Fun Genealogy Activities for Trying Times

My mother used to say that patience is a virtue.

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

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

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

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Let’s see:

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

Nope, no stress here. What about you?

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

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

I have some suggestions!

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The Feel Better Recipe

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

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

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

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

We can try to release the worry.

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

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

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

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

Beneficial Distractions

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

labyrinth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quilt rose

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

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

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

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

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

Upload download

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

New Countries of Origin Locations for Y and Mitochondrial Ancestors & Haplotrees at FamilyTreeDNA

Countries of origin flags

New flags provided courtesy of Family Tree DNA.

FamilyTreeDNA rolled out an update that includes new designations for nations, regions and territories – in essence the origins of where your direct patrilineal (direct Y chromosome male line for males) and matrilineal line (mother to mother to mother lineage for everyone) originated.

If you need a quick refresher on the different kinds of DNA we can use for genealogy, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

These locations are places that can be represented by flags or geographic designations of some sort. Political boundaries move, over time, and Family Tree DNA has attempted to quantify “peoples” as best they can – both in terms of geography and genetic differentiation.

This is a great time to check your personal account to be sure that you have completed your Earliest Known Ancestor information – or update it if a new region has been added that pertains to your genealogy.

Customers can change their earliest known ancestors to these new countries of origins – but they won’t show up on the haplotree with their associated flags until the following day.

These designations are for your direct maternal and paternal lines ONLY. If you want to add a flag and you want to help others identify the origins of their ancestors too, you need to select a location from the drop-down list which translates into a flag on the tree. Hopefully your matches will do the same thing to benefit you.

Quite a few new locations have been added thanks to several dedicated project administrators who focus on specific regions, peoples or areas of the world.

I think you’ll be pleased!

New Indigenous Origins

  • Australia (Aboriginal Australian)
  • Canada (Inuit)
  • Canada (First Nations)
  • New Zealand (Māori)
  • Sápmi (Sami)
  • United States (Kānaka Maoli) – This is what the Hawaiian community prefers over “Native Hawaiian”

Let’s look at an example. A customer changed their designation to New Zealand (Māori) and they now have a Māori flag on their Y DNA Block Tree, provided with the Big Y-700 test.

Countries of Original block tree

Click to enlarge.

Look at haplogroup C-FT133627. There are two results in the database for this haplogroup, and both are Māori, as are the two to the right of this haplogroup as well. This entire branch appears to be indigenous Māori!

This view shows the entire tree branch below C-M208 which includes self-identified patrilineal lines from United States Kanka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiian), Native American, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Māori and New Zealand (without a more specific Māori designation.)

Below is a similar view on the public block tree.

Countries of origin public tree

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Of course, you can then click on the tree dots at far right of the little flags to view that specific haplogroup and branch locations, shown below.

Countries of origin report

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This works equally as well for the mitochondrial tree.

My cousin and co-administrator of the Acadian AmerIndian Project who discovered that her ancestor, Anne Marie Rimbault, was Native American through her A2f1a mitochondrial DNA haplogroup changed her most recent known ancestor’s origin to “Canada – First Nations,” as did two other people. All 3 have the new Canada – First Nations flag.

Countries of origin mtdna

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Looking at the Country Report for A2f1a, here’s what we see.

Countries of origin mtdna report

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These reports (plus Matches Maps) help testers identify the location where their ancestor was from more granularly than just “Native American” which could encompass the entire North, Central and South America land mass. You can walk your ancestor “back in time” by climbing up the tree.

What other new locations are available? Lots!

New Islands for Oceania and Surrounding Areas

  • Admiralty Islands
  • American Samoa
  • Austral Islands
  • Christmas Island
  • Cocos Islands
  • Cook Islands
  • East Timor
  • Gambier Islands
  • Guam
  • Kiribati
  • Marquesas Islands
  • Marshall Islands
  • Nauru
  • Niue
  • Norfolk Island
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Palau
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
  • Samoa
  • Society Islands
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tokelau Islands
  • Torres Strait Islands
  • Tuamotu Islands
  • Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu
  • Wallis and Futuna

Instructions for How to Select (or Change) your Maternal or Paternal Origin Location

Now would be a great time to check to be sure you’ve completed this information, or update it to something more granular, more useful.

You can sign on to your account by clicking here, then click on the down arrow by your name to reveal “Account Settings.”

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Click on Account Settings, then on Genealogy and Earliest Known Ancestors.

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If you’ve already entered an ancestor and location, that information  will show. You may have pushed that brick wall back a few more generations, or discovered that your ancestor was (or wasn’t) Native American based on the mitochondrial or Y DNA results. Update that information. I didn’t realize my own needed attention.

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By way of example, I’m entering the name of my earliest known Canadian First Nations ancestor and then in the drop-down box, I’m selecting “Canada First Nations.” Of course, if they were Inuit (or something else,) I’d select that instead.

Ancestral Locations

The actual location, meaning a town or specific location is also recorded elsewhere.

eka update

Click to enlarge

Let’s say that I thought my ancestor was from Germany, but now I’ve learned differently. All I need to do is to click on “Update Location” to be taken to the “Plot Ancestral Locations” map where I can select a specific location.

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The page above shows only YOUR patrilineal and matrilineal ancestors’ locations – that pink and blue pin – not the locations of your matches. That’s the Matches Map screen available from your account page.

On the Plot Ancestral Locations page, click on “Edit Location” for either maternal or paternal and follow the steps to document the location of your earliest known ancestor on each your maternal (matrilineal) and paternal (patrilineal) lines.

This information, plus your matches ancestors’ locations can be seen on your Patches Map under either Y or mitochondrial DNA results on your personal page, shown below.

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Here’s my ancestor in Wirbenz, Germany, is shown with the white pin, plus pins representing the earliest known ancestors of my full sequence matches who have entered their geographic information.

Check Your Match Results – Again

So often, we forget to check the results of our own kits and the ones that we manage, even though FamilyTreeDNA sends notifications of matches. That means it’s easy to miss important information.

In this case, if people update their Earliest Known Ancestor field under Account Settings, you’ll see their ancestor in your match list. Or, you’ll see a blank space if they didn’t enter anything – or if you forget to check periodically and they’ve updated their information.

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The great irony is that some of these people with no Earliest Known Ancestors (EKA) do have trees, indicated by the blue pedigree icons. Several of the people with trees also have matrilineal ancestors listed, like my first match who did NOT enter her earliest known ancestor in her account information, but whose ancestor is found just 12 km away from my ancestor in Germany. Now THAT’S interesting!!!

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Many people will just glance at that empty Earliest Known Ancestor space and pass on by. It’s important to provide your earliest known ancestor information – important for your matches and for the Matches Map feature to provide as much information as possible.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone added their Earliest Known Ancestor? Feel free to make friendly contact with your matches and suggest doing so, because it can benefit them too. You can even forward this article with handy-dandy instructions.

eka eka more

Click to enlarge

What gems might be waiting for you?

10 Gems Waiting!

Here’s a checklist for the 10 things described above to discover more information:

  1. Check/Update matrilineal and patrilineal EKA information.
  2. Update or add your ancestral map location.
  3. Check your mitochondrial and Y DNA Matches Map for ancestral locations of your matches.
  4. Check your matches page to review new matches and the EKA of existing matches.
  5. Contact matches with no trees or EKA to ask them to add both in order to receive the maximum benefit from their tests.
  6. Build out your matches’ trees where possible, looking for a common ancestor or location.
  7. Check your Y and mitochondrial DNA matches to see if they are also Family Finder matches using the Advanced Matches feature on your personal page.
  8. Check the Block Tree for Big Y testers (who mayor maynot be matches to you) and their ancestral locations.
  9. Check the public Y Tree and countries of origin report for your haplogroup and those of your ancestors. Instructions here, if needed.
  10. Check the public mitochondrial tree and countries of origin report for your haplogroup and those of your ancestors. Instructions here, if needed.

Enjoy, and tell me if you find something fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

Free Webinar: 3 Case Studies and How I Solved Them

I recorded my latest webinar live yesterday for Legacy Family Tree Webinars, but Murphy interfered a bit in the last 5 minutes or so. The great news is that we re-recorded that portion and it’s fixed seamlessly for your (free until March 10th) viewing pleasure.

This webinar utilizes historical and genealogical records, autosomal, Y or mitochondrial DNA, sometimes in combination with each other, to solve various cases. I use the features available at the major vendors plus third-party tools as well – whatever is needed to address the situation at hand.

Which resources I use, when, depends on what I have to work with and where I seek to go – kind of like following clues on a treasure map – except this treasure trove I’m unearthing is my ancestors!

You’re not going to believe how much information, and how many generations were revealed in the mitochondrial DNA case. This was a GOLD MINE!

3 Case Studies and How I Solved Them is free until March 10th by clicking here. This is a wonderful opportunity if you didn’t get to watch live or had viewing issues. Just scroll down to the very first webinar in the library.

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After March 10th, you’ll need a subscription which you can purchase, here by clicking on the subscribe link in the upper right hand corner of the Legacy Family Tree Webinar  page.

Legacy Tree subscribe.png

If you want to order any of the tests mentioned in the webinar, they are available at the following links:

Instructions for transferring from vendors to either FamilyTreeDNA or My Heritage are found here. I recommend transferring to or between both. In other words, make sure you are in all 4 of the major testing databases. You never know where that critically important match is going to be found.

Need an autosomal testing and transfer strategy to minimize costs and mazimize results? Click here.

Enjoy and Share the Love

You can always forward my articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

RootsTech 2020: It’s a Wrap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FamilyTreeDNA announced:

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

RootsTech 2020 Sunny Paul

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

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

RootsTech 2020 Million Mito

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

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

Rootstech 2020 Sager

RootsTech 2020 Sager 2

RootsTech 2020 Sager hap d

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

RootsTech 2020 FTDNA booth

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

RootsTech 2020 Judy Russell

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

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

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

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage booth

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

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

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

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage fan tree

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

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

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage city directories

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

Rootstech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual

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

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

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual 2

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

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

Ancestry’s only announcements were:

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

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

Walking Around

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

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

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

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

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

RootsTech 2020 Amy Mags

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

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

RootsTech 2020 Kevin Borland

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

RootsTech 2020 Daniel Horowitz

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

RootsTech 2020 Hasani

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

RootsTech 2020 Randy Seaver

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

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

RootsTech 2020 univ dundee

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

RootsTech 2020 paleography

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

RootsTech 2020 Paleography 2

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

Rootstech 2020 scribe

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

RootsTech 2020 Gilad Japhet

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

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

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

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

RootsTech 2020 Paul Woodbury

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

Rootstech 2020 Toolmaker meetup

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

RootsTech 2020 Toolmaker meetup 2

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

RootsTech 2020 Campbell baby

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

Rootstech 2020 Kevin Campbell

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

Bless Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

The Show Floor

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

RootsTech 2020 everything

You can literally find almost anything.

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

RootsTech 2020 DNAPainter

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

RootsTech 2020 Rootstech store

The RootsTech store was doing a brisk business.

RootsTech 2020 DNA basics

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

Inheritance is show by jellybeans.

Rootstech 2020 dNA beans

Put a cup under the outlet and pull the lever.

Rootstech 2020 beans in cup

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

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

Rootstech 2020 JellyGenes

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

RootsTech 2020 Wikitree

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

RootsTech 2020 MitoYDNA

MitoYDNA with Kevin Borland standing in front of the sign.

RootsTech 2020 Crossley

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

RootsTech 2020 painter

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

Rootstech 2020 GeneaCreations

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

RootsTech 2020 zipper pull

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

Around the corner, I found CelebrateDNA.

RootsTech 2020 Celebrate DNA

Is that a Viking wearing a DNA t-shirt?

Rootstech 2020 day of the dead

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

RootsTech 2020 skeleton

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

Rootstech 2020 Mayflower replica

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

RootsTech 2020 Mayflower passengers

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

RootsTech 2020 Webinar Marathon

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

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

Rootstech 2020 street art

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

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

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

Rootstech 2020 gelatto

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

This absolutely MUST BE a RootsTech tradition.

Rootstech 2020 ribbons

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

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DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons

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

Layoffs

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, So What’s Happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at each one.

Market Saturation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertising and Ethnicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Repeat Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Testing Products

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Research and DNA Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Privacy Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they never go any further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISOGG provides a FAQ on Investigative Genetic Genealogy, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNA Testing Was A FAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowed Growth – Not Dead in the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Too Shall Pass

At least I hope it will.

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

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

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

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

I would call this “DNA crack.” 😊

Cooking Up DNA Crack!

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

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

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

Family Tree DNA

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

General Suggestion – Fix chronic site loading issues which discourage customers

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

MyHeritage

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

General – Clarify confusing subscription options in comparative grid format

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

Ancestry

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

General – Focus on the customers’ needs and repeated requests

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

23andMe

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

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

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

Summary

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

Just the facts.

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

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

Everybody row!

As genealogists, we need to:

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

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

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

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

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

There’s so much opportunity and work to do.

The sky is not falling. It rained a bit.

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

Rising tide

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

Let’s Play DNA on Jeopardy!

My cousin, Kelly, e-mailed me saying that recently Jeopardy! had a category called:

I JUST TOOK A DNA TEST

I think this means that DNA is most definitely now a mainstream topic. Jeopardy has been having championships, and Kelly says that the contestants did quite well with these questions.

Let’s play along and see how we do. Write your “questions” to the following answers down on a piece of paper, and I’ll provide the Jeopardy questions at the end.

