Superpower: Your Aunts’ and Uncles’ DNA is Your DNA Too – Maximize Those Matches!

Recently a reader, Ian, dropped me a note suggesting that perhaps not everyone understands the 2-fer value of close family members who DNA test.

That’s “two for the price of one.”

Even just one family member like an aunt or uncle, or a great-aunt or great-uncle is a goldmine.

Here’s why.

sibling matching.png

In the chart above, you, in green, obtained 50% of your DNA from each parent. Each of your parents gave you have of thier autosomal DNA.

Your parent shares approximately 50% of their DNA with their full sibling who is your aunt (or uncle,) shown in yellow.

Full siblings each receive half of their parents’ DNA, just not the same exact half. That’s why you need to test your own siblings if your parents aren’t BOTH available for testing.

You share about 25% of your DNA with any aunt or uncle, shown in yellow. Your 25% shared DNA came from your grandparents.

The Important Part

But here’s the really important part:

  • ALL of the DNA that your aunt or uncle carries is your ancestors’ DNA too – even though you only match your aunt/uncle on 25% of their DNA.
  • ALL OF THEIR DNA IS AS RELEVANT TO YOU AS YOUR OWN!
  • The other 75% of the DNA that they have, and you don’t, was inherited from your grandparents. There’s no place else for your full aunt or uncle to receive DNA.

You can utilize the DNA of a full aunt or uncle JUST LIKE YOU UTILIZE YOUR OWN MATCHES.

The 2-Fer

Here’s the 2-fer.

  1. Anyone you match in common with your aunt or uncle is identified to those grandparents or their ancestors. That’s about 25%.
  2. Anyone that your aunt or uncle matches in common with another family member that you don’t match but where you can identify the common ancestor provides you with information you can’t discover from your own DNA.

Their Matches are “Your Matches” Too – ALL OF THEM

Yes, all of them – even the people you don’t match yourself – because ALL of your aunts or uncles ancestors are your ancestors too.

Think about it this way, if you and your aunt both have 4000 matches (as an example) and you share 25% of those – you’ll be able to assign 1000 people to that parent’s side of your tree through common matches with your aunt.

However, your aunt will have another 3000 matches that you don’t share with her. All 3000 of those matches are equally as relevant to you as your own matches.

This is true even if your parent has tested, because your aunt or uncle inherited DNA from your grandparents that your parent didn’t inherit.

So instead of identifying just 1000 of your matches in common, you get the bonus of an additional 3000 of your aunt’s matches that you don’t have, so 4000 total matches of your own plus all 4000 of hers – 3000 of which are different from yours! That’s a total of 7000 unique matches for you to work with, not just your own 4000!

Your Matches 4000
Aunt’s Matches 4000
Common Matches -1000
Total Unique Matches 7000

Moving Back Another Generation

If you’re lucky enough to have a great-aunt or great-uncle, shown in peach, the same situation applies.

You’ll share about 12.5% of your DNA with them, so you’ll only share about 500 of your 4000 matches, BUT, all 4000 of their matches are in essence your matches too because your great-aunt or great-uncle carries only the DNA of your great-grandparents, giving you 7500 unique matches to work with, using our example numbers.

Every aunt or uncle (or great-aunt or great-uncle) will provide you with some matches that other family members don’t have.

Whatever analysis techniques you use for your own DNA – do exactly the same for them – and test them at or transfer their DNA file to every vendor (with their permission of course) – while you can. Here’s an article about DNA testing and transfer strategies to help you understand available options.

Genetic Gold

Their DNA is every bit as valuable as your own – and probably more so because it represents part of your grandparents and/or great-grandparents DNA that your own parents and/or grandparents didn’t inherit. Without aunts and uncles, that DNA may be lost to you forever.

If your parents or grandparents have multiple living siblings  – test all of them. If they have half-siblings, test them too, although only part of half siblings’ matches will be relevant to you, so you can’t treat them exactly the same as full sibling matches.

While you’re testing, be sure to test their Y and mitochondrial DNA lines at Family Tree DNA, the only company to offer this type of testing, if their Y and mitochondrial DNA is different than your own. If you don’t understand about the different kinds of DNA that can be tested, why you’d want to and inheritance paths, here’s a short article that explains.

You can always test yourself, but once other people have passed away, valuable, irreplaceable genetic information goes with them.

Any DNA information that you can recover from earlier generations is genetic gold.

