The Rest of the Miller-Stutzman Story

If you watched the Katey Sagal episode of Who Do You Think You Are that aired on TLC on April 14th, you’ll recall that Katey made a couple of discoveries leading to the unveiling of her Amish heritage.  First, her ancestor in Iowa was buried in a “Dunkard” Cemetery.  Dunkard was the colloquial name for the religious denomination known as the Brethren.

I have Brethren ancestors too, an entire quarter tree full of them – my mother’s father, John Whitney Ferverda was Brethren. His mother Evaline Miller married Hiram B. Ferverda, a converted Mennonite.

The Brethren, Amish and Mennonite churches were all German based, lived in German communities, and were notorious for swapping members back and forth. All three were pietist religions, eschewing any type of violence or warfare, even for protection of yourself or your family.  In other words, those three sects were in many ways far more alike than different.

In other words, finding someone who was a Dunkard in one generation and their parents as Mennonite in the earlier generation was not a surprise. According to Amish historian, J. M. Byler, intermarriage between Amish and Brethren or Mennonite was acceptable until 1809 when it was forbidden.

So, I knew I was going to enjoy this episode.

But then, the episode got much, MUCH more interesting.

Miller Stutzman 1

Here are two screen grabs from the episode, thanks to TLC and Shedd Media. Katey’s line, going back in time, was found in Somerset, PA, then in Berk’s County, PA. an area highly known for their Amish population.

Miller Stutzman 2

Even more interesting, Peter Miller married Mary Stutzman.

That just about doubled my heart rate right there, because my Miller line, also German, also Brethren, was very closely associated with a Brethren Stutzman line.

My Miller Line

My immigrant Johann Michael Miller Jr., born in 1692, immigrated from Germany in 1727 with his sort-of step-brother Johann Jacob Stutzman, known as Jacob Stutzman.

What is a sort-of step-brother?

Johann Michael Miller’s mother died, and his father, also Johann Michael Miller, married a second time to Anna Loysa Regina. Johann Michael Miller Sr. then died, and Anna then married to Hans Jacob Stutzman in 1695.  Johann Michael Miller Jr. was only three years old at this time, so Anna was probably the only mother he had ever known.

Anna and her husband Hans Jacob Stutzman then had a son by the name of Johann Jacob Stutzman on January 1, 1706. So, technically, these two boys were not biologically related, but given that they immigrated together and were found together throughout their lives, it’s very likely that Anna Loysa Regina Miller Stutzman simply continued to raise Johann Michael Miller Jr., her step-son, after his father’s death and the boys were raised as brothers, even though they were 14 years apart.

Johann Michael Miller Jr. married Suzanna Berchtol in Germany, and in 1727, immigrated with his family, which included at least son Philip Jacob Miller, to the colonies – along with his sort-of step-brother Johann Jacob Stutzman

Johann Michael Miller and Suzanna Berchtol had a son the year after their marriage, Hans (probably Johann) Peter Mueller, baptized January 19, 1715 in Konken, Germany. We don’t know much about Peter except that on at least one occasion, Philip Jacob Miller’s brother, John, who died in Washington County, MD in 1794 was referred to as Johann Peter Miller in one document, but only one document of many.

Was that John the same Hans Peter that was born in 1715? It seems rather unlikely since he was never otherwise called Peter, but it’s possible.

So, we have a (possible) lost brother, Johann Peter Miller who was associated with the Stutzman family.  Now, in Berks County, we find a Peter Miller married to a Stutzman wife.

What are the chances of this being all circumstantial?

Slim to none, right? Stutzman is not a common name, even though Miller is.  And the two families being found together again, and intermarried is certainly suggestive of some continuity.  Right?

Clearly, the Peter Miller on Katey’s chart born in 1756 is not the SAME Peter Miller born in 1715 in Germany, but he could clearly be a descendent, either a son or possibly a grandson.

The program did not follow Peter Miller any further, but instead switched to the Stutzman line because it led to the Hochstetler line which was the focus of the rest of the program.

Mary Stutzman was the daughter of Christian Stutzman, born about 1732, and Barbara Hochstetler. Christian Stutzman could have been the son of Jacob Stutzman or perhaps even a younger half-sibling or uncle.

Had I by any chance found my missing Peter Miller, or at least his descendant, associated with the Stutzman family? It would make perfect sense.

With two family connections in Pennsylvania, plus the pacifist religion – and a very unusual name like Stutzman – how could this NOT be the same family group?

Well, hold tight, because we’re going to find out!

I was so very excited!

Let’s Start Digging

Since Stutzman isn’t my direct line, I do have some references, but not a lot, so I began on the internet where I discovered that Christian, at least by some, is attributed to be the brother of Johann Jacob Stutzman, the “step-brother” of Johann Michael Miller Jr..

If Anna was 20 in 1695 when she married Jacob Stutzman, as her second marriage, she would have been 57 in 1732 when Christian Stutzman was born. Well, there’s the first big red flag.

The next problem is that Peter Miller is attributed to John Miller and Magdalena Lehman, and that John Miller would have been the age to be a sibling to my Johann Michael Miller Jr.  This John Miller, known as “Indian John” was also wounded in the same raid where Katey Sagal’s Hochstetler family was taken captive.

Miller Stutzman 3

The next problem is that Indian John is attributed to Christian Daniel Miller, born in Bern Switzerland. Hmm….if this is accurate, this is clearly not my Miller family – although my Miller’s did come from near Bern – so they could be the same family, just a generation or two further back in time.  But regardless, not my lost Hans Peter Miller’s son.

Well, crumb.

Miller Stutzman 4

I’m always skeptical of trees, anyplace, so I wanted more proof than this.

I decided to take a look at the Miller DNA project at Family Tree DNA and see if there was any enlightenment there.  At the top of the project page, my Johann Michael Miller line is shown. At the bottom of the page, the John Miller who married Magdalena Lehman is shown. You can click to enlarge.

Miller Stutzman 5 cropMiller Stutzman 5-2 crop

While they do share the same halogroup, they are definately not matches to each other, as you can see below, so they are definitely NOT the same Miller line.

Miller Stutzman 5 crop STRsMiller Stutzman 5-2 crop STR

Double crumb.

Ok, well, maybe the Stutzman line is the same. While it’s not my direct line, it’s still an interesting part of my Johann Michael Miller’s life, so let’s take a look at what we find.

Stutzman

Stutzman was more difficult.

Ancestry trees showed a plethora of information, with some trees showing Jacob and Christian as full brothers, but we’ve already shown that’s nigh on impossible due to the age of Anna.

They could, however, be paternal half brothers or otherwise related.

The Stutzman project at Family Tree DNA seems to be abandoned and shows no project results. Harumph.  (If there is someone who would like to adopt the Stutzman DNA project at Family Tree DNA, which is quite small (4 members), it needs an administrator.)

So I turned to YSearch, with the hope that some of the Stutzman clan had uploaded results there.

Miller Stutzman 6

Indeed they had. Three entries – and two of those entries appear to be the lines we’re seeking.  I checked the compare box to view their results.

Miller Stutzman 7

First of all, none of the three match to each other, so these lines are definitely different. I checked my own Stutzman resource books, and the Jacob Stutzman line that Anna Regina married into is reported to be from Erlenbach, Switzerland.  In this case, that would be equivalent to the first entry, user ID V85YJ.

Miller Stutzman 8

Sure enough, they had uploaded a Gedcom file and I verified that indeed, this is the Jacob line that was the sort-of step-brother to Johann Michael Miller.

Miller Stutzman 9

The other entry, VZJYF is the is the Christian Stutzman line from Berks County, PA, whose daughter married Peter Miller.

Miller Stutzman 10

By running the Genetic Distance report, I verify that at 12 markers, which is all the further kit V85YJ tested, they have a genetic distance of 6, which very clearly indicates they are NOT a match.

Well, triple crumb.

Now, you could also say we need another sample from each of these two Stutzman lines, through a different son to assure that no undocumented adoptions have occurred – and you would be right of course.

However, without that additional information, it looks like these are different lines, just like the Miller line was.

Summary

I’m sure that it was assumptions just like this, before DNA testing was available, that caused people to jump to incorrect conclusions.

After all, what ARE the chances that both a Miller and a Stutzman would be found in a close family situation, not terribly distant, in a minority Pietist German religion in colonial America, and not be related? I don’t know the mathematical odds, but I can tell you that DNA confirms that whatever those odds are, they don’t matter.  Of course, this is also why definitive proof of a relationship between the two families could never be found – it wasn’t there to BE found.  The only facts we have are the DNA tests.

The DNA facts confirm that neither the Peter Miller nor the Christian Stutzman family from Berks and Somerset County, PA are the same family as the Johann Michael Miller and Jacob Stutzman family from York and Cumberland County, PA and then Frederick/Washiongton County, Maryland.

Three strikes and I’m out, but I am actually very glad to put this decades long question for both of these family groups to rest once and for all.  Bravo DNA testers, projects at Family Tree DNA and YSearch – all three critical to answering this question.

Johann Georg Dorfler (1732-1790), Suicide, 52 Ancestors #98

If you’re cringing already, suicide is an ugly word.

It makes us uncomfortable.

And it’s shocking when you find a record that says your ancestor died by suicide – and describes how.

And of course, the next question is “why.”

I spent a great deal of time several years ago working with a professional translator, Elke, a woman skilled in both high German, German script and Latin.  The earliest German records utilized all three of these show-stopping methodologies and languages – at least show-stopping if you’re not familiar with all three.  People who are familiar with all three are rare as hen’s teeth, let me tell you.

So when I received this translated church record about Johann George Dorfler, I was utterly dumbstruck.

“He has cut his throat all the way through and died, age 58, and was buried quietly.”

I didn’t understand what all of this meant – other than the “cut his throat” part.  I was pretty clear on that.

But, “all the way through”?  How did he even manage that?

And what does “buried quietly” mean?

Elke says this means that he was likely buried without a church service, or with a minimal church service as suicide was looked upon as a sin that could keep you out of Heaven and was highly frowned up on in German society.

So his family never really got closure on his death in the normal way.  Not only was he deprived, but so were they.

What happened?

Johann Georg was born on October 31, 1732 in Wirbenz, Germany to Johannes Dorfler and Anna Gerlin.  He died January 25, 1790 in Speichersdorf.  Both of his parents predeceased him – so neither of them had to suffer from his suicide.

Johann Georg was married on January 23, 1755 in Wirbenz (shown below) to Anna Magdalena Buntzman, the daughter of Johannes Buntzman.

wirbenz church

This view of the church across the farmlands surrounding the village would have been quite familiar to Johann Georg Dorfler.

wirbenz church distance

His death record says that Johann Georg was a weaver and quartermaster in Speichersdorf.  Elsewhere he is noted as a farmer.

A quartermaster is typically a non-commissioned officer in charge of supplies.  Johann Georg seems to have been a farmer that did well for himself in the local community.

Given the records in both Wirbenz (at right, below) and Speichersdorf (at left below), his farm may have been one of these well-groomed fields between the two locations.

Speichersdorf-Wirbenz

When possible, I reconstruct families, but I was unable to do that with his children.  I’m hopeful that someday perhaps the records will be available, translated, online.

My ancestor, their daughter, Anna Barbara Dorfler was born in Wirbenz in 1762.

Wirbenz farmland

Photo by Milchi

Wirbenz is a village beside Speichersdorf, less than a mile distant, so the family didn’t move far, likely just attended a different church.  What a beautiful area.

Speichersdorf church

Photo by Steini83

This may be the church in Speichersdorf where Johann Georg’s service, such as it was, was held.

Is he buried in the cemetery here?  If not, where did they bury him?

In the Catholic faith, one who dies by suicide cannot be buried in consecrated church ground, but the Protestants weren’t so strict.

The Protestant faith sprung from the Catholic faith, and even though they are different, some cultural biases and superstitions don’t die easily – and suicide along with its stigma seems to be one of those.

I have to wonder what caused a 58 year old man to kill himself and in such a gruesome manner.

How did he even have the strength to carry through with this act?  He must have been incredibly resolved.

