The Genomics Revolution 13 Years Later – Bennett Greenspan

Bennett GreenspanOn April 29, 2013, from 11 AM-12 noon, Bennett Greenspan will be the featured speaker in the CSE Distinguished Lecture Series in the Georgia Tech Auditorium located in the Technology Square Research Building, 85 Fifth Street, Atlanta, Georgia, 30332.

Bennett will be speaking about bridging the gap between traditional genealogy and genetics, and will be discussing the various kinds of testing and when each is important.  He will also be talking about new technology, exome and full genome sequencing and how that will be important to individuals.

Always a man with his eye on the horizon, thankfully for genetic genealogists, Bennett says the genomic revolution has just begun.

Bennett is speaking at the Bremen Museum on Sunday, April 28th at 2PM about using DNA to settle family disputes, connect to long-lost relatives and to garner an appreciation for where your ancestors came from and where they journeyed since our departure from Africa.

For those who have never heard Bennett speak, he is an exceptional speaker and makes genetic genealogy not only understandable, but very attractive to the novice.  Being a genealogist before genetic genealogy, a field established by Family Tree DNA, he brings a very powerful personal story to the table.  He has a way of speaking and simplifying the complex that resonates with people.

This is also a rare opportunity to hear someone personally who has directly caused a technology revolution.  Bennett founded Family Tree DNA in 2000, actually, almost by accident, as a result of the process he went through trying to answer one of his own long-standing genealogy questions.

I hope you’ll have the opportunity to attend one or both of these presentations.  Even though I’ve heard Bennett many times, if I were anyplace to close to Atlanta, you can bet I’d be in the audience.  Hearing Bennett speak makes me fall in love with genetic genealogy all over again!



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Smith and Jones

I just love a good mystery – don’t you?  To be good, it has to have some romance of course, a villain, an interesting plot with a twist, a couple red herrings and an unexpected outcome.  Personally, I like happy endings too – I just don’t want them to be too predictable.

Well, welcome to the Smith and Jones mystery.  And no, those names have not been changed to protect anybody.  They are quite real.

When I receive an order for a Personalized DNA Report, I send the client a short questionnaire to complete.  They have the opportunity to tell me why they tested their DNA, their goals, ask any specific questions, and to provide their genealogy so I have something to work with.  In addition, I customize the cover of their report with their family photos if they so desire.

When Mr. Jones returned his questionnaire, in answer to the questions about why he tested, he gave this response:

“My paternal grandfather was the son of an unwed mother.  So my paternal line doesn’t go back very far.  I really hope the DNA can help me find out who my paternal ancestors were.  So far, the indicators are they are Smiths from Bladen County, North Carolina.”

I cringed when I saw this.  Here’s a Jones who thinks he’s a Smith.  How am I ever going to straighten this out with these extremely common surnames?

In the genealogy section, he gave me a little more information.

His paternal grandfather, William Hobson Jones, below, was born in 1902 in Bladenboro, NC to unwed mother Emma Elizabeth Jones.

Those are all the facts I had to work with, other than his DNA results themselves, of course.

To begin, I checked the haplogroup hoping for something exotic that will serve as a differentiator.  R1b1a2-U106 – so no luck there.  However, when I prepared his marker frequency chart, he did have 3 very rare marker values.  Great.  Now we are getting someplace.

I divide marker values into three categories.  Very rare marker values occur in 6% or less of the haplogroup population, rare markers in less than 25%, and the balance are just unremarkable.  It’s the rare and very rare markers that give me something to work with, because they form a very specific genetic family surname “fingerprint.”  In this case, Mr. Jones’ marker 458 carried a value of 15 which occurs in 2% of the haplogroup R1b population, 576 with a value of 16 which occurs 6% of the time and 444 with 14 that occurs only 1% of the time.  These are the litmus paper tests of a real match.  In addition to these very rare marker values, he had 9 additional rare markers that can be used to refine the match criteria.  We’re in good shape for matching.

