Finding George McNiel’s Brother, Thomas, Using DNA – 52 Ancestors #187

The story of the Reverend George McNiel includes the oft-repeated 3 brothers story, and one of the three brothers in this version was named Thomas, or so the legend goes.

I’m used to 3 brothers stories, sometimes used to explain men of the same surname but with no paper trail connection, and I had rather discounted this particular version. I’ve just heard this same story about different families too many times.

That is, I discounted it until droplets of doubt arrived, served up by records in Spotsylvania County where George McNiel lived. In 1754 records included Thomas McNial, then again in 1761, followed by records of one Thomas McNiel in Caswell County, NC about the same time that the Reverend George McNiel migrated from Spotsylvania County to Wilkes County, NC.

From the book, Apprentices of Virginia, 1723-1800:

James Cartwright, a white male, son of Thomas Cartwright decd, was to be apprenticed to Thomas McNial on October 1, 1754 to learn the occupation of a tailor. This is from the Spotsylvania County court order books, 1749-1755, pages 62 and 497.

James Pey, a white male, to be apprenticed to George McNeil on March 1, 1757 to learn the occupation of tailor. From Spotsylvania will book B 1749-1759, page 307.

Robert Mitchell, a white male, was apprenticed to Thomas McNeil on Sept 7, 1761 to learn the occupation of tailor. Spotsylvania County will book B, 1749- 1859, page 540.

I discovered that both George and Thomas were tailors, or at least had tailors on their plantations. Was this possibly an indicator that these men might have both been tailors themselves. With the same surname and same occupation, perhaps that they were related in some way? Was this just a coincidence, or could the “brothers” story be true?

Generally, tailors weren’t needed in the farming countryside, so that tidbit might well mean these men worked either in cities or in wealthy households before immigration. If they were tailors, they themselves would have been apprentices someplace.

More than a decade ago, I worked with another researcher who descended from Thomas McNeil who lived in Caswell Co. He made his will dated April 20, 1781 in which Thomas named his three sons; Thomas, John and Benjamin.

Thomas McNeil’s will:

In the name of God Amen I Thomas McNeil of Caswell Co NC being weak of body but sound of mind and memory do April 20th 1781make this my last will and testament in the manner following. I give unto my living wife Ann the use of all my personal estate during her life or widowhood. I give unto my son Thomas a tract of land lying on Sanderses Creek containing 200 acres which land I bought of my son John and my desire is that my said son John do make a right of said land to my son Thomas. I give unto my son Benjamin 150 acres joining the lines of Andrew Caddell and my son John Land to him and his heirs forever. I give to my daughter Mary 100 acres of land lying on Henley’s Creek joining Wilson Vermillions line to her and her heirs forever. At the death of my loving wife that my sons Thomas and Benjamin have each of them a horse and saddle and a bed which horses to be of the value of 10 pounds in specie also the plantation working tools I desire may be equally devided between them. I further give unto my daughter Mary one feather bed and furniture and two cows and calves after the death of my loving wife. All of my negroes and their increase after the death or marriage of my loving wife be by three honest men equally divided amongst my 8 children, or the survivors of them, to wit John, Thomas, Benjamin, Elizabeth Roberts, Nancy Vermilion, Mary, Patsey Hubbert and Lois to them and their heirs forever. Lastly I nominate and appoint my wife Ann , my son John and my son-in-law Wilson Vermillion and George Lea (son of William) executors of this my last will and testament revoking all other wills by me made in witness whereof I have hereunto sett my hand and seal…signed. Witnessed George Lea, Lucy Lea, John Clixby. Proved Dec court 1781.

At that time, no relationship had been established between this Thomas and the McNeil’s of other counties.

That McNeil researcher was unable to recruit a male McNeil family member to DNA test, so for more than a decade, this research languished with no way to answer the question of whether George McNiel and Thomas McNeil were indeed brothers.


Beginning in Spotsylvania County, the journey to Wilkes County is about 337 miles, and the old rutted wagon road passed through Caswell County on the way. At about 10 miles per day, that’s a total of about 34 days, assuming nothing went wrong. It makes you wonder if Thomas just got tired of the wagon lurching and bumping along the trail and said, “I’m done, drop me off here” about 3 weeks into the trip.

It’s about 135 miles from Caswell County to Wilkes County, with Wilkes being in the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At that time, this was the frontier, and the mountains, the barrier to the next one.

Were Thomas and George Brothers?

Today, we have an answer, or at least a probable answer, thanks to Y DNA testing.

Aside from paper documentation, which we don’t have, the only way to obtain relationship evidence is by DNA testing, specifically the Y chromosome passed from father to son in every generation and not mixed with any DNA from the mother. This means that the Y chromosome is passed intact from father to son for many generations, except for an occasional mutation. The Y DNA of men who were brothers in the 1700s should match very closely.

The Rev. George McNiel’s Y DNA line is represented by two known descendants from different sons’ lines, so we know the haplotype of his DNA, meaning the STR value numbers that cumulatively read like a DNA fingerprint.

I hadn’t checked the Y DNA results of my cousin who tested to represent the Reverend George McNiel’s line in some time, so I decided to take a quick look. What a welcome surprise was waiting.

At 67 markers, our George McNiel’s descendant’s best match is to a descendant of Thomas McNeill of Caswell County. Wooohoooo!

Unfortunately, the match has not taken the Family Finder test, which might show how closely he matches to the descendants of George utilizing autosomal DNA. Of course, given how many generations back in time those men lived, their descendants might not match autosomally. But then again, some might!

Not only that, but George’s descendant matches more closely to Thomas’s descendant than to another descendant of George. Just the way the DNA dice rolled in terms of when mutations happened.

Looking at the public McNiel project display, there are several McNeil men along with other spelling variants that fall into the Niall of the 9 Hostages grouping characterized by haplogroup R1b>L21>M222.

Please note: You can click to enlarge any graphic.

These men look to have descended from a common ancestor far back in time. You can easily see that there are specific clusters of men who match each other on particular allele values. My cousin who tested to represent George McNiel’s line is highlighted in blue.

Unfortunately, not one man in this group has taken the Big Y test for further haplogroup refinement. Hmmm, we might have to do something about this.

Matches Happen

But, there’s more information on my cousin’s McNiel match page that wasn’t there before. Much more. Each match provides clues that I’ve compiled into the following table:

GD* Ancestor Location Comments
1 – 50th percentile at 3 generations Thomas McNiell 1724-1781 Caswell Co., NC Probably George’s brother
3 – 50th percentile at 4 generations Thomas MccNiell married in 1750 Rombout, NY Ancestry shows Thomas married to Rachel Hoff, English christening records shows a Thomas Macneil born to Gilbert MacNeil in Witton Le Wear, Durham, England in 1699.
5 – 50th percentile at 6 generations Hugh Neel b 1750 Ireland Ancestry shows born Ireland, lived in Camden Co., SC, died after 1792 in KY
7 – 50th percentile at 12 generations Edward McNellis 1816-1888 Died Glennageeragh, Tyrone, Ireland Father may have been Frank who died in Glenncull, Ballygawley, County Tyrone

*GD=Genetic Distance. The percentile was calculated by using the TIP calculator which estimates the average number of years to a common ancestor. I used the 50th percentile number of generations.

The information gleaned from these matches, in closest to furthest match order, above, can yield clues to where our McNiel line was before immigration in addition to further back in time.

The oral story says that George came from Edinburg, Scotland after studying for the Presbyterian ministry which tells us that he might have traveled to Edinburgh from elsewhere. There is no evidence to either confirm or refute this historical nugget. If George left from Edinburgh, it stand to reason that Thomas probably did too.

At a genetic distance of 3, a second Thomas McNiell, was reportedly born in Witton Le Wear, which is found about 95 miles south of Coldstream, which sits right on the border of England and Scotland. As you can see on the map below, Coldstream isn’t far from Edinburgh.

This does assume the Thomas born in Witton Le Wear is the same Thomas subsequently found in New York. I have not verified that information.

The Neel line with a genetic distance of 5 was born in Ireland, but they don’t know where.

The match with a genetic distance of 7 hails from Glennageeragh. On the map below, at the blue dot, we find the location of Glennageeragh Townland in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

County Tyrone was one of the seated plantation regions, meaning that many Scots immigrated here. However, there is much more history involving the McNiel family in County Tyrone from before the Plantation Era when displaced Scots were settled in Ireland.

The picturesque townland of Glenncull, near Glennageeragh, where Edward McNellis’s father may have died is shown in the photo below.

Interestingly, the town of Ballygawley is also known as “Errigal-Kerogue” or “Errigal-Kieran”, supposedly from the dedication of an ancient church to St. Kieran (Ciarán of Clonmacnoise). It was in the Clogher (barony), along the River Blackwater, Northern Ireland. Some of the remains of the old church were known, and an ancient Franciscan friary, founded by Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone. In the churchyard was a large stone cross, and a holy well.

Conn O’Neill was born in 1480 and died in 1559, both in Ireland. In 1541 he travelled to England to submit to the Henry VIII as part of the surrender and regrant that coincided with the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland and was subsequently made Earl of Tyrone.

Conn Bacach O’Neill was the son of Conn Mór O’Neill, King of Tír Eógain (Tyrone), and Lady Eleanor Fitzgerald. Con Mor O’Neill was the son of Henry Ó Néill, King of Tír Eógain. Eleanor Fitzgerald was the daughter of Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Kildare. Con Bacach O’Neill was the first of the Ó Néills whom the English, in their attempts to subjugate Ireland in the 16th century, brought to the front as leaders of the native Irish. His father, the King of Tír Eógan, was murdered in 1493 by his brother.

Conn’s grandson, Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was born in 1550 and came to the throne in 1587, crowned in 1595, and died in 1607.

George and Thomas McNiel were born sometime around 1720. Based on oral history, it’s suggested that they came to Maryland from Scotland sometime around 1750, as adults. The story further reveals that George had studied at the University of Edinburgh for the Presbyterian ministry and that the brothers argued about religion on the ship, during the long Atlantic crossing. George reportedly “saw the light” and became Baptist, but one of the brothers was so upset about the religious discussions during this adventure that he changed the spelling of his name to McNeill.

If that’s true, then the unhappy brother must be the third missing one, possibly named John, because Thomas and George lived in the same vicinity from about 1750 to at least 1761.

My observation is that names were spelled every-which-way in records during that time, with very little consistency – so a name change without other evidence would not indicate a dispute.

So, Is Thomas George’s Brother or Not?

Unfortunately, we can’t draw an entirely 100% firm conclusion.

The first piece of evidence is that the Y DNA clearly did not rule out a relationship. In fact, it confirmed a close relationship, but we can’t say how close from Y DNA alone.