Based on his occupation as Quartermaster, I first checked German history to see if anything striking happened in Bavaria in 1790.  The only thing I found was this:

“1790 brought a fundamental reform of the Bavarian army. All field troops received an identically-cut uniform, including a leather helmet with a horsehair plume.”

Nothing about losses or sieges or anything that might upset someone to the point of suicide.  Johann Georg didn’t seem to have all of his eggs in one basket either with multiple sources of income – a failure in any one would not devastate the family.

His daughter, my ancestor was then 28 years old and had an 18 month old baby when her father died.

Johann Georg’s wife outlived him by 8 years, dying of “weakness,” so his death had nothing to do with her death.

Most suicides today are related to one of, or a combination of, several things:

  • Depression
  • Alcohol or Drug Addiction
  • Terminal Diagnosis
  • Accidental
  • Extremely Traumatic Event

We can rule out two or three of those.

It clearly wasn’t accidental.  You don’t cut your throat “all the way through” by accident.

In 1790, there were not cancer diagnoses, so it was likely not something of that nature.

To the best of my knowledge, recreational drugs weren’t an issue in 1790 in Germany, although alcohol consumption has been an issue ever since alcohol has existed.

So we’re left with depression, a traumatic event or perhaps alcohol addiction – or some combination thereof perhaps.

Another possibility is that he did something terrible and couldn’t live with it – but my experience has been that people who do terrible things generally don’t have enough conscience to feel remorse at that level, or even at all – so that is probably ruled out too.  Generally, when kidnappers or mass murderers, for example, take their own lives, it’s in an attempt to evade the justice coming their way – not because of remorse.

One last possibility is that something so terrible happened to him, or his family, that he couldn’t stand it.  That something would have to be pretty profound – like maybe the accidental deaths of several of his children.  I know of an instance like this in another family line.

We will never know.  It’s not like there are court notes or old newspapers we can peruse.  Nothing more in the church notes.  No hints of any kind.  Just that one shocking sentence.

My own close encounters with suicidal family members indicate that often, those with depression don’t actively want to kill themselves – they simply want the pain to stop and that is the only avenue they see as possible.  In other words, the only way out.  Today, we have medications, counseling and support groups to help people.  Then, they didn’t.

It saddens me terribly to know the depths of despair this man must have felt to do something so incredibly drastic.  Worse yet, to remove yourself from your family in that time and place also meant that they would have no way to make a living.  He had to know that, yet he took his life anyway.  I simply cannot comprehend this even though I understand it logically.

And sometimes, sometimes the results were even worse.  In Europe during this timeframe, suicide was thought of as the result of sin.  In order to discourage people contemplating sin, the body of the person who took their own life was desecrated in various ways and their entire estate was confiscated.  So not only was the family traumatized by the death, but again by the physical desecration of their family member and the assured financial ruin that followed.  This was no trivial matter and resounded and rippled downstream generationally.

We know, in his case, that his body was buried two days later which tells us it was not desecrated.  A review of the book, “From Sin to Insanity: A History of Suicide in Early Modern Europe” states that by the end of the 1700s, suicide was looked upon socially more like a medical or lunacy issue.  In other words, you weren’t responsible for sinning if you were crazy.  Still, the laws about estate confiscation weren’t rescinded until significantly later.  Did they actually confiscate his estate?  We’ll never know that either.

Another downstream aspect of suicide was financial.  Not only did it ruin the immediate family, it stigmatized the family and cast them into the lower social classes.  In the servant class, if you could not afford to marry, you often wound up as an unmarried servant with illegitimate children who were also stigmatized.  This situation was very difficult, if not impossible, to work yourself out of, and this is the situation the granddaughter of Johann Georg Dorfler found herself cast into.

I wonder if the genesis of this situation began with the financial and social ramifications of the suicide of Johann Georg. Some 60 years and a generation later, that illegitimate child would immigrate to America with his “wife to be” and their illegitimate children and would marry immediately upon arrival – leaving that stigma behind forever.  No one knew here – at least not until I dug it up 150 years later.

Today, there is no judgement, of either Johann Georg or his illegitimate descendants.  Only profound sorrow for Johann Georg and his family, and respect for the descendants who had the courage to risk everything and leave for unknown but more promising lands.

So what happened to the family home, Anna Magdalena and their children?

Johann Georg’s wife, Anna Magdalena, was born in 1732, so she likely had children until she was 42 or 43, so until about 1775.  In 1790, when Johann Georg died, she was only 58 years old.  They would have had a child or two left at home, plus Anna Magdalena herself who needed to be provided for.  If his estate was confiscated, there would have been no opportunity for Anna Magdalena and the children to eek out a living on the same land.

Suicide affects so many people, far more than just the person who dies.  I don’t think families ever really recover from suicides – in a different way than a regular death.  Partly from the violence and terrible nature of the death, partly from the stigma, partly from unresolved and undeserved survivor guilt and partly from the trauma. In 1790 in Germany, add to that the financial aspect of estate confiscation.

Someone has to find the body, someone has to tell the rest of the family, someone has to clean up the mess, someone has to offer what meager comfort they can, someone has to prepare the body for burial.  It’s a horrible and in this case, gruesome, event for all concerned.  And assuredly, it made everyone uncomfortable, at best.  Everyone probably crossed the street when they saw family members approaching for lack of knowing what to say.

I mean, in 1790s Germany – what would you say?  “Gosh, I’m sorry your husband killed himself and your family is starving now?  By the way, how are you doing?  Will we see you Sunday in church?  Oh, you have no clothes to wear???”  Not a conversation anyone wants to have, so I’m sure avoidance became the order of the day.

And sadly, it’s his suicide that defines him.  And if he felt he had a good reason, that reason is lost to us in the shock and magnitude of the suicide itself.  The church record doesn’t provide that information – only the dry facts – and some small comfort – to me at least – that his body was buried without making a spectacle or example of him.  Thank Heavens the family was spared that.  I’m not going to discuss what was done previously to the bodies of suicide victims, but “From Sin to Insanity” tells you.

I surely hope the religions are wrong that believe those who take their own life are condemned to eternal hell.  He obviously was miserable in his lifetime, for whatever reason, so I hope and pray he can at least rest in peace in death.  And I pray his family didn’t suffer additionally believing that he was roasting in Hell on top of everything else.

And I hope, I really hope, that he did not pass this trait to his offspring.  Let’s just say this is not the only brush with suicide in my family – this is just the oldest that I’ve found.  We know that the propensity for depression is from 40-50% heritable, and possibly higher for severe depression.  I’d say depression fueled suicide falls into that category.

On the DNA side of things, I have not been able to find anyone who descends from this Dorfler family via Y DNA – meaning patrilineally.  The Y chromosome follows the surname in males, so male Dorflers who descend from Johann Georg will carry his Y chromosome.

At Ysearch, there is one Dorfler, but their information indicates that particular male Dorfler’s ancestor’s mother never married and he carries her surname and unknown Y DNA.  If you are a Dorfler male who descends from Johann Georg Dorfler’s family line and you carry the surname, I have a Y DNA testing scholarship for you.  Johann George’s Y chromosome will tell us where his paternal line originated.

Edward Mercer (c1704-1763), Hard-Drinking Quaker, 52 Ancestors #90

Trying to track Edward Mercer has been like trying to follow one hair in a braid.

While a surname like Mercer seems fairly unique, it isn’t, or wasn’t in Frederick County, Virginia in the 1700s.  Who would have guessed there would be so many in this new land of opportunity, the frontier, where the settlers lived among the Indians.

Edward Mercer was in Frederick County, Virginia by 1751, based upon his land grant.  While settlers were settling this region, all was not as peaceful at it seemed.  Remember that the settlers were encroaching on the Indian’s territory, territory the Indians did not “sell” and that by treaty, the settlers were not supposed to settle upon.  But they were, and they did, and the Indians were NOT happy.  The court notes in Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants (1738-1908) by T.K. Cartmell, Clerk of Court, reflect that the Indian chiefs were meeting in Winchester in 1753 to negotiate yet another treaty, and the ordinaries were not to sell them liquor.

On page 71, Cartmell tells us:

Sept. 4, 1753 – “A treaty between the Indians in in progress; It is ordered by the Court, for preventing disturbance during the Treaty with the Indians at the town of Winchester that no Ordinary keeper or other person presume to sell or give to the Indians strong liquors of any sort.”  Five great chiefs with a small following spent many weeks near the town trying to work a scheme to have the white settlers vacate their territory west of the Great Mountains.  This was refused, but a treaty was made to allow the Indians to remain in their villages on the Ohio River undisturbed, and that they should have the right to sell land on their reservation to peaceable white settlers.  This treaty was basely violated by unscrupulous adventurers and a bloody war was the result.

And so began the French and Indian War.

The settlers built their homes as stockades and for most of the 1750s, they lived in constant fear, but no one went back from whence they came.  Expeditions were sent to protect outlying settlements.

From 1754 through 1758, this area of Frederick County and what is now Berkeley County, West Virginia, then part of Frederick County, a swath from Gerardstown, West Virginia to south of Winchester, Virginia was raided successively by Indians, sometimes with the French helping the Indians.  This is exactly where Edward Mercer lived, but perhaps Edward was safe, or safer, because he lived adjacent to Jacob Van Meter, the son of long-time Indian trader John Van Meter.

Some settlers were killed outright, some were taken hostage, and some returned to the community later.  Others, especially those taken as children, joined the tribes and never returned to the white settlements.  Both the settlers and the Indians viewed the warfare as invasive depredations.  Cartmell provides details on page 74 of his history book.  Suffice it to say it was a time of high tension and daily fear for those who lived on the frontier.

In 1757, the court justices ordered the court books be taken to Fort Loudon for safekeeping.  They too feared for their scalps and the preservation of anything on the frontier.  It was not a short war.  A peace treaty, such as it was, was not signed until 1763, just before Edward Mercer’s death.

For most of the time Edward lived in Frederick County, the colonists were actively at war with the Indians and French.  The frontier was not a peaceful or safe place to live.

The Many Mercers

Wilmer L. Kerns, Ph.D. wrote about Frederick County families in his book, “Frederick Count, Virginia, Settlement and Some First Families of Back Creek Valley.”  Back Creek Valley was the area north of Winchester where the Mercers, Crumleys and the Quaker families settled in the vicinity of the Hopewell Meeting House, shown on the map below.

Hopewell Meeting Map

Tracking the Mercer Families The Mercer surname was frequently mentioned in Frederick County records during colonial days. Apparently, there were several different Mercer family roots in Northern Virginia. This brief sketch of the Mercer surname is tentative, and is merely intended to acknowledge that several branches of the family were among the early settlers in this region. Further research is needed to compile a more accurate account of this surname.

One Mercer family, some members of which did wind up in Frederick County were known as the John Francis Mercer line.  They were from Dublin, Ireland and before that, from Chester, England.  Their family is detailed in this document.  There is no known connection, nor any hint of a connection between this family and the other two Mercer families – but that does not mean a connection doesn’t exist.  Y DNA testing on Mercer males from both lines would tell us quickly enough.

The second and third Mercer families are quite confusing, beginning with the fact that there are two Edward Mercers who lived at the same time in the same county, but who may or may not be related to each other.

The younger Edward Mercer (1729-1783) settled in a part of Frederick County, Virginia that later became Berkeley County in 1772, so we can tell these men apart to some extent.

The Berkeley County family appears to have come from Ireland, based on a 1783 deposition recorded in Deed Book X, Vol 22, Page 335, Chester County, PA which records a statement by Mary Mercer, Berkeley County, VA, widow of Edward Mercer about sixty years old and a statement by Johathan Mercer, aged 50 regarding their acquaintance with a William Chapman. About two years after they left Ireland, the deponent (Mary Mercer) with others of her family, since dead, also left Ireland and came to America and found the George Chapman and William Chapman living on Delaware River near New Castle and Marcus Hook; they then lived together.

Delaware early map

Below is a current map showing Marcus Hook, New Castle and Chester County, PA.

