Mothers, Weddings and a Lobster, 52 Ancestors #160

To celebrate this Mother’s Day, I decided to create a composite of weddings of the women in my matrilineal line. I feel a special affinity for this line, because not only does it include my mother who I miss dearly, and my grandmother, who I knew as a child, but these women passed their mitochondrial DNA to me.

Weddings, in families, mark the boundaries of generations and often, at least historically, the passage into adulthood. These happy events are celebrated by family gatherings that create lasting memories. Today’s wedding culture has become an industry, but weddings weren’t always that way. Often, they were relatively quiet events, more practical than celebratory and limited to family. However, before the advent of cameras, we have no visual records, so the memories died with the attendees.

Sooo….I can hear you thinking, as you recollect some certain relative….maybe no visual records isn’t such a bad thing!

No worries because, today, that certainly isn’t the case.  Come along for a 5-generation jaunt through the bridal gallery of (some not so) well-behaved women. Let’s face it, there is always more to the story than meets the eye!

Nora Kirsch marries Curtis Benjamin Lore

My photographically preserved family bridal history begins with separate photos of Nora Kirsch and Curtis Benjamin Lore taken in Aurora Indiana when they married on January 18, 1888. Oral history tells us that Nora made her own wedding dress and descended the stairs into the parlor at her parents home, the Kirsch House, to marry Curtis.

Of course, the big secret is that Curtis was already married to someone else and let’s just say that this marriage was arranged by shotgun.  Given the choice of an angry estranged wife in Pennsylvania or sure and certain death at the hands of an angry father in Indiana, Curtis chose to get married and was divorced by the Pennsylvania wife a few months later.

Nora always modified her wedding date by a year so her children wouldn’t figure out about the shotgun circumstances.  No one counted on genealogists to dig up the family secrets.  You’re welcome, Nora!

These photos were clearly taken in a studio and there are no photos of the actual wedding. That’s REALLY unfortunate, because if there had been, Nora’s grandmother, Katharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch, five generations back for me, would have been in attendance and we would have a picture of her – which we don’t today. She passed away the following year.

Edith Lore marries John Whitney Ferverda

Twenty years later, less one day, Nora and Curtis’s daughter, Edith Barbara Lore married John Whitney Ferverda in the minister’s home on Friday evening, January 17, 1908, in Rushville, Indiana. This wedding was obviously very low key, probably because the bride’s father had been ill with both typhoid followed by tuberculosis, so there was no money for any kind of a wedding. Nora was supporting the family by sewing clothing and making alterations.

The groom’s family was Brethren, lived in northern Indiana, and was probably not pleased with his marriage outside the faith. The easiest thing to do? Marry quietly, most likely with her parents in attendance. The local newspaper carried the announcement the following day.

Nov. 18, 1908 – Miss. Edith Barbara Lore and Mr. John Whitney Ferveda were quietly married at the Presbyterian church parsonage in North Harrison Street last night by Rev. J. L. Cowling.

This photo of Edith was taken about that time.

This photo of John and Edith together was probably taken about 1920.  It’s one of very few of them together – maybe 3 total.

You can rest assured that Edith and John were both in attendance at the wedding of their son, Harold Lore Ferverda in either 1934 or 1939, but there were no photos of that wedding either.

Barbara Jean Ferverda marries Dan Bucher

Their daughter, my mother, Barbara Ferverda, married Daniel Bucher in 1943 when he was on leave from the Army, in the midst of WWII. And no, there are no photos of that wedding, but we can get close. I think these photos may actually have been taken on the leave when they got married and may have even been the day they married.  They too were married either by a Justice of the Peace or in a minister’s home.

I think they eloped, although that was never discussed nor any reasons why.  They married in Joliet, Illinois, no place near home and in the neighboring state. Another family secret floated to the surface.  You’re welcome, Mom!  Wink!!!

From things said later, I get the distinct impression that although they went together as “steadies” throughout high school, that this wedding was not planned much in advance. A lot of wartime marriages were rather spontaneous and happened prior to the man being shipped overseas.

Another Pictureless Wedding

Mother’s niece, Lore’s daughter, Nancy, married in 1958, and I desperately WISH there were photos of that wedding because both of my grandparents and my mother were in attendance. Why oh why oh why could there not have been photos????

John Bucher marries Karen Heckaman

The next family wedding was my brother, John Bucher and his wife Karen Heckaman when they married on September 2, 1962. I was crushed because I desperately wanted to be flower girl and wasn’t invited to attend.  Well, John, here’s to you.

I think this was the first and only suit my brother ever owned.

John’s wedding photo, above, includes the parents of the bride, at left, Karen and John, my mother in plaid, John’s father, Daniel Bucher and his wife, Betty.  I think Mom and Dan were trying, as gracefully as possible, to ignore each other.

Both of my grandparents had passed away within the past couple years, barely missing a wedding I know they would very much have wanted to attend.

My Turn

Several years later, I was married at home. You may notice that you can’t see mother’s left arm, hidden under mine. She had received third degree burns the day before on the toaster oven, but didn’t tell me until I arrived that day to get ready for the wedding. Her arm was bandaged at the hospital and she was taking pain medication. I had to help her dress. Poor Mom. Let’s just say she already wasn’t happy and this didn’t help the situation at all!

The best man, at far right, brother of the groom, wasn’t happy either, for a whole different set of reasons. Wedding drama extraordinaire!!! The memories of THAT day and the surrounding events would take a book and would have to be written as a novel because no one would believe it otherwise.

WWII interfered in my mother’s first marriage and sadly, Vietnam would interfere with mine.

Mom Remarries

Next, the generational tables were turned and it was mother who was getting married to my much-beloved step-father, Dean Long.

Karen and I are standing by Mom and Dean at the reception serving table in the basement of the church. No professional photography of course, but at least we had our own personal cameras and thankfully, a few of those photos still exist.

That day was eventful and memorable beyond anyone’s expectations.  That dark blue dress I’m wearing is a maternity dress and I spent the morning and early afternoon at the hospital with false labor pains.  In fact, the pains began at the hair dresser while Mom an I were getting our hair done, so she drove me to the hospital.  No stress here!

As soon as the doctor told me he thought the pains were “probably” false labor, I got up off the gurney and told the staff I had to leave because my mother, who had driven me to the hospital and was in the waiting room, very nervously pacing back and forth, was getting married in a couple hours.  There were several questioning and incredulous looks as I departed, but I was on my way out the door nonetheless.

I figured by that point that if the pains were real and not false, I had enough time to get through the wedding before I needed to get back to the hospital.

This picture makes me laugh, because it is reminiscent of “trimming the family.” No, I have NO idea what was trimmed out of this photo of Karen and me. There may have been water damage later when a tornado damaged the roof. I also don’t know who took this photo, but Mom was notorious for taking bad pictures – heads cut off, crooked – but at least she took them.  And with all the various stressors that day, she can certainly be forgiven.

The Little Country Church

Let’s fast forward more than a decade to my second marriage which took place in a beautiful old-fashioned little church.

This time, we did have professional photography, a first in my family, BUT, the photographer’s camera malfunctioned and only photos taken before the ceremony survived.

This is my absolutely favorite photo of my step-father and one of my all-time favorite photos ever. He and I were devoted to each other and I could not have loved a father-of-blood more. His daughter, who was my age, died as an infant, on Christmas no less.

One day, this man of very few words walked past me sitting in his chair at the kitchen table on a hot summer day on the farm, thunked me gently on the head with his knuckle, a gesture of affection, and told me that when he married my mother, he got his daughter back. He just kept walking, like nothing had happened. The tears streamed down my face, because I felt so fatherless after my father died when I was 7 until Dean came into my life several years later. I was so very touched to know he felt the same way about me.

Of the pictures that survived the camera malfunction, we have only a few taken before the actual ceremony, but these alone were worth the price.

My daughter, as the flower girl, scattered petals in the aisle in advance of the bride. However, during the rehearsal, she scattered only a few petals, for practice, and then picked them up. During the actual wedding, she scattered all the petals in her basket, then scurried out in the aisleway to pick them up. My maid of honor quickly retrieved my daughter, who began to cry because she couldn’t pick up the flower petals and that was a VERY IMPORTANT part of her job! Ah, the memories of that sweet, sweet child.

Unfortunately, a decade later, the groom would have a massive stroke and another decade later, I would again remarry. Life seldom unfolds as planned.

The Winery Wedding

This wedding was outdoors at a lovely European-style winery on an island. My step-father was watching from the other side, but I know he was there.  My children, now grown, stood up with me. My son and his wife, at left, with my brand-new granddaughter were able to attend. Mom, John and Karen were there, to the right of me in the photo, along with my daughter.

Now, John and Mom are both gone, so I’m very grateful for these family photos. Had my husband and I simply married at the courthouse, as we had discussed, there would have been no wedding celebration, and hence, no photos! That was our one and only 4 generation picture!

I love this photo too, of Mom walking me down the aisle. I’m not sure who was holding up whom!!! I was so happy that day to have my family gathered which hadn’t happened in many years and would never happen again.

My wonderful granddaughter, making her official debut at the wedding in a dress made by my daughter, matching hers.

Mom and I had a fantastic time together at the reception, held in a cooking school.  The chef was also a comedian, but no one but my husband and I knew that in advance.  Mom and I shared lots of laughs. I’m so glad, because she would be gone soon.

My matron of honor for the earlier church wedding made me this stunning quilt with signature squares from the attendees at the winery wedding.

A few years later, it would be my turn as the mother of the bride.

The Fifth Generation Bride

My beautiful (and smart and wonderful and charming, and did I mention smart) daughter married a few years ago on the hottest day of the summer. I cherish this photo and all the memories of that day we spent together. Our family-of-blood, which was limited to just the two of us, and family-of-heart gathered that day, and I don’t know what we would have done without them.

When family-of-blood is gone, family-of-heart becomes your family. The photo below, taken at the “preparatory party” just before my daughter’s wedding is of me, with my matron of honor who retrieved my daughter from petal gathering at the church wedding and made the quilt for my wedding at the winery two decades later. She and her husband, who had helped dress me as a bride, prepared lunch for the group before my daughter’s wedding. Some friends are forever.  Thirty-five years and counting.

As photography has become ever more present in our lives, we now record not just the momentous events, but the fun parts that makes them more than just milestones.

Sometimes it’s the little things – like dressing the bride.

You know that saying about “it takes a village,” well, I’m telling you, it did. Without my quilt family and other close friends, we would have been lost that day. But more than help, this was a bonding experience for everyone involved.

What am I doing, you ask? I’m sewing my daughter into her dress.  That’s a needle and thread in my hand.  Never underestimate the power of a quilter!!! We will make anything work, one way or another.

In our family, each bride on her wedding day receives a handkerchief made or embellished by my great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore. Nora and her mother, Barbara Drechsel were lacemakers and created beautiful lace handkerchiefs and collars.

In the photo above, as my daughter is dressing, I’ve opened the handkerchief that she will carry down the aisle with her flowers. Yes, Nora, and Edith and Mom were all with us that day, one way or another.

In fact, Mom left a special wedding gift for my daughter before she departed to join my step-Dad on the other side – her cherished Hummell Christmas ornaments. Just looking at this picture makes me cry.  It made my daughter cry too.  She’s smiling but you can see the tears in her eyes.

My wedding handkerchief, made by Nora or Barbara, given to me by mother, is framed for posterity.

Finally, the bride is assembled, with a little help from our friends.  Yes, pieces-parts were gathered from near and far, and some assembly and reassembly was required.  Instructions, however, were not included!  Dressing the bride at home was a warm-hearted, very dear and memorable experience.

Here’s the “village” that it took, minus a few people that were somehow missing from the photo.  It was a bit hectic that day.

The village included my quilt-sisters, below. The six of us had been though just about every curve-ball life could throw at us – together. Oh, and one quilt sister, at far right, is also a cousin, something we didn’t discover until after we met.

We had to eat, at some point, so lunch was buffet and the bride was not allowed to eat anything that might stain her dress. Somehow she managed to both eat AND stay clean.  Family gatherings that include breaking bread nourish the body as well as the soul.

The “before the wedding” photography occurred outside, in my yard.

It took all of us to get that done, plus the photographer, another long-time friend aka family-of-heart who had videoed my outside wedding, including the bee who buzzed me as the vows were being exchanged. Tiny detail – I’m terrified of bees, especially tangled in my hair.  No, I did not run backwards down the aisle.  Being late to my own wedding had been bad enough.  However, that video is pretty comical because you can’t tell that it’s a bee I’m swatting at.  I somewhat resemble Ninja bride – and then there’s the laughing.  My poor mother was mortified, again.

My friend’s photography turned out exceptionally well, as you can see – and my daughter had no bee visitors, thankfully.

While these photos look beautiful and elegant, there was an incredible amount of fussing to make them perfect. Five women sweating and fussing with a bridal gown is quite a sight. I’ve omitted those photos. I still have to face the quilt sisters.😊

All I can say is God bless my quilt sisters. We’ve been such an integral part of each other’s lives for so many years, decades, now. We’ve watched our children be born, grow up and marry, and in many cases, participated in the events in a very much hands-on fashion. We spend Christmas Eve together, some holidays and birthdays and even a 50th anniversary.  We are truly family.  My daughter grew up with several “aunts.” There are even stories about that too.  Obvious to us, but not to others – we had people wondering how my daughter’s aunts could originally be from so many different states!

Next, it was time to get the bride into the van to go to the wedding. We all had a good laugh. I’m also omitting those photos, on pain of death if I include them. I also have to face my daughter.😊

First, a quick stop on the front porch for a picture with the groom.

No custom in this family of the groom not seeing the bride ahead of time on the wedding day. The poor groom was actually ill, and not just nerves, but he did a fine job of getting through the day with few people knowing how poorly he felt.  They had to find a doctor during the honeymoon.  Yes, he took a lot of ribbing for that!

Carrying on the step-father tradition, my husband escorted my daughter down the aisle. I’m not sure who was more nervous. Can you tell that he dotes on her? The picture below reminds me of the photo at my wedding with me and my step-father.

Reception Memories

After the actual wedding ceremony is finished, the fun begins. These are the aspects that the wedding date in a genealogy software program can never convey. Traditional wedding photography doesn’t catch this either, but for family bonding and stories, the reception is often the best part. The “big event” is over and everyone lets their hair down.

For example, when the groom’s grandmother, in purple above, in front of the groom, led the family in the chicken dance. You go grandma!!! Thank goodness for these photos and great times, because she is now departed too.

The person who made the cakes clearly had a sense of humor!

And speaking of humor, there was the lobster…

It’s called payback, karma perhaps – something unique from the “rents” as my daughter used to call her parents. Yes, indeed, a lobster showed up uninvited at the wedding, all decked out. That’s me and my husband waving at my daughter, one of those “special moments” reflective of the past that one can only fear resurfacing.  Never mess with the “rents.”  They love you, but they will get you just the same!

Rumor has it that the lobster greeted them that evening at their honeymoon location too. But of course, that’s just a rumor and I know absolutely NOTHING about it. Funny though that no one has seen hide nor claw of the lobster since.

If you want to know the story of the lobster, let’s just say that you’ll have to ask my daughter, or maybe wait until the next wedding or family gathering when someone, I’m sure, will be more than happy to spill the beans.  After all, that’s what family gatherings are for, right?

Isn’t making family history fun!!!

Thank goodness for cameras, weddings, mothers and families, of blood and of heart – with a lobster thrown in for good measure!!!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mitochondrial DNA – Your Mom’s Story

Have you ever wondered why you would want to test your mitochondrial DNA? What would a mitochondrial DNA test tell you about your ancestors? What would it mean to you and how would it help your genealogy?

If you’re like most genealogists, you want to know every single tidbit you can discover about your ancestors – and mitochondrial DNA not only tells us about people we match that are currently living, that share ancestors with us at some point in time, but it also reaches back beyond the range of what genealogy in the traditional sense can tell us – past the time when surnames were adopted, peering into the misty veil of the past!

Every single one of your ancestors has their own individual story to tell – and if you really want to know who you are and where each ancestral line came from, mitochondrial DNA is the insider story on your mother’s matrilineal line.

What Is Mitochondrial DNA?

Mitochondrial DNA a special type of DNA that tells the direct line story of your mother’s mother’s mother’s heritage – all the way back as far as we can go – beyond genealogy– to the woman from whom we are all descended that we call “mitochondrial Eve.”