We already know that George’s descendant matches Thomas’s descendant more closely that George’s second descendant.

So, yes, it’s very, very likely that these two men were brothers or closely related.

Autosomal tests could potentially help. I’ve e-mailed and asked the McNeil matches if they would consider upgrading to a Family Finder test. However, in a situation like his, without some paper documentation, given the number of generations between now and then, there is no way to prove absolutely that George and Thomas were brothers, as opposed to cousins, or uncle/nephew, etc.

While we can’t positively prove that George and Thomas were siblings, we can potentially look a bit further back in time by determining the terminal SNP of our McNiel line. Perhaps it’s time for me to order a Big Y test for George’s descendant.

I’m hopeful that looking back in time through the lens of the Big Y test will unwrap even more about the early history of the McNiel men, before the adoption of surnames or where these men lived when surnames were adopted. From that surname-adoption location, whereever it was, it appears that the McNeil men by whatever spelling spread throughout Ireland, Scotland and to parts of England.

Perhaps George and Thomas McNiel descended from a long line of adventurers.

And to think all of this information emerged from George’s descendant’s Y DNA matches. Amazing!

Oxford Ancestors Announces Closure – Plus How to Protect Your DNA

Dr. Bryan Sykes, founder of Oxford Ancestors has announced that Oxford Ancestors is withdrawing from the direct to consumer genetic marketplace as Bryan retires to live abroad.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any graphic.

Oxford Ancestors Began Testing in 1996

Oxford Ancestors was the first company to test mitochondrial DNA outside the academic environment available to the public after Dr. Sykes authored his book, Seven Daughters of Eve. Although the book is incredibly outdated today, it was at that time a groundbreaking book that introduced regular air-breathing humans, not scientists, to the DNA of their ancestors.

In essence, it started our love affair with our DNA that continues with millions having tested today.

In the back of the Seven Daughters book was an order form, and in 1999, I quickly ordered my first DNA test to find out which of Eve’s 7 daughters’ clans I belonged to. For about $900, I received a one page chart in the mail with a star placed on Jasmine’s node telling me that I was a member of Jasmine’s clan.

Such was the humble (and expensive) beginning of my two-decade fascination with genetic genealogy. It’s true that every journey of 1000 miles (or 18 years) begins with one tiny step.

Dr. Sykes later added a 10 marker Y DNA test for males along with a searchable data base that hasn’t been functional in years.

In essence Oxford Ancestors could have been the innovation force to lead the genetic genealogy revolution, but it wasn’t. Oxford Ancestors introduced a few new products here and there over the years, but seemed out of touch with the needs and desires of genetic genealogists.

One Last Time

I dug deeply into my own personal archives looking for my user name and password, hoping to check my matches at Oxford Ancestors one last time. I noted from a series of e-mails that there had been sign-in and password problems for years, and sure enough, none of my or my husband’s user names or passwords works today.

It really doesn’t matter much, given that only 400 mtDNA locations were tested, not even the full HVR1 region – compared to 16,569 locations in the full sequence test at Family Tree DNA.

My husband’s Y DNA tests are irrelevant too, with only 10 STR markers.

Hubby and I both retested years ago at Family Tree DNA, as did any other serious genealogist. I’m just incredibly, incredibly grateful that my deceased mother’s DNA was stored at Family Tree DNA who retains customers’ DNA for 25 years to afford the individual (or their legal heirs) the ability to upgrade with new tests as the technology improves. If mother’s DNA was at Oxford Ancestors, I’d probably be singing an entirely different song right now.

Sign In

If you’re interested in trying to sign in to Oxford Ancestors one last time, do so soon.  Dr. Sykes says the data base will remain online for a few months, but with the GDPR deadline looming on May 25th, I’d speculate that the data base might be taken offline just before that date.

It was difficult to find the location to sign in, but it looks to be in the green section of the Database Search Zone, (bottom option at left on the sidebar) that brings you to this page with the green sign-in box at right.

Genetic History of Early Testers Gone Forever

The saddest part of this obsolescence event is that because Dr. Sykes’ project began in 1996, he assuredly has samples from many individuals who have passed away. His data base, when no longer available in any capacity (even though it hadn’t been working correctly in years) will take with it the genetic results and genetic history of many individuals that will be irreplaceable. Never recoverable. Gone forever.

Even though only a few genetic locations were tested, in some cases, some knowledge is better than no knowledge – especially if those people didn’t test elsewhere and/or their line has died out.

I hope that some effort might be made to transfer ownership and stewardship of the database (perhaps) to a nonprofit type of entity (ISOGG?) who would strive to maintain the database in some format.

It’s heartbreaking to see 21 years of DNA samples from Oxford Ancestors join the defunct data bases of both Sorenson (purchased by Ancestry) and Ancestry’s own Y and mtDNA data bases – both of which met the same fate. Lost forever.

It’s akin to deleting the lineage stories of our long deceased ancestors. Kind of like burning the genetic library. Travesty isn’t a strong enough word.

While this may be the best answer for Dr. Sykes personally, who undoubtedly deserves to be able to retire, it remains a tragedy for mankind (not to mention the testers’ families) to lose the earliest pieces of history collected and compiled in this field.

Nothing is Forever

Nothing is forever, unfortunately.

We all need to make preparations to protect our own DNA and genetic records.  However, because the strength of genetic genealogy is not individual results in isolation, but in comparison to others’ results, we still need the ability to compare.

Unfortunately, both YSearch and MitoSearch, formed as free public entities allowing people to upload their results and compare lost their reason d’etre when other companies stopped performing Y and mtDNA tests. There’s no reason to maintain an external site to allow comparisons from multiple companies when there is only one company testing Y and mitochondrial in this field now, and you can compare directly in their own data base.

Family Tree DNA maintained those services, for free, for years. They have graciously allowed the data bases to remain available, but they have not updated them in a long time and the code is exceptionally old.

Preventative Steps to Take NOW

If you don’t have your results elsewhere, either sign in to Oxford Ancestors or contact them, NOW, to obtain and archive your results.

Be sure to update your beneficiary form at Family Tree DNA, and be sure that your family knows about your DNA results, location, sign-in user name/password and your desires.

Other vendors don’t offer a beneficiary designation, so be sure that your family knows about your DNA locations and how to sign in. Instruct your executors as to how to deal with your DNA at locations that require a subscription. You may want to include a clause in your will providing direction.

Download your DNA results and raw data files for Y, mtDNA and autosomal. Label and date them carefully. Archive in multiple locations, on multiple computers and on multiple kinds of media. Be sure at least one copy is stored outside your home in case of disaster.

Upload your Y and mitochondrial results to YSearch and Mitosearch, if possible. If you download directly from Family Tree DNA (at the bottom of your matches page,) even though an error message is returned during that process, your results are still being added to the data base. You can confirm by clicking on the “Upload to YSearch (or MitoSearch)” button at the bottom of the Y (or mito) matching page again, and your YSearch (or MitoSearch) ID will be displayed. I would not suggest depending on this resource either, given its age and the fact that it is far beyond its anticipated lifespan.

One of the best things you can do with your autosomal results to assure availability is to be sure they are stored in different locations. Fortunately, several companies facilitate uploading information from other sites, which you can later download if need be. In other words, “spread the love” in the form of your DNA file. You benefit now by fishing in multiple pools for matches and later by making sure your DNA is not just in one place.

Download and transfer autosomal raw data files from:


Of these, both Ancestry and MyHeritage either restrict the services or the size of your (free) tree utilized for matching, so unless your heirs maintain a paid subscription at some level, your results may not be able to be utilized to their full matching capacity. Both provide some level of free matching without full services.

Not every vendor accepts all results from the other vendors due to chip incompatibilities. You can see which vendors accept whose files, and versions, here.

To make your DNA results immortal and insure that they continue to reap benefits not just for you, but for your descendants and those who you match as well, transfer your results to as many (legitimate) places as possible and please, please upload or create a corresponding tree.

Genetic genealogy today and in the future relies on DNA test results compared to others AND genealogy. Preserve both!

Your DNA is the legacy that only you can provide. Don’t let a company’s data base closure rob your descendants.


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Dear Dave: I Found Your Father – 52 Ancestors #184

My Dearest Brother Dave,

It’s been 6 years last week that you left, departed this side, leaving your broken earthly vessel behind.

Six very long years. I thought the sun would never shine again, but somehow you arranged a gloriously sunny day to celebrate your funeral, and today as well. A fitting gift from a long-haul truck driver.

Since you can’t call me anymore as you crisscross the country in your big rig named The Black Pearl, I’ll just have to write to you and hope that the same airwaves that used to bring me your voice now transport my message to you.

You see, I finally found your father, or have at least narrowed the candidates and discovered your surname.

I remember how many years you searched, painfully and fruitlessly. DNA was the key, now that enough people have tested.

In 2004 when I finally found you, you explained how your mother had teased you with the names of at least three different men that were supposedly your father. How you tracked them down and arranged to visit. They were nice, understanding and sympathetic, but they weren’t your father.

I suspect that perhaps your mother didn’t know, considering the circumstances. We won’t revisit that, except to say it saddened me greatly to see you suffer so based on activities you had no part in. Worse yet, she left you an envelope hidden in a drawer with your name on it after her death in which you were positive you would find the answer. You ripped it open, but once again, no answer was forthcoming. A final disappointment. The first of two words that come to mind is heartless.

Our introductory phone call when I explained my understanding of who your father was – my father – which explained why you carry the Estes surname was one of the most emotional days of my life. You were finally found. A hole filled. The gap of almost 50 years gone.

You told me how you opened the envelope I had sent with the photos of “our” father, whom you already knew as a family member, but not as your father. I sent photos because I didn’t want you to think I was some crazy lady, or that my letter was some kind of scam.

You’d discover soon enough my own personal brand of crazy😊

Of course, at that time, I didn’t understand who in that family was actually your biological mother – and what that meant in terms of complex family dynamics. You’re so fortunate that, for the most part, your grandmother raised you, at least reducing your mother’s damage.

A few days after our first phone call, we met for the first time, talking for hours like we had known each other forever. Time and place simply disappeared and we floated on our own wave of giddy happiness. I still have that photo by my desk, with your arm around me. You watch over me every single day, right beside me.

You shared that I was your only living family member, except for your children, and how you had always longed for a sibling.

I knew in that moment what family meant to you, and that if needed, you would die for me. Literally.

I loved you instantly and completely.

I came to know you as a grizzled, hard-driving, long-haired tattooed trucker with a short temper for injustice – to animals or people. God help anyone that abused someone you loved, anyone in need, or an animal.

