First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water

First steps helix

Recently someone asked me what the first steps would be for a person who wasn’t terribly familiar with genealogy and had just received their DNA test results.

I wrote an article called DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching which was meant to show new folks what the various vendor interfaces look like. I was hoping this might whet their appetites for more, meaning that the tester might, just might, stick their toe into the genealogy waters😊

I’m hoping this article will help them get hooked! Maybe that’s you!

A Guide

This article can be read in one of two ways – as an overview, or, if you click the links, as a pretty thorough lesson. If you’re new, I strongly suggest reading it as an overview first, then a second time as a deeper dive. Use it as a guide to navigate your results as you get your feet wet.

I’ll be hotlinking to various articles I’ve written on lots of topics, so please take a look at details (eventually) by clicking on those links!

This article is meant as a guideline for what to do, and how to get started with your DNA matching results!

If you’re looking for ethnicity information, check out the First Glances article, plus here and here and here.

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages provides you with guidelines for how to estimate your own ethnicity percentages based on your known genealogy and Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum explains how ethnicity testing is done.

OK, let’s get started. Fun awaits!

The Goal

The goal for using DNA matching in genealogy depends on your interests.

  1. To discover cousins and family members that you don’t know. Some people are interested in finding and meeting relatives who might have known their grandparents or great-grandparents in the hope of discovering new family information or photos they didn’t know existed previously. I’ve been gifted with my great-grandparent’s pictures, so this strategy definitely works!
  2. To confirm ancestors. This approach presumes that you’ve done at least a little genealogy, enough to construct at least a rudimentary tree. Ancestors are “confirmed” when you DNA match multiple other people who descend from the same ancestor through multiple children. I wrote an article, Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?, discussing how much evidence is enough to actually confirm an ancestor. Confirmation is based on a combination of both genealogical records and DNA matching and it varies depending on the circumstances.
  3. Adoptees and people with unknown parents seeking to discover the identities of those people aren’t initially looking at their own family tree – because they don’t have one yet. The genealogy of others can help them figure out the identity of those mystery people. I wrote about that technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

DNAAdoption for Everyone

Educational resources for adoptees and non-adoptees alike can be found at www.dnaadoption.org. DNAAdoption is not just for adoptees and provides first rate education for everyone. They also provide trained and mentored search angels for adoptees who understand the search process along with the intricacies of navigating the emotional minefield of adoption and unknown parent searches.

First Look” classes for each vendor are free for everyone at DNAAdoption and are self-paced, downloadable onto your computer as a pdf file. Intro to DNA, Applied Autosomal DNA and Y DNA Basics classes are nominally priced at between $29 and $49 and I strongly recommend these. DNAAdoption is entirely non-profit, so your class fee or contribution supports their work. Additional resources can be found here and their 12 adoptee search steps here.

Ok, now let’s look at your results.

Matches are the Key

Regardless of your goal, your DNA matches are the key to finding answers, whether you want to make contact with close relatives, prove your more distant ancestors or you’re involved in an adoptee or unknown parent search.

Your DNA matches that of other people because each of you inherited a piece of DNA, called a segment, where many locations are identical. The length of that DNA segment is measured in centiMorgans and those locations are called SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms. You can read about the definition of a centimorgan and how they are used in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’Crab.

While the scientific details are great, they aren’t important initially. What is important is to understand that the more closely you match someone, the more closely you are related to them. You share more DNA with close relatives than more distant relatives.

For example, I share exactly half of my mother’s DNA, but only about 25% of each of my grandparents’ DNA. As the relationships move further back in time, I share less and less DNA with other people who descend from those same ancestors.

Informational Tools

Every vendor’s match page looks different, as was illustrated in the First Glances article, but regardless, you are looking for four basic pieces of information:

  • Who you match
  • How much DNA you share with your match
  • Who else you and your match share that DNA with, which suggests that you all share a common ancestor
  • Family trees to reveal the common ancestor between people who match each other

Every vendor has different ways of displaying this information, and not all vendors provide everything. For example, 23andMe does not support trees, although they allow you to link to one elsewhere. Ancestry does not provide a tool called a chromosome browser which allows you to see if you and others match on the same segment of DNA. Ancestry only tells you THAT you match, not HOW you match.

Each vendor has their strengths and shortcomings. As genealogists, we simply need to understand how to utilize the information available.

I’ll be using examples from all 4 major vendors:

Your matches are the most important information and everything else is based on those matches.

Family Tree DNA

I have tested many family members from both sides of my family at Family Tree DNA using the Family Finder autosomal test which makes my matches there incredibly useful because I can see which family members, in addition to me, my matches match.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal and paternal sides in a unique way, even if your parents haven’t tested, so long as some close relatives have tested. Let’s take a look.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matches.png

Sign on to your account and click to see your matches.

At the top of your Family Finder matches page, you’ll see three groups of things, shown below.

First Steps Family Tree DNA bucketing

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A row of tools at the top titled Chromosome Browser, In Common With and Not in Common With.

A second row of tabs that include All, Paternal, Maternal and Both. These are the maternal and paternal tabs I mentioned, meaning that I have a total of 4645 matches, 988 of which are from my paternal side and 847 of which are from my maternal side.

Family Tree DNA assigns people to these “buckets” based on matches with third cousins or closer if you have them attached in your tree. This is why it’s critical to have a tree and test close relatives, especially people from earlier generations like aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles and their children if they are no longer living.

If you have one or both parents that can test, that’s a wonderful boon because anyone who matches you and one of your parents is automatically bucketed, or phased (scientific term) to that parent’s side of the tree. However, at Family Tree DNA, it’s not required to have a parent test to have some matches assigned to maternal or paternal sides. You just need to test third cousins or closer and attach them to the proper place in your tree.

How does bucketing work?

Maternal or Paternal “Side” Assignment, aka Bucketing

If I match a maternal first cousin, Cheryl, for example, and we both match John Doe on the same segment, John Doe is automatically assigned to my maternal bucket with a little maternal icon placed beside the match.

First Steps Family Tree DNA match info

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Every vendor provides an estimated or predicted relationship based on a combination of total centiMorgans and the longest contiguous matching segment. The actual “linked relationship” is calculated based on where this person resides in your tree.

The common surnames at far right are a very nice features, but not every tester provides that information. When the testers do include surnames at Family Tree DNA, common surnames are bolded. Other vendors have similar features.

People with trees are shown near their profile picture with a blue pedigree icon. Clicking on the pedigree icon will show you their ancestors. Your matches estimated relationship to you indicates how far back you should expect to share an ancestor.

For example, first cousins share grandparents. Second cousins share great-grandparents. In general, the further back in time your common ancestor, the less DNA you can be expected to share.

You can view relationship information in chart form in my article here or utilize DNAPainter tools, here, to see the various possibilities for the different match levels.

Clicking on the pedigree chart of your match will show you their tree. In my tree, I’ve connected my parents in their proper places, along with Cheryl and Don, mother’s first cousins. (Yes, they’ve given permission for me to utilize their results, so they aren’t always blurred in images.)

Cheryl and Don are my first cousins once removed, meaning my mother is their first cousin and I’m one generation further down the tree. I’m showing the amount of DNA that I share with each of them in red in the format of total DNA shared and longest unbroken segment, taken from the match list. So 382-53 means I share a total of 382 cM and 53 cM is the longest matching block.

First Steps Family Tree DNA tree.png

The Chromosome Browser

Utilizing the chromosome browser, I can see exactly where I match both Don and Cheryl. It’s obvious that I match them on at least some different pieces of my DNA, because the total and longest segment amounts are different.

The reason it’s important to test lots of close relatives is because even siblings inherit different pieces of DNA from their parents, and they don’t pass the same DNA to their offspring either – so in each generation the amount of shared DNA is probably reduced. I say probably because sometimes segments are passed entirely and sometimes not at all, which is how we “lose” our ancestors’ DNA over the generations.

Here’s a matching example utilizing a chromosome browser.

First Steps Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.png

I clicked the checkboxes to the left of both Cheryl and Don on the match page, then the Chromosome Browser button, and now you can see, above, on chromosomes 1-16 where I match Cheryl (blue) and Don (red.)

In this view, both Don and Cheryl are being compared to me, since I’m the one signed in to my account and viewing my DNA matches. Therefore, one of the bars at each chromosome represents Don’s DNA match to me and one represents Cheryl’s. Cheryl is the first person and Don is the second. Person match colors (red and blue) are assigned arbitrarily by the system.

My grandfather and Cheryl/Don’s father, Roscoe, were siblings.

You can see that on some segments, my grandfather and Roscoe inherited the same segment of DNA from their parents, because today, my mother gave me that exact same segment that I share with both Don and Cheryl. Those segments are exactly identical and shown in the black boxes.

The only way for us to share this DNA today is for us to have shared a common ancestor who gave it to two of their children who passed it on to their descendants who DNA tested today.

On other segments, in red boxes, I share part of the same segments of DNA with Cheryl and Don, but someone along the line didn’t inherit all of that segment. For example on chromosome 3, in the red box, you can see that I share more with Cheryl (blue) than Don (red.)

In other cases, I share with either Don or Cheryl, but Don and Cheryl didn’t inherit that same segment of DNA from their father, so I don’t share with both of them. Those are the areas where you see only blue or only red.

On chromosome 12, you can see where it looks like Don’s and Cheryl’s segments butt up against each other. The DNA was clearly divided there. Don received one piece and Cheryl got the other. That’s known as a crossover and you can read about crossovers here, if you’d like.

It’s important to be able to view segment information to be able to see how others match in order to identify which common ancestor that DNA came from.

In Common With

You can use the “In Common With” tool to see who you match in common with any match. My first 6 matches in common with Cheryl are shown below. Note that they are already all bucketed to my maternal side.

First Steps Family Tree DNA in common with

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You can click on up to 7 individuals in the check box at left to show them on the chromosome browser at once to see if they match you on common segments.

Each matching segment has its own history and may descend from a different ancestor in your common tree.

First Steps 7 match chromosome browser

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If combinations of people do match me on a common segment, because these matches are all on my maternal side, they are triangulated and we know they have to descend from a common ancestor, assuming the segment is large enough. You can read about the concept of triangulation here. Triangulation occurs when 3 or more people (who aren’t extremely closely related like parents or siblings) all match each other on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.

If you want to download your matches and work through this process in a spreadsheet, that’s an option too.

Size Matters

Small segments can be identical by chance instead of identical by descent.

  • “Identical by chance” means that you accidentally match someone because your DNA on that segment has been combined from both parents and causes it to match another person, making the segment “looks like” it comes from a common ancestor, when it really doesn’t. When DNA is sequenced, both your mother and father’s strands are sequenced, meaning that there’s no way to determine which came from whom. Think of a street with Mom’s side and Dad’s side with identical addresses on the houses on both sides. I wrote about that here.
  • “Identical by descent” means that the DNA is identical because it actually descends from a common ancestor. I discussed that concept in the article, We Match, But Are We Related.

Generally, we only utilize 7cM (centiMorgan) segments and above because at that level, about half of the segments are identical by descent and about half are identical by chance, known as false positives. By the time we move above 15 cM, most, but not all, matches are legitimate. You can read about segment size and accuracy here.

Using “In Common With” and the Matrix

“In Common With” is about who shares DNA. You can select someone you match to see who else you BOTH match. Just because you match two other people doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s on the same segment of DNA. In fact, you could match one person from your mother’s side and the other person from your father’s side.

First Steps match matrix.png

In this example, you match Person B due to ancestor John Doe and Person C due to ancestor Susie Smith. However, Person B also matches person C, but due to ancestor William West that they share and you don’t.

This example shows you THAT they match, but not HOW they match.

The only way to assure that the matches between the three people above are due to the same ancestor is to look at the segments with a chromosome browser and compare all 3 people to each other. Finding 3 people who match on the same segment, from the same side of your tree means that (assuming a reasonably large segment) you share a common ancestor.

Family Tree DNA has a nice matrix function that allows you to see which of your matches also match each other.

First steps matrix link

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The important distinction between the matrix and the chromosome browser is that the chromosome browser shows you where your matches match you, but those matches could be from both sides of your tree, unless they are bucketed. The matrix shows you if your matches also match each other, which is a huge clue that they are probably from the same side of your tree.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matrix.png

A matrix match is a significant clue in terms of who descends from which ancestors. For example, I know, based on who Amy matches, and who she doesn’t match, that she descends from the Ferverda side and that Charles, Rex and Maxine descend from ancestors on the Miller side.

Looking in the chromosome browser, I can tell that Cheryl, Don, Amy and I match on some common segments.

Matching multiple people on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor is called triangulation.

Let’s take a look at the MyHeritage triangulation tool.

MyHeritage

Moving now to MyHeritage who provides us with an easy to use triangulation tool, we see the following when clicking on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

First Steps MyHeritage matches

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Cousin Cheryl is at MyHeritage too. By clicking on Review DNA Match, the purple button on the right, I can see who else I match in common with Cheryl, plus triangulation.

The list of people Cheryl and I both match is shown below, along with our relationships to each person.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation

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I’ve selected 2 matches to illustrate.

The first match has a little purple icon to the right which means that Amy triangulates with me and Cheryl.

The second match, Rex, means that while we both match Rex, it’s not on the same segment. I know that without looking further because there is no triangulation button. We both match Rex, but Cheryl matches Rex on a different segment than I do.

Without additional genealogy work, using DNA alone, I can’t say whether or not Cheryl, Rex and I all share a common ancestor. As it turns out, we do. Rex is a known cousin who I tested. However, in an unknown situation, I would have to view the trees of those matches to make that determination.

Triangulation

Clicking on the purple triangulation icon for Amy shows me the segments that all 3 of us, me, Amy and Cheryl share in common as compared to me.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation chromosome browser.png

Cheryl is red and Amy is yellow. The one segment bracketed with the rounded rectangle is the segment shared by all 3 of us.

Do we have a common ancestor? I know Cheryl and I do, but maybe I don’t know who Amy is. Let’s look at Amy’s tree which is also shown if I scroll down.

First Steps MyHeritage common ancestor.png

Amy didn’t have her tree built out far enough to show our common ancestor, but I immediately recognized the surname Ferveda found in her tree a couple of generations back. Darlene was the daughter of Donald Ferverda who was the son of Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather.

Hiram was the father of Cheryl’s father, Roscoe and my grandfather, John Ferverda.

First Steps Hiram Ferverda pedigree.png

Amy is my first cousin twice removed and that segment of DNA that I share with her is from either Hiram Ferverda or his wife Eva Miller.

Now, based on who else Amy matches, I can probably tell whether that segment descends from Hiram or Eva.

Viva triangulation!

Theory of Family Relativity

MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity provides theories to people whose DNA matches regarding their common ancestor if MyHeritage can calculate how the 2 people are potentially related.