Current Delaware map

If Mary was 60 in 1783, and was a child when immigrated, this would put her birth in 1723 and her immigration location sometime before marrying Edward (born in 1729) in New Castle and Marcus Hook.  So, this puts that Edward Mercer in the same vicinity or he would not have met and married Mary.  On the map, above, you can see that New Castle on the Delaware River is very close to Philadelphia, maybe 12 or 14 miles distant.

Philly to Winchester

My ancestor Edward Mercer (1704-1763), the elder, settled in Frederick County, Va, north on Winchester, by October 1744 when he first appears in the court minutes, serving on a jury.

A tradition says that he emigrated from Scotland in 1737 although that certainly has not been proven. Nothing is known about his early life, although after he arrived in Frederick County, by this time probably in his 40s or 50s, there are several references in court records.

Beginning in December 1754, Edward Mercer is sued by John Littler who owns land nearby.  In the same book, spanning 1754-1745, both Nicholas and Edward Mercer are sued by Jesse Pugh and both Nicholas and Edward serve on juries.  In the 1745-1748 Court Order book, we find Mercer versus Lemon and in Order Book 4, 1751-1753 we find Edward Mercer suing both James Dunn and Dugal Campbell, both dismissed by the parties.  In 1753-1754 we find Richard Mercer versus Poor and in 1754-1755, Edward Mercer vs Nathaniel Hare where Edward is awarded a judgment after Nathaniel fails to appear.  In 1755-158, we have Edward Mercer vs Hurman and in 1758-1760, Edward sues both Campbell and Lemon.  In 1760-1762, Richard Mercer sues Shibley and Simpson.  This looks like a lot, but is fairly typical for the timeframe.  Most suits were agreed upon and settled.

This branch of the Mercer family was found in Back Creek Valley during the 18th and 19th centuries. Edward Mercer died in 1763, and he named his wife Ann in his will, in addition to his children. A letter written by one Harrington in a letter to Wilmer Kerns on Oct. 27, 1993 states that Edward Mercer married Ann Croat (or Coats) in 1726, and he married second to Mary Gamble. However, we know that Edward was married to Ann when he died, based on his will, so this makes no sense.  Another rumor bites the dust.

Indian Traders

And yet another twist to this story.

In the “History of Scots/Irish,” Chapter 5, The Explorations and Early Settlers of West Virginia states that John Van Meter, a representative of an old Knickerbocker family early seated on the Hudson was an Indian trader. He made his headquarters with the Delawares and made journeys far to the south to trade with the Cherokees. In about 1725 he first told of the fertility of the Lower Shenandoah. In the section regarding the first white settlers of West Virginia in the area it goes on to say – “Among those that came about 1734 and settled along the Upper Potomac in what is now the northern part of the West Virginia counties of Berkeley and Jefferson included: Robert Harper (Harper’s Ferry), James Lemon, Richard Mercer, Edward Mercer, Jacob Van Meter.”

John Van Meter seems to have been headquartered in Kingston, Somerset County, New Jersey.   In an article relating to the last of the Southern Indians, which appeared in the Virginia Historical Magazine [Vol. III., p. 191, footnote], it states that “Mr. John Van Meter of New York gives an account of his accompanying the New York Delaware Indians in 1732 (?) on their raid against the Catawbas. They passed up the South Branch of the Potomac and he afterward settled his boys there.”

Robert Harper was born in Oxford Township near Philadelphia, Pa., in 1718. A builder and millwright, Harper was engaged by a group of Quakers in 1747 to erect a meeting house in the Shenandoah Valley near the present site of Winchester, Va.

In 1762, John Lemon obtains a land grant adjacent to both Nickolas and Edward Mercer.  From a transcription of the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1742-1775, Vol II:

John Lemon 1762 grant

In 1751, Edward Mercer obtained a land grant in Frederick County, Virginia for 275 acres adjoining Jacob Vanmeter. Does this suggest that our Edward Mercer arrived with that group of men?  And perhaps he was related to Richard Mercer?  Our Edward did name a son Richard.  The Edward Mercer of Berkeley County would only have been 12 years old in 1751, so this land grant has to be our Edward.

Richard Mercer’s wife name was Rebecca.  They sold land in 1764 on the Potomac that they had obtained from Josh Hite and Isaac and John VanMeter, the Indian trader family.

While it’s tempting to suggest that Edward Mercer in Berkeley County is the son of the older Edward Mercer (Sr.) of Frederick County, we show Edward Sr.’s son Edward Jr. in 1763 patenting land beside his father in Frederick County.

Edward Mercer Jr 1763 grant

Furthermore, Edward Mercer Jr. continued to live in Frederick County, years after the Edward in Berkeley County died.  We find in the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1775-1800, Vol. III:

Edward Mercer Jr 1788 land

Edward Mercer from Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia) who died in 1783 shows the following people in the will index abstracts of West Virginia Wills and Probate records 1724-1978.

Edward Mercer 1783 death

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bleed through, but page 16 is the relevant page for Edward’s will.

Edward Mercer 1783 probate

Jonathan Mercer is clearly not Edward’s son, so perhaps he is Edward’s brother.  We know from the deposition that Jonathan was born in about 1733.

On November 13, 1752, we find that John Lemmon purchased property and the land deed was filed in Frederick County, VA. The description of the property includes 356 acres adjoining Edward Mercer, Nickolas Mercer, and Francis Lilborn.  A suit, Mercer vs Lemon, is found in the 1745-1748 court notes, but was impossible to find in the actual microfilm of the court minutes.  A Will for Nicholas Lemen is witnessed in 1761 by a Richard Mercer and his wife Mary.  This could be Edward Mercer Sr.’s son, Richard (who could have been in his 30s by this time), but who was Nickolas Mercer?

Nicholas Mercer is found in the road orders in 1746 and in 1748 he is replaced by Abraham Vanmetre, so he was clearly living in the same proximity as the VanMeter family which means he is connected to the Edward Mercer of Frederick County.  To be of age in 1746, he had to have been born in or before 1725, about the time our Edward Mercer would have been about 21 years old, IF he actually was born about 1704.

The Nicholas Mercer who was the son of Edward in Berkeley County could not have been of age in 1746 if Edward himself was only born in 1729.

Nicholas Mercer must have been connected to our Edward in some way.  In the December 1744 Frederick County Court session, we find the Jesse Pugh sued both Nicholas Mercer and Edward Mercer for trespass, in two adjacent transactions.  At that time, trespass typically didn’t mean walking on someone’s land, like today, but planting crops there.  Later, both Nicholas and Edward served on juries. Unfortunately, there is no Frederick County will for Nicholas, so we have no idea what happened to him.

Some people have drawn links between the various Mercer families that may not have existed in reality – drawing scattered references from multiple sources, including online trees, and weaving them together.

However, there are some very tantalizing clues that indeed, do need additional research.

George Washington and the Battle of Fort Necessity

We think of George Washington and his involvement in the Revolutionary War, but Washington’s involvement in the defense of Virginia began long before the Revolutionary War.  George was extremely involved in the French and Indian War as well.

The roster of men serving in the Fort Necessity Campaign of 1754 under George Washington is compiled from two rosters.

Edward Mercer appears.

Roster of Virginia Militia serving under George Washington during the Fort Necessity Campaign Officers – George Mercer, Captain (Lieut.); John Mercer, Lieutenant (Ensign); Wise Johnston, Corporal; Enlisted Men; Edward Mercer;

We know that Captain George Mercer is connected to the Irish/English John Francis Mercer family with no (known) relation to Edward.

Let’s look at what happened at Fort Necessity.  Edward Mercer was clearly there, so this is his story too.

The Battle of Fort Necessity (also called the Battle of the Great Meadows) took place on July 3, 1754, in what is now the mountaintop hamlet of Farmington in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. The engagement was one of the first battles of the French and Indian War and George Washington’s only military surrender.

Winchester to Fort Necessity

In March 1754, Governor Dinwiddie sent Washington back to the frontier with orders to “act on the [defensive], but in Case any Attempts are made to obstruct the Works or interrupt our [settlements] by any Persons whatsoever, You are to restrain all such Offenders, & in Case of resistance to make Prisoners of or kill & destroy them”. Historian Fred Anderson describes Dinwiddie’s instructions, which were issued without the knowledge or direction of the British government in London, as “an invitation to start a war”. Washington was ordered to gather as many supplies and paid volunteers as he could along the way. By the time he left for the frontier on April 2, he had gathered 1,867 men.  During the march to Pennsylvania, Washington picked up a few more men from a regiment they met at Winchester.  This would have been where Edward Mercer joined.

Washington along with about 150 Virginians built Fort Necessity on an alpine meadow west of the summit of a pass through the Allegheny Mountains on June 3rd.  Another pass nearby leads to Confluence, Pennsylvania; to the west, Nemacolin’s Trail begins its descent to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and other parts of Fayette County along the relatively low altitudes of the Allegheny Plateau.

The fort was small, a circular stockade made of 7-foot-high (2.1 m) upright logs covered with bark and skins built around a little hut which contained ammunition and provisions such as rum and flour.  The palisade was built more to defend the supplies against Washington’s own men whom he described as “loose and idle,” than as a planned defense against a hostile enemy.

By June 9th, the rest of the Virginians had arrived.  Originally, the Delaware, Shawnee and Seneca supported the Virginians, but after a Native Council on June 18th, the Indians withdrew their support after the Battle of Jumonville Glen on May 28th in which Native leader Tanacharison killed French Joseph Jumonville personally.   Why the Native people withdrew their supposed is unclear.

Expecting to be attacked, and with word of the impending arrival of the French and Indians, Washington fell back, abandoning most of their provisions and supplies, and reached Fort Necessity by July 1st.

At Fort Necessity, the provision hut was depleted, and there was little shelter from the heavy rain that started to fall on the 2nd. With the rain, the trenches that Washington had ordered to be dug had turned into streams. Washington realized that he would have to defend against a frontal assault and also realized that it would be difficult because the woods were less than 100 yards away, within musket range, making it possible for a besieging attacker to pick off the defenders. To improve the defense, Washington ordered his men to cut trees down and to make them into makeshift breastworks.  The Virginians were clearly in trouble and they knew it.

As the British worked, the French led by Coulon, Jumonville’s half brother, approached Fort Necessity using the road the Virginians had built.  Coulon arrived at Jumonville’s Glen early on the morning of July 3. Horrified to find several scalped French bodies, he immediately ordered them to be buried.

By 11:00 am on the 3rd of July 1754, Louis Coulon de Villiers came within sight of Fort Necessity. At this time, the Virginians were digging a trench in the mud. The pickets fired their muskets and fell back to the fort, whereupon three columns of Canadian soldiers and Indians advanced downhill towards the fort. However, Coulon had miscalculated the location of the fort and had advanced with the fort at his right. As Coulon halted and then redeployed his troops, Washington began to prepare for an attack.

Coulon moved his troops into the woods, within easy musket range of the fort. Washington knew he had to dislodge the Canadians and Indians from that position, so he ordered an assault with his entire force across the open field. Seeing the assault coming, Coulon ordered his soldiers, led by Indians, to charge directly at Washington’s line. Washington ordered the men to hold their ground and fire a volley. Mackay’s regulars obeyed Washington’s command, and supported by two swivel cannons, they inflicted several casualties on the oncoming Indians. The Virginians, however, fled back to the fort, leaving Washington and the British regulars greatly outnumbered. Washington ordered a retreat back to the fort.  Washington must have been furious with the Virginia men who disobeyed his orders.

Coulon reformed his troops in the woods. The Canadians spread out around the clearing and kept up heavy fire on Fort Necessity. Washington ordered his troops to return fire, but they aimed too high, inflicting few casualties, and the swivel cannon fared no better. To add to the garrison’s troubles, heavy rain began to fall that afternoon, and Washington’s troops were unable to continue the firefight because their gunpowder was wet.

Louis Coulon de Villiers, who did not know when British reinforcements might arrive, sent an officer under a white flag to negotiate. Washington did not allow the Canadian officer into or near the fort, but sent two of his own men, including his translator Jacob Van Braam, to negotiate. As negotiations began, the Virginians, against Washington’s orders, broke into the fort’s liquor supply and got drunk. Gotta love those Virginia men.  They had their priorities.  If they were going to die, they didn’t want to leave the liquor behind!  Given what we discover about Edward Mercer later, there is little doubt that he was involved with this drunken escapade.