You told me you never said “the L word,” love. Tough as you were, love would make you vulnerable. Your wife of many years confirmed that to me. I just smiled. Love doesn’t need words.

As I said goodbye the second time, a few weeks later, you hugged me and whispered softly, almost inaudibly in my ear, “Love you, Sis.”

“What?,” I asked and you grumbled, “You heard me,” afraid that someone else would hear. I just smiled and hugged you again, tears running down both our faces. Except, yours were just allergies of course.

You told me every time we talked after that, because as a truck driver, we never really knew when our last conversation would be. Our last words spoken, always, from that day forth, were “love you.” I smiled through tears every time and I suspect you did too.

Danged allergies.

We had already missed so many years.

I still hear that Dave, and I know the next time I meet you, I’ll hear it again.

Damn, I miss you.

I knew before you died that we weren’t half-siblings after all. The original two paternity/siblingship tests we took suggested that, but they weren’t conclusive and needless to say, we certainly didn’t want to believe that message.

Our next clue was when I was eliminated as your liver donor candidate, although the medical team would not confirm why. However, the “new” autosomal DNA tests we took not long before you died proved it beyond any doubt.

I never had the heart to tell you.

It would have broken both of our hearts and we were already indelibly bonded as family. Nothing, no DNA test would ever change that.

Remember that half heart I gave you to protect you on your journeys?  You took half of my real one with you when you left.

For the sake of honesty, I tiptoed around the siblingship subject, testing the water. The limited commentary you did make told me that perhaps you already suspected, but were strongly rejecting that possibility out of hand. End of subject.

The truth could wait until the afterlife.

However, I made a vow to you that you never knew about. One day I would identify your father. I would find that puzzle piece.

Now herein lies a great irony, the best irony of all. I have to tell you – you’re going to love this story. Hope you’re sitting down on a cloud.

Your grandmother raised you in the Catholic church and sent you to Catholic school. You left the church in high school, but those childhood teachings have a way of taking hold permanently.

During your last days in the hospital and then in hospice, you requested a priest to do a “Last Confession” and whatever rituals are completed in the Catholic religion to prepare for death.

The hospital called the local priest. Then, hospice called the local priest.

No response, at all.

Then, your wife called the local Catholic churches.

Still no response, at all.

Then I called.


When I saw you that day, I knew the end was very near.

Still no priest to do your Last Rites.

I’m sure you remember that Jim, my husband, a former Eucharistic minister in the Catholic church before he sinned by getting divorced and continued sinning by remarrying to a non-Catholic heard your last confession. He performed the anointing of oil, (my chapstick) and holy water, (bottled water from my purse,) both of which I blessed with my very own hands. HERESY!

Jim was horrified and was just certain I was going to be struck dead by lightning on the spot for my heretical actions, but I did what needed to be done. Just like you would have done for me. Whatever you and Jim did in that room together with the chapstick and Dasani holy water brought you great peace. That’s all that mattered.

And I survived to tell the story.

Love you Brother, and I surely hope you’re not stuck in purgatory because of my last minute battlefield fox-hole improvisations. 😉

Your wife was a Baptist, which might have been part of why the Priest never showed up, or even called. Clearly, there wasn’t going to be a Catholic funeral for any number of reasons, not the least of which was because you were cremated by that time.

Yes, I know, yet another “sin.”

Oh well, we just added it to the long list and St. Peter will have to blame us because you really didn’t get to vote, being dead and all.

You had volunteered at the Baptist church, refinishing the basketball floor and other odd jobs, so your wife invited the Baptist preacher to “preach your funeral.”

Being in the middle of the winter, we worried about the weather, with me arriving from out-of-state and many truckers that had known you for decades driving hard to get back in time. We scheduled your funeral for 4 on Friday to accommodate their schedules so they could arrive in time and didn’t have to sacrifice pay to attend.

I remember hearing those big rigs parked outside the funeral home, lined up, up and down the street, their running lights turned on, with their engines all running in a rumbling trucker-tribute to you.

I smiled then to think about how much you would have liked that. The neighbors must have been mortified.

The room at the funeral home was full, standing room only, overflowing into the lobby and outside when it was time for your funeral to begin. Your photos were on the table in the front, and everyone was seated and waiting.

But, there was no preacher.

Another 5 minutes passed. Then 7. Then 10.

The preacher didn’t answer his cell phone.

Everyone was shuffling and shifting restlessly.

The funeral home said they couldn’t help.

I looked at your wife, who was in no shape to do anything.

She looked at me and said, famously, “You have to do something.”


Were you there with us? Do you remember how I started your funeral?

I just walked up front, picked up the microphone and said:

“Hi, I’m Dave’s sister. I bet most of you never knew Dave had a sister. Well, he does.”

I told about how we met.

I told them how much I loved you.

And how much you loved me.  Sorry, your secret is out!

I told them that your gruff and tough exterior disguised a soft soul afflicted with pain.

I told them how you rescued animals.

Not everyone knew the story of how you acquired Dio, your abused Rotty, literally rescuing him from the hands of his abusers. But, most everyone knew he rode with you for years. Dio had more miles than most cars. It does my heart good to know the two of you are riding together once again, across the rainbow bridge.

I remember how inconsolably devastated you were when he died as you were fighting your own battle.  He went to wait for you and I know the reunion was one of sheer ecstasy.

I told them that I discovered you had taken that awful mountainous Idaho potato run so that you could see me because the drop-off terminal was about 10 miles from my house. Of course, you would never have admitted to that!

I was amused to discover that they thought your “sister,” who you stopped to see regularly, was code for a different kind of relationship. Perhaps because they teased you incessantly about loving your sister😊

That’s Ok, so did the manager at the hotel down the road where you would park your rig while we went to eat and came to the house to visit for awhile. I explained that you couldn’t get turned around on my dead-end road but he didn’t believe me. Remember the time we finally pulled out both of our IDs and showed him we were both named Estes? The shocked look on his face said it all.

Those were such good days and wonderful surprises when you’d call to say you were coming through.

I miss them so.

I still look in every black truck I see. I know better, but old habits and rituals of love die hard.

I told them how you announced you would sell your house and move up here to care for me when you thought I had cancer. Thankfully, I didn’t have cancer, but that proclamation meant the world to me. You’ll never know how much. Ok, well maybe you know now.

I told them how much you loved your children and how living long enough to walk your daughter down the aisle was your motivation to live for many months while you waited for the transplant that never arrived. I never told them that you didn’t get to.

I told them how much you didn’t want others to make the same mistakes you had – because love you as I do – you weren’t exactly perfect. None of us are.

So, that day, I became at once the comforter and the preacher. I gave you the ultimate loving send-off on that spectacular sunny winter’s day six years ago. Much like the beautiful day outside today. I always feel that these lovely sunny winter days that melt the snow on the roads are a gift from you.

“Preaching your funeral” was an honor, and one I could never have adequately prepared for. Maybe impromptu was better.

But there’s one thing I didn’t share with them.

That you really weren’t my biological brother. It didn’t matter. I don’t know how I could ever have loved you more.

In spite of thinking your surname really was Estes, biologically, it wasn’t.

Because you were on the “other side” by then, you already knew the truth. You also knew that it was out of love that I spared you that pain here on earth.

Before you passed over, you didn’t know that I had secretly sworn an oath to you as well, that one day I would unearth the truth.

Dave, that day is today.

And now, the ultimate irony. Karma at it’s very best.

You see, you never needed a priest. Despite all of our unsuccessful efforts.

Because you are one.

For years at Family Tree DNA, you’ve had matches to multiple Y DNA surnames.

Recently, two men tested whose surname was Priest, descended from John Anderson Priest born in 1798 in North Carolina.

They are your closest matches, but still, given the variety of surnames that you matched, I paid it little mind.

That is, until today.

Your autosomal DNA returned a match to a first cousin, whose surname just happens to be Priest. Looking at your matches in common, I saw several people with that surname. About 4 hours later, I had the relationships mostly unraveled!

So yes, indeed, you, my dear brother, are a Priest.

I can hear you laughing heartily.

Estes can be your middle name now.

David Estes Priest, with no comma. Our new private joke, even if you do have to enjoy it from afar.

I hope you can truly rest in priest, er, peace now. It’s solved. The last tie to bind you here is gone.

Fly free.

I’ll see you overhome.

Love you.

“Heaven,” from Dave’s rig.


DNA Love and Your “Big 8” – Plus Valentine’s Day Sales!

We’re approaching Valentine’s Day, and I’m reminded just how much I love genetic genealogy. I already loved genealogy before the genetic portion emerged. Since DNA has been added to our toolbox, I’m head over heels.

I can’t even begin to count the number of breakthroughs I’ve had using DNA. On EVERY LINE.

In order to further my own genealogy, I’ve purchased countless (I don’t want to count, truthfully) kits and tests for other people. I don’t regret any single one of those dollars, because they all helped ME. Yes, even kits that didn’t match helped me.

Why? Because they might have matched. Some did match. Some provide haplogroup information for my ”Big 8” meaning for all of my 8 great-grandparents.

Click to enlarge

As you can see, I still need to find test candidates for two of my great-grandparents to complete the “Big 8.”

My now-deceased aunt tested for the Margaret Claxton/Clarkson line before mitochondrial full sequencing was commercially available. When I wanted to upgrade her test to full sequence and autosomal, I couldn’t because the archived DNA quality was too poor. Now, I need to find another testing candidate to discover her full haplogroup aside from the rather generic H. Lesson learned – now I just order the whole shebang out the gate!

A second mitochondrial test that I need is for Evaline Miller, my Brethren great-grandmother.

Do You Qualify For a Free Test?

Shameless plug – If you descend from any of the following women through all females to the current generation, where testers can be either males or females, I have a free mitochondrial AND autosomal test for YOU at Family Tree DNA. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • Margaret Claxton (1851-1920) Hancock Co, TN
  • Elizabeth Speaks (1832-1907) Hancock Co., TN
  • Ann McKee (1804/5-1850/50) Washington Co., VA, Lee Co., VA
  • Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee (1766-1814) Washington Co., VA
  • Evaline Miller (1857-1939) Elkhart Co., Indiana
  • Margaret Elizabeth Lentz (1822-1903) Montgomery Co., Ohio, Elkhart Co., Indiana
  • Fredericka Reuhle (1788-1863) Beutelsbach, Germany, Montgomery Co., Ohio
  • Dorothea Katharina Wolfin (b 1755) Beutelsbach, Germany
  • Dorothea Keubach (1729-1790) Endersbach, Germany, Beutelsbach, Germany

Let’s say you want to do the same thing, find people who are candidates to test for specific lines.