$400 Answer is below:

DNA TESTS CAN TELL YOU IF YOU ARE THIS 7-LETTER HOLDER OF RECESSIVE GENES FOR A GENETIC DISEASE

$800 Answer is below:

…BECAUSE I LOVE SCIENCE, I HAD THIS, MY FULL SET OF CHROMOSOMES, SEQUENCED TO BETTER UNDERSTAND MY FAMILY’S HISTORY OF MENTAL ILLNESS

The $1,200 Answer is below:

FOR INFO ON GREAT-GREAT-GRANDMA, GENETIC DATA PASSED ON FROM YOUR MOTHER CAN UE USED IN THE mtDNA TEST, NAMED FOR THIS ORGANELLE

The $1,600 Answer is below:

YOU CAN LEARN YOUR ETHNICITY USING DNA IN YOUR AUTOSOMES, NON-SEX CHROMOSOMES; MOST PEOPLE HAVE THIS MANY SETS OF AUTOSOMES

The $2,000 Answer is below:

DNA IS COMPOSED OF NUCLEOTIDES, WHICH CONTAIN 4 NITROGENOUS BASES REPRESENTED BY THESE 4 LETTERS

Ok, compile your questions to the above answers and let’s see how you did, according to Jeopardy:

  • $400 question – What is “a carrier?”
  • $800 question – What is “a genome?”
  • $1200 question – What is “mitochondria.”
  • $1600 question – What is “22?”
  • $2000 question – What is “A, C, T and G?”

How did you do? I tended to overthink the answers. For example, for the $800 question, the mental illness/health aspect of the answer made me think they were seeking Exome, which is the medical portion of the genome. Judges?

For the $1200 question, I thought that since they said mtDNA, the question couldn’t possible be mitochondria. That would be too easy because they gave that away in the answer – but mitochondria was correct.

For the last question, I overthought the answer and gave the full nucleotide name, not the abbreviation, even though the answer clearly said letters.

This is why I’m not on Jeopardy😊

How much DNA Jeopardy money did you accumulate? Now if we could just spend that money for DNA tests, right?

Mary Lytle Hickerson (c1720/5 – 1793/4), Died at Mulberry Fields – 52 Ancestors #266

We don’t know who Mary’s parents are, but Mary Lytle’s surname comes from two sources. First, an 1877 letter written from her unnamed granddaughter in Texas to a relative in Wilkes County provides us with this information:

Nacogdoches, Texas.

May the 20th, 1877

Dr. Hickison

Dear Sir,

I write you in regard to a business matter.

You will doubtless be surprised to hear from one of Elizabeth Hickison’s daughters. My mother was daughter of Charles Hickison of North Carolina. He was buried at the Mulberry Fields on the Yadkin River, Wilkes County, North Carolina. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mollie Little. She was from Scotland. Grandfather was from England. I write you the particulars so you will know who I am. My mother married a Stuart. I was 3 years old when we left that country. My age is 86 years. I have been a widow 34 years.

(remainder of letter is missing)

Comments by Felix Hickerson:

I think it is undoubtedly true that the Charles Hickison here referred to was the father of David Hickerson and the grandfather of Litle (Lytle) Hickerson.

Whether Hickerson was originally spelled “Hickison” is doubtful, as an old lady, aged 86, living so far away, could easily become careless about the spelling when perhaps others adopted the simplified spelling.

“Mulberry Fields” was the original site of the town of Wilkesboro. It was the central meeting place for a large neighborhood.

It’s very unfortunate that rest of the letter was lost, including the name of the sender.

Felix Hickerson didn’t have access to online records in 1940 when he published this information, but I do.

I checked the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 census for women in Nacogdoches County born about 1791 in North Carolina.

In 1880, there were none, so the author had presumably passed away by then.

In 1870, we find Jane Anderson, age 78, born in North Carolina who cannot read or write. Hmmm. Just because the woman sent a letter doesn’t mean she actually scribed it herself.

Jane Anderson is living with J. B. Anderson, son of Benjamin Anderson, age 50 (born 1830) in Alabama.

There is no other female fitting this description in this county in 1870, or even close to this description, meaning born in North Carolina. Of course, we don’t know when she went to Texas.

In 1860, Jane Anderson, age 68, is living with Napoleon B. Anderson, age 26, born Alabama and Caledonia Anderson, age 18, born Texas. It appears that Jane can read and write.

In 1850, Jane Anderson, age 59, is married to Benjamin Anderson, age 92, living along with Jefferson Anderson, 20, Harriett 17, Doctor, 16, all born in Alabama. Were these Jane’s children?

I can’t find a record where Jane married Benjamin Anderson.

However, if Jane has been widowed 34 years in 1877, that tracks back to 1843, and Jane Anderson was clearly married in 1850.

Jane Anderson could be the wrong person, but if so, then where is the right person in the 1870 census? Or any census, for that matter?

Another inconsistency is that Mary Lytle Hickerson’s 1793 will very clearly calls forth her daughter, Mary Stewart, who clearly did marry a Stewart, Steward or Stuart, however you spell it.

Mary’s will does not mention a daughter named Elizabeth. However, Mary also did not mention Sarah and Rachel, and we know positively these two women were her daughters.

There’s no question that the author knew her mother’s name. She would not have mistaken Mary for Elizabeth, and middle names at the time her mother would have been born were exceedingly uncommon.

Is Elizabeth Hickerson who married a Stewart yet another unknown daughter? It’s certainly possible. In 1771, Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia (Harrison) Stewart who had son Samuel Stewart, the probable husband of Mary Hickerson Stewart. Lydia Stewart’s will also mentions sons Benjamin, Joseph, David, Samuel, Isaiah and John.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s husband, Charles Hickerson, didn’t have a will, so the will mentioning children is Mary’s.

Mary’s will named sons David and Joseph Hickerson, daughters Jane Miller and Mary Stewart, along with Mary’s son Samuel Hickerson, leaving the balance of her estate to “my daughters” without identifying them.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the name of the letter’s author was on the portion that is missing.

I’ve been unable to identify the author from the census and other available information.

Lytle as a First Name

In combination with the surname Little provided in the 1877 letter, we also have evidence in the form of the name Lytle being used as a first name for Mary Lytle Hickerson’s grandchildren. Spelling was, of course, arbitary and phoenetic at that time in history. Lytle and Little would have been pronounced the same way, so the spelling would have been the preference of the speller.

Mary Lytle Hickerson in North Carolina

We know very little about Mary from records that involve her before she signed the deed with an X when she and Charles sold land to their son, David on July 29, 1788. In fact, there is no direct evidence other than the fact that David, born between 1750 and 1760 named his son Lytle.

We know, positively, that Mary and Charles were living on Mulberry Creek ten years before the deed-signing, in 1778 when Charles made a land entry, and that they lived in Surry County, the part that woul,d become Wilkes in 1776 when a group of militia men marched to the Cherokee Towns.

It’s probable that by 1774 they had already settled along the Yadkin near what was then called Mulberry Fields, today the area just north of Wilkesboro. Charles was listed in the tax district of Col. Benjamin Cleveland who we know positively lived there.

The first record of Charles Hickerson in North Carolina isn’t on this part of the Yadkin River but about 15 miles west of what is today Winston-Salem.

On January 11, 1771, Charles Hickerson witnessed the will of Lydia Stewart. Her husband, Samuel, had died a few years before, leaving his land to two of his sons, but his moveable estate to Lydia.

It stands to reason that Lydia lived on that land until her death. In fact, based on her will, it seems apparent that she still lived in the old home place.

Charles Hickerson, and by extension, Mary, would have had to live in close proximity to Lydia to witness her will. It’s also worth mentioning that at least one of Mary’s daughters, Mary, married a Stewart, if not two daughters – meaning Elizabeth too. This might suggest that the Hickersons in fact lived very close to Lydia – close enough for their kids to court.

Where did Lydia Stewart live?

Lydia Stewart’s Land

I lucked out. Not only did my cousin, Carol, discover that indeed, Charles had witnessed Lydia’s will, along with his mark for a signature, but I discovered that Wes Patterson has researched the Stewarts extensively. You can see his website, here.

Based on Wes’s work, it looks like Lydia Stewart lived on land that her husband, Samuel, willed to sons Benjamin and Joseph.

This land was located near where the Great Wagon Road crossed the Yadkin River where modern Robinhood Road intersects Chickasha Road near Gorgales Creek, then known as Muddy Creek.

Samuel had a land grant for 640 acres on Muddy Creek above the head of Stewarts Run.

Today Stewart’s Creek is Shallowford/Country Club Road.

The old wagon road came into Lewisville at Shallowford Road near Lewisville-Vienna Road. Yadkinville Hwy., Old 421, crosses the Yadkin River at Old 421 River Park.

Then, Wes’s item #16 confirms the location on Bersheba Creek where Samuel Stewart Sr. and Lydia had lived.

I found and marked these locations on Google maps, here.

Mary Lytle Winston-Salem.png

I’ve marked these places on the map, above.

On the left, at 7699 Yadkinville Road we see where 421, aka the Old Wagon Road crossing the Yadkin. The dotted line dot above that is where the Bashavia Creek empties into the Yadkin. This is where Lydia and Samuel lived, and where Charles Hickerson would have witnessed her will.

I wonder if Charles was working on her land after arriving in North Carolina from wherever they came from.

The other Robinhood Road locations are 5901 Robinhood at Chickasha Road, mentioned by Wes, and 4600 where Robinhood crosses Muddy Creek.

At 1425 Lyndale, we find the head of Tomahawk Creek, then Stewart’s Run, mentioned in one of the deeds.

Mary Lytle Bashavia.png

I think it’s safe to say we’ve pretty well isolated where Lydia lived given that the deed says on both sides of Bashavia on the east side of the Yadkin, and we know that Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson lived someplace nearby.

Mary Lytle Muddy.png

The land around Winston-Salem is much flatter than further west in Wilkes County where Charles and Mary would settle permanently. Standing on the bridge below, looking north where the old Wagon Road crossed the Yadkin. Lydia and Samuel Stewart’s land would have been on the right, beyond the bend in the river.

Mary Lytle Yadkin.png

Moving on West

It appears that perhaps Charles and Mary checked things out here, and decided, for some reason, to keep moving west.

Mary Lytle Winston-Salem to Wilkesboro.png

Wilkesboro is about 45 miles further west on the Yadkin River, although the Yadkin does not follow 421, but arches north and then back south to Wilkesboro. Charles and Mary settled near Mulberry, north of Wilkesboro just a few miles. After the Revolution, they patented the land they had been living on where they lived the rest of their lives.

Note under item 15 that Les says that Samuel Stewart Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Winscott. He probably believed this to be true because Samuel Stewart Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth, sold land in 1774 mentioned in Lydia Stewart’s will.

I think that Wes might have been confused. Cousin Carol found the marriage bond of Elizabeth Winscott who married Thomas Benjamin Steward/Stuard on August 19, 1769. Either John or Joseph Stewart signed with Thomas, and Elizabeth appears to have been an orphan. Carol indicated that the original document was in very poor condition, badly smeared, and the transcribed version spelled the groom’s name as Benman Sheart. Carol found the record by reading the originals.

Therefore, we know that Elizabeth Winscot did indeed marry a son of Lydia’s, but not Samuel, who obviously was also married to an Elizabeth in 1774. The woman in the 1877 letter who was born in 1791 says that her mother’s name was Elizabeth Hickerson and she had married a Stewart – which certainly tells us that Elizabeth Hickerson Stewart was yet alive in 1791.

Either Mary Hickerson and Elizabeth Hickerson are one and the same person, or two of Mary Lytle Hickerson’s daughters married Stewart men.

Other than Mary Lytle Hickerson’s signature on the 1788 deed, the next we find of her is when she composed her will. Unfortunately, we don’t have a will for Charles Hickerson, so without Mary’s we would know little.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s Will

Mary Hickerson’s will was composed on December 5th, 1793. The will was unsigned and the will was clearly not prepared by an attorney. It says that the will was “Delivered in the presence of us Amy Hickerson Jane Miller” so the witnesses were two Mary’s daugher and daughter-in-law, suggesting that they were the two people who just happened to be in the house as she was dictating or speaking her will.

Mary was likely very gravely ill, possibly suddently, told whoever was in the cabin at the time what she wanted, and that was it.

At the February Court term, the family probated Mary’s will.

Mary Lytle will.jpg

Recorded at the February 1794 court held in Wilkes County, meaning that Mary died sometime between December 5th and the February court dates, we find her will recorded and written into the book.

In the name of God Amen, I Mary Hickerson of the County of Wilkes and State of North Carolina, being of Sound mind and memory, blessed be God, do this the fifth day of December in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety three make and publish this my last Will and Testament in the manner following, that is to say– First, I give my son Joseph Hickerson one purple rugg. I also give my daughter Jane Miller my chest and tea ware. I also give my daughter Mary Stewart and her son Samuel Hickerson one feather bed and also my daughter, Mary Stewart, all the goods in the above mentioned chest. And all the balance of my property to be equally divided amongst my daughters. I also leave my son David Hickerson three yards of white linnin. Also this is my last Will and Testament and Desire. Delivered in the presence of us Aney Hickson Jane Miller.

Aney Hickerson was the wife of Joseph Hickerson, Mary’s son. Jane Miller was Mary’s daughter who was married to Leonard Miller.

Note that Mary specifically names her daughter, Mary Stewart.

We later discover that not all of Mary’s children were mentioned in her will.

What do we know about Mary’s children?

Mary Lytle and Charles Hickerson’s Children

Happy Valley History and Genealogy written and published in 1940 by Felix Hickerson provides the names of the children of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. Below, I’ve expanded significantly on what Felix included. This isn’t intended to be critical of Felix, but I have a lot more available resources than Felix did in 1940, plus DNA evidence. Then again, living in Wilkes County, Felix probably had access to records that no longer exist or will never be online – not to mention the long memories of residents still alive who were born in the first half of the 19th century.

Let’s look at what we know about each child of Mary Lytle Hickerson.