Mitochondrial DNA is never mixed with the father’s DNA, so the red circle pedigree line above remains unbroken and intact and is passed from mothers to all of their children, as you can see in the brother and sister at the bottom. Only females pass mitochondrial DNA on to their children, so all children carry their mother’s mtDNA. The great news is that everyone can test for mitochondrial DNA, unlike Y DNA where only males can test, shown by the blue square pedigree line above.

However, because of the surname changes in every generation for females, you can’t tell at a glance by looking at your mitochondrial matches’ surname if you are or might be related, like you can with Y DNA which tracks the direct paternal line which means the surname typically doesn’t change. If your match doesn’t list a common ancestor that you recognize, you may need to do some genealogy work to search for that ancestor.

This doesn’t mean mitochondrial DNA isn’t useful, because it can provide you with lots of information – some of which is useful genealogically and some that provides you with knowledge of where your matrilineal line came from and their course of travel through time, over hundreds and thousands of years.

Mitochondrial DNA is an extremely underutilized resource that gives us the ability to peer down the periscope of one family line for thousands of years.

Not to mention, it’s just plain fun!  Who doesn’t want to know more about our ancestors, and especially when the information resides within us and is so easy to retrieve.

Family Tree DNA provides 10 great mitochondrial tools for every customer. Let’s take a look at what you receive and how to utilize this information.

Haplogroup

Everyone who tests their mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA receives a haplogroup assignment. Think of a haplogroup as your genetic clan. Haplogroups have a history and a pedigree chart, just like people do. Haplogroups and their branches can identify certain groups of people, such as people of African descent, European, Asian, Jewish and Native American.

While the matrilineal DNA is passed intact with no admixture from the father, occasionally mutations do happen, and it’s those historical mutations that form clans and branches of clans as generation after generation is born and continues to migrate to new areas.

If you take the entry level mtDNA Plus test which only tests about 6% of the available mitochondrial markers, those most likely to mutate, you will receive a base haplogroup, because that’s all that can be determined by those markers. If you take the mtFull Sequence test which tests all of the 16,569 mitochondrial locations, you will receive a full haplogroup designation, plus a lot more.

What’s the difference? In my case, my full haplogroup is J1c2f, meaning that my branch of haplogroup J is the result of 4 branching events from mother haplogroup J. Haplogroup J itself was formed by a defining set of mutations. The first branch was J1, then J1c, and so forth.

Haplogroup J was formed someplace in the Middle East and its branches are found primarily in the Mediterranean, Europe and western Asia today, plus, of course, diaspora regions like the Americas, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The mitochondrial Haplogroup J Project at Family Tree DNA provides a map of the most distant known ancestors of Haplogroup J members, including all branches, shown below.

My branch, haplogroup J1c2f, a rare haplogroup, is found in a much more restricted geography. It has taken 10 years or so to accumulate 10 pins on the map.  Of course, there would be more if everyone tested and joined their haplogroup project.

How Old is Haplogroup J?

With the mtFull Sequence test, you receive a lot more information than with the mtPlus test, for not a lot more investment, as you can see in the chart below and as we work through results.

Haplogroup Born Years Ago Receive With Test
J 34,000 mtPlus
J1 27,000 mtFull Sequence
J1c 13.000 mtFull Sequence
J1c2 10,000 mtFull Sequence
J1c2f 1,000 mtFull Sequence

Estimated dates for each haplogroup branches “birth” have been provided in the paper, A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root by Behar et al.

Haplogroup J itself was born about 34,000 years ago, someplace in the Middle East or near the Black Sea.

Haplogroup J1c2f was born about 1000 years ago, and utilizing the map of J1c2f in combination with the known history of my full sequence matches allows me to learn where my ancestors were in more recent times. In my case, I’m fascinated by that cluster in Sweden and Norway, all of whom I’m related to with in the last 1000 years or so. Is there a message there for me about where my ancestor lived, perhaps, before the first documentation of my ancestral line in Germany in 1799?

More Please

Are you starting to see the benefit to mitochondrial DNA testing? We’ve only scratched the surface.

At Family Tree DNA, your haplogroup is shown in the upper right hand corner on your personal page dashboard.

In the mtDNA section, additional tools are shown. Let’s look at each one and what it can tell you about your matrilineal line.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

You can always navigate to the Dashboard or any other option by clicking on the myFTDNA button on the upper left hand corner.

Matches

The first place most people look is at their Matches page. In my case, I have 38 full sequence matches. Full sequence matches are the most likely to match in a genealogical time frame. You can see by just looking at my matches below why entering the name of your earliest known ancestor (under Manage Personal Information, Account Settings, Genealogy) is so important!!! That’s the first thing people see and the best indication of a common ancestor. I always include a name, birth/death date and location.

As you can see, most of my matches (names obscured for privacy) have trees attached to their results and many have also taken the family finder test. Both are great news for me!

I can then view at my HVR1+HVR2 matches, which is equivalent to the mtPlus test today.

I have 266 HVR1+HVR2 matches, many of whom have also taken the full sequence test. Those who have taken the higher level test, I can disregard because their results, if they match, are already included on the full sequence match page. I do review the people who have not yet taken the full sequence test because a valuable match may be lurking there.

I can e-mail my matches by clicking on the envelope.

Results

Next, let’s look at our results. This page should really probably say “raw results,” because as many people say, “it’s just a page of numbers.”  Yes, it is, but there is magic in these numbers because they are the key to “everything else mitochondrial.”

This page shows your mutations – in other words, what makes you both different from other people and the same as people you match, which isolates your matches to people with whom you share a common ancestor at some point in time. The fewer mutations difference, generally the closer in time your common ancestor. If you match someone exactly, it means you share all of the same mutations, including “extra” and “missing” mutations typically found in people who carry your hapologroup.

There are two formats provided, the RSRS and the CRS, which I explained in the article, The CRS and the RSRS. You don’t need to know these details, but they are available if you are interested.

Some of these mutations shown are your haplogroup and subgroup defining mutations. For example, haplogroup J1c2f is defined by the mutation at location 9055, shown above. If you have all these mutations but don’t have G9055A, then you’re not haplgroup J1c2f, you’re J1c2.

Haplogroup Haplogroup Defining Mutations
J C295T, T489C, A10398G!, A12612G, G13708A, C16069T
J1 C462T, G3010A
J1c T14798C
J1c2 A188G
J1c2f G9055A

Most mutations shown, other than haplogroup defining mutations, are typically found in your subgroup, but others are “rare.” It’s those rare extra or missing mutations that are your family-line-defining mutations. In my case, both G185A and G228A are family line defining. But you really don’t need to worry about this unless you are going to take a deep dive, because the matching and other tools included by Family Tree DNA provide further analysis in ways far easier to understand and without you having to understand or worry about the nitty-gritty details.

The beauty of these numbers, is, of course, in the underlying story they tell us. You can’t have matches without these numbers. You also can’t have maps or anything else without the raw mutation information.

Let’s look at the story they tell.

Matches Maps

One of my favorite tools is the Matches Map because it shows the most distant ancestor for all of your matches that have provided that information.

Hint: You MUST enter the geographic information through the “Update Ancestor’s Location” link at the bottom of this map for YOUR ancestor to be displayed on THIS map (white pin) and also on the maps of your matches. You can see how useful this information is!  I wish everyone would do this, even if they are adopted and the only information they have is where they were born! Clusters are important for genealogy matching as well as for more distant origins.

You can also display your match list by clicking on the “Show Match List” link under the map. You can click on the pins on the map to display the accompanying information.

On the full sequence map, your exact matches are shown in red, 1 step mutations in orange, 2 steps in yellow, so you can easily look for clusters.

Once again, the Scandinavian group stands out because many are exact matches to my German ancestor. Do you think there might be a message there?

If not for my mitochondrial DNA, how else would I ever obtain this information, given that the German church records ended in 1799 for my matrilineal line? Did they end in 1799 because my ancestral line wasn’t in Germany before that?

Migration and Frequency Maps

Are you wondering how your ancestor and her ancestors arrived in the location where you first find them?

The haplogroup Migration Maps show you the ancestral path from Africa to, in my case, Europe.

The Frequency Map then shows you how much of the European population is haplogroup J, which includes subgroups.

Haplogroup Origins

The Haplogroup Origins page shows me the distribution of my haplogroup, by region, by match type.

For example, I have 7 exact matches in Norway and 1 in Poland. Only a portion of my Haplogroup Origins page is shown here, and only the Full Sequence Matches.  HVR1 and HVR1+HVR2 matches are displayed as well.

Ancestral Origins

The Ancestral Origins page shows my matches by Country along with any comments. My matches shown don’t have any comments, but comments might be Ashkenazi or MDKO (most distant known origin) when US is given as the most distant ancestral location.

Again, I’ve only shown my full sequence matches.

Advanced Matching Combines Tools

Another of my favorite tools is Advanced Matches, available under the Tools and Apps tab.

Advanced Matches is a wonderful tool that allows you to combine test types. For example, let’s say that you want to know if any of the people you match on the mtDNA test are also showing up as a match on the Family Finder test. You could further limit this by project as well.

Be sure to click on “show only people I match in all selected tests” or you’ll receive the combined list of all matches, not just the people who match on BOTH tests, which is what you want.

There aren’t any people that match me on BOTH the Family Finder test and the full sequence mtDNA test, which tells me that these matches are several generations back in time.  For purposes of example, I’m showing my two matches on both the HVR1 and the Family Finder test, below – just so you can see how the tool works.

Because both of these people tested at the HVR2 level, where we don’t match, the mitochondrial part of this match is likely hundreds to thousands of years ago and isn’t connected to the Family Finder match.  However, if these two matches had NOT tested at a higher level, where I know we don’t match, the combined match of mtDNA and the Family Finder test might be a significant hint as to our common ancestral line.

Of course, for adoptees, finding someone with whom you match closely on the Family Finder test AND match exactly on the full sequence test would be very suggestive of a matrilineal common ancestor in a recent timeframe.

Combination matching is a powerful tool.

Projects

We started our discussion about mitochondrial haplogroups by referencing the MtDNA Haplogroup J project. Family Tree DNA has over 9000 projects for you to select from.

Thankfully, you don’t have to browse through them all, as they are broken down into categories.

  • Haplogroup projects are categorized by Y or mtDNA and then by subhaplogroup where appropriate.
  • Surname projects exist as well and are searchable for your genealogy lines.
  • Geographical projects cover everything else, from geographies such as the Cumberland Gap region of Appalachia to the American Indian project. Some projects focus on Y DNA, some on mtDNA, some both plus include people with autosomal results that pertain to that project.

Project administrators can enter surnames that pertain to their project so that Family Tree DNA can match the tester’s surname to the project list to provide the tester with a menu.

Please do READ the project description before joining, as lot of people join every project listed, even though the surname listed in that project in no way pertains to their family.  For example, in the Estes list above, my Estes line is in no way connected to the Estis family of the Ukraine or Fairfield County, SC nor are they haplogroup I, so joining the haplogroup I-L161(Isles) Y DNA project would be futile even if I was an Estes male.

Needless to say, if you’re a female who did not test under your birth surname, the project menu won’t be relevant to you, so you’ll need to use the “Search by Surname” function, at the bottom of the menu to find projects for your surname.

You can also scroll down and browse in a number of ways, in addition to surname.

All testers should join their haplogroup project so that everyone can benefit from collaboration. Testing in isolation without collaboration benefits no one.  We all benefit from matching and sharing, both individually and as a larger group.  Think of those maps and clusters!

You can join and manage your projects from your home page by clicking on the Projects tab on the upper left.

Mitochondrial Summary

I hope this overview has provided you with some good reasons to test your mitochondrial DNA or to better understand your results if you’ve already tested.

Mitochondrial DNA holds the secrets of your matrilineal line. You never know what you don’t know unless you test. You don’t know what kind of surprises are waiting for you – and let’s face it, our ancestors are always full of surprises!

You can order or upgrade your mitochondrial DNA test by clicking here.

LivingDNA Product Review

Living DNA entered the landscape for ethnicity testing in the summer/fall of 2016. Hands down, they win the contest for “cool logo.”

Ordering and Waiting

I ordered my test, and the results were frustratingly slow in arriving – more than 3 months after submission. Their website currently says “within 10-12 weeks our results will be ready to explore.” Speedy is not their middle name. At first I thought the delivery time of 12 weeks was a startup snafu, but apparently it’s their standard delivery window.

Sometimes vendors offer free tests with the hope of a good review. I typically order tests like any other customer from a vendor, because it’s not a fair review if the vendor knows they are testing someone who will likely review their product. In other words, I don’t want special treatment. However, in this case, I did complain to the Marketing Director and received my results shortly thereafter. I don’t know how long those results would have taken otherwise.

Price

LivingDNA is a British company, registered in England and Wales. Their price in US dollars is normally $159 with an additional $9.95 for standard delivery (5-7 working days) or $39.95 for premium delivery (2-3 working days). At the time I ordered, US purchasers were required to purchase premium delivery, making the price of an ethnicity test effectively $199.

The LivingDNA ethnicity test costs substantially more than Ancestry or 23andMe at $99 or Family Tree DNA at $79, plus shipping. The other vendors products include ethnicity results plus matching to other testers and varying comparison tools. LivingDNA hopes to offer matching between testers in the future.

Terms and Conditions

Thankfully, Judy Russell recently provided a great overview and digestion of Living DNA’s terms and conditions. Please read Judy’s First look: Living DNA terms of use.

Vendors can and do modify their terms and conditions, so always read what any vendor provides, including any fine print.

LivingDNA’s Claims

The page that greets customers provides the following verbiage.

LivingDNA claims twice the detail of other ancestry tests. Detail, which means reference populations and regions in this case, does not necessarily equate to accuracy, but we’ll see how they fare in that department.

LivingDNA is the only company, to date, that offers ethnicity breakdown by regions within the British Isles, based on the POBI (People of the British Isles) project results funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Living DNA claims to have a 3-in-1 ancestry test, meaning ethnicity, mitochondrial and Y DNA, which isn’t exactly true, but it’s not entirely false either. It’s a matter of perception.

LivingDNA is a scan test that scans specified locations in your genome. Haplogroups, both Y and mitochondrial, are defined by specific locations that carry mutations. LivingDNA scans for Y and mitochondrial haplogroup mutations at some level, but they do not offer anything more for Y and mitochondrial DNA than the haplogroup designation. In other words, no detail and no matching. The LivingDNA results are in the same ballpark as 23andMe or the Genographic project, but much less detailed than Family Tree DNA. Ancestry doesn’t offer any Y or mtDNA results, haplogroup or otherwise. To see a detailed comparison of Y and mtDNA testing and who provides what, please refer to Which DNA Test is Best?

LivingDNA does not offer DNA matching, nor do they currently provide a download raw data file so that you can upload your results elsewhere. They indicated in a February Rootstech conference call that they want to move towards both of these goals.

All major vendors (with the exception of Genographic) provide free updates to existing customers when they update their data base, so it’s good that LivingDNA does too.

As for the LivingDNA claim to “view your ancestry through history,” let’s take a look and see what they deliver.

Navigation

Notice on the left hand side of the page that I have two options under Ancestry:

  • Family Ancestry – your ethnicity results
  • Motherline – your mitochondrial DNA results

If I were a male, I would also have Fatherline.

Where ever you are on the site, additional options are always shown on the upper left hand side of the page.

Mother Line – Mitochondrial DNA

First, let ‘s look at my mitochondrial DNA results. Your Motherline options are shown on the bar to the left of your page.

The “Download Results” function has not yet been implemented.

The first Motherline page provides an overview.

I know already that my full haplogroup through full sequence testing at Family Tree DNA is J1c2f. Let’s see what LivingDNA tells me.

Living DNA shows my haplogroup as J1c, which isn’t incorrect as far as it goes, but isn’t complete either.

Living DNA gives me an option to ‘take a tour” of my results, so I did. The heat map, below, shows the locations of my “mother line haplogroup.” Heat maps are hotter, or darker, meaning more intense, where the frequency is greater.

Please note that you can click on any image to enlarge.

I’m not clear whether LivingDNA is displaying a map for haplogroup J1c, or core haplogroup J, given the “hottest” region shown is, surprisingly, Yemen. J1c is typically considered to be European, so surely this map must be referring to haplogroup J plus all subgroups.

The LivingDNA heat map is significantly different than the spatial frequency map for haplogroup J, shown below, published in the academic paper, Genetic Stratigraphy of Key Demographic Events in Arabia published in PLoS ONE in March 2015 by Fernandes et al.