Mr. Jones had tested at 67 markers, but he had no matches at that level.  However, at 37 markers, he had 3 matches, and they were all to Smith men, none of whom had tested at 67 markers.  Now there’s a good indicator that he was right, that his genetic line is indeed Smith.  His exact match listed his oldest ancestor as being from Germany, but gave no name.  His one mutation match showed his oldest ancestor as Jeremiah Smith born 1795 NC and his 2 mutation match showed no information at all.  None of these matches had uploaded GEDCOM files.  Disappointing. With more information, this would have been much easier, but it wouldn’t be a good mystery without some glitches!

At 25 markers, he only had 7 matches, but at 12 markers, he had a whopping 536.  Obviously his first panel was too vanilla to be very useful, but of course, I did check for additional Smith men.  None to be found.  Just the 3, but those 3 are all very solid.

Sometimes, at this point, projects are a saving grace.  Project administrators are amazing people and put forth a lot of work, sort families, collect genealogies, etc.  The Smith DNA project does not have a public website at Family Tree DNA, but they do have a private site.’231289

At their site, I found a group of Smiths who match Mr. Jones, descended from one Moses Jones of Bladen County.  Huh?  This stopped me in my tracks for a minute, until I realized that this is my client’s kit number, and the Jones family, meaning Emma’s father’s line, indeed, does go back to a Moses Jones.  This would be irrelevant were it not incorrect, because Moses Jones’ male Y-line does not match the Smiths.  The only Jones line that matches a Smith is the one descended from his daughter Emma who had a child outside of wedlock, apparently by a Smith.

By this time, I was chomping at the bit to work with the genealogy records.  William Hobson Jones was born in 1902, so I was hopeful I could find his mother, Emma Jones, in the 1900 census.  The first rule in begetting is that the begetters must have physical proximity to each other – and the traveling salesman is the exception, not the rule.

Sure enough, in the 1900 census, there was Emma, right with her parents Nathan and Elizabeth Jones.  Emma was much older than I had expected, age 36.  She would have been considered a spinster in that time and place, and was probably considered a burden to her family.  Having a child would not have improved that situation any.

However, we have hit the proverbial jackpot here.  Take a closer look… the next door neighbor.

Claudius Smith is the neighbor….but wait….with his wife Glenora Smith.  Ok, let’s see if any of their sons are old enough to be the father of Emma’s child.  Nope, the oldest son is only 13, but Claudius himself is 38, just 2 years older than Emma.  Hmmm…..looks like maybe Claudius is the father, or at least he’s our best candidate right now.  Now Claudius might not be the father, but I’d wager that it is someone in his family, like a brother or uncle perhaps, if it is not him.  This Smith family is the best candidate due to the old begetters proximity rule.

This also might explain why Emma didn’t marry the father.  I wonder if she ever told anyone the identity of the father.  The family today certainly didn’t know.

Simple morbid curiosity got the best of me at this point.  I just had to look in the 1910 census to see if Claudius Smith and the Jones family were still neighbors. Was there a feud?  Did someone move?  Imagine my surprise to see Claudius married to Emma who had borne 4 children by this point.  What happened to Glenora?  And why did my client not tell me about this?  Surely he must have known.  Looking closer, this Emma is all of age 28 and her oldest child is 4….and flipping the census page, Emma Jones, along with her son Willie, age 6, indeed are still living next door, now in her brother’s household.  It seems that perhaps Claudius liked woman named Emma.  Maybe he was a widower when Emma Jones became pregnant.

I wondered if I could connect Claudius Smith with the Jeremiah Smith born in 1795 in NC shown as the oldest ancestor of one of Mr. Jones’ Smith matches.  I checked various sources, and Ancestry had a tree that pushed this particular Smith family back another generation, but not to Jeremiah.  This could probably be done, but not with the time alloted for genealogy in a DNA report.  I needed to look for other tools.

Chess Smith is shown as Claudius’s father and Elizabeth Ann Blackburn as his mother.  And yes, I’m fully aware that online trees should not be taken at face value, but they are good starting points and cannot be presumed to be incorrect either, especially if they confirm a suspected fact.  In this case, that didn’t happen – no Jeremiah.