David Hickerson

  • David Hickerson born circa 1750/1760 in Virginia married Nancy Toliver (Taliaferro). His children include:
    • John Hickerson 1782-1845 who married Nancy Petty and died in Manchester, Tennessee
    • Charles Hickerson born about 1784, died 1819 in Wilkes County, unmarried
    • David Hickerson Jr. born 1787, died in 1861 in Manchester, Tennessee
    • Joseph Hickerson born 1789, married in 1813 to Nancy Rousseau, died in 1850 in Coffee County, Tennessee
    • Major Lyttle Hickerson born 1793, married in 1827 to Amelia Gwynn, died 1884 in Wilkes County

Mary Lytle - Lytle Hickerson.jpg

    • Nancy Hickerson born about 1794 married a Cole, probably Isaac who proved David Hickerson’s will in court, died before 1870 in Coffee County, Tennessee
    • Mary “Polly” Hickerson 1798-1847 who married John Adams
    • Lucy Hickerson 1804-1853 who married an Allison
    • Sarah “Sally” Hickerson born about 1805 and married Isaac Lusk of Tennessee, died before 1860

There are no photos of Mary Lytle Hickerson’s children, of course, and I believe Lytle Hickerson is the only existing photo of one of Mary’s grandchildren. Does Lytle look like Mary or Charles?

With the exception of sons Charles and Lytle, David Hickerson and his children moved to Coffee Co., TN about 1809, but assuredly before 1812 because David’s son, David Hickerson Jr., served in the War of 1812 from Coffee County.

Rabbit Hole – Cameo Appearance of Nathaniel Vannoy

It’s interesting to note that Nathaniel Vannoy is a witness to David Hickerson’s will dated January 25, 1821. Daniel Vannoy was married to David Hickerson’s sister, Sarah. This goes to show that people kept in touch with family members, even distant, as they removed from their home counties and expanded westward.

The fact that Nathaniel Vannoy witnessed David’s will, suggesting he was a trusted friend or relative, but not next of kin, causes me to wonder if Nathaniel is the missing male child of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson who was born prior to 1788.

Although that gives me pause, because David Hickerson sued Daniel Vannoy for slander back in Wilkes County in 1794. Daniel Vannoy disappeared from the records after that suit, so it’s possible that David didn’t get along with Daniel, but was fine with his sister Sarah and her Vannoy children – especially if Daniel left. Several people sued Daniel Vannoy about that time for slander and assault.

David Hickerson’s son, Lytle, signed for another one of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson’s children, Susan, when she married in 1822.

At that time, Lytle Hickerson could have been Susan Vannoy’s closest living relative living in Wilkes County, with her parents both gone. In fact, for all we know, Lytle could have raised Susan after her mother, Sarah, died.

The Happy Valley story goes on to say that David Hickerson went to Tennessee in 1809, established a grist mill in 1815, later a cotton gin, sawmill and corn mill on the Duck River between 1820 and 1830. The family story of the migration of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy’s son, Elijah Vannoy, to Claiborne County, Tennessee is that the family came up the Duck River, which until this very minute, made no sense whatsoever. Elijah’s daughter is the person who conveyed that information about the Duck River, so it could be considered fairly close to the source.

Bingo – Elijah was visiting his uncle David Hickerson, probably considering whether to settle there or not, and I thought that Nathaniel Vannoy is Elijah’s brother that did stay, at least for a while. If so, I wonder who Nathaniel married and if he had children.

Another piece of this puzzle that never made sense is that the Duck River is no place close to Claiborne County where Elijah settled, so it’s not “on the way” nor would it be logical.

Mary Lytle Duck River.png

On the map above, the Duck River begins about Manchester, Tennessee where David Hickerson lived in Coffee County, and ended on the Tennessee River, further west.

Sneedville, where Elijah Vannoy settled is in the upper right-hand corner of the map.

Mary Lytle Wilkesboro to Duck River.png

If Elijah too had traversed the Duck River, from the west to get to Coffee County, he then had a long overland route to get back east to Sneedville which is far closer to Wilkesboro than to Manchester, or anyplace on Duck River.

I’m not even sure that a water route to Coffee County from Wilkesboro, meaning “up the Duck River,” makes sense under any circumstances.

The Yadkin River becomes the PeeDee which empties into the Atlantic near Charleston, SC. From there, travelers would need to travel around Florida by boat, to the Mississippi River at New Orleans, then traveling north to Paducah, Kentucky where they could intersect with the Tennessee River, then traveling the Tennessee back south to Manchester, southeast of Nashville.

That seems very counter-intuitive. On the map below, you can see the direct route, albeit over the mountains. The “water route” looks much longer and more difficult and I’ve not heard of anyone else taking a long water route between North Carolina and anyplace in Tennessee. Of course, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – especially not in my family who failed to do anything in the “normal” way.

Mary Lytle around Florida.png

Back to David Hickerson and Nathaniel Vannoy.

In a December 1833 deposition about the validity of David Hickerson’s will that was signed a dozen years earlier, in 1821, James Haggard, another one of the witnesses, testified that, “Sanders is dead and Vannoy the last I saw of him he resided in Greenville District, North Carolina.”

I was unsuccessful in discovering more about Nathaniel Vannoy in Greenville District, North Carolina, nor anything about a district called “Greenville District.”

Daniel Vannoy’s brother, Nathaniel Vannoy, died in 1835 in Greenville, the city, in Greenville County, South Carolina at about age 87. Born in 1749, it’s somewhat unlikely that Nathaniel would have been in Tennessee in 1821 at 71 or 72 years of age witnessing a will. Nathaniel was the register of deeds in Wilkes County in 1814 and 1815, a founder of the New Hope Baptist Church in 1830, and died living with his daughter in South Carolina in 1835. You wouldn’t think Nathaniel would have witnessed a will in Tennessee unless he lived there and anticipated being able to prove the will in court.

However, Nathaniel Vannoy’s son, Andrew, settled in Bedford County, Tennessee, and married on January 7, 1821, the same month that Nathaniel Vannoy witnessed David Hickerson’s will. Bedford County is just a few miles on west of Manchester near where David Hickerson lived. It’s possible that Nathaniel helped to move his son to Tennessee, helped him get settled, attended his wedding, and visited David Hickerson in the process. In that case, Greenville District would have been mistakenly recorded as North Carolina instead of South Carolina.

We’ll likely never know and the information available is ambiguous.

Let’s look at Mary Lytle Hickerson’s other son, Joseph Hickerson.

Joseph Hickerson

Felix tells us the following:

  • Joseph Hickerson, probably born around 1765 – Captain of the 13th VA Regiment, Rev War and later of the Wilkes County Militia

Felix was mistaken. Joseph, the son of Charles and Mary, is NOT the Joseph who served in Virginia. He can’t be, because that Joseph Hickerson died during the war.

His service record says:

Joseph Hickerson, enlisted October 1777 for 3 years, sick at Bethlehem 13th VA reg commanded by Col. William Russell – listed under casualties as “Dead Nov 8.”

Mary Lytle Joseph Hickerson Rev War.png

In a March 1939 letter from Adelaide Sisson, the Librarian General of the DAR to Frances Hickerson of Hickerson Station in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Adelaide says that the Joseph who served in Virginia was born in 1747 and was married in 1768 to a Whiting.

The lineage is published in the DAR Lineage book, Volume 166, page 221. She further says that the DAR is focused on New England and cannot be of further assistance with Virginia. It’s too bad she didn’t bother to look further, being located in Washington DC, because that would have prevented the incorrect information being disseminated about Joseph Hickerson from Wilkes County for, oh, the next 80+ years!

Obviously, Mary’s son Joseph listed in her 1793 will was a different Joseph Hickerson. We know that Charles and Mary Hickerson were in Surry County by January 1771, so it made no sense that their son Joseph served in Virginia several years later.

Joseph, the son of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle was born about 1766, lived his life in Wilkes County, married Ann Green (or Greer), date unknown but clearly before 1793, and had at least 4 children:

  • Joseph Hickerson born 1789
  • David Hickerson born 1793
  • Joshua Greer Hickerson 1794-1856, married Susannah Murphey and moved to Warren County, TN
  • Sarah Hickerson born about 1803

Mary Hickerson

Felix tells us that:

  • Mary Hickerson married Mr. Stewart and (possibly) moved to Texas

While indeed Mary Hickerson clearly did marry a Stewart, she may or may not have moved to Texas. Texas didn’t exist in the 1790s, to begin with, and it’s likely they moved someplace else first. Texas was part of Spain until 1821 when it became part of Mexico who actively recruited Anglos. By 1834, 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas. The Texas Revolution took place in 1835-1836 and Texas joined the union in 1845. Given this history, it’s unlikely that Mary Hickerson Stewart was living in Texas prior to about 1830.

Typically, Tennessee was the path to Texas, or one of the paths.

While this information came from the 1877 letter, given that the writer, whoever she was, says that her mother’s name is Elizabeth, not Mary, I have to wonder if Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle Hickerson had another daughter, Elizabeth, that we don’t know about, who also married a Stuart. The letter’s author clearly knew her mother’s name – and Mary Lytle Hickerson when she was creating her will in 1795 on her death bed clearly knew her daughter’s name.

Mary and Elizabeth are not nicknames for each other.

The Stewart that Mary Hickerson probably married was Samuel Stewart, who I thought was the son of Samuel and Lydia Stewart who lived close enough to Charles Hickerson for him to witness Lydia’s will in January of 1771 in Rowan County.

By the time Lydia Stewart’s will was probated in 1772, the location was Surry County. Lydia mentions son Samuel Stewart inheriting the bed known as “his bed.” Of course, “his bed” could still be “his” after he moved from his mother’s home, but it sounded to me like Samuel was still using “his” bed.

One Samuel Stewart sued Daniel Vannoy, husband of Mary’s daughter, Sarah Hickerson, in 1781. In 1794, after Mary’s will was probated, Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart, and Daniel Vannoy were embroiled in slander and assault lawsuits.

The one child of Mary Hickerson Stewart’s that we know positively existed was Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward/Stewart. Descendants of Sarah Hickerson DNA match with the children of one Samuel Hickerson who was found in Kentucky.

Samuel Hickerson alias Stewart also went by the name of Lytle. Did Mary rename him entirely after she married Samuel Stewart from Lytle Hickerson to Samuel Stewart?

Note that Wes Patterson, under item 15, says that Samuel Stewart Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Winscott. If the Samuel married to Mary Hickerson is the son of Lydia Stewart, then did he later marry Mary Hickerson? Note that the women in 1877 letter said her mother, Elizabeth, married a Stewart and that she was born in 1791.

So, there is some doubt about whether or not Mary Hickerson Stewart/Steward moved to Texas, but clearly Elizabeth Hickerson Stuart’s daughter wound up there.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to Mary Hickerson Stewart, when, or where – or to her Stewart husband, whatever his name was. Mary’s son, Samuel Hickerson appears to have gone to Kentucky where today, I have DNA matches to his descendants.

Clearly, for anyone descending from daughter Mary Hickerson Stewart, there’s a lot of unraveling left to do.

Jane Hickerson

Felix tells us that:

  • Jane Hickerson married Mr. Miller.

Indeed, Jane, born about 1760 did marry Leonard Miller with whom she had at least 7 children, three being daughters. I can only confirm one child positively, and three probably based on DNA matches to their descendants.

  • Michael Miller 1783-1858
  • Benjamin Miller born 1790, lived in South Carolina by 1815, in Alabama by 1820 and in Lafayette County, Mississippi by the 1830s when his father, Leonard was living with him and collecting a Revolutionary War Pension
  • William Miller 1791-1889

It appears that Jane remarried in 1806 in Wilkes County to John Reynolds based on a marriage bond signed by David Hickerson, her brother. It’s possible that instead of Jane herself, one of her daughters, also named Jane, married in Wilkes County.

Jane Hickerson’s situation is interesting, to say the least.

In May of 1794, following a series of lawsuits, Leonard Miller forfeits his bond and does not appear as a witness in the slander suit of Janes brother, David Hickerson, versus her brother-in-law, Daniel Vannoy.

This series of lawsuits is particularly brutal, because Jane Hickerson Miller herself was convicted of concealing a feather bed stolen from her sister, Rachel Hickerson Harris, during a 1789 robbery and arson of Rachel’s home. The jury’s remarks are particularly unflattering towards Jane:

March term 1793 – State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of law – The jurors for the state upon their oath present that Jone Miller late of the County of Wilkes in the Morgan District labourer being a person of evil name and fame and of dishonest conversation and a common buyer and receiver of stolen goods on the 10th day of March 1789 in the county aforesaid one feather bed of value of 15 pounds of the goods and chattels of one Braddock Harris by a certain ill disposed person to the jurors aforesaid as yet unknown then lately before feloniously stolen of the same ill disposed person unlawfully unjustly and for the sale of Wicked gain did receive and have (she the said Jone Miller) then and there well knowing the said bed to have been feloniously stolen to the great damage of the said Braddock Harris and against the peace and dignity of the state . J. Harwood Atto. Genl. State vs Jone Miller Ind. Misdemeanor, Braddock Harris, John Roberts (name marked through) prosr. And witness. Joseph Hickerson. Witness Rachell Harris. Sworn and sent.

This robbery and arson committed by John Roberts, followed by lawsuits filed after Mary Hickerson’s death, divided the Hickerson family terribly. Many suits for assault and slander follow – and the only thing that’s clear is that there’s a war being fought between the Hickerson siblings along with their spouses.