MyHeritage uses a combination of tools to make that connection, including:

  • DNA matches
  • Your tree
  • Your match’s tree
  • Other people’s trees at MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geni if the common ancestor cannot be found in your tree compared against your DNA match’s MyHeritage
  • Documents in the MyHeritage data collection, such as census records, for example.

MyHeritage theory update

To view the Theories, click on the purple “View Theories” banner or “View theory” under the DNA match.

First Steps MyHeritage theory of relativity

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The theory is displayed in summary format first.

MyHeritage view full theory

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You can click on the “View Full Theory” to see the detail and sources about how MyHeritage calculated various paths. I have up to 5 different theories that utilize separate resources.

MyHeritage review match

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A wonderful aspect of this feature is that MyHeritage shows you exactly the information they utilized and calculates a confidence factor as well.

All theories should be viewed as exactly that and should be evaluated critically for accuracy, taking into consideration sources and documentation.

I wrote about using Theories of Relativity, with instructions, here and here.

I love this tool and find the Theories mostly accurate.

AncestryDNA

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser or triangulation but does offer a tree view for people that you match, so long as you have a subscription. In the past, a special “Light” subscription for DNA only was available for approximately $49 per year that provided access to the trees of your DNA matches and other DNA-related features. You could not order online and had to call support, sometimes asking for a supervisor in order to purchase that reduced-cost subscription. The “Light” subscription did not provide access to anything outside of DNA results, meaning documents, etc. I don’t know if this is still available.

After signing on, click on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

You’ll see the following match list.

First Steps Ancestry matches

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I’ve tested twice at Ancestry, the second time when they moved to their new chip, so I’m my own highest match. Click on any match name to view more.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches

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You’ll see information about common ancestors if you have some in your trees, plus the amount of shared DNA along with a link to Shared Matches.

I found one of the same cousins at Ancestry whose match we were viewing at MyHeritage, so let’s see what her match to me at Ancestry looks like.

Below are my shared matches with that cousin. The notes to the right are mine, not provided by Ancestry. I make extensive use of the notes fields provided by the vendors.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches with cousin

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On your match list, you can click on any match, then on Shared Matches to see who you both match in common. While Ancestry provides no chromosome browser, you can see the amount of DNA that you share and trees, if any exist.

Let’s look at a tree comparison when a common ancestor can be detected in a tree within the past 7 generations.

First Steps Ancestry view ThruLines.png

What’s missing of course is that I can’t see how we match because there’s no chromosome browser, nor can I see if my matches match each other.

Stitched Trees

What I can see, if I click on “View ThruLines” above or ThruLines on the DNA Summary page on the main DNA tab is all of the people I match who Ancestry THINKS we descend from a common ancestor. This ancestor information isn’t always taken from either person’s tree.

For example, if my match hadn’t included Hiram Ferverda in her tree, Ancestry would use other people’s trees to “stitch them together” such that the tester is shown to be descended from a common ancestor with me. Sometimes these stitched trees are accurate and sometimes they are not, although they have improved since they were first released. I wrote about ThruLines here.

First Steps Ancestry ThruLines tree

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In closer generations, especially if you are looking to connect with cousins, tree matching is a very valuable tool. In the graphic above, you can see all of the cousins who descend from Hiram Ferverda who have tested and DNA match to me. These DNA matches to me either descend from Hiram according to their trees, or Ancestry believes they descend from Hiram based on other people’s trees.

With more distant ancestors, other people’s trees are increasingly likely to be copied with no sources, so take them with a very large grain of salt (perchance the entire salt lick.) I use ThruLines as hints, not gospel, especially the further back in time the common ancestor. I wish they reached back another couple of generations. They are great hints and they end with the 7th generation where my brick walls tend to begin!

23andMe

I haven’t mentioned 23andMe yet in this article. Genealogists do test there, especially adoptees who need to fish in every pond.

23andMe is often the 4th choice of the major 4 vendors for genealogy due to the following challenges:

  • No tree support, other than allowing you to link to a tree at FamilySearch or elsewhere. This means no tree matching.
  • Less than 2000 matches, meaning that every person is limited to a maximum of 2000 matches, minus however many of those 2000 don’t opt-in for genealogical matching. Given that 23andMe’s focus is increasingly health, my number of matches continues to decrease and is currently just over 1500. The good news is that those 1500 are my highest, meaning closest matches. The bad news is the genealogy is not 23andMe’s focus.

If you are an adoptee, a die-hard genealogist or specifically interested in ethnicity, then test at 23andMe. Otherwise all three of the other vendors would be better choices.

However, like the other vendors, 23andMe does have some features that are unique.

Their ethnicity predictions are acknowledged to be excellent. Ethnicity at 23andMe is called Ancestry Composition, and you’ll see that immediately when you sign in to your account.

First Steps 23andMe DNA Relatives.png

Your matches at 23andMe are found under DNA Relatives.

First Steps 23andMe tools

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At left, you’ll find filters and the search box.

Mom’s and Dad’s side filter matches if you’ve tested your parents, but it’s not like the Family Tree DNA bucketing that provides maternal and paternal side bucketing by utilizing through third cousins if your parents aren’t available for testing.

Family names aren’t your family names, but the top family names that match to you. Guess what my highest name is? Smith.

However, Ancestor Birthplaces are quite useful because you can sort by country. For example, my mother’s grandfather Ferverda was born in the Netherlands.

First Steps 23andMe country.png

If I click on Netherlands, I can see my 5 matches with ancestors born in the Netherlands. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I match because of my match’s Dutch ancestors, but it does provide me with a place to look for a common ancestor and I can proceed by seeing who I match in common with those matches. Unfortunately, without trees we’re left to rely on ancestor birthplaces and family surnames, if my matches have entered that information.

One of my Dutch matches also matches my Ferverda cousin. Given that connection, and that the Ferverda family immigrated from Holland in 1868, that’s a starting point.

MyHeritage has a similar features and they are much more prevalent in Europe.

By clicking on my Ferverda cousin, I can view the DNA we share, who we match in common, our common ethnicity and more. I have the option of comparing multiple people in the chromosome browser by clicking on “View DNA Comparison” and then selecting who I wish to compare.

First Steps 23andMe view DNA Comparison.png

By scrolling down instead of clicking on View DNA Comparison, I can view where my Ferverda cousin matches me on my chromosomes, shown below.

First STeps 23andMe chromosome browser.png

23andMe identifies completely identical segments which would be painted in dark purple, the legend at bottom left.

Adoptees love this feature because it would immediately differentiate between half and full siblings. Full siblings share approximately 25% of the exact DNA on both their maternal and paternal strands of DNA, while half siblings only share the DNA from one parent – assuming their parents aren’t closely related. I share no completely identical DNA with my Ferverda cousin, so no segments are painted dark purple.

23andMe and Ancestry Maps Show Where Your Matches Live

Another reason that adoptees and people searching for birth parents or unknown relatives like 23andMe is because of the map function.

After clicking on DNA Relatives, click on the Map function at the top of the page which displays the following map.

First Steps 23andMe map

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This isn’t a map of where your matches ancestors lived, but is where your matches THEMSELVES live. Furthermore, you can zoom in, click on the button and it displays the name of the individual and the city where they live or whatever they entered in the location field.

First Steps 23andMe your location on map.png

I entered a location in my profile and confirmed that the location indeed displays on my match’s maps by signing on to another family member’s account. What I saw is the display above. I’d wager that most testers don’t realize that their home location and photo, if entered, is being displayed to their matches.

I think sharing my ancestors’ locations is a wonderful, helpful, idea, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to know where I live and I feel it’s stalker-creepy and a safety risk.

First Steps 23andMe questions.png

If you enter a location in this field in your profile, it displays on the map.

If you test with 23andMe and you don’t want your location to display on this map to your matches, don’t answer any question that asks you where you call home or anything similar. I never answer any questions at 23andMe. They are known for asking you the same question repeatedly, in multiple locations and ways, until you relent and answer.

Ancestry has a similar map feature and they’ve also begun to ask you questions that are unrelated to genealogy.

Ancestry Map Shows Where Your Matches Live

At Ancestry, when you click to see your DNA matches, look to the right at the map link.

First Steps Ancestry map link.png

By clicking on this link, you can see the locations that people have entered into their profile.

First Steps Ancestry match map.png

As you can see, above, I don’t have a location entered and I am prompted for one. Note that Ancestry does specifically say that this location will be shown to your matches.

You can click on the Ancestry Profile link here, or go to your Personal Profile by click the dropdown under your user name in the upper right hand corner of any page.

This is important because if you DON’T want your location to show, you need to be sure there is nothing entered in the location field.

First Steps Ancestry profile.png

Under your profile, click “Edit.”

First Steps Ancestry edit profile.png

After clicking edit, complete the information you wish to have public or remove the information you do not.

First Steps Ancestry location in profile.png

Sometimes Your Answer is a Little More Complicated

This is a First Steps article. Sometimes the answer you seek might be a little more complicated. That’s why there are specialists who deal with this all day, everyday.

What issues might be more complex?

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about these things for now. Just know when you run into something more complex or that doesn’t make sense, I’m here and so are others. Here’s a link to my Help page.

Getting Started

What do you need to get started?

  • You need to take a DNA test, or more specifically, multiple DNA tests. You can test at Ancestry or 23andMe and transfer your results to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, or you can test directly at all vendors.

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accept uploads, meaning other vendors tests, but both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA accept most file versions. Instructions for how to download and upload your DNA results are found below, by vendor:

Both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA charge a minimal fee to unlock their advanced features such as chromosome browsers and ethnicity if you upload transfer files, but it’s less costly in both cases than testing directly. However, if you want the MyHeritage DNA plus Health or the Family Tree DNA Y DNA or Mitochondrial DNA tests, you must test directly at those companies for those tests.

  • It’s not required, but it would be in your best interest to build as much of a tree at all three vendors as you can. Every little bit helps.

Your first tree-building step should be to record what your family knows about your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. Here’s what my first step attempt looked like. It’s cringe-worthy now, but everyone has to start someplace. Just do it!

You can build a tree at either Ancestry or MyHeritage and download your tree for uploading at the other vendors. Or, you can build the tree using genealogy software on your computer and upload to all 3 places. I maintain my primary tree on my computer using RootsMagic. There are many options. MyHeritage even provides free tree builder software.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer research/data subscriptions that provide you with hints to historical documents that increase what you know about your ancestors. The MyHeritage subscription can be tried for free. I have full subscriptions to both Ancestry and MyHeritage because they both include documents in their collections that the other does not.

Please be aware that document suggestions are hints and each one needs to be evaluated in the context of what you know and what’s reasonable. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1750, they are not included in the 1900 census, nor do women have children at age 70. People do have exactly the same names. FindAGrave information is entered by humans and is not always accurate. Just sayin’…

Evaluate critically and skeptically.

Ok, Let’s Go!

When your DNA results are ready, sign on to each vendor, look at your matches and use this article to begin to feel your way around. It’s exciting and the promise is immense. Feel free to share the link to this article on social media or with anyone else who might need help.

You are the cumulative product of your ancestors. What better way to get to know them than through their DNA that’s shared between you and your cousins!

What can you discover today?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Concepts: What are NPEs and MPEs?

Child with helix

Sooner or later in genetic genealogy, you’re going to run across the acronym, NPE or MPE.

Years ago, the phrase NPE was coined to generally mean when the expected parent or parents weren’t.

  • NPE means nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event.
  • Some folks didn’t like that term and began to use MPE, misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage.

Of course, today, this situation could arise as a result of an adoption, a donor situation, either male or female, or the more often thought-of situation where the father isn’t who he’s presumed/believed to be based on the circumstances at hand.

Historically, adoptions weren’t a legal situation. If the parents died on the wagon train, someone took the kids to raise. Ditto a woman raising her sister’s children.

At that time, everyone knew the situation and it wasn’t a secret. A couple (or more) generations later, no one knows and the presumed parent(s) aren’t, especially if the child used the surname of the people who raised him or her. That’s a very common step-father situation, especially before official birth certificates.

Regardless of the situation, the “adoption” was undocumented for future generations. Hence, the term “undocumented adoption.” I’ve used “undocumented adoption” for a long time because I felt there was less judgement inherent in that description. Other people simply say “of unknown parentage.”

Discoveries are Common

Of course today with various types of DNA testing, these types of situations are slowly, or not so slowly, being discovered.

When they reveal themselves, you may have to saw a branch off of your tree. That’s ugly if you’re a genealogist, but at least it’s not someone you know personally.

However, if the people involved are closer in time, the discovery may be a shock or traumatic. I experienced this with my half-brother, Dave, who turned out not to be my biological brother.  I found him and then heartbreakingly lost him. I loved him regardless and wrote about our journey here, here and here.

These situations used to be remarkable, but with so many people DNA testing, these revelations are becoming daily events.

No Judgement

While the first thought that might occur is that someone was cheating, that may not be the case at all. Lots of circumstances may come into play. I wrote about several here.

I would encourage everyone to suspend judgement, not assume and to give our ancestors and family members the benefit of the doubt. We don’t and can’t know what happened to them.

Moccasins and glass houses😊

Besides that – if it wasn’t for your ancestors, you wouldn’t be you!

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Things That Need To Be Said: Adoption, Adultery, Coercion, Rape and DNA

doesn't add up

What happens when DNA results don’t add up?

Recently I wrote about how to distinguish genetically if two people are full or half siblings. Sometimes people who thought they were full siblings turn out only to be half siblings, and it’s a painful discovery.

What do people immediately assume when a father turns out not to be who he’s expected to be?

What’s the first thought that jumped into your head?

Somebody was cheating, yes?!!

And that somebody was obviously the female who became pregnant, right?

Now she’s caught thanks to DNA.

Hold on.

Not so fast.

Mis-attributed Parentage

I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about NPEs, Non-Parental Events, also known as mis-attributed paternity (MPE,) undocumented adoptions and probably other terms too.

In essence, when the expected father turns out not to be the biological father. I suspect that the uptick in discussion is a direct result of the significant number of people DNA testing today.

For the most part, when there were few autosomal testers, unless someone failed to match against the known close family members who had already tested, the situation remained largely undiscovered.

However, today with more and more testers, it’s common for people to have several close matches, which makes the absence of a first or second cousin, aunt, uncle, sibling or parent match stand out like a sore thumb – throbbing painfully and demanding answers.

And of course, when a child and parent don’t match, it’s immediately evident to all parties concerned. And, it’s excruciating.

When DNA test results arrive and reveal unexpected surprises, it can be quite uncomfortable and will throw your world into a tailspin. And that’s, um, let’s just say putting it mildly.

It’s disconcerting enough when you don’t match to a couple – which implies an adoption of some sort. When you match half of the couple, that’s a horse of a different color.