Fortunately, Mr. Jones had also taken a Family Finder test.  He of course had Smith matches.  Who doesn’t?  But he also had three Blackburn matches.  The addition of this single female line surname gave me something concrete to look for.  I suggested that Mr. Jones contact his Blackburn autosomal matches to see if they can connect to the Chess Smith line.

So, at the end of the day that began with some level of apprehension that I might not be able to help Mr. Jones identify his genetic paternal line, we had a great research plan in hand.

We had discovered that the neighbor’s name was Smith, and he was married with 11 children in 1900, which might just explain why Emma never married the father of her child.  Of course, there might be other reasons too, like the father wasn’t Claudius, but another Smith relative.  It looks very promising, using autosomal tools to find Chess Smith’s wife’s surname, Blackburn, that this is indeed the correct Smith family.

Mr. Jones has some genealogy homework to do on the Chess Smith line, and some contact homework to do with his Blackburn matches, but now he does indeed have the information along with the tools he needs to solve the Jones-Smith mystery and break down that brick wall!

And thank you, Mr. Jones for permission to share your exciting family story!



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The Speak Family – 3 Continents and a Dash of Luck

Recently someone on one of the DNA lists asked about success stories outside of the US.  In the Speak(e)(s) family, we hit the proverbial gold mine – and it took people on three continents and a bit of luck.  The surname is spelled a variety of ways, so I’m going to use Speak for consistency.

Most of the Speak descendants in the US today descend from Thomas Speak, the original immigrant, who was in St. Mary’s County, Maryland by 1661 when he was summoned to court.  We know that he was born in England, but beyond that, we have little other information.  One important hint was that Maryland was at that time a Catholic enclave and England was very anti-Catholic.  Thomas’s son, Bowling, was definitely Catholic, so we suspected we were looking for a Catholic family in Protestant England.

We have identified through DNA testing that most of the original Speak(e)(s) family lines came from Thomas Speak’s two sons, John, known as John the Innkeeper, and Bowling.  Thomas Speak had married Elizabeth Bowling.

However, we still didn’t know where in England our Speak line was from.  Our “cousin” John David Speake who lives in Cambridge, England had DNA tested and proven that his line was not our line.  That was a disappointing day.

John has been an avid researcher for the Speak family, accessing records in England that we simply don’t have access to in the US.  John made contact with a man with the Speak surname from New Zealand and encouraged him to DNA test.  The New Zealand gentleman’s ancestor hailed from Gisburn(e), Lancashire, England – one John Speak who was born in Gisburn, Lancashire, about 1700.  The New Zealand descendant of that John Speak matched our Speak family DNA, that of Thomas, the immigrant.

Bingo – with this DNA match, we now had identified the family location and could focus our research efforts.  And yes, Gisburn was heavily Catholic.

We now know that our Speak family indeed is from the Gisburn area, a region long suspected by John David Speake.  In fact, John long ago had found a Thomas Speak there, born in 1734, but unfortunately, he also later found his burial record.

The Gisburn Catholic Church, St. Mary’s, was established in the 1100s and has miraculously survived intact.

Their burial records begin in the early 1600s, and it’s obvious from translating those records (from Latin) that they served a number of other locations, villages and farms, in the area.  We find the earliest Speak burials beginning with Anna, daughter of William, in 1602.  Not all burial records give the location of the deceased, but those that do are all Gisburne through 1653 when a series of other locations are given.  Of course, these locations may not be new, they may simply have been among those without a location given earlier.

Locations include:  Gisburne, Howgill, Rimington, Paythorn, Twiston, Miley, Horton, Varleyfield, Pasture House, Waitley, Todber, Watthouse, Yarside, Bracewell, Martintop and Newby.  This list takes us through 1828, when the Speak burials cease until in the mid 1900s.  The records may not be complete.

On the map below, you can see that all of these locations that have corresponding locations today are within 2 or 3 miles of Gisburn(e).  Those locations that do not exist on the map today may well have been farm or manor names that disappeared instead of becoming hamlets.  The location just below Gisburn with no name is Todber.  A caravan park is located there today, but otherwise, it has disappeared.