  • During this time, about 1794, Mary (or Elizabeth) Hickerson Stewart leaves, Daniel Vannoy disappears without a trace and Leonard Miller moves, apparently without Jane, to South Carolina. Braddock and Rachel Harris move to South Carolina too and in 1809, David Hickerson goes to Tennessee.
  • In 1800, Jane Miller appears in the census in Wilkes county, without a male of Leonard’s age in the household. She does have 3 males 10-15, 1 male 16-25, 2 females under 10, 1 female 16-25, and one female 26-44, which would likely be her.
  • In 1800, John Reynolds is the same age as Jane, has children, but no wife.
  • In 1810, John Reynolds has a male 26-44 and a female of the same age. These age brackets seem to be off.
  • Leonard Miller, in Laurens County, SC, in 1810 does have a female of his age in the household, so perhaps he remarried too.
  • In 1833, Leonard Miller, then living in Jefferson County, Alabama applied for a pension for having served in Rutherford’s Campaign under Col. Benjamin Cleveland in Wilkes County. After his death, in April 1845, Leonard’s son, Benjamin stated that Leonard had 7 children, and he had heard from none of his siblings in the past 18 years, dating back to about 1827. Benjamin said the last he heard, they were scattered with some in Kentucky and Virginia, but he didn’t know where. He said that Leonard had not had a wife since he had been a pensioner.

Something happened between Jane and Leonard Miller, and it looks like they got a “divorce” in one manner or another. I found no divorce records, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Rachel Hickerson

Apparently Felix didn’t discover Rachel Hickerson.

  • Rachel Hickerson was born about 1765 and married Braddock Harris about 1786.

In April 1786, Braddock was convicted in court of “intended rape,” was carted through the town for an hour as a spectacle with a sign pinned to his forehead saying, “This is the effects of an intended rape.”

John Roberts burned Rachel and Braddock Harris’s house on March 1, 1789 after robbing their home. In collaboration with John, Rachel’s sister Jane Miller hid the stolen feather bed.

No wonder this family was at war!

After Mary Lytle Hickerson died in late 1793 or early 1794, Rachel Hickerson Harris stayed in Wilkes County long enough to testify against both Roberts and her sister, but then she and Braddock left for Laurens District, which became Laurens County, SC where they lived until at least 1810. Rachel died in 1822 in Franklin County, Georgia. Rachel had at least 8 children including three females.

  • Stephen Harris born about 1787/9
  • Mollie Harris born 1792, marriage unknown
  • Sallie Harris born about 1792/4-1856 married Nathan Curry, having many children including at least 6 daughters
  • Nancy Harris born 1799, marriage unknown
  • John Lane Harris born about 1802
  • Littleton Harris born about 1804
  • William Washington Harris born about 1807

Sarah Hickerson

Felix also didn’t discover Sarah Hickerson.

  • Sarah Hickerson married Daniel Vannoy on October 2, 1779.

Sarah was born sometime between 1752 and 1760, based on her husband’s age and her marriage date. Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy had:

  • Elijah Vannoy born about 1784 married Lois McNiel in 1809 and moved to Claiborne County, Tennessee a couple years later
  • An unknown son born before 1788
  • An unknown daughter born before 1788
  • Joel Vannoy born in 1792 married Elizabeth St. Claire in 1817, having 8 children. He then married Emily Lemira Suddworth about 1832 in Burke County where they had another 10 children.
  • Susan Vannoy, born about 1804, married George McNiel in 1822 in Wilkes County and had 6 children
  • Possibly another daughter born between 1795-1800

According to the census, Sarah Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy had at least one unidentified male and one unidentified female child, both born before 1788. They may have had another daughter born between 1795 and 1800.

That male child may have been Nathaniel Vannoy, found in 1821 in Franklin County, Tennessee witnessing the will of David Hickerson, or maybe not. Nathaniel could also possibly have been Daniel Vannoy’s brother, although he would have been quite aged to have been traveling.

It’s also possible that the unidentified children didn’t survive.

Possibly Elizabeth Hickerson

  • Elizabeth Hickerson, mother of the anonymous letter writer who left Wilkes County about 1794 married a Stuart (Stewart/Steward)

It’s possible that Mary Lytle Hickerson had another daughter named Elizabeth, based on the 1877 letter from Elizabeth’s daughter where she states that her mother married a Stewart and that she (the letter writer) was born in 1791.

I find it hard to believe that the letter-writer would record her mother’s name incorrectly.

If Elizabeth Hickerson’s daughter was born in 1791, and Mary Lytle was having children by about 1745, Elizabeth’s mother would have been between the ages of 43 (born in 1748) and 33 (born in 1768 as Mary’s last child.)

When Was Mary Lytle Hickerson Born?

We know that Mary Lytle Hickerson’s daughter, Mary Hickerson Stewart had a son named Samuel Hickerson who used aliases including Stewart, Lytle, and Litle.

In 1781, Samuel Steward filed a suit against Daniel Vannoy in Wilkes County. I initially thought this was Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, Samuel, but at this point, I doubt that she had her son, Samuel in 1760 or before which would have had to be the case if he were filing a suit in 1781. Samuel would have had to be of age to file suit. It Samuel was age 21 in 1781, he had to have been born in 1760 or earlier.

We know that Charles Hickerson was age 60 in 1784 when he was exempted from taxes, which puts his birth year in 1724.

Assuming that Mary is not older than Charles, and that they married when she was about 20, and assuming that her daughter Mary Hickerson is Mary Lytle’s oldest child, that put’s daughter Mary’s birth about 1745. To have had son Samuel in 1760, Mary would have given birth when she was 15. While that’s not impossible, especially given that he appears to have been illegitimate, it’s unlikely.

Mary Lytle Hickerson’s will specifically names Samuel Hickerson as Mary Hickerson Stewart’s son, and he is the only grandchild she left anything to by name. I suspect that this is because she probably raised Samuel in her home after he was born illegitimately to his mother, before Mary married the Stewart male probably sometime after 1771.

Based on the ages of her children, I suspect Mary Lytle was born about the same time as Charles Hickerson, so would have been about 68 when she died in December 1793 or early 1794.

Mary’s DNA

I’ve identified autosomal DNA segments on three chromosomes that descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle. What we don’t know, and can’t discover until we figure out who their parents are, is whether these segments descend through Charles or Mary.

Mary Lytle segments.png

Mary’s Direct Matrilineal Line

However, if we can find someone descended from Mary Lytle through all females to the present generation, which can be male, we can obtain Mary’s mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by both sexes of children from their mother, but only females pass it on. Therefore, the mitochondrial DNA of Mary’s daughter’s direct linear female descendants (to the current generation which can be male) is the same as Mary Lytle Hickerson’s.

Mary’s mitochondrial DNA can tell us a great deal about where she came from and may help us further break down brick walls, especially if it’s rare, or Native. We don’t know who Mary’s mother is, so Mary’s mitochondrial DNA is a direct lifeline to matrilineal ancestral women – Mary’s mother, grandmother and so forth.

Of Mary’s daughters, listed above, we know that:

  • Mary Hickerson Stewart had one son, but nothing more is known
  • Jane Hickerson Miller had daughters, but I’ve been unable to document who they were
  • Rachel Hickerson Harris’s daughters are listed in bold, above
  • Sarah Hickerson Vannoy’s only known daughter, Susan, is bolded above as well
  • Elizabeth Hickerson Stuart’s only known child is the nameless author of the 1877 letter from Nacogdoches, Texas. If anyone can figure out who she is, and if she had daughters, please let me know.

If you descend from these women through all females to the present generation, which can be male, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you. Please get in touch! We have brick walls to break down together.

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Thank you so much.

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Top 10 All-Time Favorite DNA Articles

Top 10

I’ve been writing about DNA is every shape and form for approaching 8 years now, offering more than 1200 free (key word seachable) articles.

First, thank you for being loyal subscribers or finding my articles and using them to boost your genealogy research with the power of DNA.

You may not know this, but many of my articles stem from questions that blog readers ask, plus my own genealogical research stumbling-blocks, of course.

DNAeXplain articles have accumulated literally millions and millions of page views, generating more than 38,000 approved comments. Yes, I read and approve (or not) every single comment. No, I do not have “staff” to assist. Staff consists of some very helpful felines who would approve any comment with the word catnip😊

More than twice that number of comments were relegated to spam. That’s exactly why I approve each one personally.

Old Faithful

Looking at your favorites, I’ve discovered that some of these articles have incredible staying power, meaning that people access them again and again. Given their popularity and usefulness, please feel free to share by linking or forwarding to your friends and genealogy groups.

Subscribe for FREE

Don’t forget, you can subscribe for free by clicking on the little grey “follow” box on the upper right hand side of the blog margin.

Top 10 subscribe

Just enter your e-mail address and click on follow. I don’t sell or share your e-mail, ever. I’ve never done a mass e-mailing either – so I’ll not be spamming you😊

You will receive each and every article, about 2 per week, in a nice handy e-mail, or RSS feed if you prefer.

Your Favorites

You didn’t realize it, but every time you click, you’re voting.

So, which articles are reader favorites? Remember that older articles have had more time to accumulate views.

I’ve noted the all-time ranking along with the 2019 ranking.

Starting with number 10, you chose:

  • Number 10 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum – Published in 2016 – How ethnicity testing works – and why sometimes it doesn’t work like people expect it will.

Ethnicity results from DNA testing. Fascinating. Intriguing. Frustrating. Exciting. Fun. Challenging. Mysterious. Enlightening. And sometimes wrong. These descriptions all fit. Welcome to your personal conundrum! The riddle of you! If you’d like to understand why your ethnicity results might not have … Continue reading →

  • Number 9 all time and number 4 in 2019: How Much Indian Do I Have in Me? – Published in 2015 – This article explains how to convert that family story into an expected percentage.

I can’t believe how often I receive this question. Here’s today’s version from Patrick. “My mother had 1/8 Indian and my grandmother on my father’s side was 3/4, and my grandfather on my father’s side had 2/3. How much would … Continue reading →

  • Number 8 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy – Published in 2012 – Short, basic and THE article I refer people to most often to understand DNA for genealogy.

Let’s talk about the different “kinds” of DNA and how they can be used for genetic genealogy. It used to be simple. When this “industry” first started, in the year 2000, you could test two kinds of DNA and it was … Continue reading →

Yep, there’s a gene for these traits, and more. The same gene, named EDAR (short for Ectodysplasin receptor EDARV370A), it turns out, also confers more sweat glands and distinctive teeth and is found in the majority of East Asian people. This is one … Continue reading →

  • Number 6 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: What is a Haplogroup? – Published in 2013 – One of the first questions people ask about Y and mitochondrial DNA is about haplogroups.

Sometimes we’ve been doing genetic genealogy for so long we forget what it’s like to be new. I’m reminded, sometimes humorously, by some of the questions I receive. When I do DNA Reports for clients, each person receives a form to … Continue reading

  • Number 5 all-time and number 10 in 2019: X Marks the Spot – Published in 2012 – This article explains how to use the X chromosome for genealogy and its unique inheritance path.

When using autosomal DNA, the X chromosome is a powerful tool with special inheritance properties. Many people think that mitochondrial DNA is the same as the X chromosome. It’s not. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited maternally, only. This means that mothers … Continue reading →

  • Number 4 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: Ethnicity Results – True or Not? – Published in 2013 – Are your ethnicity results accurate? How can you know, and why might your percentages reflect something different than you expect?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many questions I receive that go something like this: “I received my ethnicity results from XYZ. I’m confused. The results don’t seem to align with my research and I don’t know what … Continue reading →

  • Number 3 all-time and number 1 in 2019: Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages – Published in 2017 – With the huge number of ethnicity testers, it’s no surprise that the most popular article discussed how those percentages are calculated.

There has been a lot of discussion about ethnicity percentages within the genetic genealogy community recently, probably because of the number of people who have recently purchased DNA tests to discover “who they are.” Testers want to know specifically if ethnicity percentages are right … Continue reading →

  • Number 2 all-time, did not place in top 10 in 2019: Which DNA Test is Best? – Published in 2017 – A comprehensive review of the tests and major vendors in the genetic genealogy testing space. The answer is that your testing goals determine which test is best. This article aligns goals with tests.

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place. The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is … Continue reading →

Every day, I receive e-mails very similar to this one. “My family has always said that we were part Native American.  I want to prove this so that I can receive help with money for college.” The reasons vary, and … Continue reading →

2019 Only

Five articles ranked in the top 10 in 2019 that aren’t in the top all-time 10 articles. Two were just published in 2019.

  • Number 8 for 2019: Migration Pedigree Chart – Published in 2016 – This fun article illustrates how to create a pedigree charting focused on the locations of your ancestors.

Paul Hawthorne started a bit of a phenomenon, whether he meant to or not, earlier this week on Facebook, when he created a migration map of his own ancestors using Excel to reflect his pedigree chart. You can view … Continue reading →

Just as they promised, and right on schedule, Family Tree DNA today announced X chromosome matching. They have fully integrated X matching into their autosomal Family Finder product matching. This will be rolling live today. Happy New Year from Family … Continue reading →

  • Number 6 for 2019: Full or Half Siblings – Published in April 2019 – Want to know how to determine the difference between full and half siblings? This is it.

Many people are receiving unexpected sibling matches. Every day on social media, “surprises” are being reported so often that they are no longer surprising – unless of course you’re the people directly involved and then it’s very personal, life-altering and you’re … Continue reading →

Ancestry’s new tool, ThruLines has some good features and a lot of potential, but right now, there are a crop of ‘gators in the swimmin’ hole – just waiting for the unwary. Here’s help to safely navigate the waters and … Continue reading →

One of the most common questions I receive, especially in light of the interest in ethnicity testing, is how much of an ancestor’s DNA someone “should” share. The chart above shows how much of a particular generation of ancestors’ DNA … Continue reading →

In Summary

Taking a look at a summary chart is interesting. From my perspective, I never expected the “Thick Hair, Small Boobs” article to be so popular.

“Which DNA Test is Best?” ranked #2 all time, but not in the 2019 top 10. I wonder if that is a function of the market softening a bit, or of fewer people researching before purchasing.