Finding Test Candidates

How might you find these people? Trees of autosomal DNA matches are a good choice. I mine my DNA matches at all vendors to see who might match me in the direct line needed to carry the Y or mitochondrial DNA of the desired ancestor. If someone has already DNA tested, they at least understand the subject and you’re not introducing the topic of DNA testing from scratch.

The three main testing vendors (along with GedMatch) each have a variety of tools to help find candidates.

  • Ancestry: Green leaf hints DNA+Tree Matching
  • Family Tree DNA: Phased maternal and paternal “bucketed” match results, trees and in-common surnames
  • MyHeritage: DNA+Tree Matching called SmartMatching
  • GedMatch: Search all GEDCOMs and GEDCOM 1 to All

As luck would have it, all three vendors are having Valentine’s Day DNA Sales too.

Valentine Day Sales and Testing Strategy

Now is a great time to test and transfer your autosomal DNA results for maximum matching.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA is having their “Sprinkle Some DNA Love” sale where the Family Finder autosomal test is on sale for $59.

If you want the option of Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, Family Tree DNA is the vendor to select, as they are the only vendor performing Y and mitochondrial testing and matching. You can purchase the Family Finder test today and add any of the other tests, either now or later. $59 is the least expensive price of all the vendors this holiday and you can transfer to MyHeritage and GedMatch for free!


MyHeritage is on sale for $69 (or $59 if you purchase 2.) You can transfer Family Tree DNA kits to MyHeritage and vice versa without losing any quality or matches because Family Tree DNA’s lab runs the tests for MyHeritage. In fact, this is a great approach because transfers are free and you can fish in both ponds. Both vendors have advanced tools. MyHeritage tends to have European testers not in other data bases, so whether your transfer or test, you’ll want to be there if you have European heritage.

The transfer is free to Family Tree DNA, but there is a charge to unlock their advanced tools, so the best testing strategy would be to test at Family Tree DNA (where the test is less expensive) and transfer to MyHeritage. Total cost – $59 at Family Tree DNA where the total cost of testing first at MyHeritage and transferring to FTDNA is $88 (or $78 each if you purchase 2 kits.)


Ancestry’s test is also on sale for $69. You can transfer the Ancestry results to Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, but the Ancestry test only covers about 25% of the same test locations as either Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage. As a result, at Family Tree DNA, you only receive your closest 20-25% of your matches and at MyHeritage, they utilize imputation to compensate for the shortcoming. Ancestry’s matching data base is quite large and their tools, though not as comprehensive as elsewhere, are easy to use.

You cannot transfer any results TO Ancestry, so my recommendation if you’re going to test at Ancestry would be to also test at Family Tree DNA and transfer your results to MyHeritage.

Of course, all three of these tests provide the much-sought-after ethnicity estimates.

Testing (and Money Saving) Strategy

Of the four vendors who provide autosomal matching, the comparative costs during the Valentine’s Day sale are as follows:

  • If you’re only going to make one purchase, you can purchase a kit for $59 at Family Tree DNA, have it available for upgrades and transfer to both MyHeritage and GedMatch for free.
  • You can test at Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, both, and transfer to MyHeritage and GedMatch for a total cost of $128 and be swimming in all the best ponds!
  • If you’re an adoptee or seeking an unknown parent, you’ll want to test at 23andMe as well. Their Ancestry Service kit is on sale for $79 now, but 23andMe has dropped to a distant 4th in terms of genetic genealogy.

How about buying a genetic genealogy valentine bouquet for someone you love!

Click here to “sprinkle some DNA love” at Family Tree DNA.

Click here to purchase at or transfer files to MyHeritage.


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I Am A River – 52 Ancestors #182

The quilt, “I Am A River” was inspired by a dream during a very difficult period in my life in the 1990s. In fact, I refer to it as “the decade from hell.”

The “elevator pitch” summary from that decade includes the death of my sister along with the prolonged death of my step-father and my in-laws. However, the worst catastrophe was that my (former) husband had a massive stroke which did not kill him but severely disabled him both physically and mentally – meaning I was thrust literally in the blink of an eye into many roles for which I was either ill-prepared or entirely unprepared.

In the spirit of “anything that can go wrong, will,” the stroke occurred at the same time that my much-beloved step-father was dying. My mother was a basket case and so was I. Of course, all of this affected my children in different ways too, and none of it positively. The “decade from hell” doesn’t even begin to convey the magnitude of the swath of devastation.

There were many decisions that I had to make flying blind, with the future entirely unknown.

The Dream

In the dream, various people stood at the intersection of branches of a river where the river split into two divergent paths.  They reacted in different ways. One person kept looking back, regretting what had been left behind. One person crawled up on the rocks and tried very hard to avoid making any decision. Me, I craned my neck, peering as far as I could down both sides of the river, upstream and downstream, trying my best to discern the future to make an informed choice.

I felt the soul-searing anchor weight of knowing my decision affected the lives of others as much or perhaps even more than those decisions affected me. I might have a chance to recover.  Others would not if I made a poor choice.

Since it was a dream, I could have been all three people – dreams don’t have to make sense and I only remembered the essence, not the details, upon awakening. I also never forgot. The simple message of that dream haunted me.

Of course, in reality, we can’t see very far down the river or into the future anyway and even if we could, we’d never know what was hidden around the next bend. We have to make the best decision we can at the time and then simply hold on for the ride. Especially when your bucolic “Lazy River” ride has turned into a class V whitewater rapids, defined as:

Extremely difficult. Long and violent rapids that follow each other almost without interruption. River filled with obstructions. Big drops and violent currents. Extremely steep gradient. Even reconnoitering may be difficult. Rescue preparations mandatory.

Except – there is no rescue.

The dream represented different approaches to an uncertain and terrifying future – looking backwards and attempting to dwell in the high cliffs of the past, climbing out of the water onto the rock, trying to delay a decision, or trying to peer into the future.  It was impossible to simply having faith and go with the flow. “The flow,” in this case, was strewn with peril and death.

I am not that faithful “go with the flow” person. I worry. I fret. I stew. I worry some more. Especially when other people’s welfare is involved. I’m much more willing to roll the dice about my own.

The great irony in all of this is that when forced, I make a decision and simply march forward, one foot in front of the other.

I hear the poem, Invictus, and try my best to believe it. I repeat the phrases “bloody but unbowed” and “I am the captain of my soul” and attempt to convince myself I’m not afraid. Mostly, I simply refuse to acknowledge the shrill voice of fear.

It’s only when I have the luxury, or torture, of time to decide that I agonize over the “what-ifs.”

So here I am, standing in the middle of the river once again. I’ve come to believe we all stand in this river many times in our lives.


DNA has shaped both me and my life – indelibly. DNA literally created what I am in a biological sense and accounts in many ways for who I am in terms of my traits.

However, for the past 18 years, DNA has shaped me through genetic genealogy as well – allowing me to become acquainted with my ancestors in ways never before possible. To identify with them in a very personal way. It has taken me to places I never dreamed I could or would go – literally, figuratively and scientifically. A new frontier – the one within.

We have the capacity today to be closer to our ancestors through available records and DNA testing than ever before.  A new horizon has been reached – the threshold crossed.

So, it’s only natural that I would look backwards to my ancestors, perhaps hoping for some shred of advice or imparted wisdom as I stand once again on what seems like the continental divide.

What did my ancestors do when they had decisions to make? How did they make them? What were they thinking? Is there a guiding light there someplace?

I’d settle for a glimmer.

Were they wanderlusts or unwilling refugees? Some of both? Is that heritable? Did they bequeath it to me?

I picked up, moved across the country and changed my life when I was in my mid-20s. I was certainly not unafraid, but I was infinitely determined. My mother called it stubborn😊 I call it tenacious. A rose by any other name. I have no regrets.

Then, fate intervened again some 13 years later with my husband’s stroke. That was one horrific day – and only a beginning that shoved me unwillingly through a doorway from which there was no return.  A one-way portal.

More than a decade later, my life transformed again when I lost my mother. I also remarried. I didn’t anticipate or expect any of those changes back when I was making that first decision to move across the country with my small children in tow.

Sometimes you receive wonderful gifts of fate, opportunities, and sometimes you have to make lemonade out of lemons. Often, you think you’re doing one and you wind up doing the other. Gifts, lemons and lemonade all chained together in the garland of life. That, of course, is exactly why we worry and sit in the middle of that river.

The unknown. That damned terrifying unknown.

So, what would my ancestors do?


Let’s take a look and see what wisdom the ancestors might impart, based on what we know about their life-altering decisions.

My mother always voiced this lament that made me laugh which made her cringe:

“If you would only just behave.”

This from the woman who danced in the 1930s into the 1940s – trailblazing for others to follow. Ironically, her decision to dance was more driven by the fact that she had no other skill with which to support herself, rather than a burning desire to perform.  What she wanted to be was a bookkeeper – but college money was for boys in the family, not girls. Girls danced.

If you’re going to dance, do it well enough to dance professionally.  That’s professionally as in stage and theater, not a strip club.  Turn lemons into lemonade.

Not to suggest I’m anything like my mother, but let’s just say this photo of me was taken after the genetic genealogy conference in Houston.

Ok. So. That “well behaved” thing is obviously never going to happen.

But where did it come from?

Grandmother, Edith Lore Ferverda and Great-Grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore

On to my next ancestors, who, I might add, are in this motorcycle photo taken in the early 1900s when motorcycle riding was entirely verboten for women.  Not only is my grandmother, Edith, in this photo, so is her mother, Nora, (last two, at rear) and her sisters. In case anyone wants to know where I got that “not well-behaved” propensity, um, it might be here! If you’re counting, this is four generations of misbehavior in a row.  Genetic much?

My grandmother, Edith Barbara Lore, (rear of the motorcycle) used to tell my mother, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

She would know.

Edith didn’t follow her heart and never really forgave herself for the lost opportunity – coloring the way she reacted to her family for the rest of her life. At some level, she spent her life grieving the opportunity she never took. Perhaps she was sitting on that rock in the river, or attempting to peer downstream.

Regret is poison.

Had my grandmother gone to Colorado with “the cowboy,” let’s just say that my life would not be the same and my grandfather would have been someone entirely different. I wouldn’t be me.

Ironically, the name of the man who so convincingly stole my grandmother’s heart and took it west with him, whom she was afraid to follow, is entirely unknown. Just “the cowboy.”

Fear – so often the ruler or our life – and our decisions.

Had Edith made a different choice, my mother and I would be different people, raised in Colorado, not Indiana. A ripple through the pond of life that would reflect for eternity – so long as my grandmother’s descendants live.

I don’t want to live my life with regrets like my grandmother – but who’s to say she wouldn’t have regretted following her love to the wild west. It’s a possibility either way. Life’s like that.  No promises. Uncertain at best. Sitting in that rock in the river.