Many, many unmarked burials exist in this ancient churchyard that entirely surrounds the church.

The dashes on the cemetery map above are unmarked graves.  Fifty-one Speak burials exist in the records, and most of them are quite early.  I spent some time “reassembling” families and many family units are evident, although there is a pronounced repetition of names.

A bit of English history may be somewhat enlightening.  John feels that this group of Speaks families was not landowning.  In other words, they were not royalty, were not wealthy, did not have coats of arms, etc.  In medieval England, if you were not a land owner, then you were a tenant farmer, either free or bond.  Bond did not mean slavery, but it did mean you had little freedom to leave.  However, the freedmen had little opportunity to leave either, required the manor owner’s permission, and there was no place within the British Isles to go anyway.

Given that we are now back to the end of written records, and that is within 300 years or so of when all families took surnames, and that is within 200 years of when the first families took surnames – we may be to a time period when we will not be able to find any specific records of our Thomas or his family.  John now tells us that he has found a Speak family record in Downham, about 5 miles away, dating to 1305.  The Speak family is indeed ancient in that region and it would be a wonderful experience to walk where they trod, where our DNA still exists today, and from whence we sprang.

Thanks to DNA testing, if we never find any more information at all, we know the area and the family line that our Speak family is from.  That indeed, is a wonderful gift, and one that our ancestors gave us through their DNA.

So what comes next?  A trip to Gisburn of course!  Indeed, in 2013, several members of the Speak(e)(s) Family Association will hold our annual convention in Gisburn.  Indeed, we are going to walk in the cemetery and stand inside the church that our ancestors assuredly visited.  What would Thomas think?  His descendants, nearly 400 years after his birth, come home to find his family and the land he left.

This would not have been possible without the combined research efforts of several people in the US documenting the life of Thomas Speak, without John David Speake in England and his blood-hound research, without the Speak family members in the US who have DNA tested, or without our New Zealand cousin.  He was the lynchpin, the missing puzzle piece, the keystone.  We hope that he can join us in England in 2013 for a homecoming in the beautiful village of Gisburn.

If you’re a Speak family member, of any spelling or any line, click here to order a DNA test and join the Speak project.



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Lenny Trujillo: The Journey of You

In the fall of 2010, Lenny Trujillo embarked on a journey unaware that he was going anyplace.  That was the journey to discover himself, his ancestry….and what a journey it has been.  Lenny was unique, very unique.

After Lenny’s results came back, he purchased a DNA Report.  In the process of analyzing his DNA, I realized what an opportunity was at hand.  Lenny was Native American  and his Y DNA likely harbored new SNPs that would identify a new sub-haplogroup, and we needed to take a look.  When I wrote Lenny and asked if he would consider a Walk the Y (WTY) test, he told me that he had retired that very day.  My heart sunk, because I presumed that meant “no”, that he’d be making financial adjustments like so many retirees.  But then Lenny went on to say that he wanted to proceed in order to leave a legacy for his grandchildren.

And what a legacy Lenny has to leave them.  Lenny made history and advanced science.  Indeed, by comparing Lenny’s DNA to another European man in haplogroup Q1a3, 7 new SNPs were discovered. I wrote a paper about this process and Lenny’s contribution.  This was a red letter day for Native American ancestry, as well as for Lenny, delivered as fate would have it, Christmas week.

However, Lenny’s remarkable story doesn’t end there.  That’s only the beginning.  But, I’ll let Lenny tell his own story, in his own words.  He wrote an article for the Los Angeles Beat which was published today.   His story is so heartwarming and inspirational and the records that document his Native ancestry that Lenny has been able to find have been absolutely amazing.

Lenny also tells his story on the Family Tree DNA YouTube Channel in various segments for those who haven’t yet seen Family Tree DNA’s infomercial.

So whether you read it or watch it, or both, come along, share Lenny’s journey, and enjoy!