Next, Living DNA discusses the genetic migration for haplogroup J.

Followed by a migration map.

Haplogroup J is shown in Europe here. What happened to Yemen? From this map, it looks like J was born near the Black Sea and traveled directly to Europe, which certainly doesn’t track with the heat map or the PLoS ONE article.

Last, the phylogenetic tree showing the path from Mitochondrial Eve, the first known woman to have offspring that lived to today, to me. I notice in this tree that the migration map above omits haplogroup JT between R and J.

Fatherline – Y DNA

Clearly, being a female, I don’t carry a Y chromosome, but the Y DNA section holds the same pages of information as the mitochondrial DNA section, above, which you also receive if you are a male.

Family Ancestry

The Family Ancestry section is where you will find your autosomal ethnicity results.

You have four options, shown on the left bar.

The first page you will see offers you the option to take a tour and then provides basic information.

In the “What Makes You” section, my results show that I’m 93.4% European and 6.6% unassigned in the rest of the world.

Well, that’s pretty boring, but there’s more.

Click on the “+” to the right of the word “Global” which shows regional results, shown below.

Clicking on the “+” again shows the full breakdown, including the British Isles detail. They could certainly make finding this information more intuitive than “+” and “-“. I suspect a lot of people miss this detail, and if you’re testing for ethnicity, which is all LivingDNA offers today, this IS the important part of the test.

You can click on each region to show history about that region, but I surely wish they had shown a map of the British Isles with the sub-region highlighted instead of the image of the body. It’s impossible to discern which present day counties are included in which LivingDNA regions.

My English ancestors whose locations I know are from Lancashire and Kent, and I can’t tell which of the English regions referenced by LivingDNA would include the locations my ancestors are from.

Ireland, on the other hand, is pretty self-explanatory, but is also a pretty large area.

The Family Ancestry Map shows the locations where your ancestors were found.

Clicking “explore in full” and then the “+” button shows me the following, as does the “Through History” selection.

I’m 72.5% Great Britain and Ireland and 12% North and West European and 6.2% unassigned European which is reflected on the map below, with the darker area having the higher frequency. However, please note that the legend and map are reversed.  On the legend, the Europe unassigned at 6.2% is shown as the darkest shade of green, where on the map, the Great Britain and Ireland shown at 75.2% is shown as the darkest, which is accurate if you are using heat maps.

Click on the “+” sign once again moved to subregions showing the detail of where your ethnicity is found.

Clicking on the region at left shows the associated region on the map.

Please note that some of the features both above and below did not display correctly, or at all, using a PC with either Edge or Internet Explorer browsers.  MACs did better.

Another really easy to miss feature is the “click here” just above the word “standard” which allows you to view your family ancestry at different points through history, beginning with 500 years ago. I really like this video type feature as it shows you the movement of your ancestors with time.

Expanding back in time.

At the bottom of each time period is some history to go along with the time period you’re viewing.

Clicking on the Chart option, shows the following.

How Accurate is Living DNA’s Ethnicity?

I wrote the article “Calculating Ethnicity Percentages” to explain how to determine, based on your known genealogy, what to anticipate in your ethnicity percentages, and to compare the various vendors’ accuracy, although Family Tree DNA has since released an update since that article was published.

For purposes of comparison, I calculated all of my 64 GGGG-grandparent’s ethnicity percentages – each individual accounting for approximately 1.56% of my DNA today.

The following chart shows how LivingDNA compared with my known genealogy.

LivingDNA significantly overestimated my total British Isles. My known and inferred British Isles, based on surnames and colonial American records, is no more than 50.7%, while Living DNA shows it at half again as much, at 75.2%. That’s simply not possible, given the immigration records of my ancestors and the proven locations of their origins in Germany, the Netherlands and France.

I can’t align the known locations of my British or Scottish ancestors with the British Isles regions shown, so I really don’t know if the subregion breakdown within the British Isles is accurate or not. That’s not a problem with the LivingDNA analysis, but is due to the fact that my British Isles ancestry with proven locations is scant.

LivingDNA shows Scandinavian that I don’t show in my genealogy, but they aren’t alone, as we’ll see in a minute when we look at how they stack up to the other vendors.

LivingDNA badly missed the mark for my German which is proven at 25% and my Dutch proven at 14%, although clearly that unassigned European probably comes from that grouping. Living DNA shows Germanic at 9%.

LivingDNA clearly struggled with DNA outside of Europe, as they could not identify any DNA anyplace else in the world. Other vendors have identified Middle Eastern, North African and Native American. Of those, only the Native American is solidly proven.

Altogether, with unassigned Europe and unassigned in the rest of the world, 12.8% of my DNA is unassigned.

Compared to Other Vendors

I’ve updated the chart below to include the LivingDNA results along with the new Family Tree DNA update that occurred in April 2017. The only vendor results which are not the results provided by vendors with a current test is the Genographic project, whose ethnicity results changed in November 2016 when they switched their testing vendor to Helix. I have not retested at Genographic. I have included Genographic in the chart, but excluded them in the comparison because their categories are so broad as to not be functionally comparable to the major vendors and the results are obsolete at this point.

Compared to the other three major vendors, Living DNA was the worst at determining my British Isles ethnicity percent as compared to other regions. Family Tree DNA was the best.

All vendors showed Scandinavian, which is not reflected in my genealogy. The school of thought most prevalent is that Scandinavian is possibly reflective of Viking ancestry that was so ingrained into the population as to remain a constant today. That may be true, at least to some extent. LivingDNA shows less Scandinavian than anyone else, making them the most accurate in this category given that I have no known Scandinavian genealogy.

LivingDNA was second worst in determining my Dutch/French/German heritage if you presume that all of the 6.2% European unassigned fell into that group. If you don’t make that presumption, then LivingDNA was the worst. 23andMe was the best.

LivingDNA had the highest amount of unassigned at 6.6% of any vendor while Family Tree DNA and Ancestry assigned all of my DNA and 23andMe only has .1% unassigned.

LivingDNA missed my Native altogether, while all three other vendors found it, even though it is a small percentage.

Summary

LivingDNA did not perform well in any category relative to ethnicity as compared to the other major vendors with the exception of Scandinavian. Surprisingly, they placed last in the British Isles category which is their area of expertise.

Some of my British Isles heritage is inferred, which could theoretically have raised my genealogical percentage of DNA if I am incorrect in my inference. In other words, in reality, my British Isles heritage % could be even lower than the 50.7% shown on the chart. It’s also possible that amount is slightly low, but my British Isles can’t be much higher because more than 45% of my genealogy is unquestionably proven elsewhere with relatively recent German and Dutch immigrants. So, at most, my British Isles can’t be more than 55%.

If LivingDNA had shown less British Isles than my genealogy, I would have been accepting of that information, given that their specialty is supposed to be British Isles ethnicity and some of my British Isles is inferred. However, LivingDNA was 50% higher than my own calculations, showing 75.2%.

My mitochondrial haplogroup at Living DNA was not incorrect, but it was incomplete, showing only 2 of 4 branches of haplogroup J, as proven by full mitochondrial sequencing. By comparison, the two other vendors who provide the same type of scan tests for mitochondrial and Y DNA, 23andMe shows me as J1c2 and the Genographic Project 2.0 test shows me as J1c2f. Family Tree DNA shows me as J1c2f as well, but their mitochondrial DNA test is more comprehensive and is a separate test altogether, not included in their Family Finder autosomal test.

I can’t correlate my known English genealogy to specific regions as reported by LivingDNA because my only ancestors whose British Isles locations are specifically known came from London, a melting pot from all over the rest of England, Kent and Lancashire, so I can’t pass any judgement as to the relative accuracy of LivingDNA’s British Isles breakdown except to say my known Irish appears to be accurate.

What I can say is that for anyone who doesn’t have primarily British Isles DNA, or entirely British Isles DNA, I would not recommend this test given the issues noted above. Additionally, LivingDNA is substantially more expensive at $149 than the competing products at $99 (23andMe and Ancestry) and $79 (Family Tree DNA,) all of whom also include matching.

For this test to be useful, the tester would need to be nearly or entirely British and have their genealogy proven to specific regions within the British Isles in fairly recent generations to ascertain accuracy. For me, with a high level of American colonial DNA mixed with relative recent ancestors from western Europe, the test fared poorly.

I would be very interested in knowing the accuracy from the standpoint of multiple testers whose ancestors are entirely from the British Isles and have proven an extensive genealogy back through their 64 GGGG-grandparents. In other words, are the regions within the British Isles accurate?

Keep in mind that all ethnicity tests are really estimates and vary based on the reference panels used by the vendor and the algorithms the vendor uses internally to assign your DNA to specific ethnicities.  LivingDNA points out on their website that inheritance is not a constant at 50% per generation (of ancestral DNA being passed to the next generation) and ethnicity testing is not an exact science – and they are right, on both counts.

In other words, your mileage will vary – a lot.

Which DNA Test is Best?

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place.

The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is no one single best answer for everyone – it depends on your testing goals and your pocketbook.

Testing Goals

People who want to have their DNA tested have a goal in mind and seek results to utilize for their particular purpose. Today, in the Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA market space, people have varied interests that fall into the general categories of genealogy and medical/health.

I’ve approached the question of “which test is best” by providing information grouped into testing goal categories.  I’ve compared the different vendors and tests from the perspective of someone who is looking to test for those purposes – and I’ve created separate sections of this article for each interest..

We will be discussing testing for:

  • Ethnicity – Who Am I? – Breakdown by Various World Regions
  • Adoption – Finding Missing Parents or Close Family
  • Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification
  • Medical/Health

We will be reviewing the following test types:

  • Autosomal
  • Y DNA (males only)
  • Mitochondrial DNA

I have included summary charts for each section, plus an additional chart for:

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

If you are looking to select one test, or have limited funds, or are looking to prioritize certain types of tests, you’ll want to read about each vendor, each type of test, and each testing goal category.

Each category reports information about the vendors and their products from a different perspective – and only you can decide which of these perspectives and features are most important to you.

You might want to read this short article for a quick overview of the 4 kinds of DNA used for genetic genealogy and DTC testing and how they differ.

The Big 3

Today, there are three major players in the DNA testing market, not in any particular order:

Each of these companies offers autosomal tests, but each vendor offers features that are unique. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer additional tests as well.

In addition to the Big 3, there are a couple of new kids on the block that I will mention where appropriate. There are also niche players for the more advanced genetic genealogist or serious researcher, and this article does not address advanced research.

In a nutshell, if you are serious genealogist, you will want to take all of the following tests to maximize your tools for solving genealogical puzzles. There is no one single test that does everything.

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.)
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching.

A Word About Third Party Tools

A number of third party tools exist, such as GedMatch and DNAGedcom.com, and while these tools are quite useful after testing, these vendors don’t provide tests. In order to use these sites, you must first take an autosomal DNA test from a testing vendor. This article focuses on selecting your DNA testing vendor based on your testing goals.

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

Many people are drawn to DNA testing through commercials that promise to ‘tell you who you are.” While the allure is exciting, the reality is somewhat different.

Each of the major three vendors provide an ethnicity estimate based on your autosomal DNA test, and each of the three vendors will provide you with a different result.

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

Hopefully, the outcomes will be very similar, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, many people take one test and believe those results wholeheartedly. Please don’t. You may want to read Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages to see how varied my own ethnicity reports are at various vendors as compared to my known genealogy.

The technology for understanding “ethnicity” from a genetic perspective is still very new. Your ethnicity estimate is based on reference populations from around the world – today. People and populations move, and have moved, for hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years. Written history only reaches back a fraction of that time, so the estimates provided to people today are not exact.

That isn’t to criticize any individual vendor. View each vendor’s results not as gospel, but as their opinion based on their reference populations and their internal proprietary algorithm of utilizing those reference populations to produce your ethnicity results.

To read more about how ethnicity testing works, and why your results may vary between vendors or not be what you expected, click here.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from testing, only to be sure consumers understand the context of what they will be receiving. Generally speaking, these results are accurate at the continental level, and less accurate within continents, such as European regional breakdowns.

All three testing companies provide additional features or tools, in addition to your ethnicity estimates, that are relevant to ethnicity or population groups.

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity tool is called myOrigins and provides three features or tools in addition to the actual ethnicity estimate and associated ethnicity map.

Please note that throughout this article you can click on any image to enlarge.

On the myOrigins ethnicity map page, above, your ethnicity percentages and map are shown, along with two additional features.

The Shared Origins box to the left shows the matching ethnic components of people on your DNA match list. This is particularly useful if you are trying to discover, for example, where a particular minority admixture comes from in your lineage. You can select different match types, for example, immediate relatives or X chromosome matches, which have special inheritance qualities.

Clicking on the apricot (mitochondrial DNA) and green (Y DNA) pins in the lower right corner drops the pins in the locations on your map of the most distant ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA locations of the individuals in the group you have selected in the Shared Origins match box. You may or may not match these individuals on the Y or mtDNA lines, but families tend to migrate in groups, so match hints of any kind are important.

A third unique feature provided by Family Tree DNA is Ancient Origins, a tool released with little fanfare in November 2016.

Ancient Origins shows the ancient source of your European DNA, based on genome sequencing of ancient DNA from the locations shown on the map.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA hosts an Ancient DNA project where they have facilitated the upload of the ancient genomes so that customers today can determine if they match these ancient individuals.

Kits included in the Ancient DNA project are shown in the chart below, along with their age and burial location. Some have matches today, and some of these samples are included on the Ancient Origins map.

Individual Approx. Age Burial Location Matches Ancient Origins Map
Clovis Anzick 12,500 Montana (US) Yes No
Linearbandkeramik 7,500 Stuttgart, Germany Yes Yes
Loschbour 8,000 Luxembourg Yes Yes
Palaeo-Eskimo 4,000 Greenland No No
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 Altai No No
Denisova 30,000 Siberia No No
Hinxton-4 2,000 Cambridgeshire, UK No No
BR2 3,200 Hungary Yes Yes
Ust’-Ishim 45,000 Siberia Yes No
NE1 7,500 Hungary Yes Yes

Ethnicity – Ancestry

In addition to your ethnicity estimate, Ancestry also provides a feature called Genetic Communities.

Your ethnicity estimate provides percentages of DNA found in regions shown on the map by fully colored shapes – green in Europe in the example above. Genetic Communities show how your DNA clusters with other people in specific regions of the world – shown with dotted clusters in the US in this example.

In my case, my ethnicity at Ancestry shows my European roots, illustrated by the green highlighted areas, and my two Genetic Communities are shown by yellow and red dotted regions in the United States.

My assigned Genetic Communities indicate that my DNA clusters with other people whose ancestors lived in two regions; The Lower Midwest and Virginia as well as the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana.

Testers can then view their DNA matches within that community, as well as a group of surnames common within that community.

The Genetic Communities provided for me are accurate, but don’t expect all of your genealogical regions to be represented in Genetic Communities. For example, my DNA is 25% German, and I don’t have any German communities today, although ancestry will be adding new Genetic Communities as new clusters are formed.

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

In addition to ethnicity percentage estimates, called Ancestry Composition, 23andMe offers the ability to compare your Ancestry Composition against that of your parent to see which portions of your ethnicity you inherited from each parent, although there are problems with this tool incorrectly assigning parental segments.

Additionally, 23andMe paints your chromosome segments with your ethnic heritage, as shown below.

You can see that my yellow Native American segments appear on chromosomes 1 and 2.

In January 2017, 23andMe introduced their Ancestry Timeline, which I find to be extremely misleading and inaccurate. On my timeline, shown below, they estimate that my most recent British and Irish ancestor was found in my tree between 1900 and 1930 while in reality my most recent British/Irish individual found in my tree was born in England in 1759.

I do not view 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline as a benefit to the genealogist, having found that it causes people to draw very misleading conclusions, even to the point of questioning their parentage based on the results. I wrote about their Ancestry Timeline here.

Ethnicity Summary

All three vendors provide both ethnicity percentage estimates and maps. All three vendors provide additional tools and features relevant to ethnicity. Vendors also provide matching to other people which may or may not be of interest to people who test only for ethnicity. “Who you are” only begins with ethnicity estimates.

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $79. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

Ethnicity testing is an autosomal DNA test and is available for both males and females.

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $79 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

DNA testing is extremely popular among adoptees and others in search of missing parents and grandparents.

The techniques used for adoption and parental search are somewhat different than those used for more traditional genealogy, although non-adoptees may wish to continue to read this section because many of the features that are important to adoptees are important to other testers as well.