Who do you have to test?

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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

Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

Ethnicity is always a ticklish subject. On one hand we say to be leery of ethnicity estimates, but on the other hand, we all want to know who our ancestors were and where they came from. Many people hope to prove or disprove specific theories or stories about distant ancestors.

Reasons to be cautious about ethnicity estimates include:

  • Within continents, like Europe, it’s very difficult to discern ethnicity at the “country” level because of thousands of years of migration across regions where borders exist today. Ethnicity estimates within Europe can be significantly different than known and proven genealogy.
  • “Countries,” in Europe, political constructs, are the same size as many states in the US – and differentiation between those populations is almost impossible to accurately discern. Think of trying to figure out the difference between the populations of Indiana and Illinois, for example. Yet we want to be able to tell the difference between ancestors that came from France and Germany, for example.

Ethnicity states over Europe

  • All small amounts of ethnicity, even at the continental level, under 2-5%, can be noise and might be incorrect. That’s particularly true of trace amounts, 1% or less. However, that’s not always the case – which is why companies provide those small percentages. When hunting ancestors in the distant past, that small amount of ethnicity may be the only clue we have as to where they reside at detectable levels in our genome.

Noise in this case is defined as:

  • A statistical anomaly
  • A chance combination of your DNA from both parents that matches a reference population
  • Issues with the reference population itself, specifically admixture
  • Perhaps combinations of the above

You can read about the challenges with ethnicity here and here.

On the Other Hand

Having restated the appropriate caveats, on the other hand, we can utilize legitimate segments of our DNA to identify where our ancestors came from – at the continental level.

I’m actually specifically referring to Native American admixture which is the example I’ll be using, but this process applies equally as well to other minority or continental level admixture as well. Minority, in this sense means minority ethnicity to you.

Native American ethnicity shows distinctly differently from African and European. Sometimes some segments of DNA that we inherit from Native American ancestors are reported as Asian, specifically Siberian, Northern or Eastern Asian.

Remember that the Native American people arrived as a small group via Beringia, a now flooded land bridge that once connected Siberia with Alaska.

beringia map

By Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16975303

After that time, the Native American/First Nations peoples were isolated from Asia, for the most part, and entirely from Europe until European exploration resulted in the beginning of sustained European settlement, and admixture beginning in the late 1400s and 1500s in the Americas.

Family Inheritance

Testing multiple family members is extremely useful when working with your own personal minority heritage. This approach assumes that you’d like to identify your matches that share that genetic heritage because they share the same minority DNA that you do. Of course, that means you two share the same ancestor at some time in the past. Their genealogy, or your combined information, may hold the clue to identifying your ancestor.

In my family, my daughter has Native American segments that she inherited from me that I inherited from my mother.

Finding the same segment identified as Native American in several successive generations eliminates the possibility that the chance combination of DNA from your father and mother is “appearing” as Native, when it isn’t.

We can use segment information to our benefit, especially if we don’t know exactly who contributed that DNA – meaning which ancestor.

We need to find a way to utilize those Native or other minority segments genealogically.

23andMe

Today, the only DNA testing vendor that provides consumers with a segment identification of our ethnicity predictions is 23andMe.

If you have tested at 23andMe, sign in and click on Ancestry on the top tab, then select Ancestry Composition.

Minority ethnicity ancestry composition.png

Scroll down until you see your painted chromosomes.

Minority ethnicity chromosome painting.png

By clicking on the region at left that you want to see, the rest of the regions are greyed out and only that region is displayed on your chromosomes, at right.

Minority ethnicity Native.png

According to 23andMe, I have two Native segments, one each on chromosomes 1 and 2. They show these segments on opposite chromosomes, meaning one (the top for example) would be maternal or paternal, and the bottom one would be the opposite. But 23andMe apparently could not tell for sure because neither my mother nor father have tested there. This placement also turned out to be incorrect. The above image was my initial V3 test at 23andMe. My later V4 results were different.

Versions May Differ

Please note that your ethnicity predictions may be different based on which test you took which is dictated by when you took the test. The image above is my V3 test that was in use at 23andMe between 2010 and November 2013, and the image below is my V4 test in use between November 2013 and August 2017.

23andMe apparently does not correct original errors involving what is known as “strand swap” where the maternal and paternal segments are inverted during analysis. My V4 test results are shown below, where the strands are correctly portrayed.

