ThruLines Suggests Potential Ancestors – How Accurate Are They?

I wanted to evaluate the accuracy of Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested Potential Ancestors when compared with a tree I know is accurate. I conducted an experiment where I created a small tree on Ancestry for a DNA tester that included only the first two generations, meaning grandparents and great-grandparents.

Click to enlarge any image.

This gave Ancestry enough data to work with and means that for the upstream ancestors, Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested specific people as ancestors.

How well did Ancestry do? Are the Potential Ancestors suggested by Ancestry accurate? How do they make those suggestions anyway? Are they useful?

I do have a second, completely separate, full tree connected to my other DNA test, and I do know who those ancestors are, or, in some cases, I know who they aren’t. I’ve had the privilege of working intensively on my genealogy for decades, so I can easily compare what is known and proven, or what has been disproven, to Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors.

We’ll start with the great-grandparents’ generation, but first, let’s talk about how ThruLines works. I’ve previously written about ThruLines here and here.

How ThruLines Works

ThruLines is a tool for people who have taken an AncestryDNA test and who link themselves to their position on their tree. Linking is a critical step. If you don’t link the DNA test to the proper profile, the tester won’t have ThruLines. I provided step-by-step instructions, here.

I want to emphasize this again, ThruLines is a TOOL, not an answer. It may or may not be accurate and it’s entirely UP TO YOU to take that hint, run with it, and verify or disprove. Ancestry is providing you with a hint.

Essentially, the more ancestors that you provide to Ancestry, generally, the better they can do when suggesting additional Potential Ancestors. They do need something to work with. I wrote about that in the article Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines.

If you don’t provide at least your parents and at least your grandparents in a tree, it’s unlikely that Ancestry will be able to provide Potential Ancestors for you.

I added two generations above the parents in this experiment in order to provide Ancestry with a significant “hook” to latch onto to connect with:

  • Other DNA testers who match the tester AND
  • Other people’s trees, whether the tree-owners have tested their DNA or not

So yes, to be clear, Ancestry DOES:

  • Use the trees of other people whose DNA you match AND have the same ancestors in their tree
  • Along with the trees of people you don’t match (or who haven’t DNA tested,) to propose ancestors for you

ThruLines only reaches back to ancestors within 7 generations, meaning the ancestor is the tester’s 5th great-grandparent or closer.

Most suggested Potential Ancestors in ThruLines have descendants who have tested and are DNA matches to you, but not necessarily all.

On your tree itself, the ThruLines “3 people” icon shows on the ancestors that have Thrulines.

Click to enlarge

Looking at this graphic of my tree, you can see that ThruLines ends at the 7th generation, but Potential Ancestors continue to be suggested beyond 7 generations. Note generation 9, below, which is beyond ThruLines but has Potential Ancestors suggested based entirely on other people’s trees.

ThruLines stops at 7 generations, but Potential Ancestor suggestions do not.

In the above example, in generation 7, Michael McDowell (1720-1755) is a known ancestor and has a ThruLine, but his wife is unknown. Ancestry has suggested a Potential Mother for Michael McDowell (1747-1840) who is also the spouse of Michael McDowell (1720-1755).

Here’s the ThruLines suggestion for Michael McDowell’s wife.

Ironically, there are no DNA matches for either Michael or Eleanor. However, there are DNA matches for their child who clearly descends from Michael. This may be an example of a situation where the other testers are beyond the 7th generation, so they don’t show as matches for our tester in Michael’s generation. The other possibility, of course, is a glitch in ThruLines.

(For those familiar with the Michael McDowell (1720-1755) lineage, Eleanor is his mother, not his wife. His wife is unknown, so this Potential Ancestor is incorrect.)

Potential Ancestors Without DNA Matches

A person may still be suggested as a Potential Ancestor even without any DNA matches.

I have seen situations where a parent has DNA matches to several ThruLine ancestors, but their child has the same suggested ancestor with zero DNA matches listed because the child and the match are one generation too far removed to be listed as a DNA match on ThruLines.

Yet, if you search the child’s match list for the individual listed as a DNA match to their parent through that ancestor, that match is also on the child’s match list.

In the chart that follows, you can see that ancestors in the midrange of generations have many DNA matches, but as you approach the 7th generation, the number of matches drops significantly, and some even have zero. That’s because both people of a match pair have to be within the generational boundary for ThruLines to list them as matches.

In some cases, the ancestor is not suggested for the child in ThruLines because the ancestor is the 6th great-grandparent of the child. If you look directly at the child’s tree, the Potential Ancestor may be suggested there.

Points to Remember

  • The difference between ThruLines and Potential Ancestors is that Potential Ancestors are still suggested beyond the hard 7 generation or 5 GG boundary for ThruLines.
  • ThruLines may suggest Potential Ancestors with or without DNA matches.
  • Potential Ancestors, either within or beyond ThruLines must connect to someone in your tree, or another Potential Ancestor or ancestors who connect to someone in your tree.

Incorrect Ancestors and Discrepancies

An incorrect ancestor can be listed in multiple people’s trees, and Ancestry will suggest that incorrect ancestor for you based on the associated trees. At one point, I did a survey of the number of people who had the incorrect Virginia wife listed for my ancestor, Abraham Estes, and the first 150 trees I viewed had the wrong wife. We have church record proof of her death in England before his children were born by his colonial Virginia wife. Garbage in, garbage out.

That doesn’t mean those trees aren’t useful. In some cases, the information “saved” to that person in those incorrect trees shows you exactly what is out there and can’t be correct. For example, if there is a death record and burial for someone, they can’t also be alive 50 years later in another location. Or someone born in 1780 can’t have been a Revolutionary War veteran. Sometimes you’ll discover same name confusion, or multiple people who have been conflated into one. Other times, you may actually find valid hints for your own ancestor misplaced in someone else’s tree. Always evaluate.

You “should” have the same number of matches to the man and woman of a couple if neither of them had descendants with another partner, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I would presume that’s due to tree discrepancies among your matches or other trees on Ancestry.

If the same ancestor is listed with multiple name spellings or similar differences, I have no idea how Ancestry determines which version to present to you as a Potential Ancestor. That’s why ThruLines are hints. Ancestry does show you the various trees they utilized and allows you to peruse them for hints for that suggested ancestor.

Just click on the Evaluate button. Unfortunately, neither of these trees have any records for this ancestor.

If you click on the tree, you are then given the opportunity to add Eleanor (meaning the potential ancestor) to your tree from their tree.

I STRONGLY, STRONGLY suggest that you DO NOT do this. By adding information directly from other people’s trees, you’re introducing any errors from their tree into your tree as well.

If you click through to their tree, you’ll often find that they used someone else’s tree as their “source,” so misinformation propagates easily. Seeing “Ancestry Family Trees” as a source, especially in multiple records, provides you with an idea of the research style of that tree owner. This also conveys the message to less-experienced researchers that copy/pasting from other trees is a valid source.

Use this information provided as hints and do your own research and evaluation.

Where Do Potential Ancestors Come From?

Let’s view an example of an incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestion and proof-steps you can utilize to help validate or potentially disprove the suggestion.

We know that George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson is NOT the father of James Lee Clarkson based on Y-DNA testing where the descendants of the two men not only don’t match, they have a completely different haplogroup. They do not share a common paternal ancestor. Furthermore, proven descendant groups of both men do not have autosomal DNA matches.

However, George Middleton Clarkson is suggested as a Potential Ancestor in ThruLines as the father of James Lee Clarkson.

Mousing over the ThruLines placard shows 98 DNA matches to other people who claim descent from George Middleton Clarkson. How is it possible to have 98 matches with descendants of George Middleton Clarkson, yet he’s not my ancestor?

Many people just see that “98,” which is a high number and think, “well, of course he’s my ancestor, otherwise, I wouldn’t match all those descendants.” It’s not that simple or straightforward though. It’s certainly possible to all be wrong together, especially if you’re dealing with long-held assumptions in the genealogy community and trees copies from other people’s trees for decades.

To view the ThruLine detail for George Middleton Clarkson, just click on the placard.

The ThruLine for George Middleton Clarkson has three attributed children with DNA matches. Let’s evaluate.

  • ThruLines Child 1 is my own James Lee Clarkson that has been erroneously attached to George Middleton Clarkson. However, the Y-DNA of the three various lines, above, does not match. That erroneous connection alone counts for 80 of those 98 matches. If all of those people who match me do descend from our common ancestor, James, those matches all make sense.

According to early histories, James Lee Clarkson was believed to be George’s son based on geographic proximity between the state of Franklin in eastern Tennessee and Russell County, Virginia, but then came DNA testing which said otherwise.

This DNA grouping from the Clarkson/Claxton DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows that the men, above, which includes descendants of James Lee Claxton/Clarkson, all match each other.

  • ThruLines Child 2 is Thomas Clarkston who has 17 DNA matches through 7 of his children.

By clicking on the green evaluate button for Thomas, we see that two of the DNA related trees have records, but three do not.

The first tree is quite interesting for a number of reasons.

  1. Thomas Clarkson is found in Lee County, VA, in relatively close proximity to where James Lee Clarkson is first found in Russell County, VA as an adult in 1795.
  2. There is no actual documentation to connect Thomas Clarkson with George Middleton Clarkson who was hung in 1787 in the lost State of Franklin, Tennessee, now Washington and Greene Counties in Tennessee. It has been “accepted” for years that Thomas descends from George Middleton based on information reportedly passed down within that family long before the internet.

The Claxton/Clarkson DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows the Thomas lineage. This lineage reaches back into England based on Y-DNA matches – a huge and important hint for the Thomas descendants that they won’t be able to obtain anyplace else.

Note that Thomas’s Y-DNA does not match that of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton which means these people must match me through a different line. That’s not surprising given that many of the families of this region intermarried for generations.

  • ThruLines Child 3 is David Claxton, who has one DNA match, so let’s look at that by clicking on the green evaluate button.

You’ll see that this ancestor through David Claxton was recommended based on:

  • One DNA match with a tree with 0 source records, and
  • Zero Ancestry member trees of people whose DNA I don’t match, or that haven’t DNA tested

Checking this tree shows no sources for the following generations either, so I have no way to evaluate the accurace of the tree.

However, I did track his descendants for a generation or so and found them in Wilson County, TN, which allowed me to find them in the Clarkson/Claxton Y DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.

In the Clarkson/Claxton DNA project, we see that this David Claxton of Wilson County, TN is in a third DNA group that does not match either the James Lee Claxton or the Thomas Claxton line.

Furthermore, look at the hints for the descendants of David Claxton based on the Y-DNA matches. This link appears to reach back to a Clayton in Kirkington, Yorkshire.

ThruLines Conflation

In this case, three men of similar or the same surnames were cobbled together as sons of George Middleton Clarkson where clearly, based on Y-DNA testing, those three men are not related to each other paternally and do not share a common paternal ancestor. They cannot all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkson.

It’s amazing how much is missed and erroneously inferred by NOT testing Y-DNA. In very short order, we just proved that the ThruLine that connected all three of these men to George Middleton Clarkson as their ancestor is inaccurate.

In defense of Ancestry, they simply used user-submitted erroneous trees – but you have it within YOUR power to search further, and to utilize Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing for additional clarification. This Clarkson/Claxton information was freely available, publicly, by just checking.

You can find surname or other projects at FamilyTreeDNA, by scrolling down, here, or simply google “<surname you seek> DNA Project.”

How Can These People All Match the Tester?

If we know that the male Claxton/Clarkson line is not the link between these matches, then why and how do these people all DNA match the tester? That’s a great question.

It’s possible that:

  • They match the tester through a different ancestor
  • There has been a genetic disconnect in the Claxton/Clarkson line and the match is through the mother, not the Claxton/Clarkson male
  • Some of the other testers’ genealogy is in error by including George Middleton Clarkson in their trees
  • People accept the George Middleton Clarkson suggestion, adding him to their tree, propagating erroneous information
  • The descendants of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton match because he is their common ancestor, but connecting him to George Middleton Clarkson is erroneous
  • The 15 cM match (and potentially others) is identical by chance
  • The Y-DNA disproved this possibility in this case. In other cases, the matches could have been from the same biological Clarkson/Claxton line, but the testers have their ancestor incorrectly attached to George Middleton Clarkson/Claxton. In this case, we can’t say which of David Claxton, James Lee Claxton and/or Thomas Claxton are or are not individually erroneously connected to George Middleton Clarkson, but we know for a fact that David’s, James’ and Thomas’s descendant’s Y-DNA does not match each other, so they can’t all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkston. Furthermore, there is no solid evidence that ANY of these three men are his descendant. We know that these three men do not share a common direct paternal ancestor.

I recommend for every male line that you check the relevant Y-DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA and see if the information there confirms or conflicts with a suggested ancestor, or if a descendant hasn’t yet tested. I also STRONGLY recommend that a male in the relevant surname line that carries that surname be asked to test in order to verify the lineage.

ThruLine Ranking

I’m going to rank Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors by awarding points for accuracy on their Potential Ancestor ThruLines suggestions and subtracting points for incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestions. This chart is at the end with links to my 52 Ancestor’s articles for those ancestors.

OK, let’s take a look, beginning with the great-grandparent generation.

Great-Grandparents

I entered all of these ancestors and they are connected to their children, the tester’s grandparents. They are not connected to their parents for purposes of this article, although I do know who the parents are, so let’s see how Ancestry does making Potential Ancestor suggestions through ThruLines.

Ancestors (above example) that are NOT framed by a dotted line and who are NOT labeled as a “Potential Ancestor” have been connected in their tree by the DNA tester, meaning you.

The next generations, below, are all framed by dotted lines, meaning they are Potential Ancestor suggestions provided by Ancestry. Potential Ancestors are always clearly marked with the green bar.

Eight 2nd Great Grandparents

In this generation, because I have not connected them, Ancestry has suggested Potential Ancestors for all sixteen 2X Great-Grandparents.

I’ve provided gold stars for the correct ancestor information meaning both the name and the birth and death date within a year or a decade when they died between census years.

Of these 16, three are completely accurate and the rest were at least partially accurate.

I repeated this process for each one of the suggested Potential Ancestors in the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparent categories as well, completing a ranking chart as I went.

Ranking Chart

I’ve ranked Ancestry’s accuracy in their Potential Ancestor recommendations.

  • +2 points means the name AND birth and death years are accurate within a year or decade if they died within a census boundary
  • +1 point means that EITHER the name OR the birth and death dates are (mostly) accurate, but not both
  • 0 means uncertain, so neither positive or negative
  • -1 point means that NEITHER the name NOR birth and death dates are accurate but it’s clear that this is meant to be the correct person. In other words, with some work, this hint could point you in the right direction, but in and of itself, it is inaccurate.
  • -2 means that the person suggested is the wrong person

I’ve been generous where there was some question. I’ve linked these ancestors where I’ve written their 52 Ancestors stories. [LNU] means last name unknown. It’s worth noting that one of the trees Ancestry has available to utilize for Potential Ancestors is my own accurate tree with many source documents for my ancestors.

# Generation Ancestry Name & Birth/Death Years Correct Name & Birth/Death Years # Matches Points Awarded Y or mtDNA Confirmed
1 2nd GGP John R. Estes 1788-1885 John. R. Estes 1787-1885 110 2 Yes
2 2nd GGP Nancy Ann Moore 1789-1865 Ann Moore or Nancy Ann Moore c1785-1860/1870 112 1 Need mtDNA through all females
3 2nd GGP Lazarus Dotson 1785-1861 Lazarus Dodson 1795-1861 46 -1 Yes
4 2nd GGP Elizabeth Campbell 1802-1842 Elizabeth Campbell c 1802-1827/1830 46 1 Yes
5 2nd GGP Elijah R. Vannoy 1782-1850 Elijah Vannoy 1784-1850s 82 -1 Yes
6 2nd GGP Rebecca Lois McNeil 1781-1839 Lois McNiel c1786-c1830s 81 -1 Yes
7 2nd GGP William Crumley ?-1859 William Crumley 1788-1859 97 1 Yes
8 2nd GGP Lydia Brown Crumley 1796-1847 Lydia Brown c1781-1830/1840 112 -1 Yes
9 2nd GGP Henry Bolton 1741-1846 Henry Frederick Bolton 1762-1846 152 -1 Yes
10 2nd GGP Nancy Mann 1777-1841 Nancy Mann c1780-1841 134 1 Yes
11 2nd GGP William Herrel 1803-1859 William Harrell/Herrell c1790-1859 31 1 Yes
12 2nd GGP Mary McDowell 1785-1871 Mary McDowell 1785-after 1872 45 2 Yes
13 2nd GGP Fairwick Clarkson 1800-1874 Fairwix/Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton 1799/1800-1874 82 2 Yes
14 2nd GGP Agnes Sander Muncy 1803-1880 Agnes Muncy 1803-after 1880 106 1 Yes
15 2nd GGP Thomas Charles Speak 1805-1843 Charles Speak 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
16 2nd GGP Ann McKee 1805-1860 Ann McKee 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
17 3rd GGP George M. Estes 1763-1859 George Estes 1763-1859 76 1 Yes
18 3rd GGP Mary C. Younger 1766-1850 Mary Younger c1766-1820/1830 75 -1 Yes
19 3rd GGP William Moore 1756-1810 William Moore 1750-1826 72 1 Yes
20 3rd GGP Susannah Harwell 1748-1795 Lucy [LNU] 1754-1832 69 -2 Need Lucy’s mtDNA through all females
21 3rd GGP Lazarous Dotson 1760-1826 Lazarus Dodson 1760-1826 42 1 Yes
22 3rd GGP Janet Jane Campbell 1762-1826 Jane [LNU] c1760-1830/1840 38 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
23 3rd GGP John Campbell 1772-1836 John Campbell c1772-1838 65 1 Yes
24 3rd GGP Jane Dobkins 1780-1860 Jane Dobkins c1780-c1860 22 2 Yes
25 3rd GGP Francis Vanoy/Vannoy 1746-1822 Daniel Vannoy 1752-after 1794 76 -2 Yes
26 3rd GGP Millicent “Millie” Henderson 1755-1822 Sarah Hickerson 1752/1760-before 1820 76 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
27 3rd GGP William McNeil/McNeal 1760-1830 William McNiel c1760-c1817 116 1 Yes
28 3rd GGP Elizabeth Shepherd McNeil 1766-1820 Elizabeth Shepherd 1766-1830/1840 115 -1 Yes
29 3rd GGP William Crumley 1767-1837 William Crumley c1767-c1839 59 1 Yes
30 3rd GGP Hannah Hanner “Hammer” 1770-1814 unknown 60 -2 Have her mtDNA
31 3rd GGP Jotham Sylvanis Brown 1765-1859 Jotham Brown c1740-c1799 100 -2 Yes
32 3rd GGP Ruth Johnston Brown Phoebe Cole 1747-1802 97 -2 Incorrect person but have correct mtDNA
33 3rd GGP Henry Bolton 1720-1757 Henry Bolton 1729-1765 88 1 Yes
34 3rd GGP Sarah Corry 1729-1797 Sarah Corry 1729-1797 80 2 Need mtDNA through all females
35 3rd GGP Robert James Mann 1753-1801 James Mann 1745-? 77 -1 Need Y-DNA
36 3rd GGP Mary Jane Wilson 1760-1801 Mary Brittain Cantrell c1755-? 80 -2 Incorrect but have correct mtDNA
37 3rd GGP John Herrell 1761-1829 John Harrold c1750-1825 19 -1 Yes
38 3rd GGP Hallie Mary [LNU] c1750-1826 18 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
39 3rd GGP Michael McDowell-McDaniel 1737-1834 Michael McDowell c17471840 25 -2 Yes
40 3rd GGP Sarah Isabel “Liza” Hall Isabel [LNU] c1753-1840/1850 27 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
41 3rd GGP James Lee Clarkson 1775-1815 James Lee Clarkson c1775-1815 170 2 Yes
42 3rd GGP Sarah Helloms Cook 1775-1863 Sarah Cook 1775-1863 188 1 Yes
43 3rd GGP Samuel Munsey-Muncy 1767-1830 Samuel Muncy after 1755-before 1820 108 1 Yes
44 3rd GGP Anne W. Workman 1768-1830 Anne Nancy Workman 1760/1761-after 1860 107 -1 Yes
45 3rd GGP Rev. Nicholas Speak 1782-1852 Nicholas Speak/Speaks 1782-1852 93 2 Yes
46 3rd GGP Sarah Faires Speak 1782-1865 Sarah Faires 1786-1865 93 -1 Yes
47 3rd GGP Andrew McKee 1760-1814 Andrew McKee c1760-1814 86 2 Yes
48 3rd GGP Elizabeth 1765-1839 Elizabeth [LNU] c1767-1838 88 2 Yes
49 4th GGP Moses Estes 1742-1815 Moses Estes c1742-1813 27 1 Yes
50 4th GGP Luremia Susannah Combes 1747-1815 Luremia Combs c1740-c1820 33 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
51 4th GGP Marcus Younger 1735-1816 Marcus Younger 1730/1740-1816 30 2 Yes
52 4th GGP Susanna Hart* 1725-1806 Susanna [possibly] Hart c1740-before 1805 26 -1 Yes
53 4th GGP William Moore 1725-1757 James Moore c1718-c1798 25 -2 Yes
54 4th GGP Margaret Hudspeth 1725-1808 Mary Rice c1723-c1778/1781 26 -2 Need Mary Rice mtDNA through all females
55 4th GGP Samuel “Little Sam” Harwell 1716-1793 Incorrect 36 -2
56 4th GGP Abigail Anne Jackson 1712-1793 Incorrect 33 -2
57 4th GGP Rawleigh “Rolly” Dodson 1730-1793 Raleigh Dodson 1730-c1794 19 2 Yes
58 4th GGP Elizabeth Mary Booth 1728-1793 Mary [LNU] c1730-1807/1808 27 -2 Need Mary’s mtDNA through all females
59 4th GGP Nancy Ann Steele 1728-1836 Unknown mother of Jane [LNU], wife of Lazarus Dodson 16 -2 Need Jane’s mtDNA through all females
60 4th GGP James Campbell 1742-1931 Charles Campbell c1750-c1825 28 -2 Y DNA confirmed NOT this line
61 4th GGP Letitia Allison 1759-1844 Incorrect 31 -2
62 4th GGP Jacob Dobkins 1750-1833 Jacob Dobkins 1751-1835 91 1 Yes
63 4th GGP Dorcas (Darcas) Johnson 1750-1831 Darcus Johnson c1750-c1835 92 2 Yes
64 4th GGP John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 47 2 Yes
65 4th GGP Susannah Baker Anderson 1720-1816 Susannah Anderson c1721-c1816 59 2 Need mtDNA through all females
66 4th GGP Thomas Hildreth Henderson 1736-1806 Charles Hickerson c1725-before 1793 37 -2 Have Hickerson Y-DNA
67 4th GGP Mary Frances “Frankie” McIntire 1735-1811 Mary Lytle c1730-before 1794 37 -2 Need mtDNA from all females
68 4th GGP Rev. George W. McNeil 1720-1805 George McNiel c1720-1805 143 1 Yes
69 4th GGP Mary Sarah Coates 1732-1782 Sarah/Sallie or Mary [maybe] Coates c1740-1782/1787 139 1 Need mtDNA through all females
70 4th GGP John James Sheppard Shepherd 1734-1810 Robert Shepherd 1739-1817 136 -2 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
71 4th GGP Sarah Ann Rash 1732-1810 Sarah Rash 1748-1829 178 -1 Yes
72 4th GGP John Crumbley 1737-1794 William Crumley 1736-1793 77 -2 Have Crumley Y-DNA
73 4th GGP Hannah Mercer 1742-1774 Hannah Mercer c1740-c1773 73 2 Yes
74 4th GGP John Hanner (Hainer) Incorrect 19 -2
75 4th GGP Jotham Brown 1740-1799 Incorrect 183 -2 Have Brown Y-DNA
76 4th GGP Phoebe Ellen Johnston 1742-1810 Incorrect 182 -2
77 4th GGP Moses Johnston 1746-1828 Incorrect 45 -2
78 4th GGP Eleanor Havis 1753-1837 Incorrect 47 -2
79 4th GGP Henry Boulton 1693-1737 John Bolton before 1693-after 1729 23 -2 Have Bolton Y-DNA
80 4th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Elizabeth Goaring 1795-1729 22 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
81 4th GGP Thomas Curry (Corry) 1705-1729 Thomas Curry 1705-1729 25 2 Need Curry Y-DNA
82 4th GGP Monique “Moniky” Curry 1704-1729 Monique Demazares 1705-1729 25 1 Need mtDNA through all females
83 4th GGP Robert James Mann 1740-1787 John Mann 1725-1774 26 -2 Need Mann Y-DNA
84 4th GGP Sarah Susannah McCloskey 1716-1797 Frances Carpenter 1728-1833 28 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
85 4th GGP Benjamin “Col. Ben” Colonel Wilson 1733-1814 Incorrect 28 -2
86 4th GGP Mary Ann Seay 1735-1814 Incorrect 29 -2
87 4th GGP John Hugh McDowell 1695-1742 Michael McDowell c1720-after 1755 7 -2 Incorrect but have correct Y-DNA McDowell Y-DNA
88 4th GGP Mary Magdalena Woods 1705-1800 Incorrect 8 -2
89 4th GGP Ebenezer Hall 1721-1801 Incorrect 6 -2
90 4th GGP Dorcas Abbott Hall 1728-1797 Incorrect 6 -2
91 4th GGP George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson 1745-1787 Incorrect 98 -2 Incorrect but have correct Clarkson Y-DNA
92 4th GGP Catherine Middleton 1764-1855 Incorrect 94 -2
93 4th GGP William Henry Cook 1750-1920 Joel Cook before 1755 – ? 83 -2 Need Cook Y-DNA
94 4th GGP Elizabeth Wall 1747-1826 Alcy [LNU] c 1755-? 91 -2 Yes
95 4th GGP Obediah Samuel Muncy 1735-1806 Samuel Muncy 1740-1799 33 -1 Yes
96 4th GGP UFN Obediah Muncy wife Unknowen (sic) 1728-1843 Agnes Craven 1745-1811 27 -2 Need Agnes Craven Need mtDNA through all females
97 4th GGP Joseph Workman 1732-1813 Joseph Workman c1736-c1813 64 2 Yes
98 4th GGP Phoebe McRay McMahon 1745-1826 Phoebe McMahon c1741-after 1815 64 1 Yes
99 4th GGP Charles Beckworth Speake/Speaks 1741-1794 Charles Speake c1731-1794 47 1 Yes
100 4th GGP Jane Connor 1742-1789 Incorrect, unknown first wife 40 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
101 4th GGP Gideon Farris 1748-1818 Gideon Faires before 1749-1821 54 -1 Yes
102 4th GGP Sarah Elizabeth McSpadden 1745-1821 Sarah McSpadden c1745-c1820 55 1 Yes
103 4th GGP Hugh McKee 1720-1795 Unknown 34 -2
104 4th GGP Mary Nesbit 1732-1795 Unknown 35 -2
105 4th GGP Private (sic) Unknown father of Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee 35 -2
106 4th GGP Anna Elizabeth Carney [wife of “private”] Incorrect 35 -2
107 5th GGP Moses Estes 1711-1788 Moses Estes 1711-1787 13 2 Yes
108 5th GGP Elizabeth Jones “Betty” Webb 1718-1782 Elizabeth [LNU] 1715/1720-1772/1782 5 -2 No known daughters
109 5th GGP George W. Combs 1714-1798 John Combs 1705-1762 6 -2 Need Combs Y-DNA
110 5th GGP Phebe Wade ?-1830 Incorrect 6 -2 Need mtDNA of John Combs first wife through all females
111 5th GGP Sarah Ferguson 1700-1781 Incorrect 3 -2
112 5th GGP Anthony Hart 1700-? Possibly Anthony Hart but no evidence 3 0
113 5th GGP Charles Rev. Moore 1685-1734 Incorrect 4 -2
114 5th GGP Mary Margaret Barry Moore 1690-1748 Incorrect 4 -2
115 5th GGP Ralph Hudspeth II* 1690-1776 Incorrect 9 -2
116 5th GGP Mary Carter 1699-1737 Incorrect 3 -2
117 5th GGP Samuel Harwell 1674-1767 Incorrect 3 -2
118 5th GGP Mary Ann Coleman*8th Ggm (sic) 1678-1723 incorrect 6 -2
119 5th GGP Ambrose (Sar) Jackson 1695-1745 Incorrect 6 -2
120 5th GGP Anne Amy Wyche 1692-1765 Incorrect 6 -2
121 5th GGP George E Dodson (DNA) (sic) 1702-1770 George Dodson 1702-after 1756 23 -1 Yes
122 5th GGP Margaret Dogett Dagord 1708-1770 Margaret Dagord 1708-? 24 1 Need mtDNA through all females
123 5th GGP James Booth 1700-1741 Incorrect 4 -2
124 5th GGP Frances Dale Booth (15great aunt) (sic) 1688-1777 Incorrect 3 -2
125 5th GGP Samuel Scurlock Steele 1709-1790 Incorrect 2 -2
126 5th GGP Robert R. Campbell 1718-1810 Incorrect 34 -2
127 5th GGP Lady: Letitia Crockett 1719-1760 Incorrect 8 -2
128 5th GGP John A. Dobkins 1717-1783 John Dobkins c1710-c1788 20 1 Yes
129 5th GGP Mary Elizabeth Betty Moore 1739-1815 Elizabeth [LNU] c1711-? 20 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
130 5th GGP Peter Johnson 1715-1796 Peter Johnson/Johnston c1720-c1794 0 1 Yes
131 5th GGP Mary Polly Phillips 1729-1790 Mary Polly Phillips c1726-? 1 2 Need mtDNA through all females
132 5th GGP Francis Janzen Vannoy Van Noy 1688-1774 Francis Vannoy 1688-1774 8 1 Yes
133 5th GGP Rebecca Anna Catherine Anderson 1698-1785 Rebecca Annahh Andriesen/ Anderson 1697-1727 13 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
134 5th GGP Cornelius Anderson (Andriessen) 1670-1724 Kornelis Andriesen 1670-1724 5 2 Yes
135 5th GGP Annetje Annah Opdyck 1670-1746 Annetje Opdyck c1675-after 1746 5 2 Need mtDNA through all females
136 5th GGP Thomas Hildret Henderson 1715-1794 Incorrect