Adoptees often utilize autosomal DNA somewhat differently than traditional genealogists by using a technique called mirror trees. In essence, the adoptee utilizes the trees posted online of their closest DNA matches to search for common family lines within those trees. The common family lines will eventually lead to the individuals within those common trees that are candidates to be the parents of the searcher.

Here’s a simplified hypothetical example of my tree and a first cousin adoptee match.

The adoptee matches me at a first cousin level, meaning that we share at least one common grandparent – but which one? Looking at other people the adoptee matches, or the adoptee and I both match, we find Edith Lore (or her ancestors) in the tree of multiple matches. Since Edith Lore is my grandmother, the adoptee is predicted to be my first cousin, and Edith Lore’s ancestors appear in the trees of our common matches – that tells us that Edith Lore is also the (probable) grandmother of the adoptee.

Looking at the possibilities for how Edith Lore can fit into the tree of me and the adoptee, as first cousins, we fine the following scenario.

Testing the known child of daughter Ferverda will then provide confirmation of this relationship if the known child proves to be a half sibling to the adoptee.

Therefore, close matches, the ability to contact matches and trees are very important to adoptees. I recommend that adoptees make contact with www.dnaadoption.com. The volunteers there specialize in adoptions and adoptees, provide search angels to help people and classes to teach adoptees how to utilize the techniques unique to adoption search such as building mirror trees.

For adoptees, the first rule is to test with all 3 major vendors plus MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA allows you to test with both 23andMe and Ancestry and subsequently transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, but I would strongly suggest adoptees test on the Family Tree DNA platform instead. Your match results from transferring to Family Tree DNA from other companies, except for MyHeritage, will be fewer and less reliable because both 23andMe and Ancestry utilize different chip technology.

For most genealogists, MyHeritage is not a player, as they have only recently entered the testing arena, have a very small data base, no tools and are having matching issues. I recently wrote about MyHeritage here. However, adoptees may want to test with MyHeritage, or upload your results to MyHeritage if you tested with Family Tree DNA, because your important puzzle-solving match just might have tested there and no place else. You can read about transfer kit compatibility and who accepts which vendors’ tests here.

Adoptees can benefit from ethnicity estimates at the continental level, meaning that regional (within continent) or minority ethnicity should be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, knowing that you have 25% Jewish heritage, for example, can be a very big clue to an adoptee’s search.

Another aspect of the adoptees search that can be relevant is the number of foreign testers. For many years, neither 23andMe, nor Ancestry tested substantially (or at all) outside the US. Family Tree DNA has always tested internationally and has a very strong Jewish data base component.

Not all vendors report X chromosome matches. The X chromosome is important to genetic genealogy, because it has a unique inheritance path. Men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their fathers. Therefore, if you match someone on the X chromosome, you know the relationship, for a male, must be from their mother’s side. For a female, the relationship must be from the mother or the father’s mother’s side. You can read more about X chromosome matching here.

Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage have chromosome browsers which allow you to view the segments of DNA on which you match other individuals, which includes the X chromosome.

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

In addition to autosomal DNA testing, adoptees will want to test their Y DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA.

These tests are different from autosomal DNA which tests the DNA you receive from all of your ancestors. Y and mitochondrial DNA focus on only one specific line, respectively. Y DNA is inherited by men from their fathers and the Y chromosome is passed from father to son from time immemorial. Therefore, testing the Y chromosome provides us with the ability to match to current people as well as to use the Y chromosome as a tool to look far back in time. Adoptees tend to be most interested in matching current people, at least initially.

Working with male adoptees, I have a found that about 30% of the time a male will match strongly to a particular surname, especially at higher marker levels. That isn’t always true, but adoptees will never know if they don’t test. An adoptee’s match list is shown at 111 markers, below.

Furthermore, utilizing the Y and mitochondrial DNA test in conjunction with autosomal DNA matching at Family Tree DNA helps narrows possible relatives. The Advanced Matching feature allows you to see who you match on both the Y (or mitochondrial) DNA lines AND the autosomal test, in combination.

Mitochondrial DNA tests the matrilineal line only, as women pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Family Tree DNA provides matching and advanced combination matching/searching for mitochondrial DNA as well as Y DNA. Both genders of children carry their mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to work with because of the surname changes in each generation, but you cannot be descended from a woman, or her direct matrilineal ancestors if you don’t substantially match her mitochondrial DNA.

Some vendors state that you receive mitochondrial DNA with your autosomal results, which is only partly accurate. At 23andMe, you receive a haplogroup but no detailed results and no matching. 23andMe does not test the entire mitochondria and therefore cannot provide either advanced haplogroup placement nor Y or mitochondrial DNA matching between testers.

For additional details on the Y and Mitochondrial DNA tests themselves and what you receive, please see the Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA section.

Adoption Summary

Adoptees should test with all 4 vendors plus Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

  • Ancestry – due to their extensive data base size and trees
  • Family Tree DNA – due to their advanced tools, chromosome browser, Y and mitochondrial DNA tests (Ancestry and 23andMe participants can transfer autosomal raw data files and see matches for free, but advanced tools require either an unlock fee or a test on the Family Tree DNA platform)
  • 23andMe – no trees and many people don’t participate in sharing genetic information
  • MyHeritage – new kid on the block, working through what is hoped are startup issues
  • All adoptees should take the full mitochondrial sequence test.
  • Male adoptees should take the 111 marker Y DNA test, although you can start with 37 or 67 markers and upgrade later.
  • Y and mitochondrial tests are only available at Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $59 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

People who want to take a DNA test to find cousins, to learn more about their genealogy, to verify their genealogy research or to search for unknown ancestors and break down brick walls will be interested in various types of testing

Test Type Who Can Test
Y DNA – direct paternal line Males only
Mitochondrial DNA – direct matrilineal line Males and Females
Autosomal – all lines Males and Females

Let’s begin with autosomal DNA testing for genealogy which tests your DNA inherited from all ancestral lines.

Aside from ethnicity, autosomal DNA testing provides matches to other people who have tested. A combination of trees, meaning their genealogy, and their chromosome segments are used to identify (through trees) and verify (through DNA segments) common ancestor(s) and then to assign a particular DNA segment(s) to that ancestor or ancestral couple. This process, called triangulation, then allows you to assign specific segments to particular ancestors, through segment matching among multiple people. You then know that when another individual matches you and those other people on the same segment, that the DNA comes from that same lineage. Triangulation is the only autosomal methodology to confirm ancestors who are not close relatives, beyond the past 2-3 generations or so.

All three vendors provide matching, but the tools they include and their user interfaces are quite different. 

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA entered DNA testing years before any of the others, initially with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Because of the diversity of their products, their website is somewhat busier, but they do a good job of providing areas on the tester’s personal landing page for each of the products and within each product, a link for each feature or function.

For example, the Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test. Within that product, tools provided are:

  • Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • Linked Relationships
  • myOrigins
  • Ancient Origins
  • Matrix
  • Advanced Matching

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

  • Linked Relationships that allows you to connect individuals that you match to their location in your tree, indicating the proper relationship. Phased Family Matching uses these relationships within your tree to indicate which side of your tree other matches originate from.
  • Phased Family Matching shows which side of your tree, maternal, paternal or both, someone descends from, based on phased DNA matching between you and linked relationship matches as distant as third cousins. This allows Family Tree DNA to tell you whether matches are paternal (blue icon), maternal (red icon) or both (purple icon) without a parent’s DNA. This is one of the best autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, shown below.

  • In Common With and Not In Common With features allow you to sort your matches in common with another individual a number of ways, or matches not in common with that individual.
  • Filtered downloads provide the downloading of chromosome data for your filtered match list.
  • Stackable filters and searches – for example, you can select paternal matches and then search for a particular surname or ancestral surname within the paternal matches.
  • Common ethnicity matching through myOrigins allows you to see selected groups of individuals who match you and share common ethnicities.
  • Y and mtDNA locations of autosomal matches are provided on your ethnicity map through myOrigins.
  • Advanced matching tool includes Y, mtDNA and autosomal in various combinations. Also includes matches within projects where the tester is a member as well as by partial surname.
  • The matrix tool allows the tester to enter multiple people that they match in order to see if those individuals also match each other. The matrix tool is, in combination with the in-common-with tool and the chromosome browser is a form of pseudo triangulation, but does not indicate that the individuals match on the same segment.

  • Chromosome browser with the ability to select different segment match thresholds to display when comparing 5 or fewer individuals to your results.
  • Projects to join which provide group interaction and allow individuals to match only within the project, if desired.

To read more about how to utilize the various autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, with examples, click here.

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing to their customers, so their page is simple and straightforward.

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $59. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

However, if you don’t realize you need a subscription initially, the required annual subscription raises the effective cost of the test quite substantially. If you let your subscription lapse, you no longer have access to all DNA features. The cost of testing with Ancestry is the cost of the test plus the cost of a subscription if you aren’t already a subscriber.

This chart, from the Ancestry support center, provides details on which features are included for free and which are only available with a subscription.

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) which indicate a match with whom you share a common ancestor in your tree connected to your DNA, allowing you to display the path of you and your match to the common ancestor. In order to take advantage of this feature, testers must link their tree to their DNA test. Otherwise, Ancestry can’t do tree matching.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most useful DNA tool at Ancestry. Subscription required.

  • DNA Circles, example below, are created when several people whose DNA matches also share a common ancestor. Subscription required.

  • New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), which are similar to Circles, but are formed when you match people descended from a common ancestor, but don’t have that ancestor in your tree. The majority of the time, these NADs are incorrect and are, when dissected and the source can be determined, found to be something like the spouse of a sibling of your ancestor. I do not view NADs as a benefit, more like a wild goose chase, but for some people these could be useful so long as the individual understands that these are NOT definitely ancestors and only hints for research. Subscription required.
  • Ancestry uses a proprietary algorithm called Timber to strip DNA from you and your matches that they consider to be “too matchy,” with the idea that those segments are identical by population, meaning likely to be found in large numbers within a population group – making them meaningless for genealogy. The problem is that Timber results in the removal of valid segments, especially in endogamous groups like Acadian families. This function is unique to Ancestry, but many genealogists (me included) don’t consider Timber a benefit.
  • Genetic Communities shows you groups of individuals with whom your DNA clusters. The trees of cluster members are then examined by Ancestry to determine connections from which Genetic Communities are formed. You can filter your DNA match results by Genetic Community.

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

Unfortunately, the 23andMe website is not straightforward or intuitive. They have spent the majority of the past two years transitioning to a “New Experience” which has resulted in additional confusion and complications when matching between people on multiple different platforms. You can take a spin through the New Experience by clicking here.

23andMe requires people to opt-in to sharing, even after they have selected to participate in Ancestry Services (genealogy) testing, have opted-in previously and chosen to view their DNA Relatives. Users on the “New Experience” can then either share chromosome data and results with each other individually, meaning on a one by one basis, or globally by a one-time opt-in to “open sharing” with matches. If a user does not opt-in to both DNA Relatives and open sharing, sharing requests must be made individually to each match, and they must opt-in to share with each individual user. This complexity and confusion results in an approximate sharing rate of between 50 and 60%. One individual who religiously works their matches by requesting sharing now has a share rate of about 80% of their matches in the data base who HAVE initially selected to participate in DNA Relatives. You can read more about the 23andMe experience at this link.

Various genetic genealogy reports and tools are scattered between the Reports and Tools tabs, and within those, buried in non-intuitive locations. If you are going to utilize 23andMe for matching and genealogy, in addition to the above link, I recommend Kitty Cooper’s blogs about the new DNA Relatives here and on triangulation here. Print the articles, and use them as a guide while navigating the 23andMe site.

Note that some screens (the Tools, DNA Relatives, then DNA tab) on the site do not display/work correctly utilizing Internet Explorer, but do with Edge or other browsers.

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

  • Triangulation at 23andMe allows you to select a specific match to compare your DNA against. Several pieces of information will be displayed, the last of which, scrolling to the bottom, is a list of your common relatives with the person you selected.

In the example below, I’ve selected to see the matches I match in common with known family member, Stacy Den (surnames have been obscured for privacy reasons.)  Please note that the Roberta V4 Estes kit is a second test that I took for comparison purposes when the new V4 version of 23andMe was released.  Just ignore that match, because, of course I match myself as a twin.

If an individual does not match both you and your selected match, they will not appear on this list.

In the “relatives in common” section, each person is listed with a “shared DNA” column. For a person to be shown on this “in common” list, you obviously do share DNA with these individuals and they also share with your match, but the “shared DNA” column goes one step further. This column indicates whether or not you and your match both share a common DNA segment with the “in common” person.

I know this is confusing, so I’ve created this chart to illustrate what will appear in the “Shared DNA” column of the individuals showing on the list of matches, above, shared between me and Stacy Den.

Clicking on “Share to see” sends Sarah a sharing request for her to allow you to see her segment matches.

Let’s look at an example with “yes” in the Shared DNA column.

Clicking on the “Yes” in the Shared DNA column of Debbie takes us to the chromosome browser which shows both your selected match, Stacy in my case, and Debbie, the person whose “yes” you clicked.

All three people, meaning me, Stacy and Debbie share a common DNA segment, shown below on chromosome 17.

What 23andMe does NOT say is that these people. Stacy and Debbie, also match each other, in addition to matching me, which means all three of us triangulate.

Because I manage Stacy’s kit at 23andMe, I can check to see if Debbie is on Stacy’s match list, and indeed, Debbie is on Stacy’s match list and Stacy does match both Debbie and me on chromosome 17 in exactly the same location shown above, proving unquestionably that the three of us all match each other and therefore triangulate on this segment. In our case, it’s easy to identify our common relative whose DNA all 3 of us share.

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

While all 3 vendors offer matching, their interfaces and tools vary widely.

I would suggest that Ancestry is the least sophisticated and has worked hard to make their tools easy for the novice working with genetic genealogy. Their green leaf DNA+Tree Matching is their best feature, easy to use and important for the novice and experienced genealogist alike.  Now, if they just had that chromosome browser so we could see how we match those people.

Ancestry’s Circles, while a nice feature, encourage testers to believe that their DNA or relationship is confirmed by finding themselves in a Circle, which is not the case.

Circles can be formed as the result of misinformation in numerous trees. For example, if I were to inaccurately list Smith as the surname for one of my ancestor’s wives, I would find myself in a Circle for Barbara Smith, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that her surname is Smith. Yet, people think that Barbara Smith is confirmed due to a Circle having been formed and finding themselves in Barbara Smith’s Circle. Copying incorrect trees equals the formation of incorrect Circles.

It’s also possible that I’m matching people on multiple lines and my DNA match to the people in any given Circle is through another common ancestor entirely.

A serious genealogist will test minimally at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, who provides a chromosome browser and other tools necessary to confirm relationships and shared DNA segments.

Family Tree DNA is more sophisticated, so consequently more complex to use.  They provide matching plus numerous other tools. The website and matching is certainly friendly for the novice, but to benefit fully, some experience or additional education is beneficial, not unlike traditional genealogy research itself. This is true not just for Family Tree DNA, but GedMatch and 23andMe who all three utilize chromosome browsers.

The user will want to understand what a chromosome browser is indicating about matching DNA segments, so some level of education makes life a lot easier. Fortunately, understanding chromosome browser matching is not complex. You can read an article about Match Groups and Triangulation here. I also have an entire series of Concepts articles, Family Tree DNA offers a webinar library, their Learning Center and other educational resources are available as well.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to provide Phased Family Matches, meaning that by connecting known relatives who have DNA tested to your tree, Family Tree DNA can then identify additional matches as maternal, paternal or both. This, in combination with pseudo-phasing are very powerful matching tools.

23andMe is the least friendly of the three companies, with several genetic genealogy unfriendly restrictions relative to matching, opt-ins, match limits and such. They have experienced problem after problem for years relative to genetic genealogy, which has always been a second-class citizen compared to their medical research, and not a priority.

23andMe has chosen to implement a business model where their customers must opt-in to share segment information with other individuals, either one by one or by opting into open sharing. Based on my match list, roughly 60% of my actual DNA matches have opted in to sharing.

Their customer base includes fewer serious genealogists and their customers often are not interested in genealogy at all.

Having said that, 23andMe is the only one of the three that provides actual triangulated matches for users on the New Experience and who have opted into sharing.

If I were entering the genetic genealogy testing space today, I would test my autosomal DNA at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, but I would probably not test at 23andMe. I would test both my Y DNA (if a male) and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA.

Thank you to Kitty Cooper for assistance with parent/child matching and triangulation at 23andMe.