Father, William Sterling Estes

My father, William Sterling Estes, made so many outright bad decisions from anyone’s perspective that I often want to shake him and ask, “What the Hell were you thinking?”  Clearly, I’m not looking for any advice from him.  Just like you don’t go to the bar and ask the drunk guy who is broke for financial advice.

My father wasted no time even trying to look upstream.  He was caught up in the adrenaline of the minute, swimming directly into the rapids without even a life vest. He did however, appear to develop a skill in the backstroke, especially after being caught in a net!

The best I can hope for comes from the old adage, “at least he can serve as a bad example.”

Grandmother, Ollie Bolton

My father’s mother, Ollie Bolton – that poor woman. She certainly didn’t live the life she signed up for as a misty-eyed bride of 18 tender years.

I don’t know if she lived her own dreams, or her husband’s. Did she really want to leave Claiborne County, Tennessee and move to Springdale, Arkansas almost immediately after she was married where her first few children would be born? Was that trip full of just-married “I’ll follow you anywhere” starry-eyed love? I’d bet the journey back was VERY different.

Ollie moved back to Tennessee a decade later with a husband, William George Estes, who wasn’t fond of work and was very fond of alcohol. They are pictured together below, although she may haunt me for that.

Ollie wound up with a husband that wasn’t, who drank more than worked and had a roving eye as well as other body parts. In the next chapter of her life, after a child burned to death and living in yet a third state where she caught her husband cheating, Ollie found herself alone, struggling and parceling out her children. I don’t know how much was by choice or because she had only poor choices available at that point.

How I wish I could talk to Ollie and understand how she made those horribly difficult decisions – her thought process and the circumstances I’ll never fully understand that affected my father so profoundly.


So often our choices really aren’t our own. Thrown into the water and forced to swim or drown.

Forced upon us by circumstances in which we find ourselves. No one wants to be that person who is living with their children, destitute, ill, dependent and vulnerable in their old age.

My greatest fear isn’t death, and never has been, but that scenario! That!

GG-Grandfather, John Y. Estes

I think about my great-great-grandfather, John Y. Estes, who served in the Civil War, on the side of the Confederacy. He was listed as a deserter, supposedly captured, then became a POW. Did he put up a struggle, or was being “captured” really surrender or seeking the Union soldiers? Was he even serving of his own volition, or was he forced, conscripted? What did he think about when deciding to “desert,” if that’s in fact what happened? Was he brave or cowardly?

Eventually, after being held as a POW, John was released north of the Ohio River near the end of the war. I expect they thought the walk back to Tennessee on an injured leg would kill him, but it didn’t. Limping only slows you down. Sometimes impairments are more in the eye of the beholder and a matter of attitude. Maybe that tenacious, stubborn gene perchance?  Did I get a dose from both sides?

After his return to Claiborne County, Tennessee, John immediately sold his household goods to his eldest son who was only age 17 at the time. A transaction that raises eyebrows and provides nothing but questions. He continued to live in the home with his wife, because at least two more children were subsequently born.

Some 15 years after the Civil War, John Y. Estes walked to Texas with a bum leg. Why did he make that choice? What was the draw? Did he and Ruthy, his wife, discuss that choice before he left? What was their intention?

Was the attraction the land available in Oklahoma and Texas, although he never owned any there and appeared to abandon his land in Tennessee to his wife? Was this a form of unofficial divorce? Did he return to his roots? He lived on Choctaw land although his life in Oklahoma is murky at best.

Was he excited about an opportunity, looking forward? Or was he running from something, like his Civil War service or a marriage gone bad? Was he at odds with his wife? What was his motivation? How did he weigh the odds? Did he actually decide to walk 1000 miles, or did he just walk the first mile, then the second, then the third…until he had walked 1000? Analogous to simply jumping into the water and finding your self far downstream into uncharted waters.

Not only did he walk to Texas once, but he walked back to Claiborne County, then back to Texas again. Yes, three walks of more than 1000 miles each. Apparently his walk from the north to the south after the Civil War of 300 or 400 miles that was supposed to kill him was only training.

John was no spring chicken either. In 1865 when he was released as a POW, he was 47 and by 1880 when he first walked to Texas, he was 62. I can’t even begin to fathom walking to Texas, and back, and back to Texas again, at that age AND on a bad leg – so bad that his grandchildren’s recollection of him is that he was short and fat with bushy eyebrows and that he limped with one leg shorter than the other.

What drives, or inspires, someone to undertake a journey like that, at the age when others retire, especially with his “handicap”? Whatever in this world would cause him to undertake that journey a second and third time? Whatever it was, it must have been extremely compelling. Something caused him to plunge into the water and then swim upstream three times.

Why? What was he thinking?

And why did this man not leave a journal?  Some hint? So exasperating.

GG-Grandmother Ruthy Dodson Estes

And what of John’s wife, Ruthy Dodson? Did she proclaim “good riddance” when he left? Did he walk back to Tennessee, hoping to convince her to return to Texas with him? Did she actually decide not to go, or did she never decide, thereby deciding by not deciding? Was she attempting to peer down the river?

The only hint is that she says she is divorced in the 1880 census – but there is no divorce on record at the courthouse. Was she just saving face, missing him, and angry that John had left forever?

What did she think as he walked away for the last time? Did he turn around and look back with one last glimmer of hope? Was she too angry, stubborn or afraid to go?

Was she regretting a decision, or relieved? By 1883, when her son George moved to Texas too, she could have gone by train. But still, she stayed in Tennessee.

Ruthy had rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps her health was simply too poor to travel that distance. The family story says that she was disabled for 22 years and her son, Lazarus, had to carry her down the mountain from her cabin to his so she could live with he and his wife. Did Ruthy’s health prevent her from making the decision to relocate to Texas?

Or, God forbid, was Ruthy’s deteriorating health part of what drove John Y. Estes to walk to Texas after being married for 39 years? Subtracting 22 years from her death date tells us that she was severely disabled by 1881.  I really, really don’t want to think John simply, literally walked away from a wife who needed help. Escaping down that river.

GGG-Grandfather, John R. Estes

The father of John Y. Estes, John R. Estes who was born and raised in Halifax County, Virginia packed his young family up after his military service in the War of 1812 and probably joined a wagon caravan through the mountains to Claiborne County, Tennessee. He was a young man then, but surely he knew that he was saying goodbye to his mother, father and siblings and would never see them again? How did he do that? Was he under the delusion that he would return to visit? His mother died not long after he moved, but his father lived another 40 years. Did he look backward up on those river cliffs, longing for what he left behind – wishing to see his parents one last time?

And what about his wife, Nancy Ann Moore who would sit in her father’s church one last time hearing him preach? Did she get to vote or did she simply get dragged into the water along with John?

At least I get to vote. Which means, of course, I bear full responsibility for the outcome of that vote. Ying and yang.

GGGG-Grandfather, George Estes

John R.’s father, George Estes, was a Revolutionary soldier, served 3 terms, moved a family in 1781 to what would become Hawkins and Grainger Counties in eastern Tennessee, stayed a year or so, but then rode back to Halifax County where he spent the rest of his life.

George’s reverse path is really quite different, because no one ever “went back.” But George did! He rode his horse eastward, backtracking, even though he wasn’t married and there was no obvious compelling reason. What caused him to return? I’d love to know what he was thinking, as his decision is counter-intuitive, especially as compared to the other people following that same migration route westward.


What caused George to swim back upstream?

GGGGGGG-Grandfather, Abraham Estes

Abraham Estes, an orphan in Kent, England, married at age 25 in 1672 and buried his young wife before setting sail for America 9 or 10 months later. There’s no question that he was leaving heartbreak. He had nothing left to lose, and everything to gain. He didn’t care about what was down that river, because staying was so much more painful than leaving.

His decision, I understand, but others are much murkier.

Those Brave Souls

One brave soul, the founder of each family line in America had to make the decision to sell everything, pay for passage on a boat – or sell themselves as indentured servants – leave their homeland and head for the colonies. Of course, that assumes they weren’t convicts or slaves who had no choice at all. Sometimes slaves threw themselves into the sea, with full intention of drowning – because they believed death was better than what would follow. Perhaps they were right.

How did our ancestors make migration decisions? Were they made with excited optimism or with faces lined with worry about potential death. Did they really have choices? It’s one thing to decide for yourself, but what of the choice made for your wife and children – knowing that the old wives’ tale foretold that one child would die in each family for each sea crossing. Would you be willing to sacrifice a child to the watery grave – or did you think you would be the lucky unscathed family? Was their faith in whatever they perceived God or their religion to be such that they felt a child’s death was pre-ordained? Or, did they believe God would watch over them?

I’m afraid my rock-sitting in the middle of the river doesn’t do those brave ancestors justice. There was no question that they were never going home. There was no going back – no breadcrumbs. There were no phones. Letters were uncertain and best case, horribly slow.  Many never arrived at all. Whatever and whoever they left behind was unquestionably forever – and the future was obscured in the fog of an uncertain journey in a small leaky boat traversing a massive and often angry sea.

There was no guarantee they would survive the passage – and they clearly knew that. Yet, they made the decision to leave anyway.

I’d love to know how they reached that decision. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

GGG-Grandfather, Jacob Lentz

The paternal Y-line DNA tells us that our Lentz line was found along the Volga River about 3500 years ago, one of very few men living today who match ancient burials there. They belong to the Yamnaya culture whose men decided in some way to “migrate” to what is today Germany.

We know, unquestionably that they left their homes, traveling thousands of miles, but why, and how was that decision made? Were they soldiers or did they arrive as settlers with families? Did they have any idea where they were going, or did they simply follow commands to travel west and attack villages as they went? Did they stay and settle, or just leave their DNA in the local population?

And then there was Yamnaya descendant, Jacob Lentz, the humble vine-dresser, too poor to marry his “wife,” causing their children to be born without the “benefit of marriage.”  In 1816 a famine and crop failure nearly starved the family, prompting them to leave Beutelsbach, Germany and set sail for the new world in the spring 1817 – only to become shipwrecked by a murderous sea captain, nearly starved for a second time, then becoming stranded in Norway. Jacob lost almost everything – except his wife and three of his children. One of his children perished. The wives’ tale fulfilled.

There’s far more that we don’t know than we do.

Brave – Jacob Lentz was an incredibly brave leader – finding his voice when compassion called, organizing the shipwrecked survivors into a cohesive group and finding passage, with no money, a second time. He and his family became indentured servants, but after serving their time, Jacob became a Brethren, moving once again cross country and acquiring land in Ohio. In spite of that horrific life chapter, Jacob certainly achieved his dream. But, there were costs, unspeakable literal life and death costs as he buried family members and friends at sea as they died of starvation. a fate impossible to even conceive of ahead of time.