 

3 -2
137 5th GGP Mary Frisby 1709-1794 Incorrect 3 -2
138 5th GGP Alexander (Alex) McEntire 1707-1802 Incorrect 12 -2
139 5th GGP Hannah Janet McPherson 1711-1792 Incorrect 15 -2
140 5th GGP Thomas James McNeil 1699-1803 Incorrect 25 -2
141 5th GGP Mary Hannah Parsons 1697-1784 Incorrect 27 -2
142 5th GGP John Coates 1699-1732 Incorrect 21 -2
143 5th GGP Sarah Ann Titcombe 1710-1732 Incorrect 22 -2
144 5th GGP George Sheppard, Shepherd 1716-1751 George Shepherd c1700-1751 42 1 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
145 5th GGP Elizabeth Mary Angelicke Day (Daye) 1699-? Elizabeth Mary Angelica Daye 1699-after 1750 41 1 Need mtDNA through all females
146 5th GGP Joseph Rash 1722-1776 Joseph Rash before 1728-c1767 36 1 Yes
147 5th GGP Mary Warren 1726-1792 Mary Warren 1726-? 36 1 Yes
148 5th GGP James L Crumley/Cromley 1712-1784 James Crumley c1711-1764 11 -1 Yes
149 5th GGP Catherine Bowen Gilkey 1712-1784 Catherine [LNU] c1712-c1790 11 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
150 5th GGP Edward Willis Mercer 1704-1763 Edward Mercer 1704-1763 5 1 Yes
151 5th GGP Ann Lueretias Coats 1710-1763 Ann [LNU] 1699/1705-c1786/1790 5 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
152 5th GGP Daniel Brown 1710-1798 Incorrect 39 -2
153 5th GGP Mary Brown 1717-1777 Incorrect 40 -2
154 5th GGP Zopher “Elder” Johnson/Johnston* 1700-1804 Incorrect 51 -2
155 5th GGP Elizabeth Williamson Cooper 1703-1794 Incorrect 49 -2
156 5th GGP Joseph Benjamin Johnson (6th ggf) (sic) 1709-1795 Incorrect 3 -2
157 5th GGP Elizabeth Shepard 1709-1786 Incorrect 3 -2
158 5th GGP John (Boulware) Havis (Rev/war) (sic) 1728-1807 Incorrect 4 -2
159 5th GGP Susannah Gentile Boullier (Boulware) 1733-1817 Incorrect 3 -2
160 5th GGP Henry Boulton Jr. 1652-1720 Incorrect 22 -2
161 5th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Incorrect, linked in two generations Duplicate not processing -2
162 5th GGP Norton Bryan 1634-1672 Incorrect 2 -2
163 5th GGP Elizabeth Middlemore 1640-1658 Incorrect 2 -2
164 5th GGP Guillam Demazure 1685-1706 Guillam Demazares before 1685-after 1705 2 2 Need Y-DNA
165 5th GGP Marie Demazure 1686-1705 Marie [LNU] before 1686-after 1705 2 1 Need mtDNA through all females
166 5th GGP John Robert Mann {Minnis} 1711-1772 Incorrect 3 -2
167 5th GGP Anne Vincent 1711-1747 Incorrect 3 -2
168 5th GGP Joseph David McCluskey 1693-1756 Incorrect 3 -2
169 5th GGP Barbara S Rohlflag 1695-1755 Incorrect 3 -2
170 5th GGP Willis Wilson, Jr. 1710-1794 Incorrect 4 -2
171 5th GGP Elizabeth Goodrich ?-1789 Incorrect 4 -2
172 5th GGP Reverend James Matthew Seay 1696-1757 Incorrect 7 -2
173 5th GGP Elizabeth (James M Seay) Wilson or Lewis 1696-1752 Incorrect 6 -2
174 5th GGP Ephriam Samuel McDowell 1673-1774 Murtough McDowell before 1700-1752 0 -2 Yes
175 5th GGP Margaret Elizabeth Irvine 1674-1728 Eleanor [LNU] before 1700-after 1730 1 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
176 5th GGP Michael Marion Woods 1684-1782 Incorrect 9 -2
177 5th GGP Mary Catherine Woods 1690-1742 Incorrect 9 -2
178 5th GGP Joseph Hall 1680-1750 Incorrect 0 -2
179 5th GGP Sarah Kimball Hall Haley 1686-1752 Incorrect 0 -2
180 5th GGP Edward Abbott 1702-759 Incorrect 0 -2
181 5th GGP Dorcas Mehitable Chandler 1704-1748 Incorrect 0 -2
182 5th GGP James Anderson Clarkston 1717-1816 Incorrect 17 -2
183 5th GGP Thomasina Elizabeth Middleton 1720-1796 Incorrect 17 -2
184 5th GGP Harlace Middleton Incorrect 5 -2
185 5th GGP Capt. Vallentine Felty Kuke Cook 1730-1797 Incorrect 25 -2
186 5th GGP Michael Wall 1728-1749 Incorrect 11 -2
187 5th GGP Rebecca Chapman 1725-1791 Incorrect 11 -2
188 5th GGP Samuel Scott Muncy 1712-1786 Samuel Muncy 1712-after 1798 50 -1 Yes
189 5th GGP Mary Daughtery Skidmore 1710-1797 Mary Skidmore c1710-1811 51 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
190 5th GGP Abraham Woertman Workman 1709-1749 Abraham Workman 1709-1813 26 1 Yes
191 5th GGP Hannah Annetje (Smith) Workman 1706-1747 Annetie Smith 1714-? 26 1 Need mtDNA through all females
192 5th GGP Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 17 2 Need Y-DNA
193 5th GGP Agnas Norton 1699-1747 Agnas Norton after 1700-? 17 2 Need mtDNA through all females
194 5th GGP Thomas Bowling Speake V 1698-1765 Thomas Speak c1634-1681 11 -2 Yes
195 5th GGP Jane Barton/Brisco Smoote 1714-1760 Elizabeth Bowling 1641-before 1692 12 -2 No known daughters
196 5th GGP William Farris 1714-1776 William Faires/Farris before 1728-1776 11 1 Yes
197 5th GGP Deborah Johnson Faries 1734-1812 Deborah [LNU] 1734-1812 11 1 Need mtDNA through all females
198 5th GGP Thomas of Borden’s Grant McSpadden 1720-1765 Thomas McSpadden c1721-1785 19 1 Yes
199 5th GGP Mary Dorothy Edmondson (Edmundson, Edmiston, Edmisten) 1721-1786 Dorothy [possibly Edmiston] 1721-? 28 1 Yes
200 5th GGP Thomas Alexander McKee, Sr 1693-1769 Incorrect 7 -2
201 5th GGP Tecumseh Margaret Opessa Pekowi 1695-1780 Incorrect 6 -2
202 5th GGP Thomas F Nesbit 1707-1783 Incorrect 7 -2
203 5th GGP Jean McKee 1707-1790 Incorrect 7 -2
Total -163

Please note that I will provide a free Y-DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for any male descending through all men from the male ancestor where it’s noted that Y-DNA is needed. Y-DNA is typically the surname line in most western countries.

I will also provide a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for anyone who descends from the women where it’s noted that mitochondrial DNA is needed. Mitochondrial DNA passes through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female.

If this is you or a family member, please reach out to me.

The Scores

Of the 203 ancestors for which Ancestry provided a Potential Ancestor, they could have amassed a total of 406 points if each one provided an accurate name and accurate birth and death dates within a reasonable margin. If they were completely wrong on every one, they could have earned a negative score of -406.

Ancestry’s ThruLine accuracy score was -163, meaning they were wrong more than right. Zero was the break-even point where there was equally as much accurate information as inaccurate.

In fairness though, the older ancestors are more likely to be wrong than the more recent ones, and there are more older ancestors given that ancestors double in each generation. Once Ancestry provided a wrong ancestor, they continued down that wrong path on up the tree, so once the path was incorrect, it never recovered.

Regardless of why, Ancestry suggested incorrect information, and as we know, many people take that information to heart as gospel. In fact, many people even call these *TrueLines* instead of *ThruLines*.

Ok, how did Ancestry do?

Category Total Percent
+2 – Both Name and Date Accurate or Within Range 24 11.82%
+1 – Name and/or Date Partly Accurate 41 20.2%
0 – Uncertain 1 0.49%
-1 – Neither Name nor Date Accurate, but Enough Context to Figure Out With Research 22 10.84%
-2 – Inaccurate, the wrong person 115 56.65%

 Take Aways – Lessons Learned

This leads us to the lessons learned portion.

  • Never, ever, take ThruLines or Potential Ancestors at face value. They are hints and nothing more. Ancestry states that “ThruLines uses Ancestry trees to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through common ancestors.” (Bolding is mine.)
  • Verify everything.
  • Never simply copy something from another tree or accept a hint of any kind without a thorough evaluation. No, your ancestor probably did not zigzag back and forth across the country every other year in the 1800s. If you think they did, then you’ll need lots of information to prove that unusual circumstance. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary proof.
  • Never add extraneous “things” to names like “DNA match” or name someone “Private,” unless, of course, that was actually their name. Extraneous “pieces” in names confuses Ancestry’s search routines too, so you’re hurting your own chances of finding relevant information about your ancestor, not to mention ThruLines for others.
  • Naming someone “Private” isn’t useful if they are attached to other non-private people as ancestors, siblings and descendants. Just sayin…
  • Once the first incorrect ancestor is suggested, ThruLines continues to go up the incorrect tree.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches for a particular ancestor may simply mean that lots of people are beyond the ThruLines match reporting thresholds. Unfortunately, Ancestry does NOT have a function where you can hunt for matches by ancestor.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches may also mean it’s either the wrong ancestor, or they have few descendants, or few have tested.
  • The number of matches, in either direction, is not directly predictive of the accuracy of the suggested ancestor.
  • One of the best ways to validate ancestor accuracy is to match other descendants through multiple children of the ancestor, assuming that the children have been assigned to that ancestor properly. Recall George Middleton Clarkson where the three male children assigned to him do not have the same Y-DNA.
  • Another validation technique is to also match descendants of both parents of the ancestor(s) in question, through multiple children.
  • Remember that paper trail documentation is an extremely important aspect of genealogy.
  • Do not rely on trees without sources, or on trees with sources without verifying that every source is actually referencing this specific person.
  • Same name confusion is a very real issue.
  • For male ancestors, always check the Y-DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA to verify that males attached as children have descendants with matching Y-DNA.
  • Always test males for their surname line. You never know when you’ll either prove or disprove a long-held belief, or discover that someplace, there has been a biological break in that line.
  • Y-DNA matches can provide extremely valuable information on earlier ancestral lines which may lead to breaking through your brick wall.
  • Mitochondrial DNA testing and matching of descendants is sometimes the only way of proving maternity or discovering matches to earlier ancestors.
  • Both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, via haplogroups, can provide origins information for that one specific line, meaning you don’t have to try to figure out which ancestor contributed some percentage of ethnicity or population-based DNA.
  • Everyone can test their mitochondrial DNA, inherited from their direct matrilineal line, and men can test their Y-DNA, which is their surname line.
  • Remember that ThruLines can only be as good as the trees upon which it relies.
  • Review the source trees for each Potential Ancestor provided, evaluating each source carefully, including notes, images and web links. You just never know where that diamond is hiding.

How Can Ancestry Improve ThruLines, Potential Ancestors and Provide Customers with Better Tools?

To improve ThruLines and/or Potential Ancestors, Ancestry could:

  • My #1 request would be to implement a “search by ancestor” feature for DNA matches. This would be especially beneficial for situations where matches are beyond the 5GG threshold, or if someone is testing a hypothesis to see if they match descendants of a particular person.
  • Provide a “dismiss” function, or even a function where a customer could provide a reason why they don’t believe a connection or suggestion is accurate. This could travel with that link for other users as well so people can benefit from commentary from and collaboration with others.
  • Provide all DNA matches to people who share a specific ancestor, even if one person is beyond the 5 GG level. Currently, if both people are beyond that threshold, the match won’t show for either, so that’s no problem. The hybrid way it works today is both confusing and misleading and the hard cutoff obfuscates matches that have the potential to be extremely useful. Often this is further exacerbated by the 20 cM thresold limit on shared matches.
  • Add a feature similar to the now defunct NADs (New Ancestor Discoveries) where Ancestry shows you a group of your matches that descend from common ancestors, but those ancestors are NOT connected to anyone in your tree. However, DO NOT name the tool New Ancestor Discoveries because these people may not be, and often are not, your ancestors. If you’re related to a group of people who all have these people in THEIR tree as ancestors, that alone is a powerful hint. You might be descended from their ancestors, from the spouse of one of their children – something. But it’s information to work with when you have brick walls where Ancestry cannot connect someone as a potential ancestor directly to someone in your tree. Even locations of those brick-wall-breaker possible ancestors would be a clue. In fact, it’s not terribly different than the Potential Ancestors today, except today’s Potential Ancestors are entirely tree based (beyond ThruLines) and dependent upon connecting with someone in your tree. These new Brick-Wall-Breaker Potential Ancestors are (1.) NOT connected to your tree, and (2.) are all a result of DNA matches with people who have these ancestors in their tree.
  • If you already map your segment information at DNAPainter, the Brick-Wall-Breaker ancestral lineage connection would be immediately evident if Ancestry provided DNA segment location information. In other words, there are answers and significant hints that could be available to Ancestry’s customers.
  • Extend ThruLines for (at least) another two generations. Today ThruLines ends at the point that many people begin running into brick walls about the time the US census began. Using a 25-year generation, the current algorithm gives you 175 years (about 1825 starting with the year 2000), and a 30-year generation gives you 210 years (about 1790). Extending that two additional generations would give testers two more generations, several more Potential Ancestors, and 50-60 more years, approaching or reaching across the US colonial threshold.
  • Extending ThruLines and adding that Brick-Wall-Breaker functionality wouldn’t be nearly as important if customers could search by ancestor and download their match with direct ancestor information, similar to the other vendors, but since we can’t, we’re completely reliant on ThruLines and Potential Ancestors for automated connections by ancestor. Downloading your match list including a list of each person’s direct ancestors and matching segments would provide resources for many of these customer needs, without Ancestry having to do significant major development. If nothing else, it could be an interim stepping-stone.

_____________________________________________________________

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Sarah Cook (1774/1775-1863), Epitome of Perseverance – 52 Ancestors #386

Sarah Cook was the wife of James Lee Claxton, or Clarkson. That name changed like a chameleon and trust me, those changes caused Sarah massive headaches too.

Much of what we know about Sarah comes from her application for her husband’s War of 1812 pension benefits and bounty land. These applications were quite difficult and fraught with bureaucratic red tape. This process of application and reapplication requiring several affidavits must have been horribly frustrating for Sarah, but it is quite the boon for genealogists, telling us a lot about Sarah and the people in her life.

It’s in those documents that we discover that Sarah’s father’s name is Joel Cook and that she was married on October 10, 1799 (or 1805) in Russell County, Virginia by Justice of the Peace, John Tate.

Ironically, while Sarah gave two different years in which she was married, her marriage month and day remained constant.

I tend to think that 1799 is accurate, in part because three of her children were born before 1805, by which time she and James were living in Claiborne County, TN.

On June 16, 1805 and twice in September, James Claxton appears in the Claiborne County court notes. It’s very unlikely that he married in Russell County on October 10 of that year. It’s equally unlikely that Sarah had three children before marrying James, and moved to another county and state without the benefit of marriage.

They would not have returned to Russell County, a week’s hard journey across the mountains by wagon to be married by the Justice of the Peace there.

In 1810, in Claiborne County, James Claxton bought land from John Hall – 100 acres on the north side of Powell River.

By 1810, Sarah would have had about 6 children. Number 7 was born in 1811, and number 8 was born between 1813 and 1815.

Sadly, Sarah said goodbye to James for the last time on November 13, 1814, as he left to do his patriotic duty and serve his county in the War of 1812. In February of 1815, just days before the end of the war, James died in distant, cold Fort Decatur, hundreds of miles away from home, on the banks of the Tallapoosa River across from the Creek Nation in what would become Alabama in 1819.

James was buried beside the fort in a now-lost grave, probably marked only with a wooden cross at the time, if that. No one other than his fellow soldiers that dug his grave was at his funeral, such as it was. There probably wasn’t much of a funeral, because every minute the men were outside the fort, they were exposed to attack. Not only that, but many men at Fort Decatur were sick, very sick.

Sarah never got to bring James home, never got to bury him, never got to dress and wash his body, never got to weep over his grave, and never got to plant flowers and speak to him in the springtime. James may never have seen his last child who was probably born after he died.

Sarah was left with at least 8 children, and that’s 8 children that we know about. We don’t know how many might have passed away as infants or as children. It would have been terribly unusual for all children born to a woman to live to adulthood.

If Sarah and James were married for 15 and a half years, and had 8 children, that would have meant Sarah had a baby about every 2 years – about normal for a pioneer couple.

I do wonder if Sarah gave birth the last time after James’ death. Perhaps she did, but before she knew that he had died.

Sarah may not have known that James had perished until the rest of the men in his unit made their way home, on foot, after their discharge in May of 1815.

The soldiers from eastern Tennessee marched the 400 miles or so to Fort Decatur, and they would have marched home, much the worse for wear, only half as many as marched to Fort Decatur the previous November. At the rate of 15 miles per day, the sad march home by the bedraggled men would have taken almost a month, about 26 days – only to bear the burden of telling the families of the men who weren’t with them where they were.

I can envision Sarah, holding a baby and the hands of 7 stairstep children as she excitedly waited for James to appear with the rest of the soldiers. She had probably given the children baths and they would have been wearing their best clothes to welcome Daddy back home.

The soldiers must have been excited to be returning home, but horribly saddened and dreaded seeing the hopeful faces of the families of the men who were buried back at Fort Decatur or along the way.

Perhaps it was Tandy Welch who served beside James and was at his deathbed – the man who would one day become Sarah’s son-in-law – that imparted the terrible news.

I have always wondered if somehow Sarah knew. Maybe she had the second-sight, or maybe she just had a “feeling.” Maybe she was hoping against hope, watching the group of soldiers approach, then pass by, one by one, until one of the men she knew walked up to her and put his hands on her arms to steady her.

Untold grief had arrived, and with it, Sarah’s life as she knew it was upended.

Sarah’s Birth

Based on Sarah’s age given on the various petitions she signed related to James Claxton’s military service, she was born in either 1774 or 1775. In 1851, Sarah gave a deposition on March 8th and in that deposition states her age as 76, which means she was born in 1775. Given that the deposition was given the first week of March, there’s a roughly 25% chance Sarah had already had her birthday in 1851. If Sarah’s birthday happened after March 8th, then her birth year would subtract to 1774.

On October 16, 1858, Sarah signed a deposition in which she states that she is 83 years old, which means that she was born about 1775.

In 1853, Sarah gave a deposition on November 29, 1853 and gave her age as 79, indicating that she was born in 1774.  By the end of November, there was only a one in twelve chance that Sarah had NOT yet had her birthday in 1853.

We even have Sarah’s signature along with son, Fairwick.

Given the two bracketing depositions, it’s most likely from these records alone that Sarah was born sometime between March 9, 1774 and November 28, 1774, someplace in Virginia, according to the 1850 census.

While we find it odd today that someone would provide inconsistent information about their age, birth date or marriage year, it was quite common in that place and time to not know your birthday or year. Even today, sometimes I have to think about how old I am and substract to be sure.

Sarah’s Death

Sarah spent the rest of her life after James’ death as a single woman. She was only 40 or so when he died and lived for 48 years as a widow, longer than she lived before James died and three times as long as she was married. She was reported to be 88 years old on December 21, 1863 when she passed away, which would have put her birth firmly in 1775.

According to this paperwork filed in conjunction with James’s pension, Sarah “died very suddenly of no particular disease being recognized,” with Rebecca Wolf and Nancy Eaton in the room with her when she died.

I wish Sarah had a gravestone, but given that she died in the midst of the Civil War, a gravestone probably wasn’t possible.

I’m positive that Sarah is buried in the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery in Hancock County, Tennessee where she lived with her son Fairwick and where he is buried as well.

In the photo above, the Claxton/Clarkson Cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is fenced on the Claxton/Clarkson original land. Sarah is buried here someplace in one of the many unmarked graves.

Sarah’s Records

In contrast with most women of her era, Sarah was quite active in land acquisition.  Some land may have been awarded to her as a result of her husband’s military service, but certainly not all of her land was thanks to James.

First, we find Sarah mentioned in her son’s land survey.

Claiborne County Survey Book 29 – page 693, Claiborne Co. Tn number 28765 March 16, 1826 – Farwix Claxton assignee of JP Shackleford, assignee of Farwix Claxton, assignee of Sarah Claxton – 100 acres granted to Farwix Claxton and his heirs lying in the county aforesaid adj Sarah Claxton on the north side of Powell’s river, crossing a public road, Sarah’s old corner. Surveyed Oct 14, 1826, filed June 4, 1853, chainers Henry Cook and John Plank

Is the Henry Cook who was the chainer significant, given that Sarah was a Cook before marriage?

It’s rather unusual that this survey wasn’t registered until in 1853, but surveys weren’t free and neither was registering deeds.

Did Fairwick and Sarah each have a 100-acre survey?  It would appear so.

On the same day in 1826, Sarah’s own 100 tract was surveyed, but the survey wasn’t entered for another 4 years, probably indicating Sarah didn’t have the money to pay the surveyor and the registration fee, both. This new survey adjoins her “old tract” which was probably the land that James Claxton purchased in 1810.

On August 16, 1826, Sarah had another 30 acres surveyed. In this deed, she is called Sally, which would have been the nickname for Sarah. So, now we know her nickname as well, called such by the surveyor who clearly knew her personally. This parcel too adjoined her “old tract.”