Minority ethnicity Native V4.png

Note that both Native segments are now on the lower chromosome “side” of the pair and the position on the chromosome 1 segment has shifted visually.

Minority ethnicity sides.png

I have not tested at 23andMe on the current V5 GSA chip, in use since August 9, 2017, but perhaps I should. The results might be different yet, with the concept being that each version offers an improvement over earlier versions as science advances.

If your parents have tested, 23andMe makes adjustments to your ethnicity estimates accordingly.

Although my mother can’t test at 23andMe, I happen to already know that these Native segments descend from my mother based on genealogical and genetic analysis, combined. I’m going to walk you through the process.

I can utilize my genealogy to confirm or refute information shown by 23andMe. For example, if one of those segments comes from known ancestors who were living in Germany, it’s clearly not Native, and it’s noise of some type.

We’re going to utilize DNAPainter to determine which ancestors contributed your minority segments, but first you’ll need to download your ethnicity segments from 23andMe.

Downloading Ethnicity Segment Data

Downloading your ethnicity segments is NOT THE SAME as downloading your raw DNA results to transfer to another vendor. Those are two entirely different files and different procedures.

To download the locations of your ethnicity segments at 23andMe, scroll down below your painted ethnicity segments in your Ancestry Composition section to “View Scientific Details.”

MInority ethnicity scientific details.png

Click on View Scientific Details and scroll down to near the bottom and then click on “Download Raw Data.” I leave mine at the 50% confidence level.

Minority ethnicity download raw data.png

Save this spreadsheet to your computer in a known location.

In the spreadsheet, you’ll see columns that provide the name of the segment, the chromosome copy number (1 or 2) and the chromosome number with start and end locations.

Minority ethnicity download.png

You really don’t care about this information directly, but DNAPainter does and you’ll care a lot about what DNAPainter does for you.

DNAPainter

I wrote introductory articles about DNAPainter:

If you’re not familiar with DNAPainter, you might want to read these articles first and then come back to this point in this article.

Go ahead – I’ll wait!

Getting Started

If you don’t have a DNAPainter account, you’ll need to create one for free. Some features, such as having multiple profiles are subscription based, but the functionality you’ll need for one profile is free.

I’ve named this example profile “Ethnicity Demo.” You’ll see your name where mine says “Ethnicity Demo.”

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter.png

Click on “Import 23andme ancestry composition.”

You will copy and paste all the spreadsheet rows in the entire downloaded 23andMe ethnicity spreadsheet into the DNAPainter text box and make your selection, below. The great news is that if you discover that your assumption about copy 1 being maternal or paternal is incorrect, it’s easy to delete the ethnicity segments entirely and simply repaint later. Ditto if 23andMe changes your estimate over time, like they have mine.

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter sides.png

I happen to know that “copy 2” is maternal, so I’ve made that selection.

You can then see your ethnicity chromosome segments painted, and you can expand each one to see the detail. Click on “Save Segments.”

MInority ethnicity DNAPainter Native painting

Click to enlarge

In this example, you can see my Native segments, called by various names at different confidence levels at 23andMe, on chromosome 1.

Depending on the confidence level, these segments are called some mixture of:

  • East Asian & Native American
  • North Asian & Native American
  • Native American
  • Broadly East Asian & Native American

It’s exactly the same segment, so you don’t really care what it’s called. DNAPainter paints all of the different descriptions provided by 23andMe, at all confidence levels as you can see above.

The DNAPainter colors are different from 23andMe colors and are system-selected. You can’t assign the colors for ethnicity segments.

Now, I’m moving to my own profile that I paint with my ancestral segments. To date, I have 78% of my segments painted by identifying cousins with known common ancestors.

On chromosomes 1 and 2, copy 2, which I’ve determined to be my mother’s “side,” these segments track back to specific ancestors.

Minority ethnicity maternal side

Click to enlarge

Chromosome 1 segments, above, track back to the Lore family, descended from Antoine (Anthony) Lore (Lord) who married Rachel Hill. Antoine Lore was Acadian.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 1.png

Clicking on the green segment bar shows me the ancestors I assigned when I painted the match with my Lore family member whose name is blurred, but whose birth surname was Lore.

The Chromosome 2 segment, below, tracks back to the same family through a match to Fred.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 2.png

My common ancestors with Fred are Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille who are the parents of Antoine Lore.

Minority ethnicity common ancestor.png

There are additional matches on both chromosomes who also match on portions of the Native segments.