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $59 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Two indispensable tools for genetic genealogy that are often overlooked are Y and mitochondrial DNA.

The inheritance path for Y DNA is shown by the blue squares and the inheritance path for mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red circles for the male and female siblings shown at the bottom of the chart.

Y-DNA Testing for Males

Y DNA is inherited by males only, from their father. The Y chromosome makes males male. Women instead inherit an X chromosome from their father, which makes them female. Because the Y chromosome is not admixed with the DNA of the mother, the same Y chromosome has been passed down through time immemorial.

Given that the Y chromosome follows the typical surname path, Y DNA testing is very useful for confirming surname lineage to an expected direct paternal ancestor. In other words, an Estes male today should match, with perhaps a few mutations, to other descendants of Abraham Estes who was born in 1647 in Kent, England and immigrated to the colony of Virginia.

Furthermore, that same Y chromosome can look far back in time, thousands of years, to tell us where that English group of Estes men originated, before the advent of surnames and before the migration to England from continental Europe. I wrote about the Estes Y DNA here, so you can see an example of how Y DNA testing can be used.

Y DNA testing for matching and haplogroup identification, which indicates where in the world your ancestors were living within the past few hundred to few thousand years, is only available from Family Tree DNA. Testing can be purchased for either 37, 67 or 111 markers, with the higher marker numbers providing more granularity and specificity in matching.

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

  • STR (short tandem repeat) testing is the traditional Y DNA testing for males to match to each other in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These tests can be ordered in panels of 37, 67 or 111 markers and lower levels can be upgraded to higher levels at a later date. An accurate base haplogroup prediction is made from STR markers.
  • SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) testing is a different type of testing that tests single locations for mutations in order to confirm and further refine haplogroups. Think of a haplogroup as a type of genetic clan, meaning that haplogroups are used to track migration of humans through time and geography, and are what is utilized to determine African, European, Asian or Native heritage in the direct paternal line. SNP tests are optional and can be ordered one at a time, in groups called panels for a particular haplogroup or a comprehensive research level Y DNA test called the Big Y can be ordered after STR testing.
  • The Big Y test is a research level test that scans the entire Y chromosome to determine the most refined haplogroup possible and to report any previously unknown mutations (SNPs) that may define further branches of the Y DNA tree. This is the technique used to expand the Y haplotree.

You can read more about haplogroups here and about the difference between STR markers and SNPs here, here and here.

Customers receive the following features and tools when they purchase a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test at 23andMe. The 23andMe Y DNA information is included in their Ancestry Services test. The Family Tree DNA Y DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. You can click here to read about the difference in the technology between Y DNA testing at Family Tree DNA and at 23andMe. Ancestry is not included in this comparison because they provide no Y DNA related information.

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of STR panel marker testing Yes, in panels of 37, 67 and 111 markers No
Test panel (STR) marker results Yes Not tested
Haplogroup assignment Yes – accurate estimate with STR panels, deeper testing available Yes –base haplogroup by scan – haplogroup designations are significantly out of date, no further testing available
SNP testing to further define haplogroup Yes – can purchase individual SNPs, by SNP panels or Big Y test No
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees available for your matches Yes No
E-mail of matches provided Yes No
Calculator tool to estimate probability of generational distance between you and a match Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic projects No
Ability to search Y matches Yes No Y matching
Ability to search matches within projects Yes No projects
Ability to search matches by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer result location on tree Yes, detailed with every branch Yes, less detailed, subset
Terminal SNP used to determine haplogroup Yes Yes, small subset available
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins – match ancestral location summary by haplogroup, by test level Yes No
SNP map showing worldwide locations of any selected SNP Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the paternal line, by test panel Yes No
Big Y – full scan of Y chromosome for known and previously unknown mutations (SNPs) Yes No
Big Y matching Yes No
Big Y matching known SNPs Yes No
Big Y matching novel variants (unknown or yet unnamed SNPs) Yes No
Filter Big Y matches Yes No
Big Y results Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

Mitochondrial DNA is contributed to both genders of children by mothers, but only the females pass it on. Like the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the DNA of the other parent. Therefore, anyone can test for the mitochondrial DNA of their matrilineal line, meaning their mother’s mother’s mother’s lineage.

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

You receive the following features and tools when you purchase a mitochondrial DNA test from Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test from 23andMe. The Family Tree DNA mitochondrial DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. The 23andMe mitochondrial information is provided with the Ancestry Services test. Ancestry is omitted from this comparison because they do not provide any mitochondrial information.

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of testing Yes, mtPlus and Full Sequence No
Test panel marker results Yes, in two formats, CRS and RSRS No
Rare mutations, missing and extra mutations, insertions and deletions reported Yes No
Haplogroup assignment Yes, most current version, Build 17 Yes, partial and out of date version
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees of matches available to view Yes No
E-mail address provided to matches Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic available No
Ability to search matches Yes No
Ability to search matches within project Yes No projects
Ability to search match by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer location on tree No Yes
Mutations used to determine haplogroup provided Yes No
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins –match ancestral location summary by haplogroup Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the maternal line, by test level Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

Serious genealogists should test with at least two of the three major vendors, being Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, with 23andMe coming in as a distant third.

No genetic genealogy testing regimen is complete without Y and mitochondrial DNA for as many ancestral lines as you can find to test. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Unfortunately, many people, especially new testers, don’t know Y and mitochondrial DNA testing for genetic genealogy exists, or how it can help their genealogy research, which is extremely ironic since these were the first tests available, back in 2000.

You can read about finding Y and mitochondrial information for various family lines and ancestors and how to assemble a DNA Pedigree Chart here.

You can also take a look at my 52 Ancestors series, where I write about an ancestor every week. Each article includes some aspect of DNA testing and knowledge gained by a test or tests, DNA tool, or comparison. The DNA aspect of these articles focuses on how to use DNA as a tool to discover more about your ancestors.

 

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

The DTC market also includes health and medical testing, although it’s not nearly as popular as genetic genealogy.

Health/medical testing is offered by 23andMe, who also offers autosomal DNA testing for genealogy.

Some people do want to know if they have genetic predispositions to medical conditions, and some do not. Some want to know if they have certain traits that aren’t genealogically relevant, but might be interesting – such as whether they carry the Warrior gene or if they have an alcohol flush reaction.

23andMe was the first company to dip their toes into the water of Direct to Consumer medical information, although they called it “health,” not medicine, at that time. Regardless of the terminology, information regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for example, were provided for customers. 23andMe attempted to take the raw data and provide the consumer with something approaching a middle of the road analysis, because sometimes the actual studies provide conflicting information that might not be readily understood by consumers.

The FDA took issue with 23andMe back in November of 2013 when they ordered 23andMe to discontinue the “health” aspect of their testing after 23andMe ignored several deadlines. In October 2015, 23andMe obtained permission to provide customers with some information, such as carrier status, for 36 genetic disorders.

Since that time, 23andMe has divided their product into two separate tests, with two separate prices. The genealogy only test called Ancestry Service can be purchased separately for $99, or the combined Health + Ancestry Service for $199.

If you are interested in seeing what the Health + Ancestry test provides, you can click here to view additional information.

However, there is a much easier and less expensive solution.

If you have taken the autosomal test from 23andMe, Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data file from the vendor and upload to Promethease to obtain a much more in-depth report than is provided by 23andMe, and much less expensively – just $5.

I reviewed the Promethease service here. I found the Promethease reports to be very informative and I like the fact that they provide information, both positive and negative for each SNP (DNA location) reported. Promethease avoids FDA problems by not providing any interpretation or analysis, simply the data and references extracted from SNPedia for you to review.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should be sure you really want to know before you delve into medical testing. Some mutations are simply indications that you could develop a condition that you will never develop or that is not serious. Other mutations are not so benign. Promethease provides this candid page before you upload your data.

Different files from different vendors provide different results at Promethease, because those vendors test different SNP locations in your DNA. At the Promethease webpage, you can view examples.

Traits

Traits fall someplace between genealogy and health. When you take the Health + Ancestry test at 23andMe, you do receive information about various traits, as follows:

Of course, you’ll probably already know if you have several of these traits by just taking a look in the mirror, or in the case of male back hair, by asking your wife.

At Family Tree DNA, existing customers can order tests for Factoids (by clicking on the upgrade button), noted as curiosity tests for gene variants.

Family Tree DNA provides what I feel is a great summary and explanation of what the Factoids are testing on their order page:

“Factoids” are based on studies – some of which may be controversial – and results are not intended to diagnose disease or medical conditions, and do not serve the purpose of medical advice. They are offered exclusively for curiosity purposes, i.e. to see how your result compared with what the scientific papers say. Other genetic and environmental variables may also impact these same physiological characteristics. They are merely a conversational piece, or a “cocktail party” test, as we like to call it.”

Test Price Description
Alcohol Flush Reaction $19 A condition in which the body cannot break down ingested alcohol completely. Flushing, after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages, includes a range of symptoms: nausea, headaches, light-headedness, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness. These unpleasant side effects often prevent further drinking that may lead to further inebriation, but the symptoms can lead to mistaken assumption that the people affected are more easily inebriated than others.
Avoidance of Errors $29 We are often angry at ourselves because we are unable to learn from certain experiences. Numerous times we have made the wrong decision and its consequences were unfavorable. But the cause does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in a specific gene can also be responsible, because it can cause a smaller number of dopamine receptors. They are responsible for remembering our wrong choices, which in turn enables us to make better decisions when we encounter a similar situation.
Back Pain $39 Lumbar disc disease is the drying out of the spongy interior matrix of an intervertebral disc in the spine. Many physicians and patients use the term lumbar disc disease to encompass several different causes of back pain or sciatica. A study of Asian patients with lumbar disc disease showed that a mutation in the CILP gene increases the risk of back pain.
Bitter Taste Perception $29 There are several genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception – we test 3 of them. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. Are you like them? Maybe you don’t like broccoli, because it tastes too bitter?
Caffeine Metabolism $19 According to the results of a case-control study reported in the March 8, 2006 issue of JAMA, coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, and caffeine consumption has been associated with increased risk for non-fatal myocardial infarction. Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the cytochrome P450 1A2 in the liver, accounting for 95% of metabolism. Carriers of the gene variant *1F allele are slow caffeine metabolizers, whereas individuals homozygous for the *1A/*1A genotype are rapid caffeine metabolizers.
Earwax Type $19 Whether your earwax is wet or dry is determined by a mutation in a single gene, which scientists have discovered. Wet earwax is believed to have uses in insect trapping, self-cleaning and prevention of dryness in the external auditory canal of the ear. It also produces an odor and causes sweating, which may play a role as a pheromone.
Freckling $19 Freckles can be found on anyone no matter what the background. However, having freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the dominant melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.
Longevity $49 Researchers at Harvard Medical School and UC Davis have discovered a few genes that extend lifespan, suggesting that the whole family of SIR2 genes is involved in controlling lifespan. The findings were reported July 28, 2005 in the advance online edition of Science.
Male Pattern Baldness $19 Researchers at McGill University, King’s College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. have identified two genetic variants in Caucasians that together produce an astounding sevenfold increase of the risk of male pattern baldness. Their results were published in the October 12, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nature Genetics.
Monoamine Oxidase A (Warrior Gene) $49.50 The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome. Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant. This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in Sabol et al, 1998.
Muscle Performance $29 A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment of muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.
Nicotine Dependence $19 In 2008, University of Virginia Health System researchers have identified a gene associated with nicotine dependence in both Europeans and African Americans.

Many people are interested in the Warrior Gene, which I wrote about here.

At Promethease, traits are simply included with the rest of the conditions known to be associated with certain SNPs, such as baldness, for example, but I haven’t done a comparison to see which traits are included.

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

Before making your final decision about which test or tests to purchase, there are a few additional factors you may want to consider.

As mentioned before, Ancestry requires a subscription in addition tot he cost of the DNA test for the DNA test to be fully functional.

One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell customer’s anonymized DNA information to unknown others. Every customer authorizes the sale of their information when they purchase or activate a kit – even though very few people actually take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy statements and Security documents, including any and all links. This means most people don’t realize they are authorizing the sale of their DNA.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you can ALSO opt in for additional non-anonymized research or sale of your DNA, which you can later opt out of. However, you cannot opt out of the lower level sale of your anonymized DNA without removing your results from the data base and asking for your sample to be destroyed. They do tell you this, but it’s very buried in the fine print at both companies. You can read more here.

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

All vendors can change their terms and conditions at any time. Consumers should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions including anything having to do with privacy for any product they purchase, but especially as it relates to DNA testing.

Family Tree DNA archives your DNA for later testing, which has proven extremely beneficial when a family member has passed away and a new test is subsequently introduced or the family wants to upgrade a current test.  Had my mother’s DNA not been archived at Family Tree DNA, I would not have Family Finder results for her today – something I thank Mother and Family Tree DNA for every single day.

Family Tree DNA also accepts transfer files from 23andMe, Ancestry and very shortly, MyHeritage – although some versions work better than others. For details on which companies accept which file versions, from which vendors, and why, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you tested on a compatible version of the 23andMe Test (V3 between December 2010 and November 2013) or the Ancestry V1 (before May 2016) you may want to transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free and pay only $19 for full functionality, as opposed to taking the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA does accept later versions of files from 23andMe and Ancestry, but you will receive more matches if you test on the same chip platform that Family Tree DNA utilizes instead of doing a transfer.

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $59 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

I hope you now know the answer as to which DNA test is best for you – or maybe it’s multiple tests for you and other family members too!

DNA testing holds so much promise for genealogy. I hesitate to call DNA testing a miracle tool, but it often is when there are no records. DNA testing works best in conjunction with traditional genealogical research.

There are a lot of tests and options.  The more tests you take, the more people you match. Some people test at multiple vendors or upload their DNA to third party sites like GedMatch, but most don’t. In order to make sure you reach those matches, which may be the match you desperately need, you’ll have to test at the vendor where they tested. Otherwise, they are lost to you. That means, of course, that eventually, if you’re a serious genealogist, you’ll be testing at all 3 vendors.  Don’t forget about Y and mitochondrial tests at Family Tree DNA.

Recruit family members to test and reach out to your matches.  The more you share and learn – the more is revealed about your ancestors. You are, after all, the unique individual that resulted from the combination of all of them!

Jessica Biel – A Follow-up: DNA, Native Heritage and Lies

Jessica Biel’s episode aired on Who Do You Think You Are on Sunday, April 2nd. I wanted to write a follow-up article since I couldn’t reveal Jessica’s Native results before the show aired.

The first family story about Jessica’s Biel line being German proved to be erroneous. In total, Jessica had three family stories she wanted to follow, so the second family legend Jessica set out to research was her Native American heritage.

I was very pleased to see a DNA test involved, but I was dismayed that the impression was left with the viewing audience that the ethnicity results disproved Jessica’s Native heritage. They didn’t.

Jessica’s Ethnicity Reveal

Jessica was excited about her DNA test and opened her results during the episode to view her ethnicity percentages.

Courtesy TLC

The locations shown below and the percentages, above, show no Native ethnicity.

Courtesy TLC

Jessica was understandably disappointed to discover that her DNA did not reflect any Native heritage – conflicting with her family story. I feel for you Jessica.  Been there, done that.

Courtesy TLC

Jessica had the same reaction of many of us. “Lies, lies,” she said, in frustration.

Well Jessica, maybe not.

Let’s talk about Jessica’s DNA results.

Native or Lies?

I’ve written about the challenges with ethnicity testing repeatedly. At the end of this article, I’ll provide a reading resource list.

Right now, I want to talk about the misperception that because Jessica’s DNA ethnicity results showed no Native, that her family story about Native heritage is false. Even worse, Jessica perceived those stories to be lies. Ouch, that’s painful.

In my world view, a lie is an intentional misrepresentation of the truth. Let’s say that Jessica really didn’t have Native heritage. That doesn’t mean someone intentionally lied. People might have been confused. Maybe they made assumptions. Sometimes facts are misremembered or misquoted. I always give my ancestors the benefit of the doubt unless there is direct evidence of an intentional lie. And if then, I would like to try to understand what prompted that behavior. For example, discrimination encouraged many people of mixed ethnicity to “pass” for white as soon as possible.

That’s certainly a forgivable “lie.”

Ok, Back to DNA

Autosomal DNA testing can only reliably pick up to about the 1% level of minority DNA admixture successfully – minority meaning a small amount relative to your overall ancestry.