Chainers were often family members, and Henry Cook, found in all 3 of these surveys, may have been related to Sarah. John Plank was the neighbor, and he would surely have wanted to be sure this land was surveyed accurately.

In the 1830 census, Sarah is shown living with 5 people in her household.

  • 1 male 15-20 – unknown, probably Henry Claxton
  • 1 male 30-40 – unknown
  • 1 female 15-20 – probably daughter Martha Patsy
  • 1 female 30-40 – uncertain
  • 1 female 50-60, which would have been Sarah herself

Sarah’s daughter Rebecca had married John Collingsworth in 1829, so they could be the couple age 30-40 living with Sarah, although the dates and ages don’t align exactly.

In 1832, 25 acres was surveyed for Farwix Claxton on the Powell River adjoining his mother’s land. His brother, Henry, was a chain carrier for the surveyor.

A drawing from the Claiborne County survey book dated December 18, 1832 shows the survey for Sarah Claxton’s 30 acres bordering on Henry Clarkson’s and Levi Parks’ grant and on the Montgomery grant. Shadrack Moore and Henry Clarkson were chainers and the land was on the Powell River near 4 Mile Creek.

We are actually quite fortunate, because we know exactly where this bend of the Powell River was located. In fact, it was even called Claxton’s bend, as shown in this 1831 survey.

In 1834, in the Claiborne County Court Notes we find a lawsuit that may have forced the children of James Claxton to sell their land to their mother to protect it from being sold out from under them by court order. Fairwick, it seems, owed a debt.

Hugh Graham vs Fairwick Claxton – Fidelie S. Hurt JP returned with warrant judgement and execution for sum of 38.30 with the following returned endorsements on said execution to wit: There being no goods or chattels of def in my county I have levied this execution of F. Claxton “undivided interest in 100 ac of land on Powels River whereon Sarah Claxton now lives – June 16 1834”.  Order of sale issued.

It appears that the family was right, because they executed the deed of sale in March and the following June, the next court session, the court orders the land to be sold.  However, by this time, the land had already been sold and Fairwix had enough money in hand to pay his debt, if he so chose. However, if he chose not to pay the debt, the land his mother was living on was protected from his creditors. I’m assuming that Fairwix did indeed pay his debt, because we find nothing else in the court records that suggests otherwise.

We are quite fortunate because the resulting 1834 deed lists the children of James Claxton and Sarah, or at least the ones who were adults by this time. I would wager there were some heated discussions about this transaction, and how it would or might occur. I can’t imagine Sarah and her other children being happy about this turn of events.

1834 – Fairview (Fairwick) Claxton to Sarah Claxton, 1834, Book O-233 for $70.00 – original reads March 27th, 1834, between Farwick Clarkson, Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala, John Plank and wife Elizabeth, Levi Parks and wife Susannah, John Collinsworth and wife Rebecca, Jacob Parks and wife Patsy, heirs at law of James Clarkson deceast of the one part and Sarah Clarkson widow of the aforesaid James Clarkson decd of the other part, all of Claiborne Co. Tn. In consideration of:

    • Farwick Clarkson, $70 (signs with a signature – but all of the rest make marks. Fairwick’s wife is not included for some reason.)
    • Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala – $70
    • John Plank and wife Elizabeth – $70 or 20
    • Levi Parks and wife Susannah – $70
    • John Collensworth and wife Rebecca – $20
    • Jacob Parks and wife Patsy “Polly” – $20

To Sarah Clarkson, widow aforesaid, 100 acres, Claiborne on the North side of Powell river where Sarah lives and land that was conveyed to James Clarkson from John Hall of Sumner Co. Tn… beginning at Hobbs line, bank of Powell river. Witnessed by John Riley and Johiel Fugate. Registered Jan. 1, 1841

Sarah’s youngest child, Henry is conspicuously absent from this deed which probably suggests he was still living with Sarah and was yet underage.

Did Sarah have to borrow the money to pay her children? Did the children accept IOUs from their mother in order to convey the land to her?  Did they expect to receive their payment after her death?  Were they angry with their brother, Fairwick, or were there forces at work that we can’t understand from a distance of 179 years?

Because of the surveys, deeds and later generation lawsuits, we know exactly where Sarah’s land is today. Seen here, looking across the fence from the road, we see the old barn in the distance with the fenced cemetery in front of the barn.

This land, beautiful, but oh so rocky would have proved difficult for Sarah to work as a farm. Not to be deterred, she did work that farm, for 48 years after James died, raised her family, and from all indicators, was successful by any measure they had in her lifetime.

In 1839, Sarah was listed on the Claiborne County Tax list with 100 acres of land worth $250. The tax was 12 and a half cents and 30 acres was valued as school land, although I’m not entirely sure what that meant.

Almost everyone had a “school land” amount, and clearly everyone didn’t have a school on their property. Sarah’s entire tax was 12 and a half cents.

In the 1840 census, Sarah Claxton is shown living with one male, age 60-70 and two females aged 60-70.

One of those females would have been Sarah, but I have no idea who the other is. I have only a slight inkling of who the male might be. He might possibly have been John Helloms who we find living with Sarah in 1850.

Helloms

I hate it when my research starts forest fires of rumors that I can’t later extinguish. More than two decades ago, I discovered that Sarah was living with an elderly Helloms male in the 1850 census and made the mistake of excitedly sharing my discovery with other researchers. It appears that they were excited too, and before long, Sarah’s maiden name was Helloms in countless online trees. Sarah’s maiden name was actually Cook, discovered later, but there is no catching up with a tidal wave of misinformation once it is unleashed.

In 1850, Sarah is age 75, born in Virginia, with one John Helloms, age 70, listed as idiotic, living with her. Both Sarah and John were born in Virginia. Sarah’s grandson through son Fairwick, Samuel Claxton lives next door, probably on the same land and just another house away we find Farwick with his wife, now age 50. The census was taken on December 13th, but was supposed to be taken as of April in that year. In any case, Sarah’s birth year subtracts to be 1775.

This is the record that caused many researchers to infer that Sarah’s middle name was Helloms, and that John Helloms was her brother. Until we discovered Sarah’s birth name given in James’ War of 1812 records, that assumption that John Helloms was probably her brother and she was caring for a family member stood as the conventional wisdom. However, that was incorrect and illustrates quite aptly why one should never draw even tentative conclusions, at least not out loud. Unfortunately, the majority of trees available still show Sarah’s maiden name as Helloms.

Conversely, it’s probably accurate to speculate that Sarah is somehow involved with or related to the Helloms family. In the Claiborne County Court Notes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 1819 – 1822, on page 106 we find:

May 9, 1820 – Sarah Claxton admitted to administer on all the singular goods and chattels rights and credits of William Hulloms (this is clearly the name) decd who entered into bond with Josiah Ramsey for her security and was qualified as the law directs.

The combination of this record and that of John Hulloms living with Sarah in 1850 was truly convincing that her maiden name was Hulloms or Helloms, but it wasn’t, as sworn to by Sarah herself. However, there is very clearly a connection in some fashion to the Helloms of Hulloms family.

It’s worth noting that there is no Helloms entry in the reconstructed 1790 Virginia census using tax records from the 1780s, as provided by www.binnsgenealogy.com, but there are several Helms.  There is, however, one William Hulloms in Westmoreland County on the 1791 “census.”

There is also a William Hulloms in Ashe County, NC in 1790, although he appears to be fairly young with 3 young children – so he can probably be ruled out – but not positively.

An 1804 tax list for Knox County, TN shows a William Helloms Sr. with 229 acres on Hickery Creek with 1 white poll, along with a John Hellams with 237 acres on Hickery Creek with 2 black polls (but no white polls.)

While these might be red herrings, they may not be. Clearly there is some connection to the Helloms/Hulloms family, by whatever spelling. Sarah was a close enough relative to become administrator of William’s estate and 30 years later we find John Helloms, “idiotic,” living with Sarah.

The Helloms/Hulloms mystery stands to this day.

John Riley

Sarah continued to be involved in the community, and once again, we find her interacting with John Riley.

On August 8, 1855 she is noted as having a receipt for $24.22 in the estate of John L. Riley.

John Riley appears throughout Sarah’s life, including having been at her wedding in Russell County, according to depositions relating to Sarah’s attempts to receive both a pension and bounty land as a result of James’ death during the War of 1812.

The Russell County, Virginia deed abstracts tell us that John Riley lived on Mockason Creek in Russell County, at the foot of Clinch Mountain adjoining the Hustons and Fugates and with James Tate as a neighbor as well. John Tate was the JP that married Sarah Cook and James Claxton/Clarkson.

Members of the Riley family, along with James Claxton and the Fugates migrated together to the Powell River in then Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Riley family was one of the earliest founders in Russell County, information provided by the Riley family history. In other words, the Riley family was already well established in the region, with their first land grant in 1774, long before the Cook family arrived 20 years later in about 1795.

The Last Census

Sarah lived an amazingly long time in an era with little medical care, or at least not as we know medical care today. They didn’t have antibiotics, or assistance during childbirth other than midwives. No matter how skilled they were, fate determined in many cases whether you survived or not.

In the last census where Sarah appears, 1860, she is 85 years old, born in Virginia, and still living in her own household beside son, Fairwick. Living with her we find her grandson, Robert Shiflet, spelled Shifley in the census, along with his wife Sary (Sarah, named for her grandmother) and their daughter Elizabeth.

Sarah’s occupation at age 85? Housework. Not retired. How does a woman ever retire from housework?

It looks like Sarah spent her entire life taking care of a long list of people. Perhaps as she aged, some of those same people helped make her life a little easier. I hope so.

Sarah’s granddaughter, Sarah Claxton Shiflet is shown above. I can’t help but wonderif she looked like her grandmother.

The Civil War

The Civil War in Hancock County was brutal. Families into the late 1900s told stories of hiding their livestock and what little food they had in caves, and finally, secreting themselves there as well.

To begin with, this part of Tennessee was highly divided. Tennessee was the last state to secede and join the Confederacy on July 2, 1861. Most of the men in this part of Hancock County crossed the state line into Virginia, then into Kentucky, under cover of darkness in the night and enlisted with the Union forces. But not all.

Hancock County saw fighting, as did every county in eastern Tennessee. Making the situation even worse, this area was a crossroads for the marauding soldiers of both the north and south, and all soldiers arrived hungry. The area was savaged.

Most of the families in Hancock County did not own slaves. The land was rocky and difficult to farm. I would describe the lifestyle as subsistence living. Most people were too poor to afford slaves, had they been inclined. However, the neighbor, William Harrell owned one slave, a female name Harriet and her son, who, it turned out, was also William Herrell’s son, Cannon.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell, the county seat of neighboring Claiborne County, burning the town in November.

Cumberland Gap, directly north of Tazewell was a strategic military point between the north and the south, and the Gap itself changed hands several times during the war.  Each time, the forces encamped at the Gap didn’t have enough supplies to feed the men, and the soldiers of both sides ravaged the landscape of everything available to eat, leaving the residents with virtually nothing.

Food was scarce and life was incredibly dangerous throughout the Civil War. At least two and probably four of Sarah’s grandchildren died during the Civil War. We don’t know why Sarah died. It could easily have been attributed, at least in part, to the war.

By the time the war ended in 1865, Sarah was gone – having joined James a half-century later in watching over her family from the other side.

Military Records

Poor Sarah. James’ military files were then, and remain, a mess.

After I initially received part of them about 25 years ago, I managed to misplace some. When reordering those same records, they aren’t there. I’m glad I took notes at the time. I wish I had made copies, but that was before scanners.

To begin with, the military recorded his service records as Claxton on the unit’s roster, and Sarah applied as Clarkson. Eventually, they got that straightened out, but the Civil War interfered in that process too.

Sarah did succeed in receiving half of James’ pay for 5 years. She eventually received a 40-acre land grant, which she subsequently had cancelled, persevering to obtained an 80-acre grant instead, claiming she had been short-shifted. Forty acres was awarded to those who served for 30 days and 80 acres was awarded for four months service. Apparently, the powers-that-be agreed that an error had occurred, because Sarah received her 80-acre grant. We don’t know where that land was located, or if she simply sold the grant. By that time, she already had obtained her own land grants in Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN and I’m sure she wasn’t the least bit interested in moving elsewhere. Sarah would have needed her family to help with the farm, and eventually, probably to help care for her.

For all the headaches this process caused Sarah, it provided wonderful information not available elsewhere.

On May 3, 1861, Sarah signed a Power of Attorney assigning Fairwix, her son, as her attorney to act on her behalf. In most of her documents, in later years, she signed with an X. Note that her surname is spelled as Clarkston. Unfortunately, the surname vacillates between Claxton, Clarkson and Clarkston. Based on Y-DNA matches, it appears to have originally been Claxton , but there is little consistency in James’s records.

This list of pensioners and their payments from Knoxville, TN shows Sarah Clarkson, widow of James, as a pensioner. Unfortunately, this record series is titled U.S., Revolutionary War Pensioners, 1801-1815, 1818-1872, which is clearly incorrect, because he served in the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War.

This record shows that Sarah was restored to the pension list in May of 68, meaning 1868 of course, correcting sheet June 8/69 in the amount of 3.50 per month. James was a Private. Commencement is February 3,1858, and then September 4, 1860.

The columns appear to be March and September of each year, and she is noted with 4 and 2 until in 1861, then 1, and then September of 1863, it looks like she did not receive anything. Sarah died in December of 1863, so it looks like her heirs were finally paid in full in January 1869.

What this summary record doesn’t tell us is that Sarah had been dealing with this in one form or another since 1816, shortly after James’ death. Nor does it hint at the disruption caused for these families by the Civil War. For that, we need to look at Sarah’s various applications beginning in the 1850s.

Benefit Applications

In the 1850’s, Congress passed several acts benefiting military survivors and widows. It was during that period that Sarah Clarkson applied for both James’ pension and bounty land. An act passed on September 28, 1850 provided for the granting of bounty land warrants. We know about the circumstances of James’ death because Sarah applied for both land and his pension.

According to the Treasury Department letter dated Dec. 30, 1853, James Claxton enlisted on November 8, 1814 and died on February 11, 1815. His widow, Sarah, had received a soldier’s half-pay pension of $4 per month under the Act of April 16, 1816 which was to last for 5 years, at that time. This means, of course, that James was paid $8 a month. In other words, he marched 400 miles and died at Fort Decatur for the sum of $24.

Hancock Co, State of Tennessee – On this 8th day of March 1851 personally appeared before me a JP John Riley of Hancock Co., Tn. and John Taylor of Lee Co., Va. who being duly sworn according to law declare that Sarah Clarkson is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. John Brockman in the 4th regiment of East Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Baylis – in the War with Great Britain declared by the United States of the 18th day of June 1812. That said Sarah Clarkson was married to James Clarkson decd in Russell Co. in the St. of Va on the 10th of October 1805 by one John Tate a JP in their presence, that the name of the said Sarah Clarkson before her marriage aforesaid was Sarah Cook, that her husband the said James Clarkson died at Fort Decature on the 20th of Feb. AD 1815 and that she is still a widow, and they swear that they are disinterested witnesses. Signed by both John Riley and John Taylor and witnessed by AM Fletcher. Sworn before William T. Overton JP

There’s John Riley again. A disinterested witness means that they don’t stand to benefit from the statement.

A second sworn statement is given below:

On March 8th, 1851 personally appeared before me Sarah Clarkson aged 76 years a resident of Hancock Co. Tn. who being duly sworn according to law declares that she is the widow of James Clarkson decd who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock (number of regiment not recollected) regiment of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Colonel (too light to read) in the war with Great Britain declared June 18th, 1812. That her said husband was drafted at Knoxville Tn. on or about the 13th of November AD 1814 for the term of 6 months and continued in actual service as she is informed and believes in said War for the term of 3 months and 7 days and died at Fort Decatur or near there on or about the 20th of February 1815 as will appear on the muster rolls of his company on account of sickness. She further states that she was married to the said James Clarkson in Russell Co. VA on October 10th 1805 by one John Tate JP and that her name before her marriage was Sarah Cook and that her said husband died at Fort Decatur as aforesaid on the 20th of February AD 1815 and that she is still a widow. She makes this declaration for the purpose of obtaining the bounty land to which she may be entitled under the act passed September 25th, 1850. Witness Fairwick Clarkson (possibly others as the bottom of page is cut off) and she makes her mark.

James Lee Claxton’s death date is given variously as February 11 and February 20, by different sources.

In another statement, Sarah gave her marriage date to James Lee Claxton as October 10, 1799 which meshes better with the births of their children. By 1805, James and Sarah were living on the Powell River in what is now Hancock County, Tennessee, raising a family. Their oldest son, Fairwick (Fairwix, Farwick, Farwix) Claxton/Clarkson, also my ancestor, was born in 1799 or 1800.

A third document tells us a little more about the circumstances of James death.

State of Tennessee, County of Hancock, on the 29th day of August in the year of our Lord 1853, personally appeared before me a JP within and for the county and state aforesaid. Foster Jones and Tandy Welch citizens of said state and county who being duly sworn according to law declare that they were personally acquainted with James Clarkson decd (sometimes called and written Claxton) who was a private in the company commanded by Capt. Brock in the 4th regiment as well as recollected of E. Tennessee militia commanded by Col. Bales in the War with Great Britain declared June 18 1812 and that the said James Clarkson (or Claxton) sickened and died before the expiration of the time for which he engaged to serve in the said war and he belonged to the said company and regiment to which we did and that we each of us have applied under the act of Sept. 28 1850 and obtained land warrants for our service in said war. Tandy Welch and Foster Jones both make their marks, AM Fletcher a witness and Stephen Thompson a witness.

Another statement indicates that both Tandy Welch and Foster Jones swore that they witnessed the death of James Claxton.

Tandy Welch, the man who was at James’ side when he died, five years later, on June 22, 1820, married James’ daughter, Mary. I wonder, did Tandy promise James, on his death bed, to take care of his family?

On November 29, 1853, personally appeared before me Mrs. Sarah Clarkston, a resident of Hancock County aged 79 years…widow of James Clarkson…married about 1799…drew 5 years half pay in 1816…obtained 40 acres of land bounty dated Sept. 22, 1853 number 92928.

One of the absolute best things about these applications is that we actually have Sarah’s signature and it’s not an X.

We also have her son, Fairwick’s signature, as well, in several locations. Now that I see this, the surname looks identical so I wonder if he signed for her. On other documents, she signed with an X.

Sarah filed another deposition in March of 1854, claiming she was entitled to 80 acres instead of 40. The 40-acre grant was canceled (a copy of the canceled certificate is in the pension file) and the 80-acre grant was approved. Sarah also received a widow’s pension of $3.50 per month. However, under the Act of Congress of February 4, 1862 her pension was suspended due to the war with the Confederate States of America. As Tennessee had seceded to join the Confederacy, all pensions payments in the state were stopped. This, combined with the effects of the war itself in Hancock County surely had to be a hardship for Sarah.

After the war had ended, Fairwix Clarkson applied for a restoration and arrears of payment on September 25, 1866. He filed as the administrator of the estate of Sarah Clarkson, who had died on December 21, 1863, at his home on the Jonesville Road. That’s some “Merry Christmas,” especially in combination with the ongoing war.

After the Civil War, on September 24, 1866, to obtain payment, Fairwick, as administrator of Sarah’s estate was required to sign an oath of allegiance, which he gladly did, I’m sure. His son, Samuel Claxton/Clarkson (below) would yet die of injuries and illness he received in the war, enlisted as a union soldier.

Missing Documents

In addition to the information, above, now available at Fold3, I’m missing the following documents:

  • Sarah started receiving James’s half pay amount under the 1816 Act, but I don’t have that 1816 application and associated paperwork. She mentions in later documents that she submitted proof of her marriage in 1816.
  • Anything between 1816 and 1851
  • I do not have the 80-acre bounty land grant, or any information about it.

One of these documents included the statement that her father was Joel Cook.

I paid an on-the-ground researcher to pull these files at the National Archives, and the records mentioned above seem to have been misfiled someplace, probably together. The only saving grace is that I know I didn’t dream it, because the documents we do have refer to earlier, now missing, documents.

James Taylor

In addition to John Riley, another family that Sarah was involved with in early Claiborne County was James Taylor. James, then living in Kentucky, also signed that he was present at her marriage.

Who was James Taylor?

According to an 1816 survey in Russell County, James Taylor’s land shared a property line with Joel Cook, at the mouth of Musick’s spring branch.

92 – August 19, 1816 – James Taylor – 330 ac – part Treasury Warrant 11962 dated May 10, 1782 – on both sides of the north fork of Clinch River – corner to a big survey of Andrew Hebourn – corner to John Wilson – corner to Hebourn, James Madison & Harris Wilson – on the west side of a gap – corner to Joel Cook – at the mouth of Musicks spring branch – corner to Abednego White – corner to Henry Bowen.

Sarah’s Burial

Although no record officially tells us, I’m positive that Sarah is buried right here, in the Claxton cemetery, where the rest of her family is found.

Sarah’s son, Fairwick is buried here, along with his son, Samuel.

Samuel’s name is misspelled for eternity as Saluel. If one couldn’t read, how would they have known? Or did they get such a good “discount” on the stone because of the error that they just decided to leave the name alone? After all, they knew who he was.

 

This cemetery, now called the Cavin Cemetery, is found in Claxton bend on the original Claxton land on what would then have been known as the Jonesville Road. This picture, taken from the road, shows old barn behind the cemetery.

Me, inside the cemetery one VERY hot May day.

My cousin and I were infamously trapped inside the Clarkson Cemetery by an amorous bull who wanted to add us to his harem.

Oh, the things memories are made of.

There are many fieldstone headstones and even more graves entirely unmarked.

Sarah is here someplace.

Sarah’s Life and Times

We know that Sarah endured a great deal in her lifetime, but nothing ever defeated her except the grim reaper himself, and then not until she was 88 years of age. Sarah was the epitome of perseverance and tenacity. Indeed, she persisted.

Her life was incredible. She was a child during the Revolutionary War, lost her husband in the War of 1812 and lived to lose grandchildren in the Civil War, dying herself in the midst of the fighting.

During her lifetime Sarah moved across state lines and lived on the frontier when land on the Powell River was first being settled. She and James were the first settlers on Claxton’s Bend, and their choice of location would inform who their children and grandchildren would marry. There was no one else to marry except your neighbors.  That old adage about the choices of the parents affecting the children into the 7th generation holds true. My children are that 7th generation.

Not long after Sarah and James moved to Claiborne County, Sarah’s father, Joel Cook, sold the family land in Russell County and literally disappeared. It’s speculated that he went to Kentucky, but we really don’t know.

In any event, if the family ties had not already been severed when Sarah moved to Claiborne County, they surely were at that point by simple virtue of geography.

We don’t know if Sarah had any children that died young. We do know she had 8 children that lived between her marriage in October 1799 and James’s death in February of 1815. Four may have been two sets of twins, but twins that survived in that time are rare. It’s more likely that we just don’t know their accurate birth years. Keep in mind that Sarah gave conflicting information herself about the year in which she was married – and she was certainly present and old enough to remember. If she was born in 1774 or 1775, she would have been 14 or 15 when she married in 1799.

Birth and marriage years didn’t seem to matter terribly in that time and place. Close enough was good enough.

Sarah and James had 8 known children:

  • Fairwick born 1799/1800 in Virginia, died Feb. 11, 1874 in Hancock County, TN, the 59th anniversary of his father’s death. He married Agnes Muncy and had 8 children.
  • Mahala born Dec. 7, 1801 in Virginia, died March 1892 in Claiborne Co, TN, married Andrew Hurst, had 10 children.
  • Elizabeth born 1803 in TN, died May 1, 1847 in Claiborne Co., TN, married John Plank, had 11 children.
  • Mary Polly born September 4, 1803, died June 22, 1887 in Hancock Co., TN, married Tandy Welch Sr., had 17 children.
  • Susannah “Sukey” born October 11, 1808, died May 22, 1895 in Iowa, married Levi Parks, had 11 children.
  • Rebecca born December 6, 1808, died September 4, 1880 in Union Co., TN, married John Collingsworth, had 12 children.
  • Martha Patsy “Polly” born September 11, 1811, died December 23, 1898 in Claiborne County, TN, married Jacob J. “Tennessee” Parks, had 9 children.
  • Henry born ? 21, 1815, died August 1838, married Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker, had 3 children.

If Henry was indeed born in 1815, Sarah was pregnant when James marched off to war, and James never saw his son, Henry, who died young himself.

We receive information about Sarah’s children at her death from this 1868 letter detailing her son Fairwix’s attempts to obtain her War of 1812 pension payments that were suspended during the Civil War.

Sarah’s children and grandchildren here are stated as:

  • Fairwix who was loyal and who had 3 sons in the Federal Army. Samuel, Henry Avery and John – two of whom died in the war, and Samuel who died later of illness contracted during the war.
  • Mahala Hurst who left the county long before the war.
  • Polly Welch of Hancock County thoroughly loyal through the Rebellion.
  • Patsy Parks of Claiborne County – she and her family thoroughly loyal.
  • Rebecca Collingsworth of Union County who is reported as disloyal but from personal knowledge can say nothing.
  • Sukey Parks who moved to Iowa many years before the war.
  • Two children of Henry Clarkson deceased who died some 20 years ago named Edward H. and Flora A. Clarkson who were both loyal all during the war.
  • The heirs of Elizabeth Plank who died some 20 years ago and all of whose children were considered loyal.

In 1815, when James died, Sarah was 40 years old, give or take a few months, and she had 8 children at home, or 7 and 1 on the way. The oldest, Fairwick or Fairwix, was 15 or 16. The youngest, Henry, if born yet, was just a baby. It’s certainly possible that Henry was born after James’ death, meaning of course that James left a pregnant wife when he enlisted. James enlisted in November of 1814 and died in February of 1815. Henry’s birth was recorded in 1815. If Sarah became pregnant about the time James left, that tells us that Henry was born sometime before September of 1815. It’s certainly possible that Sarah was pregnant, with 7 children, when she received the devastating news that James had perished.