Jacob must has been inconsolably wracked as he realized how others suffered and died because of his decision, including his own child.

Sometimes we drown in that river. Sometimes we watch others drown as a result of our decisions. Sometimes we wish we could drown.

How did Jacob balance the risk versus the potential reward?  Was his driving factor hunger and poverty? Was he desperate to marry his wife? How did he muster the courage to get on the SECOND ship to America, after his horrific experience on the first one? Was his driving desire desperation?

GGG-Grandmother, Fredericka Reuhle and her Parents

Jacob’s wife, Fredericka Reuhle, left Germany with her husband, children and parents on that ill-fated journey. She and her parents left some of her siblings behind. What a gut-wrenching goodbye that must have been. I know the famine and crop failure drove them to leave – but why did some choose to stay?

Fredericka’s parents were about age 60 at that time. We don’t know for sure that they survived, but they weren’t listed among the dead in Norway. Maybe they thought their days of decisions were over – only to make the most life-altering decision of their lifetime.

Did that decision lead to a new life or a slow death? Did they find themselves indentured as servants at age 60, or did they find only a watery grave at the end of their journey? Did they too drown in that proverbial river?

Some ancestors made an active decision to leave, or stay, but refugees from famine or war often had little choice. Convicts had none.

My ancestral lines include many religious refugees. The fighting between people of different religious (and political) views is as old as humanity itself. Some seeking religious tolerance.  Some left to escape religion entirely.

GGGGGG-Grandfather, Murtough McDowell

Murtough McDowell was a political refugee from Ireland who homesteaded in Maryland by 1722, before Baltimore even existed. He and his young wife were clearly seeking opportunities. It wasn’t possible to own land in Ireland at that time – not for poor Protestants anyway. Land wasn’t guaranteed in the colony of Maryland, but it was possible – and I’m sure it was that possibility along with almost constant warfare that drew him away from Kingsmoss outside of Belfast. I’d say he left with a smile on his face – right up until he waved goodbye to his parents if they were still living. He lived to realize his dream – with three land patents to his name. That river of life was kind to him, as best we know.

GGGGGG-Grandfather, Johann Michael Mueller

Johann Michael Mueller was probably a religious refugee – one of those reviled Pietists. The Germans were probably glad to see these folks move on – as the Swiss had been a generation or two before. No matter, America was the land of opportunity where religious freedom was tolerated if not encouraged in Pennsylvania. Michael Mueller/Miller immigrated with his half-brother, Jacob Stutzman – two young men probably full of life, seeking opportunity. The decision to leave was probably relatively easy for them, and they had each other for company. They literally dove into the water together.

Eventually, Johann Michael Miller’s descendants would marry those of Jacob Lentz on the prairieland frontier of northern Indiana, adjacent the Indian village.

Great-Grandparents, Curtis Benjamin Lore and Nora Kirsch

My mother’s grandfather, Curtis Benjamin Lore, above with wife Nora, was half Acadian. C. B. Lore, as he was called, made some questionable decisions. You know, like marrying a second woman before divorcing the first wife. Those pesky details.

However, unlike the decisions made by other ancestors, I very clearly understand HOW he made that decision – and it had to do with the shotgun of his soon-to-be father-in-law, Jacob Kirsch, who was a crack shot. Jacob, of course, didn’t know that the man who had gotten his daughter, Nora Kirsch, pregnant was still married to someone else – or I’m thinking that C. B. Lore wouldn’t have been afforded the option of marrying Nora – he would have been pushing up daisies instead. Jacob Kirsch had already lynched a man just two years earlier, so there would have been no doubt in C. B. Lore’s mind about what Jacob could and would do. That decision was probably easy.

One river branch was sure and certain death and the other was unknown.

GG-Grandfather Anthony Lore

C. B. Lore’s father, Anthony Lore or Lord, led something of a sketchy life and was rumored to be either a river trader or a pirate. The one thing we do know, for sure, is that at one point, after a terrible rift in his Acadian family caused by his mother renouncing the Catholic faith and becoming, gasp, Protestant, that Anthony simply picked up and left L’Acadie, south of Montreal. He followed Lake Champlain into Vermont where he met and married his non-Acadian, non-Catholic wife, Rachel Hill.

Why he made the choice to leave is evident. That religious split within the Lord family colored both sides of that family into future generations where the religious battle was fought over and over for generations. Not for Anthony – he simply left.

Anything downriver had to be better than staying.

The Acadians

The Acadians, staunch Catholics, began settling in Port Royal, Nova Scotia about 1603, before Jamestown was founded, but their new homeland wasn’t to be forever. In 1755, some 150 years later, they were forcibly evicted by the English. Originally arriving in Nova Scotia as Catholics seeking refuge, their choice to remain neutral in Canada to maintain peace had backfired. When deported, 6 generations after arrival, it was as refugees once again – stripped of everything, at the mercy of anyone and everyone – families scattered to the winds. The only choice they got to make was whether to try to find their family members, their way back to Canada or attempt to rebuild a life wherever the ship they were herded onto landed.

The Acadian people had both literally and figuratively been herded into the river water.

These brave people risked everything to find family again.  Untold numbers perished.  True grit.

The 1709ers

The 1709ers were another group of refugees who weren’t refugees to begin with but became refugees in 1709 as a result of their decision to leave Germany in search of the elusive dream – free land. Some of the flyers distributed in Germany espousing that alluring “fake news” still exist, encouraging people to travel to America to claim “free land” supposedly being provided by the Queen of England, so we know why these German families made this choice.

We know that the decision was probably made quickly and in an adrenalin-fueled haze – sometimes the decision point to actual departure accomplished within days. What they didn’t know or expect was that they would be stranded first in Rotterdam, then in England for a year or so, then on to America where that “free land” to which they convinced themselves they were entitled never materialized.

Their lives might have been better had they had heeded the colloquialism, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

It’s stories like this that cause me to overthink things today. Am I sure I have every piece of information I need to make the decision?  Is the info all valid?

The 1709ers are a great example of the decisions we fear making – a one-way street where the dream becomes a nightmare that won’t end and from which there is no recovery. Maybe these people were a little too anxious to plunge into that river.

Native Americans

And then, of course, my Native ancestors who are very nearly lost entirely to history in the “settling of America.” Genocide, pure and simple, using the excuse that they were pagans and in need of religious conversion.

There are only remnants of their blood running in my veins today. But their story, their history has never been stronger – even if I don’t know all of their names. Some have been resurrected through the DNA of their descendants. Even if it’s only their Y or mitochondrial DNA that introduces me to them – they are then positively identified as Native and we can honor their sacrifices. They had to make horrific decisions. Akin to “how would you like to die?” Not if, only how. They had no good options. Both sides of their river was filled with deadly, impassible, class VI rapids.

Sometimes, being nice to strangers really isn’t the answer. But, how do you know? Where do the concepts of humanity to others and self-preservation separate?

The River of Uncertainty

Decisions are frightening and difficult.  No hints as to the unknown future.  No peeking around the bend in the River of Uncertainty.

In the end, will we say that we could have missed the pain, but would have had to miss the dance – or will we, like the 1709ers, be irreparably damaged as a result of what was expected to be a choice full of smiles and opportunity. Will we drown in those rapids, nameless, like my Native ancestors? Will we wish we were dead instead, or die a burden to our children?

Or, will we be like the redeemed doubter, George Washington, who said in September 1776, writing to his cousin, after losing New York City to the British in the Revolutionary War, “If I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings.” Then, uncertain, feeling inadequate and scared as hell, General Washington mustered the courage of his convictions and went on to win the war – and with it America’s freedom from England, irreversibly changing the course of history for the entire world.  Not to mention changing the life of every single American individually between then and now. He simply dove into the icy water, defying both fear and fate!

How does anyone know what’s down the river and around the bend? How can one best anticipate the future and make the decision with the least harmful outcome?

No one wants to become “that” burdensome ancestor who made a tragic decision.  We all want to be the success story – but none of my ancestors made the decisions they did knowing the outcome.

Therein lies the eternal human quandary. How to make the best choice.

Here I am, once again, having come full circle, in the middle of the river – left wondering what my ancestors would have done. The message I hear, strong and clear, is to consider carefully and then plunge with the courage of your convictions, embracing the opportunity, relishing the journey, and never looking back.

We are all the river and the river is life.


As you journey through life,
choose your destinations well,
but do not hurry there.

You will arrive soon enough.

Wander the back roads and forgotten paths,
keeping your destination in your heart,
like the fixed point of a compass.

Seek out new voices,
strange sights,
and ideas foreign to your own.

Such things are riches for the soul.

And if, upon arrival
you find that your destination
is not exactly as you had dreamed,
do not be disappointed.

Think of all you would have missed
but for the journey there,
and know that the true worth of your travels
is not where you come to be at journey’s end.

But in who you came to be along the way.

Roberta Estes

Quick Tip – Working With Match Notifications from Family Tree DNA

Have you ever wondered WHY you received yet another match notification e-mail from Family Tree DNA?  Do you have trouble finding the new match they are referring to?

When you receive a match notification from Family Tree DNA that you have new matches, it’s exciting, ESPECIALLY if you have a high resolution match.

However, sometimes match notifications can be confusing, so here are 4 quick tips for you to get the most out of those match notifications.

Of course, the first thing you want to do is to click on the blue “VIEW MY MATCHES” link to see who’s new in the genetic neighborhood.

However, you may not see a new match when you first view your page. Here are some reasons why and the resolution is super easy.

Tip 1 – Your Match May Show at Different Levels

Both mitochondrial and Y DNA matching occurs at different levels depending on two things:

  • The level that you have tested
  • The level at which the match occurred

This means that in the case of the notification above, I’m only going to find my match at the HVR1 or entry level results of my mitochondrial DNA.

However, when you click to sign in to your account through the e-mail message link, you AUTOMATICALLY see your highest level tested first.

This match is for my HVR1 level, but the first match screen I see upon signing in is full sequence results, so I won’t see my new match at this level.

Many people don’t think about the fact that they’re looking at their highest testing level, and the match may be at a lower testing level.

If your match matches you at the highest level, they are likely, but not guaranteed to match you at the lower levels too.

Whether you do or don’t match at lower levels depends on where the various mutations fall in the tested portion of your genome.

In other words, you could match at the full mitochondrial sequence level, but NOT at the HVR1 or HVR2 levels – and vice versa of course.

This is true for both mitochondrial and Y DNA which both test at various levels.

Tip 2 – Select Dropdowns to See Other Levels

You’ll notice the dropdown box, below.