Typically, a half match will mean that you match the female’s side of the family, but not the male’s.

It’s particularly difficult when a father or grandfather is not who the family believes that person to be. You probably knew them and if not, other family members did.

The first thing that springs to mind is that someone was “cheating” on their spouse. And that someone was your mother or grandmother – another person you know and love.

To make matters even more awkward, one or both of the couple involved may still be living.

Infidelity

Infidelity is probably not the first thing that should be considered in situations like these. Let’s look at this from the other perspective. How might this have happened if the female wasn’t unfaithful?

I’ve worked with genetic genealogy cases, including these types of surprises for 19 years now, and the truth is sometimes quite different.

Aside from infidelity which is really the last possibility we should consider, there other scenarios that are at least as likely, in no particular order:

  • Infertility/sperm donation
  • Adoption, either legal (through the courts) or someone, possibly a family member, taking a child to raise
  • Sexual Assault – meaning rape
  • Coercion
  • Agreed-upon lifestyle

Furthermore, even if the event that led to the pregnancy was consensual, people can and do make what they later consider to be errors in judgement, especially when alcohol is involved. Anyone here never make a mistake? Didn’t think so.

Looking back, it’s difficult to be too harsh because you wouldn’t be who you are and your siblings wouldn’t be who they are if those long-ago events had unfolded differently. Our ancestors, including our parents, weren’t saints. Many women stayed in “bad” marriages which may have made an emotional respite look particularly attractive.

I try very hard to stay away from moral judgement without knowing the full story – and most of the time – that’s something we will never know for one of many reasons.

Let’s start out by looking at some potential reasons for a parental mismatch that don’t involve infidelity, meaning deception.

Infertility, Sperm Donation, Lifestyle and Adoption

Fertility issues have plagued couples ever since there have been couples. Adoption speaks for itself, but many adoptions were hidden from children and family members -and often remain so until a DNA result exposes the secret.

If the father that raised the person isn’t the biological father, the mother may or may not be the biological mother.

Some adoptions are uni-parental, meaning a step-father adopts the child. This happened often. Historically, this is especially prevalent in situations where the mother had the first child without being married and the family was attempting to protect both the mother and the child from the social condemnation and stigma of illegitimacy, or “bastardry” as it was called in the legal records at one time. It’s no wonder that no one talked about this and the situation was treated as a dark secret. Conversely, in some historical cases, I think that at the time “everyone knew,” but didn’t discuss it, and there was no reason to record the information.

However, when working with more contemporary adoption records, it may appear that both parents adopted the child, when in fact only one was not the biological parent. Michigan is one of those states. In order for the step-father to adopt a child, the mother must give up her parental rights and the couple adopts the child together. If you’re thinking this is going to play havoc with future genealogists, you’re right, it is.

Without that legal adoption information, genetically it “looks” like the mother is the mother, but the father isn’t the father – and a uni-parental adoption is NOT the first thing that comes to mind. Infidelity is.

If DNA results indicate that the mother is the mother but the man she was married to at the time is not the biological father, it’s certainly possible that sperm donation was utilized. The first successful pregnancy from frozen semen occurred in 1953, meaning the resulting children could be retirement age today.

Before “official” sperm donation, let’s just say that sometimes couples took care of the issue themselves, in the old-fashioned way. You may discover evidence of the result without understanding the situation. That’s just not something couples shared with other people for a wide variety of reasons – but I know of at least two separate situations where this occurred and was known within the immediate family. In one case, the mutually agreed upon “donor” was the man’s brother.

This also touches upon an open lifestyle situation – meaning that the couple agreed to have an non-monogamous sexual relationship of some form. “Key parties” in my parent’s generation are legendary – a form of adult spin-the-bottle. In my circle of friends, someone discovered this “recreational event” was occurring at their parents’ parties and let’s just say we teens discussed it endlessly. We vacillated between being horrified and entranced. Don’t expect to find grandma discussing this at the holiday table – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Our ancestors were human too. Customs and taboos revolving around sexual relationships are cultural and vary by time and place. “Rules” are created by people, and people are always breaking the rules. Some things never change.

The above scenarios represent a range of perfectly legitimate reasons why a DNA result may not reflect the parent of record but don’t represent wrongdoing or betrayal by either party. It’s just that today, we don’t have that background information – our only view is through the genetic results and we have to infer the rest.

Of course, there are other much more unpleasant scenarios that need to be considered too.

Rape

Rape is pretty straightforward, or at least it seems so on the surface, but even rape may hold darker secrets. Rape can be a violent crime, meaning the “in the alley” type of rape where a woman doesn’t know her assailant. However, that’s not the most common rape scenario.

In the majority of cases the female knows her rapist. He might be a boyfriend, or even more disconcerting, a family member. And she may not have been old enough to consent, even if the assault wasn’t overtly violent.

She may never have “told” because of fear, misplaced shame, she didn’t think she would be believed or for fear that her situation would become worse, not better. She may also have been threatened, implicitly or explicitly.

She may have been too young or naïve to understand that while she was “seduced,” she was not responsible and she was not able at her young age to give consent. Many adult seducers tell their underage victims that they love them and if they tell, they will both get in trouble for their “love.” Often the seducer aka rapist inflicts guilt on the young female for “enjoying it.” Often the rapist will “treat” their victim to make them feel special. Oprah Winfrey’s rapist, her 19 year old cousin, bought 9 year old Oprah an ice cream cone afterwards.

If just reading these words makes you uncomfortable, welcome to a peek inside the world of being a victim.

Coercion

A middle ground is coercion, where the female doesn’t really have the ability to say no, or she was deceived or pressured into doing something she didn’t freely want, understand or consent to do.

The most poignant example I can think of is a slave woman. Could a slave realistically say “no”? If not, maybe she simply didn’t physically resist because resistance was futile and would only result in her being whipped as well. “Not resisting” under these circumstances is not at all the same as freely given consent.

I know women personally that have yielded or “agreed” to sexual relationships to keep their jobs, especially if they were raising children alone. That’s coercion, plain and simple, where one person holds power over the other. Most women (and some men) have experienced something similar.

In my own case, I refused the advances of an older male supervisor when I was in my 90-day probationary period at a well-paying civil service job (post office) when I was in college. The result is exactly what you might expect, I was let go before my 90 day probationary period ended.

Did I regret my decision? Not one bit, but I was also furious with no possible recourse. I did report the fact that the supervisor arrived uninvited and unwelcome at my home when my husband was working, along with his behavior, but of course, nothing at all was done – except me being punished by being let go. The supervisor denied everything. To be clear, I was not raped, but it was either “put out or lose your job.”

I was married with a child. I needed that job, but I was not entirely dependent on it for the family income. Not to mention, I’m incredibly tenacious (nice word for stubborn) and threatening me is exactly how NOT to get what you want.

What would have happened to an unmarried woman with a child who was entirely dependent on that job? This situation is not the exception and vulnerable women are often targeted and preyed upon.

Women also know and knew then that victims were often blamed, so women didn’t and don’t volunteer for a second humiliation on top of what has already happened. Justice is and was seldom served.

Pregnancy

I know these are uncomfortable thoughts and rape is an incredibly ugly word, but the conclusion that your ancestor, a woman you know and love, “cheated” shouldn’t be considered simply because it’s easier to ponder than the fact that she might have been raped, coerced or been intoxicated.

Setting aside the topic of rape and coercion for a minute, the reality is that women drank socially – our mothers and our grandmothers. Even being raised Baptist, I did and drank too much more than once.

Men/boys know/knew that a woman who had a few drinks was much easier to seduce that one that was stone cold sober. The mother and grandmother you knew years later may have been somewhat different than a younger version of that person. Children are often a driving motivation to “settle down.”

When sexual relationships occur that result in pregnancy, whether it’s consensual or not, it’s always the female who physically carries the evidence in an undeniable way, and the associated societal burden as well. How many times have you hear about “fallen women” but never about “fallen men.” The stigma is unfairly place on women, and often women alone. For example, men are forgiven for being drunk and no one even gives it a second thought, but women are cast as harlots – especially if they carry the evidence publicly by being pregnant and then having an illegitimate child. That evidence lasts forever and is a daily reminder for all who would condemn and shame her.

Retrospectively, we should never, ever assume that a female chose to “cheat” as the first presumption. If anything, it should be our last consideration.

We need to approach the memory of our ancestors, including our parents, with the presumption of innocence and an attitude of compassion. We also need to consider the distinct possibility of sexual assault. Rape.

Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault

The incidence of sexual assault is notoriously difficult to measure. Many times the shame or other surrounding circumstances prevent or highly discourage females from reporting rapes.

Before recent years when it was sometimes possible for a female to obtain work that paid enough to support herself and children, an unmarried or divorced woman was assured of both social rejection and devastating poverty.

To report a rape was to be ostracized from family, from church, and possibly from your spouse. People asked if you encouraged the rape or “asked for it,” perhaps by drinking or dressing “provocatively” – and what was deemed to be provocative varied with the culture and times.

1920s bathing suit

For example, this swimsuit was considered very provocative in the 1920s. Today, this outfit doesn’t even merit a second look in America, but in some parts of the world, women still can’t reveal their faces for fear of “provoking” men. In other words, if a man raped a woman who wore this outfit, it was HER fault for tempting him, not his fault for raping her.

Was this woman advertising that she wanted sex or “asking to be raped?” If she was advertising for sex, then why would a man even need to rape her? The logic fails here, but sometimes provocation is the justification for rape. That insulting to women and men both.

Victorian swimsuits

Here’s the google result for “provocative swimsuit in Victorian times.” While styles that are considered provocative have changed, the way women are perceived who would dare to be “provocative” hasn’t. There is no excuse for rape.

Full stop.

A Second Victimization

If you are raped and report the incident, you are interviewed (often by men) about the intimate details, asked if you enjoyed it and if you climaxed. The woman is always suspect.

Both spoken and unspoken words twice victimize the woman – then and now.

Until and unless you report the rape, no one but you and the rapist knows about the first victimization. After a woman reports a rape, everyone knows about the public humiliation – forever – that public humiliation and its aftereffects never go away. Once out of the bottle, that stinking genie is permanently affixed to the female. The males often go un-apprehended and when apprehended, only minimally punished. By way of example, hundreds of thousands of rape kits lay unprocessed in police departments around the country. Many have been misplaced and lost. If this doesn’t say, “We don’t care,” I don’t know what does.

In my own personal circle, a female child, and I mean a pre-teen, was blamed when her rapist lost his job in the school system as a result of her reporting the rape to the police and to the school. The rapist’s wife, amazingly, didn’t leave him, even though they had children the same age. It was widely known in the community that the rape had been reported. As a result, THE CHILD RAPE VICTIM WAS BLAMED by the rapist’s family and bullied by his and other children in the neighborhood and at school!

Then, to add insult to injury, the rapist wasn’t even convicted because the young victim became too terrified to testify after what happened to her at school, even though there was conclusive medical evidence. The rape victim’s family wound up selling their home and moving in order to protect the child from further damage.

If you think this is rare, it isn’t.

Another person told me about their step-father who raped them beginning when they were pre-kindergarten and continuing the entire time they were in grade school. He then began to rape his kindergarten age biological daughter as well. What did the mother do when the older child repeatedly told her what was happening? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This story isn’t rare either as I’ve personally heard various permutations from MANY women, not just one or two – although most are too embarrassed and humiliated even years later to discuss this topic with other than a trusted friend – if even then. I’m truly stunned at the overwhelming number of women (and some men) with horrible secrets like this in their past – and also at how they have survived and thrived in spite of what happened. Care to guess how many rapists of the many women who have shared their experiences with me were prosecuted? One. Just one.

It’s no wonder why adult women were and are very hesitant to come forth following sexual assault. A rape is humiliating and demeaning. The victim is physically forced into doing something they don’t want to do, don’t understand, or they are for some reason unable to consent to or refuse, such as being underage or drugged. They feel filthy and vile after the rapist is done with them. Unclean, unworthy. Sometimes the male thinks her humiliation is funny. Sometimes they take pictures and tell their friends, who think it’s funny too.

Rapists are seldom prosecuted and convicted and whey they are, the process is extremely traumatic for an adult, let alone a terrified child. When men are convicted, they often receive slap-on-the-wrist sentences, such as Brock Turner, a college student who received a 6 month sentence for 3 separate charges stemming from a violent sexual assault, but only served 3 months jail time – this as his father complained about the length of the sentence by saying that it was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of fun.” Seriously?

And that’s today, not half a century or more ago when sexuality was much more of a taboo subject. I distinctly remember being told that “nice women” only had sex to reproduce and that if you had sex before marriage, you were “tarnished goods” and no one would ever want you. Nice boys only married virgins. “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Any of this sound familiar?

Elizabeth Smart – “Better to be Dead”

Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, held and repeatedly raped for 9 months, said that she didn’t attempt an escape for multiple reasons. First, survival mode kicked in, but on a John Hopkins University panel on May 6, 2016, Elizabeth said that one of the factors deterring her from escaping was that she felt so utterly worthless after being raped. She told the panel members:

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who is going to want you after that?”

As a result, Elizabeth considered suicide after rape, because, “I felt it would be better to be dead than to continue living being a rape victim.”

On CBS News in 2018, Elizabeth said, “For years after I was rescued, I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened. … Truthfully, I think I was ashamed and I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to know that I’d been raped.”

And this was in the 2000s, not a generation ago, or two, or three or more.

For rape victims, there’s no undoing what happened. Just press forward and make the best of things. The only decision left is whether or not to subject yourself to either private or public scrutiny, possible rejection, disbelief and ridicule. If it’s bad today, it was worse when your mother or grandmother was of reproductive age. Women didn’t even have the right to vote a century ago, and very few if any women were able to support themselves without a man – either their father or husband. They needed to protect their relationships with men and their families, regardless of the personal cost. Many still do today.

When I asked a (now-deceased) women who endured repeated rapes by a close male relative in the 1940s and 50s why she never spoke out, she said, “What choice did I have? I had 5 children that needed to eat. My husband would have divorced me and I had no skills to get a job. He (the rapist) knew that and laughed about it. He delighted in the fact that I could do nothing and tortured me with it until he finally died.” I hope she danced on his grave.

If one of those children turned out to be the child of the rapist, the woman would never have known then because she was having sex with her husband as well. If discovered genetically today, it would look like she cheated on her husband – but she didn’t.

If you think this can’t possibly be your family, think again.