Coulon told Van Braam that all he wanted was the surrender of the garrison, and the Virginians could go back to Virginia. He warned, however, that if they did not surrender now, the Indians might storm the fort and scalp the entire garrison.

Van Braam brought this message to Washington, who agreed to these basic terms.

On July 4, Washington and his troops abandoned Fort Necessity. The garrison marched away with drums beating and flags flying, but the Indians and the French began to loot the garrison’s baggage on their way out, subsequently burning the fort.

Washington, who feared a bloodbath, did not try to stop the looting. The Indians continued to steal from the soldiers until July 5. Washington and his troops arrived back in eastern Virginia in mid-July. On the 17th, Washington delivered his report of the battles to Governor Dinwiddie, expecting a rebuke, but Washington instead received a vote of thanks from the House of Burgesses and Dinwiddie blamed the defeat not on Washington but on poor supply and the refusal of aid by the other colonies.

The battlefield is preserved at Fort Necessity National Battlefield, and includes a reconstruction of Fort Necessity.

Fort Necessity

“FortNecessityWithCannon” by Ikcerog – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FortNecessityWithCannon.jpg#/media/File:FortNecessityWithCannon.jpg

Voting in Frederick County

From Clark, Murtie June, Colonial Soldiers of the South, 1732-1774, Baltimore, MD: 1983: Pp. 328-332, in 1755, we know that both Richard Mercer and Edward Mercer Jr. are of age, because they both vote, as they do in 1758.  In 1761, both James and John Mercer vote for George Washington.  This puts the birth of both men before 1734, and possibly significantly before 1734.  At that time, and until 1762, according to Cartmell, voting for the House of Burgesses was reserved for men who owned land and significant assets, specifically, the gentry class.  In 1762, the voting rules were relaxed and allowed free men, of age, with only 50 acres of land or 25 acres with a house, or a lot in town with a house, to vote.

But the 1761 voting is interesting for yet another reason.  Colonel George Mercer is on the ballot for the election of Burgesses to represent Frederick County and Mercer Babb votes for him, as do both Edward Mercer Jr, Edward Sr., James, John, Moses, and Richard Mercer.  Col. George Mercer wins and represents the county in the House of Burgesses from 1761-1765.  George Mercer was born in Frederick County in 1733 to John Mercer, reportedly born in Dublin, Ireland, and Catherine Mason.  George was the brother to John Francis Mercer.

This tells us that Mercer Babb, whoever he was, was of age in 1761, so born in 1740 or earlier.  It also introduces the question – who is Mercer Babb?

To answer that question, we have to look at the Babb Family.

The Babbs

Thomas Babb was born in 1697 in Brandywine Hundred, New Castle, Delaware.  In 1730, he lived and was taxed in Bethel Township, Chester County, PA, according to the Hopewell Friend’s History.  He died on October 4, 1760 in Frederick County, Virginia. Not long after his marriage there was a movement of Quakers from Pennsylvania to Frederick County, Virginia. Thomas went with these Quakers and was one of the founding fathers of the Hopewell Monthly Meeting north of Winchester in Frederick County in 1734.

His father had a land grant of 600 acres on Apple Pie Ridge, near Babb’s Run, northwest of Winchester. Thomas settled there and was joined by his brother, Phillip. At his father’s death the two sons inherited his land.

Thomas Babb’s will was proved November 4, 1760. He left the home place to his son, Sampson, and other bequest to his other children. His wife, not being mentioned, is believed to have already died.

The first lovely old home belonging to Thomas was called “The Great Marsh Plantation“, now known as The Babb-Purcell-Janney House. It dates to 1735. Great Marsh is located on the north side of route 673 (Gold Hills Road) between route 522 and the Apple Pie Ridge Road in Frederick, Virginia.  On the map below, Babb’s Run is marked on Gold Hills Road with a small balloon just above the white box at the bottom of the map.

Great Marsh Plantation

The red balloon is James Crumley’s land, also on Apple Pie Ridge Road, about 6 miles distant from the Great Marsh Plantation.

The second home named “The Brick House” is a lovely old brick mansion and dates also to 1735. It is located west of the Apple Pie Ridge Road and south of route 672 on Babb’s Run. This is also in Frederick, Virginia.

The Brick House - Lupton Home

The Lupton family obtained the Babb land after Thomas’s death. The Lupton homestead was located just below Cedar Grove, about where the small gray balloon is located on the map below, according to a map from 1885.

Lupton home satellite

The Lupton homestead is located just south of Cedar Grove between Babb’s Run and the east side of North Mountain today, marked by the small balloon on the map above.  North Mountain is to the left of the balloon, with Cedar Grove Road on the other side of the mountain.

You can see and purchase these old maps at this link.

Referencing Jean Sargent’s Book “Babb Families of America” 3rd edition pg.113.

Philip Babb born in 1699 in Brandywine Hundred, New Castle, Delaware and died in Newark, New Castle Delaware on March 6, 1762, father of Thomas Babb who settled in Frederick County, Virginia, married Margaret Mercer.

This marriage would have had to have occurred after 1720, giving Mercer Babb plenty of time to be born between then and 1740.  This tells us that there were Mercers in this part of the world, likely related to Edward Mercer, and probably in New Castle, Delaware before 1740.

In the book, “The Babb Families of New England and Beyond, “ Jean Sargent on page 20 and 21 tells us the following about Thomas Babb:

In the Newark Monthly Meeting Records there is an entry dated 3 Oct 1713 which reads as follows: “Thomas Babb appearing at this meeting and gives ye meeting to understand yt ye death of his wife and for want of some person to whom he might leave ye care of his young children hath hitherto been ye lett of his not coming more frequent to ye meetings of business.” While there are early entries concerning Bathsheba, none of them mention the birth of her children or the date of her marriage. (7) Thomas prospered in DE and had sizeable land holdings as shown in the early land records. (4) In 1735 he received a Patent to 600 acres of land in Frederick Co., VA. By this time his three sons had moved to Chester Co., PA, just across the state line from their former home. Thomas sent the two younger sons Thomas, Jr., and Philip to occupy the 600 acres in VA and to carry out the other provisions of the Patent. (7) In his will, dated 17 Aug 1748 and proved 13 Aug 1751, Thomas bequeathed the home place in DE to his oldest son Peter, and left the VA lands to sons Thomas, Jr., and Philip. He made other bequests to his daughters Mary, Rebecca, and Lydia, as well as to three children of his deceased daughter Hulda — John, Rebecca and Lydia Gregory. (6)

In a 1758 election in Frederick Co., VA, among those voting for George Washington for the VA House of Burgesses were: Philip Babb, Thomas Babb (son of Phil.), Thos. Babb, Peter Babb, Joseph Babb, and Thos. Babb, Jr. (8)

Sources:

(1) “History of Town of Hampton, NH” by Dow; (2) Geneo. Diet, of Maine and New Hampshire by Noyes/Libby/ Davis; (3) “History of Salem, MA” by Perley; (4) DE Land Records; (5) VA Land Records; (6) New Castle Co., Probate Records; (7) Records of Robert E. Babb, Jr.; (8) Virginia Historical Magazine, 1899 p. 163.

So, once again, we circle back to Chester County, PA. about 1735-1740.

Margaret Mercer Babb was very probably Edward Mercer’s sister and named her son, Mercer Babb.

Backslidden Quaker

In Cartmell’s history book, he states that the area in Frederick County where Edward Mercer lived was known as the Quaker settlement, but several families lived there that were not Quakers.  He indicates that list includes the Mercers and Babbs who “had nothing to do with the Quakers.”  Cartmell was wrong.

Edward Mercer was a Quaker, but apparently a backslidden one.  So Edward may not have been a Quaker his whole life, and he may not have acted much like one when he was.

Edward was mentioned in the Quaker meeting records in March 1759 at the Baltimore meeting, but not in a very positive light.

Edward Mercer Hopewell

It looks like Philip Babb got to be the bearer of bad news.  Edward may well have been his brother-in-law, as this is the Philip Babb married to Margaret Mercer.

It seems like maybe Edward was systematically drinking too much.  In an economy driven by distilled liquors, as a form of money and a way to preserve corn, drinking “too much” must have meant truly drinking a lot by the standards of today.

Edward Mercer Hopewell2

Finally, Edward Mercer was removed.

Edward Mercer Hopwell 3

Was Edward Mercer being thrown out of the Quaker Church a family scandal?  Was his drinking a scandal?  What did his wife, Ann, do when this happened.  Did she and the children continue to attend the Hopewell Friend’s Meeting, or were they too embarrassed?  Or outraged?

Hopewell Meeting House

Road Orders

Edward may have been in trouble at church, but he was still quite functional as a road overseer – well – most of the time.

In 1759, the Frederick County road orders from August 7th order that a road be cleared between the plantations of William Reynolds and Thomas Babb Jr. and into Sr. John’s road in the same manner as heretofore and that the spring be left open to the said road and it is further ordered that Edward Mercer be overseer thereof and that the tithables a mile on each side of the road clear and keep the same in repair according to law.

On September 4th, the court ordered that Edward Mercer be overseer of Sr. John’s road from Winchester to the Plantation where Isaac Thomas did live and that the tithables three miles on each side of the said road keep the same in repair according to law.

By 1760, however, Edward was in a bit of trouble it seems.  On November 7th, the grand jury presents Edward Mercer for not opening the road from Capt. Pearis’s to Sir John’s Road at the Quaker Meeting by the knowledge of two of us at this present time.

On December 5th, the court notes that the summons had not been executed and refers it to the next court.

The next time we see Edward working on the roads in on May 4th, 1763, the same year he died.  Jacob Vanmetre, Morgan Morgan and Thomas Thornberry having been appointed to view the ground from the Town of Micklinbugh to the most convenient ford on Opeckon Creek made their report whereupon it is ordered that a road be opened as by them laid off and that the tithables three miles on each side thereof work under Edward Mercer who is appointed overseer of the same.

On November 2nd 1763, Thomas Babb is appointed as overseer of the road called Sir John Sinclaire’s road in room of Edward Mercer from the forks to James McGills.

Land

Edward Mercer received his first land grant in 1751 for 275 acres adjoining Jacob Van Meter as recorded in the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1742-1775, Vol. II.  Not a terribly descriptive land grant.

Edward Mercer 1751 land

Note that the entry shows that the adjacent entry was for Nicholas Mercer.

Edward Mercer 1751 grant

In 1759, Edward Mercer is shown on the rent roll for Frederick County as is Nicholas Mercer.

In 1760, Edward obtained a second grant, but this one is much more descriptive and is for 409 acres “near the head of Babbs Great Meadow and joyning Babbs Mountain”

Edward Mercer 1760 land

Fortunately, I was able to find Babb’s Mountain today, just above Cedar Grove.

Babb's Mountain

Philip Babb purchased property and the land deed was filed in Frederick County, VA. on 8 April 1760. The description of the property includes 117 acres adjoining Edward Mercer and on the side of Babbs Mountain. Source: Northern Neck Grants K, 1757-1762, p. 99.  The original survey reportedly exists.  Obtaining the original surveys of these lands would be most helpful in terms of exactly locating Edward Mercer’s land.

The Babb family has done extensive research on the land grants and has drawn the following map.

Babb land drawing

Based on the Babb map, the location of the Lupton home, and this survey from 1812, we know the location of Edward Mercer Jr.’s land, taken from the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1800-1862, Vol IV.

Lupton land 1814

Next, we find Edward Mercer Sr. leasing land to his son Moses, Bk 6 pg. 74 14 Oct. 1760: [Lease] between Edward Mercer & Ann his wife of County of Frederick [to] Moses Mercer of County aforesaid …… one tract of land lying and being under the mountain on the easternmost part of Back Creek and being part of a tract of land granted to said Edward Mercer by the Right Honorable Thomas Lord Fairfax by Patent the 18 April 1760… containing 200 acres and a half… Wit: 2 Wit. signed in German John Colson Recorded: 4 Nov. 1760 Signed by Edward Mercer & Ann Mercer

The easternmost part of Back Creek would be current Cattail Creek above Babb’s Mountain, or Babb’s Run, below Babb’s Mountain.