The younger children would have had no memory of their father.

Life couldn’t have been easy. Later depositions taken regarding the death of Fairwick gave us a glimpse into the drama that took place in these early very-interrelated family families living on the banks of the Powell River. All was not a bed of roses.

The Civil War introduced additional strife and upheaval. The families in this area were horribly divided, a rift that was to last for decades, certainly into the 20th century.  When I first visited Claiborne and Hancock Counties in the 1980s, more than 115 years after the Civil War ended, the families still identified each other by which side their “kin” had fought for in “the War.” While most of the families in this part of Hancock County fought for the Union, that wasn’t universal and almost every family had its share of “disloyal” or traitors. Of course, the definition of traitor depended on your perspective.

The division was still palpable and real in the early 1900s when these families still actively feuded and denied any relation to each other over Civil War alliances.

Sarah’s grandsons and great-grandsons marched off to war. For Sarah, this must have been a horrible déjà vu, a repeat of her James marching off to the War of 1812, never to return. Sure enough, just like James, some didn’t

In Sarah’s lifetime, two of her children died. Henry, her baby, died in August of 1838 and Elizabeth who married John Plank died in 1847.

Sarah’s grandson, James Claxton, son of Fairwick who named him for his father, James, had died by 1845, and Fairwick raised James’ 4 children. Of course, they lived next door to Sarah, so in reality, the entire family raised those children.

One of those boys that Sarah raised, William, died on May 4, 1863, serving the Union, at Camp Dennison, Ohio.

Fairwick lost 2 sons and a son-in-law during the Civil War. The Civil War was cruel to this family.

John Clarkson enlisted for the Union on March 15, 1862 and was killed on March 20, 1863 in Nashville, TN, almost 9 months to the day before Sarah died. John was likely buried near where he fell, so the family never got to bury him or say their goodbyes. For Sarah, a repeat of what happened to her beloved James.

The other two died a few months after Sarah. Perhaps she greeted them on the other side. Henry died February 2, 1864 in Louisville, KY and John Wolfe, Fairwick’s son-in-law and Sarah’s grandson-in-law, died March 16, 1864.

Before Sarah’s death, Fairwick’s other son-in-law, Calvin Wolf, had been captured in Atlanta, Georgia during a battle, also serving the Union, and was held prisoner under utterly horrific conditions at Andersonville Prison for 3 very long years. Sarah died without knowing what happened to this man, or what would become of her granddaughter and her great-grandchildren. Miraculously, somehow Calvin survived.

Sarah’s grandson, Levi Hurst, the son of Mahala Clarkson, shown above, who had married Andrew Hurst, also died in the Civil War. Levi was a Confederate and died September 18-20, 1863 at the Battle of Chickamauga, three months before Sarah’s death.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Sarah to have grandchildren literally fighting each other on both sides of the war.

Mahala’s granddaughter, Charity, appears to have died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 census, or she married and left no trail. Mahala’s son James Hurst married Elizabeth Farmer and we lose track of him as well.

In case you’re keeping track, that’s a total of 2 grandchildren, 2 grandchildren-in-law and 1 great-grandchild killed in the un-Civil war, along with 1 who served three tortuous years as a POW.

Sarah suffered another kind of grief as well – that of departure. Her daughter, Susannah married Levi Parks about 1824. Sarah witnessed the births of 11 grandchildren, born to Susannah. The last arrival, a baby girl joined the family in 1848, just before Susannah and Levi would sell their belongings, hitch up a wagon, and head for David County, Iowa. That sweet baby girl born in 1848 would die in 1850, the first member of that family to be buried in Iowa soil. Departure was, in those days, a form of death – because Sarah and Susannah, mother and daughter, both very clearly knew that their departure was a final goodbye and they would not be reunited until after their deaths.

So, Sarah grieved the absence of Susannah and all 11 of her children, and then the death of the baby. That bad news would have arrived by letter, if Sarah ever knew at all. It’s somehow ironic that I can discover more today about what happened to Sarah’s children who moved away than Sarah could in her own lifetime.

We know less about what happened to the rest of Sarah’s children and grandchildren, but it stands to reason that those families were negatively affected by the war as well.

Sarah Cook and James Lee Claxton had 8 children and 91 grandchildren. Sarah wouldn’t have known all of her grandchildren, because daughter Susannah Parks moved to Iowa in the 1840s and Rebecca moved to Union County, TN. Two other daughters, Patsy and Mahala were living close by in neighboring Claiborne County, so Sarah probably saw them from time to time.

Mary who married Tandy Welch (cabin shown above) and their family lived close, as did Fairwick of course, who lived next door, and several of his children.

Henry, Sarah’s son, had lived just down the road, before his death, near the Edward Walker cabin, above, where his wife, Martha “Patsy” Gillus Walker had lived with the Edward Walker family.

After Henry’s death, Henry’s widow, Martha, married William Claxton, son of Fairwick and moved to neighboring Claiborne County where they became estranged from the Claxton family. I told you there was drama!

Sarah said premature goodbyes to a lot of family members in her lifetime, if she got to say goodbye at all. Aside from her parents, Sarah lost her husband, several children and grandchildren to early deaths and warfare.

She was one of very few people who saw three monumental wars in her lifetime.

Sarah’s life was anything but easy and pain-free, yet, she persevered, a testament to fortitude.

Sarah’s Mitochondrial DNA

I was fortunate enough to connect with a cousin who descends from Sarah Cook Claxton through all females. I am ever so grateful to her for testing her mitochondrial DNA.

Several of her matches have taken the full sequence test, the test needed to obtain the full haplogroup designation, which allows us to narrow the scope of the geography where Sarah’s ancestors may have been found.

Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup H100, meaning she is the 100th branch named in haplogroup H.

On the FamilyTreeDNA  haplogroup tree, you can see that H100 is a branch of H.

Haplogroup H100 is found in the FamilyTreeDNA  database in Ireland, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, the US and Scotland. Saudi Arabia? That’s unusual.

Our tester who descends from Sarah shows exact full sequence matches to four people, none of whom have entered their most distant ancestor information, and only one has provided a tree. Their ancestor is first found in Ohio in the 1800s.

Sarah’s descendant is fortunate to have 7 additional mutations that, along with her four exact matches, will likely form a new haplogroup together when the new mitotree is released. That should also provide a time estimate for a common ancestor which will help everyone immensely.

Sarah inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother whose name was Alsy, probably short for Alice.

Alsy was born sometime around 1750, probably in Virginia. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll have mitochondrial DNA matches to Virginia families. Then, Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA, combined with genealogy records and autosomal matches will help us break down that next brick wall.

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The Best of 2022

It’s that time of year where we look both backward and forward.

Thank you for your continued readership! Another year under our belts!

I always find it interesting to review the articles you found most interesting this past year.

In total, I published 97 articles in 2022, of which 56 were directly instructional about genetic genealogy. I say “directly instructional,” because, as you know, the 52 Ancestors series of articles are instructional too, but told through the lives of my ancestors. That leaves 41 articles that were either 52 Ancestors articles, or general in nature.

It has been quite a year.

2022 Highlights

In a way, writing these articles serves as a journal for the genetic genealogy community. I never realized that until I began scanning titles a year at a time.

Highlights of 2022 include:

Which articles were your favorites that were published in 2022, and why?

Your Favorites

Often, the topics I select for articles are directly related to your comments, questions and suggestions, especially if I haven’t covered the topic previously, or it needs to be featured again. Things change in this industry, often. That’s a good thing!

However, some articles become forever favorites. Current articles don’t have enough time to amass the number of views accumulated over years for articles published earlier, so recently published articles are often NOT found in the all-time favorites list.

Based on views, what are my readers’ favorites and what do they find most useful?

In the chart below, the 2022 ranking is not just the ranking of articles published in 2022, but the ranking of all articles based on 2022 views alone. Not surprisingly, six of the 15 favorite 2022 articles were published in 2022.

The All-Time Ranking is the ranking for those 2022 favorites IF they fell within the top 15 in the forever ranking, over the entire decade+ that this blog has existed.

Drum roll please!!!

Article Title Publication Date 2022 Ranking All-Time Ranking
Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages January 2017 1 2
Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 2012 2 1
Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them in in You? June 2017 3 5
AutoKinship at GEDmatch by Genetic Affairs February 2022 4
442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? Daily Updates Here September 2020 5
The Origins of Zana of Abkhazia July 2021 6
Full or Half Siblings April 2019 7 15
Ancestry Rearranged the Furniture January 2022 8
DNA from 459 Ancient British Isles Burials Reveals Relationships – Does Yours Match? February 2022 9
DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 2020 10
Ancestry Only Shows Shared Matches of 20 cM and Greater – What That Means & Why It Matters May 2022 11
How Much Indian Do I Have in Me??? June 2015 12 8
Top Ten RootsTech 2022 DNA Sessions + All DNA Session Links March 2022 13
FamilyTreeDNA DISCOVER Launches – Including Y DNA Haplogroup Ages June 2022 14
Ancient Ireland’s Y and Mitochondrial DNA – Do You Match??? November 2020 15

2023 Suggestions

I have a few articles already in the works for 2023, including some surprises. I’ll unveil one very soon.

We will be starting out with:

  • Information about RootsTech where I’ll be giving at least 7 presentations, in person, and probably doing a book signing too. Yes, I know, 7 sessions – what was I thinking? I’ve just missed everyone so very much.
  • An article about how accurately Ancestry’s ThruLines predicts Potential Ancestors and a few ways to prove, or disprove, accuracy.
  • The continuation of the “In Search Of” series.

As always, I’m open for 2023 suggestions.

In the comments, let me know what topics you’d like to see.

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“Nature scientific reports” 2022 Editor’s Choice Collection – We Made It!!!!

You’ll excuse me while I jump for joy and do a happy dance. You might say I’m over the moon, pardon the pun. There’s nothing to lift your spirits quite like a pleasant surprise!I

In June, when our article, African mitochondrial haplogroup L7: a 100,000-year-old maternal human lineage discovered through reassessment and new sequencing was published, you may or may not have noticed that the journal name was “nature, scientific reports.” No, they don’t capitalize the words in the journal’s title.

I know I didn’t mention how difficult is it to get published in this particular journal, so you’ll just have to trust me about how many grey hairs I can attribute to that process.

Taking that into account, imagine my surprise today when I discovered our paper in the Editor’s Choice collection for 2022. That’s not only amazing, it was entirely unexpected. Ironically, they didn’t notify the authors, so we found out quite by accident.

“Congratulations!!!”

“For what?”

“Editor’s Choice”

“Editor’s Choice for what? Where?”

“Nature scientific reports – the Editor’s Choice articles for 2022. Your L7 paper. It’s there in Ancient DNA.”

“WHAT?????”

I had to look right away, of course, never mind that I was standing in line at the bank at the time. I hope they didn’t notice the strange woman giving out a little yelp and accompanying leap. Ok, maybe it was a tiny leap, more like a happy hop, but it still counts.

Here, you can look too!

I was dumbstruck. Truth be told, I didn’t even realize there WAS a yearly Editor’s Choice collection. My bad. I probably shouldn’t admit that😊

The editor’s intro mentions that Svante Pääbo won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year for his work over the past several years on sequencing the genomes of extinct hominins, founding the field of paleogenetics.

Excuse my fan-girl exuberance, but it has truly been a banner year for genetics. I can’t help but be incredibly geeked! I had to read the announcement two or three times to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing.

Our paper was selected as one of 5 in the Mitogenomics section of the ancient DNA category and has accumulated just over 9700+ views which is actually amazing for a scientific paper. So, thank you everyone who read it. I’m glad we made the paper “open access,” which means free.

I wrote about our discovery, here and we published a video, here, but our paper is slightly different than the ancient DNA of the other papers in that category. The other papers utilize DNA extracted from ancient remains, but the “ancient DNA” of haplogroup L7, reaching back 100,000 years, was discovered in living people, with the exception of one 16,000-year-old ancient sample from Malawi that had initially been misclassified as L5, but has since been moved to L7.

That’s super-exciting because we know that this hen’s-teeth rare lineage still exists in a few people. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you carry a different but equally-as-rare mitochondrial lineage – your mother’s direct maternal line.

I hope you’ll test your mitochondrial DNA, here, to see what secrets are waiting for you.

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Native American: Is She or Isn’t She?

Many people have an oral history that a specific female ancestor is Native American.

Autosomal DNA results may or may not show some percentage of Native American ancestry. If your results DO include a percentage of Native American, you still need to figure out which ancestors were Native. Where did that piece of your genetic heritage come from?

If your results don’t include Native ancestry, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a Native Ancestor. Sometimes you just didn’t inherit a discernable segment of DNA from that ancestor, or maybe the vendor you tested with didn’t pick that up.

Be sure to upload your raw DNA file to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free to gain another perspective. Here’s my free step-by-step guide for downloading and uploading your DNA files from and to all the major vendors.

FamilyTreeDNA provides painted segment information as well that shows you which segments are Native American.

One of my challenges is that I do have Native American autosomal DNA segments. Determining where they came from has been challenging, although the ethnicity chromosome painting at FamilyTreeDNA has been very useful in confirming the source of those segments.

Is there a way to augment autosomal results and be more specific and directed in my search? Can I focus on an individual ancestor? Especially females who are particularly difficult to research, given name changes in each generation?

Yes, you can.

Chasing the Truth

Sometimes, especially historically, when a female ancestor’s genealogy wasn’t known, people presumed that they must have been Native American. I’ve come across this several times now.

The good news is that using mitochondrial DNA, you can find out conclusively if you test someone who descends from that woman through all females to the current generation, which can be male.

I had Native American oral history connected to two ancestors, both of whom I was able to confirm or refute by finding a cousin who inherited that ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA and agreed to test. Women give their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of their children, but only daughters pass it on. In the current generation, males or females can test.

I also found an unexpected ancestor who was Native. I had no oral history about her – so you just never know what you’ll discover.

Sarah Faires

Oral history in some descendant families indicated that Sarah Faires’s was Native American, possibly because her ancestors were unknown. There was a supposition that “she must have been Native.”

We were able to obtain the mitochondrial DNA of Sarah whose haplogroup turned out to be H49a1, so clearly not Native.

If Sarah’s direct maternal line (her mother, her mother, her mother, on up her tree) had been Native American, she would have fallen into subclades of haplogroup A, B, C, D or X, although not all of those subclades are Native.

You can view the entire list of Native American mitochondrial DNA haplogroups, here and you can view H49a1 on the public mitochondrial haplotree, here.

H49a1 is most frequently found in Germany, followed by Sweden, England and Denmark.

Elizabeth Vannoy

My father’s grandmother, Elizabeth Vannoy, was reported to be Cherokee, both orally and in several letters between family members.

One of my first genealogy goals was to prove that history, but I wound up eventually doing just the opposite.

Elizabeth Vannoy’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is J1c2c, not Native.

Haplogroup J1c2c is found most often in England, France, Sweden and Hungary.

I was able to connect Elizabeth to her parents. Then, eventually, thanks to mitochondrial DNA, working with a cousin, we connected another four maternal generations conclusively, and I’m still working on the fifth generation.

Anne Marie Rimbault

My cousin had no idea that her ancestor, Anne Marie, born about 1631, in Acadia, wife of Rene Rimbault, was Native American when she tested her mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA results explained why Anne Marie’s parents had never been identified in the French records. She was Native American – a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe that intermarried with the French men in the Acadian settlement, proven by her A2f1a haplogroup.

Haplogroup A2f1a is shown on the mitochondrial haplotree as First Nations in Canada and Native American in the US, plus one French flag reflecting a tester who only knew that her ancestor was French-Canadian and believed she had come from France.

Her mitochondrial DNA matches are scattered across the Northern US and Canada, but her closest matches are found in the Acadian and French-Canadian communities.

Is She, or Isn’t She?

Testing your own mitochondrial DNA if you think your direct maternal ancestor may be Native will unquestionably answer that question. Finding a mitochondrial DNA candidate for each of your ancestral lines will reveal which ancestor is Native, or you can target test to see if any specific ancestor is Native.

Unlike autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA never loses its potency and doesn’t mix with the DNA of the father. The segments aren’t divided in each generation and don’t wash out over time.

Do you have oral history about female Native American ancestors? Do you have ancestors whose parents are unknown? Mitochondrial DNA testing will resolve that question, plus provide matching with other testers. You don’t know what you don’t know.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to find your Native American ancestors, you might enjoy my book, DNA for Native American Genealogy. There’s lots of information there, including search tips, ancient DNA, maps and known tribes by haplogroup.

Do you have female ancestors who might be Native American?

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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.

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Join Me for DNA Day, Live

I’m excited to be presenting for an entire day of DNA on October 1st. You can join in too, because the Orange County Genealogical Society has graciously made this event open to the entire genealogy community via Zoom. You can sign up at this link.

Apparently, there’s some serendipity involved, because the Y, mitochondrial DNA, and X DNA sessions were specifically requested when I asked for RootsTech topic suggestions. You’re not going to have to wait nearly that long, because I’m covering all three at DNA Day.

These sessions will:

  • Educate about the topic at hand, meaning Y, mitochondrial DNA, and X DNA, and when to use each.
  • Discuss how to utilize the results from all three of these tests and types of DNA for genealogy, including the new FamilyTreeDNA Y DNA Discover tool. I’m providing step-by-step instructions.
  • Provide real-world analysis examples with case studies. These are always so much fun! I’ve actually made a couple of discoveries while preparing for these sessions.

The last session of the day, “DNA Tossed Salad,” ties everything together. I’ll discuss how I manage the results and the tools I use, particularly for autosomal tests, and what I “do” with matches.

Each session will have the opportunity for Q&A.

I’ve included information for every level, beginner through advanced. Here’s the registration link again. Hope to see you on October 1st!!!

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You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

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

Thank you so much.

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DNA: In Search of…Full and Half-Siblings

This is the fifth article in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied by genealogists to identify ancestors further back in time as well.

Please note that if a family member has tested and you do NOT see their results, ask them to verify that they have chosen to allow matching and for other people to view them in their match list. That process varies at different vendors.

You can also ask if they can see you in their results.

All Parties Need to Test

Searching for unknown siblings isn’t exactly searching, because to find them, they, themselves, or their descendant(s) must have taken a DNA test at the same vendor where you tested or uploaded a DNA file.

You may know through any variety of methods that they exist, or might exist, but if they don’t take a DNA test, you can’t find them using DNA. This might sound obvious, but I see people commenting and not realizing that the other sibling(s) must test too – and they may not have.

My first questions when someone comments in this vein are:

  1. Whether or not they are positive their sibling actually tested, meaning actually sent the test in to the vendor, and it was received by the testing company. You’d be surprised how many tests are living in permanent residence on someone’s countertop until it gets pushed into the drawer and forgotten about.
  2. If the person has confirmed that their sibling has results posted. They may have returned their test, but the results aren’t ready yet or there was a problem.
  3. AND that both people have authorized matching and sharing of results. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your vendor’s customer care if you need help with this.

Sibling Scenarios

The most common sibling scenarios are when one of two things happens:

  • A known sibling tests, only to discover that they don’t match you in the full sibling range, or not at all, when you expected they would
  • You discover a surprise match in the full or half-sibling range

Let’s talk about these scenarios and how to determine:

  • If someone is a sibling
  • If they are a full or half-sibling
  • If a half-sibling, if they descend from your mother or father

As with everything else genetic, we’ll be gathering and analyzing different pieces of evidence along the way.

Full and Half-Siblings

Just to make sure we are all on the same page:

  • A full sibling is someone who shares both parents with you.
  • A half-sibling is someone who shares one parent with you, but not the other parent.
  • A step-sibling is someone who shares no biological parents with you. This situation occurs when your parent marries their parent, after you are both born, and their parent becomes your step-parent. You share neither of your biological parents with a step-sibling, so you share no DNA and will not show up on each other’s match lists.
  • A three-quarters sibling is someone with whom you share one parent, but two siblings are the other parent. For example, you share the same mother, but one brother fathered you, and your father’s brother fathered your sibling. Yes, this can get very messy and is almost impossible for a non-professional to sort through, if even then. (This is not a solicitation. I do not take private clients.) We will not be addressing this situation specifically.

Caution

With any search for unknown relatives, you have no way of knowing what you will find.

In one’s mind, there are happy reunions, but you may experience something entirely different. Humans are human. Their stories are not always happy or rosy. They may have made mistakes they regret. Or they may have no regrets about anything.

Your sibling may not know about you or the situation under which you, or they, were born. Some women were victims of assault and violence, which is both humiliating and embarrassing. I wrote about difficult situations, here.

Your sibling or close family member may not be receptive to either you, your message, or even your existence. Just be prepared, because the seeking journey may not be pain-free for you or others, and may not culminate with or include happy reunions.

On the other hand, it may.

Please step back and ponder a bit about the journey you are about to undertake and the possible people that may be affected, and how. This box, once opened, cannot be closed again. Be sure you are prepared.

On the other hand, sometimes that box lid pops off, and the information simply falls in your lap one day when you open your match list, and you find yourself sitting there, in shock, staring at a match, trying to figure out what it all means.

Congratulations, You Have a Sibling!

This might not be exactly what runs through your mind when you see that you have a very close match that you weren’t expecting.

The first two things I recommend when making this sort of discovery, after a few deep breaths, a walk, and a cup of tea, are:

  • Viewing what the vendor says
  • Using the DNAPainter Shared cM Relationship Chart

Let’s start with DNAPainter.

DNAPainter

DNAPainter provides a relationship chart, here, based on the values from the Shared cM Project.

You can either enter a cM amount or a percentage of shared DNA. I prefer the cM amount, but it doesn’t really matter.

I’ll enter 2241 cM from a known half-sibling match. To enter a percent, click on the green “enter %.”

As you can see, statistically speaking, this person is slightly more likely to be a half-sibling than they are to be a full sibling. In reality, they could be either.

Looking at the chart below, DNAPainter highlights the possible relationships from the perspective of “Self.”

The average of all the self-reported relationships is shown, on top, so 2613 for a full sibling. The range is shown below, so 1613-3488 for a full sibling.

In this case, there are several possibilities for two people who share 2241 cM of DNA.

I happen to know that these two people are half-siblings, but if I didn’t, it would be impossible to tell from this information alone.

The cM range for full siblings is 1613-3488, and the cM range for half-siblings is 1160-2436.

  • The lower part of the matching range, from 1160-1613 cM is only found in half-siblings.
  • The portion of the range from 1613-2436 cM can be either half or full siblings.
  • The upper part of the range, from 2436-3488 cM is only found in full siblings.

If your results fall into the center portion of the range, you’re going to need to utilize other tools. Fortunately, we have several.

If you’ve discovered something unexpected, you’ll want to verify using these tools, regardless. Use every tool available. Ranges are not foolproof, and the upper and lower 10% of the responses were removed as outliers. You can read more about the shared cM Project, here and here.

Furthermore, people may be reporting some half-sibling relationships as full sibling relationships, because they don’t expect to be half-siblings, so the ranges may be somewhat “off.”

Relationship Probability Calculator

Third-party matching database, GEDmatch, provides a Relationship Probability Calculator tool that is based on statistical probability methods without compiled user input. Both tools are free, and while I haven’t compared every value, both seem to be reasonably accurate, although they do vary somewhat, especially at the outer ends of the ranges.

When dealing with sibling matches, if you are in all four databases, GEDmatch is a secondary resource, but I will include GEDmatch when they have a unique tool as well as in the summary table. Some of your matches may be willing to upload to GEDmatch if the vendor where you match doesn’t provide everything you need and GEDmatch has a supplemental offering.

Next, let’s look at what the vendors say about sibling matches.

Vendors

Each of the major vendors reports sibling relationships in a slightly different way.

Sibling Matches at Ancestry

Ancestry reports sibling relationships as Sister or Brother, but they don’t say half or full.

If you click on the cM portion of the link, you’ll see additional detail, below

Ancestry tells you that the possible relationships are 100% “Sibling.” The only way to discern the difference between full and half is by what’s next.

If the ONLY relationship shown is Sibling at 100%, that can be interpreted to mean this person is a full sibling, and that a half-sibling or other relationship is NOT a possibility.

Ancestry never stipulates full or half.

The following relationship is a half-sibling at Ancestry.

Ancestry identifies that possible range of relationships as “Close Family to First Cousin” because of the overlaps we saw in the DNAPainter chart.

Clicking through shows that there is a range of possible relationships, and Ancestry is 100% sure the relationship is one of those.

DNAPainter agrees with Ancestry except includes the full-sibling relationship as a possibility for 1826 cM.

Sibling Matches at 23andMe

23andMe does identify full versus half-siblings.

DNAPainter disagrees with 23andMe and claims that anyone who shares 46.2% of their DNA is a parent/child.

However, look at the fine print. 23andMe counts differently than any of the other vendors, and DNAPainter relies on the Shared cM Project, which relies on testers entering known relationship matching information. Therefore, at any other vendor, DNAPainter is probably exactly right.

Before we understand how 23andMe counts, we need to understand about half versus fully identical segments.

To determine half or full siblings, 23andMe compares two things:

  1. The amount of shared matching DNA between two people
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) of DNA compared to Half Identical Regions (HIR) of DNA to determine if any of your DNA is fully identical, meaning some pieces of you and your sibling’s DNA is exactly the same on both your maternal and paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an example on any chromosome – I’ve randomly selected chromosome 12. Which chromosome doesn’t matter, except for the X, which is different.

Your match isn’t broken out by maternal and paternal sides. You would simply see, on the chromosome browser, that you and your sibling match at these locations, above.

In reality, though, you have two copies of each chromosome, one from Mom and one from Dad, and so does your sibling.

In this example, Mom’s chromosome is visualized on top, and Dad’s is on the bottom, below, but as a tester, you don’t know that. All you know is that you match your sibling on all of those blue areas, above.