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The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors

Judy Russell blogged a few days ago about counting up the number of ancestors you have found, of the total number available in the past 10 generations in her blog, “More Lost than Found.”  Judy had a tidy total of 12% after the 10th generation, counting your parents as generation 1. She has only been researching for 12 years.  A veritable youngster.  I’ve been researching for 34 years, so I was hopeful that my percentage would be somewhat better.  At 1% per year, I should rack up about 34%.  We’ll see.

In my presentations, I always talk to people about building their DNA pedigree chart.  I use my own as an example.  It took a lot of work, not to mention money and in some cases, some significant arm-twisting to accomplish this.

It pains me that there are blanks at the top, and some of them can never be filled.  The one person who could test for the Ruthy Dodson Estes (Claiborne Co., Tn.) mitochondrial line, won’t.  The Kirsch family has few male descendants here in the US, and so far, the only one I can find isn’t interested in testing.

With some heavy duty elbow-grease, I should be able to find someone to test for the Margaret Herrell Cook Bolton (Claiborne County, TN) and the Margaret Lentz Miller (Montgomery Co., OH and Elkhart Co., IN) lines.

Some lines are simply dead.  The deJong line had no daughters and we don’t know who her parents were in the Netherlands, so we can’t go upstream.  I can’t find Rachel Hill Lore’s daughter’s descendants from Warren County, Pa.

Instead, I focus on the 10 lines whose DNA I do have.  I thought this was pretty good, actually.  Of these 16 ancestors, I have the DNA of 10 of them.

Last week, when I read Judy’s article, I wondered exactly how my DNA pedigree chart would compare to the number of ancestors in total and the number found.  I wouldn’t say this comparison has been fun, but it has been enlightening in a number of ways.

On the chart below, the generation is noted, the total number of end-of-line ancestors in that generation, the number of ancestors I’ve identified, the percentage that represents, followed by the number whose DNA I have and the percentage compared to the total number of ancestors possible.  The percent would look a lot better if compared it with the number of ancestors identified….but that wouldn’t be playing quite fair.


Ancestors Total

Ancestors Identified






1 – parents






2 – grandparents






3 – great-grandparents






4 – gg-grandparents






5 – ggg – grandparents






6 – gggg – grandparents


52 (6 women no surname)




7 – ggggg – grandparents


72 (5 women no surname)




8 – gggggg-grandparents


90 (7 women no surname)




9 – ggggggg-grandparents


106 (12 women no surname)




10 – gggggggg-grandparents


101 (4 women no surname, 8 duplicate ancestors on Mom’s side)










I wound up doing an extra generation that Judy didn’t do.

So comparing my 9th generation with Judy’s number, I had a total of 382 ancestors found out of 1022 possible, for 37%.  At 1% per year, I’m three years ahead of schedule!

Expanding this number to the 10th generation reduced my percentage to 24%, but still not bad for 300 years ago, or so.

So Judy, take heart, in another 22 years you’ll be up to 37%, about one third of the way there.  It looks like one gains about 1% per year, so at this rate you’ll only need to live for another 88 years to be done.  I can die when I’m only 119.  I sure hope my retirement money holds out that long!

Finding Ancestors DNA

On the chart, the “DNA Anc” column heading means DNA ancestor’s located and the next column, “% DNA,” is the associated percentage.  While significantly smaller than the number found, this information is still quite interesting for a number of reasons.

First, my pedigree collapse didn’t begin until the 10th generation.  On my Mom’s side, I have a lot of ethnic groups, for lack of a better term for them.  I have the Brethren, the Acadians, the Dutch and other non-Brethren German immigrants, all of which lived in clusters and intermarried after arriving in the states.  The pedigree collapse, where the same ancestor is found in your tree more than once, occurred in both the Acadian line and the immigrant non-Brethren German lines back in Germany.

In order to make sure I actually had gathered up all of my ancestral DNA lines that are available, I checked the projects at Family Tree DNA.  Most of the projects are quite useful, but there were some exceptions.  I’d like to make a plea for all surname administrators to please, PLEASE, enable the oldest ancestor field on your Family Tree DNA public webpages.  Without that information, you can’t even begin to figure out if your line is represented and the page is virtually useless.