Now that I have a pointer in the ancestral direction that these Native American segments arrived from, what can traditional genealogy and other DNA information tell me?

Traditional Genealogy Research

The Acadian people were a mixture of English, French and Native American. The Acadians settled on the island of Nova Scotia in 1609 and lived there until being driven out by the English in 1755, roughly 6 or 7 generations later.

Minority ethnicity Acadian map.png

The Acadians intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people.

It had been reported by two very qualified genealogists that Philippe Mius, born in 1660, married two Native American women from the Mi’kmaq tribe given the name Marie.

The French were fond of giving the first name of Marie to Native women when they were baptized in the Catholic faith which was required before the French men were allowed to marry the Native women. There were many Native women named Marie who married European men.

Minority ethnicity Native mitochondrial tree

Click to enlarge

This Mius lineage is ancestral to Antoine Lore (Lord) as shown on my pedigree, above.

Mitochondrial DNA has revealed that descendants from one of Philippe Mius’s wives, Marie, carry haplogroup A2f1a.

However, mitochondrial tests of other descendants of “Marie,” his first wife, carry haplogroup X2a2, also Native American.

Confusion has historically existed over which Marie is the mother of my ancestor, Francoise.

Karen Theroit Reader, another professional genealogist, shows Francoise Mius as the last child born to the first Native wife before her death sometime after 1684 and before about 1687 when Philippe remarried.

However, relative to the source of Native American segments, whether Francoise descends from the first or second wife doesn’t matter in this instance because both are Native and are proven so by their mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Additionally, on Antoine’s mother’s side, we find a Doucet male, although there are two genetic male Doucet lines, one of European origin, haplogroup R-L21, and one, surprisingly, of Native origin, haplogroup C-P39. Both are proven by their respective haplogroups but confusion exists genealogically over who descends from which lineage.

On Antoine’s mother’s side, there are several unidentified lineages, any one or multiples of which could also be Native. As you can see, there are large gaps in my tree.

We do know that these Native segments arrived through Antoine Lore and his parents, Honore Lore and Marie LaFaille. We don’t know exactly who upstream contributed these segments – at least not yet. Painting additional matches attributable to specific ancestral couples will eventually narrow the candidates and allow me to walk these segments back in time to their rightful contributor.

Segments, Traditional Research and DNAPainter

These three tools together, when using continent-level segments in combination with painting the DNA segments of known cousins that match specific lineages create a triangulated ethnicity segment.

When that segment just happens to be genealogically important, this combination can point the researchers in the right direction knowing which lines to search for that minority ancestor.

If your cousins who match you on this segment have also tested with 23andMe, they should also be identified as Native on this same segment. This process does not apply to intracontinental segments, meaning within Europe, because the admixture is too great and the ethnicity predictions are much less reliable.

When identifying minority admixture at the continental level, adding Y and mitochondrial DNA testing to the mix in order to positively identify each individual ancestor’s Y and mitochondrial DNA is very important in both eliminating and confirming what autosomal DNA and genealogy records alone can’t do. The base haplogroup as assigned at 23andMe is a good start, but it’s not enough alone. Plus, we only carry one line of mitochondrial DNA and only males carry Y DNA, and only their direct paternal line.

We need Y and mitochondrial DNA matching at FamilyTreeDNA to verify the specific lineage. Additionally, we very well may need the Y and mitochondrial DNA information that we don’t directly carry – but other cousins do. You can read about Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, here.

I wrote about creating a personal DNA pedigree chart including your ancestors’ Y and mitochondrial DNA here. In order to find people descended from a specific ancestor who have DNA tested, I utilize:

  • WikiTree resources and trees
  • Geni trees
  • FamilySearch trees
  • FamilyTreeDNA autosomal matches with trees
  • AncestryDNA autosomal matches and their associated trees
  • Ancestry trees in general, meaning without knowing if they are related to a DNA match
  • MyHeritage autosomal matches and their trees
  • MyHeritage trees in general

At both MyHeritage and Ancestry, you can view the trees of your matches, but you can also search for ancestors in other people’s trees to see who might descend appropriately to provide a Y or mitochondrial DNA sample. You will probably need a subscription to maximize these efforts. My Heritage offers a free trial subscription here.

If you find people appropriately descended through WikiTree, Geni or FamilySearch, you’ll need to discuss DNA testing with them. They may have already tested someplace.

