – they can’t tell us why.  Sometimes, based on other comparisons, like phasing and triangulation, we can figure out the “why” part of the puzzle – and sometimes, we can’t.

Chromosome 11

4 gen chr 11

On chromosome 11, the pink child inherited all of the grandmother’s DNA through their orange parent, but gave less than half to their green child and a small segment to the blue child.  The pink child gave the exact same segment in the center to both their blue and green children.

Chromosome 12

4 gen chr 12

On chromosome 12, the pink child inherited little of their grandmother’s DNA, but passed every bit of what they inherited to both of their children, shown by the nice stack at right.  The start and stop locations are exact between the three.

However, in addition, we have three small segments where the green and blue grandchildren match their orange grandmother without matching their pink parent – so those are IBC.

Chromosome 13

4 gen chr 13

The pink child inherited almost all of their grandmother’s entire chromosome, except for a very small bit at the far right end.  The pink child passed almost their entire chromosome 13 to their green child, but only a small amount to the blue child.

Chromosome 14

4 gen chr 14

This story is easy.  The pink child inherited their grandfather’s entire chromosome 14 because they do not match their grandmother’s DNA at all.

Chromosome 15

4 gen chr 15

This is a very “normal” chromosome.  The pink child inherited about half of their grandmother’s DNA and gave about half of what they inherited to their green child.  Of course, their blue child got left out altogether – but that looks to be a lot more “normal” than we once thought.

I am skipping chromosome 16-22, because they are more of what you’ve already seen and is, by now, quite familiar  Plus, you can take a look at the full chromosome comparison graphic and do your own analysis.

X Chromosome

The X chromosome is a bit different, and I’d like to take a look at that.

4 gen X

The X chromosome has special inheritance properties that other chromosomes don’t have.  In particular, women inherit an X just like they inherit their other chromosomes from 1-22 – one from Mom and one from Dad.  Men, however, only receive an X from their mother.  Therefore, there are relatives that you cannot inherit any X DNA from.  I wrote about this here and here along with examples and charts.

In this example, the inheritance path is such that it does not affect what can and cannot be inherited since we are comparing to a great-grandmother, but in other situations,  this would not be the case.

One last observation about the X chromosome.  I have found matching on the X to be particularly unreliable, and have found several situations, where, due to those special inheritance properties, we know beyond any doubt that the common ancestor on the X cannot be the same ancestor as has triangulated on the other chromosomes.  So word to the wise – be very vigilant and hesitant to draw conclusions from X matching.  I never utilize the X without corroborating autosomal matches and even then, I’m very reticent.

In Summary

On the average, we do inherit about half of our DNA from in each generation from each ancestral generation.  But the average and the actuality of what happens is two entirely different things.  Averages are made up of all of the outliers, and if you are one of those outliers, the average isn’t really relevant to you.  Kind of reminds me of “one size fits all” which really means “one size fits almost nobody well” and “everyone is some shade of unhappy.”

I wrote about generational inheritance and how it doesn’t always work the way we think, or expect.  It’s very important to pay close attention to your own DNA and not rely on averages unless you have absolutely no other choice – and only then understanding the averages are likely wrong in one direction or the other – but it’s the best we’ve got, under the circumstances.

So what can we apply to our genealogy from this little experiment.

  1. Some of the small segments across 4 generations are valid, meaning identical by descent or IBD.
  2. At least one third of the small segments aren’t valid and are identical by chance, or IBC.
  3. Without some form of triangulation or parental phasing, it’s impossible to tell which small segments are and are not valid, or identical by descent.
  4. Small segments are indeed formed within a 2 or 3 generation span, so they are not always a results of many generations of dividing.
  5. However, the further back in time your ancestor, the more likely that they will only be represented in your DNA by small segments, if any.
  6. Many small segments are valid and are not a result of IBC.  However, most are not and one needs to understand how to recognize signs of an IBC vs an IBD match.
  7. Disregarding small segments uniformly is like throwing away the only clues you may have to your most distant ancestors – which are likely your brick walls.
  8. The largest segment that was not valid was 3.14cM and 600 SNPs.
  9. The smallest valid segment was 1.25cM and 500 SNPs.