I was surprised that 5 of the top 10 all-time were not in the top 10 of 2019.

Conversely, I’m equally as surprised that 3 of the older 2019 articles not in the all-time top 10.

I’m very glad these older articles continue to be useful, and I do update them periodically, especially if I notice they are accessed often.

Article All-time Top 10 2019 Top 10
Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum 10 0
How Much Indian Do I Have in Me? 9 4
4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy 8 0
Thick Hair, Small Boobs, Shovel Shaped Teeth, and More 7 9
What is a Haplogroup? 6 0
X Marks the Spot 5 10
Ethnicity Results – True or Not? 4 0
Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages 3 1
Which DNA Test is Best? 2 0
Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA 1 2
Migration Pedigree Chart 0 8
X Chromosome Matching at Family Tree DNA 0 7
Full or Half Siblings Published in 2019 6
Ancestry’s ThruLines Dissected: How to Use and Not get Bit by the ‘Gators Published in 2019 5
Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? 0 3

What Would You Like to See in 2020?

Given that your questions are often my inspiration, what articles would you like to see in 2020?

Are there topics you’d like to see covered? (Sorry, I don’t know the name of your great-great-grandfather’s goat.)

Burning questions you’d like to have answered? (No, I don’t know why there is air.)

Something you’ve been wishing for? (Except maybe for the 1890 census.)

Leave a comment and let me know. (Seriously😊)

I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2020 and hope you’ll come along!

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

2019: The Year and Decade of Change

2019 ends both a year and a decade. In the genealogy and genetic genealogy world, the overwhelmingly appropriate word to define both is “change.”

Everything has changed.

Millions more records are online now than ever before, both through the Big 3, being FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Ancestry, but also through multitudes of other sites preserving our history. Everyplace from National Archives to individual blogs celebrating history and ancestors.

All you need to do is google to find more than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more progress in the past decade that in all of the previous ones combined.

Just Beginning?

If you’re just beginning with genetic genealogy, welcome! I wrote this article just for you to see what to expect when your DNA results are returned.

If you’ve been working with genetic genealogy results for some time, or would like a great review of the landscape, let’s take this opportunity to take a look at how far we’ve come in the past year and decade.

It’s been quite a ride!

What Has Changed?

EVERYTHING

Literally.

A decade ago, we had Y and mitochondrial DNA, but just the beginning of the autosomal revolution in the genetic genealogy space.

In 2010, Family Tree DNA had been in business for a decade and offered both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Ancestry offered a similar Y and mtDNA product, but not entirely the same markers, nor full sequence mitochondrial. Ancestry subsequently discontinued that testing and destroyed the matching database. Ancestry bought the Sorenson database that included Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, then destroyed that data base too.

23andMe was founded in 2006 and began autosomal testing in 2007 for health and genealogy. Genealogists piled on that bandwagon.

Family Tree DNA added autosomal to their menu in 2010, but Ancestry didn’t offer an autosomal product until 2012 and MyHeritage not until 2016. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have launched massive marketing and ad campaigns to help people figure out “who they are,” and who their ancestors were too.

Family Tree DNA

2019 FTDNA

Family Tree DNA had a banner year with the Big Y-700 product, adding over 211,000 Y DNA SNPs in 2019 alone to total more than 438,000 by year end, many of which became newly defined haplogroups. You can read more here. Additionally, Family Tree DNA introduced the Block Tree and public Y and public mitochondrial DNA trees.

Anyone who ignores Y DNA testing does so at their own peril. Information produced by Y DNA testing (and for that matter, mitochondrial too) cannot be obtained any other way. I wrote about utilizing mitochondrial DNA here and a series about how to utilize Y DNA begins in a few days.

Family Tree DNA remains the premier commercial testing company to offer high resolution and full sequence testing and matching, which of course is the key to finding genealogy solutions.

In the autosomal space, Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide Phased Family Matching which uses your matches on both sides of your tree, assuming you link 3rd cousins or closer, to assign other testers to specific parental sides of your tree.

Family Tree DNA accepts free uploads from other testing companies with the unlock for advanced features only $19. You can read about that here and here.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage, the DNA testing dark horse, has come from behind from their late entry into the field in 2016 with focused Europeans ads and the purchase of Promethease in 2019. Their database stands at 3.7 million, not as many as either Ancestry or 23andMe, but for many people, including me – MyHeritage is much more useful, especially for my European lines. Not only is MyHeritage a genealogy company, piloted by Gilad Japhet, a passionate genealogist, but they have introduced easy-to-use advanced tools for consumers during 2019 to take the functionality lead in autosomal DNA.

2019 MyHeritage.png

You can read more about MyHeritage and their 2019 accomplishments, here.

As far as I’m concerned, the MyHeritage bases-loaded 4-product “Home Run” makes MyHeritage the best solution for genetic genealogy via either testing or transfer:

  • Triangulation – shows testers where 3 or more people match each other. You can read more, here.
  • Tree Matching – SmartMatching for both DNA testers and those who have not DNA tested
  • Theories of Family Relativity – a wonderful new tool introduced in February. You can read more here.
  • AutoClusters – Integrated cluster technology helps you to visualize which groups of people match each other.

One of their best features, Theories of Family Relativity connects the dots between people you DNA match with disparate trees and other documents, such as census. This helps you and others break down long-standing brick walls. You can read more, here.

MyHeritage encourages uploads from other testing companies with basic functions such as matching for free. Advanced features cost either a one-time unlock fee of $29 or are included with a full subscription which you can try for free, here. You can read about what is free and what isn’t, here.

You can develop a testing and upload strategy along with finding instructions for how to upload here and here.

23andMe

Today, 23andMe is best known for health, having recovered after having had their wings clipped a few years back by the FDA. They were the first to offer Health results, leveraging the genealogy marketspace to attract testers, but have recently been eclipsed by both Family Tree DNA with their high end full Exome Tovana test and MyHeritage with their Health upgrade which provides more information than 23andMe along with free genetic counseling if appropriate. Both the Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage tests are medically supervised, so can deliver more results.

23andMe has never fully embraced genetic genealogy by adding the ability to upload and compare trees. In 2019, they introduced a beta function to attempt to create a genetic tree on your behalf based on how your matches match you and each other.

2019 23andMe.png

These trees aren’t accurate today, nor are they deep, but they are a beginning – especially considering that they are not based on existing trees. You can read more here.

The best 23andMe feature for genealogy, as far as I’m concerned, is their ethnicity along with the fact that they actually provide testers with the locations of their ethnicity segments which can help testers immensely, especially with minority ancestry matching. You can read about how to do this for yourself, here.

23andMe generally does not allow uploads, probably because they need people to test on their custom-designed medical chip. Very rarely, once that I know of in 2018, they do allow uploads – but in the past, uploaders do not receive all of the genealogy features and benefits of testing.

You can however, download your DNA file from 23andMe and upload elsewhere, with instructions here.

Ancestry

Ancestry is widely known for their ethnicity ads which are extremely effective in recruiting new testers. That’s the great news. The results are frustrating to seasoned genealogists who get to deal with the fallout of confused people trying to figure out why their results don’t match their expectations and family stories. That’s the not-so-great news.

However, with more than 15 million testers, many of whom DO have genealogy trees, a serious genealogist can’t *NOT* test at Ancestry. Testers do need to be aware that not all features are available to DNA testers who don’t also subscribe to Ancestry’s genealogy subscriptions. For example, you can’t see your matches’ trees beyond a 5 generation preview without a subscription. You can read more about what you do and don’t receive, here.

Ancestry is the only one of the major companies that doesn’t provide a chromosome browser, despite pleas for years to do so, but they do provide ThruLines that show you other testers who match your DNA and show a common ancestor with you in their trees.

2019 Ancestry.png

ThruLines will also link partial trees – showing you ancestral descendants from the perspective of the ancestor in question, shown above. You can read about ThruLines, here.

Of course, without a chromosome browser, this match is only as good as the associated trees, and there is no way to prove the genealogical connection. It’s possible to all be wrong together, or to be related to some people through a completely different ancestor. Third party tools like Genetic Affairs and cluster technology help resolve these types of issues. You can read more, here.

You can’t upload DNA files from other testing companies to Ancestry, probably due to their custom medical chip. You can download your file from Ancestry and upload to other locations, with instructions here.

Selling Customers’ DNA

Neither Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage nor Gedmatch sell, lease or otherwise share their customers’ DNA, and all three state (minimally) they will not in the future without prior authorization.

All companies utilize their customers’ DNA internally to enhance and improve their products. That’s perfectly normal.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe sell consumers DNA to both known and unknown partners if customers opt-in to additional research. That’s the purpose of all those questions.

If you do agree or opt-in, and for those who tested prior to when the opt-in began, consumers don’t know who their DNA has been sold to, where it is or for what purposes it’s being utilized. Although anonymized (pseudonymized) before sale, autosomal results can easily be identified to the originating tester (if someone were inclined to do so) as demonstrated by adoptees identifying parents and law enforcement identifying both long deceased remains and criminal perpetrators of violent crimes. You can read more about re-identification here, although keep in mind that the re-identification frequency (%) would be much higher now than it was in 2018.

People are widely split on this issue. Whatever you decide, to opt-in or not, just be sure to do your homework first.

Always read the terms and conditions fully and carefully of anything having to do with genetics.

Genealogy

The bottom line to genetic genealogy is the genealogy aspect. Genealogists want to confirm ancestors and discover more about those ancestors. Some information can only be discovered via DNA testing today, distant Native heritage, for example, breaking through brick walls.

This technology, as it has advanced and more people have tested, has been a godsend for genealogists. The same techniques have allowed other people to locate unknown parents, grandparents and close relatives.

Adoptees

Not only are genealogists identifying people long in the past that are their ancestors, but adoptees and those seeking unknown parents are making discoveries much closer to home. MyHeritage has twice provided thousands of free DNA tests via their DNAQuest program to adoptees seeking their biological family with some amazing results.

The difference between genealogy, which looks back in time several generations, and parent or grand-parent searches is that unknown-parent searches use matches to come forward in time to identify parents, not backwards in time to identify distant ancestors in common.

Adoptee matching is about identifying descendants in common. According to Erlich et al in an October 2018 paper, here, about 60% of people with European ancestry could be identified. With the database growth since that time, that percentage has risen, I’m sure.

You can read more about the adoption search technique and how it is used, here.

Adoptee searches have spawned their own subculture of sorts, with researchers and search angels that specialize in making these connections. Do be aware that while many reunions are joyful, not all discoveries are positively received and the revelations can be traumatic for all parties involved.

There’s ying and yang involved, of course, and the exact same techniques used for identifying biological parents are also used to identify cold-case deceased victims of crime as well as violent criminals, meaning rapists and murderers.

Crimes Solved

The use of genetic genealogy and adoptee search techniques for identifying skeletal remains of crime victims, as well as identifying criminals in order that they can be arrested and removed from the population has resulted in a huge chasm and division in the genetic genealogy community.

These same issues have become popular topics in the press, often authored by people who have no experience in this field, don’t understand how these techniques are applied or function and/or are more interested in a sensational story than in the truth. The word click-bait springs to mind although certainly doesn’t apply equally to all.

Some testers are adamantly pro-usage of their DNA in order to identify victims and apprehend violent criminals. Other testers, not so much and some, on the other end of the spectrum are vehemently opposed. This is a highly personal topic with extremely strong emotions on both sides.

The first such case was the Golden State Killer, which has been followed in the past 18 months or so by another 100+ solved cases.

Regardless of whether or not people want their own DNA to be utilized to identify these criminals and victims, providing closure for families, I suspect the one thing we can all agree on is that we are grateful that these violent criminals no longer live among us and are no longer preying on innocent victims.

I wrote about the Golden State Killer, here, as well as other articles here, here, here and here.

In the genealogy community, various vendors have adopted quite different strategies relating to these kinds of searches, as follows:

  • Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage – have committed to fight all access attempts by law enforcement, including court ordered subpoenas.
  • MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch allow uploads, so forensic kits, meaning kits from deceased remains or rape kits could be uploaded to search for matches, the same as any other kit. Law Enforcement uploads violate the MyHeritage terms of service. Both Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch have special law enforcement procedures in place. All three companies have measures in place to attempt to detect unauthorized forensic uploads.
  • Family Tree DNA has provided a specific Law Enforcement protocol and guidelines for forensic uploads, here. All EU customers were opted out earlier in 2019, but all new or existing non-EU customers need to opt out if they do not want their DNA results available for matching to law enforcement kits.
  • GEDmatch was recently sold to Verogen, a DNA forensics company, with information, here. Currently GEDMatch customers are opted-out of matching for law enforcement kits, but can opt-in. Verogen, upon purchase of GEDmatch, required all users to read the terms and conditions and either accept the terms or delete their kits. Users can also delete their kits or turn off/on law enforcement matching at any time.

New Concerns

Concerns in late 2019 have focused on the potential misuse of genetic matching to potentially target subsets of individuals by despotic regimes such as has been done by China to the Uighurs.

You can read about potential risks here, here and here, along with a recent DoD memo here.

Some issues spelled out in the papers can be resolved by vendors agreeing to cryptographically sign their files when customers download. Of course, this would require that everyone, meaning all vendors, play nice in the sandbox. So far, that hasn’t happened although I would expect that the vendors accepting uploads would welcome cryptographic signatures. That pretty much leaves Ancestry and 23andMe. I hope they will step up to the plate for the good of the industry as a whole.

Relative to the concerns voiced in the papers and by the DoD, I do not wish to understate any risks. There ARE certainly risks of family members being identified via DNA testing, which is, after all, the initial purpose even though the current (and future) uses were not foreseen initially.

In most cases, the cow has already left that barn. Even if someone new chooses not to test, the critical threshold is now past to prevent identification of individuals, at least within the US and/or European diaspora communities.