If you find people who have DNA tested through your DNA matches with trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage, you’ll need to offer a Y or mitochondrial DNA test to them if they haven’t already tested at FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor who provides the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests at the higher resolution level, beyond base haplogroups, required for matching and for a complete haplogroup designation.

If the person has taken the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA, they may have already tested their Y DNA and mtDNA, or you can offer to upgrade their test.

Projects

Checking projects at FamilyTreeDNA can be particularly useful when trying to discover if anyone from a specific lineage has already tested. There are many, special interest projects such as the Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project, the American Indian project, haplogroup projects, surname projects and more.

You can view projects alphabetically here or you can click here to scroll down to enter the surname or topic you are seeking.

Minority ethnicity project search.png

If the topic isn’t listed, check the alphabetic index under Geographical Projects.

23andMe Maternal and Paternal Sides

If possible, you’ll want to determine which “side” of your family your minority segments originate come from, unless they come from both. you’ll want to determine whether chromosome side one 1 or 2 is maternal, because the other one will be paternal.

23andMe doesn’t offer tree functionality in the same way as other vendors, so you won’t be able to identify people there descended from your ancestors without contacting each person or doing other sleuthing.

Recently, 23andMe added a link to FamilySearch that creates a list of your ancestors from their mega-shared tree for 7 generations, but there is no tree matching or search functionality. You can read about the FamilySearch connection functionality here.

So, how do you figure out which “side” is which?

Minority ethnicity minority segment.png

The chart above represents the portion of your chromosomes that contains your minority ancestry. Initially, you don’t know if the minority segment is your mother’s pink chromosome or your father’s blue chromosome. You have one chromosome from each parent with the exact same addresses or locations, so it’s impossible to tell which side is which without additional information. Either the pink or the blue segment is minority, but how can you tell?

In my case, the family oral history regarding Native American ancestry was from my father’s line, but the actual Native segments wound up being from my mother, not my father. Had I made an assumption, it would have been incorrect.

Fortunately, in our example, you have both a maternal and paternal aunt who have tested at 23andMe. You match both aunts on that exact same segment location – one from your father’s side, blue, and one from your mother’s side, pink.

You compare your match with your maternal aunt and verify that indeed, you do match her on that segment.

You’ll want to determine if 23andMe has flagged that segment as Native American for your maternal aunt too.

You can view your aunt’s Ancestry Composition by selecting your aunt from the “Your Connections” dropdown list above your own ethnicity chromosome painting.

Minority ethnicity relative connections.png

You can see on your aunt’s chromosomes that indeed, those locations on her chromosomes are Native as well.

Minority ethnicity relative minority segments.png

Now you’ve identified your minority segment as originating on your maternal side.

Minority ethnicity Native side.png

Let’s say you have another match, Match 1, on that same segment. You can easily tell which “side” Match 1 is from. Since you know that you match your maternal aunt on that minority segment, if Match 1 matches both you and your maternal aunt, then you know that’s the side the match is from – AND that person also shares that minority segment.

You can also view that person’s Ancestry Composition as well, but shared matching is more reliable,especially when dealing with small amounts of minority admixture.

Another person, Match 2, matches you on that same segment, but this time, the person matches you and your paternal aunt, so they don’t share your minority segment.

Minority ethnicity match side.png

Even if your paternal aunt had not tested, because Match 2 does not match you AND your maternal aunt, you know Match 2 doesn’t share your minority segment which you can confirm by checking their Ancestry Composition.

Download All of Your Matches

Rather than go through your matches one by one, it’s easiest to download your entire match list so you can see which people match you on those chromosome locations.

Minority ethnicity download aggregate data.png

You can click on “Download Aggregate Data” at 23andMe, at the bottom of your DNA Relatives match list to obtain all of your matches who are sharing with you. 23andMe limits your matches to 2000 or less, the actual number being your highest 2000 matches minus the people who aren’t sharing. I have 1465 matches showing and that number decreases regularly as new testers at 23andMe are focused on health and not genealogy, meaning lower matches get pushed off the list of 2000 match candidates.

You can quickly sort the spreadsheet to see who matches you on specific segments. Then, you can check each match in the system to see if that person matches you and another known relative on the minority segments or you can check their Ancestry Composition, or both.

If they share your minority segment, then you can check their tree link if they have one, included in the download, their Family Search information if included on their account, or reach out to them to see if you might share a known ancestor.