Sexual Assault is More Common Than You Might Think

Consider the following statistics:

  • RAINN, a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims of rape, abuse and incest states that 90% of rape victim are female. For purposes of genealogy, of course, males who are raped don’t become pregnant with the rapist’s child.
  • RAINN’s statistics don’t include children under 12, but they report that in 1993, 4.3 assaults per 1000 people occurred. If you extrapolate this to the 1990 census where the US population was 248,709,873, that means that 1,069,452 rapes occurred in the US that year, and of those, just under 1 million rapes occurred to women. According to the census bureau, in 1990, the US had 127,470,455 females of all ages. Looking at the distribution, it appears that if you subtracted both females under 15 and over 55, about half of the female population would have been between 15 and 55, or the prime rape ages. Assuming then that about 60 million women were the primary rape targets, and of those, 1.5 million or one 3% are raped every year, that means every women 15-55 has a 3% chance of being raped each year, assuming there are no women raped more than once. If you’re at risk from age 15 to 55, or roughly 40 years, at 3% chance per year, it’s no wonder that the rape statistics are so high. However, if rapes of females under 15 were included, the numbers would be much higher.
  • RAINN also reports that of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, so rapists remain free to rape again – and do.
  • RAINN says that sexual violence has fallen by half in the last 20 years, meaning that before 1998, women were even more likely to be assaulted.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NDVRC) says that one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Look around at 4 of your female friends or co-workers. If it’s not you, it’s one of them – and that’s just the women who report the rapes. Most don’t.
  • 80% of women know the rapist. That means that reporting the incident is going to cause drama within their family or social circle.
  • It’s even worse for children. Yes, I said worse. One in four girls will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 years of age.
  • According to the NSVRC, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. According to FiveThirtyEight, 77% are not reported to police. A 1992 report titled Rape in America, A Report to the Nation reported that 84% of rapes are not reported. Personally, from discussions recently among women friends, I’d say it’s well into the 90% range, which means the estimates of how many women are actually raped, extrapolated from the reported statistics, are significantly low.
  • This paper from February 2018 on the National Study of Sexual Harassment and Assault states that 51% of women report being sexually touched in an unwelcome way. 81% of women report some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 18.3% of US woman have been raped and 19% of college women have experienced sexual assault or rape. In Native American tribes the incidence is much higher. In 2012, the New York Times reported that in a report by the Alaskan Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages is as much as 12 times the national rate. Women in Alaska and among other tribes suggest that few, if any, female relatives or friends have escaped sexual violence.
  • The Justice Department reports in 2016 that 1 in 5 college women report sexual assault, with half being rape. 21% of female graduates have been sexually assaulted while in college. Of course, this doesn’t speak to anytime before or after college.
  • The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Assault Survey from the CDC surveys in 2010 and 2011 states that about 19% of women have been a victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.
  • The Department of Justice says that from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of unreported rape was 65%.
  • This article provides statistics about on-campus rapes and this article about rape frequency in general.

If you’re feeling a bit uneasy now, and you’re thinking of your own mother and grandmother and sister and aunt – and you’ve just realized that of those 4 women, chances are that at least one of them has been raped, and possibly more, you’re probably right. Just because they never told you, or anyone, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, if it did happen, it’s unlikely you ever heard about it, because they probably told NO ONE. Not then and they won’t now.

No one wants to think about that possibility. But if you wonder why a child was placed for adoption, why a child was raised by grandparents, or why a Y DNA test doesn’t match the paternal surname line, especially if the mother seemed so normal and there was no hint of a domestic or relationship issue – sexual assault in one form or another may well be the answer.

Sometimes a rape is the reason behind an adoption, and rekindling that trauma may be why some biological mothers don’t welcome contact with children. Those that do may not be willing to divulge the identity, if known, of the rapist for fear of being victimized yet again by the adult child being anxious to connect with the rapist. The rapist of course would deny the rape, so the mother once again has to risk disbelief and relive the trauma and issues she thought she put behind her decades ago. Who wants to know anything about a man that violated you decades ago – and very likely got away with it. Mothers who are not forthcoming aren’t always simply being obstinate – they may have very legitimate reasons.

Adoption wasn’t always the solution women sought. Many women raised those children inside of marriages, never revealing (at least not to the child) that they were not the biological child of their husband.

Today, with more and more people taking autosomal DNA tests, a biologically unrelated father or grandfather becomes painfully obvious pretty quickly to a genealogist.

While it’s extremely unpleasant to think what might have happened to your mother or your gray-haired loving grandmother when she was younger, it’s also wrong, dead wrong, to presume that she willfully cheated. Chances are at least equal that she had no or little choice in the matter. Many, many women who weren’t actually forcibly raped were heavily coerced or drugged.

What Do We Say?

So full siblings aren’t full siblings after all or the expected father isn’t the father.

Now that the secret has been revealed, at least to you, what do you say, and to whom?

There is no single answer, and no easy one either.

In part, what you say to whom depends of the level of investment of the person or people who tested. If they aren’t interested in the results, in essence, having tested “for you,” you may decide that in the interest of causing no pain and doing no damage, not to reveal the discrepancy.

Often people who ask someone to test will inform the tester in advance that the results can hold surprises – although no one ever expects they will be the one. Asking in advance if they want to know if “surprises” are discovered may also help direct your actions.

I never disclosed the information when I discovered that my half-brother was not my biological brother when he was terminally ill. Revealing that information would only have caused him pain, and there was absolutely no reason to do that.

I invested in genealogy, including genetic genealogy for fun, not to hurt anyone. My own personal guiding creed is “do no harm.”

Every situation is different and you will simply have to let the individual circumstances and your heart be your guide.

Having said that, how do YOU process this information which has the potential to be disturbing on several levels – not the least of which is that as a genealogist, you may have invested years in researching the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for that either. Some people reach out for counseling to help them over the rough patch.

The Benefit of the Doubt

I would suggest taking the high road and giving the female in question the benefit of the doubt unless you have actual evidence to suggest otherwise.

Please don’t pass judgement on her morality or character from the distance of decades when you can’t understand the circumstances, don’t have all of the information and she can’t defend herself.

If I have to make an error in judgement, let it be on the side of assuming the best, not the worst. Choices were few and none of them good for rape survivors. Our mothers, grandmothers and female ancestors did the best they could in the time when they lived and with the resources available to them at that time.

What she did or did not do then bears no reflection whatsoever on her love for her children, or you.

What your ancestors did or didn’t do also bears no reflection on you, today. Their actions and choices are not a curse that travels through generations.

If you loved them before, they haven’t changed. Continue to love them, with perhaps renewed or increased appreciation for their pain and the trials they faced in their lifetime.

What you discovered changed, not them. Be sure to place that discovery into historical and societal context and practice genealogical benevolence and kindness. What appear to be “lies” today may have been protection for the vulnerable then. Never assume and certainly not the worst.

Remember, you would not be here or would not be who you are if history had taken a different turn. And you’re awesome!

You, my friend, ARE the rest of their story.

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Caution: Invisible Fathers and Autosomal Matching – Who’s Hiding in Your DNA?

caution Y

Using autosomal DNA matching alone, NPEs (nonparental events,) also known as misattributed paternity or parentage (MPEs,) undocumented adoptions, and sometimes other terms, often goes completely undetected, especially a few generations back in time.

Generally, this phenomenon occurs when the believed father is not the biological father – for a variety of reasons. Using autosomal DNA alone, especially more than a couple of generations back in time, these situations often go undetected because we are lulled into complacency thinking we have proof via DNA matching, but we don’t.

Let’s look at a real life example of how I discovered and unraveled one of these mysteries. Continue reading

Enforced Bastardry in Colonial America – A DNA Monkey Wrench

Sometimes when men Y DNA test, their results are returned with matches to different surnames, meaning surnames other than their own. In fact, it’s not unusual, but hopefully, they will also match several men who carry their own surname with the idea that those matches will help the tester further their genealogy by being able to connect to ancestors further back in time.

Best case, to identify the actual ancestor.

Worst case, to find hints to lead to their own ancestor through the matching DNA of others.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail, for many genealogists, is to find a Y DNA surname match overseas, in a small village, where the local church still has records. That’s what we did in both the Estes and Speak Y DNA projects. The DNA matches confirmed where those lines originated and the church and other traditional genealogical records confirmed we had discovered the origin location of the actual immigrant ancestor.

You can read one of several articles about the trip back to Lancashire for the Speak line here and to Kent for the Estes line here. DNA made confirming the connection between the American/New Zealand lines and the British lines possible.

However, for some, that overseas match never arrives. I’m here to tell you, 16 years and waiting on my Moore line and we still have only a few matches, and only from the brickwall ancestor in Virginia to current – nothing before and no matches with any other Moore line.

Patience may be a virtue, but it isn’t one of mine!

In some cases, like my Moore line, the surname in question only matches people downstream from the known ancestor.

Talk about frustrating.

Surname Matching Issues and Indentured Servitude

One of the reasons surname matching issues can occur, but that we seldom think of, is the situation in colonial American where indentured servants, those who sold away from 5 to 9 years of their life in exchange for for passage to America, were forbidden to marry.  Therefore, if a female became pregnant, she was forced to have the child outside of marriage – meaning the child took her surname.

If a male indentured servant impregnated someone, he too was forbidden to marry – so the child took the mother’s surname and life went on.

Based on the court notes from Richmond County, Virginia, beginning in 1692, and from Rappahannock County, before that, this was a lot more common that one would think.

Now, fast forward 300 years – the surname and the Y DNA don’t match. Better stated, the person carrying a particular surname today doesn’t match any or many people of the same surname.

Making matters worse, according to the records in North Farnham Parish, in Virginia, beginning in 1600s when the area was Old Rappahannock County and reaching through the 1800s when it was Richmond County, “bastard” children don’t appear in the baptismal records. Having said that, the records are known to be incomplete, even for children born to married parents, but given the number of illegitimate births, it’s difficult to believe that somehow all of those records just happen coincidentally to be missing.

Richmond County is lucky to have any church records. Many locations don’t.

So, if your ancestor was one of the illegitimate children born, there is:

  • Generally no record of their name in the court record.
  • No record of their name in the baptismal records.
  • Often no record of their father’s name.
  • No record of the gender of the child born to the mother.
  • Generally, no record of what happened to them.

If you’re lucky, a court record will exist where the mother was brought before the court and prosecuted for “the sin of fornication” and with having a “bastard child.” Generally, that’s not the kind of record a genealogist is looking for. They are looking for males with their specific surname in wills and deeds, not court cases involving female indentured servants bearing children out of wedlock.

As punishment, the woman’s indenture was extended, from a year in early cases, as seen in the examples below, to 5 years in a later case in Halifax County, Virginia.

Sometimes in these cases, the pregnancy causes the woman to fall into perpetual indentured servitude, as we can see in the Thatchill case.

The father? What happened to him?

Sometimes he had to pay a fee of tobacco to the church to assure that the church would not end up paying to raise the child – because an unwed mother was generally condemned to a life of misery and poverty – unable to support her child after her indenture was over.

Furthermore, many indentured servants didn’t survive. While working a slave to death was counterproductive, because the owner wanted the slave to live long and reproduce for the economic benefit to the owner, indentured servants only served for a number of years, so masters often worked these people relentlessly and maintained them in the poorest of conditions.

Enforced Bastardry

While researching my ancestors in Richmond County, Virginia, I stumbled across the three following cases of what I’m terming “enforced bastardry.” I find it somehow ironic that the very men, court and church that condemned these women for “fornicating” had arranged and condoned the very system that forced them to remain unmarried – in essence forcing them to bear those “bastard” children.

In the following cases, the word “master” does not denote a master/slave relationship in the sense of an African or Native American slave who was a slave for life. These were white European immigrant women who were indentured for a set period of time, to be freed after their indenture was served, assuming they survived, not permanently enslaved.

Permanent slaves never officially “married” within the law, and were not prosecuted for “fornication.” In fact, their owners wanted them to reproduce because children of slaves were born into the status of the mother. If the mother was a slave, so were the children.

This was a very profitable arrangement for the slave owner, because slaves that had to be purchased were expensive and in early America, often in short supply. Very occasionally, slave children were baptized, but when so, they were listed under the master’s name, generally not the name of the child and never the name of the parent or parents.

Case 1 – Katherine Thatchill and Catherine Perry, servants to Abraham Marshall

Richmond County Court Order Book, July 2, 1701 – Katherine Thatchill servant to Abraham Marshall by and with her own consent is ordered to serve her master or his assignes the full terms of one years after her time by indenture custome or otherwise be fully expired being for the payment of her fine for committing the sin of fornication.

This day Abraham Marshall confesed judgement to the churchwarden of Farnham Parish for the use of the parish for 500 pounds good tobacco in cask which this court have ordered to be paid with costs of suit. Exo. Being the fine due from Katherine Thatchill for committing the sin of fornication.

Ordered that Katherine Thatchill do serve Abraham Marshall her present master according to act for the care and trouble of her childbirth of a bastard child.

It being evidently made appear to the court that Catharine Parry, servant to Abraham Marshall did fugitively absent herself from her said master’ service the space of 15 days and that her said master hath expended 300 pounds of tobacco for percuring her againe, the court have ordered that the said Katherine do serve her said master or his assignes the full terms of one years after her time and be fully expired being for the payment of her fine for committing the sin of fornication.

These items appeared in consecutive order on the same court order page on the same day. Given the fourth paragraph, it appears that indeed, there were two women, one Katherine Thatchill and one Catharine Perry.

Amazingly, Catharine Perry only “missed” 15 days of “work” but she paid for it with another year of her life, because her master paid her fine.

Court Order Book May 6, 1702 – Capt. John Tarpley one of the churchwardens of the parish of North Farnham certifying to this court that Thomas Tatchall being a parish charge and Abraham Marshall being willing to discharge the said parish of ye said Thomas, the court have ordered that the said Thomas Tatchall do serve the said Abraham Marshall and Thomazin his wife their heires and assignes until he shall attaine to the full age of 21 years.

Apparently, Katherine Thatchill’s child lived and is now also indentured until he is 21. The only way Katherine can be with her child it to remain on Abraham Marshall’s plantation, assuming she is still alive. In essence, Abraham Marshall has now obtained two indentured servants for the next 21 years.  By that time, where is Katherine Thatchill going to go and how will she survive?  She will probably remain a servant for her entire life, in exchange for food and shelter.  Perhaps her son will do better.

Case 2 – Elinor Hughes, servant to James Gilbert

Richmond County, Virginia Court Order Book, Nov. 4, 1702 – Appearing to this court that Elinor Hughes has by her own confession fugitively absented herself out of the service of her master, James Gilbert, the space of 23 days, the court have ordered that she serve her said master or his assignes the space of 46 days after her time by indenture custome or otherwise be fully expired.

Elinor Hughes, servant to Gilbert Jones being presented to this court for having a bastard child, the court have ordered that she serve her said master or his assignes according to act in consideration for the trouble of his house during the time of her childbirth.