I do have concerns:

  • Websites where the owners are not known in the genealogical community could be collecting uploads for clandestine purposes. “Free” sites are extremely attractive to novices who tend to forget that if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Please be very cognizant and leery. Actually, just say no unless you’re positive.
  • Fearmongering and click-bait articles in general will prevent and are already causing knee-jerk reactions, causing potential testers to reject DNA testing outright, without doing any research or reading terms and conditions.
  • That Ancestry and 23andMe, the two major vendors who don’t accept uploads will refuse to add crypto-signatures to protect their customers who download files.

Every person needs to carefully make their own decisions about DNA testing and participating in sharing through third party sites.

Health

Not surprisingly, the DNA testing market space has cooled a bit this past year. This slowdown is likely due to a number of factors such as negative press and the fact that perhaps the genealogical market is becoming somewhat saturated. Although, I suspect that when vendors announce major new tools, their DNA kit sales spike accordingly.

Look at it this way, do you know any serious genealogists who haven’t DNA tested? Most are in all of the major databases, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

All of the testing companies mentioned above (except GEDmatch who is not a testing company) now have a Health offering, designed to offer existing and new customers additional value for their DNA testing dollar.

23andMe separated their genealogy and health offering years ago. Ancestry and MyHeritage now offer a Health upgrade. For existing customers, FamilyTreeDNA offers the Cadillac of health tests through Tovana.

I would guess it goes without saying here that if you really don’t want to know about potential health issues, don’t purchase these tests. The flip side is, of course, that most of the time, a genetic predisposition is nothing more and not a death sentence.

From my own perspective, I found the health tests to be informative, actionable and in some cases, they have been lifesaving for friends.

Whoever knew genealogy might save your life.

Innovative Third-Party Tools

Tools, and fads, come and go.

In the genetic genealogy space, over the years, tools have burst on the scene to disappear a few months later. However, the last few years have been won by third party tools developed by well-known and respected community members who have created tools to assist other genealogists.

As we close this decade, these are my picks of the tools that I use almost daily, have proven to be the most useful genealogically and that I feel I just “couldn’t live without.”

And yes, before you ask, some of these have a bit of a learning curve, but if you are serious about genealogy, these are all well worthwhile:

  • GedMatch – offers a wife variety of tools including triangulation, half versus fully identical segments and the ability to see who your matches also match. One of the tools I utilize regularly is segment search to see who else matches me on a specific segment, attached to an ancestor I’m researching. GedMatch, started by genealogists, has lasted more than a decade prior to the sale in December 2019.
  • Genetic Affairs – a barn-burning newcomer developed by Evert-Jan Blom in 2018 wins this years’ “Best” award from me, titled appropriately, the “SNiPPY.”.

Genetic Affairs 2019 SNiPPY Award.png

Genetic Affairs offers clustering, tree building between your matches even when YOU don’t have a tree. You can read more here.

2019 genetic affairs.png

Just today, Genetic Affairs released a new cluster interface with DNAPainter, example shown above.

  • DNAPainter – THE chromosome painter created by Jonny Perl just gets better and better, having added pedigree tree construction this year and other abilities. I wrote a composite instructional article, here.
  • DNAGedcom.com and Genetic.Families, affiliated with DNAAdoption.org – Rob Warthen in collaboration with others provides tools like clustering combined with triangulation. My favorite feature is the gathering of all direct ancestors of my matches’ trees at the various vendors where I’ve DNA tested which allows me to search for common surnames and locations, providing invaluable hints not otherwise available.

Promising Newcomer

  • MitoYDNA – a non-profit newcomer by folks affiliated with DNAAdoption and DNAGedcom is designed to replace YSearch and MitoSearch, both felled by the GDPR ax in 2018. This website allows people to upload their Y and mitochondrial DNA results and compare the values to each other, not just for matching, which you can do at Family Tree DNA, but also to see the values that do and don’t match and how they differ. I’ll be taking MitoYDNA for a test drive after the first of the year and will share the results with you.

The Future

What does the future hold? I almost hesitate to guess.

  • Artificial Intelligence Pedigree Chart – I think that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the ability to provide testers with a “one and done” pedigree chart. In other words, you will test and receive at least some portion of your genealogy all tidily presented, red ribbon untied and scroll rolled out in front of you like you’re the guest on one of those genealogy TV shows.

Except it’s not a show and is a result of DNA testing, segment triangulation, trees and other tools which narrow your ancestors to only a few select possibilities.

Notice I said, “the ability to.” Just because we have the ability doesn’t mean a vendor will implement this functionality. In fact, just think about the massive businesses built upon the fact that we, as genealogists, have to SEARCH incessantly for these elusive answers. Would it be in the best interest of these companies to just GIVE you those answers when you test?

If not, then these types of answers will rest with third parties. However, there’s a hitch. Vendors generally don’t welcome third parties offering advanced tools and therefore block those tools, even though they are being used BY the customer or with their explicit authorization to massage their own data.

On the other hand, as a genealogist, I would welcome this feature with open arms – because as far as I’m concerned, the identification of that ancestor is just the first step. I get to know them by fleshing out their bones by utilizing those research records.

In fact, I’m willing to pony up to the table and I promise, oh-so-faithfully, to maintain my subscription lifelong if one of those vendors will just test me. Please, please, oh pretty-please put me to the test!

I guess you know what my New Year’s Wish is for this and upcoming years now too😊

What About You?

What do you think the high points of 2019 have been?

How about the decade?

What do you think the future holds?

Do you care to make any predictions?

Are you planning to focus on any particular goal or genealogy problem in 2020?

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Sarah Hickerson (1752-1760 – before 1820), Silent Member of a Feuding Family – 52 Ancestors #262

Sarah Hickerson was nearly invisible, and she would have been lost forever to history were it not for her marriage to Daniel Vannoy on October 2, 1779 in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

Daniel Vannoy marriage

Why didn’t Sarah Hickerson’s father, Charles Hickerson, or brother, David Hickerson sign her bond? This is a bit unusual. Her husband, Daniel signed, along with Francis Reynolds who has no known connection at all.

Given her marriage date, Sarah Hickerson would have been born about 1758 or 1759, or perhaps slightly earlier. Daniel was born in 1752.

While Sarah’s father, Charles Hickerson, did not have a will, her mother, Mary Lytle Hickerson, did. At least a nuncupative will that served as the catalyst for dissention between Daniel Vannoy and Sarah’s family members, particularly her brother, David Hickerson, and her sister’s son, Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward.

The Feud

In fact, this “disagreement” turned into a full-fledged feud. Think Hatfields and McCoys.

The problem, I think, was that Sarah wasn’t mentioned in her mother’s December 5, 1793 will, but the will did say that the remainder of Mary’s property was to be divided among her daughters.

As they say, that’s when the fight began.

In the name of God Amen, I Mary Hickerson of the County of Wilkes and State of North Carolina, being of Sound mind and memory, blessed be God, do this the fifth day of December in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety three make and publish this my last Will and Testament in the manner following, that is to say – First, I give my son Joseph Hickerson one purple rugg. I also give my daughter Jane Miller my chest and tea ware. I also give my daughter Mary Stewart and her son Samuel Hickerson one feather bed and also my daughter, Mary Stewart, all the goods in the above mentioned chest. And all the balance of my property to be equally divided amongst my daughters. I also leave my son David Hickerson three yards of white linnin. Also this is my last Will and Testament and Desire. Delivered in the presence of us Amy Hickerson Jane Miller.

No signature and no executors.

I suspect that Amy Hickerson is actually Ann, wife of Joseph Hickerson, Mary’s daughter-in-law.

This presents an interesting quandry – because we don’t know if Sarah was alive or dead at the time her mother died.

The only thing we know for sure about Sarah Hickerson, other than the fact that she married Daniel Vannoy in 1779, is that she was definitely alive in 1784 when her son, Elijah, was born. That’s been proven via DNA results.

It’s probable that Sarah was alive in the 1790 census as well, because there is no record in Wilkes County that Daniel married anyone else and the census reflects a female of her age in the household of Daniel Vannoy.

In 1790, Daniel and Sarah had 2 male children and one female child. We don’t know who either of those two individuals were.

Sarah and Daniel are reported to have had another son, Joel, born in 1792 and I also have a DNA match with a man who descends from Joel – although in all fairness, Joel was clearly a Vannoy and if he was assigned to the incorrect parents, I could still match Joel’s descendants. I’d love to know if this man matches any Hickerson descendants directly. He doesn’t match any of the people I match who are descended from Charles Hickerson.

I match a total of 17 descendants of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, 6 of them being through Elijah Vannoy, my ancestor, but 11 being through Sarah’s siblings:

  • David Hickerson
  • Jane Hickerson who married Leonard Miller. Leonard Miller was reported to have been a Tory, “having joined the Biritish a second time” reported by author Alice Pritchard, source Criminal and Civil Action Papers, C.R. 104 325, found in the NC State Archives.
  • Joseph Hickerson
  • Rachel Hickerson who married Braddock Harris around 1786 in Wilkes Conty. (Rachel born 1765-died 1822 Franklin, GA)

Rachel Hickerson?

Who was Rachel Hickerson? Another daughter that wasn’t mentioned in the will, apparently, judging from multiple DNA matches.

I was utterly shocked to discover that Braddock Harris was married to a Hickerson female because I literally stumbled over Braddock last week in the North Carolina State Archives BEFORE I discovered who his wife was.

Serendipity strikes!

Ok, so what’s so interesting about Braddock Harris?

Braddock Harris

I was researching Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson. In an every-name index book, Daniel Vannoy was listed as a court juror on April 26, 1786. The case heard before the one in which Daniel sat as a juror is transcribed below, simply because I found the topic and entry so unusual.

State vs Bradock Harris – indicted assault, jury called, jury find guilty. Ordered defendant fined 5 pounds and be CARTED up and down the court yard from Humphries to Smothers with this inscription wrote in large letters on paper and fixed to his forehead and read loudly by the sheriff at each place. THIS IS THE EFFECTS OF AN INTENDED RAPE and the last part of the punishment be inflicted between hours of four and five o’clock this evening.

Court was adjourned for one hour and following were present: Charles Gordon, Russell Jones and William Nall, Esquires.

The caps are in the record and are not mine.

I’d wager that the court adjourned so everyone could go outside and watch the procession.

Now you understand my utter shock when I discovered Braddock Harris’s wife was Rachel Hickerson.

I checked Ancestry on my laptop at the archives and found it interesting that in the 1790 census, Bradock was married with 2 children. At the time, I thought to myself that it appeared that someone was willing to marry Braddock, so he wasn’t entirely ostracized in the community. Or maybe, maybe, he was already married and was a married man attempting to commit rape.

But wow!

I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that Braddock would marry or maybe had already married Rachel Hickerson when he was tried in 1786. It’s also possible that this charge of attempted rape was “upon the body” of Rachel Hickerson before they married.

But there’s more, far more, to this story.

Robbery and Arson

Court notes are so amazing!

In 1792, David Hickerson, Sarah and Rachel Hickerson’s brother, was a bond when John Robards was accused of burning Braddock Harris’s house down in the fall of 1790. Not to mention robbing it.

This day complained Bradock Harris to me a subscribing Justice of the Peace for said county of Wilkes on oath that he had just cause to believe that some time in the fall of 1790 that John Robards did rob his house and then burn it and Jain Miller did conseal part of said property all contrary to the lawes and good government of said state. These are therefore in the naim of said state to regular and command you to apprehend the said John Robards and Elizabeth his wife and Jain Miller and bring them before some Justice of the Peace for said county to answer the above complaint and that they may be further delt with as the law directs bearing fail not (now?) given under my hand and seal this 13 day September 1792 James Fletcher (seal). Memorandum of recognizance at March term 1 day Bradock Harris bound to prosecute in the sum of 50 pounds, Arson (Anson?) Gipson his security bound in the sum of 50 pounds. Jain Miller bound in the sum of 50 pounds and gives David Hickerson security bound in the sum of 50 pounds Joseph Herndon, Rachel Harris bound a witness for the state in the sum of 25 pounds. Joseph Herndon, James Fletcher, State vs John Robards and wife and Jan Miller. Warrant. Executed by Andrew Bryont.

Jane Miller is Sarah Hickerson’s sister, but more importantly, Jane Miller is the sister of Rachel, whose house was burned. David Hickerson posted her bond. The court entry states that Rachel Harris is testifying for the state, so that implies thta Jane Miller and Braddock Harris are not.

In other words, Jane Miller is accused of hiding items from her sister Rachel’s house after John Robards robbed and burned her house. David posted bond to guarantee that Jane would show up in court.

Holy Cow, what was going on in this family?

A year later, in March 1793, John Roberts (not Robards) was convicted of that crime with Joseph Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson and Rachel Harris as witnesses.

State of North Carolina Morgan District Superior Court of Law March term 1793 jurors for the state upon their oath present that John Roberts late of the County of Wilkes in the district of Morgan labourer not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the first day of March in the year of our Lord 1789 about the hour of ten in the night of the same day with force and arms in the county and district aforesaid  a certain dwelling house of one Braddock Harris there situate feloniously voluntarily and maliciously did burn and consume against the form of the statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of this state . J Haywood Att. Genl. State vs John Roberts, Indt., arson, Braddock Harris pros and witness. Joseph Hickerson, Saml. Hickerson, Rachel Harris Witnesses. Sworn and sent. William W. Erwin Clerk, J. Haryood Att. Gnl.

What happened to Jane Miller? In relation to this suit, we don’t know. It’s possible that I missed the entry. However, Jane has an interesting situation too.

Jane Miller appears alone in the 1800 Wilkes County census with 4 males and a female child. In 1806, Jane Miller married James Reynolds in Wilkes County, with David Hickerson signing for her marriage. It surely looks like Jane remarried.