However, what’s actually happening in this example is that you are matching your sibling on parts of your mother’s chromosome and parts of your father’s chromosome, shown above as green areas

23andMe looks at both copies of your chromosome, the one you inherited from Mom, on top, and Dad, on the bottom, to see if you match your sibling on BOTH your mother’s and your father’s chromosomes in that location.

I’ve boxed the green matching areas in purple where you match your sibling fully, on both parents’ chromosomes.

If you and your sibling share both parents, you will share significant amounts of the same DNA on both copies of the same chromosomes, meaning maternal and paternal. In other words, full siblings share some purple fully identical regions (FIR) of DNA with each other, while half-siblings do not (unless they are also otherwise related) because half-siblings only share one parent with each other. Their DNA can’t be fully identical because they have a different parent that contributed the other copy of their chromosome.

Total Shared DNA Fully Identical DNA from Both Parents
Full Siblings ~50% ~25%
Half Siblings ~25% 0
  • Full siblings are expected to share about 50% of the same DNA. In other words, their DNA will match at that location. That’s all the green boxed locations, above.
  • Full siblings are expected to share about 25% of the same DNA from BOTH parents at the same location on BOTH copies of their chromosomes. These are fully identical regions and are boxed in purple, above.

You’ll find fully identical segments about 25% of the time in full siblings, but you won’t find fully identical segments in half-siblings. Please note that there are exceptions for ¾ siblings and endogamous populations.

You can view each match at 23andMe to see if you have any completely identical regions, shown in dark purple in the top comparison of full siblings. Half siblings are shown in the second example, with less total matching DNA and no FIR or completely identical regions.

Please note that your matching amount of DNA will probably be higher at 23andMe than at other companies because:

  • 23andMe includes the X chromosome in the match totals
  • 23andMe counts fully identical matching regions twice. For full siblings, that’s an additional 25%

Therefore, a full sibling with an X match will have a higher total cM at 23andMe than the same siblings elsewhere because not only is the X added into the total, the FIR match region is added a second time too.

Fully Identical Regions (FIR) and Half Identical Regions (HIR) at GEDmatch

At GEDMatch, you can compare two people to each other, with an option to display the matching information and a painted graphic for each chromosome that includes FIR and HIR.

If you need to know if you and a match share fully identical regions and you haven’t tested at 23andMe, you can both upload your DNA data file to GEDmatch and use their One to One Autosomal DNA Comparison.

On the following page, simply enter both kit numbers and accept the defaults, making sure you have selected one of the graphics options.

While GEDmatch doesn’t specifically tell you whether someone is a full or half sibling, you can garner additional information about the relationship based on the graphic at GEDmatch.

GEDMatch shows both half and fully identical regions.

The above match is between two full siblings using a 7 cM threshold. The blue on the bottom bar indicates a match of 7 cM or larger. Black means no match.

The green regions in the top bar indicate places where these two people carry the same DNA on both copies of their chromosome 1. This means that both people inherited the same DNA from BOTH parents on the green segments.

In the yellow regions, the siblings inherited the same DNA from ONE parent, but different DNA in that region from the other parent. They do match each other, just on one of their chromosomes, not both.

Without a tool like this to differentiate between HIR and FIR, you can’t tell if you’re matching someone on one copy of your chromosome, or on both copies.

In the areas marked with red on top, which corresponds to the black on the bottom band, these two siblings don’t match each other because they inherited different DNA from both parents in that region. The yellow in that region is too scattered to be significant.

Full siblings generally share a significant amount of FIR, or fully identical regions of DNA – about 25%.

Half siblings will share NO significant amount of FIR, although some will be FIR on very small, scattered green segments simply by chance, as you can see in the example, below.

This half-sibling match shares no segments large enough to be a match (7 cM) in the black section. In the blue matching section, only a few small green fragments of DNA match fully, which, based on the rest of that matching segment, must be identical by chance or misreads. There are no significant contiguous segments of fully identical DNA.

When dealing with full or half-siblings, you’re not interested in small, scattered segments of fully identical regions, like those green snippets on chromosome 6, but in large contiguous sections of matching DNA like the chromosome 1 example.

GEDmatch can help when you match when a vendor does not provide FIR/HIR information, and you need additional assistance.

Next, let’s look at full and half-siblings at FamilyTreeDNA

Sibling Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA does identify full siblings.

Relationships other than full siblings are indicated by a range. The two individuals below are both half-sibling matches to the tester.

The full range when mousing over the relationship ranges is shown below.

DNAPainter agrees except also gives full siblings as an option for the two half-siblings.

FamilyTreeDNA also tells you if you have an X match and the size of your X match.

We will talk about X matching in a minute, which, when dealing with sibling identification, can turn out to be very important.

Sibling Matches at MyHeritage

MyHeritage indicates brother or sister for full siblings

MyHeritage provides other “Estimated relationships” for matches too small to be full siblings.

DNAPainter’s chart agrees with this classification, except adds additional relationship possibilities.

Be sure to review all of the information provided by each vendor for close relationships.

View Close Known Relationships

The next easiest step to take is to compare your full or half-sibling match to known close family members from your maternal and paternal sides, respectively. The closer the family members, the better.

It’s often not possible to determine if someone is a half sibling or a full sibling by centiMorgans (cMs) alone, especially if you’re searching for unknown family members.

Let’s start with the simplest situation first.

Let’s say both of your parents have tested, and of course, you match both of them as parents.

Your new “very close match” is in the sibling range.

The first thing to do at each vendor is to utilize that vendor’s shared matches tool and see whether your new match matches one parent, or both.

Here’s an example.

Close Relationships at FamilyTreeDNA

This person has a full sibling match, but let’s say they don’t know who this is and wants to see if their new sibling matches one or both of their parents.

Select the match by checking the box to the left of the match name, then click on the little two-person icon at far right, which shows “In Common” matches

You can see on the resulting shared match list that both of the tester’s parents are shown on the shared match list.

Now let’s make this a little more difficult.

No Parents, No Problem

Let’s say neither of your parents has tested.

If you know who your family is and can identify your matches, you can see if the sibling you match matches other close relatives on both or either side of your family.

You’ll want to view shared matches with your closest known match on both sides of your tree, beginning with the closest first. Aunts, uncles, first cousins, etc.

You will match all of your family members through second cousins, and 90% of your third cousins. You can view additional relationship percentages in the article, How Much of Them is in You?.

I recommend, for this matching purpose, to utilize 2nd cousins and closer. That way you know for sure if you don’t share them as a match with your sibling, it’s because the sibling is not related on that side of the family, not because they simply don’t share any DNA due to their distance.

In this example, you have three sibling matches. Based on your and their matches to the same known first and second cousins, you can see that:

  • Sibling 1 is your full sibling, because you both match the same maternal and paternal first and second cousins
  • Sibling 2 is your paternal half-sibling because you both match paternal second cousins and closer, but not maternal cousins.
  • Sibling 3 is your maternal half-sibling because you both match maternal second cousins and closer, but not paternal cousins.

Close Relationships at Ancestry

Neither of my parents have tested, but my first cousin on my mother’s side has. Let’s say I have a suspected sibling or half-sibling match, so I click on the match’s name, then on Shared Matches.

Sure enough, my new match also matches my first cousin that I’ve labeled as “on my mother’s side.”

If my new match in the sibling range also matches my second cousins or closer on my father’s side, the new match is a full sibling, not a half-sibling.

Close Relationships at MyHeritage

Comparing my closest match provided a real surprise. I wonder if I’ve found a half-sibling to my mother.

Now, THIS is interesting.

Hmmm. More research is needed, beginning with the age of my match. MyHeritage provides ages if the MyHeritage member authorizes that information to be shared.

Close Relationships at 23andMe

Under DNA Relatives, click on your suspected sibling match, then scroll down and select “Find Relatives in Common.”

The Relatives in Common list shows people that match both of you.

The first common match is very close and a similar relationship to my closest match on my father’s side. This would be expected of a sibling. I have no common matches with this match to anyone on my mother’s side, so they are only related on my father’s side. Therefore they are a paternal half-sibling, not a full sibling.

More Tools Are Available

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been able to determine if your mystery match is a sibling, and if so, if they are a half or full sibling, and through which parent.

We have some additional tools that are relevant and can be very informative in some circumstances. I suggest utilizing these tools, even if you think you know the answer.

In this type of situation, there’s no such thing as too much information.

X Matching

X matching, or lack thereof, may help you determine how you are related to someone.

There are two types of autosomal DNA. The X chromosome versus chromosomes 1-22. The X chromosome (number 23) has a unique inheritance path that distinguishes it from your other chromosomes.

The X chromosome inheritance path also differs between men and women.

Here’s my pedigree chart in fan form, highlighting the ancestors who may have contributed a portion of their X chromosome to me. In the closest generation, this shows that I inherited an X chromosome from both of my parents, and who in each of their lines could have contributed an X to them.

The white or uncolored positions, meaning ancestors, cannot contribute any portion of an X chromosome to me based on how the X chromosome is inherited.

You’ll notice that my father inherited none of his X chromosome from any of his paternal ancestors, so of course, I can’t inherit what he didn’t inherit. There are a very limited number of ancestors on my father’s side whom I can inherit any portion of an X chromosome from.

Men receive their Y chromosome from their fathers, so men ONLY receive an X chromosome from their mother.

Therefore, men MUST pass their mother’s X chromosome on to their female offspring because they don’t have any other copy of the X chromosome to pass on.

Men pass no X chromosome to sons.

We don’t need to worry about a full fan chart when dealing with siblings and half-siblings.

We only need to be concerned with the testers plus one generation (parents) when utilizing the X chromosome in sibling situations.

These two female Disney Princesses, above, are full siblings, and both inherited an X chromosome from BOTH their mother and father. However, their father only has one X (red) chromosome to give them, so the two females MUST match on the entire red X chromosome from their father.

Their mother has two X chromosomes, green and black, to contribute – one from each of her parents.

The full siblings, Melody, and Cinderella:

  • May have inherited some portion of the same green and black X chromosomes from their mother, so they are partial matches on their mother’s X chromosome.
  • May have inherited the exact same full X chromosome from their mother (both inherited the entire green or both inherited the entire black), so they match fully on their mother’s X chromosome.
  • May have inherited the opposite X from different maternal grandparents. One inherited the entire green X and one inherited the entire black X, so they don’t match on their mother’s X chromosome.

Now, let’s look at Cinderella, who matches Henry.

This female and male full sibling match can’t share an X chromosome on the father’s side, because the male’s father doesn’t contribute an X chromosome to him. The son, Henry, inherited a Y chromosome instead from his father, which is what made them males.

Therefore, if a male and female match on the X chromosome, it MUST be through HIS mother, but could be through either of her parents. In a sibling situation, an X match between a male and female always indicates the mother.

In the example above, the two people share both of their mother’s X chromosomes, so are definitely (at least) maternally related. They could be full siblings, but we can’t determine that by the X chromosome in this situation, with males.

However, if the male matches the female on HER father’s X chromosome, there a different message, example below.

You can see that the male is related to the female on her father’s side, where she inherited the entire magenta X chromosome. The male inherited a portion of the magenta X chromosome from his mother, so these two people do have an X match. However, he matches on his mother’s side, and she matches on her father’s side, so that’s clearly not the same parent.

  • These people CAN NOT be full siblings because they don’t match on HER mother’s side too, which would also be his mother’s side if they were full siblings.
  • They cannot be maternal half-siblings because their X DNA only matches on her father’s side, but they wouldn’t know that unless she knew which side was which based on share matches.
  • They cannot be paternal half-siblings because he does not have an X chromosome from his father.

They could, however, be uncle/aunt-niece/nephew or first cousins on his mother’s side and her father’s side. (Yes, you’re definitely going to have to read this again if you ever need male-female X matching.)

Now, let’s look at X chromosome matching between two males. It’s a lot less complicated and much more succinct.

Neither male has inherited an X chromosome from their father, so if two males DO match on the X, it MUST be through their mother. In terms of siblings, this would mean they share the same mother.

However, there is one slight twist. In the above example, you can see that the men inherited a different proportion of the green and black X chromosomes from their common mother. However, it is possible that the mother could contribute her entire green X chromosome to one son, Justin in this example, and her entire black X chromosome to Henry.

Therefore, even though Henry and Justin DO share a mother, their X chromosome would NOT match in this scenario. This is rare but does occasionally happen.

Based on the above examples, the X chromosome may be relevant in the identification of full or half siblings based on the sexes of the two people who otherwise match at a level indicating a full or half-sibling relationship.

Here’s a summary chart for sibling X matching.

X Match Female Male
Female Will match on shared father’s full X chromosome, mother’s X is the same rules as chromosomes 1-22 Match through male’s mother, but either of female’s parents. If the X match is not through the female’s mother, they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot have an X match through the male’s father. They are either full or half-siblings through their mother if they match on both of their mother’s side. If they match on his mother’s side, and her father’s side, they are not siblings but could be otherwise closely related.
Male Match through male’s mother, but either of female’s parents. If the X match is not through the female’s mother, they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot have an X match through the male’s father. They are either full or half-siblings through their mother if they match on both or their mother’s side. If they match on his mother’s side, and her father’s side, they are not siblings but could be otherwise closely related. Both males are related on their mother’s side – either full or half-siblings.

Here’s the information presented in a different way.

DOES match X summary:

  • If a male DOES match a female on the X, he IS related to her through HIS mother’s side, but could match her on her mother or father’s side. If their match is not through her mother, then they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot match through his father, so they cannot be paternal half-siblings.
  • If a female DOES match a female on the X, they could be related on either side and could be full or half-siblings.
  • If a male DOES match a male on the X, they ARE both related through their mother. They may also be related on their father’s side, but the X does not inform us of that.

Does NOT match X summary:

  • If a male does NOT match a female on the X, they are NOT related through HIS mother and are neither full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. Since a male does not have an X chromosome from his father, they cannot be paternal half-siblings based on an X match.
  • If a male does NOT match a male, they do NOT share a mother.
  • If a female does NOT match another female on the X, they are NOT full siblings and are NOT half-siblings on their paternal side. Their father only has one X chromosome, and he would have given the same X to both daughters.

Of the four autosomal vendors, only 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA report X chromosome results and matching, although the other two vendors, MyHeritage and Ancestry, include the X in their DNA download file so you can find X matches with those files at either FamilyTreeDNA or GEDMatch if your match has or will upload their file to either of those vendors. I wrote step-by-step detailed download/upload instructions, here.

X Matching at FamilyTreeDNA

In this example from FamilyTreeDNA, the female tester has discovered two half-sibling matches, both through her father. In the first scenario, she matches a female on the full X chromosome (181 cM). She and her half-sibling MUST share their father’s entire X chromosome because he only had one X, from his mother, to contribute to both of his daughters.

In the second match to a male half-sibling, our female tester shares NO X match because her father did not contribute an X chromosome to his son.

If we didn’t know which parents these half-sibling matches were through, we can infer from the X matching alone that the male is probably NOT through the mother.

Then by comparing shared matches with each sibling, Advanced Matches, or viewing the match Matrix, we can determine if the siblings match each other and are from the same or different sides of the family.

Under Additional Tests and Tools, Advanced Matching, FamilyTreeDNA provides an additional tool that can show only X matches combined with relationships.

Of course, you’ll need to view shared matches to see which people match the mother and/or match the father.

To see who matches each other, you’ll need to use the Matrix tool.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the Matrix, located under Autosomal DNA Results and Tools, allows you to select your matches to see if they also match each other. If you have known half-siblings, or close relatives, this is another way to view relationships.

Here’s an example using my father and two paternal half-siblings. We can see that the half-siblings also match each other, so they are (at least) half-siblings on the paternal side too.

If they also matched my mother, we would be full siblings, of course.

Next, let’s use Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA.

Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA

In addition to autosomal DNA, we can utilize Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in some cases to identify siblings or to narrow or eliminate relationship possibilities.

Given that Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA both have distinctive inheritance paths, full and half-siblings will, or will not, match under various circumstances.

Y DNA

Y DNA is passed intact from father to son, meaning it’s not admixed with any of the mother’s DNA. Daughters do not inherit Y DNA from their father, so Y DNA is only useful for male-to-male comparisons.

Two types of Y DNA are used for genealogy, STR markers for matching, and haplogroups, and both are equally powerful in slightly different ways.

Y DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

Men can order either 37 or 111 STR marker tests, or the BIg Y which provides more than 700 markers and more. FamilyTreeDNA is the only one of the vendors to offer Y DNA testing that includes STR markers and matching between men.

Men who order these tests will be compared for matching on either 37, 111 or 700 STR markers in addition to SNP markers used for haplogroup identification and assignment.

Fathers will certainly match their sons, and paternal line brothers will match each other, but they will also match people more distantly related.

However, if two men are NOT either full or half siblings on the paternal side, they won’t match at 111 markers.

If two men DON’T match, especially at high marker levels, they likely aren’t siblings. The word “likely” is in there because, very occasionally, a large deletion occurs that prevents STR matching, especially at lower levels.

Additionally, men who take the 37 or 111 marker test also receive an estimated haplogroup at a high level for free, without any additional testing.

However, if men take the Big Y-700 test, they not only will (or won’t) match on up to 700 STR markers, they will also receive a VERY refined haplogroup via SNP marker testing that is often even more sensitive in terms of matching than STR markers. Between these two types of markers, Y DNA testing can place men very granularly in relation to other men.

Men can match in two ways on Y DNA, and the results are very enlightening.

If two men match on BOTH their most refined haplogroup (Big Y test) AND STR markers, they could certainly be siblings or father/son. They could also be related on the same line for another reason, such as known or unknown cousins or closer relationships like uncle/nephew. Of course, Y DNA, in addition to autosomal matching, is a powerful combination.

Conversely, if two men don’t have a similar or close haplogroup, they are not a father and son or paternal line siblings.

FamilyTreeDNA offers both inexpensive entry-level testing (37 and 111 markers) and highly refined advanced testing of most of the Y chromosome (Big Y-700), so haplogroup assignments can vary widely based on the test you take. This makes haplogroup matching and interpretation a bit more complex.

For example, haplogroups R-M269 and I-BY14000 are not related in thousands of years. One is haplogroup R, and one is haplogroup I – completely different branches of the Y DNA tree. These two men won’t match on STR markers or their haplogroup.

However, because FamilyTreeDNA provides over 50,000 different haplogroups, or tree branches, for Big Y testers, and they provide VERY granular matching, two father/son or sibling males who have BOTH tested at the Big Y-700 level will have either the exact same haplogroup, or at most, one branch difference on the tree if a mutation occurred between father and son.

If both men have NOT tested at the Big Y-700 level, their haplogroups will be on the same branch. For example, a man who has only taken a 37/111 marker STR test may be estimated at R-M269, which is certainly accurate as far as it goes.

His sibling who has taken a Big Y test will be many branches further downstream on the tree – but on the same large haplogroup R-M269 branch. It’s essential to pay attention to which tests a Y DNA match has taken when analyzing the match.

The beauty of the two kinds of tests is that even if one haplogroup is very general due to no Big Y test, their STR markers should still match. It’s just that sometimes this means that one hand is tied behind your back.

Y DNA matching alone can eliminate the possibility of a direct paternal line connection, but it cannot prove siblingship or paternity alone – not without additional information.

The Advanced Matching tool will provide a list of matches in all categories selected – in this case, both the 111 markers and the Family Finder test. You can see that one of these men is the father of the tester, and one is the full sibling.

You can view haplogroup assignments on the public Y DNA tree, here. I wrote about using the public tree, here.

In addition, recently, FamilyTreeDNA launched the new Y DNA Discover tool, which explains more about haplogroups, including their ages and other fun facts like migration paths along with notable and ancient connections. I wrote about using the Discover tool, here.

Y DNA at 23andMe

Testers receive a base haplogroup with their autosomal test. 23andMe tests a limited number of Y DNA SNP locations, but they don’t test many, and they don’t test STR markers, so there is no Y DNA matching and no refined haplogroups.

You can view the haplogroups of your matches. If your male sibling match does NOT share the same haplogroup, the two men are not paternal line siblings. If two men DO share the same haplogroup, they MIGHT be paternal siblings. They also might not.

Again, autosomal close matching plus haplogroup comparisons include or exclude paternal side siblings for males.

Paternal side siblings at 23andMe share the same haplogroup, but so do many other people. These two men could be siblings. The haplogroups don’t exclude that possibility. If the haplogroups were different, that would exclude being either full or paternal half-siblings.

Men can also compare their mitochondrial DNA to eliminate a maternal relationship.

These men are not full siblings or maternal half-siblings. We know, unquestionably, because their mitochondrial haplogroups don’t match.

23andMe also constructs a genetic tree, but often struggles with close relative placement, especially when half-relationships are involved. I do not recommend relying on the genetic tree in this circumstance.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only females pass it on. If two people, males or females, don’t match on their mitochondrial DNA test, with a couple of possible exceptions, they are NOT full siblings, and they are NOT maternal half-siblings.

Mitochondrial DNA at 23andMe

23andMe provides limited, base mitochondrial haplogroups, but no matching. If two people don’t have the same haplogroup at 23andMe, they aren’t full or maternal siblings, as illustrated above.

Mitochondrial DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA provides both mitochondrial matching AND a much more refined haplogroup. The full sequence test (mtFull), the only version sold today, is essential for reliable comparisons.

Full siblings or maternal half-siblings will always share the same haplogroup, regardless of their sex.

Generally, a full sibling or maternal half-sibling match will match exactly at the full mitochondrial sequence (FMS) level with a genetic distance of zero, meaning fully matching and no mismatching mutations.

There are rare instances where maternal siblings or even mothers and children do not match exactly, meaning they have a genetic distance of greater than 0, because of a mutation called a heteroplasmy.

I wrote about heteroplasmies, here.

Like Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA cannot identify a sibling or parental relationship without additional evidence, but it can exclude one, and it can also provide much-needed evidence in conjunction with autosomal matching. The great news is that unlike Y DNA, everyone has mitochondrial DNA and it comes directly from their mother.

Once again, FamilyTreeDNA’s Advanced Matching tool provides a list of people who match you on both your mitochondrial DNA test and the Family Finder autosomal test, including transfers/uploads, and provides a relationship.

You can see that our tester matches both a full sibling and their mother. Of course, a parent/child match could mean that our tester is a female and one of her children, of either sex, has tested.

Below is an example of a parent-child match that has experienced a heteroplasmy.

Based on the comparison of both the mitochondrial DNA test, plus the autosomal Family Finder test, you can verify that this is a close family relationship.

You can also eliminate potential relationships based on the mitochondrial DNA inheritance path. The mitochondrial DNA of full siblings and maternal half-siblings will always match at the full sequence and haplogroup level, and paternal half-siblings will never match. If paternal half-siblings do match, it’s happenstance or because of a different reason.

Sibling Summary and Checklist

I’ve created a quick reference checklist for you to use when attempting to determine whether or not a match is a sibling, and, if so, whether they are half or full siblings. Of course, these tools are in addition to the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool and GEDmatch’s Relationship Predictor Calculator.

FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage GEDmatch
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shared Matches Yes – In Common With Yes – Shared Matches Yes – Relatives in Common Yes – Review DNA Match Yes – People who match both or 1 of 2 kits
Relationship Between Shared Matches No No No Yes, under shared match No
Matches Match Each Other* Yes, Matrix No Yes, under “View DNA details,” then, “compare with more relatives” Partly, through triangulation Yes, can match any kits
Full Siblings Yes Sibling, implies full Yes Brother, Sister, means full No
Half Siblings Sibling, Uncle/Aunt-Niece/Nephew, Grandparent-Grandchild Close Family – 1C Yes Half sibling, aunt/uncle-niece-nephew No
Fully Identical Regions (FIR) No No Yes No Yes
Half Identical Regions (HIR) No No Yes No Yes
X matching Yes No Yes No Yes
Unusual Reporting or Anomalies No No, Timber is not used on close relationships X match added into total, FIR added twice No Matching amount can vary from vendors
Y DNA Yes, STRs, refined haplogroups, matching No High-level haplogroup only, no matching No No, only if tester enters haplogroup manually
Mitochondrial DNA Yes, full sequence, matching, refined haplogroup No High-level haplogroup only, no matching No No, only if tester enters haplogroup manually
Combined Tools (Autosomal, X, Y, mtDNA) Yes No No No No

*Autoclusters through Genetic Affairs show cluster relationships of matches to the tester and to each other, but not all matches are included, including close matches. While this is a great tool, it’s not relevant for determining close and sibling relationships. See the article, AutoClustering by Genetic Affairs, here.

Additional Resources

Some of you may be wondering how endogamy affects sibling numbers.

Endogamy makes almost everything a little more complex. I wrote about endogamy and various ways to determine if you have an endogamous heritage, here.

Please note that half-siblings with high cM matches also fall into the range of full siblings (1613-3488), with or without endogamy. This may be, but is not always, especially pronounced in endogamous groups.

As another resource, I wrote an earlier article, Full or Half Siblings, here, that includes some different examples.

Strategy

You have a lot of quills in your quiver now, and I wish you the best if you’re trying to unravel a siblingship mystery.

You may not know who your biological family is, or maybe your sibling doesn’t know who their family is, but perhaps your close relatives know who their family is and can help. Remember, the situation that has revealed itself may be a shock to everyone involved.

Above all, be kind and take things slow. If your unexpected sibling match becomes frightened or overwhelmed, they may simply check out and either delete their DNA results altogether or block you. They may have that reaction before you have a chance to do anything.

Because of that possibility, I recommend performing your analysis quickly, along with taking relevant screenshots before reaching out so you will at least have that much information to work with, just in case things go belly up.

When you’re ready to make contact, I suggest beginning by sending a friendly, short, message saying that you’ve noticed that you have a close match (don’t say sibling) and asking what they know about their family genealogy – maybe ask who their grandparents are or if they have family living in the area where you live. I recommend including a little bit of information about yourself, such as where you were born and are from.

I also refrain from using the word adoption (or similar) in the beginning or giving too much detailed information, because it sometimes frightens people, especially if they know or discover that there’s a painful or embarrassing family situation.