Getting the Most Out of Your DNA Experience

There is a lot more information available to us in our DNA results than is first apparent.  It takes a bit of digging and you need to understand how autosomal DNA works in order to ferret out those secrets.  Don’t discount or ignore evidence because it’s more difficult to use – meaning small segments.  The very piece or breadcrumb you need to solve a long-standing mystery may indeed be right there waiting for you.  Learn how to use your DNA information effectively and accurately – including those small segments.

You need to test every cousin you can find and convince to swab or spit.  It’s those cousin matches that help immensely with triangulation and confirming the validity of all DNA segments, matching them back to common ancestors.  You are building walkways or maybe pathways back in time, with your DNA as the steppingstones.  Genetic genealogy is not a one person endeavor.  It takes a village, hopefully of cousins willing to DNA test!

Ethnicity Testing and Results

I have written repeatedly about ethnicity results as part of the autosomal test offerings of the major DNA testing companies, but I still receive lots of questions about which ethnicity test is best, which is the most accurate, etc.  Take a look at “Ethnicity Percentages – Second Generation Report Card” for a detailed analysis and comparison.

First, let’s clarify which testing companies we are talking about.  They are:

Let’s make this answer unmistakable.

  1. Some of the companies are somewhat better than others relative to ethnicity – but not a lot.
  2. These tests are reasonably reliable when it comes to a continent level test – meaning African, European, Asian and sometimes, Native American.
  3. These tests are great at detecting ancestry over 25% – but if you know who your grandparents are – you already have that information.
  4. The usefulness of these tests for accurately providing ethnicity information diminishes as the percentage of that minority admixture declines.  Said another way – as your percentage of a particular ethnicity decreases, so does the testing companies’ ability to find it.
  5. Intra-continental results, meaning within Europe, for example, are speculative, at best.  Do not expect them to align with your known genealogy.  They likely won’t – and if they do at one vendor – they won’t at others.  Which one is “right”?  Who knows – maybe all of them when you consider population movement, migration and assimilation.
  6. As the vendors add to and improve their data bases, reference populations and analysis tools, your results change. I discussed how vendors determine your ethnicity percentages in the article, “Determining Ethnicity Percentages.”
  7. Sometimes unexpected results, especially continent level results, are a factor of ancient population mixing and migrations, not recent admixture – and it’s impossible to tell the difference. For example, the Celts, from the Germanic area of Europe also settled in the British Isles. Attila the Hun and his army, from Asia, invaded and settled in what is today, Germany, as well as other parts of Eastern Europe.
  8. Ethnicity tests are unreliable in consistently detecting minority admixture. Minority in this context means a small amount, generally less than 5%.  It does not refer to any specific ethnicity. Having said that, there are very few reference data base entries for Native American populations.  Most are from from Canada and South America.

In the context of ethnicity, what does unreliable mean?

Unreliable means that the results are not consistent and often not reproducible across platforms, especially in terms of minority admixture.  For example, a German/Hungarian family member shows Native American admixture at low percentages, around 3%, at some, but not all, vendors.  His European family history does not reflect Native heritage and in fact, precludes it.  However, his results likely reflect Native American from a common underlying ancestral population, the Yamnaya, between the Asian people who settled Hungary and parts of Germany and also contributed to the Native American population.

Unreliable can also mean that different vendors, measuring different parts of your DNA, can assign results to different regions.  For example, if you carry Celtic ancestry, would you be surprised to see Germanic results and think they are “wrong?”  Speaking of Celts, they didn’t just stay put in one region within Europe either.  And who were the Celts and where did they ‘come from’ before they were Celts.  All of this current and ancient admixture is carried in your DNA.  Teasing it out and the meaning it carries is the challenge.

Unreliable may also mean that the tests often do not reflect what is “known” in terms of family history.  I put the word “known” in quotes here, because oral history does not constitute “known” and it’s certainly not proof.  For the most part, documented genealogy does constitute “known” but you can never “know” about an undocumented adoption, also referred to as a “nonparental event” or NPE.  Yes, that’s when one or both parents are not who you think they are based on traditional information.  With the advent of DNA testing, NPEs can, in some instances, be discovered.

So, the end result is that you receive very interesting information about your genetic history that often does not correlate with what you expected – and you are left scratching your head.