The key to making your ethnicity segment work for you is to identify ancestors and paint known matches.

Paint Those Matches

When searching for matches whose DNA you can attribute to specific ancestors, be sure to check at all 4 places that provide segment information that you can paint:

At GedMatch, you’ll find some people who have tested at the other various vendors, including Ancestry, but unfortunately not everyone uploads. Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information, so you won’t be able to paint those matches directly from Ancestry.

If your Ancestry matches transfer to GedMatch, FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage you can view your match and paint your common segments. At GedMatch, Ancestry kit numbers begin with an A. I use my Ancestry kit matches at GedMatch to attempt to figure out who that match is at Ancestry in order to attempt to figure out the common ancestor.

To Paint, You Must Test

Of course, in order to paint your matches that you find in various databases, you need to be in those data bases, meaning you either need to test there or transfer your DNA file.

Transfers

If you’d like to test your DNA at one vendor and download the file to transfer to another vendor, or GedMatch, that’s possible with both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage who both accept uploads.

You can transfer kits from Ancestry and 23andMe to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free, although the chromosome browsers, advanced tools and ethnicity require an unlock fee (or alternatively a subscription at MyHeritage). Still, the free transfer and unlock for $19 at FamilyTreeDNA or $29 at MyHeritage is less than the cost of testing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

DNA vendor transfer cheat sheet 2019

From time to time, as vendor file formats change, the ability to transfer is temporarily interrupted, but it costs nothing to try a transfer to either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, or better yet, both.

In each of these articles, I wrote about how to download your data from a specific vendor and how to upload from other vendors if they accept uploads.

Summary Steps

In order to use your minority ethnicity segments in your genealogy, you need to:

  1. Test at 23andMe
  2. Identify which parental side your minority ethnicity segments are from, if possible
  3. Download your ethnicity segments
  4. Establish a DNAPainter account
  5. Upload your ethnicity segments to DNAPainter
  6. Paint matches of people with whom you share known common ancestors utilizing segment information from 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA matches who have uploaded to GedMatch
  7. If you have not tested at either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, upload your 23andMe file to either vendor for matching, along with GedMatch
  8. Focus on those minority segments to determine which ancestral line they descend through in order to identify the ancestor(s) who provided your minority admixture.

Have fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

In the Beginning – First Steps in Genealogy

Everyone starts someplace in their genealogy. A lucky few have the opportunity to springboard from another family member who has documented the family carefully. Most of us, me included, began in the simplest of ways – asking family members.

Thank goodness I did that while there were at least a few family members left of older generations. I wish I had begun sooner, but that’s probably the most common lament of genealogists.

The next most common lament, today, would be that we wish we had DNA tested every single person in the older generations. If you haven’t, please do, immediately, while you can – and be sure they are in at least in the Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage databases. I also recommend uploading to GedMatch as well which will catch genealogists that test at 23andMe. Generally, only genealogists upload  to GedMatch.

I didn’t start out to be a genealogist. I was simply interested in my family. I didn’t even really grasp what a genealogist was. One day someone said to me, “Oh, so you’re a genealogist,” and I replied, “No, I’m just curious about my family.”

Famous last words.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a pedigree chart, and my notes for the first few years were on plain paper with little organization other than a page or folder for each person. I then advanced to a green bookkeeping columnar pad to keep track of what was in the folders.

Eventually, some poor soul took pity on me and gave me a pedigree chart. I started filling in what I knew and it would be another decade before I made my first “genealogical” find in the local Family History Center. I refer to that as my first genealogical find because I wasn’t talking to a family member and had begun researching through records. My curiosity had gotten the best of me!

I remember the thrill of that obsession-defining moment well.

It was my first visit to the Center, following a brief introductory session that I had discovered in the local newspaper, and I was filled with trepidation. I didn’t want someone trying to convert me, but I was also very curious. I needn’t have worried. In all the years I visited the local FHC at the Mormon Church, no one ever tried to convert me and I visited regularly, making discovery after discovery.

The first discovery that life-changing evening, the marriage of Lazarus Estes to Elizabeth Vannoy, is what hooked me. We found it in an index, and I was terribly disappointed to discover that I had to order a microfiche and wait until it arrived from some distant location to find out WHEN Lazarus married Elizabeth. Oh, the torture!

But hooked I was, and I anxiously awaited the call from the FHC librarian telling me that my fiche had arrived. I drove to the church in record time!