Be sure to view your matches at the level that the e-mail indicates.  In my case, I need to switch to the HVR1 level.

Look, there’s my new match!  I can tell that the first person only tested at the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, and not at the full sequence level, so there is no possibility that I’ll match them at that level.

That is, unless they upgrade.

I’m going to contact my match and ask about their earliest known ancestor.  They didn’t provide that information, nor do they have a tree, so I’m going to suggest both.  If we find some commonality at that level, maybe they’ll become inspired to upgrade to the full mitochondrial level test and we can see if we continue to match there as well.

Men’s Y DNA results have different drop down match level options of course, but in essence the concept of matching at different levels is the same.

Tip 3 – Match Thresholds

Both Y and mitochondrial DNA have different matching criteria at various testing levels.

The mitochondrial DNA match threshold is shown below:

This explains why a match might show at a higher testing level, but not at a lower level. If you have one mutation and the mismatching piece of DNA occurs in the HVR1 mitochondrial region where one mismatch means you won’t be considered a match, you’ll match at the full sequence level but not at either the HVR1 or HVR2 levels.

Mismatches are shown as genetic distance on your matches page. In other words a genetic distance of 1 means you mismatch at 1 location at that testing level.  You can read about genetic distance here.

Y DNA match thresholds are shown in the table below:

For Y DNA, if your one mutation occurs in the first 12 markers, you won’t be shown as a match at that level (unless you are both in a common DNA project,) but you will be shown at higher match levels as a match.

Tip 4 – Changing Match Notifications

What, you don’t want so many match notifications?

You do have the ability to disable match notifications at any level, but be aware that DISABLING MATCH NOTIFICATIONS ALSO DISABLES MATCHING at that level. Therefore, I don’t recommend disabling match notifications beyond the HVR1 or 12 marker tests, and I personally don’t have any disabled. I do not want to miss that fateful match under any circumstances!

To change your notifications, click on the orange “Manage Personal Information” link below your profile picture on your personal page.

Then, click on “Match and E-Mail Settings” where you’ll see the following:

If you make changes, be sure to click the orange “Save” button, or it won’t.


When you receive a new match notification from Family Tree DNA, don’t forget to check each level for matching. Sorting by match date will show you which matches are the most recent.

Look for common ancestors, surnames (Y DNA) and locations.  Reach out to your matches and most of all, enjoy!


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Researching and Visiting Ireland

With my recent articles about Ireland, I’ve had lots of questions about visiting Ireland and researching Irish ancestors. Let’s talk about both!

Ireland is a wonderful place to visit. The people are genuinely friendly and outgoing, perhaps moreso than anyplace else in the world.

You can read about my adventures and share some of Ireland in the following articles:

Who Are The Irish?

The Irish are an ancient people with roots in the Neolithic hunter gatherer tribes who constructed the megalithic monuments more than 5000 years ago, followed by the Celts, Vikings, Normans and English. Today’s Irish are an amazing people with a wonderful sense of humor and unparalleled flexibility in the face of adversity. In other words, they are experts at making lemonade out of lemons. I suspect that’s what has at times made the unbearable, bearable, and ultimately insured their survival.

Let me give you an example.

I sat down on a tour bus for a short ride of about 10 minutes between two destinations.

A man traveling with a retiree’s club tour sat next to me, as all of the other seats were occupied.

Before sitting down, the man who I’d estimate to be on the far side of 4 score years, asked if he could sit beside me. I replied, “By all means, sit right down.”

He did and asked me if I was from the US. Laughing, I asked, “What was your first clue?” I obviously have a very distinct US accent.

We both laughed.

Then he looked at me, kind of sized me up, and asked, absolutely deadpan, “Will ye marry me?”

I could tell that this was just something he did and he was enjoying the shock value.

I told him that the ride was about 10 minutes and we could negotiate. He cheerfully said “OK!”

We started chatting about the location we had just visited and nothing in particular. In other words, the proposal was an ice-breaker and no serious negotiations were ensuing. (I was wearing a wedding band.)

Then, I asked him what women normally say when he proposes like that.

He looked at me and said, I his lovely Irish brogue, “Well, obviously no one has said yes yet or I wouldn’t still be askin’.”

I wish I could write in Irish brogue, which is what would be needed to truly convey this exchange.

I laughed till I cried. We parted friends. He has probably already forgotten about me, especially if someone has since taken him up on his proposal, but I’ll never quire forget him! After all, how many women get proposed to between Knowth and New Grange?

If you’re thinking he was the exception, he wasn’t – although granted, no one else proposed. However, many Irish extended themselves in the 10 days I visited and were exceptionally friendly and helpful at a level that many Americans would consider a borderline invasion of personal space.

For example, this is Edna, a lady that said hello in a pub during hurricane Ophelia and a few minutes later, we were best buddies.

This is simply consummate Ireland. In her words, “We do this all the time.”

Oh, and by the way, that’s a baby sized Guinness in my hand, just to see if I liked it.  I did, and thank you Edna! What a fun time we had in the middle of a hurricane.

Why Ireland?

Ireland has experienced significantly more migration and emigration than many other locations due to both religious conflicts and famine. When visiting the UCD Library, the curators of the Irish Folklore Project stated that there are far more Irish descendants scattered outside of Ireland than inside. In other words, the diaspora is larger than the homeland. I believe the diaspora is estimated to be about 70 million people with Irish roots, versus about 7 million current population by combining Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In my case, the Scots-Irish migrated to the US in early days, between 1717 and 1770, populating areas of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Mountains probably felt much like home.

The Scots-Irish were only Irish for a little more than a hundred years. Before that, they were Scottish and were only transplanted to Ireland in the early 1600s, beginning about 1606 when the Protestant Scots were settled in what is now Northern Ireland, near Ulster.

Most families stayed for 4, maybe 5 generations before leaving again for better opportunities, beginning about 1717 and included an Irish famine that occurred between 1740-1741.

We know in Ireland that the Scots-Irish lived in what is now Northern Ireland, in the Ulster Plantations.

A second wave of emigration occurred during a second Irish famine that occurred between 1845-1852.

Finding Family

And now, for the bad news – many Irish genealogy records were destroyed in the bombing and subsequent fire in Dublin that destroyed almost all of the records held in the Irish Public Record Office in 1922, making research before that time challenging at best.

Therefore, DNA testing is likely to help Irish families and descendants more than most. DNA has the power to help piece together the past and overcome those missing records. The Irish, at least those interested in genealogy, aren’t nearly as reticent to test as continental Europeans. But then again, continental Europeans generally haven’t lost their records at quite the same level as the Irish.

If you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to discover the location of your family homeland in Ireland – or home road or farm, you may want to visit. Even if you can’t find the exact location, Ireland isn’t a large country, and you may be able to get close.

Other researchers visit to perform the actual research in various archival facilities.

Regardless, I have a few tips and hints for you about what to expect, what to do, what not to do, and more.


JUST DON’T!!! The Irish drive on the “wrong side” of the road and the rules are different. You’ll get yourself or someone else killed. Seriously, don’t…really! Need convincing? Look at this intersection. Any idea what you’re supposed to do?

Parking is extra and in many places, you simply can’t, so you’re MUCH BETTER to take a taxi or a bus in larger cities.

Hire a driver. I hired Brian O’Reilly and I can’t say enough good things about him – not only as a driver but as a tour guide.

I would hire Brian again in a heartbeat and I now count him among my friends. Brian works with a cooperative of several other private drivers and guides, so if Brian isn’t available himself, he will help you arrange transportation and guide service for your needs. He can also respond on relatively short notice. Brian O’Reilly’s e-mail is Tell him Roberta sent you and that I said “hello.”

Brian and I had a really great time and I learned so much about the Irish culture I would never have learned on a canned tour.

Hire a taxi, not a chauffeur, when hiring a driver. Why? Because taxis can use bus lanes while chauffeurs cannot. And yes, that makes a huge difference in terms of when you arrive, often by a factor of two in Dublin.

Taxis, in general, take forever to arrive to pick you up. Plan for extra time. They are often a half hour late due to traffic.

Public busses, especially in the morning and evening peak hours are often full, meaning you may not be able to board and will have to wait for the next bus. If you take public transportation, have exact change ready.

Bus schedules are merely suggestions. Be prepared to wait for up to half an hour, standing, in whatever weather is occurring.


Ireland is not handicapped accessible like we are used to in the US. Many if not most restrooms are either upstairs or downstairs in restaurants and few have elevators, called lifts. Many public buildings don’t have public restrooms and will send you across the street or down the block for a restroom.


People that Americans would typically tip, such as servers in restaurants, are paid differently and they don’t expect a tip. Some people round up to the nearest Euro. Tipping is neither necessary or expected.

As an American, it’s very difficult for me not to tip.


Ireland uses the Euro, but Northern Ireland uses the English sterling pound. And no, they don’t take each other’s money.

Not everyplace accepts credit cards. Some taxis do, but be prepared to pay an uplift of about 4% for the privilege. And the card reader doesn’t always work. Have cash available.

Almost no businesses accept American Express.

Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling, and when. I have also put free alerts on my cards so that I know when they are being used.

Restaurants and Food

Most restaurants won’t split bills between people. That’s your problem.

Some restaurants add a fee for large parties. Large is defined by the restaurant and they may not tell you in advance.

Service EVERYPLACE is slow. Some excruciatingly slow. Plan on dinner taking literally all evening. It’s normal and part of the Irish experience.

Pub food is better than just about anyplace else.

Water served with meals is available if you ask, but doesn’t arrive automatically. It may or may not have ice.

Furthermore, ice is a precious commodity. In the hotel, only one ice machine was available for 6 floors and no ice bucket, just plastic cups stacked beside the ice dispenser.

Many restaurants, including pubs, don’t have mixed drinks, such as margaritas. They have well drinks, such as scotch and water, wine and beer. Want Kahlua? Nope, but everyone has Baileys Irish Cream – after all – it’s Ireland.

Guinness is the national beer. Drink Guinness, or at least try it. The locals say that you can ask for a couple drops of currant to sweeten the beer, but I liked it without. It tastes a bit roasty. When in Rome…or Ireland.

Carry-out is referred to as take-away. Not everyplace offers take-away.

In some parts of Europe, like the Netherlands, sharing food is frowned upon, but I didn’t notice anything like that in Ireland. Either that or they were too nice to tell me.


Europeans do not use washcloths or facecloths. I purchased a pack at the dollar store at home and left them behind as I traveled. What else are you going to do with a wet washcloth?

There are often two flush buttons on the toilet. Generally, the small one is for little flushes and the larger one is when bigger flushing is needed. Yes, I had to ask Brian because it seemed that neither worked reliably.