Richard Pearis purchased property and the land deed was filed in Frederick County, VA. on 18 May 1762. The description of the property includes 224 acres adjoining Jacob Vanmeter, and Edward Mercer. Source: Northern Neck Grants K, 1757-1762, p. 430 (Reel 294).

WEst land 1764

In 1764, the year after Edward died, his estate is still on the rent rolls, which is not unusual, especially if his wife is living there.  In addition to Edward Mercer, we find Edward Mercer Jr, Nicholas Mercer, Moses Mercer and Richard Mercer.

All of these men are sons of Edward, except Nicholas who appears consistently with Edward since 1746, before Edward actually appears in the County.  Was Nicholas Mercer Edward’s brother?

Edward’s Will

In 1762, Edward Mercer wrote his will, which was not probated in Frederick County until November 1, 1763, so he apparently lived another 14 months after making his will.  He was obviously ill, because in the will, he states that he is weak of body.

IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN. The twentyth Day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand Seven hundred and Sixty Two, Edward Mercer of the County of Frederick in the colony of Virginia, being sick aged and weak of Body but of perfect and sound mind memory and understanding thanks be given unto God, therefore calling to mind ye mortality of my Body and knowing it is apointed for all men once to dye do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament that is to say principally and first of all I recommend my Soul into my saviour’s hands, and my body to the Earth to be buried in a Christianlike and Decent manner at the Discretion of my Executors hereafter named and as Touching what Temporal Estate it hath pleased God to Bless me with in this Life. I give devise and Dispose of the same in the following Manner and form Imprimis: it is my Will and I do order that in the first place all my just Debts by paid and satisfied.

Item I give and bequeath unto my son Richard Mercer one cow and calf and five shillings sterling. I give and Bequeath unto my Daughter Elizabeth Heath the sum of five shillings sterling.

I also give to my son Moses Mercer the sum of Five Shillings sterling.

I give and bequeath to my daughter Hannah Mercer five pounds and five shillings worth of Puter the same being now in her possession. And also one bed and furniture thereto belonging likewise I give to my said Daughter Hannah Six head of young cattle the same being now in her possession which said cattle shall be kept on the plantation until they be three years old. I also give her a side sadle and the Keeping of her mare on the plantation whilst she continues unmarried.

I give and bequeath unto my son Edward Mercer the plantation whereon I now Live containing two hundred and nine Acres and also a survey adjoining thereto containing Ninety six Acres of Land to him his Heirs and assigns forever. I also give to my said son Edward one bay mare and one bay colt plow and Tacklin thereto belonging. I also Will that if my above named son Edward Mercer should dye without issue that my youngest son Aaron Mercer shall then become sole heir of my Land and plantation whereon I now live and if both my said sons Edward and Aaron should die without issue, I will that my Daughter Hannah Mercer, become the sole owner of my above said Land and plantation, to her heirs and assigns forever.

I also will that my son Edward Mercer should pay as a Legacy to my youngest son Aaron Mercer the sum of Forty pounds and that within the space of four years after the said Aaron comes of age.

I also Will that my wife shall have the best Rooms in the new House now part built until my son Edward shall build her a compleat house on some part of the plantation at his proper cost which House shall be sixteen foot wide and Twenty foot Long. I also give to my wife Ann Mercer one third part of my parsonal Estate that may remain after the debts and Legacies mentioned are paid.

I will bequeath unto my son Aaron the two thirds of my parsonal Estate with the benefit and profit thereof Immediately after my decease which part of the said Aaron’s stock shall be maintained on the plantation until Aaron comes of age.

Lastly I constitute and ordain my well beloved wife Ann Mercer and my son Edward Mercer and Joseph Foset my sole Executors of this my Last Will and Testament revoking and declaring void all former wills and Testaments by me made and done in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal.

Signed Sealed and acknowledged by the said Edward Mercer to be his last will and testament in the presence us.

Jesse Pugh. Thos. Babb. Mercer Babb.

Edward Mercer. (LS.)

We know Edward could write, because he signed his name.

Edward Mercer will 1

Edward Mercer will 2

Edward Mercer will 3

Edward’s will was probated in Frederick County, Virginia on either November 1, 1763.

Edward Mercer probate will

Mercer Babb

Mercer Babb was clearly of age in 1762 when he witnessed Edward Mercer’s will, so was born in 1741 or before.  Generally, when someone witnesses a will, unless it’s a nuncupative will made in an emergency with death imminent, this indicates that the witness is not an heir, or they would not be witnessing the will.  Normally, those who witness wills have no direct interest in the outcome.  If Mercer Babb was born in 1741 or before, that means that either the Babbs and Mercers were together before they lived in Frederick County, they were both living in Frederick County by 1740 or there is a Mercer in the Babb family tree, because the name of Mercer Babb, especially witnessing the will of a Mercer male, is just not a coincidence.  Mercer Babb appears to be the son of Philip Babb and Margaret Mercer.  We know that Philip Babb was in Chester County by about 1735.  I do believe there is more to this story than we know and it all begins back in either Chester County, PA or before that in New Castle or Marcus Hook, Delaware.  These families appear to have come as a group from the Chester County area to Frederick County, VA.

Edward Mercer’s Estate Inventory (added 10-12-2015)

Recently, I spent an entire day in Richmond at the Library of Virginia, also known as the State Archives.  Like always, I prepared a research list.  While most of my research procured nothing, which isn’t unusual after you’re already plucked all the fruit you can readily see – I did come up with one big winner.

The estate inventory of Edward Mercer who died sometime between May 4th 1763 when he last appears in the Frederick County, Virginia court minutes in a road order, and November 1, 1763 when his estate was probated.  At that same court session, he was replaced as overseer or the road, so he apparently was still “working” up to a few months before he died, even though he prepared his will “being sick, aged and weak of body” in September of 1762.  Edward was probably just shy of 60, certainly not an old man – so his estate should reflect an active life, not a “retirement,” if there was such a thing then.

The first bingo I found in the library was a book of transcribed wills and estate inventories.  I was quite relieved because that meant I might not have to ask them to pull the microfilm and read that.  Old books on microfilm are not always legible nor is the indexing ever complete.  The only individuals indexed are the primary individual – not witnesses or wives or anyone else.  Many times the “rest of the story” is told in who surrounds individuals during their lifetime – so we need all of that additional information.

So, when I found Edward Mercer’s estate inventory listed in the transcribed book, I was ecstatic.  I read the estate inventory, and it was short and general.  It listed things like, “agricultural produce and farm animals.”  Well, I have to tell you, I’ve seen a lot of colonial wills and I have never seen one list something like that.  They list the produce and they list the animals, individually, or at least by breed.  In other words, you in far more danger of receiving far more information that you wanted than not enough, if an estate inventory was taken and filed.

It appeared that I was going to have to get the microfilm after all.

Estate inventories are a vastly overlooked source of information not available elsewhere.  The wills tell who your ancestors left his or her worldly goods to, but the estate inventory tells you what those goods were and those goods tell a huge story about your ancestor’s life.  In addition to what IS in the estate inventory, what ISN’T in the inventory tells a story too – especially in the context of the time and place in which they lived.

Many men did have a will.  Most wills were not written much in advance.  Sometimes wills were made verbally as the individual was on death’s doorstep to whomever was nearby.  These are called noncupative wills.  Sometimes, death was unexpected and there no opportunity for a will.

Most women did not have wills because most women did not own items outright, meaning outside of a marriage where the man was assumed to be the owner of the land (except for her dower rights.)  Often women retained what is known as a “life estate” where the woman holds either property or other items for the term of her life, at which point their ownership reverts to others, generally one or several children as specified in her husband’s will when he died.

If the woman dies before the man, the husband automatically owns everything so no will for the wife is necessary.  I’m talking about historical US wills, not current law.  I’m not a lawyer…I don’t play one on TV or anyplace else:)

Understanding how wills and ownership of both property and personal items worked helps in unraveling what estate inventories tell us.

When the man died, an inventory of everything was taken, even if the wife was to retain “household items.”  While that seems vastly unfair, especially since she often had to bid to buy her own cooking utensils back at a sale, it’s a huge boon for genealogists.

Sometimes individuals are mentioned in inventories – and in some cases, an item is left to a daughter in a will, but by the time she collects that item, she is married and a married name is listed.  In other cases, if something is left specifically to an individual, it is not included in the appraisal.  It doesn’t seem standardized, you say?  It’s not – and often it helps to look at other wills and estates from that county and time to observe what was customary.  Any deviation from custom must have been caused by something…and that something could be interesting to a genealogist.

Even the individuals who appraise your ancestor’s estate are important.  In Virginia, if your ancestor’s spouse was still living, one person who was from the “wife’s family” was chosen, keeping her interests in mind, the largest debtor of the person who died was selected, keeping their interests in mind, and one person completely disinterested in the outcome of the estate appraisal was selected.

With that information, you can sometimes add to your knowledge of the family, especially if you know the wife’s family is likely in the area.  How would you know that?  If your ancestor lived in that area when he married, his wife’s family would have been from that area too.  Young people often met at church or social functions – and with limited transportation – that social group wasn’t from any great distance.

People often married their neighbors or individuals from just a mile or two away.  Courting was likely done on foot, or maybe on horseback.  You can’t marry someone you can’t court!

So, let’s take a look at Edward Mercer’s will and see what is actually in the estate inventory.

The subscribers by virtue of an order of Frederick County Court being first sworn has met and appraised such of the estate of Edward Mercer, deceased, as was brought to our view by Ann Mercer and Joseph Fanset the executors – viz –

The values would be given in pounds, shillings and pence.

Edward Mercer estate 1

  • One old loom 0-15-0
  • Red Cow 0-15-0
  • 1 Cow and bell 3-0-0
  • 1 brindle cow 2-10-0
  • A brindle cow 2-0-0
  • A white cow 2-10-0
  • White back heifer 2-0-0
  • White bull 2-0-0
  • White heifer 1-15-0
  • Speckled heifer 2-0-0
  • Red yearling steer 1-0-0
  • White steer 1-7-0
  • White faced heifer 1-10-0
  • Brindle calfe 0-15-0
  • A pide yearling 1-0-0
  • A brindle yearling 1-0-0
  • Six calves 3-6-0
  • 2 pide steers 3-15-0
  • 2 heifers 2-10-0
  • One stear 2-10-0
  • A roan horse 6-0-0
  • An old mare 2-10-0
  • A mare and colt 3-10-0
  • A bay mare and colt 5-0-0
  • Old wagon and gears 9-0-0
  • A pen and gears 1-3-0

Edward Mercer estate 2

  • Eight swine 0-?-0
  • 2 sows and pigs 0-16-0
  • Harrow pens 0-10-0
  • Cart wheels 1-0-0
  • A rick of hay 3-0-0
  • 2 ricks of hay 6-10-0
  • Hay in the barn 2-0-0
  • Grain in the barn 12-0-0
  • Unbreak flax 0-5-0
  • 2 caskes and flax seed 0-9-0
  • Corn foder 0-10-0
  • Hay in the stable 0-15-0
  • A mall and wedges 0-5-0
  • 2 old axes 0-5-0
  • Indian corn 2-0-0
  • 2 old hoes 0-7-0
  • Small grind stone 0-3-0
  • An old gun 0-15-0
  • Another old gun 0-10-0
  • 2 bells and collar 0-5-0
  • Some old carpenters tools 0-14-0
  • Old iron 0-2-6
  • A pair of small hilliards 0-5-0
  • Few nails 0-2-0
  • Some more carpenters tools 0-10-0
  • An old saddle 1-5-0
  • Suit of cloathes 5-10-0
  • Side saddle 1-5-0
  • Old lumber 0-6-0
  • 8 old chairs 1-0-0
  • Old dough trough 0-3-0
  • A chaf (?) bed and cloaths 1-15-0
  • One bed and furniture 4-0-0
  • Seven old bags 0-7-0
  • Old casks and reel 0-5-0
  • Old chest 0-10-0
  • A morter 0-2-6
  • A warming pan 1-0-0
  • Old reeds and wifts (or mosts or wefts) 0-4-0

Edward Mercer estate 3

  • Some salt 0-6-6
  • Smoothing box and candlestick 0-3-0
  • Hand and gridirons 0-8-0
  • Iron poths (pots?) hangers and frying pan 1-3-0
  • Old books 0-6-0
  • Puter (pewter) 2-6-0
  • Some old tins 0-2-0
  • Sythes and hangings 0-14-0
  • Old copper 0-1-3
  • 3 old casks 0-5-6
  • 1 cask of cyder 1-4-1
  • 2 old whelbs(?) and branding iron and old tea kettle 0-11-0
  • Warping barrs and boxes 0-5-0
  • Hannah Mercers puter 5-0-0
  • Her bed and furniture 8-0-0

Jesse Pugh, Joseph Babb, Peter Babb

At court held for Frederick County the first day of May 1764.  This appraisement was returned and ordered to be recorded by the court.