I’d say Leonard died, except that one Leonard Miller was a Revolutionary War pensioner from Georgia and stated that he served under Capt. Cleveland. Capt. Cleveland lived in Wilkesboro. Did Leonard Miller just leave?

A Family Divided

So far, the family appears to be divided, as follows.

Side 1 Comment Side 2 Comment
Braddock Harris House robbed and burned in 1790
Rachel Hickerson Harris House robbed and burned in 1790, testified at trial Her sister, Jane Miller, accused of consealing stolen items
Jane Miller Accused of consealing part of stolen items
David Hickerson Signed bond for Jane in 1792 and for her marriage in 1806
Joseph Hickerson Testifies as trial
Samuel Hickerson Testifies at trial

This entire family is confounding!

War

Obviously, this family is at war with one another.

Sarah’s father, Charles Hickerson, died sometime between the 1790 census and her mother’s death after December 5, 1793. Given the information above, I originally thought that the theft might have had something to do with Charles’ possessions, but given that the robbery and fire appears to have happened on March 1, 1789, that theory is out the window – unless Charles’ possessions had already been mostly distributed.

Death and property brings out the worst in people it seems. Sometimes the battles begin even before the person dies.

However, this feud didn’t seem to be entirely new. As far back as 1781, just two years after their marriage, Daniel Vannoy, Sarah Hickerson’s husband was in conflict with Samuel Hickerson aka Samuel Steward who also had several other aliases.

September 4, 1781 – Court entry for Samuel Steward vs Daniel Vannoy.

We don’t know what that suit was about, but we do know it was filed by Samuel. Another suit was filed in 1794, just three months after Mary Lytle Hickerson’s will was probated.

Obviously, this feud heated up again. Like, to a full boil.

On May 7, 1794 we find this in the court notes:

Samuel Stewart alias Little D. Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – slander – jury called.

This tells us that Samuel Stewart is probably of age, so born before 1773. In fact, he was probably of age by 1781 when the first suit was filed, meaning he was born about 1760, pushing his mother’s birth year back to about 1740 or so. However, based on the letter from Mary (Elizabeth) Hickerson’s daughter, dated May 20, 1877, where she states that she is 86 years old, so born in 1791, Mary may have been quite young when she had Samuel.

This 1794 court entry suggests that the man was then or sometimes called Samuel Steward but his legal name is Little D. Hickerson – suggesting that he was illegitimately born to his mother, Mary Hickerson, before she married a Stewart/Steward/Stuart man.

This next entry appears on the same day:

David Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy – same jury, Leonard Miller forfeit his appearance as witness in case.

Now David, Daniel’s brother-in-law, gets in the picture and he too files suit against Daniel.

It sounds like Leonard Miller, Daniel’s brother-in-law, husband of Jane Hickerson Miller, didn’t show up for court. He probably didn’t want to be in the middle, but if he was a witness, it’s likely he was there when whatever happened, happened.

Court ordered attorney McDowal to show tomorrow why a new trial shall not be granted in Samuel Hickerson vs Daniel Vannoy.

Here, he’s actually listed as Samuel Hickerson.

Court ordered R. Wood to show cause why David Hickerson should not pay witness in suit.

I’m guessing that R. Wood is an attorney for David Hickerson.

In today’s parlance, everyone is lawyered up.

On November 2, 1794 – On motion of attorney McDowell on behalf of Daniel Vannoy, complainant, a sci fa issued to Samuel Hickerson alias Steward Hickerson Litle.

This is the fourth name for Samuel, aka whatever, which may imply that he also uses the surname Litle.

Scire facias is a writ requiring a person to show why a judgment regarding a record or patent should not be enforced or annulled.

In this case, the scire facias filing suggests that Daniel argues that Mary’s will should be set aside as pertains to Samuel, the son of Mary Steward to whom Mary Hickerson left a feather bed and everything in that trunk. It’s also questionable based on the language if Mary meant a feather bed “each” for Mary and Samuel, or one for the both of them.

In essence, this probably included much of Mary’s, worldly goods except the purple rug, chest, feather bed, tea ware and 3 yards of white linen.

Or maybe the confusion wasn’t over the bed and there an allegation that additional items were added to the chest that hadn’t been in there before.

Of course, Mary Hickerson was Daniel’s mother-in-law.

As the leaves were turning and the first anniversary of Mary’s death was approaching, things deteriorated further.

November 6, 1794 – State vs Daniel Vannoy, indicted assault and battery, fined 1 penny.

This is one of those verdicts where it appears that the court (no jurors were mentioned) had to find Daniel guilty based on the evidence, or even his own admission, but fined him as little as possible. This is what I refer to as a wink and a nod. Yep, you did it Daniel, as they patted him on the back and said, “yea, I would have too.”

November 7, 1794 – State vs Samuel Hickerson indicted assault and battery.

Unfortunately, no outcome is listed for this trial. It looks like Daniel and Samuel plus William Curry had an old-fashioned brawl. David Hickerson was probably involved too.

State vs William Curry, indicted assault and battery, jury called.

William Curry is the man for whom Daniel witnessed the deeds. I wonder if he’s somehow related too or maybe just a neighbor in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m not sure how William Curry is mixed up in this, but he clearly is based on the distribution of the costs.

Court ordered a fine of 5 pounds be remitted in State vs David Hickerson.

If a fine was ordered, David was found guilty. It’s worth noting that the fine, unlike Daniel’s, is more than a penny. This suggests that David was the aggressor or instigator – at least THIS time.

Ordered William Curry pay Joshua Souther, John Love and the prosecutor in suit State vs William Curry, and Daniel Vannoy pay other witnesses – def found not guilty.

William isn’t found guilty, but for some reason Daniel has to pay the witnesses. This is a mess.

I have a mental image of these men rolling around scuffling on the barroom floor. That might not have been the case at all, It could have been in the churchyard, or at the mill, or maybe at one of their houses. I guess it’s a good thing none of them had a knife or gun at the time, or the charges might well have been much more serious than assault and battery.

Daniel was on a tear. He was obviously furious about something and feeling very wronged. Was he? Was Sarah? Was he righteously indignant, protecting his wife and family? Or was he simply out-of-control?

November 8, 1794 – Bill of sale from Daniel Vannoy to Nathaniel Vannoy for negro woman named Wille, oath Isaac Parlier.

The next day, Daniel sold his slave, probably to pay the costs and witnesses. I don’t know if this case was a matter of money or of principle, or both, but clearly Daniel was “all in.”

This was the third slave Daniel sold in 1794, all to his brother Nathaniel.

Was Daniel preparing to leave? That seems a bit extreme – but tensions, testosterone and passion was clearly running quite high.

January 16, 1795 – Between Daniel Vannoy and Patrick Lenin Cavender, 50 pounds, 100 acres on South Beaver Creek branch South fork of New River below his spring branch…gap between Frenches and Querrys Knobs. Wit David X Fouts and David Burket. Signed Daniel Vannoy pages 390 and 391.

Two months after those suits and after selling his slaves, Daniel sold his land – the land where he and Sarah lived.

Daniel Vannoy land

Daniel disappears in the records at this time.

Daniel Vannoy's land from Blue Ridge Parkway

Overlooking Daniel and Sarah’s land from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Scorecard

What’s been added to the scorecard?

Side 1 Comment Side 2 Comment
Robbery and Arson
Braddock Harris House robbed and burned in 1790
Rachel Hickerson Harris House robbed and burned in 1790, testified
Jane Miller Accused of concealing part of stolen items
David Hickerson Signed bond for Jane in 1792 and for her marriage in 1806
Joseph Hickerson Testifies as trial, although we don’t know in what capacity
Samuel Hickerson Testifies at trial, although we don’t know in what capacity
After Mary’s Estate Comment Side 2 Comment
Samuel Steward 1781 – Sues Daniel Vannoy Daniel Vannoy 1781 – Sued by Samuel Steward
Samuel Stewart alias Little D. Hickerson alias Samuel Hickerson alias Samuel Steward Hickerson Litle 1794 – Sues Daniel Vannoy Daniel Vannoy 1794 – Sued by Samuel Steward
David Hickerson 1794 – Sues Daniel Vannoy Daniel Vannoy 1794 – Sued by David Hickerson
State vs Daniel Vannoy Nov 6, 1794 – Assault and battery, fined 1 penny Daniel Vannoy
State vs Samuel Hickerson Nov. 7, 1794 – Assault and battery Samuel Hickerson
State vs William Curry Nov. 7, 1794 – Assault and battery, not guilty, Daniel Vannoy ordered to pay several witnesses William Curry, Daniel Vannoy
State fined David Hickerson Nov. 7, 1794 – 5 pound fine David Hickerson

Many times when slander suits are filed, a counter suit is filed as well – but all of these suits are against Daniel Vannoy. None filed BY Daniel Vannoy.

It appears that David Hickerson, Samuel Hickerson Stewart and Jane Miller are found on one side, with Daniel Vannoy on the other. We don’t know where Rachel and Braddock Harris fell in this feud. They may have already left for Laurens County, SC where they are living in 1800.

Leonard Miller simply decided not to appear and preferred to pay a fine. He was probably out of favor, having been a Tory and was either dead or gone by 1800.

Given that David Hickerson sided with Jane Miller in the arson, one might also presume that Jane and Daniel were at odds too, especially since Jane was present when Mary spoke her will.

Ann Hickerson, Mary’s other witness of her will appears to be the daughter-in-law, the wife of Joseph Hickerson, the brother who seems to have escaped this melee. Joseph is also a Captain of Militia, so perhaps he actively avoided the family ugliness.

The long and short of this is that it appears that Daniel Vannoy, Sarah’s husband, is at odds one way or another with every known sibling in Sarah family, except possibly Joseph.

But what we don’t know is anything about Sarah herself. Why doesn’t she testify, or maybe she did and she’s one of the unnamed witnesses. Why is there no mention of her, anyplace?

Where Was Sarah?

I wish I knew!

Sarah appears to be living in the 1790 census, and if she gave birth to Joel Vannoy in 1792, she was clearly alive then. She is not mentioned by name in the 1793 will that her mother spoke on December 5th. But then again, neither was Rachel and we know positively that Rachel was Mary’s daughter because I match the DNA of her descendants and we share no other common ancestors. Not to mention the lawsuits between the various members of the Hickerson family. They feud far too much not to be related.

Following the 1794 suits, Daniel Vannoy sells his slaves and then two months later, in January of 1795, sells his land, without Sarah’s signature.

Sarah may have been dead by this time. That would be the logical conclusion – but is it accurate?

Daniel disappears, but given the family war, “disappears” might mean that he left, might mean that something “happened” to him and he was simply never heard from again.

It’s very obvious with the following events that this was not a calm well-mannered brood:

  • Attempted rape (Braddock Harris)
  • Robbery and arson abetted by Jane Hickerson Miller.
  • Slander and assault accusations involving Samuel Hickerson Steward, son of Mary Hickerson Stewart/Steward/Stuart and Daniel Vannoy.
  • Slander and assault accusations involving David Hickerson and Daniel Vannoy.
  • Something involving William Curry.

This is probably but the tip of the iceberg. Most of the drama probably never made it to court.

Which of course leads me to wonder about violence against Daniel. The land in Wilkes County is mountainous, rough and remote – even today. Wilkes and Ashe County both include sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway that twists and turns its way along the summit of the Appalacian range. It would be very easy for a body to disappear, never to be found.

Sarah Hickerson Appalachian range

Daniel is Gone

It seemed probable that Daniel Vannoy was gone, one way or another, after 1795.

Until recently, I thought it equally as probable that Sarah had died, simply because if she had left with Daniel, she would not have left her two sons behind at the ages of 3 and between 9 and 11.

If Daniel had left Sarah high and dry, then the court would have bound the boys to someone in order to learn a skill.

Typically, if both parents died and the boys were orphaned, they would have been bounds out too. Maybe a family member took them.

Sometime around 1809, Sarah’s son, Elijah Vannoy married Lois, the daughter of William McNiel, their neighbor on Beaver Creek in neighboring Ashe County, the land that Daniel sold in 1795 where he and Sarah had lived since their marriage in about 1780. Elijah would only have been about 10 years old, so he had to have lived close to Lois after that time.

Did Sarah Hickerson Vannoy live with William McNiel and family in Ashe County until William McNiel moved back to Wilkes County in about 1810? It’s possible.

Did Sarah die and William McNiel raised the boys? That too is possible.

One thing is for sure, both Elijah Vannoy and Joel Vannoy married in Wilkes County. Joel married in 1817 with Little Hickerson, Sarah’s nephew through her brother David, signing his bond.

In 1810, there is a census entry in Wilkes County for one Sarah Vannoy, but that woman appears to be too young, age 26-44. Sarah Vannoy had three females living with her, and no males. Sarah Hickerson would have been at least 50 years old and possibly as old as 58 if she was Daniel’s age.

Sarah’s children or other people living in the household were:

  • Female 16-25 so born 1785-1794 – this could well be the daughter reflected in the 1790 census
  • Female 10-15 so born 1795-1800
  • Female 10-15 so born 1795-1800

Sarah Hickerson 1810 census.jpg

This could be Sarah with an incorrect age. I have no other candidates for who this Sarah Vannoy might be, but if it is Sarah, son Joel, age 18, is not living with her.

Regardless, by 1820, Sarah had not remarried, nor is she listed in the census. One way or another, Sarah appears to be gone by then, at about age 60.

Just when I thought I had this figured out, a rogue piece of evidence popped up, causing me to reevaluate what I thought happened to Sarah.

Dang! I love/hate it when this happenes!

In the Wilkes County court notes dated August 1, 1811, Sarah Vannoy vs Joel Chandler, #5, plea in abatement. A jury is called and sworn. The only other piece of information says, “the deft sustained his plea in abatement.”