This day James Gilbert confessed judgement to the church wardens of North Farnham Parish for the use of the parish for 500 pounds tobacco it being the fine of Elinor Hughes for committing the sin of fornication and having a bastard child to be paid with costs also.

Ordered that Elinor Hughes servant to James Gilbert by and wither own consent do serve her said master of his assignes the space of one whole yeare after her time by indenture custome or otherwise be fully expired in satisfaction for his paying her fine for committing the sin of fornication and having a bastard child.

It’s appears that Elinor had to “pay” double the time she missed for “troubling” her master with her pregnancy, and a year for the fine he paid.  These laws and customs never benefitted the servant, always the master.

Case 3 – Ann Kelly, Servant to Thomas Durham

The drama involving Ann Kelly didn’t begin as anything unusual. Ann Kelly’s indenture to Thomas Durham begins like normal in 1699 when she was determined to be 14 years old. The court determined Ann’s age so that the length of her indenture could be determined and so that she could be taxed appropriately. Indentures of children not only involved a certain number of years, but lasted until they attained a specific age, minimally.

In 1704, in a deposition, Ann gave her age to be 20, which would have put her birth in 1684. If she were 14 in 1699, then she would have been born in 1685, so this fits.

Court Order Book Page 406, June 7, 1699 – Ann Kelly servant to Thomas Durham being presented to this court to have inspection into her age is adjudged 14 years old and ordered to serve her master or his assigns according to act.

However, by 1708, nine years later, Anne was 23 and circumstances had changed.

Court Order Book Page 372, July 7, 1708 – Anne Kelly, servant to Thomas Durham, being brought before the court by her master for committing the sin of fornication and having a bastard child and said Anne refusing to confess who was the father of the child, the court have ordered she be committed to the county goale there to remaine until such time as she shall confess who is the true father of her child and it is also ordered that she serve her master or his assignes after her time by indenture custome or otherwise shall be fully expired according to law in compensation for the trouble of his house during the time of her childbirth.

Imagine how intimidating this must have been for Ann. Not only did all those men, dressed in their finery and powdered wigs “know what she had done,” they were pressuring her for the name of the child’s father. Ann, a servant with nothing of her own, not even the right to direct her own body, stood firm, even when sentenced to jail.

Having none of this, Dorothy Durham, Thomas’s wife, steps in.

Court Order Book Page 372, July 7, 1708 – This day Dorothy Durham for on the behalf of her husband Thomas Durham confessed judgement to the church wardens of Northfarnham parish to the use of the parish for 500 pounds tobacco the same being the fine of Anne Kelly for committing the sin of fornication and having a bastard child which is ordered to be paid with costs.

I can’t even begin to explain how unusual this was. Not only did Dorothy appear at court, of her own volition, she clearly defied her husband to do so. Not only that, but Dorothy apparently controlled some financial aspects of the household, a very unusual situation for a woman in colonial Virginia. There seemed to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Dorothy was capable and authorized to pay the 500 pounds of tobacco – even though Dorothy did say she was acting “on behalf of her husband.”

In every other similar case, some male community member steps forward and posts bail, or not, but no female ever steps forward like Dorothy did. I’m convinced that posting bail, in most cases, wasn’t so much to help the poor woman who had the child as it was to retain the services of the woman and not be inconvenienced. In Dorothy’s case, we’ll never know what motivated her to attend court alone, step up in place of her husband AND pay the fine for Anne Kelly. But she did!

Furthermore, in most cases, the female willingly named the child’s father. In this case, we do discover the name of the father the following March, and I wonder if Dorothy knew all along.

Court Order Book Page 4, March 2, 1708/9 – Anne Kelly came into court and made oath that Thomas Durham Jr. is the true father of 2 bastard children borne of her body in the time of her service with his father, Thomas Durham the elder. Upon motion of the Queen’s attorney ordered that Thomas Durham Jr. be summoned to next court to enter into bond with security for the indemnification of the parish and what charge may acrew to the parish for or by reason of the children aforesaid.

In March of 1708/09, Anne Kelly was dragged before the court a second time. This time, however, she named the father of the children – Thomas Durham Jr., the son of Dorothy and Thomas Durham Sr. While Thomas Jr. was summoned to post bond to the churchwardens so they would not incur future costs on behalf of the children, Thomas Jr. was not fined for fornication nor did he have to pay Anne Kelly’s fine for fornication and having a bastard child. Men were never fined. I guess those women managed to fornicate and get pregnant all by themselves!

This time, it wasn’t Dorothy who paid Anne Kelly’s fees, nor Thomas Durham Sr. or Jr., who should have by all rights paid her fines – but Thomas Dodson who was married to Mary Durham, Dorothy’s daughter. Anne Kelly, according to another court note, was assigned by Thomas Durham Sr. to Thomas Dodson, so was already serving at Thomas Dodson’s house, which adjoined the land of Thomas Durham Sr. In any event, after her original indenture, plus extra time for the first pregnancy, Anne was obligated to serve additional time working for Thomas Dodson because he paid her fine for the second pregnancy, caused by his brother-in-law.

Court Order Book Page 5 March 2, 1708/09 Anne Kelly servant to Thomas Dodson being this day brought before this court for committing the sin of fornication and having a bastard child the court have ordered Anne Kelly to serve Thomas Dodson or his assignes according to law after her time by indenture or otherwise is fully expired, in consideration of his paying her fine for committing the offence aforesaid.

Court Order Book Page 5 March 2 1708/09 Thomas Dodson confest judgement to the churchwardens of North Farnham parish for the use of the parish for 500 pounds tobacco being the fine of Anne Kelley for committing the sin of fornication and having a bastard child and it ordered that he pay the same with costs.

Anne Kelly arrived in June of 1699 at the age of 14. By 1709, she is still serving as an indentured servant, has had two illegitimate children, sired by her “master’s” son and still has at least two years left to serve on her indenture time, based on the court records. From this we know that Anne’s original indenture was at least for 9 years, because she was still a servant in July of 1708. A year later, in 1709, she is still serving, and has had 2 years added on to her time. This means that she will be serving until at least 1711 sometime, if not longer, and presuming she doesn’t get fined for fornicating again. This means that her indenture time beginning in 1699 when she was 14 is now extended to when she is minimally 26 years old, when she will be released with a suit of clothes to somehow make her way with two children.

And the greatest irony of all, Thomas Durham Jr. married the daughter of the neighbor planter in about 1710, beginning his “legitimate” family with her. So, while Anne Kelly is still paying with the days of her life for her crime of “sinning” with Thomas Durham Jr. on one farm, he has married the daughter of the neighbor and is setting up housekeeping – probably within view everyday of Anne Kelly.

No hard feelings there, I’m sure. I can’t help but wonder what happened to these women and their children.

Note that in  only one of these cases do we have any idea of the gender of the child and his name from a later record. In the rest of the cases, and normally, there are no names, and no birth dates, although we can at least surmise a year. We also don’t know if the children survived. There are no records in Richmond County in later years for any individual that appears to be the offspring of these women.

In colonial Virginia, the stigma of illegitimacy never washed away. The best way to remove it? Move. Far away. Preferably to the frontier where pioneers were far too busy clearing land and eking out a living to ask questions. Marry someone and start a life far distant from those damning court records and community knowledge.

If you think this scenario might fit your family situation, what do you do?

What To Do?

Unfortunately, these cases are very difficult, if not impossible, to crack.

Hints that enforced bastardry might be involved would include:

  • Few Y DNA matches to your surname
  • Significant close Y DNA matches to another surname
  • Y DNA matches to your surname only downstream of your brick wall ancestor, never at an earlier date and never overseas
  • Ancestor seems to appear out of no place in colonial America
  • No records. Bastard children were not recognized legally as the children of the father so there would be no inheritance.

Of course, the problem is that any of these circumstances mentioned above can be caused by other factors. Few Y DNA matches can be caused by few (or no) descendants or the fact that your line just hasn’t tested. No overseas matches can stem from the same thing, or the Y line has simply died out in the original location. If you’d like to read more, Concepts –  Undocumented Adoptions vs Untested Y Lines discussed more about this topic.

Matches to other surnames can result from a common ancestor before the advent of surnames or misattributed parentage, also known as NPEs or non-parental events, in other lines, as well as your own.

Ancestors who seem to appear out of no place can be a result of records destruction, or ancestors arriving as indentured servants or convicts, remaining poor and never owning land. A combination of these factors is particularly devastating for the genealogist, because it appears that our ancestor literally dropped out of the sky, arriving via the stork.

One approach I take is to look for common geography between my ancestor and the ancestors of other people with closely matching surnames. For example, in the case of Ann Kelly, we know that the father of her children was Thomas Durham, Jr. If the children were male, their surname would be Kelly, but their Y DNA would be Durham. Once you focus on a geography for the Y DNA line, you can turn to autosomal matching for that same surname to see if other people emerge as matches who are not directly descended from the paternal line.

Another avenue, and don’t laugh, is to google the various terms together, such as “Durham, Kelly, 1700, Virginia.” I’ve often found the old Rootsweb and GenForum lists to be wonderful sources of earlier research that has never made it into print or into trees anyplace. – and they both show up in Google searches.

However, in the Kelly/Durham case, as irony would have it, Thomas Durham Sr. had only one surviving son.   Thomas Durham Jr.’s only son, John, had three sons. Just recently, a Durham male descendant of Thomas Jr. through grandson Charnel was discovered and Y DNA testing is currently underway.

It will be very interesting to see if our Durham tester matches any Kelly males.

Testing

In order to utilize Y DNA, you must find a male from your desired line who is descended from the ancestor in question through all males to take a Y DNA test. Typically, this means a male who carries the same surname, assuming no name changes or adoptions.

Today, the only vendor offering Y DNA testing and matching is Family Tree DNA. Fortunately, they also offer autosomal testing with the Family Finder test, and Advanced Tools so that you can see if a Y DNA match also matches you autosomally. Their Family Finder matching tool also allows you to search by both current and ancestral surnames.

Click here to order either test. You’ll need both a Y DNA test and the Family Finder test to do the combined search for people who match on both the Y DNA and autosomal results.

You may also want to read the short article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, which explains about the different kinds of DNA that can be utilized for genealogy research.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The Unexpected Bounty of DNA Testing – Friends and Family of Heart

Bill and Sandie Lakner, with me in the middle.

When I first started with genetic genealogy in the year 2000, I was interested in proving (or disproving) specific stories about my Estes ancestors as well as learning more about as many family lines as I could.

I hoped that I would meet new cousins that perhaps would have information that I don’t, and who would be willing to share.

What I never imagined, and I almost hate to admit this, is that I’d find a whole new group of friends.

I have always been a rather solitary researcher, in part because I don’t live anyplace near where my ancestors did. There are no records where I live for what I need to research, so the local genealogy societies hold little allure for me. In fact, in my state, I AM the immigrant, more or less. The ‘more or less” part of that comment will have to wait for another day and has to do with my father being stationed nearby in the military.

Several years ago, when autosomal DNA was added to the genetic genealogists menu, I began to hear from LOTS and LOTS of people. In fact, so many that one of the reasons I introduced my blog and began to write educational articles was as a form of self-defense. Between the blog and the projects I administer at Family Tree DNA, I found myself answering the same questions over and over again, so writing a nice article with graphics where I could refer people seemed like a great idea. Never did I imagine the blog would actually increase the amount of communications, but it did!

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this for 17 years now, almost half of my adult life. I’ve met people at conferences and many have become friends. There are people I’ve been fortunate to find that have my back when I need help or am in some kind of pickle. I know just who to refer to for what topic and I’ve been the beneficiary of MANY excellent researchers and kind souls. I’m grateful to and for every one.

Project administrators and those of us with specialty skills try to help everyone, but demand has been increasing like a tsunami. Now, that’s the good news, because an incredible number of people are testing, but it’s also the bad news because it necessitates brevity sometimes and a standard reply to many inquiries.

Somehow in the midst of this swirl, over the years, I have found new friends that stand apart from the rest and are truly near and dear to my heart. Some have specific interests that are similar to my own, but others, for some reason, have simply become friends, close friends, near and dear to my heart.

I’ve even adopted a new brother, John, not to be confused with my half-brother John. (Yes, I now have my brother John and my other brother John.)

It’s like we were all destined to meet and have been waiting for this moment all of our lives. Once we do finally meet, it’s like we’ve always known each other.

If you’re one of those people, you know who you are. You are my family of heart.

Family of heart becomes increasingly important as your family of blood becomes smaller and smaller and is geographically distant. In my case, exacerbating the situation, I moved away. I’m not alone though, because many other people are displaced too, becoming effectively an immigrant family of one in a new community someplace with no family nearby. Those people are much more likely, I think, to develop family of heart relationships.

E-mail, Facebook and other forms of communications have made distant friendships easier. It’s easier for family to keep current with each other as well.

Bill and Sandie Lakner

Enter Bill and Sandie Lakner, several years ago.

I would like to tell you that I remember the first communication from Sandie, but I don’t. I do know that what began as questions about DNA results years ago has evolved into shared genealogy hunts, finds, discussions about children, grandchildren, pets, movies, gardens and Hurricane Sandy – not to be confused with Sandie.

Our topics jump around like neighbors chatting over the fence.

We don’t “talk” daily, but often and usually electronically.  We keep in touch and have for years now, defying the odds of internet friendships and short attention spans. We check on each other when we know something difficult is happening in someone’s life or bad weather is bearing down.

Then, last week, I received an e-mail from Sandie telling me that she and Bill would be passing nearby while returning home from a visit to Minnesota in the next day or so.

Could they meet us for coffee?

Could they?

I was so excited and was hoping the schedule would allow more than coffee. As luck would have it, our time was limited, but we made the most of it.

The Quest

What fun we had!

We immediately began discussing Bill’s “secret quest,” or better stated, his quest to solve the family secret.

Bill was hoping his trip to Minnesota would yield information, and maybe, just maybe, a descendent of each of the male children of Joseph Lakner (1876-1926) who is willing to DNA test. Yes, we were discussing paternal ancestry and DNA.

More particularly, which of Joseph Lakner’s sons is Bill’s father?

By the way, if you are the child, either male or female, of one of Joseph Lakner’s male children and are willing to DNA test, please contact me (and I’ll put you in touch with Bill) or simply order a Family Finder test through this link at Family Tree DNA.

Social Faux Pas

Genetic genealogists sometimes forget that our topics aren’t entirely mainstream.

As we sat at our corner table in the local Big Boy, excitedly talking, I said to Bill, “You remember, that was my brother who wasn’t my brother…..”

About that time, the server who was entering orders into a computer turned around with a slack-jawed, rather incredulous, look on his face. I think he had to see just WHO was having this discussion, because…you know…”old people” don’t discuss those kinds of things. These kinds of “things” and resulting scandals were invented by the younger generation…said with tongue firmly in cheek.