And then sometimes, you find something like this.

If in doubt, just push buttons until you find one that achieves the desired effect.

Those funny things on the walls are towel warmers.

We could learn from the Irish!

Your appliances may turn on with a switch at the baseboard near the plug. Why? I have no idea, but plugs often don’t work if you don’t turn them on.


Rain is a fact of life in Ireland. It’s how the Emerald Isle stays Emerald. Be prepared. It may rain and be sunny 10 minutes later, or vice versa. Every. Single. Day.

Often, umbrellas are useless due to the wind. Mine turned inside out, making me look like some sort of confused ninja parachutist.


Ireland is an island and the lower 4/5th is the country of Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland, created in 1921, although historically part of Ireland, is a different country today, ruled under the British monarchy and is part of the United Kingdom. There are no longer any border checkpoints between the two, but with Brexit, that might change. If you’re planning to travel between the two, be prepared in terms of currency and a passport.


In Ireland, the official language is English, but many speak Gaelic. Because the English historically tried to exterminate the Gaelic language, when Ireland regained control of its own government, they included a clause in the constitution that everything in Ireland is offered in two languages – up to and including road and other signage.

However, their English is spoken with a very heavy Irish brogue which is both beautiful and frustrating. Like someone said, two people separated by a common language.


Medications like Dramamine and cold medicine, things we typically purchase over the counter are behind the counter at pharmacies in Europe, including Ireland. Pharmacies are typically not open past 5 PM and many not before sometime between 10 and noon.

Don’t assume you can pick up any medications at the convenience store, because you likely can’t. Not to mention, convenience stores are few and far between, so not convenient as we think of them. My hotel, even though expensive, did not have a shop – only two vending machines. Take what you might need, plus extra.


Plugs in hotels are often not located conveniently to a nightstand, so either take a European conformant (based on the country you are visiting) extension cord or plan otherwise.

My hotel in Ireland did provide shampoo, but no conditioner and no washcloths. Take your own supplies, just in case.

Hotels rooms also do not generally include microwaves or refrigerators.

Expect to pay for parking at hotels.

Many hotels offer “Afternoon tea” or “High tea” which is an afternoon event that includes tea, biscuits (cookies) and small finger sandwiches. It’s an upper class social event, people often “dress,” and sit and talk. My hotel did not offer tea, the one across the street did, for 45 Euro. Another Dublin hotel at the upscale end charged 95 Euro. I think this is a case of if you need to ask how much, don’t go. I didn’t but I was told that I should have high tea at least once in my life.  Guess I’ll have to go back!

Here’s a link to more info about tea time.

No clock or alarm in the hotel room. My cell phone was probably more reliable anyway and I had to get up to turn the alarm off, since there were no plugs bedside.

Hotels and Climate Control

Most hotels and B&Bs don’t have air conditioning. Neither do other buildings including public buildings, so you’ll need to grin and bear it. It’s seldom beastly hot, but it can be very close and humid.

My hotel room had a lovely set of French doors and a balcony, permanently sealed shut. I also had two windows, only one of which would crank out about 2 inches. That’s not much to obtain any type of air movement within the room.

Heat in hotels, especially in older buildings is generally by radiator, not by thermostat, if heated at all. You will need to turn a knob on the radiator when entering the room to turn the heat on – and if you get too hot, there is no way to cool off. So be careful.

I stayed at the Clayton Ballsbridge, which I do NOT recommend for various reasons including consistently very poor service combined with an attitude that I was being unreasonable to expect decent service, like you know, clean cups, replenished tea, etc., daily, in my room that cost over $190 per night. Not to mention it took two and a half hours to get a bowl of stew in the restaurant.

Perhaps this is the down side to tipping being included in the price of the meal – little motivation for good service.

People staying in B&Bs were generally happier than people who stayed in hotels.


You will need items that will plug in to 230 volt, 50 Hz power which have a different plug than in the US.

This is not necessarily just a converter issue, but a voltage compatibility issue. Check the voltage on your device.  In my case, a heating pad did not work using a converter, so I had to purchase one that would. Then I needed an extension cord, which I didn’t have. Plan accordingly.

You will need multiple converters so that you can charge your phone, etc. Here’s a page that discusses converters and sockets.

Plugs are often not placed conveniently.


OMG, the bane of my existence. Phones hate me, truly, and always have.

I can call Ireland from the US, but I cannot seem to call anyone in Ireland on my US cell phone while in Ireland, and I tried every combination I could think of and that anyone suggested. I suspect, but don’t know, that it had to do with a US phone being in Ireland, so it was confused by which type of country access code it needed. I could, however, message one person, thankfully. I never could manage to communicate with another.

Here’s my suggestion. Find someone in Ireland, maybe at the hotel front desk, that you can practice with. Once you figure out what you need to do on your phone to call them, it should work when dialing others in country too.

Beware of cell phone roaming and data charges. Understand how to turn off roaming by putting your phone in airplane mode. Before traveling, call or visit your phone carrier and understand what you can and cannot do with what kind of data without being charged. It’s extremely easy to run up a cell bill over $1000 and never realize what is happening. Case in point, your phone is always roaming to update Facebook and similar apps.

Mind you, I couldn’t make a bloody call, but the phone found ways to connect so that I’d be charged!


Unless you arrange for a private tour, which I did with Brian, tours generally leave from the downtown area at the beginning of the day, which means you’re going to encounter heavy rush hour traffic getting to the tour site. Allow adequate time, more than you think you’ll ever need, because the tour will leave without you otherwise.

Private tours cost more, especially for one person, but by the time you have 3 or 4 people or so, depending on the tour, the cumulative cost won’t be more and you’ll be much MUCH happier. Plus, a private tour can cater to your desires – like a coffee break, bathroom stop, a quilt shop along the way, or anything else of interest.

Seasons and Stores

Some businesses are seasonal – including restaurants. If you are not visiting in the high tourist season of June-August, I would strongly suggest calling ahead if you are planning on visiting a particular location.

Small businesses may or may not be open on a whim. Seriously. Always call.

Genealogy and Research Assistance

I asked these fine folks, shown here on a day trip in front of Carrickfergus Castle in Belfast, about their recommendations for Irish genealogical research:

  • Michelle Leonard, professional genealogist at Genes & Genealogy, out of Glasgow, Scotland (red hair, above)
  • Martin McDowell, professional genealogist ( as well as Development and Education Director with The North of Ireland Family History Society (right, above)
  • Dr. Maurice Gleeson, coordinator of Genetic Genealogy Ireland (left, above)

These people work with Irish records, as well as genetic genealogy every day, and they know what they are doing.

Martin recommends where both church and civil records can be found free of charge. He suggests that of the best pay sites for Irish records is, though its accuracy depends on the quality of the transcription.

The North of Ireland Family History Society where Martin serves as the Education & Development Officer provides a website detailing their holdings:, including a full PDF of everything in the library:

Maurice mentions that the PRONI and GRONI sites are specifically Northern Ireland:

Michelle points out that has all of the Northern Ireland BMDs prior to January 1, 1922. She points out that if you’re searching for a marriage that took place in 1906, search for it on where you will get the image for free as opposed to on GRONI where it will cost you £2.50 for the same image.  On the other hand if you’re searching for a marriage that took place prior to 1882 in Northern Ireland you will find it on but there will be no image so it’s best to go to GRONI and pay the £2.50.

My personal experience is more limited, being only a consumer of Irish research, not a professional researcher. Having said that, I DON’T recommend the Ulster Historical Foundation. I completed their form and requested an initial assessment for 35 pounds sterling on July 4th, and I’m still waiting to hear back, today, many months later, after my trip to Ireland is complete. They could at least have told me they were too busy to accommodate my needs.

The web site says they are extremely busy and to expect a delay of 4-6 weeks, but never contacting the person requesting the research is unacceptable.  It’s a good thing I was able to find a private researcher (Martin McDowell) who was willing to take an “emergency” case at a late date. Unfortunately, my situation because “an emergency” because I waited for the Ulster Historical Foundation, expecting they would be able to assist my research. Thank you Martin McDowell for being my hero and Maurice Gleeson for helping me find Martin!

I do recommend the Irish Folklore Center as well as John Grenham’s blog and website.  To find where surnames are clustered in Ireland, a surname map which combines information from 1848 through the 1911 census is available here.

For genetic genealogy, I strongly suggest the videos produced at Genetic Genealogy Ireland which now form a library on the GGI YouTube channel, all for free. Also, the ISOGG Ireland page provides an extensive list of Ireland specific resources.

By the way, a big thank you to all of the volunteers, including the speakers, who work together to produce Genetic Genealogy Ireland. GGI is an all-volunteer effort, and without these people, and Maurice Gleeson coordinating the entire event, it wouldn’t happen!

You might want to attend the Belfast Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference on February 17-18 sponsored by Family Tree DNA. You can read more here including the great lineup of 13 free sessions and speakers focused on genetic genealogy!


As big cities go, I felt safe in Dublin and Belfast, or as safe as I feel in any large city, although I was never in the Belfast city center. I felt a lot better having Brian with me, directing me and explaining what I should and should not do and where I shouldn’t go, and why.


I intended to visit six locations:

  • Dublin
  • The Cliffs of Moher
  • Giant’s Causeway
  • Wicklow Mountains
  • Boyne Valley – Knowth, New Grange and Tara
  • Belfast

Partly due to the hurricane, and partly due to fatigue, I scrapped the Cliffs and Giant’s Causeway trips.

Those two trips are long, meaning 12 hour days and that doesn’t include dinner. They are difficult in the rain and when it stays dark later in the morning and gets dark early in the evening. Those trips, in addition to the 8 hour days for the other trips, were just too much, on back to back days.

If I had planned for an additional 3 or 4 days in Ireland, it would have given me the opportunity to rest between tours or see a few additional sights in Dublin on the down days.

Even with that consideration, the late fall is not the best time of year for visits to either the Giant’s Causeway or the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin.

Ireland is Wonderful



Eat pub food.

Drink Guinness.

Connect with your roots!

If you need to test your DNA before you go, I recommend Family Tree DNA for Y (patrilineal for men) and mitochondrial (matrilineal for both genders) DNA testing, as well as Family Finder autosomal for cousin matching across all of your genealogy. If you would like to know more about these various types of tests, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

In my case, I could not personally test for the Y DNA of my McDowell ancestor – so I found a McDowell male from my line to take that test. Were it not for his results that included a match to a man who knew exactly where the McDowell’s lived in Ireland, I would never have known where my McDowell line originated and been able to visit and traverse the road where they lived. So think in terms of testing appropriate relatives to unlock secrets about your ancestors!


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