What is a plea in abatement? In common law, it’s when the defendant does not dispute the facts, the plaintiff’s claim or the plaintiff’s right to relief, but objects due to a procedural error, or the form, time and place in which the claim is made. Generally, a new suit is brought with amended procedures, but in Sarah’s case, her name doesn’t appear again.

Sarah’s Daughter

I can only positively confirm one child of Sarah’s, Elijah Vannoy, with significant evidence of a second son, Joel. We know positively that another son and one daughter was born before 1788, but we don’t know her name, if she lived or what happened to her.

I corresponded by letter with another researcher, now deceased Joyce Dancy McNiel (1937-2003), for about 20 years. Joyce believed that Susan Vannoy (c1804-c1883) who married George McNiel (1802-1878) was the daughter of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson, and stated that she had disproved Andrew Vanoy (1742-1809) as Susan’s father. Joyce stated that she also disproved another Vannoy male, but didn’t specify who. I would add that Nathaniel Vannoy’s Bible records do not show a Susan.

There are only 4 Vannoy sons of John Vannoy in Wilkes County who were candidates to be the father of Susan: Andrew, Nathaniel, Daniel and Francis.

Francis Vannoy, who lived beside the McNiel family had a daughter Susannah born in 1774 who married Edward Dancy in 1793, so Susan who married in 1806 is not the daughter of Francis.

That leaves only Daniel of the four sons in Wilkes County. The only other dark horse is that Susannah could potentially have been the daughter of Abraham Vannoy, a fifth son of John Vannoy, whom we know little about, although he never appeared in any Wilkes County records or census. In other words, it’s very likely that Susan is the daughter of Daniel Vannoy. If that’s true, then it appears that Sarah lived at least until Susan’s birth in about 1804.

My now deceased cousin, George Franklin McNiel (1934-2018), husband of Joyce Dancy McNiel, descends from the McNiel line, but also descends through Susan Vannoy. He has no Hickerson ancestors, unless of course, Susan is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson.

George’s DNA matches two descendants of David Hickerson who moved to Tennessee. This isn’t proof, but it’s certainly suggestive evidence, especially since David moved away from the area and there is no evidence of other common ancestors in the tester’s lines.

If it’s true that Susan Vannoy is Sarah’s daughter, then where was Daniel? Clearly by 1810 he’s gone, but where was he between 1795 and 1810? Is it possible that this child is Sarah’s and not Daniel’s? If so, there would surely be a bastardy bond, and I saw nothing in the court notes to suggest such years ago, but then again, I wasn’t looking for something in the 1800s – I was searching for Elijah in the 1780s. The early bastardy bonds are not published or available on FamilySearch, at least not that I could find.

If Susan is Sarah Hickerson’s child, then probably so is that other female child in the 1810 census, meaning that Sarah Hickerson has three children we can’t identify – a daughter and son born before 1788, and a daughter born between 1795 and 1800.

I wish the census ages lined up better with Sarah in 1810. Susan Vannoy McNiel consistently gave her birth information in later census documents as 1804, but the 1810 census shows the females living in the house as having been born between 1795 and 1800.

Let’s look at the three children of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy .

Sarah Hickerson’s Children

Elijah Vannoy was born about 1784 and married Lois McNiel about 1809 in Wilkes County before moving to Claiborne County, TN in about 1812 with Lois’s father, William McNiel. They had children:

  • Permelia Vannoy born 1810 married John Elijah Baker, Jr.
  • Joel Vannoy born 1813 married Phoebe Crumley
  • Mary Vannoy born about 1815 married Isaac Gowins
  • William Vannoy born in 1816 married Harriett McClary
  • Elizabeth Vannoy born in 1817 married Elisha Bishop
  • Elijah Vannoy born in 1818 married Isabella Holland and Mary “Polly” Frost
  • Nancy Vannoy born in 1820 married George Loughmiller
  • Sarah “Sally” Elizabeth Vannoy born in 1821 married Joseph C. Adams
  • Angeline Vannoy born about 1825 Sterling Nunn
  • Lucinda J. Vannoy born in 1828 married Col. Joseph Campbell

Col. Joel Vannoy was born about 1792 and married Elizabeth St. Clair in 1817 in Wilkes County, having children:

  • Joel Alfred vannoy born about 1818
  • Elizabeth Caroline Vannoy born about 1819 married Horatio Nelson Miller
  • John Hamilton Vannoy born about 1821
  • Emily Amanda Vannoy born about 1822 and married Edward Welsh
  • Alford Vannoy born about 1824
  • REbecca Elvira Vannoy born about 1826
  • Adeline Amelia Vannoy born in 1827 married Willis S. Parker
  •  Ann Mariah Vannoy born 1829 married Rololph McClellan

Secondly, Joel Vannoy married Emily Lemira Suddworth about 1832. They lived in Burke County, NC and had children:

  • Abraham McClean Vannoy born about 1832 married Martha James
  • William Wiley Vannoy born in 1834 married Susan Elizabeth Crowson
  • Sarah Martha Vannoy born 1835 married Joseph Preston Shields
  • Catherina A. Vannoy born about 1837 married Vance Taylor
  • James Vannoy born about 1838
  • Washington Alexander Vannoy born about 1839
  • Harvey Suddeth Vannoy born in 1840 married Catherine Welborn
  • Thomas Irvin Vannoy born in 1843 married Louvina Leona Gandy
  • Elijah Ross Vannoy born about 1844
  • Anderson Mitchell Vannoy born in 1855 maried Lennie Lo Davielia Ball

Susan Vannoy, born about 1804 married George McNiel on November 21, 1822 and lived in Wilkes County. She had children:

  • James Harvey “Jimmie D.” born in 1823
  • Jesse A “Tess” born 1825
  • Rebecca Mariah Vannoy born 1830 married James Harvey Taylor and had children including 3 daughters:
    • Alice Taylor born 1857 married John Stansberry
    • Ellen Taylor married Jacob Lewis and had children including daughters
      • Virginia Bellee Lewis married Arcillas Calloway and had children including daughter
        • Evelyn Virginia Calloway
      • Ada Malinda Lewis
    • Maggie Taylor married Joe Warden
  • John G. “Blind John” born 1832
  • Delilah Vannoy born 1834 married the Reverend William W. White and had children including daughters
    • Mary A. White born 1864
    • Deborah Ann White born 1868 married Albert Dodamead
    • Lillie White born 1871 married James Henry Shaw and had two daughters,
      • Irma Shaw born 1897
      • Wynell Shaw born 1904
    • Thomas Winslow born 1836
    • Polly Vannoy born 1838 married Alexander Boone Miller on January 27, 1859 had children including daughter:
      • Theodocia Miller married Simeon William Eller and had daughters
        • Mary A. Eller born 1880
        • Opie Delilah Eller born 1882 married William B Owens or Owings and had children including daughters
          • Mamie Gladys Owings born 1908
        • Fanny Ruth Eller born 1892 married Robert S. Loughridge
    • Nancy A “Aunt Nan” Vannoy born in 1845 married Jesse Harrison McNeil including daughters:
      • Mary Ida NcNiel born 1869 married John E. Rector and is not reported to have had daughters
      • Margaret Susan “Maggie” McNiel born 1871 married John Calvin McNiel and had children, including daughters:
        • Nellie G. McNeil born 1895 married Nell Kerley and had daughter:
          • Wanda Kerley born 1925 married Frederick Clifton Miller
        • Nannie Jeru McNeil born 1909 married Edwin Warren Hastings
      • Rachel Julianna McNiel born 1874 married Gaither Alonzo Canter and had children including daughters:
        • Rachel Edna Canter born 1905 married Conrad Joseph Whittington
        • Nonnie Estelle Canter born 1905 married Arvel Everette Parsons
          • Mary Nell Parsons born 1929 married Wayne Gilbert Church and had daughter:
            • Lisa Dawn Church born 1963
          • Mary Louise Canter born 1917 married Claude Royal Elledge and had daughter:
            • Julia Anne Elledge born 1940
          • Delilah Kate McNiel born 1878 Francis Alexander Shober Church and had daughter:
            • Ella V. Church born 1908 who married Ruff Dockery
          • Sallie Emmaline McNiel born 1883 married John Sylvester Church and had children including daughters:
            • Georgia LaVaughn Church born 1906 married Daniel Dewitte Waisner and had children including daughter:
              • Mary Josephine Waisner born 1924
            • Blanche Bell Church born 1913 married Howard Preston Elliott
            • Gladys Nora Church born 1918 married Thomas W. Banks
            • Nannie Beatrice Church born 1920 married Irvin G. Catlin
            • Ella Mae Church born 1925 married Charles James McCarson
          • Noble Blanche McNiel born 1888 married Robert Jesse Foster and had children including daughters;
            • Mary Margaret Foster born 1923 married Frank Jackson Wallace
            • Jessie Marie Foster born 1924 married Robert Lee Hutchinson and had daughter
              • Danna Hutchinson 1959-2016

Can We Find DNA Proof?

There are three possible ways to obtain proof or at least evidence of Susanna’s parentage. Of course, as genealogists, we always ask ourselves how much “proof” is enough? Fortunately, we have DNA tools to gather information. In this case, there are three avenues that we can pursue.

Mitochondrial DNA to prove that Susanna Vannoy was the daughter of Sarah Hickerson.

Women pass their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of children, but only their female children pass it on. That means that in the current generation, both males and females can test. Mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the father’s DNA, so the mitochondrial DNA of Susan’s descendants is the same as her own.

If we compare Susan’s mitochondrial DNA with that of her mother’s sisters’ descendants – meaning the daughters of Mary Lytle Hickerson, then we will know whether Susan Vannoy is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy, or not. If so, Susan’s descendants through all daughters (to the present generation, where males can test too) will match the descendants of Mary Lytle Hickerson through all daughters (to the present generation, where males can test too.)

Under Susan Vannoy, above, I’ve listed her descendants, focused on the direct matrilineal descent. All of the people bolded are deceased, but their descendants carry the mitochondrial DNA of Sarah Vannoy. In the case of people like Dana Hutchinson whose children are likely to be living, either a son or daughter could test – because all children inherit their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

If this is you, and you’ve either tested or are interested, please get in touch!

Autosomal DNA to prove that Susanna Vannoy is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson.

If the descendants of Susan Vannoy McNiel don’t descend from the Hickerson family in any other way, and they match descendants of Charles Hickerson, the Hickerson progenitor in Wilkes County through any of his children who aren’t related to the tester through another line – then there is a good possibility that Susan Vannoy is the daughter of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy.

The more Hickerson descendants a Susan Vannoy descendant matches, the better. Matching someone from David Hickerson’s line through the children who migrated to Tennessee would be preferable simply because they are less likely to have intermarried with the Wilkes County families.

If Susan’s descendant triangulates on a proven Hickerson segment, even better!

Charles Hickerson’s children include:

  • David Hickerson born about 1760, probably in Virginia, married Sarah or Nancy Taliaferro/Toliver, lived in Wilkes County, NC and moved to Franklin County that became Coffee County, Tennessee before 1812. David’s two sons, Lytle (Little) and Charles remained in Wilkes County.
  • Joseph Hickerson married Ann Green, had children and lived his life in Wilkes County.
  • Rachel Hickerson married Braddock Harris about 1786, removed to South Carolina before 1800 and eventually to Whitfield County, Georgia, having several children.
  • Jane Hickerson was born about 1762 and married Leonard Miller, having several children. She remarried to James Reynolds in 1806 in Wilkes County.
  • Mary Hickerson married a Stewart/Steward/Stuart and left Wilkes County about 1794 according to a letter from a woman who lived in Nacogdoches County, TX in 1877, claiming to be the granddaughter of Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson. Mary’s unnamed daughter who wrote the letter referred to her mother as Elizabeth who had married a Stuart. The 1790 Wilkes census only shows us a James Steward with a total of 3 males over 16, 5 under 16 and 4 females. Mary Hickerson also had a son named Samuel Hickerson who used the name Samuel Steward whose whereabouts are unknown.
  • Sarah Hickerson, of course, married Daniel Vannoy. Her proven son, Elijah Vannoy married Lois McNiel and moved to Claiborne County, TN about 1812. Her likely son, Joel Vannoy married in 1817 to Elizabeth Elvira St. Clair, living in Wilkes County until in 1832 when he married Emily Lemira Suddworth and lived the rest of his life in Burke County. And then there’s probable daughter Susan, of course.

Autosomal DNA to prove that Daniel Vannoy is the father of Susan Vannoy.

If Sarah Hickerson Vannoy is Susan’s mother, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Daniel Vannoy is Susan’s father – especially given that Daniel literally disappears from the records after he sells his slaves and land in 1795. He’s not in the 1800 census either, yet Susan is born about 1804 according to the later census records in which she is recorded.

If Susan’s descendants who are not related to Vannoys through other lines match known descendants of Vannoys, particularly Elijah, and are not related to those matches through other common lines (like McNiel, Shepherd or Rash), then there’s a good possibility that Daniel was indeed Susan’s father.

Of course, the more matches the better, especially if the matches triangulate on a proven Vannoy segment.

Summary

Rebuilding the life of an ancestor who only appears in one record is very difficult. I’m very thankful for that one record, or Sarah Hickerson would be another one of those nameless dead ends. A vacant spot on my tree.

The researchers who lived in the decades before us didn’t have the benefit of DNA testing. I surely hope that with the focus of multiple descendants, plus more people testing every day, that before long we will be able to confirm Susan’s parents.

Additionally, it would be wonderful to be able to identify the at least two and possibly three missing children of Sarah Hickerson Vannoy, assuming they lived and had families.

We may never know much more about Sarah’s life, but it would be heart-warming, as a mother, to be able to restore her children to her memory.

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