I had taken my daughter with me on the first trip to the church, just in case I needed a quick “escape.” Kids are always great for “not feeling well” and she was always having stomach aches. Obviously, no escape was needed – except maybe for her.

Recently, while going through some papers, I discovered my very first pedigree chart. My first reaction was, “ahhh, how sweet,” which quickly turned to mortification when I realized how much was blank or worse, incorrect.

Let’s just bask in the “oh so sweet” for a moment.

We all start with the information we gather from family. You can see by the different ink and white-out (you do remember, white-out, right?) that I gleefully added to this pedigree as new information was discovered. Some is written in pencil, with question marks. People weren’t sure about some things, but I made notes anyway. Thankfully!

The blank spaces aren’t blank anymore, today, but that information was revealed slowly, like peeling an onion, through records research. I had talked to my mother and my great-aunt on my maternal side, and my father’s sister on my paternal side, and I gathered all that they knew. From that point forward, I had to do the research. It fell to me.

When I looked at this pedigree chart and realized how much was wrong, my initial reaction was horror – BUT – we all have to start with what we have available. If there was ever a textbook example of why verification and documentation is essential – this is it.

Much to my embarrassment, the red arrows point to information that was wrong. I’ve sized the arrows relative to the magnitude of the inaccuracy.

For example, the biggest error is that Rebecca Rosenberg or Rosenbaum was NOT the mother of Margaret Clarkson/Claxton. For the record, Elizabeth Speaks was, but she was related to the Rosenbaums through her father’s sister’s marriage. My aunt had her in the right neighborhood and family, but attributed the wrong person as her mother.

Of course, if I hadn’t figured it out through records, eventually DNA might have revealed the problem. BUT, since the Rosenbaum descendants were related to the Speaks family, autosomal DNA might not have divulged the problem since the Rosenbaums would have matched some Speaks too. However, mitochondrial DNA would have immediately showed a discrepancy because their matrilineal ancestors weren’t the same. Don’t forget to utilize all tools available.

Oh, and based on the Rosenbaum/Rosenburg surname, my aunt informed me that we were Jewish. Also that the Bolton’s were German, and that my great-grandmother Elizabeth Vannoy was Cherokee, all of which were subsequently proven to be incorrect by using historical records plus DNA, but I digress. Point being that I believed my aunt at the time, because surely she knew – and she obviously knew more than I did which was absolutely nothing.

Notice that several of the dates have smaller arrows. Those are off by one or two years, so again, the right ballpark but the wrong information. At least the information for my parents was accurate! (humor)

It’s also interesting that on my mother’s side, much more was known about the female side of the family. But then again, my great-aunt who I was able to interview was my maternal grandmother’s sister.

My Aunt Margaret on my father’s side didn’t grow up in Tennessee and most of what she knew was second hand. For example, she told me that her Bolton grandparents, Joseph and Margot (Margaret) had both died a day or so apart in the 1918 flu epidemic. He died first and the family put him in the barn waiting for her to die the next day so they could bury them in the same coffin. I didn’t know if that was romantic or simply expeditious for the survivors, under the circumstances, especially if many were ill and coffin-makers and grave-diggers were in short supply.

Well, Aunt Margaret was close. Joseph died on February 23, 1920, not during the 1918 flu epidemic. Still, they did both die of pneumonia following the flu, according to their death certificates, which certainly weren’t available to me in the 1970s or 1980s. Joseph’s wife died on March 11, 1920. Of course, there’s no way to know if they were buried at the same funeral, or in the same coffin. Their deaths were separated by more than two weeks.

I’m certainly glad I recorded every tidbit that I did. I’ve returned to my original notes years later and found extremely valuable hints that I had originally forgotten about or didn’t understand the value of the hint initially.

How could I forget something important? It wasn’t important then or we’re human and we do forget.

Every piece of family information needs to be viewed as a hint, not as gospel. As well-meaning as our family members are, and lovely for sharing, they can only provide us with the information they know or have been provided by others. Who’s to say if it has been conveyed or remembered accurately? The most reliable information is first person, but even that is subject to lapses of memory or the softening of time.

Don’t believe it? Just remember how often you forget what you went into the other room for😊

Documenting every piece of information is up to us and seldom does that documentation process and subsequent review not provide some new tidbit or surprise.

How accurate was your original pedigree chart?

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