Everyone inherits DNA from ancestors differently, in different amounts, in each generation. Remember, you receive half of your DNA from each parent, but which half of their DNA you receive is random. That holds true for every generation between the ancestor in question and Jessica today.  Ultimately, more or less than 50% of any ancestor’s DNA can be passed in any generation.

However, if Jessica inherited the average amount of DNA from each generation, being 50% of the DNA from the ancestor that the parent had, the following chart would represent the amount of DNA Jessica carried from each ancestor in each generation.

This chart shows the amount of DNA of each ancestor, by generation, that an individual testing today can expect to inherit, if they inherit exactly 50% of that ancestor’s DNA from the previous generation. That’s not exactly how it works, as we’ll see in a minute, because sometimes you inherit more or less than 50% of a particular ancestor’s DNA.

Utilizing this chart, in the 4th generation, Jessica has 16 ancestors, all great-great-grandparents. On average, she can expect to inherit 6.25% of the DNA of each of those ancestors.

In the rightmost column, I’ve shown Jessica’s relationship to her Jewish great-great-grandparents, shown in the episode, Morris and Ottilia Biel.

Jessica has two great-great-grandparents who are both Jewish, so the amount of Jewish DNA that Jessica would be expected to carry would be 6.25% times two, or 12.50%. But that’s not how much Jewish DNA Jessica received, according to Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates. Jessica received only 8% Jewish ethnicity, 36% less than average for having two Jewish great-great-grandparents.

Courtesy TLC

Now we know that Jessica carries less Jewish DNA that we would expect based on her proven genealogy.  That’s the nature of random recombination and how autosomal DNA works.

Now let’s look at the oral history of Jessica’s Native heritage.

Native Heritage

The intro didn’t tell us much about Jessica’s Native heritage, except that it was on her mother’s mother’s side. We also know that the fully Native ancestor wasn’t her mother or grandmother, because those are the two women who were discussing which potential tribe the ancestor was affiliated with.

We can also safely say that it also wasn’t Jessica’s great-grandmother, because if her great-grandmother had been a member of any tribe, her grandmother would have known that. I’d also wager that it wasn’t Jessica’s great-great-grandmother either, because most people would know if their grandmother was a tribal member, and Jessica’s grandmother didn’t know that. Barring a young death, most people know their grandmother. Utilizing this logic, we can probably safely say that Jessica’s Native ancestor was not found in the preceding 4 generations, as shown on the chart below.

On this expanded chart, I’ve included the estimated birth year of the ancestor in that particular generation, using 25 years as the average generation length.

If we use the logic that the fully Native ancestor was not between Jessica and her great-great-grandmother, that takes us back through an ancestor born in about 1882.

The next 2 generations back in time would have been born in 1857 and 1832, respectively, and both of those generations would have been reflected as Indian on the 1850 and/or 1860 census. Apparently, they weren’t or the genealogists working on the program would have picked up on that easy tip.

If Jessica’s Native ancestor was born in the 7th generation, in about 1807, and lived to the 1850 census, they would have been recorded in that census as Native at about 43 years of age. Now, it’s certainly possible that Jessica had a Native ancestor that might have been born about 1807 and didn’t live until the 1850 census, and whose half-Native children were not enumerated as Indian.

So, let’s go with that scenario for a minute.

If that was the case, the 7th generation born in 1807 contributed approximately 0.78% DNA to Jessica, IF Jessica inherited 50% in each generation. At 0.78%, that’s below the 1% level. Small amounts of trace DNA are reported as <1%, but at some point the amount is too miniscule to pick up or may have washed out entirely.

Let’s add to that scenario. Let’s say that Jessica’s ancestor in the 7th generation was already admixed with some European. Traders were well known to marry into tribes. If Jessica’s “Native” ancestor in the 7th generation was already admixed, that means Jessica today would carry even less than 0.78%.

You can easily see why this heritage, if it exists, might not show up in Jessica’s DNA results.

No Native DNA Does NOT Equal No Native Heritage

However, the fact that Jessica’s DNA ethnicity results don’t indicate Native American DNA doesn’t necessarily mean that Jessica doesn’t have a Native ancestor.

It might mean that Jessica doesn’t have a Native ancestor. But it might also mean that Jessica’s DNA can’t reliably disclose or identify Native ancestry that far back in time – both because of the genetic distance and also because Jessica may not have inherited exactly half of her ancestor’s Native DNA. Jessica’s 8% Jewish DNA is the perfect example of the variance in how DNA is actually passed versus the 50% average per generation that we have to utilize when calculating expected estimates.

Furthermore, keep in mind that all ethnicity tools are imprecise.  It’s a new field and the reference panels, especially for Native heritage, are not as robust as other groups.

Does Jessica Have Native Heritage?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but here’s what I do know.

  • You can’t conclude that because the ethnicity portion of a DNA test doesn’t show Native ancestry that there isn’t any.
  • You can probably say that any fully Native ancestor is not with in the past 6 generations, give or take a generation or so.
  • You can probably say that any Native ancestor is probably prior to 1825 or so.
  • You can look at the census records to confirm or eliminate Native ancestors in many or most lines within the past 6 or 7 generations.
  • You can utilize geographic location to potentially eliminate some ancestors from being Native, especially if you have a potential tribal affiliation. Let’s face it, Cherokees are not found in Maine, for example.
  • You can potentially utilize Y and mitochondrial DNA to reach further back in time, beyond what autosomal DNA can tell you.
  • If autosomal DNA does indicate Native heritage, you can utilize traditional genealogy research in combination with both Y and mitochondrial DNA to prove which line or lines the Native heritage came from.

Mitochondrial and Y DNA Testing

While autosomal DNA is constrained to 5 or 6 generations reasonably, Y and mitochondrial DNA is not.

Of course, Ancestry, who sponsors the Who Do You Think You Are series, doesn’t sell Y or mitochondrial DNA tests, so they certainly aren’t going to introduce that topic.

Y and mitochondrial DNA tests reach back time without the constraint of generations, because neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA are admixed with the other parent.

The Y DNA follows the direct paternal line for males, and mitochondrial DNA follows the direct matrilineal line for both males and females.

In the Concepts – Who To Test article, I discussed all three types of testing and who one can test to discover their heritage, through haplogroups, of each family line.  Every single one of your ancestors carried and had the opportunity to pass on either Y or mitochondrial DNA to their descendants.  Males pass the Y chromosome to male children, only, and females pass mitochondrial DNA to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on.

I don’t want to repeat myself about who carries which kind of DNA, but I do want to say that in Jessica’s case, based on what is known about her family, she could probably narrow the source of the potential Native ancestor significantly.

In the above example, if Jessica is the daughter – let’s say that we think the Native ancestor was the mother of the maternal great-grandmother. She is the furthest right on the chart, above. The pink coloring indicates that the pink maternal great grandmother carries the mitochondrial DNA and passed it on to the maternal grandmother who passed it to the mother who passed it to both Jessica and her siblings.

Therefore, Jessica or her mother, either one, could take a mitochondrial DNA test to see if there is deeper Native ancestry than an autosomal test can reveal.

When Y and mitochondrial DNA is tested, a haplogroup is assigned, and Native American haplogroups fall into subgroups of Y haplogroups C and Q, and subgroups of mitochondrial haplogroups A, B, C, D, X and probably M.

With a bit of genealogy work and then DNA testing the appropriate descendants of Jessica’s ancestors, she might still be able to discern whether or not she has Native heritage. All is not lost and Jessica’s Native ancestry has NOT been disproven – even though that’s certainly the impression left with viewers.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA Tests

If you’d like to order a Y or mitochondrial DNA test, I’d recommend the Full Mitochondrial Sequence test or the 37 marker Y DNA test, to begin with. You will receive a full haplogroup designation from the mitochondrial test, plus matching and other tools, and a haplogroup estimate with the Y DNA test, plus matching and other tools.

You can click here to order the mitochondrial DNA, the Y DNA or the Family Finder test which includes ethnicity estimates from Family Tree DNA. Family Tree DNA is the only DNA testing company that performs the Y and mitochondrial DNA tests.

Further Reading:

If you’d like to read more about ethnicity estimates, I’d specifically recommend “DNA Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

If you’d like more information on how to figure out what your ethnicity estimates should be, I’d recommend Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages.

You can also search on the word “ethnicity” in the search box in the upper right hand corner of the main page of this blog.

If you’d like to read more about Native American heritage and DNA testing, I’d  recommend the following articles. You can also search for “Native” in the search box as well.

How Much Indian Do I Have In Me?

Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA

Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups

Mitochondrial DNA Build 17 Update at Family Tree DNA

I knew the mitochondrial DNA update at Family Tree DNA was coming, I just didn’t know when. The “when” was earlier this week.

Take a look at your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup – it maybe different!

Today, this announcement arrived from Family Tree DNA.

We’re excited to announce the release of mtDNA Build 17, the most up-to-date scientific understanding of the human genome, haplogroups and branches of the mitochondrial DNA haplotree.

As a result of these updates and enhancements—the most advanced available for tracing your direct maternal lineage—some customers may see a change to their existing mtDNA haplogroup. This simply means that in applying the latest research, we are able to further refine your mtDNA haplogroup designation, giving you even more anthropological insight into your maternal genetic ancestry.

With the world’s largest mtDNA database, your mitochondrial DNA is of great value in expanding the overall knowledge of each maternal branch’s history and origins. So take your maternal genetic ancestry a step further—sign in to your account now and discover what’s new in your mtDNA!

This is great news. It means that your haplogroup designation is the most up to date according to Phylotree.

I’d like to take this opportunity to answer a few questions that you might have.

What is Phylotree?

Phylotree is, in essence, the mitochondrial tree of humanity. It tracks the mutations that formed the various mutations from “Mitochondrial Eve,” the original ancestor of all females living today, forward in time…to you.

You can view the Phylotree here.

For example, if your haplogroup is J1c2f, for example, on Phylotree, you would click on haplogroup JT, which includes J. You would then scroll down through all the subgroups to find J1c2f. But that’s after your haplgroup is already determined. Phylotree is the reference source that testing companies use to identify the mutations that define haplogroups in order to assign your haplogroup to you.

It’s All About Mutations

For example, J1c2f has the following mutations at each level, meaning that each mutation(s) further defines a subgroup of haplogroup J.

As you can see, each mutation(s) further refines the haplogroup from J through J1c2f. In other words, if the person didn’t have the mutation G9055A, they would not be J1c2f, but would only be J1c2. If new clusters are discovered in future versions of Phylotree, then someday this person might be J1c2f3z.

Family Tree DNA provides an easy reference mutations chart here.

What is Build 17?

Research in mitochondrial DNA is ongoing. As additional people test, it becomes clear that new subgroups need to be identified, and in some cases, entire groups are moved to different branches of the tree. For example, if you were previously haplogroup A4a, you are now A1, and if you were previously A4a1 you are now A1a.

Build 17 was released in February of 2016. The previous version, Build 16, was released in February 2014 and Build 15 in September of 2012. Prior to that, there were often multiple releases per year, beginning in 2008.

Vendors and Haplogroups

Unfortunately, because some haplogroups are split, meaning they were previously a single haplogroup that now has multiple branches, a haplogroup update is not simply changing the name of the haplogroup. Some people that were previously all one haplogroup are now members of three different descendant haplogroups. I’m using haplogroup Z6 as an example, because it doesn’t exist, and I don’t want to confuse anyone.

Obviously, the vendors can’t just change Z6 to Z6a, because people that were previously Z6 might still be Z6 or might be Z6a, Z6b or Z6c.

Each vendor that provides haplogroups to clients has to rerun their entire data base, so a mitochondrial DNA haplogroup update is not a trivial undertaking and requires a lot of planning.

For those of you who also work with Y DNA, this is exactly why the Y haplotree went from haplogroup names like R1b1c to R-M269, where the terminal SNP, or mutation furthest down the tree (that the participant has tested for) is what defines the haplogroup.

If that same approach were applied to mitochondrial DNA, then J1c2f would be known as J-G9055A or maybe J-9055.

Why Version Matters

When comparing haplogroups between people who tested at various vendors, it’s important to understand that they may not be the same. For example, 23andMe, who reports a haplogroup prediction based not on full sequence testing, but on a group of probes, is still using Phylotree Build 12 from 2011.

Probe based vendors can update their client’s haplogroup to some extent, based on the probes they use which test only specific locations, but they cannot fully refine a haplogroup based on new locations, because their probes never tested those locations. They weren’t known to be haplogroup defining at the time their probes were designed. Even if they redefine their probes, they would have to rerun the actual tests of all of their clients on the new test platform with the new probes.

Full sequence testing at Family Tree DNA eliminates that problem, because they test the entire mitochondria at every location.

Therefore, it’s important to be familiar with your haplogroup, because you might match someone it doesn’t appear that you match. For example, our haplogroup A4a=A1 example. At 23andMe the person would still be A4a but at Family Tree DNA they would be A1.

If you utilize MitoSearch or if you are looking at mtDNA haplogroups recorded in GedMatch, for example, be aware of the source of the information. If you are utilizing other vendors who provide haplogroup estimates, ask which Phylotree build they are using so you know what to expect and how to compare.

Knowing the history of your haplogroup’s naming will allow you to better evaluate haplogroups found outside of Family Tree DNA matchs.

Build History

You can view the Phylotree Update History at this link, but Built 17 information is not yet available. However, since Family Tree DNA went from Built 14 to Build 17, and other vendors are further behind, the information here is still quite relevant.

Growth

If you’re wondering how much the tree grew, Build 14 defined 3550 haplogroups and Built 17 identified 5437. Build 14 utilized and analyzed 8,216 modern mitochondrial sequences, reflected in the 2012 Copernicus paper by Behar et al. Build 17 utilized 24,275 mitochondrial sequences. I certainly hope that the authors will update the Copernicus paper to reflect Build 17. Individuals utilizing the Copernicus paper for haplogroup aging today will have to be cognizant of the difference in haplogroup names.

Matching

If your haplogroup changed, or the haplogroup of any of your matches, your matches may change. Family Tree DNA utilizes something called SmartMatching which means that they will not show you as a match to someone who has taken the full sequence test and is not a member of your exact haplogroup. In other words, they will not show a haplogroup J1c2 as a match to a J1c2f, because their common ancestors are separated by thousands of years.

However, if someone has only tested at the HVR1 or HVR1+HVR2 (current mtDNA Plus test) levels and is predicted to be haplogroup J or J1, and they match you exactly on the locations in the regions where you both tested, then you will be shown as a match. If they upgrade and are discovered to be a different haplogroup, then you will no longer be shown as a match at any level.

Genographic Project

If you tested with the Genographic Project prior to November of 2016, your haplogroup may be different than the Family Tree DNA haplogroup. Family Tree DNA provided the following information:

The differences can be caused by the level of testing done, which phase of the Genographic project that you tested, and when.

  • Geno 1 tested all of HVR1.
  • Geno 2 tested a selection of SNPs across the mitochondrial genome to give a more refined haplogroup using Build 14.
  • Geno 2+ used an updated selection of SNPs across the mitochondrial genome using Build 16.

If you have HVR1 either transferred from the Genographic Project or from the FTDNA product mtDNA, you will have a basic, upper-level haplogroup.

If you tested mtDNA Plus with FTDNA, which is HVR1 + HVR2, you will have a basic, upper-level haplogroup.

If you tested the Full Mitochondrial Sequence with Family Tree DNA, your haplogroup will reflect the full Build 17 haplogroup, which may be different from either the Geno 2 or Geno 2+ haplogroup because of the number and selection of SNPs tested in the Genographic Project, or because of the build difference between Geno 2+ and FTDNA.

Thank You

I want to say a special thank you to Family Tree DNA.

I know that there is a lot of chatter about the cost of mitochondrial DNA testing as compared to autosomal, which is probe testing. It’s difficult for a vendor to maintain a higher quality, more refined product when competing against a lower cost competitor that appears, at first glance, to give the same thing for less money. The key of course is that it’s not really the same thing.

The higher cost is reflective of the fact that the full sequence mitochondrial test uses different technology to test all of the 16,569 mitochondrial DNA locations individually to determine whether the expected reference value is found, a mutation, a deletion or an insertion of other DNA.

Because Family Tree DNA tests every location individually, when new haplogroups are defined, your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup can be updated to reflect any new haplogroup definition, based on any of those 16,569 locations, or combinations of locations. Probe testing in conjunction with autosomal DNA testing can’t do this because the nature of probe testing is to test only specific locations for a value, meaning that probe tests test only known haplogroup defining locations at the time the probe test was designed.