And folks who have tested, please, PLEASE, enter your oldest ancestor information with identifying data; birth, death, location and spouse would be good for starters.  This means for the Y-line, your oldest paternal ancestor and for mtDNA, your oldest female maternal ancestor.  You would be amazed how many men’s names I see in the oldest maternal ancestor field.  This is your mitochondrial DNA lineage – your mother, her mother, her mother, etc on up the tree until you run out of mothers.

Aside from the surname projects, I found the French Heritage project, the Mother’s of Acadia project and the Acadian American Indian projects quite useful.  For one thing, they had taken the time to enter relevant surnames into their project profiles, so when one of my surnames popped up, I knew to check their projects.

I had checked existing projects previously for all of my surnames, but quite a few more ancestral lines that I could readily identify as mine had been added since I last checked.  In some cases, I couldn’t tell for sure, so I omitted those.  Unfortunately, some surnames don’t have projects.

I decided to check Ysearch, although I really didn’t think it would be very productive.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  First, it’s a lot easier to search there, even with the captchas, because you can see the location.  Then you can click on the User ID to see more genealogical info…hopefully.  People tend to enter more when they are prompted and in Ysearch does that in the transfer or data entry process.  I wish Family Tree DNA did more of this type of prompting on their website.  The only thing I couldn’t see that would have been quite helpful was the oldest ancestor info without clicking on the User ID.

Surprisingly, I picked up several DNA lines from Ysearch.  They fell into three categories.  First, the unusual names that did not have projects at Family Tree DNA.  Second, surnames from projects that were poorly displayed at Family Tree DNA, meaning the oldest ancestor info wasn’t shown, so one couldn’t tell if their family was represented or not.  Third, surnames with many matches.  It was easier to tell if there was a possible fit at Ysearch than in projects at Family Tree DNA.  I compared a couple of surnames at both locations, and people do tend to enter more info at Ysearch than they do at Family Tree DNA in terms of the oldest ancestor.

On the other hand, searching at Ancestry was entirely futile.  They do have an option to see if a surname has tested.  If so, they show you the name of the person who tested and their haplogroups. Not useful.  The only way to do anything more is to look at the profile of every person to see if their tree is connected or to contact them.  Very, very not useful.

While checking projects for the paternal surnames at Family Tree DNA and at Ysearch was easy, looking for females who descended from my ancestors and who have tested was quite difficult.  We need a mitochondrial DNA data base that has the maternal ancestors of everyone who has tested that we can search to see if our maternal line is represented.  I think we’re missing a lot of opportunities by not having this functionality.

One thing that happened that I didn’t expect is that in each generation, I lost lines, but I also picked up other lines and sometimes, they had been DNA tested.  By “picked up,” I mean that if we have a female marrying into the family, back one generation, we have her father.  Some of those ancestral lines had been DNA tested.  I expected that since many were quite far back in my tree, there wouldn’t be DNA lines for them, but that wasn’t the case as long as I had enough information to uniquely identify them and the correct end-of-line person.  In other words, just having Nicholas Estes doesn’t cut it, but having Nicholas Ewstas born 1495, Deal, Kent, England, died 1533, same location, wife’s name Anny is clearly enough to identify this man.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of Dutch on my Mom’s side, and a few generations back, on my Dad’s as well.  Relative to surnames, projects and DNA testing, Dutch lines tend to be rather hopeless, especially when you’re back to when surnames were being formed, unless you know someone from that line to ask to test.

The Dutch used patronymics where the father’s name was used plus an ending -zoon for sons, -dochter for daughters. For instance, Abel Janszoon Tasman is “Abel son of Jan Tasman”, or simply Abel Janszoon.  In written form, these endings were often abbreviated as -sz. and -dr. respectively e.g. Jeroen Cornelisz. “Jeroen son of Cornelis”, or Dirck Jacobsz. Of course, the next generation would be Jan son of Dirk, or Jan Dirckszoon or Dircksz.