And, please, never, ever assume the worst of anyone or their motives. They may be sitting at their keyboard with the same shocked look on their face as you – especially if they have, or had, no idea. They may need space and time to reach a place of acceptance. There’s just nothing more emotionally boat-capsizing in your life than discovering intimate and personal details about your parents, one or both, especially if that discovery is disappointing and image-altering.

Or, conversely, your sibling may have been hoping and waiting just for you!

Take a deep breath and let me know how it goes!

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who could benefit.

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DNA: In Search of…Signs of Endogamy

This is the fourth in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied by genealogists to ancestors further back in time as well.

In this article, we discuss endogamy – how to determine if you have it, from what population, and how to follow the road signs.

After introductions, we will be covering the following topics:

  • Pedigree collapse and endogamy
  • Endogamous groups
  • The challenge(s) of endogamy
  • Endogamy and unknown close relatives (parents, grandparents)
  • Ethnicity and Populations
  • Matches
  • AutoClusters
  • Endogamous Relationships
  • Endogamous DNA Segments
  • “Are Your Parents Related?” Tool
  • Surnames
  • Projects
  • Locations
  • Y DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and Endogamy
  • Endogamy Tools Summary Tables
    • Summary of Endogamy Tools by Vendor
    • Summary of Endogamous Populations Identified by Each Tool
    • Summary of Tools to Assist People Seeking Unknown Parents and Grandparents

What Is Endogamy and Why Does It Matter?

Endogamy occurs when a group or population of people intermarry among themselves for an extended period of time, without the introduction of many or any people from outside of that population.

The effect of this continual intermarriage is that the founders’ DNA simply gets passed around and around, eventually in small segments.

That happens because there is no “other” DNA to draw from within the population. Knowing or determining that you have endogamy helps make sense of DNA matching patterns, and those patterns can lead you to unknown relatives, both close and distant.

This Article

This article serves two purposes.

  • This article is educational and relevant for all researchers. We discuss endogamy using multiple tools and examples from known endogamous people and populations.
  • In order to be able to discern endogamy when we don’t know who our parents or grandparents are, we need to know what signs and signals to look for, and why, which is based on what endogamy looks like in people who know their heritage.

There’s no crystal ball – no definitive “one-way” arrow, but there are a series of indications that suggest endogamy.

Depending on the endogamous population you’re dealing with, those signs aren’t always the same.

If you’re sighing now, I understand – but that’s exactly WHY I wrote this article.

We’re covering a lot of ground, but these road markers are invaluable diagnostic tools.

I’ve previously written about endogamy in the articles:

Let’s start with definitions.

Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy

Pedigree collapse isn’t the same as endogamy. Pedigree collapse is when you have ancestors that repeat in your tree.

In this example, the parents of our DNA tester are first cousins, which means the tester shares great-grandparents on both sides and, of course, the same ancestors from there on back in their tree.

This also means they share more of those ancestors’ DNA than they would normally share.

John Smith and Mary Johnson are both in the tree twice, in the same position as great-grandparents. Normally, Tester Smith would carry approximately 12.5% of each of his great-grandparents’ DNA, assuming for illustration purposes that exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA is passed in each generation. In this case, due to pedigree collapse, 25% of Tester Smith’s DNA descends from John Smith, and another 25% descends from Mary Johnson, double what it would normally be. 25% is the amount of DNA contribution normally inherited from grandparents, not great-grandparents.

While we may find first cousin marriages a bit eyebrow-raising today, they were quite common in the past. Both laws and customs varied with the country, time, social norms, and religion.

Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy is NOT the Same

You might think that pedigree collapse and endogamy is one and the same, but there’s a difference. Pedigree collapse can lead to endogamy, but it takes more than one instance of pedigree collapse to morph into endogamy within a population. Population is the key word for endogamy.

The main difference is that pedigree collapse occurs with known ancestors in more recent generations for one person, while endogamy is longer-term and systemic in a group of people.

Picture a group of people, all descended from Tester Smith’s great-grandparents intermarrying. Now you have the beginnings of endogamy. A couple hundred or a few hundred years later, you have true endogamy.

In other words, endogamy is pedigree collapse on a larger scale – think of a village or a church.

My ancestors’ village of Schnait, in Germany, is shown above in 1685. One church and maybe 30 or 40 homes. According to church and other records, the same families had inhabited this village, and region, for generations. It’s a sure bet that both pedigree collapse and endogamy existed in this small community.

If pedigree collapse happens over and over again because there are no other people within the community to marry, then you have endogamy. In other words, with endogamy, you assuredly DO have historical pedigree collapse, generally back in time, often before you can identify those specific ancestors – because everyone descends from the same set of founders.

Endogamy Doesn’t Necessarily Indicate Recent Pedigree Collapse

With deep, historic endogamy, you don’t necessarily have recent pedigree collapse, and in fact, many people do not. Jewish people are a good example of this phenomenon. They shared ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years, depending on which group we are referring to, but in recent, known, generations, many Jewish people aren’t related. Still, their DNA often matches each other.

The good news is that there are telltale signs and signals of endogamy.

The bad news is that not all of these are obvious, meaning as an aid to people seeking clues about unknown close relatives, and other “signs” aren’t what they are believed to be.

Let’s step through each endogamy identifier, or “hint,” and then we will review how we can best utilize this information.

First, let’s take a look at groups that are considered to be endogamous.

Endogamous Groups

Jewish PeopleSpecifically groups that were isolated from other groups of Jewish (and other) people; Ashkenazi (Germany, Northern France, and diaspora), Sephardic (Spanish, Iberia, and diaspora), Mizrahi (Israel, Middle Eastern, and diaspora,) Ethiopian Jews, and possibly Jews from other locations such as Mountain Jews from Kazakhstan and the Caucasus.

AcadiansDescendants of about 60 French families who settled in “Acadia” beginning about 1604, primarily on the island of Nova Scotia, and intermarried among themselves and with the Mi’kmaq people. Expelled by the English in 1755, they were scattered in groups to various diasporic regions where they continued to intermarry and where their descendants are found today. Some Acadians became the Cajuns of Louisiana.

Anabaptist Protestant FaithsAmish, Mennonite, and Brethren (Dunkards) and their offshoots are Protestant religious sects founded in Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries on the principle of baptizing only adults or people who are old enough to choose to follow the faith, or rebaptizing people who had been previously baptized as children. These Anabaptist faiths tend to marry within their own group or church and often expel those who marry outside of the faith. Many emigrated to the American colonies and elsewhere, seeking religious freedom. Occasionally those groups would locate in close proximity and intermarry, but not marry outside of other Anabaptist denominations.

Native American (Indigenous) People – all indigenous peoples found in North and South America before European colonization descended from a small number of original founders who probably arrived at multiple times.

Indigenous Pacific Islanders – Including indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii prior to colonization. They are probably equally as endogamous as Native American people, but I don’t have specific examples to share.

Villages – European or other villages with little inflow or whose residents were restricted from leaving over hundreds of years.

Other groups may have significant multiple lines of pedigree collapse and therefore become endogamous over time. Some people from Newfoundland, French Canadians, and Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) come to mind.

Endogamy is a process that occurs over time.

Endogamy and Unknown Relatives

If you know who your relatives are, you may already know you’re from an endogamous population, but if you’re searching for close relatives, it’s helpful to be able to determine if you have endogamous heritage, at least in recent generations.

If you know nothing about either parent, some of these tools won’t help you, at least not initially, but others will. However, as you add to your knowledge base, the other tools will become more useful.

If you know the identity of one parent, this process becomes at least somewhat easier.

In future articles, we will search specifically for parents and each of your four grandparents. In this article, I’ll review each of the diagnostic tools and techniques you can use to determine if you have endogamy, and perhaps pinpoint the source.

The Challenge

People with endogamous heritage are related in multiple, unknown ways, over many generations. They may also be related in known ways in recent generations.

If both of your parents share the SAME endogamous culture or group of relatives:

  • You may have significantly more autosomal DNA matches than people without endogamy, unless that group of people is under-sampled. Jewish people have significantly more matches, but Native people have fewer due to under-sampling.
  • You may experience a higher-than-normal cM (centiMorgan) total for estimated relationships, especially more distant relationships, 3C and beyond.
  • You will have many matches related to you on both your maternal and paternal sides.
  • Parts of your autosomal DNA will be the same on both your mother’s and father’s sides, meaning your DNA will be fully identical in some locations. (I’ll explain more in a minute.)

If either (or both) of your parents are from an endogamous population, you:

  • Will, in some cases, carry identifying Y and mitochondrial DNA that points to a specific endogamous group. This is true for Native people, can be true for Jewish people and Pacific Islanders, but is not true for Anabaptist people.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Please note that there is no “one size fits all.”

Each or any of these tools may provide relevant hints, depending on:

  • Your heritage
  • How many other people have tested from the relevant population group
  • How many close or distant relatives have tested
  • If your parents share the same heritage
  • Your unique DNA inheritance pattern
  • If your parents, individually, were fully endogamous or only partly endogamous, and how far back generationally that endogamy occurred

For example, in my own genealogy, my maternal grandmother’s father was Acadian on his father’s side. While I’m not fully endogamous, I have significantly more matches through that line proportionally than on my other lines.

I have Brethren endogamy on my mother’s side via her paternal grandmother.

Endogamous ancestors are shown with red stars on my mother’s pedigree chart, above. However, please note that her maternal and paternal endogamous ancestors are not from the same endogamous population.

However, I STILL have fewer matches on my mother’s side in total than on my father’s side because my mother has recent Dutch and recent German immigrants which reduces her total number of matches. Neither of those lines have had as much time to produce descendants in the US, and Europe is under-sampled when compared with the US where more people tend to take DNA tests because they are searching for where they came from.

My father’s ancestors have been in the US since it was a British Colony, and I have many more cousins who have tested on his side than mother’s.

If you looked at my pedigree chart and thought to yourself, “that’s messy,” you’d be right.

The “endogamy means more matches” axiom does not hold true for me, comparatively, between my parents – in part because my mother’s German and Dutch lines are such recent immigrants.

The number of matches alone isn’t going to tell this story.

We are going to need to look at several pieces and parts for more information. Let’s start with ethnicity.

Ethnicity and Populations

Ethnicity can be a double-edged sword. It can tell you exactly nothing you couldn’t discern by looking in the mirror, or, conversely, it can be a wealth of information.

Ethnicity reveals the parts of the world where your ancestors originated. When searching for recent ancestors, you’re most interested in majority ethnicity, meaning the 50% of your DNA that you received from each of your parents.

Ethnicity results at each vendor are easy to find and relatively easy to understand.

This individual at FamilyTreeDNA is 100% Ashkenazi Jewish.

If they were 50% Jewish, we could then estimate, and that’s an important word, that either one of their parents was fully Jewish, and not the other, or that two of their grandparents were Jewish, although not necessarily on the same side.

On the other hand, my mother’s ethnicity, shown below, has nothing remarkable that would point to any majority endogamous population, yet she has two.

The only hint of endogamy from ethnicity would be her ~1% Americas, and that isn’t relevant for finding close relatives. However, minority ancestry is very relevant for identifying Native ancestors, which I wrote about, here.

You can correlate or track your ethnicity segments to specific ancestors, which I discussed in the article, Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments, here.

Since I wrote that article, FamilyTreeDNA has added the feature of ethnicity or population Chromosome Painting, based on where each of your populations fall on your chromosomes.

In this example on chromosome 1, I have European ancestry (blue,) except for the pink Native segment, which occurs on the following segment in the same location on my mother’s chromosome 1 as well.

Both 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA provide chromosome painting AND the associated segment information so you can identify the relevant ancestors.

Ancestry is in the process of rolling out an ethnicity painting feature, BUT, it has no segment or associated matching information. While it’s interesting eye candy, it’s not terribly useful beyond the ethnicity information that Ancestry already provides. However, Jonny Perl at DNAPainter has devised a way to estimate Ancestry’s start and stop locations, here. Way to go Jonny!

Now all you need to do is convince your Ancestry matches to upload their DNA file to one of the three databases, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDMatch, that accept transfers, aka uploads. This allows matching with segment data so that you can identify who matches you on that segment, track your ancestors, and paint your ancestral segments at DNAPainter.

I provided step-by-step instructions, here, for downloading your raw DNA file from each vendor in order to upload the file to another vendor.

Ethnicity Sides

Three of the four DNA testing vendors, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and recently, Ancestry, attempt to phase your ethnicity DNA, meaning to assign it to one parental “side” or the other – both in total and on each chromosome.

Here’s Ancestry’s SideView, where your DNA is estimated to belong to parent 1 and parent 2. I detailed how to determine which side is which, here, and while that article was written specifically pertaining to Ancestry’s SideView, the technique is relevant for all the vendors who attempt to divide your DNA into parents, a technique known as phasing.

I say “attempt” because phasing may or may not be accurate, meaning the top chromosome may not always be parent 1, and the bottom chromosome may not always be chromosome 2.

Here’s an example at 23andMe.

See the two yellow segments. They are both assigned as Native. I happen to know one is from the mother and one is from the father, yet they are both displayed on the “top” chromosome, which one would interpret to be the same parent.

I am absolutely positive this is not the case because this is a close family member, and I have the DNA of the parent who contributed the Native segment on chromosome 1, on the top chromosome. That parent does not have a Native segment on chromosome 2 to contribute. So that Native segment had to be contributed by the other parent, but it’s also shown on the top chromosome.

The DNA segments circled in purple belong together on the same “side” and were contributed to the tester by the same parent. The Native segment on chromosome 2 abuts a purple African segment, suggesting perhaps that the ancestor who contributed that segment was mixed between those ethnicities. In the US, that suggests enslavement.

The other African segments, circled, are shown on the second chromosome in each pair.

To be clear, parent 1 is not assigned by the vendors to either mother or father and will differ by person. Your parent 1, or the parent on the top chromosome may be your mother and another person’s parent 1 may be their father.

As shown in this example, parents can vary by chromosome, a phenomenon known as “strand swap.” Occasionally, the DNA can even be swapped within a chromosome assignment.

You can, however, get an idea of the division of your DNA at any specific location. As shown above, you can only have a maximum of two populations of DNA on any one chromosome location.

In our example above, this person’s majority ancestry is European (blue.) On each chromosome where we find a minority segment, the opposite chromosome in the same location is European, meaning blue.

Let’s look at another example.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the person whose ethnicity painting is shown below has a Native American (pink) ancestor on their father’s side. FamilyTreeDNA has correctly phased or identified their Native segments as all belonging to the second chromosome in each pair.

Looking at chromosome 18, for example, most of their father’s chromosome is Native American (pink). The other parent’s chromosome is European (dark blue) at those same locations.

If one of the parents was of one ethnicity, and the other parent is a completely different ethnicity, then one bar of each chromosome would be all pink, for example, and one would be entirely blue, representing the other ethnicity.

Phasing ethnicity or populations to maternal and paternal sides is not foolproof, and each chromosome is phased individually.

Ethnicity can, in some cases, give you a really good idea of what you’re dealing with in terms of heritage and endogamy.

If someone had an Ashkenazi Jewish father and European mother, for example, one copy of each chromosome would be yellow (Ashkenazi Jewish), and one would be blue (European.)

However, if each of their parents were half European Jewish and half European (not Jewish), then their different colored segments would be scattered across their entire set of chromosomes.

In this case, both of the tester’s parents are mixed – European Jewish (green) and Western Europe (blue.) We know both parents are admixed from the same two populations because in some locations, both parents contributed blue (Western Europe), and in other locations, both contributed Jewish (green) segments.

Both MyHeritage and Ancestry provide a secondary tool that’s connected to ethnicity, but different and generally in more recent times.

Ancestry’s DNA Communities

While your ethnicity may not point to anything terribly exciting in terms of endogamy, Genetic Communities might. Ancestry says that a DNA Community is a group of people who share DNA because their relatives recently lived in the same place at the same time, and that communities are much smaller than ethnicity regions and reach back only about 50-300 years.

Based on the ancestors’ locations in the trees of me and my matches, Ancestry has determined that I’m connected to two communities. In my case, the blue group is clearly my father’s line. The orange group could be either parent, or even a combination of both.

My endogamous Brethren could be showing up in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but it’s uncertain, in part, because my father’s ancestral lines are found in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland too.

These aren’t useful for me, but they may be more useful for fully endogamous people, especially in conjunction with ethnicity.

My Acadian cousin’s European ethnicity isn’t informative.

However, viewing his DNA Communities puts his French heritage into perspective, especially combined with his match surnames.

I wrote about DNA Communities when it was introduced with the name Genetic Communities, here.

MyHeritage’s Genetic Groups

MyHeritage also provides a similar feature that shows where my matches’ ancestors lived in the same locations as mine.

One difference, though, is that testers can adjust their ethnicity results confidence level from high, above, to low, below where one of my Genetic Groups overlaps my ethnicity in the Netherlands.

You can also sort your matches by Genetic Groups.

The results show you not only who is in the group, but how many of your matches are in that group too, which provides perspective.

I wrote about Genetic Groups, here.

Next, let’s look at how endogamy affects your matches.

Matches

The number of matches that a person has who is from an entirely endogamous community and a person with no endogamy may be quite different.

FamilyTreeDNA provides a Family Matching feature that triangulates your matches and assigns them to your paternal or maternal side by using known matches that you have linked to their profile cards in your tree. You must link people for the Family Matching feature known as “bucketing” to be enabled.

The people you link are then processed for shared matches on the same chromosome segment(s). Triangulated individuals are then deposited in your maternal, paternal, and both buckets.

Obviously, your two parents are the best people to link, but if they haven’t tested (or uploaded their DNA file from another vendor) and you have other known relatives, link them using the Family Tree tab at the top of your personal page.

I uploaded my Ancestry V4 kit to use as an example for linking. Let’s pretend that’s my sister. If I had not already linked my Ancestry V4 kit to “my sister’s” profile card, I’d want to do that and link other known individuals the same way. Just drag and drop the match to the correct profile card.

Note that a full or half sibling will be listed as such at FamilyTreeDNA, but an identical twin will show as a potential parent/child match to you. You’re much more likely to find a parent than an identical twin, but just be aware.

I’ve created a table of FamilyTreeDNA bucketed match results, by category, comparing the number of matches in endogamous categories with non-endogamous.

Total Matches Maternal Matches Paternal Matches Both % Both % DNA Unassigned
100% Jewish 34,637 11,329 10,416 4,806 13.9 23.3
100% Jewish 32,973 10,700 9,858 4,606 14 23.7
100% Jewish 32,255 9,060 10,970 3,892 12 25.8
75% Jewish 24,232 11,846 Only mother linked Only mother linked Only mother linked
100% Acadian 8093 3826 2299 1062 13 11
100% Acadian 7828 3763 1825 923 11.8 17
Not Endogamous 6760 3845 1909 13 0.19 14.5
Not Endogamous 7723 1470 3317 6 0.08 38
100% Native American 1,115 Unlinked Unlinked Unlinked
100% Native American 885 290 Unknown Can’t calculate without at least one link on both sides

The 100% Jewish, Acadian, and Not Endogamous testers both have linked their parents, so their matches, if valid (meaning not identical by chance, which I discussed here,) will match them plus one or the other parent.

One person is 75% Jewish and has only linked their Jewish mother.

The Native people have not tested their parents, and the first Native person has not linked anyone in their tree. The second Native person has only linked a few maternal matches, but their mother has not tested. They are seeking their father.

It’s very difficult to find people who are fully Native as testers. Furthermore, Native people are under-sampled. If anyone knows of fully Native (or other endogamous) people who have tested and linked their parents or known relatives in their trees, and will allow me to use their total match numbers anonymously, please let me know.

As you can see, Jewish, Acadian, and Native people are 100% endogamous, but many more Jewish people than Native people have tested, so you CAN’T judge endogamy by the total number of matches alone.

In fact, in order:

  • Fully Jewish testers have about 4-5 times as many matches as the Acadian and Non-endogamous testers
  • Acadian and Non-endogamous testers have about 5-6 times as many matches as the Native American testers
  • Fully Jewish people have about 30 times more matches than the Native American testers

If a person’s endogamy with a particular population is only on their maternal or paternal side, they won’t have a significant number of people related to both sides, meaning few people will fall into the “Both” bucket. People that will always be found in the ”Both” bucket are full siblings and their descendants, along with descendants of the tester, assuming their match is linked to their profiles in the tester’s tree.

In the case of our Jewish testers, you can easily see that the “Both” bucket is very high. The Acadians are also higher than one would reasonably expect without endogamy. A non-endogamous person might have a few matches on both sides, assuming the parents are not related to each other.

A high number of “Both” matches is a very good indicator of endogamy within the same population on both parents’ sides.

The percentage of people who are assigned to the “Both” bucket is between 11% and 14% in the endogamous groups, and less than 1% in the non-endogamous group, so statistically not relevant.

As demonstrated by the Native people compared to the Jewish testers, the total number of matches can be deceiving.

However, being related to both parents, as indicated by the “Both” bucket, unless you have pedigree collapse, is a good indicator of endogamy.

Of course, if you don’t know who your relatives are, you can’t link them in your tree, so this type of “hunt” won’t generally help people seeking their close family members.

However, you may notice that you’re matching people PLUS both of their parents. If that’s the case, start asking questions of those matches about their heritage.

A very high number of total matches, as compared to non-endogamous people, combined with some other hints might well point to Jewish heritage.

I included the % DNA Unassigned category because this category, when both parents are linked, is the percentage of matches by chance, meaning the match doesn’t match either of the tester’s parents. All of the people with people listed in “Both” categories have linked both of their parents, not just maternal and paternal relatives.

Matching Location at MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides a matching function by location. Please note that it’s the location of the tester, but that may still be quite useful.

The locations are shown in the most-matches to least-matches order. Clicking on the location shows the people who match you who are from that location. This would be the most useful in situations where recent immigration has occurred. In my case, my great-grandfather from the Netherlands arrived in the 1860s, and my German ancestors arrived in the 1850s. Neither of those groups are endogamous, though, unless it would be on a village level.

AutoClusters

Let’s shift to Genetic Affairs, a third-party tool available to everyone.

Using their AutoCluster function, Genetic Affairs clusters your matches together who match both each other and you.

This is an example of the first few clusters in my AutoCluster. You can see that I have several colored clusters of various sizes, but none are huge.

Compare that to the following endogamous cluster, sample courtesy of EJ Blom at Genetic Affairs.

If your AutoCluster at Genetic Affairs looks something like this, a huge orange blob in the upper left hand corner, you’re dealing with endogamy.

Please also note that the size of your cluster is also a function of both the number of testers and the match threshold you select. I always begin by using the defaults. I wrote about using Genetic Affairs, here.

If you tested at or transferred to MyHeritage, they too license AutoClusters, but have optimized the algorithm to tease out endogamous matches so that their Jewish customers, in particular, don’t wind up with a huge orange block of interrelated people.

You won’t see the “endogamy signature” huge cluster in the corner, so you’re less likely to be able to discern endogamy from a MyHeritage cluster alone.

The commonality between these Jewish clusters at MyHeritage is that they all tend to be rather uniform in size and small, with lots of grey connecting almost all the blocks.

Grey cells indicate people who match people in two colored groups. In other words, there is often no clear division in clusters between the mother’s side and the father’s side in Jewish clusters.

In non-endogamous situations, even if you can’t identify the parents, the clusters should still fall into two sides, meaning a group of clusters for each parent’s side that are not related to each other.

You can read more about Genetic Affairs clusters and their tools, here. DNAGedcom.com also provides a clustering tool.

Endogamous Relationships

Endogamous estimated relationships are sometimes high. Please note the word, “sometimes.”

Using the Shared cM Project tool relationship chart, here, at DNAPainter, people with heavy endogamy will discover that estimated relationships MAY be on the high side, or the relationships may, perhaps, be estimated too “close” in time. That’s especially true for more distant relationships, but surprisingly, it’s not always true. The randomness of inheritance still comes into play, and so do potential unknown relatives. Hence, the words “may” are bolded and underscored.

Unfortunately, it’s often stated as “conventional wisdom” that Jewish matches are “always” high, and first cousins appear as siblings. Let’s see what the actual data says.

At DNAPainter, you can either enter the amount of shared DNA (cM), or the percent of shared DNA, or just use the chart provided.

I’ve assembled a compilation of close relationships in kits that I have access to or from people who were generous enough to share their results for this article.

I’ve used Jewish results, which is a highly endogamous population, compared with non-endogamous testers.

The “Jewish Actual” column reports the total amount of shared DNA with that person. In other words, someone to their grandparent. The Average Range is the average plus the range from DNAPainter. The Percent Difference is the % difference between the actual number and the DNAPainter average.

You’ll see fully Jewish testers, at left, matching with their family members, and a Non-endogamous person, at right, matching with their same relative.

Relationship Jewish Actual Percent Difference than Average Average -Range Non-endogamous Actual Percent Difference than Average
Grandparent 2141 22 1754 (984-2482) 1742 <1 lower
Grandparent 1902 8.5 1754 (984-2482) 1973 12
Sibling 3039 16 2613 (1613-3488) 2515 3.5 lower
Sibling 2724 4 2613 (1613-3488) 2761 5.5
Half-Sibling 2184 24 1759 (1160-2436) 2127 21
Half-Sibling 2128 21 1759 (1160-2436) 2352 34
Aunt/Uncle 2066 18.5 1741 (1201-2282) 1849 6
Aunt/Uncle 2031 16.5 1741 (1201-2282) 2097 20
1C 1119 29 866 (396-1397) 959 11
1C 909 5 866 (396-1397) 789 9 lower
1C1R 514 19 433 (102-980) 467 8
1C1R 459 6 433 (102-980) 395 9 lower

These totals are from FamilyTreeDNA except one from GEDMatch (one Jewish Half-sibling).

Totals may vary by vendor, even when matching with the same person. 23andMe includes the X segments in the total cMs and also counts fully identical segments twice. MyHeritage imputation seems to err on the generous side.

However, in these dozen examples:

  • You can see that the Jewish actual amount of DNA shared is always more than the average in the estimate.
  • The red means the overage is more than 100 cM larger.
  • The percentage difference is probably more meaningful because 100 cM is a smaller percentage of a 1754 grandparent connection than compared to a 433 cM 1C1R.