The first thing this inventory tells us is that Edward Mercer was very involved in animal husbandry and likely only farmed enough to feed his animals.  He did not have plows and other typical farming implements and had many more animals than the typical farmer.

The entry for salt is interesting.  Salt was valuable because about 800 gallons of spring water had to be boiled away to yield a bushel of salt.  Today, we take salt very much for granted, but our pioneer forefathers certainly didn’t.

Edward’s family had chairs, not just a bench to sit on. And almost enough chairs for each person to sit at the same time.  He had 7 children, so the estate is one chair short for the entire family to sit together.  Perhaps one chair broke.  They are described as “old.”  However, there is no table listed.  That’s rather odd.

Edward was a good-hearted person.  He did not kill his old mare who was probably no longer useful.

Edward was likely a carpenter.  Every man on the frontier had a specialty skill, and his appears to be carpentry based on his tools.  This means that when you find homes built in that timeframe in that area, Edward may have worked on those.

Edward owned no slaves, but he clearly could have afforded slaves had he so chosen.  His lack of slaves then must have been either a personal moral judgment or a religious conviction.  However, other Quakers did own slaves including the family his daughter, Hannah, married into.

The flax and loom suggest that his wife and daughter spun and wove, although interestingly enough, a spinning wheel is not listed.  However, you can’t get from flax to weaving without spinning it into thread first.

There is cyder, but no alcohol.  There is no still.  This is highly ironic, since Edward Mercer was kicked out of the Quaker church in 1759 for…you guessed it….drinking.  In fact, “too frequently drinking strong drink to excess.”

Edward Mercer signed his will and owned books, so obviously this man could read and write.  How I’d love to know what those books were.

There is no Bible, although Edward was a Quaker up until he was kicked out of the church in 1759, ironically, for drinking, not attending meetings and not being penitent about either.

Other than Hannah’s furniture, which did include a bed, there were two other beds mentioned.  Was there a bed for the parents, then a boys bed and a girl’s bed?  There were two girls and five boys.

And speaking of Hannah, she is mentioned in the estate inventory, but it’s very likely that she was married by this time.  However, the fact that she is mentioned by her maiden name does not prove that Hannah was not married.  They may simply have referred to her as she was listed in the will. I have often wondered if she was already married when the will was written, even though Edward does not refer to Hannah by a married name.  The reason I question this is because Edward says that the “puter” (pewter) is already “in her possession.”  That would likely mean that she is not living at home, but unless she were married, where else would she be living?  Edward said the same thing about Hannah’s 6 heard of cattle as well, that they are already in her possession.  But then he goes on to say she can leave her mare on his plantation as long as she remains unmarried, so obviously she is not married at that time.  There must be something here that I’m missing.  Perhaps she was living with another family member before she married.

Edward does have two old guns, and he fought in the French and Indian War, so this makes sense.  These are likely the guns he carried with General George Washington at Fort Necessity.  What I wouldn’t give to see those guns.

And speaking of things I’d love to see…that old chest is one.  I want to open that chest and see what is inside.  I’m guessing that might be where Edward kept any spare clothes he had or anything of value – like maybe letters!!!

We also know that Edward’s wife, Ann, was living because she was one of the individuals who administered his will and “presented” his estate to the court.

We know that the family had candles.  The poorest families didn’t and worked only by the light of the sun.  Sundown meant bedtime.

In Edward’s case, either his estate was not sold at public auction, or there is no court record of the sale.  Many times, the sale is recorded, item by item, and who was present at the sale can tell you a huge amount.  In some cases, you can track valuable family heirlooms this way.

The moral of this story?  Don’t think you’ve found everything when you find your ancestors will, or even if you don’t find a will.  There is likely to be an estate appraisement with or without a will, and sometimes the information in the estate inventory tells you far more about your ancestors life and how they actually lived than the will itself.  Wills tell you who is supposed to get what, but estates tell you the story of your ancestors life through what they left behind.

If you look around your own house, you’ll realize that your sewing machine and quilting tools, for example, at my house, are far more personal and representative of what you do with your daily life than the land you own.

In terms of getting to know your ancestor, their stuff is far more important than their land.

Edward Mercer’s Children

  • Richard Mercer could have been the Richard who married a woman named Mary and lived in Berkeley County. John Mercer mentioned a brother Richard in his 1748 will that was filed in Winchester.  It’s difficult to tell when Richard first appears in the records because there is an earlier Richard that is found with Edward Mercer as well.
  • Elizabeth Mercer was born about (or after) 1724 and married by 1748 to William Heath who was born on Sept. 18, 1724. William was mentioned in the 1748 will of his brother-in-­law, John Mercer.
  • John Mercer was born circa 1727 and died in 1749, apparently unmarried. John lived in Frederick County, where his will is on file in the courthouse. His father, Edward Mercer, was named administrator for his estate.
  • Moses Mercer was of age and leasing land from his father by 1760. Moses was born in 1732 and died in 1805, in Frederick County. Appraisers of Moses’ estate were Jacob Rinker, Richard Barrett, and Thomas Babb. Moses married Dinah Morrison, who was called Dianna in his will. She was born Dec. 24, 1729, and died in April 1810. After Moses’ death in 1804, Dinah received all moveable property during her natural life, plus one-third of profits from real estate. She wrote her will on April 10, 1810 and it was probated June 7, 1810. Witnesses were Aaron and John Mercer, and John Barnard. Her close friend, Abraham Lewis was named the executor. Moses and Dianah signed their names with an X “His mark” and “Her mark,” respectively.
  • Hannah Mercer married William Crumley about 1763 and had died by 1774. Hannah was mentioned in the will of her brother John in 1748, and in the will of Elizabeth Morris in 1760. Who is Elizabeth Morris?
  • Edward Mercer was given “the plantation where I now live – 209 acres plus adjoining 96 acre survey” by his father. Edward was born about 1744. His age was proven from a deposition given in the Augusta County Circuit Court. The name of his spouse is not known.
  • Aaron Mercer, the youngest son, not of age in 1752 – served in Revolutionary War. On October 28, 1799 he obtained a Virginia Revolutionary War land grant in Ohio and moved to Ohio. Reportedly in his pension application (which is not at www.fold3.com as of 9-15-2015) he says he was born in Ireland. Aaron died on December 17, 1800 in Hamilton County, Ohio and is buried in the Old (Columbia) Baptist Graveyard. Given that there were no Revolutionary War pensions before 1818, there would have been no pension application by him, although if his wife, Elizabeth Carr, was still living, she could have applied in either 1818 as destitute or 1832/33 as a surviving veteran’s wife. She is reported to have died in 1820, so I’m quite suspicious of the claim that his Revolutionary War pension paperwork stated that he was born in Ireland.

Speculative Family

Based on all of the pieces of evidence, it looks like a speculative family might include our Edward, born about 1700, a brother Richard found with Edward early in the records, a brother Nicholas found in 1746, and a sister Margaret who married Phillip Babb sometime between 1720 and 1740.

The identity of the Edward Mercer born in 1729 who lived in Berkeley County is unclear, but given the names of Edward, Richard and Nicholas, and the locations of Chester County, PA and Delaware, these lines do seem very connected.

Edward in Berkeley County could be the son of either Edward Sr.’s brother Richard or Nicholas – although this does beg the question of what happened to either Richard or Nicholas.  Richard could also have been Edward Mercer Sr.’s eldest son, not a brother.  If that is the case, then Edward born in 1829 cannot be the son of Richard Mercer.

The tidbits we do have also support the suggestion that this family may have immigrated from Ireland before 1740.

However, this is speculative and needs additional research before any conclusions can be drawn.  I suspect the answer is either in Chester County, PA, Marcus Hook, PA or in what is now New Castle, Delaware, if the answer exists anyplace.

DNA

The DNA results having to do with this line are every bit as frustrating and elusive as the genealogy has proven to be.

I checked the Mercer DNA project and was extremely happy to discover a Y DNA project member that indicated that they descended from Edward Mercer born in 1704, the birth year typically attributed to our Edward.

Home run!

Except…

Doggone it, there’s another tester who gives his ancestor as Edward born in 1705.  That’s just too close.  Worse yet, their DNA doesn’t match.  Clearly two independent lines.

So, I checked at YSearch.  No account for Mr. 1705 and the 1704 account had no marker values entered but it did include the death year of 1763, which pretty well cinches the identity as our Edward.  I tried to contact the individual through YSearch, with no luck.  This is a low kit number, indicating an early tester so the tester’s e-mail may be stale of they may not be able to reply anymore.

Next, I wrote to the project administrators of the Mercer project and asked them if they have the oldest ancestor information for either or both testers, or if they would please facilitate contact with those men.  Nothing, nada, silence from the admins.

Doggone!

There is just nothing worse than a desperate genealogist.

Mercer Y DNA Project

(Click on image to see larger version.)

I copy pasted the relevant Mercer project entries into a spreadsheet.  They weren’t grouped on the Mercer DNA site, so I grouped them compared to the entry for kit number 94427 which I believe is our Edward Mercer (c1704-1763).  The yellow cells are mismatches to kit 94427.

There is only one other Mercer that even matches remotely, kit number 99939 just above the lower pink 94427 with the green row.

There is an entire group of blue Mercers that fall together nicely.  However, in this blue group we find kit number 84471 also pink), the other Edward Mercer born in 1705.  This entire line reportedly tracks back to guess where… Chester County, PA with Robert born in 1741 and Elizabeth Brown Mercer.

I checked Chester County tax records, and there are several Mercer men living there in this timeframe.  They may or may not have been related to each other.  And none were named Edward, Richard or Nicholas.  Pulling hair out now….

Finding this large blue group associated with Chester County, and my lonely Edward Mercer with only one distant DNA match is beginning to make me very nervous.

This makes me ask questions like:

  • Was Edward Mercer who died in 1763 “supposed” to be paternally related to the Chester County group, but wasn’t?
  • Is there a NPE (nonpaternal event or undocumented adoption) in the lines of one of Edward Mercer’s sons, but not the other one, causing one descendant to match the Chester County group, and one descendant to not match the group?
  • Is someone’s genealogy wrong?  And if so, which one?  I’d just be happy at this point to actually see the genealogy of either tester, and preferably both.
  • Why aren’t the project administrators answering inquiries about the project?  Are they gone too?

It’s small consolation, I know, but at least the two “Edward” kits are both haplogroup R-M269.  So, assuming (I hate that word, BTW) either of these men descend from my Edward Mercer, I at least know that much.  But at the 50% frequency rate in Europe of M269, that would have been a safe bet with no DNA testing at all.

Needless to say, if you are a male Mercer who descends from Edward Mercer who died in Frederick County in 1763, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!

DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage

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

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

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

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

adopted pedigree

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

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

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

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

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

Y DNA

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

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

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

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

Estes match ex

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

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

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

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

FTDNA Y

Mitochondrial DNA

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

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

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

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

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

FTDNA mtDNA

Autosomal DNA

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

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

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

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

FTDNA myOrigins

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

Ancestry ethnicity

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

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

FTDNA close match

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autosomal DNA:  What to Order

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

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

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

FTDNA FF

Third Party Autosomal Tools

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

GedMatch

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

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

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

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

DNAGEDCOM.com

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

Third Party Y and Mitochondrial Tools – YSearch and MitoSearch

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

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

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

Mitosearch upload

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

Get Going!