However, in some cases, if you’re looking for something specific – like a small amount of Native American or African ancestry, you, indeed, can confirm it through your DNA – and can confirm your family history.  One thing is for sure, if you don’t test, you will never know.

Minority Admixture

Let’s take a look at how ethnicity estimates work relative to minority admixture.

In terms of minority admixture, I’m referring to admixture that is several generations back in your tree.  It’s often revealed in oral history, but unproven, and people turn to genetic genealogy to prove those stories.

In my case, I have several documented Native American lines and a few that are not documented.  All of these results are too far back in time, the 1600s and 1700s, to realistically be “found” in autosomal admixture tests consistently.  I also have a small amount of African admixture.  I know which line this comes from, but I don’t know which ancestor, exactly.  I have worked through these small percentages systematically and documented the process in the series titled, “The Autosomal Me.”  This is not an easy or quick process – and if quick and easy is the type of answer you’re seeking – then working further, beyond what the testing companies give you, with small amounts of admixture, is probably not for you.

Let’s look at what you can expect in terms of inheritance admixture.  You receive 50% of your DNA from each parent, and so forth, until eventually you receive very little DNA (or none) from your ancestors from many generations back in your tree.

Ethnicity DNA table

Let’s put this in perspective.  The first US census was taken in 1790, so your ancestors born in 1770 should be included in the 1790 census, probably as a child, and in following censuses as an adult.  You carry less than 1% of this ancestor’s DNA.

The first detailed census listing all family members was taken in 1850, so most of your ancestors that contributed more than 1% of your DNA would be found on that or subsequent detailed census forms.

These are often not the “mysterious” ancestors that we seek.  These ancestors, whose DNA we receive in amounts over 1%, are the ones we can more easily track through traditional means.

The reason the column of DNA percentages is labeled “approximate” is because, other than your parents, you don’t receive exactly half of your ancestor’s DNA.  DNA is not divided exactly in half and passed on to subsequence generations, except for what you receive from your parents.  Therefore, you can have more or less of any one ancestor’s individual DNA that would be predicted by the chart, above.  Eventually, as you continue to move further out in your tree, you may carry none of a specific ancestor’s DNA or it is in such small pieces that it is not detected by autosomal DNA testing.

The Vendors

At least two of the three major vendors have made changes of some sort this year in their calculations or underlying data bases.  Generally, they don’t tell us, and we discover the change by noticing a difference when we look at our results.

Historically, Ancestry has been the worst, with widely diverging estimates, especially within continents.  However, their current version is picking up both my Native and African.  However, with their history of inconsistency and wildly inaccurate results, it’s hard to have much confidence, even when the current results seem more reasonable and in line with other vendors.  I’ve adopted a reserved “wait and see” position with Ancestry relative to ethnicity.

Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder product is in the middle with consistent results, but they don’t report less than 1% admixture which is often where those distant ancestors’ minority ethnicity would be found, if at all.  However, Family Tree DNA does provide Y and mitochondrial mapping comparisons, and ethnicity comparisons to your matches that are not provided by other vendors.

Ethnicity DNA matches

In this view, you can see the matching ethnicity percentages for those whom you match autosomally.

23andMe is currently best in terms of minority ethnicity detection, in part, because they report amounts less than 1%, have a speculative view, which is preferred by most genetic genealogists and because they paint your ethnicity on your chromosomes, shown below.  You can see that both chromosome 1 and 2 show Native segments.

Ethnicity 23andMe chromosome

So, looking at minority admixture only – let’s take a look at today’s vendor results as compared to the same vendors in May 2014.

Ethnicity 2014-2015 compare

The Rest of the Story

Keep in mind, we’re only discussing ethnicity here – and there is a lot more to autosomal DNA testing than ethnicity – for example – matching to cousins, tools, such as a chromosome browser (or lack thereof), trees, ease of use and ability to contact your matches.  Please see “Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?”  Unless ethnicity is absolutely the ONLY reason you are DNA testing, then you need to consider the rest of the story.