So, thank you, Family Tree DNA, for continuing to test the full mitochondrial sequence, thank you for the updated Build 17 for refined haplogroups, and thank you for answering additional questions about the update.

Testing

If you haven’t yet tested your mitochondrial DNA at the full sequence level, now’s a great time!

If you have tested at the HVR1 or the HVR1+HVR2 levels, you can upgrade to the full sequence test directly from your account. For the next week, upgrades are only $99.

There are two mtDNA tests available today, the mtPlus which only tests through the HVR1+HVR2 level, or about 7% of your mitochondrial DNA locations, or the mtFull Sequence that tests your entire mitochondria, all 16,569 locations.

Click here to order or upgrade.

Mary Durham (1686 – c 1746), Scandals and Scoundrels, 52 Ancestors #152

Mary Durham, daughter of Thomas Durham and Dorothy Smoot was born June 5, 1686 in North Farnham Parish in what was then Old Rappahannock County, Virginia.

Most of what we know about Mary Durham is related to her husbands, mostly her first husband by whom her children were born, Thomas Dodson.

Mary grew up along Totuskey Creek, red pin below, on the peninsula of land in Virginia known as the Northern Neck, surrounded on three sides by water; the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. It was then and remains rather insular. At that time, the economy was driven by tobacco.

Neighbors Married Neighbors

Based on deeds of her father as well as her brother, husband and husband’s father, it appears that Mary’s parents were neighbors with her husband’s parents, and she married the boy from across the fence. Mary and Thomas probably saw each other during their daily life, and on Sunday’s dressed up for church at North Farnham Parish, although the current church wasn’t built until 1737. Mary and her family would have attended the original church, located a few miles north of the present-day church, in a now forgotten location.

We don’t really know how Mary dressed or much about her lifestyle, but in general, the colonial Virginians attempted to keep up with the styles in England. The Durham family was not poor, but they also weren’t aristocratic. The lady above is fashionably dressed in 1700 in England. All I can say is that I hope it was winter with all of that fabric. She would have sweat to death in the summer, and washing machines were still an invention of the future.

Mary was quite young when she married Thomas Dodson. Their marriage was recorded on August 1, 1701 in the North Farnham Parish parish register. Mary was all of 15 years old, specifically 15 years and almost 3 months. That’s awfully young to marry, even in colonial Virginia. Thomas Dodson was all of 20 years old, young for a colonial male to marry too.

Of course, that raises the question of why they married so young. The first thought would be pregnancy. We can’t really rule that in or out, but here’s what we do know.

The first child recorded in the Farnham Parish Church registry for Mary and Thomas was George, born on October 31, 1702, a year and almost 3 months after their marriage. That means Mary did not get pregnant until they had been married 6 months. That too is unusual, as effective birth control did not exist at that time and there was no reason in that time and place not to begin a family immediately.

However, there’s son Thomas Dodson Jr. whose birth is not recorded in the Farnham Church register, which is known to be incomplete. Typically, the first male child is named after the father. If Thomas Jr. was the first child born to Mary and Thomas, then Mary would have to have been VERY pregnant when she married Thomas, in order for there to be enough time to have Thomas Jr., conceive George and give birth to him in October of 1702.

Mary’s son, Thomas Dodson Jr.’s birth is unrecorded, but he was married before 1725 to Elizabeth Rose, suggesting he was born before 1705.

If Thomas was the second born, who was the first born, George, named after, and why?

Land

In February 1702/03, Thomas Dodson’s father, Charles Dodson, deeded land to Thomas. A month earlier, Charles had written his will and included that same land for Thomas. He apparently decided to go ahead and deed the land before his death. On the same day, he also deeded land to son Charles Dodson and indicated that Charles was already living on his land – so it’s likely that Thomas was too.

The land deeded to Thomas was half of Charles Dodson’s 300 acre tract and the half that brother Charles lived on was called Rich Neck. The other half is the land Thomas received, separated from Rich Neck by a branch of the creek.

In the article about Thomas Dodson, we identified where Rich Neck was located.

At age sixteen and a half, with a four month old baby, if not two children, Mary was now the mistress of a plantation.

Scandal

In 1708 and 1709, and probably somewhat before and after, the Durham family was embroiled in a whopper of a scandal. In 1699, Thomas Durham, Mary’s father, had “purchased” an indentured servant named Anne Kelly. She was almost exactly Mary Durham’s age, 14 at that time, as judged by the court. I don’t know if the girls would have been allowed just to be girls, at least part of the time, or if their class difference would have kept them apart, even though they lived under the same roof.

However, Anne Kelly and Mary’s brother, Thomas Durham Jr. had no problem with class differences, it appears, at least not initially. In 1708, Anne was brought before the court, presented by her “master, Thomas Durham Sr.,” charged with fornication and bringing a bastard child into the world. Keep in mind that indentured servants were prohibited from marrying before their indenture was complete, so if they engaged in any intimate activity and a child resulted, the child was legally prevented from being legitimate because of their mother’s indentured status.

Anne refused to reveal the name of the father, and was fined and sentenced to jail. We’ll never know of course, if Anne was protecting someone, or if she was fearful. One way or another, she was certainly vulnerable.

Dorothy Smoot Durham, Thomas Durham Sr.’s wife came into court that same day and paid Anne’s fine, preventing Anne from having to spend time in jail. Why Dorothy performed this brave feat is unknown. It could have been out of the goodness of her heart. It could have been because she knew the identity of the father, or it could have been because she did not want to have to deal with an infant whose mother was in jail, and a servant who couldn’t serve. Regardless, Dorothy did what she needed to do – and reading between the lines, what her husband would not..

Just 10 months later, Anne Kelly was back in court again with another “bastard child,” but this time she told the court that both children were begotten by Thomas Durham Jr., Mary’s brother – although he would only have been 17 or so when the first child was conceived, if not younger. Given that there was only 10 months between Anne’s first court appearance the her second, for the second child, it’s feasible that the first child was born perhaps a year before she was actually brought into court initially. If so, then Thomas Durham Jr. would have been 16.

The second time Anne was fined, it wasn’t Dorothy that intervened, but Thomas Dodson, Mary’s husband. He paid Anne’s fine, and it appears from the court record that Anne was already serving at Thomas Dodson’s house. In any event, after her original indenture, Anne was obligated to serve additional time working for Thomas Dodson because he paid her fine. The added time to an indenture for each child was 5 years, typically, and the indenture for the fine might have been 5 years as well.

So, in addition to her own family, Mary had Anne living with them with her two children that were Mary’s nieces or nephews. In 1710, this means that Mary had at least 4 children under the age of 10 in the household and possibly as many as 8.

What is that Chinese blessing/curse? “May you live in interesting times.” Certainly these days were, especially in light of the fact that Thomas Durham Jr. married the neighbor girl, Mary Smoot about 1710 while Anne Kelly was still indentured to the family, serving extra time and raising HIS two children to boot. I’d wager Anne was none too happy for various reasons which would have added more drama to Thomas Durham’s wedding when he married Mary Smoot, related to his mother.

So 1708, 1709 and 1710 would have been very interesting years in the Durham family as well as at the Dodson’s plantation next door.

Mary’s Father Dies

In 1711, Mary’s father apparently became ill and wrote his will on August 4th, 3 days after Mary would have celebrated her 10 year wedding anniversary. In Thomas Durham’s will, among others, he mentions daughter Mary Dodson and her son, Thomas Dodson. We now know unquestionably that Thomas was born before August of 1711 and probably named after Thomas Durham, his grandfather.

We can guess, based on the average of one child every other year that Mary had born 5 children by this time. However, given what we know about the rest of her children, and who was living in 1739 when Thomas Dodson made his will, the children born between the first two sons and 1710 or 1711 died. There would have been three children whose names are unknown today that Mary gave birth to and buried, if not as children, then within her lifetime, before Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739. Many children died in an age with no inoculation’s and no antibiotics.

Daughter Alice Dodson’s birth is unrecorded, but about 1729, she married William Creel who was born in 1712, so we’ll count her as being born about 1712 as well.

Thomas Durham, Mary’s father, did not die until 1715, with his will being probated in June of that year. This suggests that he was ill from 1711, 4 years. Thomas would have been about 55 when he died, certainly not old by today’s standards.

Mary would have been 5 months pregnant for daughter Mary when she buried her father. She would have stood at her father’s grave beside her mother with at least three living children, if not more. It would have been a sad day in later winter or spring.

I wonder if Anne Kelly joined the family, bringing Thomas Durham Sr.’s two illegitimate grandchildren, if they were still living, to his funeral.  If so, I’d bet you could cut the tension with a knife between Anne Kelly, Thomas Durham Jr. and his wife who probably had at least one child herself by this time.

Births and Remarriage

Daughter Mary Dodson was born a few months later on October, 5 1715. We know she lived because her father’s will in 1739 mentions her as Mary Oldham.

In February 1716, just 8 months after Mary’s father’s will was probated, her mother, Dorothy remarried to Jeremiah Greenham. This marriage was apparently not a negative turn of events, because the Dodsons and Durhams and Greenhams appear in many documents together. Even more telling is that Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson named a son Greenham, so obviously Jeremiah Greenham was much loved. Greenham Dodson was born sometime between the 1716 marriage and 1720, so let’s assign him to the 1717 slot, given that he was married by 1740.

That means that son David, who wrote a will with a possibly pregnant wife in 1740 would have likely been born about 1719.

A child who would have been born about 1721 is missing, so was probably born and died at some point before Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739.

Son Abraham Dodson was born April 4, 1723 in North Farnham Parish. He married Barbara, surname unknown and moved to Faquier County where he died in 1768.

The Next Generation

Mary’s son, Thomas Dodson Jr. was apparently married in 1724, because on February 21, 1725, Mary’s first grandchild, a grandson, Joseph was born to Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth Rose. Mary was pregnant herself at that time, so her grandson Joseph would be older than her own two youngest children.

Son Joshua Dodson was born May 25, 1725 in North Farnham Parish, three months after her first grandchild was born.  Joshua was living in Faquier County in 1762 with wife Ruth when the Broad Run Church was constituted.

On April 30, 1726, George Dodson left the fold and married Margaret Dagod. That December, a daughter, Mary, named after her grandmother of course, was born to George and Margaret. I wonder if Mary felt particularly close to her namesake granddaughter.

Mary’s last child, Elisha, was born in 1727 when she was 41 years old. Mary had been bearing children for 25 years, a quarter century, risking death with each birth, for herself and the child as well.

Elisha Dodson was born February 22, 1727 in North Farnham Parish. He married Sarah Averitt (Everett) whose parents were William and Margaret Everett.

Four days apart in October of 1728, Mary’s second and third grandchildren arrived, son Lazarus to George Dodson and Margaret Dagod and son Thomas to Thomas Dodson and Elizabeth Rose. What a week that must have been!!! Babies and toddlers everyplace in the Dodson family, as the next generation had begun in earnest.

The Westward Movement Begins

In December 1733, Thomas Dodson Sr, wife Mary, Thomas Dodson Jr. and his wife Elizabeth sold land on the main swamp of Totuskey to Johnathan Lyell. That land sale is actually very helpful, because just below Rich Neck, today, there is a Lyell Church and about 3 or 4 miles northwest of Rich Neck is a Lyells crossroads. This deed which was originally the Thomas Durham Sr. land helps us to locate where this family group lived. You can click to enlarge the map below.

Mary signs this deed with her mark, an M, indicating that she cannot write her name. Education for women in terms of reading and writing was deemed unimportant and unnecessary for women in colonial America.

After this land sale, Thomas Dodson Jr. moved to Prince William County, the part that became Faquier County in 1759 and was a founding member of the Broad Run Baptist Church in 1762.

The Broad Run Church was about 105 miles from Rich Neck, but 100 miles in a wagon was about a 10 day journey, or a couple days if you were just riding a horse. By stage, at least two days, if not 3. Mary may not have seen Thomas’s family again. Perhaps he returned for an occasional visit by horseback. I hope so, for Mary’s sake, but it was very unlikely that his family came along.

Daughter Alice married William Creel about 1729 and by 1746, they too were buying land in Prince William County.

Blindness

About this time, Mary’s son Elisha experienced a devastating eye injury that blinded him for life. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we do know from the Reverend Elias Dodson who wrote about the Dodson family about 1860 that Elisha was blind from an accident or event dating from Elisha’s childhood. I have to wonder what could have been so devastating as to blind him entirely, not just in one eye. Measles, uevitis and trachoma are all 3 diseases known to cause blindness. Some type of accident could have as well, but I suspect an accident would have been more likely to only blind one eye.

Death, Death and More Death

Daughter Mary would probably have married about 1735 and son David, about 1737 or 1738, given that he had one child in 1739 when Thomas Dodson wrote his will.

On February 7, 1739/40, Thomas Dodson penned his will saying he was sick and weak of body. He left Mary the plantation along with all of the negroes and moveable estate during her natural life. He does not say anything about reducing her inheritance to one third or a child’s portion that if she remarries. Clearly, he loved Mary dearly and provided for her as best he could.

Thomas leaves land and other items to their children. Thomas’s will is the only way we know about son David, because David’s birth is not found in the North Farnham Parish register, nor is his marriage, and he lives in another county.

Thomas does not pass away immediately after writing his will. His death is shown in the North Farnham Parish register as occurring on November 21, 1740. Thomas was apparently ill between February and the end of November when he died. Mary would have cared for him for these nine months. Ironic, nine months to bring a child into the world and nine months to usher Thomas to the other side.

Mary’s heart must have been sick with worry and grief. Her son, David, living in Prince William County, wrote his will on April 27, 1740, just 2 months and 20 days after his father wrote his will. David’s will was probated three months later on July 28th, so before Thomas’s death. In February, when Thomas Dodson wrote his will, he left 20 shillings to his granddaughter, the daughter of David Dodson, but two months later, when David wrote his will, the daughter was apparently deceased, because David leaves his slaves to his wife during her lifetime and then to his child, “if my wife should prove to be with child.” I wonder what caused the deaths of David’s child, and David himself, and if they died of the same thing. I wonder if wife Amey was with child, and if so, what happened to Amey and the child.

Of course, communication at that time was by letter, and if the people involved did not read and write, they would have had to have someone write the letters for them, as well as read them when received. News traveled slowly, so the granddaughter may have already died when Thomas Dodson wrote his will. Regardless, that child was dead by the time David Dodson wrote his will, and we don’t know if David’s wife was with child, nor what happened to her. Clearly, Mary couldn’t go to help, had she known, because she had her hands full at home. Mary’s youngest child would have been 12. At least the children were old enough to be of assistance. I would wager that during this time Mary spent many tearful nights alone by the fireplace after everyone else went to bed.

As the months and years rolled on, after Thomas’s death, more grandchildren were born in the rhythmic two year cycle of pregnancy and birth. I hope Mary enjoyed those children in the bright sunshine of the Northern Neck summertime.

Was Robert Galbreath A Scoundrel?

Mary’s life seems to have taken a downturn after Thomas’s death. Thomas’s will was probated on March 2, 1740/41 with Mary and son, Greenham, as executors.

Mary received the plantation with son Elisha inheriting it after her death. We don’t have any record of what happened to that plantation, unfortunately.

Thomas Dodson’s estate inventory should be interesting, if it is detailed, because all items were deemed to have been owned by the man when he died. Therefore all kitchen items, bedding, cloth, spinning wheels, and anything owned by the “couple” or the “woman,” except her clothes and unless it was specifically deeded to her, without him, was legally the mans and inventoried as part of his estate. Even though this practice of exclusive male spousal property ownership, by today’s standards, is barbaric, it does serve to give us a peephole into their lives.  Looking at a man’s estate inventory tells us how the entire household lived.

Eighteen months after Thomas’s death, on September 29, 1743, Mary Durham Dodson married Robert Galbreath and sure enough, lawsuits followed – just 10 months later. Robert Galbreath or Galbraith is not a known name in the neighborhood. One wonders where he came from and how Mary met him and became familiar enough to marry.