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

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

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

Stories about Surname Origins

How many of us have seen stories about the purported origin of our family surname?  Until now, I never thought about DNA perhaps holding the answer to whether these origin stories might be accurate – but in the case of Campbell, it seems DNA might provide a clue if not an answer.Clan Campbell current coat of arms

Ron, on my blog, posted the following query:

“There was a story about Campbells I read in Reader’s Digest probably 40 years ago. They said a Medieval family named Fairfield fell out of favor with English royalty. Many fled the country and translated their name to the native language. Those who went to France became “Beau Champ” while those who fled to Italy became “Campo Bello”, each meaning “Fair Field.”

Some years later they were allowed back home where they Anglicized their names. Beau Champs became “Beachams” and Campo Bellos became Campbells. Now the Fairfields, the Beau Champs, the Campo Bellos, the Beachams, and the Campbells are all related. Hmmm. I wonder if that story is true?”

I had seen these stories myself, years ago, but I had entirely forgotten about them.  Thanks Ron, for jogging my memory.

From this oral history, it looks like Campbell should also match these or similar surnames:

  • Beacham
  • Fairfield
  • Beauchamp
  • Campo Bellos

The first thing I’ll do is to check my own family lines of Y DNA.  My Campbell lines match that of the Campbell clan from Inverary, so if this is a true story, the Inverary line should match at least some of these surnames.

At 12 markers, where the most matches would be found there are no matches to any of these surnames.  There were also none at higher match levels. While this doesn’t entirely disprove the story, it certainly doesn’t lend any credibility to it either.

Do you have any surname stories in your family that DNA could help to prove or disprove?  Even if you don’t have someone to test, you might discover that your line has already been tested by checking the surname projects at Family Tree DNA or by checking by surname at www.ysearch.com.

Data Mining and Screen Scraping – Right or Wrong?

Data mining, also known as screen scraping has been occurring in the genetic genealogy community for some time now. I had hoped that peer pressure and time would take care of the issue and it would resolve itself, but it has not.

This topic has become somewhat of the pink elephant in the middle of the living room. People are whispering. Some people have adopted the pink elephant as a pet.  Some are trying to ignore it.  A few haven’t noticed and some just kind of accept its presence since no one seems to be able to convince it to leave.  But no one has yet to walk in, take a look, and say “Hey, there’s a pink elephant in the living room.”

pink elephant

Well folks, there’s a pink elephant in the living room and we’re going to talk about it today.

What is Screen Scraping and Data Mining?

Screen scraping and data mining is where (generally) robots visit certain sites online on a scheduled basis and harvest data that is residing there. The harvested data may be used privately after that, or may be reformatted and massaged and then displayed differently on a public site. No notification is given or permission is asked to use the data.

Screen scraping and data mining is different than one person doing a Google search for information about their genealogy or their ancestor utilizing online resources. Screen scraping or data mining is the capturing or targeting of entire data bases. Mining implies searching for just one type of data – like maybe a certain haplogroup – and scraping implies taking everything viewable.  Best case, it’s Google spidering sites for indexing.  Worst case, they are thieves in the night. Like many things, the technology can be used for bad or good.

Let me give you an example which illustrates how I initially discovered this issue.

I administer several projects at Family Tree DNA – both surname and haplogroup. One of my surname project members e-mailed me one day in March of 2013 with a jovial note about their “15 minutes of fame.” The essence of this is that they had just transferred their National Geographic results to Family Tree DNA and the next day, found their results with their new SNPs they were so proud of on a website in Russia. Because of the quality of the site and how quickly those results appeared, they presumed that this was a collaborate research effort between either Family Tree DNA and/or National Geographic and the Russian site.

I took a look, and sure enough, he was right. There, big as life, was his DNA SNPs, his surname and his kit number, on an unauthorized site. I clearly knew that the website was not collaborative, but I confirmed with Family Tree DNA just to be sure, who was aware of it but could not do anything about the screen scraping of the DNA projects.

At that point, my project member attempted to contact the Russian site owner to have the information removed and to ask how they obtained it in the first place.  There was no name on the semargl site, nor e-mail, only a form.  I also attempted to do so and even involved two intermediaries who also attempted to facilitate contact. The site in question had clearly advertised a haplogroup project so I reached out to those project admins to facilitate contact as well. The website owner never replied. However, two days later, the web site owner did remove the surname from the site, but all of the harvested information remains. You can see it for yourself today. Kit number 24162.

semargl1semargl2

In fact, this site has scraped and reconstructed almost all (if not all) of the haplogroup projects at Family Tree DNA. You can see them here.

I conducted a little experiment not long ago wherein I timed how long it took after results were posted at Family Tree DNA for them to appear on this site and it was generally between 24 and 48 hours.  I repeated that this week with my husband’s results which were already displayed on the semargl website (without his permission,) and sure enough, his Big Y results that are displayed on the haplogroup project page at Family Tree DNA were immediately updated on the semargl site with his new SNP information.

One of my haplogroup projects has SNPs “turned off” but the participants data and SNPs are harvested anyway, because the robots don’t just scrape haplogroup projects, but surname projects as well. And almost everyone who joins haplogroup projects joins surname projects.

Have you noticed that the response times at Family Tree DNA are sometimes slow? Well, when robots are searching every project for new results on a daily basis, it does indeed tax their systems.  We know the semargl site uses robots, but there may be more sites we aren’t aware of doing the same thing.

Remember when Ysearch was taken offline entirely and the following message was displayed?

“YSearch is currently unavailable due to an increase in abusive data mining by automated scripts. The site will be unavailable for an extended period of indeterminate duration.”

Well, robots at it again.

Ironically, one of the people I spoke to about this used the fact that YSearch was down to justify why the semargl site was so important – because they duplicated the YSearch info.

How Can They Do This?

The bottom of every single project page at Family Tree DNA displays copyright verbiage, as follows:

ftdna copyright

This clearly includes the contents.  In the context of Russia, where the semargl website is located, this doesn’t matter, but perhaps Judy Russell will tackle the topic of project content ownership relative to the US in one of her columns.

I assure you that I have never been contacted and many of my projects’ contents are shown on the semargl site, complete haplogroup project data along with many participants, specifically those with SNP tests, from surname projects.

If you have had any SNP testing at Family Tree DNA, your results are probably included in this data base.  If you want to see if your kit number is there, you can search by kit number, and just for yuks, try searching by surname too: http://www.semargl.me/en/dna/ydna/search/

When participants join projects, they can clearly expect their results to be shown on the associated project page at Family Tree DNA. In fact, that’s the whole point of genetic genealogy, to be able to find your paternal line, for example, or your genetic cousins. Sharing and comparing.

Do participants expect that their data will be scraped and displayed on a website in Russia, with or without their surname, and entirely without their permission or knowledge?  Many surname project administrators are probably entirely unaware of this themselves.

The answer to “how can they do that?” is that they are in Russia and they are not bound by any US copyright or any other US laws. If you have any doubt about that, think Edward Snowden and why he is in Russia. In fact, the only thing that binds them is a sense of ethics, what’s right and wrong, internet courtesy and a colloquial definition of fair use. As you might have noticed, none of these things are legally binding, especially not on people in Russia.

Ethics speaks for itself. This site obviously sees nothing wrong with taking or harvesting the data from elsewhere without notification or permission.  They also see nothing wrong with retaining, utilizing and displaying data even when it has been asked by the owner to be removed.  Internet courtesy or netiquette would indicate that you would ask permission or minimally, inform the individuals that you are using their data. And fair use would indicate that you credit the individuals for their work and that you would source your data. Given that individuals didn’t grant permission for their information to be included, one should at least have the opportunity for their data to be removed, if randomly discovered, but that isn’t the case.  This certainly explains why they were trying to remain anonymous a year ago, and refused contact.

As one participant said to me, “Just because the technology door can’t be locked to prevent this type of activity, does that make taking something that doesn’t belong to you any less of a theft?”

In discussions surrounding this topic, a highly respected project administrator said the following:

“I do not think any person today should have a reasonable expectation that anything displayed on the Internet can be expected not to be copied because it is public info – fair game to a third party as long as the fair use doctrine is observed. If I copied that particular person’s results to my website as an example of something it comes under fair use – as long as I indicate the source for the info. But when someone copies large numbers of items or fails to show the source of the info, it is no longer fair use.”

This isn’t the only situation like this, although it is by far the most blatant.

Recently, I saw a draft of a “paper” where an entire haplogroup project was “analyzed” using a third party tool without knowledge or involvement of the administrators, nor appropriate credit given for their project. Clearly, without their efforts in the project, the analysis paper could not have been written because the project would not exist. While that paper involves one person, this website involves many, is very public, and now the owner(s) have also formed and are part of a company. The website also solicits donations as well.

semargl sidebar

You’ll notice that YFull is advertised on their website, under the donate button. The ISOGG Wiki provides the following information about YFull.

“YFull.com was founded in 2013 and focuses on the interpretation of Y-chromosome sequences. The main aim of the project is to provide services for the analysis of full Y-chromosome raw data (BAM) files and convenient visualization. The data is collected and analysed and newly discovered single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are placed on an experimental Y-tree. Haplogroup and thematic projects are offered. The YFull service is located in Moscow, Russia.”

The YFull product analysis deliverables have been covered by two bloggers here and here.

The YFull team is listed in the Wiki article as follows:

  • Vadim Urasin (aka Wertner): active participant of the DNA genealogical community since 2008, the developer of robots to collect Y-data from public sources, “Y-predictor” developer, FTDNA group administrator, developer of the Y-series SNPs (for R1a, J2b, R2a, Q, O etc).
  • Roman Sychev (aka Maximus Centurion): active participant of the DNA genealogical community since 2006, since 2007 as moderator dna-forums.org (aka Maximus), molgen.org, FTDNA group administrator, developer of the Z-series SNPs (for R1a, I1, J2b), developer of the Y-series SNPs (for R1a, I, R2a, J2b, Q, O etc).
  • Vladimir Tagankin (aka Semargl): active participant of the DNA genealogical community, the DNA database “semargl.me” developer, FTDNA group administrator and co-administrator, developer of the Z-series SNPs (for R1a, I, J2b), developer of the Y-series SNPs (for R1a, J2b, R2a, Q, O etc).

You’ll note that the team includes two people who are credited with developing the mining/screen scraping robots and the developer of the semargl.me database.  Also please note that all 3 are listed as group administrators at Family Tree DNA, which, given the circumstances, seems to be in violation of the Project Administrator Guidelines.  I wonder if Family Tree DNA is aware of this and if project members understand what their project administrator is doing with their DNA results.

I happened to be working with someone’s results who are in the R1a1a and Subclades project.  I noticed a familiar name among the project co-administrators at the bottom of the list.

semargl admin

I have not checked other projects.

This is particularly unfortunate, because the haplogroup projects have been key players in terms of encouraging SNP testing, sorting through results and defining key haplogroup subgroups.  Project participants join haplogroup projects to further science and research.  They expect the administrators to work with the results, but working with/ analyzing the results and reproducing the results on another site is not the same.  Furthermore, being both a project administrator and the same person whose robots are scraping the FTDNA project sites to reproduce elsewhere without permission seems like a wolf masquerading as a shepherd to gain access to lambs.

Of course, the fully sequenced Y results are not posted to the public pages of projects, so they can not be harvested in full by robots like the individual SNP results, including Nat Geo transfers and Walk the Y results. Enter the free analysis provided by YFull to individuals who receive their fully sequenced Y results from either the Big Y at Family Tree DNA or the Full Y from FullGenomes.

When I first looked, there were no terms and condition, but there are terms and conditions on the YFull site today, at the bottom of the main page.