This means there was a different “surname” in every generation.  In the village, everyone knew who you were, but outside the village….and beyond that century, it’s a nightmare.  Patronymics were used in Holland until 1811, whereupon emperor Napoleon forced the Dutch to register and adopt a distinct surname.  Often, they simply made the patronymics the new family names, and modern Dutch patronymic-based surnames such as Jansen, Pietersen and Willemsen abound. Others chose their profession or habitat as family names: Bakker (baker), Slachter (butcher), van Dijk (of dike) etc.  But then, the spelling changed, within families and when immigrating.  All of this, combined, makes finding Dutch ancestors very challenging and surname projects difficult.

Germans adopted surnames long before the Dutch, in most cases, so we find a few more that have projects and have tested.  In my case, I often only have one or two generations here, at most, and then the line jumps overseas.  Names are spelled differently and the European people don’t have the love affair with genetic genealogy that we Americans have.  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are looking for our roots and they just look outside the window to see theirs.

The Pietistic faiths are difficult too.   Many of the descendants still practice the faith, or if not, a very conservative related faith.  It’s difficult to convince people who sometimes don’t have electricity and who don’t own a car, preferring  a horse and buggy, that DNA testing is something they want to do.  However, when I actually visit, I’ve had pretty good luck, at least with the more radical segments who have telephones (but not cell phones) and drive cars now.

So where does this leave me?  I’m a little richer than when I began this comparison.  I didn’t find new ancestors, but discovered DNA information about the ones I already had.  I know more about them now, and about their ancestors, and where they were before I found them in my family tree.  I know about their clan, who was Celtic, Anglo, Viking and Native American.

I also got to add two more confirmed Native American lines to my chart today.  That made me feel great.  I’m glad we’re unearthing the truth about our ancestors that was only held in whispered stories and shadows before.

Who can you find to test for your own DNA Pedigree chart?



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

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Marja and Me

Sometimes things just don’t go as we have planned.  Some people just refuse to stay in the box where they are supposed to be.  Marja is one of those kind of out-of-the-box people.  As it turns out, that is a very good thing!

Marja is Finnish and started e-mailing me in March.  She was referred by Family Tree DNA, and she had lots and LOTS of questions.  In one long paragraph, she asked me 17 different questions pertaining to 4 different kits.  And that was one of her shorter e-mails!

To say I was a bit overwhelmed is probably an understatement. However, I could tell that her questions were a result of exuberance and a desire to learn about this fascinating new field, all in one large bite if possible.  She had been doing her homework.  Seldom do I have a new client using words like Genbank and understanding what it is.

So, we sorted the questions into groups pertaining to specific kits and Marja ordered two reports, one for her father’s Y-line, and one for her mitochondrial.

Normally, I send a form to each new client for them to complete.  They send me the completed form which includes their questions, with their photos, and when their results are all back from the lab, I schedule their work.  Simple, structured, and everything works.

Like I said, Marja operates outside the box.  Marja is history buff and a communicator.  Given that I’m a history buff and a sponge, and I knew little about Finland, I welcomed the opportunity to learn.  By the time I began the first report, I had over 100 e-mails to sort through from Marja, all with tidbits of information about Finnish history, farm names, which is how people take surnames there….and by the way, the surnames change when they changed farms.  Now that’s a genealogists headache.  I learned wonderful things from Marja and she learned from me.

Over the ensuing months, we became friends.  We made some fascinating discoveries.  We both love maps.  I did graduate work in GIS Systems back in the 1990s.  We both particularly love antique maps.  I always include maps in reports.  She sent me a beautiful, ancient map of Finland to include in her reports.

Marja and I both love bridges too, especially really unusual bridges.  Marja and I both love and use math and statistics.  Marja is a physicist with a degree in experimental physics, topped by an MBA.  It was at that moment I truly understood Marja and appreciated all of her questions.  Her specialty is error theory.  My undergrad is in Computer Science, topped by an Information Systems MBA.  One day Marja and I stumbled across the fact that we both love space.  She met her husband at a space exhibit.  My husband and I do geeky things like visit the old Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center and stay awake half the night to watch the Mars Curiosity land.  The list of uncanny coincidences was growing.