However, you can’t tell anything about endogamy by just looking at any one sample, because:

  • Some of the Non-Endogamous matches are high too. That’s just the way of random inheritance.
  • All of the actual Jewish match numbers are within the published ranges, but on the high side.

Furthermore, it can get more complex.

Half Endogamous

I requested assistance from Jewish genealogy researchers, and a lovely lady, Sharon, reached out, compiled her segment information, and shared it with me, granting permission to share with you. A HUGE thank you to Sharon!

Sharon is half-Jewish via one parent, and her half-sibling is fully Jewish. Their half-sibling match to each other at Ancestry is 1756 cM with a longest segment of 164 cM.

How does Jewish matching vary if you’re half-Jewish versus fully Jewish? Let’s look at 21 people who match both Sharon and her fully Jewish half-sibling.

Sharon shared the differences in 21 known Jewish matches with her and her half-sibling. I’ve added the Relationship Estimate Range from DNAPainter and colorized the highest of the two matches in yellow. Bolding in the total cM column shows a value above the average range for that relationship.

Total Matching cMs is on the left, with Longest Segment on the right.

While this is clearly not a scientific study, it is a representative sample.

The fully Jewish sibling carries more Jewish DNA, which is available for other Jewish matches to match as a function of endogamy (identical by chance/population), so I would have expected the fully Jewish sibling to match most if not all Jewish testers at a higher level than the half-Jewish sibling.

However, that’s not universally what we see.

The fully Jewish sibling is not always the sibling with the highest number of matches to the other Jewish testers, although the half-Jewish tester has the larger “Longest Segment” more often than not.

Approximately two-thirds of the time (13/21), the fully Jewish person does have a higher total matching cM, but about one-third of the time (8/21), the half-Jewish sibling has a higher matching cM.

About one-fourth of the time (5/21), the fully Jewish sibling has the longest matching segment, and about two-thirds of the time (13/21), the half-Jewish sibling does. In three cases, or about 14% of the time, the longest segment is equal which may indicate that it’s the same segment.

Because of endogamy, Jewish matches are more likely to have:

  • Larger than average total cM for the specific relationship
  • More and smaller matching segments

However, as we have seen, neither of those are definitive, nor always true. Jewish matches and relationships are not always overestimated.

Ancestry and Timber

Please note that Ancestry downweights some matches by removing some segments using their Timber algorithm. Based on my matches and other accounts that I manage, Ancestry does not downweight in the 2-3rd cousin category, which is 90 cM and above, but they do begin downweighting in the 3-4th cousin category, below 90 cM, where my “Extended Family” category begins.

If you’ve tested at Ancestry, you can check for yourself.

By clicking on the amount of DNA you share with your match on your match list at Ancestry, shown above, you will be taken to another page where you will be able to view the unweighted shared DNA with that match, meaning the amount of DNA shared before the downweighting and removal of some segments, shown below.

Given the downweighting, and the information in the spreadsheet provided by Sharon, it doesn’t appear that any of those matches would have been in a category to be downweighted.

Therefore, for these and other close matches, Timber wouldn’t be a factor, but would potentially be in more distant matches.

Endogamous Segments

Endogamous matches tend to have smaller and more segments. Small amounts of matching DNA tend to skew the total DNA cM upwards.

How and why does this happen?

Ancestral DNA from further back in time tends to be broken into smaller segments.

Sometimes, especially in endogamous situations, two smaller segments, at one time separated from each other, manage to join back together again and form a match, but the match is only due to ancestral segments – not because of a recent ancestor.

Please note that different vendors have different minimum matching cM thresholds, so smaller matches may not be available at all vendors. Remember that factors like Timber and imputation can affect matching as well.

Let’s take a look at an example. I’ve created a chart where two ancestors have their blue and pink DNA broken into 4 cM segments.

They have children, a blue child and a pink child, and the two children, shown above, each inherited the same blue 4 cM segment and the same pink 4 cM segment from their respective parents. The other unlabeled pink and blue segments are not inherited by these two children, so those unlabeled segments are irrelevant in this example.

The parents may have had other children who inherited those same 4 cM labeled pink and blue segments as well, and if not, the parents’ siblings were probably passing at least some of the same DNA down to their descendants too.

The blue and pink children had children, and their children had children – for several generations.

Time passed, and their descendants became an endogamous community. Those pink and blue 4 cM segments may at some time be lost during recombination in the descendants of each of their children, shown by “Lost pink” and “Lost blue.”

However, because there is only a very limited amount of DNA within the endogamous community, their descendants may regain those same segments again from their “other parent” during recombination, downstream.

In each generation, the DNA of the descendant carrying the original blue or pink DNA segment is recombined with their partner. Given that the partners are both members of the same endogamous community, the two people may have the same pink and/or blue DNA segments. If one parent doesn’t carry the pink 4 cM segment, for example, their offspring may receive that ancestral pink segment from the other parent.

They could potentially, and sometimes do, receive that ancestral segment from both parents.

In our example, the descendants of the blue child, at left, lost the pink 4 cM segment in generation 3, but a few generations later, in generation 11, that descendant child inherited that same pink 4 cM segment from their other parent. Therefore, both the 4 cM blue and 4 cM pink segments are now available to be inherited by the descendants in that line. I’ve shown the opposite scenario in the generational inheritance at right where the blue segment is lost and regained.

Once rejoined, that pink and blue segment can be passed along together for generations.

The important part, though, is that once those two segments butt up against each other again during recombination, they aren’t just two separate 4 cM segments, but one segment that is 8 cM long – that is now equal to or above the vendors’ matching threshold.

This is why people descended from endogamous populations often have the following matching characteristics:

  • More matches
  • Many smaller segment matches
  • Their total cM is often broken into more, smaller segments

What does more, smaller segments, look like, exactly?

More, Smaller Segments

All of our vendors except Ancestry have a chromosome browser for their customers to compare their DNA to that of their matches visually.

Let’s take a look at some examples of what endogamous and non-endogamous matches look like.

For example, here’s a screen shot of a random Jewish second cousin match – 298 cM total, divided into 12 segments, with a longest segment of 58 cM,

A second Jewish 2C with 323 cM total, across 19 segments, with a 69 cM longest block.

A fully Acadian 2C match with 600 cM total, across 27 segments, with a longest segment of 69 cM.

A second Acadian 2C with 332 cM total, across 20 segments, with a longest segment of 42 cM.

Next, a non-endogamous 2C match with 217 cM, across 7 segments, with a longest segment of 72 cM.

Here’s another non-endogamous 2C example, with 169 shared cM, across 6 segments, with a longest segment of 70 cM.

Here’s the second cousin data in a summary table. The take-away from this is the proportion of total segments

Tester Population Total cM Longest Block Total Segments
Jewish 2C 298 58 12
Jewish 2C 323 69 19
Acadian 2C 600 69 27
Acadian 2C 332 42 20
Non-endogamous 2C 217 72 7
Non-endogamous 2C 169 70 6

You can see more examples and comparisons between Native American, Jewish and non-endogamous DNA individuals in the article, Concepts – Endogamy and DNA Segments.

I suspect that a savvy mathematician could predict endogamy based on longest block and total segment information.

Lara Diamond, a mathematician, who writes at Lara’s Jewnealogy might be up for this challenge. She just published compiled matching and segment information in her Ashkenazic Shared DNA Survey Results for those who are interested. You can also contribute to Laura’s data, here.

Endogamy, Segments, and Distant Relationships

While not relevant to searching for close relatives, heavily endogamous matches 3C and more distant, to quote one of my Jewish friends, “dissolve into a quagmire of endogamy and are exceedingly difficult to unravel.”

In my own Acadian endogamous line, I often simply have to label them “Acadian” because the DNA tracks back to so many ancestors in different lines. In other words, I can’t tell which ancestor the match is actually pointing to because the same DNA segments or segments is/are carried by several ancestors and their descendants due to founder effect.

The difference with the Acadians is that we can actually identify many or most of them, at least at some point in time. As my cousin, Paul LeBlanc, once said, if you’re related to one Acadian, you’re related to all Acadians. Then he proceeded to tell me that he and I are related 137 different ways. My head hurts!

It’s no wonder that endogamy is incredibly difficult beyond the first few generations when it turns into something like multi-colored jello soup.

“Are Your Parents Related?” Tool

There’s another tool that you can utilize to determine if your parents are related to each other.

To determine if your parents are related to each other, you need to know about ROH, or Runs of Homozygosity (ROH).

ROH means that the DNA on both strands or copies of the same chromosome is identical.

For a few locations in a row, ROH can easily happen just by chance, but the longer the segment, the less likely that commonality occurs simply by chance.

The good news is that you don’t need to know the identity of either of your parents. You don’t need either of your parent’s DNA tests – just your own. You’ll need to upload your DNA file to GEDmatch, which is free.

Click on “Are your parents related?”

GEDMatch analyzes your DNA to see if any of your DNA, above a reasonable matching threshold, is identical on both strands, indicating that you inherited the exact same DNA from both of your parents.

A legitimate match, meaning one that’s not by chance, will include many contiguous matching locations, generally a minimum of 500 SNPs or locations in a row. GEDmatch’s minimum threshold for identifying identical ancestral DNA (ROH) is 200 cM.

Here’s my result, including the graphic for the first two chromosomes. Notice the tiny green bars that show identical by chance tiny sliver segments.

I have no significant identical DNA, meaning my parents are not related to each other.

Next, let’s look at an endogamous example where there are small, completely identical segments across a person’s chromosome

This person’s Acadian parents are related to each other, but distantly.

Next, let’s look at a Jewish person’s results.

You’ll notice larger green matching ROH, but not over 200 contiguous SNPs and 7 cM.

GEDMatch reports that this Jewish person’s parents are probably not related within recent generations, but it’s clear that they do share DNA in common.

People whose parents are distantly related have relatively small, scattered matching segments. However, if you’re seeing larger ROH segments that would be large enough to match in a genealogical setting, meaning multiple greater than 7 cM and 500 SNPs,, you may be dealing with a different type of situation where cousins have married in recent generations. The larger the matching segments, generally, the closer in time.

Blogger Kitty Cooper wrote an article, here, about discovering that your parents are related at the first cousin level, and what their GEDMatch “Are Your Parents Related” results look like.

Let’s look for more clues.

Surnames

There MAY be an endogamy clue in the surnames of the people you match.

Viewing surnames is easier if you download your match list, which you can do at every vendor except Ancestry. I’m not referring to the segment data, but the information about your matches themselves.

I provided instructions in the recent article, How to Download Your DNA Match Lists and Segment Files, here.

If you suspect endogamy for any reason, look at your closest matches and see if there is a discernable trend in the surnames, or locations, or any commonality between your matches to each other.

For example, Jewish, Acadian, and Native surnames may be recognizable, as may locations.

You can evaluate in either or both of two ways:

  • The surnames of your closest matches. Closest matches listed first will be your default match order.
  • Your most frequently occurring surnames, minus extremely common names like Smith, Jones, etc., unless they are also in your closest matches. To utilize this type of matching, sort the spreadsheet in surname order and then scan or count the number of people with each surname.

Here are some examples from our testers.

Jewish – Closest surname matches.

  • Roth
  • Weiss
  • Goldman
  • Schonwald
  • Levi
  • Cohen
  • Slavin
  • Goodman
  • Sender
  • Trebatch

Acadian – Closest surname matches.

  • Bergeron
  • Hebert
  • Bergeron
  • Marcum
  • Muise
  • Legere
  • Gaudet
  • Perry
  • Verlander
  • Trombley

Native American – Closest surname matches.

  • Ortega
  • Begay
  • Valentine
  • Hayes
  • Montoya
  • Sun Bear
  • Martin
  • Tsosie
  • Chiquito
  • Yazzie

You may recognize these categories of surnames immediately.

If not, Google is your friend. Eliminate common surnames, then Google for a few together at a time and see what emerges.

The most unusual surnames are likely your best bets.

Projects

Another way to get some idea of what groups people with these surnames might belong to is to enter the surname in the FamilyTreeDNA surname search.

Go to the main FamilyTreeDNA page, but DO NOT sign on.

Scroll down until you see this image.

Type the surname into the search box. You’ll see how many people have tested with that surname, along with projects where project administrators have included that surname indicating that the project may be of interest to at least some people with that surname.

Here’s a portion of the project list for Cohen, a traditional Jewish surname.

These results are for Muise, an Acadian surname.

Clicking through to relevant surname projects, and potentially contacting the volunteer project administrator can go a very long way in helping you gather and sift information. Clearly, they have an interest in this topic.

For example, here’s the Muise surname in the Acadian AmerIndian project. Two great hints here – Acadian heritage and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Repeat for the balance of surnames on your list to look for commonalities, including locations on the public project pages.

Locations

Some of the vendor match files include location information. Each person on your match list will have the opportunity at the vendor where they tested to include location information in a variety of ways, either for their ancestors or themselves.

Where possible, it’s easiest to sort or scan the download file for this type of information.

Ancestry does not provide or facilitate a match list, but you can still create your own for your closest 20 or 30 matches in a spreadsheet.

MyHeritage provides common surname and ancestral location information for every match. How cool is that!

Y DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and Endogamy

Haplogroups for both Y and mitochondrial DNA can indicate and sometimes confirm endogamy. In other cases, the haplogroup won’t help, but the matches and their location information just might.

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that provides Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests that include highly granular haplogroups along with matches and additional tools.

23andMe provides high-level haplogroups which may or may not be adequate to pinpoint a haplogroup that indicates endogamy.

Of course, only males carry Y DNA that tracks to the direct paternal (surname) line, but everyone carries their mother’s mitochondrial DNA that represents their mother’s mother’s mother’s, or direct matrilineal line.

Some haplogroups are known to be closely associated with particular ethnicities or populations, like Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and some Jewish people.

Haplogroups reach back in time before genealogy and can give us a sense of community that’s not available by either looking in the mirror or through traditional records.

This Native American man is a member of high-level haplogroup Q-M242. However, some men who carry this haplogroup are not Native, but are of European or Middle Eastern origin.

I entered the haplogroup in the FamilyTreeDNA Discover tool, which I wrote about, here.

Checking the information about this haplogroup reveals that their common ancestor descended from an Asian man about 30,000 years ago.

The migration path in the Americans explains why this person would have an endogamous heritage.

Our tester would receive a much more refined haplogroup if he upgraded to the Big Y test at FamilyTreeDNA, which would remove all doubt.

However, even without additional testing, information about his matches at FamilyTreeDNA may be very illuminating.

The Q-M242 Native man’s Y DNA matches men with more granular haplogroups, shown above, at left. On the Haplogroup Origins report, you can see that these people have all selected the “US (Native American)” country option.

Another useful tool would be to check the public Y haplotree, here, and the public mitochondrial tree here, for self-reported ancestor location information for a specific haplogroup.

Here’s an example of mitochondrial haplogroup A2 and a few subclades on the public mitochondrial tree. You can see that the haplogroup is found in Mexico, the US (Native,) Canada, and many additional Caribbean, South, and Central American countries.

Of course, Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tell a laser-focused story of one specific line, each. The great news, if you’re seeking information about your mother or father, the Y is your father’s direct paternal (surname) line, and mitochondrial is your mother’s direct matrilineal line.

Y and mitochondrial DNA results combined with ethnicity, autosomal matching, and the wide range of other tools that open doors, you will be able to reveal a great deal of information about whether you have endogamous heritage or not – and if so, from where.

I’ve provided a resource for stepping through and interpreting your Y DNA results, here, and mitochondrial DNA, here.

Discover for Y DNA Only

If you’re a female, you may feel left out of Y DNA testing and what it can tell you about your heritage. However, there’s a back door.

You can utilize the Y DNA haplogroups of your closest autosomal matches at both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe to reveal information

Haplogroup information is available in the download files for both vendors, in addition to the Family Finder table view, below, at FamilyTreeDNA, or on your individual matches profile cards at both 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA.

You can enter any Y DNA haplogroup in the FamilyTreeDNA Discover tool, here.

You’ll be treated to:

  • Your Haplogroup Story – how many testers have this haplogroup (so far), where the haplogroup is from, and the haplogroup’s age. In this case, the haplogroup was born in the Netherlands about 250 years ago, give or take 200 years. I know that it was 1806 or earlier based on the common ancestor of the men who tested.
  • Country Frequency – heat map of where the haplogroup is found in the world.
  • Notable Connections – famous and infamous (this haplogroup’s closest notable person is Leo Tolstoy).
  • Migration Map – migration path out of Africa and through the rest of the world.
  • Ancient Connections – ancient burials. His closest ancient match is from about 1000 years ago in Ukraine. Their shared ancestor lived about 2000 years ago.
  • Suggested Projects – based on the surname, projects that other matches have joined, and haplogroups.
  • Scientific Details – age estimates, confidence intervals, graphs, and the mutations that define this haplogroup.

I wrote about the Discover tool in the article, FamilyTreeDNA DISCOVER Launches – Including Y DNA Haplogroup Ages.

Endogamy Tools Summary Tables

Endogamy is a tough nut sometimes, especially if you’re starting from scratch. In order to make this topic a bit easier and to create a reference tool for you, I’ve created three summary tables.

  • Various endogamy-related tools available at each vendor which will or may assist with evaluating endogamy
  • Tools and their ability to detect endogamy in different groups
  • Tools best suited to assist people seeking information about unknown parents or grandparents

Summary of Endogamy Tools by Vendor

Please note that GEDMatch is not a DNA testing vendor, but they accept uploads and do have some tools that the testing vendors do not.

 Tool 23andMe Ancestry FamilyTreeDNA MyHeritage GEDMatch
Ethnicity Yes Yes Yes Yes Use the vendors
Ethnicity Painting Yes + segments Yes, limited Yes + segments Yes
Ethnicity Phasing Yes Partial Yes No
DNA Communities No Yes No No
Genetic Groups No No No Yes
Family Matching aka Bucketing No No Yes No
Chromosome Browser Yes No Yes Yes Yes
AutoClusters Through Genetic Affairs No Through Genetic Affairs Yes, included Yes, with subscription
Match List Download Yes, restricted # of matches No Yes Yes Yes
Projects No No Yes No
Y DNA High-level haplogroup only No Yes, full haplogroup with Big Y, matching, tools, Discover No
Mitochondrial DNA High-level haplogroup only No Yes, full haplogroup with mtFull, matching, tools No
Public Y Tree No No Yes No
Public Mito Tree No No Yes No
Discover Y DNA – public No No Yes No
ROH No No No No Yes

Summary of Endogamous Populations Identified by Each Tool

The following chart provides a guideline for which tools are useful for the following types of endogamous groups. Bolded tools require that both parents be descended from the same endogamous group, but several other tools give more definitive results with higher amounts of endogamy.

Y and mitochondrial DNA testing are not affected by admixture, autosomal DNA or anything from the “other” parent.

Tool Jewish Acadian Anabaptist Native Other/General
Ethnicity Yes No No Yes Pacific Islander
Ethnicity Painting Yes No No Yes Pacific Islander
Ethnicity Phasing Yes, if different No No Yes, if different Pacific Islander, if different
DNA Communities Yes Possibly Possibly Yes Pacific Islander
Genetic Groups Yes Possibly Possibly Yes Pacific Islander
Family Matching aka Bucketing Yes Yes Possibly Yes Pacific Islander
Chromosome Browser Possibly Possibly Yes, once segments or ancestors identified Possibly Pacific Islander, possibly
Total Matches Yes, compared to non-endogamous No No No No, unknown
AutoClusters Yes Yes Uncertain, probably Yes Pacific Islander
Estimated Relationships High Not always Sometimes No Sometimes Uncertain, probably
Relationship Range High Possibly, sometimes Possibly Possibly Possibly Pacific Islander, possibly
More, Smaller Segments Yes Yes Probably Yes Pacific Islander, probably
Parents Related Some but minimal Possibly Uncertain Probably similar to Jewish Uncertain, Possibly
Surnames Probably Probably Probably Not Possibly Possibly
Locations Possibly Probably Probably Not Probably Probably Pacific Islander
Projects Probably Probably Possibly Possibly Probably Pacific Islander
Y DNA Yes, often Yes, often No Yes Pacific Islander
Mitochondrial DNA Yes, often Sometimes No Yes Pacific Islander
Y public tree Probably not alone No No Yes Pacific Islander
MtDNA public tree Probably not No No Yes Pacific Islander
Y DNA Discover Yes Possibly Probably not, maybe projects Yes Pacific Islander

Summary of Endogamy Tools to Assist People Seeking Unknown Parents and Grandparents

This table provides a summary of when each of the various tools can be useful to:

  • People seeking unknown close relatives
  • People who already know who their close relatives are, but are seeking additional information or clues about their genealogy

I considered rating these on a 1 to 10 scale, but the relative usefulness of these tools is dependent on many factors, so different tools will be more or less useful to different people.

For example, ethnicity is very useful if someone is admixed from different populations, or even 100% of a specific endogamous population. It’s less useful if the tester is 100% European, regardless of whether they are seeking close relatives or not. Conversely, even “vanilla” ethnicity can be used to rule out majority or recent admixture with many populations.

Tools Unknown Close Relative Seekers Known Close Relatives – Enhance Genealogy
Ethnicity Yes, to identify or rule out populations Yes
Ethnicity Painting Yes, possibly, depending on population Yes, possibly, depending on population
Ethnicity Phasing Yes, possibly, depending on population Yes, possibly, depending on population
DNA Communities Yes, possibly, depending on population Yes, possibly, depending on population
Genetic Groups Possibly, depending on population Possibly, depending on population
Family Matching aka Bucketing Not if parents are entirely unknown, but yes if one parent is known Yes
Chromosome Browser Unlikely Yes
AutoClusters Yes Yes, especially at MyHeritage if Jewish
Estimated Relationships High Not No
Relationship Range High Not reliably No
More, Smaller Segments Unlikely Unlikely other than confirmation
Match List Download Yes Yes
Surnames Yes Yes
Locations Yes Yes
Projects Yes Yes
Y DNA Yes, males only, direct paternal line, identifies surname lineage Yes, males only, direct paternal line, identifies and correctly places surname lineage
Mitochondrial DNA Yes, both sexes, direct matrilineal line only Yes, both sexes, direct matrilineal line only
Public Y Tree Yes for locations Yes for locations
Public Mito Tree Yes for locations Yes for locations
Discover Y DNA Yes, for heritage information Yes, for heritage information
Parents Related – ROH Possibly Less useful

Acknowledgments

A HUGE thank you to several people who contributed images and information in order to provide accurate and expanded information on the topic of endogamy. Many did not want to be mentioned by name, but you know who you are!!!

If you have information to add, please post in the comments.

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In Search of…Vendor Features, Strengths, and Testing Strategies

This is the third in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied to ancestors further back in time too.

In this article, we are going to discuss your goals and why testing or uploading to multiple vendors is advantageous – even if you could potentially solve the initial mystery at one vendor. Of course, the vendor you test with first might not be the vendor where the mystery will be solved, and data from multiple vendors might just be the combination you need.

Testing Strategy – You Might Get Lucky

I recommended in the first article that you go ahead and test at the different vendors.

Some people asked why, and specifically, why you wouldn’t just test at one vendor with the largest database first, then proceed to the others if you needed to.

That’s a great question, and I want to discuss the pros and cons in this article more specifically.

Clearly, that is one strategy, but the approach you select might differ based on a variety of considerations:

  • You may only be interested in obtaining the name of the person you are seeking – or – you may be interested in finding out as much as possible.
  • You may find that your best match at one company is decidedly unhelpful, and may even block you or your efforts, while someone elsewhere may be exactly the opposite.
  • Solving your mystery may be difficult and painful at one vendor, but the answer may be infinitely easier at a different vendor where the answer may literally be waiting.
  • There may not be enough, or the right information, or matches, at any one vendor, but the puzzle may be solvable by combining information from multiple vendors and tests. Every little bit helps.
  • You may have a sense of urgency, especially if you hope to meet the person and you’re searching for parents, siblings or grandparents who may be aging.
  • You may be cost-sensitive and cannot afford more than one test at a time. Fortunately, our upload strategy helps with that too. Also, watch for vendor sales or bundles.

From the time you order your DNA test, it will be about 6-8 weeks, give or take a week or two in either direction, before you receive results.

When those results arrive, you might get lucky, and the answer you seek is immediately evident with no additional work and just waiting for you at the first testing company.

If that’s the case, you got lucky and hit the jackpot. If you’re searching for both parents, that means you still have one parent to go.

Unidentified grandparents can be a little more difficult, because there are four of them to sort between.

If you discover a sibling or half-sibling, you still need to figure out who your common parent is. Sometimes X, Y, and mitochondrial DNA provides an immediate answer and is invaluable in these situations.

It’s more likely that you’ll find a group of somewhat more distant relatives. You may be able to figure out who your common grandparents or great-grandparents are, but not your parent(s) initially. Often, the closer generation or two is actually the most difficult because you’re dealing with contemporary records which are not publicly available, fewer descendants, and the topic may be very uncomfortable for some people. It’s also complicated because you’re often not dealing with “full” relationships, but “half,” as in half-sibling, half-niece, half-1C, etc.

You may spend a substantial amount of time trying to solve this puzzle at the first vendor before ordering your next test.

That second test will also take about 6-8 weeks, give or take. I recommend that you order the first two autosomal tests, now.

Order Your First Two Autosomal Tests

The two testing companies with the largest autosomal databases for comparison, Ancestry, and 23andMe, DO NOT accept DNA file uploads from other companies, so you’ll need to test with each individually.

Fortunately, you CAN transfer your autosomal DNA tests to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, for free.

You will have different matches at each company. Some people will be far more responsive and helpful than others.

I recommend that you go ahead and order both the Ancestry and 23andMe tests initially, then upload the first one that comes back with results to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. Complete, step-by-step download/upload instructions can be found here.

You can also upload your DNA file to a fifth company, Living DNA, but they are significantly smaller and heavily focused on England and Great Britain. However, if that’s where you’re searching, this might be where you find important matches.