The server was standing behind Bill, so Bill couldn’t see, but Sandie and I could. I fought laughter, immediately lowered my voice and attempted to do some amount of social recovery, but in the midst of the next sentence that had something to do with my father being married to both mothers at the same time, the server’s head came whipping around again, this time, with him staring over the top of his glassed to garner a better view.

I mean, who *are* these rowdy people anyway, and did they escape from the facility down the street? They are clearly demented. Should I call someone?

Sandie and I both saw this entire exchange and both began laughing uncontrollably, to the point that we couldn’t speak to explain. The look on Bill’s face only made it funnier, and then the server turned around once again and asked if we were laughing at his shock. Then he tried social recovery, but ran out of words and finally just muttered, “Hmmm….” and shook his head.

The entire exchange left everyone laughing to the point of tears. My poor husband was looking around, hoping no one recognized him.

It felt so good to be laughing together – friends who had been friends “forever” but had never met before.

Family of Heart

By the end of our very short hour or so, we were left wishing we were those neighbors who could visit over the fence. If we lived near each other, Sandie would know where everything in my kitchen is kept and vice versa and the guys would know how to start each other’s lawn mowers. Our kids would know each other, and our pets would greet each other like family. We had met our family of heart.

The field of genetic genealogy has truly blessed me in ways that I never expected and could never have imagined. Not only does DNA connect us across the world, literally, the topic of DNA connects us to one another as well.

Initially Bill’s search was to find his paternal family, specifically which Lakner male is his father. It’s a story to rival any soap opera, is still not solved and Bill would love to find the answer.

But never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine that through this process, we would become family of choice. Sometimes it’s the human part of the connection that is the most important and not the genetics. Sometimes our family of choice is the best family of all!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Unwelcome Discoveries and Light at the End of the Tunnel, 52 Ancestors #156

Mother used to say that things happen in groups of 3. These past couple weeks have proven her old adage to be true. What an emotional roller-coaster!

Sooner or later, every genealogist meets an ancestor they really don’t like. One whose personal values are diametrically opposed to their own in a way that causes the genealogist some amount of…well…let’s just say consternation. Maybe even soul searching as you struggle to understand. And maybe you can’t understand and you wish the ancestor just wasn’t yours.

I met one of those when I wrote about Thomas Day, the probable wife murderer. When I discovered his murderous history, which looks very much like he beat his wife to death, given that he was found sitting by her dead body, I even checked my pedigree chart to see how far back he fell. The answer is 9 generations, meaning that if I carry any of his DNA at all, today, it would be on average 0.195% of his DNA, less than one fifth of 1%. I felt like I dodged that bullet. Whew!!

Coping Mechanisms

It’s interesting to see how people cope with revelations like this. This ancestor is so distant that you can emotionally distance yourself in many ways – by saying he might not be a murderer after all, by compensating for his behavior by making excuses, by minimizing the negative information, by emotionally divorcing yourself from him, or by accepting the evidence, feeling empathy for his spouse and realizing that he, 9 generations ago, really has nothing to do with you today.

But let’s face it. Who wants an icky ancestor?

Each of the ancestors in our tree has bad and good, some more bad than good, and some vice versa. We know so very little about any of our ancestors that we define them by the snippets, good or bad, that we do know. Keep in mind that each of those people did indeed do one thing that was very important to you – and that’s to beget your ancestor who begot another ancestor who a few generations later had one of your parents who had you. You would not exist, as you, without them – regardless of anything else in their life. You are their legacy every bit as much as what they did when they were alive.

We can simply hope we don’t “inherit” the “murderous” proclivity, genes, or whatever brought that person to that place in time in a way that led to that behavior – whether the driving factor was some something social, situational or genetic. We hope that the trait or tendency was not passed to us, today, either through genetics or family dynamics, meaning learned behaviors by example.

Whatever it was, we don’t want it!

Mental Illness – The Untouchable Topic

Of course, there is the possibility that mental illness was involved. Mental illness tends to be the topic that no one, and I mean no one, discusses.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that, in my family line, a descendant of Thomas Day, Joel Vannoy, Thomas Day’s great-great-grandson was in fact committed to the Eastern State Mental Hospital for the insane in Knoxville, Tennessee. Joel was my great-great-grandfather.

The people in Tennessee who told me all kinds of things when I first began visiting and talking about genealogy never revealed that. They talked about wife cheaters and wife beaters and women having children not fathered by their husbands and “carrying on” with the preacher, but no one ever talked about mental illness. That was THE taboo subject.

After I made that discovery, quite by happenstance, in the court records, it turned out that people knew. Then the uncomfortable discussion immediately turned to which side of the family the “crazy came down from.” Everyone was very anxious to distance themselves not from Joel himself, but from the possible spectre of mental illness – and by virtue of the unsaid, that it was or could be found in their line as well.

Joel wasn’t dangerous, just “preachin’, swearin’, and threatenin’ to fight,” according to his hospital paperwork, but his grandson, my grandfather might have been a different matter.

Smoke and Fire

My grandfather, William George Estes, seemed to have a somewhat distant relationship with a moral compass. He not only cheated on my grandmother, Ollie Bolton, but with her own young cousin. After my grandmother divorced him, he married that cousin. They moved to Harlan County, Kentucky where he was a moonshiner and then cheated on her with her cousin. See a pattern here, perhaps? Divorced and married again, he treated that third wife very poorly, according to my mother who visited a grand total of one time. Mother was horrified and did not wish to discuss the situation.

Sometimes oral history is right, and sometimes it’s wrong, but there is often some sort of fire where there is smoke. In the case of William George Estes, there are troubling whispers about the murder of a revenue agent. I have no idea if that story is true, but I do know that one of his children starved to death, according to the death certificate. No one talked about that either. In fact, until I found the death certificate quite by accident, I never knew the child existed. I wanted to believe that the cause of death was wrong, but then I recalled that my father’s sister reported that when they were young, they didn’t have enough food and the children were fed moonshine to keep their hungry stomachs from hurting and so that they would sleep.

Imagine hearing this about your parent and grand-parents. Imagine living like that as a child. Imagine being my father.

Then, add to that the fact that the Aunt, who was somewhat inclined to embellish, said that when your grandparents divorced, when your father was about 12, neither parent wanted your father or his brother who was younger by two years. The boys, desperate, hopped on a freight train with the hobos, finally making their way back to Tennessee, from Indiana, to their grandparents’ home. They arrived very hungry and dirty. I didn’t want to believe that, but after being told the same thing by three different people with personal knowledge, I realized it was true.

Mind you, the mother who didn’t want him is the mother my father cared for, at home, for months, in her final lengthy illness in 1955. He did not betray her as she had betrayed him.

That unwanted 12 year old child turned into a 14 year old who lied about his age to enter the service in World War I. Anything was probably better than trying to scavenge. It’s no wonder he spent the majority of his life, “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” and trying to pretend everything was OK when it wasn’t.

I have never believed, nor do I believe today, that the past is necessarily a predictor or deterministic of the future. I don’t believe that parents’ actions dictate what the child will turn out to be, either bad or good, although they certainly have an influence. The world is full of examples that disprove that logic, in both directions. I fully believe that nurture can either overcome or mediate nature – excepting of course for barriers like Down’s Syndrome that people are born with – and that our own personal decisions are what drives and determines our lives. Of course, sometimes there seems to be no nurture, but still, we have the ability to choose and to change – to create our own destiny.

My father was no angel. He was human. I have no idea how much of his behavior sprung from his early environment, but I know that later he made choices that were not in his own best interest and he paid dearly for them.

The Father I Knew

The father I knew loved me, doted on me in fact, for just short of 8 years. He was killed in an automobile accident in 1963.

He spent quality time with me when I did see him. He made special meals and I got to have special “coffee” with him. Coffee parties instead of tea parties. Of course, “coffee” was really warm milk and sugar with enough coffee to look like today’s latte. He played dolls with me, pulled me in my red wagon and often held me as I slept. I have no bad or negative memories of him.

My parents separated when I was young. While my father was a doting father to me, he was also doting in a different way, it appears, on women other than my mother.  A long-time pattern with my father it seems, as with his father.

My “half-brother,” Dave, who also knew my father, remembered him in the same affectionate way.

The father we knew took us fishing and was a man we adored. Our father rescued animals in need, a raccoon whose mother was killed on the road, an orphan duck and a little dog named Timmy. He rescued people too, including two orphan children from the orphanage in Knightstown, Indiana with his last wife, Virgie.

Dave and I who were born when my father was in his 50s have very different memories about my father than my sister, Edna, who was born when my father was in his 20s.

Edna did not know our father as a child and her opinion of him was formed entirely from her mother’s perspective.

My father did find Edna as an adult and tried to establish a relationship, as best you can after a prolonged absence. Pictured above, my father with Edna’s children between about 1958-1960.

I surely don’t blame Edna’s mother for how she felt, as my father was anything but a model husband – at least until his last marriage.

His last wife, Virgie, a lovely woman, knew him, understood him and loved him. In a letter to me after his death, she wrote that no matter what anyone said about him, no one knew what he had survived as a child and that he was not all bad. Perhaps he at last finally found the love he sought so desperately. I hope so. He was killed two years and 3 days after their marriage.

Our Identity

Our identity, in many ways, is tied to our family – to our parents. It’s tied to knowing that our parents are our parents, that our father is our father, that our siblings are indeed our siblings. It’s rooted in what we believe to be true and in good memories that make us feel warm, wanted and loved.

Our identity is uprooted when we discover something that contradicts, challenges or disproves that identify, and to say it’s upsetting is just about as big an understatement as can be made.

It shakes our very worldview, of ourselves and our place in the family. It makes us question if we are somehow less worthy because of circumstances beyond our control. We wonder if we were unwanted, a mistake, or an inconvenience.

We question who we really are. These types of discoveries are life-shaking and life-altering.

Grief

I’ve always felt that many times, I’ve been brought to and through something to provide me with perspective so that I can help others. Perhaps that’s one way of making bad things alright – of finding a plateau for acceptance – or maybe it’s just my justification for why bad or painful things happen. The silver living, so to speak. Regardless, it’s a way of helping others through situations that are almost impossible to understand without having walked a mile in those shoes.

Sometimes that mile is awfully long, uphill and freefalling at the same time, and treacherous, let me tell you. The worst roller-coaster ride you’ll ever experience.

Such was the case with the discovery that my brother, Dave, wasn’t really my brother. I then spent months doubting that my father was my father, only to discover that he was my father, and not Dave’s father. It was a miserable few months filled with doubt, dread and anxiety. The end was a mixture of relief for myself and anguish for Dave’s loss – information I never shared with him because he was terminally ill at that point.

In essence, I twice, within a few months, lost the brother I so loved.

That experience gave me the opportunity to experience the agony that others would as well, but also to learn that love really has nothing to do with biology. The depth of suffering is equal to the depth of love.

When we lose what we believe, there is grief involved. Grief over the lost truth, over the part of what we believed ourselves to be that isn’t, doesn’t exist, and dies before the rebirth of a revised identity.

Sometimes grief over the fact that someone lied to us, or hid the truth – even if they believed it was for our own good or their own protection. Grief has many reasons and many forms. But when we lose something we held dear, in any form, we grieve.

The Double Whammy

When grief is mixed with betrayal, it’s even worse. Betrayal takes a couple of forms too. Betrayal of oneself, of a moral compass, or personal betrayal by someone we love and thought we could trust.

Think of betrayal of a moral compass as occurring when someone does something that they know they shouldn’t – and do it anyway. And I’m not talking about eating chocolate here – but actions that are socially, culturally or legally unacceptable – generally addressed by legal or severe personal consequences.

Think of personal betrayal as when you discover that your spouse cheated on you.

Sometimes betrayals involved both kinds of issues. Those are particularly ugly.

Times Three

This past week or two, I’ve gotten to experience up close and personal three different betrayal/grief situations – although they are not all three mine. Two belong to close friends, which means I share their pain as I have been involved in their respective journeys.

In one case, a woman accidentally discovered through DNA that her mother and her uncle are half instead of full siblings. Yes, there are all kinds of reasons why that might be, but the first assumption out the gate is always that grandma cheated. That may not be the case, but other options, like the possibility that nonconsensual sex might be involved is also disturbing. Most of us clearly know what is involved in begetting, but we really don’t want to know the details of grandma’s sex life. TMI.

Regardless of why, the revelation that the person you grew up with believing was your full sibling is not, and the entire family lived in ignorance, except for one person, who probably lived a lie – is very disturbing on several levels. It means rethinking everything and everyone involved. It also means you’ll probably never know what really happened, but you get to deal with all of the possibilities. A homework assignment no one signs up for.

Been there, done that. It’s ugly and it takes time to get used to your new identity that you don’t like nearly as well as your old one. Your family members get new identities too. And grandma? You’re just confused about her, at the same time remembering that women at that time had very few options. All I can say is try not to judge.

It takes time to process through all of this very emotional high drama, especially when you suddenly realize you’ve spent several decades working on the genealogy of a line that isn’t yours. One more thing to grieve.

In the second case, a friend discovered the identity of his father, after decades of looking, being one of two brothers. Along with that, he discovered why the secret was closely guarded by his mother for her entire life. It’s one of those stories that would make a wonderful soap opera or reality TV show – so long as it’s not your own story. It’s also incredibly sad on so many levels.

My friend is well adjusted. He’ll absorb this, he’ll deal with it and go on. He now owns the truth he sought for so long. However, I know he was hoping that maybe his father had “only been a married man.” At one time, his mother having an affair with a married man seemed scandalous, but compared to the truth, it’s the tame option.

While these types of events are extremely interesting and colorful if they aren’t your ancestors, they are far from amusing when you discover that they pertain to your parent.

Which leads me to the third situation. My own.

Let’s just say that sometimes you have to go through a really dark tunnel to emerge into the light.

The Dominoes Fall

There is a great irony to the fact that I am probably the only person, ever, that knows, or will know when I’m finished, the truth about my father’s life. Except for my father, William Sterling Estes, himself, of course.

The dominoes began to fall a couple weeks ago. And they haven’t stopped. Just when I think there can’t possibly be any more left to discover, there is. It there a bottom to this barrel?

While the two circumstances with my friends involved DNA, one as the accidental medium of discovery, and one as the solution to the long-standing question of paternity, my situation, ironically, has nothing at all to do with DNA.

What are the chances, right?

Sometimes people think that only DNA reveals unsettling surprises, but that’s not the case. Unmasking the truth is as old as genealogy and research itself.

I’ve been prepared for years to find an unknown sibling, or two, or maybe three. Kind of hopeful, actually, since all of the ones I know about are deceased. Nope, that didn’t happen via DNA.