But then, it happened.  Surely, it was inevitable.  I received an e-mail from Marja and she asked if I had noticed we were related.  What?  Really?  Well, the cobblers kids have no shoes and I had not been keeping track of my Family Finder matches nor those at GedMatch.  She had.

But how could we possibly be related?  Marja is Finnish, through and through.  I am a Heinz 57 mutt, but with no Finnish.  On my Mom’s side, lots of German and Dutch, but nothing in Scandinavia at all.  Or so we thought.  But there it was, a segment of matching DNA, big as life.  There was no doubt….Marja and I are related.  I’m convinced that on that segment lies the bridge/map/space/geeky-female genes.

When I finished Marja’s father’s report, I had included a photo of an archaeological site that I though was relevant to her father’s story.  Kuninkaanhauta, the King’s Grave, is the largest bronze-age barrow in Finland and likewise amongst the most eminent in the Nordic countries.  These hillgraves are made of very large piles of stones and this one is very near where her father’s ancestors lived.

After I delivered the report, Marja asked me to replace that photo with another.  I was kind of disappointed, as I was so pleased to have found that archaeological site and photo.  But then I looked at the photo Marja had sent me.  It was exactly the same mound, but WITH her father standing alongside.

Marja and I also discovered that we share a love of archaeology and the ancient history it unearths.

We began to mine the history of Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, along with our families, to see how we might connect.  It may be through the Mennonites, as we both have some matches there.  Perhaps before they were Mennonites.  My mother’s family was Brethren, another Anabaptist faith, not terribly far removed from the Mennonites.

And it might be through Marja’s Finnish Fleming family who may have been German originally.  It might be through the people from what is now the Netherlands who settled in Finland.  It might be from the Saxons who greatly influenced the Finnish culture, although that is an awfully long way back to have an unbroken segment of DNA of this size.

As we went through this process, I finished her reports and our client/customer relationship had long since evolved into one of friendship.  We also discovered our love of jewelry and of hearts.  I think jewelry is an international language among women.

One day, Marja wrote, “This I want to share with you, Euran sydän Eura’s heart. I bought it from Kalevala Koru. Based on the archaeological findings in Eura, from the Viking time 850-1150. (Eura  includes Kiukainen again nowadays as it did in the history) . Kalevala Koru is an old company established by Finnish women. They have many fine products based on archaeological findings. More to less every Finnish woman has got Kalevala Koru jewelry. Who knows, it might have been cousin Mike’s and my ancestor who has given this kind of heart to his wife. Funny enough, when I showed this to my sister she remembered she had a similar one in her jewelry box.”

The Kalevala Jewelry company has beautiful items, designed from historical and archaeological finds in Finland.  What a wonderful idea.

You can take a look at

And then one day, I opened my mailbox to find a box from Finland, and inside the box was Eura’s heart.  What a beautiful gift and a lovely gesture.  I felt like a kid at Christmas unwrapping the beautiful box with the bow.  Now, not only are Marja and I connected by our genetic ancestors, whoever they were, some hundreds of years ago, who contributed to us our common DNA segment, but by our friendship and also, now, our Eura hearts.

Thank you so much Marja.  You are indeed a lovely cousin.  I’m so glad we met.  Isn’t genetic genealogy great, and isn’t this what it’s all about?  Finding and meeting family and developing relationships!  And in this case, in the most unexpected of ways.  Marja is herself a gift indeed.

As Marja says, “I love this journey of ours.  It’s absolutely crazy that we found each other…7 billion people in the world….based on things we love…and then to find out we’re related.”  Yes, indeed, it’s almost unbelievable.

But our story isn’t finished yet.  A few days later, I received another e-mail from Marja.  She said, “Did you know that you are related to my cousin on the X-chromosome?”  What?  You’re kidding?  How can that be?  She is Finnish through and through and I am not.  Or so we think.  Here we go again, except with one small difference.  The X chromosome has special properties that make it easier to track.  If you want to know more about how to use the X chromosome, you’ll have to join me for a future blog, “X Marks the Spot.”



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