On July 3, 1744, in chancery court, Greenham Dodson files on behalf of himself as executor of the estate of Thomas Dodson, and others, against Robert Galbreath. (Court Record Book 11-406)

On May 7, 1745, the suit was resolved and the court decided that the petitioner, Greenham Dodson, should “take possession of the coverture, according to the intention of the testators will” and that he should use it for the benefit of Mary Galbreath during her coverture. Robert Galbreath refused to give security and was ordered to pay costs. (Court Record Book 11-458)

I checked the Virginia Chancery Suit index site for Richmond County, and either those records never made it to the State Library, or they aren’t online yet. I would love to see the entire case file for this suit. More specifically, I want the juicy tidbits. What was the problem? Was Mary in danger, and if so, why? The court’s position is rather extreme, as these judgements go in early Virginia – especially given that women in essence lost rights and property to their husbands when they married. The only saving grace was that at least the land owned by Thomas Dodson wasn’t owned by Mary in fee simple, so Galbreath couldn’t dispose of it, as it was a life estate to go to Elisha at Mary’s death. The balance of the moveable estate that Thomas left, not so. Galbreath would have had the legal right to do anything he wanted with everything not left to someone other than Mary. For the court to remove that right from a colonial male would have been a decision not reached lightly and only due to a serious problem.

That suit doesn’t sound friendly at all, and it wasn’t resolved between July of 1744 and May of 1745 by the parties involved, as is often the case. The term coverture means the legal status of a married woman, considered to be under her husband’s protection and authority. Perhaps the Dodson children felt that Robert Galbreath was utilizing the estate of Thomas Dodson for himself, not for Mary. Mary would have been 57 years old.

This entry is the last record of Mary. After that, the screen goes dark. I worry, posthumously of course, that Mary was in danger or ill and not taken care of in the last months of her life.

I feel good about the fact that Greenham took a stand and was sticking up for his mother, whether it was for the benefit of his mother or whether it was to preserve his father’s estate. Regardless, someone was looking out for Mary’s interests, which were the same as the Thomas Dodson estate’s interests, and was willing to go to court to do so.

We don’t know what happened next. Divorce was unheard of, but Greenham could have “had a man to man talk” with Robert, as it appears that Robert might have hightailed it back to Lancaster County. Mary could simply have continued to live on the land in Richmond County, until she died and the land fell to Elisha, as Thomas’s will indicated. Son Elisha would have been 13 when his father died, so a young man that within just a few years would have been able to run the plantation quite effectively.  By 1744 Elisha would have been 17 and in 1745, 18 years old.  He didn’t need Galbreath to run Thomas Dodson’s plantation.

Following the Trail to Prince William County

In 1746, both Greenham Dodson and William Creel, husband of Alice Dodson Creel are buying land in Prince William County. I feel that Mary likely died about this time, being the impetus for several of Mary’s children to pull up stakes and move west, with nothing holding them in Richmond County any longer.

Elisha would have turned 20 in 1747. Apparently moving west was more attractive than living on the family plantation, because he too moved to Prince William County, although we don’t know when, other than it was before 1762.

Galbreath’s Death

Robert Galbreath died 4 years after Greenham filed and won the suit, but with no mention of a wife. Does that indicate that Mary had died by this time? Did Mary move with Robert to Lancaster County? Or maybe after the suit, she moved with her children to Prince William County? Or did she live with George Dodson in Richmond County, or remain on her own plantation? We’ll never know.

Abstracts of Lancaster County, Virginia Wills 1653-1800 by Ida J. Lee

Galbreath, Robert. Will. 10 Oct. 1749. Rec. 9 March 1749. Cousin, Richard Weir; Ezekiel Morris; Margaret Carter. Extr. Cousin Richard Weir. Wits; Isaac White, Michael Dillon. W.B. 14, p. 274.

Inventory of above, returned by Isaac White, admr 11 May 1750. W.B. 14, p. 285.

Suit: Isaac White, Pltf. vs Katherine Jones, Defd. Robert Galbreath had made a gift to his daughter-in-law Katherine Carter, since intermarried with Humphrey Jones. Dated 29 Sept. 1752. Rec. 18 June 1753. W.B. 15, p. 139.

The end of Mary’s life may have been difficult, at best. I hope her children sheltered her from whatever storms she encountered.

Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson’s Children

Thomas Dodson and Mary Durham were married on August 1, 1701. Some of their children are well documented, and others are virtually unknown.

George Dodson had a son, Rawleigh born in 1731. The name Rawleigh was shared in Richmond County by Rawleigh Travers, a family member of the Travers family that Charles Dodson, father of Thomas, bought land from, Rawleigh Downman, neighbors of the Dodsons, and Rawleigh Chinn, the son of Alice Smoot born in 1642 who married a Chinn. Alice Smoot was Mary Durham’s aunt. Sir Walter Raleigh may have popularized this name in the early 1600s. I’ve always wondered where the name Rawleigh came from in the Dodson family. Perhaps this is a clue.

  • Thomas Dodson Jr.’s birth is unrecorded, but he was married before 1725 to Elizabeth Rose, suggesting he was born before 1705. About 1733, Thomas moved to Prince William County, the part that became Faquier in 1759 and was a founding member of the Broad Run Baptist Church in 1762. In 1766, Thomas moved to Halifax County, wrote his will in 1779 and died in 1783. In later years, in Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties, the records of various Thomas Dodsons are intermingled and confused.
  • Alice Dodson’s birth is unrecorded, but about 1729 she married William Creel, born in 1712. They had children, one being John Creel born in 1732. Daughter Alice Creel was mentioned in Thomas Dodson’s 1739 will. By 1746, William Creel was buying land in Prince William County and in 1757, William died with Thomas Dodson (Jr.) being one of the men to appraise his estate. His wife was listed at that time as Anne, with Alice apparently having died sometime between 1739 and 1757.
  • Mary Dodson born October 5, 1715 had married an Oldham by the time her father wrote his will in 1739. Nothing more is known about this line.
  • David Dodson’s birth is unrecorded. His wife’s name is Amey, surname unknown. David died in Prince William County in 1740, his will dated April 27th that year and probated in July. He left his wife the use of his slaves and then to his child if his wife should prove to be with child. Thomas Dodson left 30 shillings to his granddaughter, the daughter of David Dodson, but nothing more is known of this child. She probably died between the time that Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739 and David Dodson’s will in 1740. Either that or David omitted his daughter from his will, or the David who died in 1740 is not the son of Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson.
  • Greenham Dodson’s birth is unrecorded, but he was married to Eleanor Hightower by 1740, meaning he was probably born 1715-1720. In 1746, Greenham sold his land in Richmond County and moved to Amelia County. He had moved to Halifax County by 1772 and in 1777, a Greenham Dodson signed a loyalty oath.

I have always wondered about the genesis of the name, Greenham. Jeremiah Greenham married the widow Dorothy Durham in 1716, probably not long before Greenham Dodson’s birth to Thomas and Mary Durham Dodson. Jeremiah would have been Greenham Dodson’s step-grandfather and possibly also his godfather.

  • Abraham Dodson was born April 4, 1723 in North Farnham Parish. He married Barbara, surname unknown and moved to Faquier County by 1762 where he died in 1768.
  • Joshua Dodson was born May 25, 1725 in North Farnham Parish and was living in Faquier County with wife Ruth in 1762 when the Broad Run Church was constituted. Joshua may have lived in Halifax County on his way to Surry County, NC where he settled and may have died there before 1790. It’s also possible that he moved on to South Carolina.
  • Elisha Dodson was born February 22, 1727 in North Farnham Parish. He married Sarah Averitt (Everett) whose parents were William and Margaret Everett. He was left land after his mother’s death, by his father’s will, but there is no record of the disposition of the land. By 1762, he was in Faquier County when his brother, Thomas, released his claim on his father’s estate. In 1774, Elisha moved on to Halifax County where he died in 1796 or 1797. According to the manuscript of the Reverend Elias Dodson, Elisha was blind due to an eye injury as a child.

All of Mary’s sons eventually moved from Richmond County. Thomas Jr. first in 1733 when he sold his land and move to Prince William County, the part that became Faquier in 1759. His siblings would follow over the years.

David left before 1740. Greenham left in 1745, after he filed and won the suit against Robert Galbreath on behalf of his mother and his father’s estate. Did Mary perhaps die at this time or shortly thereafter? Was her ill health what caused Greenham to file suit? Was Robert not caring for her properly? Did Mary’s death free Greenham to move to Prince William County in 1746 along with Mary’s daughter Alice Creel as well? Did Mary’s three youngest sons move with their siblings at this time, or did they stay in Richmond County until later? There is no record of land ownership to help unravel that question.

Given the 1745 lawsuit and the fact that both Greenham, who was obviously looking after his mother’s interests, and daughter Mary left for Prince William County in 1746, I suspect Mary died between 1745 and 1746.

Mary’s son George sold his land in 1756 in Richmond County and appears to have been the last to leave, although we don’t know what happened to George and Margaret after that sale, because they are never recorded elsewhere.  Their children, by virtue of who they married, had to have been living nearby their Dodson cousins. Two of George’s children married other Dodson family members..

In 1762, Thomas Dodson of Faquier County, released his right to his claim on the estate of his father, Thomas, to his brothers; Greenham Dodson of Amelia County, Abraham, Joshua and Elisha of Faquier County. Brother George is notably absent and is not found again after selling his Richmond County land in 1756. One could presume that Mary has died by 1756 – otherwise it’s unlikely that George would have sold and left his mother. By 1762, when Thomas relinquished his right to his share of his father’s estate, and with all of her sons gone from Richmond County, Mary was assuredly buried in the churchyard beside Thomas Dodson.

In 1745, Mary would have been 59 years old, in 1756, age 70 and in 1762, 76 years old.

Where is Mary Buried?

Both Mary and Thomas Dodson died after the new Farnham Parish Church was built in 1737, although their children died before the new church was constructed.

They could have been buried where earlier family members rested but the most likely location for their burial is the cemetery behind the church.  There are no marked graves from this early date. The other possibility of course is that there was a family cemetery, now lost to time, although family cemeteries did not seem to be prevalent in this part of Virginia at this time.

It looks like there is room for lots of unmarked burials in this location.

Mary’s Grandchildren

Eventually, Mary’s 9 children that lived to adulthood would give her a total of 47 known grandchildren, and probably many more. We don’t know how many children Alice Dodson Creel or Mary Dodson Oldham bore. Furthermore, we know that more than 47 had to have been born. Using the known children’s births and a reproductive span of 24/25 years for each woman, giving them the opportunity to have approximately 12 children, spaced 2 years apart, assuming all children lived long enough to nurse for the first year (in many cases, effectively preventing conception of another child,) we calculate that at least 37 additional grandchildren were born and died.

If you add the 47 grandchildren we know about, the 37 that had to have been born and died, and 20 additional births through Alice and Mary, if they survived beyond 1739 when they were recorded in their father’s will, that’s 104 grandchildren.

Of the 34 grandchildren for whom we have documentation, 21 were born in Mary’s lifetime. Two of Mary’s children didn’t begin having children until about the time she died, or after. Mary’s son, George remained in Richmond County and had several children that Mary would have been close to, as he lived on land adjacent to Mary.

Son Thomas left in 1733, taking his grandchildren, aged 8 and under, along with him. That must have been difficult for Mary, seeing her grandchildren leave and knowing she might well not see them again. Mary’s daughters Alice and Mary would have been marrying about that time though, so perhaps those grandchildren that we don’t know about helped to sooth the ache in Mary’s heart. We also don’t know if Alice and Mary remained local or left as well with their husband’s while Mary was still living.

What we do know is that son George stayed, with his children who were probably very close to Mary. Son Greenham stayed until between 1745 and 1746. Mary would have known his children as well. Abraham, Joshua and Elisha were only just beginning their families in the mid-1740s when Mary was aging and probably died.

Mary’s grandchildren’s births spanned roughly half a century, from 1725 to about 1772.

Mary probably had at least one great-grandchild when she died, although she wouldn’t have known the child. Grandson Joseph who was born in 1725 had son Thomas in about 1746, beginning the next generation. Unfortunately, Thomas Jr. had moved to Farquier County in 1733, so unless Mary went along as her sons moved westward, she would never have gotten to hold her great-grandchild.

At least 8 grandchildren died within Mary’s lifetime, meaning that except for David who lived distantly, she would have stood at the funerals and gravesides of 7 grandchildren, and probably 5 of her own children as well. Plus her parents, in-laws, husband and probably at least some of her siblings and their children as well.

Not an easy life, by any means.

Life and Death in Colonial America

I created the chart below to visualize what the “typical” family looked like, in terms of birth, survival and death of children. Mary Durham and Thomas Dodson’s children are listed across the top. The ones in red died or are slots in which we know children would have been born. Mary’s grandchildren are listed in the columns under each child, the red ones known to have died or are unfilled slots – silent sentinels to children who were born and died with no record that they existed except for the blank spot on the chart.

Mary’s two daughters married, but their descendants have never been traced. If the daughters lived after their father’s 1739 will, they would have had additional children as well, not shown below. You can click to enlarge the image.

  • ? Before the name means I’m uncertain if this child is in this family. If not, another child would have filled that slot.
  • ? After the nickname means I’m uncertain if that is this person. For example, there are multiple candidates for “Second Fork” Thomas and the various George nicknames are confused.
  • ? After a first name means that the person’s surname is unknown.
  • Reverend Silas Lucas was unable to differentiate between the later generations of George Dodsons – there is a significant amount of confusion regarding who married whom.
  • Green = my lineage
  • Red = young deaths or children unaccounted for in the birth order, probably born and died
  • No birth years are known for Greenham’s children – placed at 2 year intervals based on estimated marriage and birth dates of their childen, and continued for 25 years.
  • Thomas Dodson wrote his will in 1739 and died in 1740.
  • Mary Durham Dodson was living in 1745, but in 1749 when her second husband Robert Galbreath wrote his will, she is notably absent, although they may have been living separately.
  • Grey = children who married cousins

Just looking at the amount of known red – that’s a lot of death. At that time, it was considered normal to lose roughly half your children before they reached adulthood.

Looking at this another way, the death of 6 of the children of Mary Durham Dodson reduced the number of descendants a few generations downstream by half, which is literally thousands. Just in the first generation, had those children lived to fully reproduce, that would have been another 72 grandchildren for Mary.

Taking a look at this phenomenon in a chart, you can see the potential in the reduction of descendants with just one missing child, or conversely, the potential addition of descendants in a few generation with just one added child. I stopped around 1900, because that’s the timeframe that birth control became popular and family sizes began to shrink.

Five surviving children per generation is certainly reasonable. Ten is likely too optimistic.

It’s no wonder, though, with that number of descendants in just one generation why people with heavy colonial ancestry have high numbers of autosomal DNA matches.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA, which could tell us a great deal about Mary’s heritage on her direct matrilineal line is MIA. Why is it MIA? Women pass their mitochondrial DNA to each of their children, but only female children pass it on. In order to find Mary’s mitochondrial DNA, we would need to test a descendant of Mary through all females to the current generation, when males are eligible as well.

And of course, it’s the two daughters that we don’t know anything about.

If anyone has done research on the daughters, Alice Dodson married to William Creel, or Mary Dodson who married an Oldham, please speak up. Not only can we update their information, but we may be able to find an appropriate person to test for Mary’s mitochondrial DNA. I have a DNA testing scholarship for the first eligible person.

Summary

Mary’s was probably a typically colonial wife, albeit marrying very young. Depending on the family social standing, Mary’s life could have ranged from helping in the fields to overseeing the household and the “domestics” inside. We do know that at least by the time Thomas Dodson died, he did own slaves in addition to at least one indentured servant during his lifetime. Most of the labor would have been for the growth and harvesting of tobacco, and not for household labor. Their “plantation” was probably modest. The Northern Neck was not Tara and they did not own one of the mansion houses.

Mary’s life was probably defined by church and children. While church attendance was mandatory, and men were fined for non-attendance, religion seemed to sooth the heart of those who endured devastating losses. And pretty much everyone who had children experienced devastating losses. In Mary’s case, probably 5 or 6 children died in her lifetime, possibly more, not to mention several grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and her husband. Death is a part of the cycle of life, but that’s an awful lot of death to endure, at least by today’s standards.

Yet, Mary continued to function. She had more children. She went to church and when necessary, she went to the cemetery which was certainly a place far too familiar.

The early cemeteries, whether on plantations or in churchyards are lost to time. Few stones exist on the Northern Neck for people who were born before the mid-1800s. The location of the early Farnham Parish Church is lost to us today, too, and that may have been where family members were buried before the present church was built in 1737. Plantations, and all farms then were considered plantations, may have had their own cemeteries, now reclaimed by Mother Nature or development.

In many ways, the fact that the Northern Neck is a peninsula and not easily accessible has protected it from development, so the unmarked and unknown graves of the colonial planters may still remain unmolested as they rest in peace on one of the first American frontiers.