What I have discovered is why there was such a big gap in my father’s life.

Pandora’s Box

Let’s just say I’m struggling through this. I am extremely grateful for the woman who sent me the information, but man alive, has it ever opened a Pandora’s box. Like my friend who unveiled the identity of his father, I got what I wanted but the situation discovered is very disturbing on several different levels – which is obviously why it was hidden by anyone who knew.

The information revealed that my father was using an alias, and was prosecuted for statutory rape after marrying a 15 year old girl. The female in question had listed her age on the marriage license as 18, and had previously told him she was 24 when they met. The testimony asserts that the girl’s mother told my father that the female in question was 15 five days before they were married, which means that he committed statutory rape, because he was an adult. And yes, he went to prison for a felony – for having sex with his wife, who was less than 30 days away from being 16 which was the legal age of consent in that state at that time.

Scratching your head as to how that makes sense? Me too.

The first thing I did was to have a huge meltdown when I saw the words statutory rape. I mean, the second word is horrible enough, before the addition of the first word. That was before I discovered the details, almost two weeks into this nightmare, specifically the age discrepancy issue and the fact that the wife lied about her age on the marriage license – and that the “event” was consensual. I breathed a huge sigh of relief about the consensual part, because I really did not want to think of my father in the way I typically think of a rapist.

There had been vague rumblings in the family about a situation like that, but I thought I had disproved those rumors years ago, based on when and where my father applied for his Social Security card. I was wrong. This was something entirely different. The original rumbling was probably two stories conflated together or someone who only knew a tidbit. That old smoke and fire thing again.

I found it difficult to believe that my father was sentenced to prison under the stated circumstances, so I talked to a historian at the archives in the state where this occurred and then visited the county where the trial proceedings remain.  The verdict; yes, that is exactly what happened and why. If a male over the age of consent had sex with a female under the age of consent, it was considered statutory rape. There was absolutely no legal differentiation between that and forcible rape, and the mandatory sentence was the same too.

The woman who sent me the original information assumed I knew about “it” and had omitted the information from his timeline because of what “it” was. Believe me, “it” was news to me.

If you’re saying “Holy Cow” or the same phrase with another word in place of cow, so was I. I walked around for days shaking my head and doing the facepalm. I desperately want to grab ahold of my father, shake him, and scream, “What the hell were you thinking?”

An alias and an underaged girl – what was he thinking? My mother had a saying about that kind of behavior too – something to do with thinking with the wrong body part.

Of course, I’m assuming here that my father did in fact know her true age, but I suspect that he had no idea he could be prosecuted if they were married. Perhaps that’s why they married. Or maybe he believed the girl’s version of her age. His testimony is not included in the case because he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.

Why did he do that, considering the length of a sentence for statutory rape? Perhaps to spare his wife from having to testify about very private things? Maybe he didn’t fully understand. We’ll never know, because I clearly can’t ask him what he was thinking.

I do know, based on his letters, that he didn’t realize that his wife divorced him a couple years later. How sad is that?

And in the greatest of ironies, the judge who sentenced him wound up trying to help him, saying that his hands were tied in the situation by the guilty plea and the mandatory sentence required.

The Maze

I feel like I’ve spent the past two weeks or so living in a twisty-turny maze that rivals any spine-tingling gripping can’t-put-it-down novel I’ve ever read. Except this is no novel.

As any good genealogist knows, there are clues to be followed. And yes, because I can’t not know, I dug into every clue with the tenacity of a beagle after a fresh bone.

It’s been a productive search too, finding records at state and county archives. Many records. Some with depositions and testimony. Some include heartbreaking letters…from my father.

My father did go to prison, but he was not a violent man. He seemed to have been somewhat impulsive and he loved too many women, the wrong women, too closely together. I can’t help but wonder if there are more wives and marriages yet to be discovered, but because he was using an alias or aliases, I’ll likely never know. If you’re up for some high drama entertainment, you can read more about my father’s story here.

I’m guessing alcohol played a part in his errant decisions too. I’m not surprised, given what we know about his childhood. Both of his brothers had alcohol issues as well. Maybe nature and nurture were both stacked against them.

My mother and others said that my father fought with the demon, alcohol, and tried repeatedly to “get clean.” Those were the days before AA. At his death, Virgie, his wife at the time, said he was clean and had “dried out” in the VA hospital in Fort Wayne. Her daughter said he had fallen off the wagon. Regardless of whether he ultimately won that battle in his 60s or was defeated one last time by alcohol, alcoholism surely informed many of his decisions and negatively affected the relationships in his life in the years my mother knew him – and probably earlier as well.

Yes, my father’s life was “colorful” in a very sad way and the price he paid was heart-wrenching and dark. I shudder to think about his life in prison. I’m still struggling with the reality of my father and prison and all of the associated connotations and baggage.

A history of prisons in the state where he served exists, and it’s so horrid I haven’t been able to read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Yes, prisoners deserve to serve time, but they don’t deserve to be chained together for up to 18 hours a day, working on road construction in the unrelenting heat as, one by one, they fall and die. That’s torture, not punishment or rehabilitation.  He served during that time. Is it any wonder that the prison’s detailed inmate records for this time period have somehow disappeared over the years?

More than once in these past couple of weeks I have wondered if it would have been an easier discovery to find out he wasn’t my father at all – rather than to discover my father was not quite who I thought he was.

Conflict

I will be sharing more with you as I can, while respecting the privacy of people who may still be living. When you’re doing genealogy, you really never expect the big reveal to be your parent – and certainly not in quite this way.

But first, before I can share more, I have to finish the research and get through this dark space and out of the tunnel into the light.

I’m both very angry with my father for his behavior that can’t be called anything but massively stupid, at best, and predatory at worst. It’s very difficult to wrap my head around that and to know that I’ll probably never really know whether he was in some ways a victim himself or whether he was, in truth, a slimy bottom feeder. Or some combination of both.

At the same time, my heart aches terribly for him based on some of the evidence that has come forward. He was, after all, my father, the man I loved and adored. The thought of him being tortured, for years, tears at the very fabric of my soul. Yet, he survived, and so will I.

It’s hard to feel this conflicted about someone you dearly loved and idolized as a child and who was ripped from your life by death. It’s also very difficult to reconcile the man I knew with the man in the impersonal black and white words of the legal proceedings staring back at me resolutely and unblinkingly from paper yellowed with age.

I am sharing this most difficult journey because I want others who find themselves in this darkness, regardless of the details of what put you into this space, to know that you are not alone.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

For all of you who might make or have made an inconvenient or unwelcome discovery – through DNA or through traditional genealogical records – there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And yes, it’s really dark and ugly and lonely in the tunnel, because it’s a tunnel you have to walk alone.

As you struggle in that dark place, I want you to remember something.

You are YOU, not someone else. You may be a biological product of your parents, but more so you are a product of your own hard work and your personal decisions. Your accomplishments and your decisions are yours. Parents don’t get the credit and they don’t get the blame.

Whatever the dark space, you are the awesome outcome, regardless of anything else. You have the opportunity and potential to shine.

Unwelcome discoveries like this may cause you to doubt or devalue yourself. Don’t.

Just. Don’t. Go. There.

There is a fork in the road, multiple forks in the road, for all of us, and it’s the choice you make at those forks that matters. Those forks define your life.  Your forks – your decisions, not theirs. Their forks do not reflect on you.

Your life is your book. Your parents only get an opening chapter. You get to write the rest. Those are your blank pages to fill. Yours. Only yours.

You are only in control of you. Your ancestor’s decisions, while they clearly affect your life in terms of your existence, where you were born and your economic circumstances, do not define who you are or dictate the kind of person that you evolve to be or the choices you make.

Regardless of the creepy critters in the dark haunted tunnel, the trap doors and the spider webs, there is a light at the end and you will emerge a better and more empathetic person than you entered. It’s painful, but not fatal.

Just keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t be afraid. The discovery is the worst part, and by the time you’re walking in that tunnel, the discovery is over. You’re now in the healing process. Your wounds will become scars that testify to your strength and survival. Be proud of your resilience.

Just. Keep. Walking.

As I used to say to my kids, “the only way to it is through it.”

Feel the feelings you need to feel, but don’t let those consume you or define you either – and don’t wallow there. No good will come of that. Purposefully walk through the tunnel and out the other end into the warmth and light. The rest of your life is waiting for you, and you ARE the light for others.

Easter is, after all, a time of resurrection and redemption – of the earth when flowers joyfully spring from their long sleep and as our souls emerge from colorless hibernation as well.

Take heart, spring always arrives, no matter how long, cold or bleak the winter in the tunnel!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions vs Untested Y Lines

So you took the Y-line test and you don’t match the surnames you expected to match and now you’re worried. Is there maybe an “oops” in your lineage?

One of two things has happened. Either your line has simply not tested or you have an undocumented adoption in your line.

An undocumented adoption is any “adoption” at any time in history that is not documented – so if you didn’t know about it, it’s an undocumented adoption. Often, these events in genetic genealogy are referred to as NPEs, Non-Paternal Events, but I prefer undocumented adoptions.

Yes, there are myriad ways for this to happen, and I mean besides the obvious infidelity situation, but right now, you only care about figuring out IF you have an undocumented adoption, not how it happened.

How can you tell if your line is one that simply hasn’t been tested of if there is an undocumented adoption in your line? Sometimes you can’t, you’ll simply have to wait until more people of your surname test. Of course, you can always recruit people through the Rootsweb and Genforum lists and boards and social media.

Most of the time this is a process of elimination. If you can’t find anything to suggest that you have an undocumented adoption, then your line is simply probably untested, especially if it’s not a common surname or your ancestors had few male children.

However, there are often clues lurking relative to undocumented adoptions.

Scenario 1 – Right Family, Non-Matching DNA

If you are part of DNA surname project and there are other people who have tested, that you don’t match, that claim the same ancestor as you do – you might have an undocumented adoption on your hands.

In this case, someone’s genealogy is wrong, yours or theirs. By wrong, that doesn’t mean you made a mistake. You (or they) may have tracked the line back to the right ancestor, but instead of being the child of a son of John Doe, for example, your ancestor was the child of the daughter of John Doe, who wasn’t married at the time and had a child by a Smith, but gave the child her surname, Doe.

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So right Doe family, wrong child giving birth. There are also other family situations that are discovered utilizing Y DNA testing, like a child simply using the step-father’s name. In this case, finding more descendants to test, especially through other sons will help resolve the paternity question. Given the scenario above, we really don’t know whether the green or red DNA is the Y DNA of John Doe. We need the DNA of another son to resolve the question.

Scenario 2 – Accurate Genealogy, Undocumented Adoption

If you are part of a DNA surname project and two other people who descend from two separate sons of the same ancestor you claim, both having good solid genealogy back to that ancestor – you do have an undocumented adoption on your hands. This situation pretty much removes any doubt about your ancestral line if you are Steve, below.

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Assuming their genealogy is correct (and yes, the genealogy could be wrong), theirs (the green) is the paternal line from that ancestor, so you need to start looking at situations that might lend themselves to your ancestor having that name but not sharing that paternal genetic line.

The break in the ancestral line can have occurred anyplace between John Doe and son Steve and the tester, Steve V.  You might want to test males descended from men between Steve Doe and Steve Doe V.  Word of warning here – if you don’t want to know the answer, don’t test.  The break could be between you and your father or your father and grandfather.  Sometimes, these possibilities are just too close for comfort.

At this point, I would turn to autosomal testing to see if any of the people in the surname project match you autosomally. That may tell you if you are actually descended from this line at all – perhaps through a female child as described above. With autosomal testing, especially of distant relatives, you can prove a positive, that you are related, but you can’t really prove a negative, that you aren’t related.

If you’re testing second cousins or closer, you can prove a negative.  If you don’t match your full second cousins, there is a problem – and it’s not the genealogy.

Scenario 3 – Matching a Group of Men with a Particular Surname

If you match a significant number of men with other surnames, with one surname in particular being closely matched and quite prevalent, it’s a large hint. For example, let’s say you have 6 matches at your highest marker level, and 5 of them are Miller men descended from the same ancestor. Chances are very good that you are of Miller descent too.

Again, I’d turn to autosomal testing at this point to see how closely you are related to your closest matching Y DNA Millers or others descended from this same ancestral line.

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Scenario 4 – Your Line is Untested

If your surname is something quite unusual, like Ferverda for example, and you don’t fit the situations described above, then it’s likely that your line simply hasn’t tested yet. In this case, the grandfather of our tester was the immigrant from the Netherlands, and Ferverda, both there and in the US, is a very unusual name.

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Of course, your line having not tested can happen with common surnames too.

Utilizing Y Search

Update: Please note that YSearch was obsoleted due to GDPR. It has been replaced by mitoYDNA.org.

Check www.ysearch.org periodically to see if others of your surname took the Y chromosome test elsewhere and just got around to entering the results into YSearch, even though the other testers (Ancestry, Sorenson) have been defunct for some time now relative to Y DNA.

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You can also search at YSearch by surname. You don’t have any way to view results by surname, outside of projects, at Family Tree DNA, so the only way to discover that someone who claims your paternal line and doesn’t match you is to search by surname at YSearch and hope they have included a tree.

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In this example, one person with the Estes surname has results at YSearch, but 40 have Estes in their tree, just not as their patrilineal surname.

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Keep in mind that depending on how far back in time an undocumented adoption occurred, you may find matches to people with that same surname who descend from your common biological ancestor, but you may still not share the original ancestor. In the example above, the Doe men red all match each other, because their unknown Smith ancestor is the same, but they don’t match the descendant of John Doe through son James.

A non-match to men of your same surname isn’t a cause for panic, but it is time to do some additional digging to see if you can discover why.

Happy ancestor hunting!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The Stranger in my Genes – A DNA Test That Changed a Life

Bill Griffeth, anchor of CNBC’s Closing Bell, and now author of the book, “The Stranger in My Genes” had something startling to say in a recent interview:

“My father wasn’t my father….and I blame this man…Max Blankfeld.”

No, Max isn’t Bill’s father, but Max is the COO of Family Tree DNA, established in the year 2000, the company that ran Bill’s DNA test.

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You can watch this great interview here.

This is absolutely wonderful exposure for DNA testing, whether for heritage, ethnicity or genealogy and yes, to see if your Y DNA matches the line you think it will. Using DNA to confirm your family lineages is something every genealogist should do.

After the initial, shocking, finding, Bill wanted a second opinion, so he ordered a second test from the National Geographic Society’s Genographic project. The results confirmed that Bill’s original test was correct. It was only afterwards that Bill discovered the irony that Family Tree DNA is the partner to the National Geographic Society and the Family Tree DNA on-premises lab runs the tests for Genographic.