And speaking of the rest of the story, National Geographic has been pretty much omitted from this discussion because they have just announced a new upgrade, “Geno 2.0: Next Generation,” to their offering, which promises to be a better biogeographical tool.  I hope so – as National Geographic is in a unique position to evaluate populations with their focus on sample collection from what is left of unique and sometimes isolated populations.  We don’t have much information on the new product yet, and of course, no results because the new test won’t be released until in September, 2015.  So the jury is out on this one.  Stay tuned.

GedMatch – Not A Vendor, But a Great Toolbox

Finally, most people who are interested in ethnicity test at one (or all) of the companies, utilize the rest of the tools offered by that company, then download their results to, a donation based site, and make use of the numerous contributed admixture tools there.

Ethnicity GedMatch

GedMatch offers lots of options and several tools that provide a wide range of focus.  For example, some tools are specifically written for European, African, Asian or even comparison against ancient DNA results.

Ethnicity ancient admixture


So what is the net-net of this discussion?

  1. There is a lot more to autosomal DNA testing than just ethnicity – so take everything into consideration.
  2. Ethnicity determination is still an infant and emerging field – with all vendors making relatively regular updates and changes. You cannot take minority results to the bank without additional and confirming research, often outside of genetic genealogy. However, mitochondrial or Y DNA testing, available only through Family Tree DNA, can positively confirm Native or minority ancestry in the lines available for testing. You can create a DNA Pedigree Chart to help identify or eliminate Native lines.
  3. If the ancestors you seek are more than a few generations removed, you may not carry enough of their ethnic DNA to be identified.
  4. Your “100% Cherokee” ancestor was likely already admixed – and so their descendants may carry even less Native DNA than anticipated.
  5. You cannot prove a negative using autosomal DNA (but you can with both Y and mitochondrial DNA). In other words, a negative autosomal ethnicity result alone, meaning no Native heritage, does NOT mean your ancestors were not Native. It MIGHT mean they weren’t Native. It also might mean that they were either very admixed or the Native ancestry is too far back in your tree to be found with today’s technology. Again, mitochondrial and Y DNA testing provide confirmed ancestry identification for the lines they represent. Y is the male paternal (surname) line and mitochondrial is the matrilineal line of both males and females – the mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line, on up the tree until you run out of mothers.
  6. It is very unlikely that you will be able to find your tribe, although it is occasionally possible. If a company says they can do this, take that claim with a very big grain of salt. Your internal neon warning sign should be flashing about now.
  7. If you’re considering purchasing an ethnicity test from a company other than the four I mentioned – well, just don’t.  Many use very obsolete technology and oversell what they can reliably provide.  They don’t have any better reference populations available to them than the major companies and Nat Geo, and let’s just say there are ways to “suggest” people are Native when they aren’t. Here are two examples of accidental ways people think they are Native or related – so just imagine what kind of damage could be done by a company that was intentionally providing “marginal” or misleading information to people who don’t have the experience to know that because they “match” someone who has a Native ancestor doesn’t mean they share that same Native ancestor – or any connection to that tribe. So, stay with the known companies if you’re going to engage in ethnicity testing. We may not like everything about the products offered by these companies, but we know and understand them.

My Recommendation

By all means, test.

Test with all three companies, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry – then download your results from either Family Tree DNA or Ancestry (who test more markers than 23andMe) to GedMatch and utilize their ethnicity tools.  When I’m looking for minority admixture, I tend to look for consistent trends – not just at results from any one vendor or source.

If you have already tested at Ancestry, or you tested at 23andMe on the V3 chip, prior to December 2013, you can download your raw data file to Family Tree DNA and pay just $39.  Family Tree DNA will process your raw data within a couple days and you will then see your myOrigins ethnicity results as interpreted by their software.  Of course, that’s in addition to having access to Family Tree DNA’s other autosomal features, functions and tools.  The transfer price of $39 is significantly less expensive than retesting.

Just understand that what you receive from these companies in terms of ethnicity is reflective of both contemporary and ancient admixture – from all of your ancestral lines.  This field is in its infancy – your results will change from time to time as we learn – and the only part of ethnicity that is cast in concrete is probably your majority ancestry which you can likely discern by looking in the mirror.  The rest – well – it’s a mystery and an adventure.  Welcome aboard to the miraculous mysterious journey of you, as viewed through the DNA of your ancestors!