You can also upload to GEDMatch, a popular third-party database, but since you’re going to be in the databases of the four major testing companies, there is little to be gained at GEDMatch in terms of people who have not tested at one of the major companies. Do NOT upload to GEDMatch INSTEAD of testing or uploading to the four major sites, as GEDMatch only has a small fraction of the testers in each of the vendor databases.

What GEDMatch does offer is a chromosome browser – something that Ancestry does NOT offer, along with other clustering tools which you may find useful. I recommend GEDMatch in addition to the others, if needed or desired.

Ordering Y and Mitochondrial DNA Tests

We reviewed the basics of the different kinds of DNA, here.

Some people have asked why, if autosomal DNA shows relatives on all of your lines, would one would want to order specific tests that focus on just one line?

It just so happens that the two lines that Y and mitochondrial DNA test ARE the two lines you’re seeking – direct maternal – your mother (and her mother), and direct paternal, your father (and his father.)

These two tests are different kinds of DNA tests, testing a different type of DNA, and provide very focused information, and matches, not available from autosomal DNA tests.

For men, Y DNA can reveal your father’s surname, which can be an invaluable clue in narrowing paternal candidates. Knowing that my brother’s Y DNA matched several men with the surname of Priest made me jump for joy when he matched a woman of that same last name at another vendor.

Here’s a quote from one of the members of a Y DNA project where I’m the volunteer administrator:

“Thank you for your help understanding and using all 4 kinds of my DNA results. By piecing the parts together, I identified my father. Specifically, without Y DNA testing, and the Big Y test, I would not have figured out my parental connection, and then that my paternal line had been assigned to the wrong family. STR testing gave me the correct surname, but the Big Y test showed me exactly where I fit, and disproved that other line. I’m now in touch with my father, and we both know who our relatives are – two things that would have never happened otherwise.”

If you fall into the category of, “I want to know everything I can now,” then order both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests initially, along with those two autosomal tests.

You will need to order Y (males only) and mitochondrial DNA tests separately from the autosomal Family Finder test, although you should order on the same account as your Family Finder test at FamilyTreeDNA.

If you take the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA or upload your autosomal results from another vendor, you can simply select to add the Y and mitochondrial DNA tests to your account, and they will send you a swab kit.

Conversely, you can order either a Y or mitochondrial DNA test, and then add a Family Finder or upload a DNA file if you’ve already taken an autosomal DNA test to that account too. Note – these might not be current prices – check here for sales.

You will want all 3 of your tests on the same account so that you can use the Advanced Matches feature.

Using Advanced Matches, you’ll be able to view people who match you on combinations of multiple kinds of tests.

For example, if you’re a male, you can see if your Y DNA matches also match you on the Family Finder autosomal test, and if so, how closely?

Here’s an example.

In this case, I requested matches to men with 111 markers who also match the tester on the Family Finder test. I discovered both a father and a full sibling, plus a few more distant matches. There were ten total combined matches to work with, but I’ve only shown five for illustration purposes.

This information is worth its weight in gold.

Is the Big Y Test Worth It?

People ask if the Big Y test is really worth the extra money.

The answer is, “it depends.”

If all you’re looking for are matching surnames, then the answer is probably no. A 37 or 111 marker test will probably suffice. Eventually, you’ll probably want to do the Big Y, though.

If you’re looking for exact placement on the tree, with an estimated distance to other men who have taken that test, then the answer is, “absolutely.” I wish the Big Y test had been available back when I was hunting for my brother’s biological family.

The Big Y test provides a VERY specific haplogroup and places you very accurately in your location on the Y DNA tree, along with other men of your line, assuming they have tested. You may find the surname, as well as being placed within a generation or a few of current in that family line.

Additionally, the Discover page provides estimates of how far in the past you share a common ancestor with other people that share the same haplogroup. This can be a HUGE boon to a male trying to figure out his surname line and how closely in time he’s related to his matches.

Big Y NPE Examples

Y DNA SNP mutations tested with the Big Y test accrue a mutation about every generation, or so. Sometimes we see mutations in every generation.

Here’s an example from my Campbell line. Haplogroups are listed in the top three rows.

I created this spreadsheet, but FamilyTreeDNA provides a block tree for Big Y testers. I’ve added the genealogy of the testers, with the various Big Y testers at the bottom and common ancestors above, in bold.

We have two red NPE lines showing. The MacFarlane tester matches M. Campbell VERY closely, and two Clark males match W. Campbell and other Campbells quite closely. We utilized autosomal plus the Y results to determine where the unknown parentage events occurred. Today, if you’re a Clark or MacFarlane male, or a male by any other surname who was fathered by a Y chromosome Campbell male (by any surname), you’ll know exactly where you fit in this group of testers on your direct paternal line.

Y DNA is important because men often match other men with the same surname, which is a HUGE clue, especially in combination with autosomal DNA results. I say “often,” because it’s possible that no one in your line has tested, or that your father’s surname is not his biological surname either.

Y and mitochondrial DNA matches can be HUGELY beneficial pieces of information either by confirming a close autosomal relationship on that line, or eliminating the possibility.

Lineage-Specific Population Information

In addition to matching other people, both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests provide you with lineage-specific population or “ethnicity” information for this specific line which helps you focus your research.

For example, if you view the Y DNA Haplogroup Origins shown for this tester, you’ll discover that these matches are Jewish.

The tester might not be Jewish on any other genealogical line, but they definitely have Jewish ancestry on their Y DNA, paternal, line.

The same holds true for mitochondrial DNA as well. The main difference with mitochondrial DNA is that the surname changes with each generation, haplogroups today (pre-Million Mito) are less specific, and fewer people have been tested.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA Benefits

Knowing your Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups not only arm you with information about yourself, they provide you with matching tools and an avenue to include or exclude people as your direct line paternal or maternal ancestors.

Your Y and mitochondrial DNA can also provide CRITICALLY IMPORTANT information about whether that direct line ancestor belonged to an endogamous population, and where they came from.

For example, both Jewish and Native populations are endogamous populations, meaning highly intermarried for many generations into the past.

Knowing that helps you adjust your autosomal relationship analysis.

Why Order Multiple Tests Initially Instead of Waiting?

If you’ve been adding elapsed time, two autosomal tests (Ancestry and 23andMe), two uploads (to FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage,) a Y DNA test, and a mitochondrial DNA test, if all purchased serially, one following the other, means you’ll be waiting approximately 6-8 months.

Do you want to wait 6-8 months for all of your results? Can you afford to?

Part of this answer has to do with what, exactly, you’re seeking, and how patient you are.

Only you can answer that question.

A Name or Information?

Are you seeking the name or identity of a person, or are you seeking information about that person?

Most people don’t just want to put a name to the person they are seeking – they want to learn about them and the rest of the family that door opens.

You will have different matches at each company. Even after you identify the person you seek, the people you match may have trees you can view, with family photos and other important information. (Remember, you can’t see living people in trees.) Your matches may have first-person information about your relative and may know them if they are living, or have known them.

Furthermore, you may have the opportunity to meet that person. Time delayed may not be able to be recovered or regained.

One cousin that I assisted discovered that his father had died just six weeks before he broke through that wall and made the connection.

Working with data from all vendors simultaneously will allow you to combine that data and utilize it together. Using your “best” matches at each company, augmented by X, Y, and/or mitochondrial DNA, can make MUCH shorter work of this search.

Your closest autosomal matches are the most important and insightful. In this series, I will be working with the top 15 autosomal results at each vendor, at least initially. This approach provides me with the best chance of meaningful close relationship discoveries.

Data and Vendor Results Integration

Here’s a table of my two closest maternal and paternal matches at the four major vendors. I can assign these to maternal or paternal sides, because I know the identity of my parents, and I know some of these people. If an adoptee was doing this, the top 4 could all be from one parent, which is why we work with the top 15 or so matches.

Vendor Closest Maternal Closest Paternal Comments
Ancestry 1C, 1C1R Half-1C, 2C I recognized both of the maternal and neither of the paternal.
23andMe 2C, 2C 1C1R, half-gr-niece Recognized both maternal, one paternal
MyHeritage Mother uploaded, 1C Half-niece, half-1C Recognized both maternal, one paternal
FamilyTreeDNA Mother tested, 1C1R Parent/child, half-gr-niece uploaded Recognized all 4

To be clear, I tested my mother’s mitochondrial DNA before she passed away, but because FamilyTreeDNA archives DNA samples for 25 years, as the owner/manager of her DNA kit, I was able to order the Family Finder test after she had passed away. Her tests are invaluable today.

Then, years later, I uploaded her results to MyHeritage.

If I was an adopted child searching for my mother, I would find her results in both databases today. She’ll never be at either 23andMe or Ancestry because she passed away before she could test there and they don’t accept uploads.

Looking at the other vendors, my half-niece at MyHeritage is my paternal half-sibling’s daughter. My half-sibling is deceased, so this is as close as I’ll ever get to matching her.

At 23andMe, the half-great-niece is my half-siblings grandchild.

It’s interesting that I have no matches to descendants of my other half-sibling, who is also deceased. Maybe I should ask if any of his children or grandchildren have tested. Hmmmm…..

You can see that I stand a MUCH BETTER chance of figuring out close relatives using the combined closest matches of all four databases instead of the top matches from just one database. It doesn’t matter if the database is large if the right person or people didn’t test there.

Combine Resources

I’ll be providing analysis methodologies for working with results from all of the vendors together, just in case your answer is not immediately obvious. Taking multiple DNA tests facilitates using all of these tools immediately, not months later. Solving the puzzle sooner means you may not miss valuable opportunities.

You may also discover that the door slams shut with some people, or they may not respond to your queries, but another match may be unbelievably helpful. Don’t limit your possibilities.

Let’s take a look at the strengths of each vendor.

Vendor Strengths and Things to Know

Every vendor has product strengths and idiosyncracies that the others do not. All vendors provide matches and shared matches. Each vendor provides ethnicity tools which certainly can be useful, but the features differ and will be covered elsewhere.

  • AncestryAncestry has the largest autosomal database and includes ThruLines, but no Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, no clusters, no chromosome browser, no triangulation, and no X chromosome matching or reporting. Ancestry provides genealogical records, advanced tools, and full tree access to your matches’ trees with an Ancestry subscription. Ancestry does not allow downloading your match list or segment match information, but the other vendors do.
  • 23andMe 23andMe has the second largest database. They provide triangulation and genetic trees that include your closest matches. Many people test at 23andMe for health and wellness information, so 23andMe has people in their database who are not specifically interested in genealogy and probably won’t have tested elsewhere, but may be invaluable to your search. 23andMe provides Y and mtDNA high-level haplogroups only, but no matching or other haplogroup information. If you purchase a new test or have a V5 ancestry+health current test, you can expand your matches from a limit of 1500 to about 5000 with an annual membership. For seeking close relatives, you don’t need those features, but you may want them for genealogy. 23andMe is the only vendor that limits their customers’ matches.
  • MyHeritageMyHeritage has the third largest database that includes lots of European testers. MyHeritage provides triangulation, Theories of Family Relativity, and an integrated cluster tool* but does not report X matches and does not offer Y or mitochondrial DNA testing. MyHeritage accepts autosomal DNA file uploads from other testing companies for free and provides access to advanced DNA features for a one-time unlock fee. MyHeritage includes genealogical records and full feature access to advanced DNA tools with a Complete Subscription. (Free 15 days trial subscription, here.)
  • FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder (autosomal)FamilyTreeDNA is the oldest DNA testing company, meaning their database includes people who initially tested 20+ years ago and have since passed away. This, in essence, gets you one generation further back in time, with the possibility of stronger matches. Their Family Matching feature buckets and triangulates your matches, assigning them to your maternal or paternal sides if you link known matches to their proper place in your tree, even if your parents have not tested. FamilyTreeDNA accepts uploads from other testing companies for free and provides advanced DNA features for a one time unlock fee.
  • FamilyTreeDNAFamilyTreeDNA is the only company that offers both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing products that include matching, integration with autosomal test results, and other tools. These two tests are lineage-specific and don’t have to be sorted from your other ancestral lines.

I wrote about using Y DNA results, here.

I wrote about using mitochondrial DNA results, here.

*Third parties such as Genetic Affairs provide clustering tools for both 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. Clustering is integrated at MyHeritage. Ancestry does not provide a tool for nor allow third-party clustering. If the answer you seek isn’t immediately evident, Genetic Affairs clustering tools group people together who are related to each other, and you, and create both genetic and genealogical trees based on shared matches. You can read more about their tools, here.

Fish in all the Ponds and Use All the Bait Possible

Here’s the testing and upload strategy I recommend, based on the above discussion and considerations. The bottom line is this – if you want as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, order the four tests in red initially. Then transfer the first autosomal test results you receive to the two companies identified in blue. Optionally, GEDMatch may have tools you want to work with, but they aren’t a testing company.

What When Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage FamilyTreeDNA
Order autosomal Initially X X    
Order Y 111 or Big-Y DNA test if male Initially       X
Order mitochondrial DNA test Initially if desired       X
Upload free autosomal When Ancestry or 23andMe results are available     X X
Unlock Advanced Tools When you upload     $29 $19
Optional GEDMatch free upload If desired, can subscribe for advanced tools

When you upload an autosomal DNA file to a vendor site, only upload one file per site, per tester. Otherwise, multiple tests simply glom up everyone’s match list with multiple matches to the same person.

Multiple vendor sites will hopefully provide multiple close matches, which increase your opportunity to discover INFORMATION about your family, not just the identity of the person you seek.

Or maybe you prefer to wait and order these DNA tests serially, waiting until one set of results is back and you’re finished working with them before ordering the next one. If so, that means you’re a MUCH more patient person than me. 😊

Our next article in this series will be about endogamy, how to know if it applies to you, and what that means to your search.

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Barbara Sing, Seng or Sang (1645-1686), Childbirth Claimed Her – 52 Ancestors #364

Barbara Sing, Seng or Sang was born in Endersbach, Germany in 1645 to Hans Sing/Sang and Barbara Eckardt.

She was surely baptized in the church there, but records don’t exist from the period of the Thirty Years’ War.

Endersbach is just a mile and a quarter up the road from Beutelsbach.

There seemed to be a lot of interaction and intermarriage occurring between Beutelsbach and Endersbach families.

It’s interesting that while, according to the local heritage book, her father, Hans Sang was born in Endersbach, Barbara was the only one of her siblings born there.

Her mother, Barbara Eckardt was born in Beutelsbach, so clearly, the couple chose to live there after their marriage.

The fact that only one child was born in Endersbach, and that birth was during the 30 Years War makes me wonder if the family had to seek refuge in Endersbach during that timeframe.

The Beutelsbach records resume in 1646. We find Barbara’s younger sibling born in Beutelsbach on March 6, 1648. It’s possible that Barbara had a sibling born between 1645 and 1648 in Endersbach or elsewhere.

During the war, record-keeping either wasn’t possible or didn’t bubble up to the top of the priority list when simple survival was a struggle. The people had been brutalized by marauding armies and soldiers for, literally, 30 years – more than a generation. Farms, villages, and entire cities were burned, and their fields ruined. Food was scarce and no one was ever safe.

We know that Barbara was raised in Beutelsbach from 1648 forward, so from the time she was about three years old.

Martin Goll, historian and Beutelsbach resident tells us that Barbara was the daughter of Hans Sang who was a butcher and quite wealthy, at least comparatively, after the Thirty Years War.

8 Marktplatz

The Hans Sang home and butcher shop was located at 8 Marktplatz in Beutelsbach which still exists today, adjacent the fortified gate of the Beutelsbach church.

The home of Barbara’s beau and future husband, Hans Lenz, the son of another wealthy merchant was only 100 feet or so distant at Stiftstrasse 17..

The church, of course, was both the center of Beutelsbach and the center of the community. Having a shop near the church assured that parishioners would pass by your door several times a week.

Having the shop right next to the steps of the fortified tower entrance to the church assured that no one would forget to purchase meats. Today, someone would be out front giving samples and coupons to hungry parishioners after Sunday services😊.

In this photo of the church and tower, the building connected to the tower on the right, directly in front of the white automobile, is the Sing home, 8 Marktplatz.

We are fortunate to have a drawing of Beutelsbach from 1760.

The round fortified tower is visible to the right of the road, with the first house attached to that tower being the Sang home, pointed out by the yellow arrow. The Lenz home is the red arrow, as best I can tell.

This postcard from 1916 shows the gate, church, and adjacent buildings as well. I wonder if the drawing was from an earlier era.

Literally, everyone going to church passed by the door of the butcher shop.

Most villages only had one person practicing any profession, so Hans Sang was probably the only game in town anyway. I hope he did the actual butchering elsewhere, or at least not during church services.

Perhaps the good smells from the Lenz bakery a few feet away helped to overcome the odors emanating from the butcher’s shop which would have been attached to their home. Yes indeed, much more desirable to be the baker’s child.

Marriage

Barbara Sing married Hans Lenz on February 23, 1669, in Beutelsbach, in the church right next to her home.

Sharon Hockensmith took this photo inside the church when she was visiting. I don’t know how much of the interior was the same in 1669, but we can rest assured that the primary structure didn’t change. The choir loft, organ, and windows are likely original.

We don’t know if the custom of the time was to be married in the church proper, or in the adjacent parsonage. Regardless, Barbara and Hans would have attended this church every Sunday during their marriage, except when war, danger, childbirth, or illness interfered.

They probably saw this exact same scene hundreds of times, only with people dressed in clothing of their period.

Children

Barbara’s parents and in-laws were apparently both wealthy, but money can’t buy everything. In fact, it can’t purchase the things we cherish most in life.

Barbara and Hans had 11 children, beginning with their first child who was born in the late fall of 1669.

  • Anna Katharina Lenz was born on November 19, 1669, and married Simon Dendler, a widower from Schnait, on November 30, 1693, in Beutelsbach. However, Martin found no children in the church records. We don’t know what happened to Anna Katharina. They could have moved away and had children elsewhere.
  • Margaretha Lenz was born on January 24, 1671, and died July 13, 1678, in Beutelsbach, only 7 years old.
  • Barbara Lenz was born on March 10, 1672, and died July 11, 1678, two days before her sister, Margaretha. She was 6 years old.

These two sisters passing away two days apart tell us that either there was a communicable illness being passed around, or there was an outbreak of dysentery or something similar. As the only non-infant girls in the family, they probably slept together.

It may not have been a coincidence that the next year, 1679, saw a massive outbreak of plague. We know that malaria was present in Europe in 1678, having arrived on ships from Africa, but Beutelsbach is not a port city. I can’t help but wonder who else in the family was ill, and how many more Beutelsbach residents died in the summer of 1678.

Barbara, four months pregnant at the time, must have been heartbroken, losing her two little girls just two days apart.

  • Johann Georg Lenz was born on February 21, 1674, and died on April 2, 1758, in Beutelsbach of old age at 84. He married Sibilla Muller on February 2, 1698, also in Beutelsbach. After his parents passed away, he and Sibilla lived in the home place, continuing the vinedresser and vintner profession. Unfortunately, Johann George’s back was injured by falling stones. They had 8 children, 3 or 4 of whom lived to adulthood. Johann George and Sibilla are my ancestors.
  • Daniel Lenz was born November 14, 1675, and died November 7, 1758, seven months after his older brother. He married Anna Katharina Lang in 1702 and they had 8 children, 3 of whom lived to adulthood. Daniel was a vintner as well, but was described as having “stupid eyes” which likely meant he was either partially blind or cross-eyed. He did field work, fell down from an apple tree, and nearly died another time from choking on his own blood. Daniel couldn’t read but was an avid churchgoer and seemed to have a good life in spite of having “stupid eyes.”
  • Elisabetha Lenz was born July 27, 1677, and no death or marriage records are found for her, nor are any children’s baptismal records. She likely died young. I wonder if she died in the same outbreak that took her two sisters in July of 1678.
  • Anna Maria Lenz was born December 19, 1678, and died May 5, 1721, in Beutelsbach from a tumor. I’d love to know what kind of a tumor. She married Hans Jakob Bechtel about 1698. He was a baker, then a judge, and eventually, mayor. They had 12 children, 6 of whom lived to adulthood.
  • Johann Jakob Lenz, a vinedresser and vintner, was born April 19, 1680, and died on May 6, 1744, in Beutelsbach of “high-temperature gastric fever” which was probably dysentery, also known as “bloody flux.” He married Anna Katharina Knodler in 1717 in Grunbach. They had 8 children, of which two lived to adulthood. Two others died as young adults before marrying. Their last child was listed as “simple” at his baptism and likely did not survive.
  • Philip Lenz was born on November 2, 1681, and died September 24, 1737, in Beutelsbach at 56 years of age of melancholy. He was a vintner and married Justina Bohringer in 1716. They had 5 children, of whom 2 lived to adulthood and one died as a young adult of heatstroke.
  • Martin Lenz was born November 11, 1683, and died a few days later on November 27th.
  • Barbara Lenz, the last child, probably named for her mother, was born July 2, 1686. She died 25 days later, on July 27th, 17 days after her mother. Clearly, complications of childbirth took both mother and child.

Of the 41 grandchildren we know were born to Barbara, only 16 or 17 survived to adulthood. That’s a 61% mortality rate, meaning almost two-thirds of the children didn’t live to marriage age.

The Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper is merciless.

Barbara Sing died on July 10, 1686. We don’t know why, other than it was assuredly something to do with childbirth. It could have been Puerperal Fever, also known as childbed fever, which can lead to blood poisoning. However, her death could also have been a result of a hemorrhage, internal damage, or loss of a large amount of blood.

Given that the child died too, I’d be inclined to think that perhaps childbed fever was the culprit as a result of a long labor. The long labor could have caused the child’s death as well, especially if something went wrong, such as a breach birth.

Regardless, Barbara was gone. She was only 40 or 41 years old, and left several children behind.

  • Katherina was 17
  • Johann George was 12
  • Daniel was 10
  • Elisabetha, if she was living, would have turned 9 on the day her new sister, Barbara, died
  • Anna Maria was 7
  • Johann Jakob was 6
  • Philipp was 4

Barbara had to wonder, as she was desperately ill, who would raise her children?

Who would kiss their boo-boos?

Who would take care of them?

Fix their favorite foods?

Hold and comfort them?

Who would love them the way she loved them?

Would they remember her?

What about her newborn baby? Would she survive? How, without her mother’s milk?

And what was her husband, Hans, to do?

How could he possibly tend the vineyards, press the grapes, produce wine and maintain his business selling wines while looking after 7 or 8 children?

He couldn’t exactly take all the children to the fields with him, especially not a baby.

Those questions cross the mind of every mother from time to time. However, in Barbara’s case, this was very real and pressing – not an abstract thought.

Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper visited all too often in the days before antibiotics and modern medicine.

The good news, or bad news, or both, was that there were others in the same situation. Joining forces made sense.

A Step-Mother for Barbara’s Children

Barbara didn’t exactly get to select her successor – the woman who would raise her children after she could no longer do so.

Hans waited a respectable amount of time before remarrying, 12 months to be exact. The banns had to be posted for 3 weeks, and the minister would have posted and read the marriage banns on the first Sunday following the 1-year anniversary of Barbara’s death, inviting anyone who had any knowledge of why the couple shouldn’t marry to come forth.

On August 2, 1687, Hans married Barbara Roller(in) who was the widow of Sebastian Heubach from Endersbach. Barbara was born in 1748, so she would have been 39 years old when she married Hans. However, we find no children born to them, nor do I find any record of children born from her first marriage either, which occurred in 1672.

If Barbara already had children, she and Hans joined their families when they wed. If not, then perhaps Barbara welcomed the opportunity to become a mother and love the first Barbara Lenz’s children.

Step-parents are the parents who choose us.

Mitochondrial DNA Candidates

Mitochondrial DNA is a special type of DNA passed from mothers to their children, but only passed on by daughters. It’s never admixed with the DNA of the father, so it is passed on essentially unchanged, except for an occasional small mutation, for thousands of years. Those small mutations are what make this DNA both genealogically useful and provide a key to the past.

By looking at Barbara’s mitochondrial DNA, we can tell where her ancestors came from by evaluating information provided by the trail of tiny mutations.

Only one of Barbara’s daughters, Anna Maria who married Hans Jakob Bechtel (Bechthold,) is known to have lived to have children. Although, if two other daughters lived, it’s possible that either Anna Katharina (born 1669) or Elisabetha (born 1677) married and had children elsewhere.

Anna Maria Lenz Bechtel had two daughters who lived to adulthood, but only one married.

  • Anna Maria Bechtel was born in 1715 and married Jakob Siebold/Seybold of Grunbach. Their children were all born in Remshalden.
    • Anna Maria Seybold was born  in 1737 and married Johann Jacob Lenz in 1761, children unknown
    • Regina Dorothea Seybold was born in 1741, married Johann Wolfgang Bassler in 1765, and had one known daughter.
      • Johanna Bassler was born in 1785, married Johannes Wacker in 1814, and had three daughters, Johanna Elisabetha (1818), Dorothea Catharina (1822), and Carolina Friederica (1825.)
    • Anna Catharina Seybold born in 1751 married Johann Leonhard Wacker in 1813 in Remshalden. No known daughters.
    • Elisabeth Seybold born in 1752 married Johann Michael Weyhmuller in 1780 in Remshalden and had three daughters who lived to adulthood, married, and had daughters.
      • Anna Maria Weyhmuller born 1785, married Eberhard Sigmund Escher from Esslingen in 1807, but children are unknown.
      • Regina Dorothea Weyhmueller born 1787 and married Salomo Dautel in 1814 in Remshaulden. They immigrated to America in 1817, location and children unknown.
      • Elisabetha Weyhmueller born in 1792 and had daughter Jakobine Hottmann in 1819 with Daniel Hottmann. She then married Wilhelm Friedrich Espenlaub and had Josephina Friederika Espenlaub in 1830. Children unknown.

For anyone who descends from Barbara Sing through all females to the current generation, which can be male, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you.

Please reach out! Let’s see what we can discover about Barbara together!

_____________________________________________________________

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You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

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You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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 Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research