Bill’s story isn’t unique, by any stretch, but every person who makes an unexpected discovery in either traditional or genetic genealogy has a unique and interesting story to tell. Everyone’s story is different and begins a journey. Many people, after that initial discovery, use genetic genealogy to solve the mystery of their missing ancestor, whether it’s a parent or further back in time.

Here’s what Amazon has to say about “The Stranger in my Genes”:

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“Bill Griffeth, longtime genealogy buff, takes a DNA test that has an unexpected outcome: “If the results were correct, it meant that the family tree I had spent years documenting was not my own.” Bill undertakes a quest to solve the mystery of his origins, which shakes his sense of identity. As he takes us on his journey, we learn about choices made by his ancestors, parents, and others—and we see Bill measure and weigh his own difficult choices as he confronts the past.”

You know, I am going to have to read this book. I hope that everyone who reads this book DNA tests.

Personally, I find it amazing, as one who began their genetic journey in 2000 or 2001, that 15 years later, I can watch Max on CNBC. I’m so proud of what Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan have done with Family Tree DNA, taking it from a startup company, forming a partnership with the National Geographic Society and ultimately, becoming the foundation of an entire industry.

I suppose it would be unprofessional to jump up and down, shouting “WooHoo” and “Way to go Max!”, but that’s what I wanted to do when I saw this interview!!!!  This segment is great exposure for genetic genealogy.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage

Adoptees aren’t the only people who don’t know who their parents are.  There are many people who don’t know the identity of one of their two parents…and it’s not always the father.  Just this week, I had someone who needed to determine which of two sisters was her mother.  Still, the “who’s your Daddy” crowd, aside from adoptees, is by far the largest.

The DNA testing strategy for both of these groups of people is the same, with slight modifications for male or female. Let’s take a look.

Males have three kinds of DNA that can be tested and then compared to other participants’ results.  The tests for these three kinds of DNA provide different kinds of information which is useful in different ways.  For example, Y DNA testing may give you a surname, if you’re a male, but the other two types of tests can’t do that, at least not directly.

Females only have two of those kinds of DNA that can be tested.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome, which is what makes males male genetically.

adopted pedigree

If you look at this pedigree chart, you can see that the Y chromosome, in blue, is passed from the father to the son, but not to daughters.  It’s passed intact, meaning there is no admixture from the mother, who doesn’t have a Y chromosome, because she is female.  The Y chromosome is what makes males male.

The second type of DNA testing is mitochondrial, represented by the red circles.  It is passed from the mother to all of her children, of both genders, intact – meaning her mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the mtDNA of the father.  Woman pass their mtDNA on to their children, men don’t.

Therefore when you test either the Y or the mtDNA, you get a direct line view right down that branch of the family tree – and only that direct line on that branch of the tree.  Since there is no admixture from spouses in any generation, you will match someone exactly or closely (allowing for an occasional mutation or two) from generations ago.  Now, that’s the good and the bad news – and where genealogical sleuthing comes into play.

On the chart above, the third kind of DNA testing, autosomal DNA, tests your DNA from all of your ancestors, meaning all of those boxes with no color, not just the blue and red ones, but it does include the blue and red ancestors too.  However, autosomal DNA (unlike Y and mtDNA) is diluted by half in each generation, because you get half of your autosomal DNA from each parent, so only half of the parents DNA gets passed on to each child.

Let’s look at how these three kinds of DNA can help you identify your family members.

Y DNA

Since the Y DNA typically follows the paternal surname, it can be extremely helpful for males who are searching for their genetic surname.  For example, if your biological father’s surname is Estes, assuming he is not himself adopted or the product of a nonpaternal event (NPE) which I like to refer to as undocumented adoptions, his DNA will match that of the Estes ancestral line.  So, if you’re a male, an extremely important test will be the Y DNA test from Family Tree DNA, the only testing company to offer this test.

Let’s say that you have no idea who your bio-father is, but when your results come back you see a preponderance of Estes men whom you match, as well as your highest and closest matches being Estes.

By highest, I mean on the highest panel you tested – in this case 111 markers.  And by closest, I mean with the smallest genetic distance, or number of mutations difference.  On the chart below, this person matches only Estes males at 111 markers, and one with only 1 mutation difference (Genetic Distance.)  Please noted that I’ve redacted first names.

Hint for Mr. Hilbert, below – there is a really good chance that you’re genetically Estes on the direct paternal side – that blue line.

Estes match ex

The next step will be to see which Estes line you match the most closely and begin to work from there genealogically.  In this case, that would be the first match with only one difference.  Does your match have a tree online?  In this case, they do – as noted by the pedigree chart icon.  Contact this person.  Where did their ancestors live?  Where did their descendants move to?  Where were you born?  How do the dots connect?

The good news is, looking at their DNA results, you can see that your closest match has also tested autosomally, indicated by the FF icon, so you can check to see if you also match them on the Family Finder test utilizing the Advanced Matching Tool.  That will help determine how close or distantly related you are to the tester themselves.  This gives you an idea how far back in their tree you would have to look for a common ancestor.

Another benefit is that your haplogroup identifies your deep ancestral clan, for lack of a better word.  In other words, you’ll know if your paternal ancestor was European, Asian, Native American or African – and that can be a hugely important piece of information.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, the ethnicity of your paternal (or any) ancestor is not always what seems evident by looking in the mirror today.

Y DNA – What to order:  From Family Tree DNA, the 111 marker Y DNA test.  This is for males only.  Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide this testing.  Can you order fewer markers, like 37 or 67?  Yes, but it won’t provide you with as much information or resolution as ordering 111 markers.  You can upgrade later, but you’ll curse yourself for that second wait.

FTDNA Y

Mitochondrial DNA

Males and females both can test for mitochondrial DNA.  Matches point to a common ancestor directly up the matrilineal side of your family – your mother, her mother, her mother – those red circles on the chart.  These matches are more difficult to work with genealogically, because the surnames change in every generation.  Occasionally, you’ll see a common “most distant ancestor” between mitochondrial DNA matches.

Your mitochondrial DNA is compared at three levels, but the most accurate and detailed is the full sequence level which tests all 16,569 locations on your mitochondria.  The series of mutations that you have forms a genetic signature, which is then compared to others.  The people you match the most closely at the full sequence level are the people with whom you are most likely to be genealogically related to a relevant timeframe.

You also receive your haplogroup designation with mitochondrial DNA testing which will place you within an ethnic group, and may also provide more assistance in terms of where your ancestors may have come from.  For example, if your haplogroup is European and you match only people from Norway….that’s a really big hint.

Using the Advanced Matching Tool, you can also compare your results to mitochondrial matches who have taken the autosomal Family Finder test to see if you happen to match on both tests.  Again, that’s not a guarantee you’re a close relative on the mitochondrial side, but it’s a darned good hint and a place to begin your research.

Mitochondrial DNA – What to Order:  From Family Tree DNA, the mitochondrial full sequence test.  This is for males and females both.  Family Tree DNA is the only company that provides this testing.

FTDNA mtDNA

Autosomal DNA

Y and mitochondrial DNA tests one line, and only one line – and shoots like a laser beam right down that line, telling you about the recent and deep history of that particular lineage.  In other words, those tests are deep and not wide.  They can tell you nothing about any of your other ancestors – the ones with no color on the pedigree chart diagram – because you don’t inherit either Y or mtDNA from those ancestors.

Autosomal DNA, on the other hand tends to be wide but not deep.  By this I mean that autosomal DNA shows you matches to ancestors on all of your lines – but only detects relationships back a few generations.  Since each child in each generation received half of their DNA from each parent – in essence, the DNA of each ancestor is cut in half (roughly) in each generation.  Therefore, you carry 50% of the DNA of your parents, approximately 25% of each grandparent, 12.5% of the DNA of each great-grandparent, and so forth.  By the time you’re back to the 4th great-grandparents, you carry only about 1% of the DNA or each of your 64 direct ancestors in that generation.

What this means is that the DNA testing can locate common segments between you and your genetic cousins that are the same, and if you share the same ancestors,  you can prove that this DNA in fact comes from a specific ancestor.  The more closely you are related, the more DNA you will share.

Another benefit that autosomal testing provides is an ethnicity prediction.  Are these predictions 100% accurate?  Absolutely not!  Are they generally good in terms of identifying the four major ethnic groups; African, European, Asian and Native American?  Yes, so long at the DNA amounts you carry of those groups aren’t tiny.  So you’ll learn your major ethnicity groups.  You never know, there may be a surprise waiting for you.

FTDNA myOrigins

The three vendors who provide autosomal DNA testing and matching all provide ethnicity estimates as well, and they aren’t going to agree 100%.  That’s the good news and often makes things even more interesting.  The screen shot below is the same person at Ancestry as the person above at Family Tree DNA.

Ancestry ethnicity

If you’re very lucky, you’ll test and find an immediate close match – maybe even a parent, sibling or half-sibling.  It does happen, but don’t count on it.  I don’t want you to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  Just remember, after you test, your DNA is fishing for you 24X7, every single hour of every single day.

If you’re lucky, you may find a close relative, like an uncle or first cousin.  You share a common grandparent with a first cousin, and that’s pretty easy to narrow down.  Here’s an example of matching from Family Tree DNA.

FTDNA close match

If you’re less lucky, you’ll match distantly with many people, but by using their trees, you’ll be able to find common ancestors and then work your way forward, based on how closely you match these individuals, to the current.

Is that a sometimes long process?  Yes.  Can it be done?  Absolutely.

If you are one of the “lottery winner” lucky ones, you’ll have a close match and you won’t need to do the in-depth genealogy sleuthing.  If you are aren’t quite as lucky, there are people and resources to help you, along with educational resources.  www.dnaadoption.com provides tools and education to teach you how to utilize autosomal DNA tools and results.

Of course, you won’t know how lucky or unlucky you are unless you test.  Your answer, or pieces of your answer, may be waiting for you.

Unlike Y and mtDNA testing, Family Tree DNA is not the only company to provide autosomal of testing, although they do provide autosomal DNA testing through their Family Finder test.

There are two additional companies that provide this type of testing as well, 23andMe and Ancestry.com.  You should absolutely test with all three companies, or make sure your results are in all three data bases.  That way you are fishing in all of the available ponds directly.

If you have to choose between testing companies and only utilize one, it would be a very difficult choice.  All three have pros and cons.  I wrote about that here.  The only thing I would add to what I had to say in the comparison article is that Family Tree DNA is the only one of the three that is not trying to obtain your consent to sell your DNA out the back door to other entities.  They don’t sell your DNA, period.  You don’t have to grant that consent to either Ancestry or 23andMe, but be careful not to click on anything you don’t fully understand.

Family Tree DNA accepts transfers of autosomal data into their data base from Ancestry.  They also accept transfers from 23andMe if you tested before December of 2013 when 23andMe reduced the number of locations they test on their V4 chip

Autosomal DNA:  What to Order

Ancestry.com’s DNA product at www.ancestry.com – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

23andMe’s DNA product at www.23andMe.com – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

Family Tree DNA – either transfer your data from Ancestry or 23andMe (if you tested before December 2013), or order the Family Finder test. My personal preference is to simply test at Family Tree DNA to eliminate any possibility of a file transfer issue.

FTDNA FF

Third Party Autosomal Tools

The last part of your testing strategy will be to utilize various third party tools to help you find matches, evaluate and analyze results.

GedMatch

At GedMatch, the first thing you’ll need to do is to download your raw autosomal data file from either Ancestry or Family Tree DNA and upload the file to www.gedmatch.com.  You can also download your results from 23andMe, but I prefer to utilize the files from either of the other two vendors, given a choice, because they cover about 200,000 additional DNA locations that 23andMe does not.

Ancestry.com provides you with no tools to do comparisons between your DNA and your matches.  In other words, no chromosome browser or even information like how much DNA you share.  I wrote about that extensively in this article, and I don’t want to belabor the point here, other than to say that GedMatch levels the playing field and allows you to eliminate any of the artificial barriers put in place by the vendors.  Jim Bartlett just wrote a great article about the various reasons why you’d want to upload your data to Gedmatch.

GedMatch provides you with many tools to show to whom you are related, and how.  Used in conjunction with pedigree charts, it is an invaluable tool.  Now, if we could just convince everyone to upload their files.  Obviously, not everyone does, so you’ll still need to work with your matches individually at each of the vendors and at GedMatch.

GedMatch is funded by donations or an inexpensive monthly subscription for the more advanced tools.

DNAGEDCOM.com

Another donation based site is www.dnagedcom.com which offers you a wide range of analytical tools to assist with making sense of your matches and their trees.  DNAGEDCOM works closely with the adoption community and focuses on the types of solutions they need to solve their unique types of genealogy puzzles.  While everyone else is starting in the present and working their way back, adoptees are starting with the older generations and piecing them together to come forward to present.  Their tools aren’t just for adoptees though.  Tools such as the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer are great for anyone.  Visit the site and take a look.

Third Party Y and Mitochondrial Tools – YSearch and MitoSearch

Both www.ysearch.org and www.mitosearch.org are free data bases maintained separately from Family Tree DNA, but as a courtesy by Family Tree DNA.  Ysearch shows only a maximum of 100 markers for Y DNA and Mitosearch doesn’t show the coding region of the mitochondrial DNA, but they do allow users to provide their actual marker values for direct comparison, in addition to other tools.

Furthermore, some people who tested at other firms, when other companies were doing Y and mtDNA testing, have entered their results here, so you may match with people who aren’t matches at Family Tree DNA.  Those other data bases no longer exist, so Ysearch or Mitosearch is the only place you have a prayer of matching anyone who tested elsewhere.

You can also adjust the match threshold so that you can see more distant matches than at Family Tree DNA.  You can download your results to Ysearch and Mitosearch from the bottom of your Family Tree DNA matches page.

Mitosearch upload

Answer the questions at Mito or Ysearch, and then click “Save Information.”  When you receive the “500” message that an error has occurred at the end of the process, simply close the window.  Your data has been added to the data base and you can obtain your ID number by simply going back to your match page at Family Tree DNA and clicking on the “Upload to Ysearch” or Mitosearch link again on the bottom of your matches page.  At that point, your Y or mitosearch ID will be displayed.  Just click on “Search for Genetic Matches” to continue matching.

Get Going!

Now that you have a plan, place your orders and in another 6 to 8 weeks, you’ll either solve the quandry or at least begin to answer your questions.  Twenty years ago you couldn’t have begun to unravel your parentage using DNA.  Now, it’s commonplace.  Your adventure starts today.

Oh, and congratulations, you’ve just become a DNA detective!

I wish you success on your journey – answers, cousins, siblings and most importantly, your genetic family.  Hopefully, one day it will be you writing to me telling me how wonderful it was to meet your genetic family for the first time, and what an amazing experience it was to look across the dinner table and see someone who looks like you.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research