YFull t&c

4.2 We may disclose to third parties, and/or use in our Services, “Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information”, which is Genetic and Self-Reported Information that has been stripped of Registration Information and combined with data from a number of other users sufficient to minimize the possibility of exposing individual-level information while still providing scientific evidence. If you have given consent for your Genetic and Self-Reported Information to be used in YFull.com Research, we may include such information in Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information intended to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We emphasize that Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information will be stripped of names, physical addresses, email addresses, and any other Personal Information that may be used to identify you as a unique individual.

4.3 We may disclose to third parties – Yfull.com. Partners or service providers (e.g. our contracted genotyping laboratory or credit card processors) use and/or store the information in order to provide you with YFull.com’s Services.

Is Screen Scraping and Data Mining Wrong?

There are two sides to this argument.

At the time of the initial discovery, a year ago, with my project participant, based on my communications with some project administrators, it was clear that at least some of the admins knew of this activity and were supportive.

Why?

Because they perceived that the data was “public domain” and the resultant semargl website and “knowledge base,” as they phrased it, justified the means. These sentiments were expressed by multiple project administrators, separately, although now I realize that at least one of these people is a project co-administrator with the semargl owner, whose identity I didn’t know at that time. Their interpretation of public domain is incorrect, because public domain refers to works “whose intellectual property rights have expired” and this is clearly not the case. What they probably meant was that since the data has been posted publicly, from their perspective, the data at that point is freely available to use.

In some circumstances, that might at least partially be true.  But since this site is in Russia, they are not bound by any laws here and they clearly did not choose to abide by any of the generally accepted netiquette standards.

Having said that, the semargl site is wonderfully done and extremely informative, which is why genetic genealogists have embraced it.  Many probably don’t realize how the data has been obtained.  Combine that with the mindset of “there’s nothing we can do about it anyway,” since they are in Russia, and many have simply resigned themselves to the fact that the situation is what it is.  Besides that, brining this topic up causes you to be extremely unpopular in some camps.

Semargl vs Family Tree DNA

This is probably a good time to define how the semargl site is different than the Family Tree DNA site.  Family Tree  DNA is focused on genealogy, which includes surnames and oldest ancestor information.  They also support and encourage testing of markers that reveal deeper ancestry, before the advent of surnames, which falls into the anthropological timeframe.  After all, that’s still the history of our ancestors, revealed in their DNA – but before surnames.  At Family Tree DNA, people join themselves to projects and they give permission when testing for comparison of their data.  If they so choose, then can remove their data from projects, make their information entirely private or remove it entirely from the data base.  In other words, they own and control their data.

The semargl site does not focus on genealogy and is generally focused on haplogroup definitions (by both SNP and STR markers) and population movement and settlement relative to haplogroup subgroups.  In that way, it’s more of a research support endeavor.  It’s not genealogy focused although it has the potential of helping genealogists understand the genesis of their ancestors before surnames.  Having said that, they do have marker matching capabilities but without surnames displayed.

Of course, we know how they obtain their data, screen scraping the Family Tree DNA and YSearch sites, and that people whose data is displayed have not given permission and may be entirely unaware their data appears on that site.

Let’s look at an example of what semargl has done with DNA information. I’ll use haplogroup Q since it is a smaller haplogroup than others and one I’m familiar with.

They have divided haplogroup Q into 30 groupings based on SNPs. Each of these branches has its own map. The Q1b-Ashkenazi map is shown below with associated kit numbers to the right under the ad.

semargl q

The map above, is by SNP, not by STR or individual match like the project and personal maps at Family Tree DNA.

This is followed by a table of STR marker haplotypes, by kit number, which is exactly like the data at Family Tree DNA.

semargl q str

STR table in color.

semargl q str color

Each haplogroup by SNP has a distribution map. This is not by subgroup, but by main haplogroup. Haplogroup Q is shown below.

semargl q pie

You can also select any SNP to view. I’ve selected L294 at random. Notice that the results are noted as from FTDNA (with kit number) or YSearch (with user ID) and those are the only sources given, so the origin of the data is very clear.

semargl snp

You can also inquire by country. Albania has primarily three haplogroups found.

semargl albania

You can query by haplogroup placing results on maps and other types of queries as well.

This owner(s) of this site has done a prodigious amount of work, and it is all very useful, and very well done. It’s actually too bad this isn’t a collaborate work, because I think it would have been very well accepted under different conditions.  Most people would have gladly given permission had they been asked.

Unfortunately, the method used to obtain the data generates a lot of unanswered and pretty ugly questions.

Begging the Questions

Some people feel that if this site were to disappear, that the genetic genealogy community as a whole would suffer. It is the only location where aggregated SNP data is processed and analyzed in this manner.

They also feel that because the individual information has been publicly posted elsewhere, in this case, in Family Tree DNA projects, that this site, and others who might be doing the same thing, have done nothing wrong, unethical or inappropriate.

Others feel that this screen scraping/data harvesting of Family Tree DNA project data is an ethics violation in the strongest terms and that if this activity had been undertaken by someone within the US or within reach of the US via copyright treaty, it would be prosecutable under copyright laws.

Originally, many felt that since these people were “just genetic genealogists” trying to understand results, focused on just a few haplogroups in which they were personally interested, and since they weren’t selling anything, that there was no conflict of interest. However, the site has clearly grown exponentially and evolved over time, robots created and utilized, donations are being solicited, and now a company is involved as well, formed in 2013.  And now we discover that the site owner is a project administrator at Family Tree DNA, giving them unprecedented access to DNA results beyond what is available publicly.  One might suggest that is a conflict of interest.  In defense of Family Tree DNA, a year ago it was almost impossible to discern the name of the person behind the semargl site and I was never able to obtain an e-mail address, even though it was clear that the intermediaries were communicating with him.  People on the internet use pseudonyms and screen names regularly, as you can note in the Wiki entry about the YFull team.

Clearly, the people responsible for the robots that were and continue to disrupt the Family Tree DNA site and taking YSearch down have to be aware of that and they didn’t and haven’t stopped their activities. Was it these robots? I don’t know for sure, but semargl has obviously been utilizing robots, screen scraping the Family Tree DNA site for more than a year based on when my participants data was harvested.  In fact, they are still utilizing robots, because my husband’s Big Y SNPs that were posted at Family Tree DNA (a subset of his total SNPs) one day this week were displayed on the semargl site the following day.  Furthermore, one of the YFull principals is credited with developing these robots and is also noted as being a project administrator.  Project administrators are supposed to be trusted stewards of the DNA of their participants.

Because the provider’s services were disrupted, one can’t really argue that no one has been damaged. Family Tree DNA has clearly been and continues to be impacted, their customers have been inconvenienced.  Family Tree DNA spends money on bandwidth and staff to deal with these issues.

Some would assert that the expectations and rights of those whose results have been pirated, harvested or stolen, depending on your perspective, have been violated because the results have been used without permission of the participant. Others would say that there has been no harm because the results are anonymized (currently) on the semargl site with the surname removed from the display and they were retrieved from a publicly available source.  However, the surname is still stored in the semargl system, because you can query by surname and all kits numbers with that surname are returned.  With some creative Googling, you can uncover the surname relatively easily given just the kit number on the semargl site, but I know of no way you could discover the actual identity of an individual unless that person was the only person in the world with that particular surname, or if they had themselves posted their name and kit number together on a public venue.

If participants refuse to join projects in the future, or withdraw from projects because they don’t want their data to be harvested by sites like this, then genetic genealogy as a whole has been damaged.  Then so have you and I as genetic genealogists.

Let me quote my husband, who never gets ruffled, this evening, when I showed him his results.  He knew nothing about any of this before I sat him down at my computer and showed him his results, first at Family Tree DNA, where he was excited to see his extended haplogroup and Big Y Novel Variants, and then on the semargl site.  I wish I had taken a picture of the shocked look on his face.  Here’s what he had to say when he saw his results on the semargl site:

“What the <bleep>?  How did they get there?”

Pause for a moment while the reality soaked in.

“Get them off there.  They have no right.”

I really can’t quote anymore of what he said and remain family friendly, but suffice it to say the word appalled was used several times, along with horrified, and when I showed him that the semargl data base owner was a co-administrator of his haplogroup project, he shifted to utterly livid and suggested that Family Tree DNA remove him and whoever added him as a co-administrator as well for complicity.  In fact, his “suggestions” went even further, to removing all of the project admins as co-conspirators, because they obviously knew what their co-admin was doing and did nothing to protect his data, as a project member.  In fact, some of them may well be involved in the exploitation of his data.

His uncomfortable questions continued, like “How can that be?” and “Does he have the rest of my data too?”  Suffice it to say my husband is utterly furious, and when I told him that I can’t have those results removed from the Russian site, and why, it got even worse.  Maybe it’s a good thing they are in Russia.

On the other hand, others argue that many benefit from the semargl site and that the people who join projects and whose results are publicly posted had no reason to expect that their results would not be harvested or utilized by someone, at some time.  Try explaining that to my husband, whose comment when he saw the ‘donate’ button right beside his results on the semargl said to me, “How is that right, they’re getting money for something they stole?  My DNA results, that I paid for.  My God, they had my results posted on their site before I even had a chance to look at them at Family Tree DNA.”

One DNA project clearly states on their main project page that once you post your information on the internet, it can never be entirely “removed.”  Of course, DNA testing for genealogy without sharing is entirely pointless.  Where is the line between sharing, when an individual intentionally joins a project, posting their own data, and theft?

The only difference between cousin Johnny discovering that you descend from the same genealogy/genetic line based on your surname project at Family Tree DNA and Russian data miners harvesting the data is the order of magnitude, intention and methodology. As someone else has pointed out, not dissimilar from the difference between consensual sex and rape.

Another perspective is that because we are here and they are in Russia, there’s nothing we can do about it, anyway, so why sweat it and just enjoy the benefits.  Right? Besides, as has been pointed out to me, we don’t want participants to become upset and withdraw from projects or not join, so we won’t discuss the elephant in the room.  What pink elephant?  I don’t see a pink elephant.  And we certainly, most certainly, do NOT want to have to answer any of those uncomfortable questions my husband asked me this evening.  After all, their DNA is already out there and there’s nothing to be done about it now, so don’t make waves.

“Doing something” now to prevent harvesting, assuming there was anything that could be done, is like closing the barn door after the cow has already left, or, in this case, the pink elephant.

This fatalism sounds a whole lot like the thought process involved in how slavery was justified along with gender and race discrimination and Hitler’s genocidal atrocities.  I’m not equating data mining to those things, but I am saying that the thought process that “we can’t do anything about it” or “everyone else is doing it,” so we accept it and even participate can be a deadly, slippery slope.  And if it’s wrong, ignoring, tolerating or accepting it certainly doesn’t make it right.

Let me share a parting thought from my husband, after he calmed down enough to speak coherently.

“I feel unclean.  I feel like I’ve been violated.  My DNA has been kidnapped and I’ve been genetically raped.  It’s wrong.  It’s just wrong, in so many ways.”

So….you tell me…

Harvested, pirated or stolen? Right or wrong? Ethical or unethical? Malicious or not? Theft? Plagiarism? Does the end justify the means? Perfectly fine?

I shared with you my husband’s reaction. He’s not involved in this field like I am.  He’s much more of the typical “end consumer.”  I’m not telling you what I think. You decide for yourself.

Note:  I thought that participants would be able to view the comments entered in the “other” field.  Since you can’t, here’s what they say:

  • Inevitable
  • Wrong, unethical, non consensual, and exploitive
  • Thank you for letting us know about this.
  • It’s criminal
  • FTDNA should learn from the semargl site, then it would be more useful and legal

Hackers and Your Genetic Secrets

Did that title get your attention?  Well, it was meant to, just like it was meant to in this NBC article titled “Scientists Demonstrate How Hackers Could Unlock Your Genetic Secrets.”  Or how about this one in the New York Times, “Web Hunt for DNA Sequences Leaves Privacy Compromised?”  Sensationalism sells….and so does fear.  Don’t panic, the sky is not falling.

I’ve had several people forward me a variety of links to several articles about this expressing concern.  Most people didn’t really understand what was going on…and since “family tree databases” were mentioned in the first paragraph, it frightened them.

This article says that the “security cracking trick relies on the availability of genetic information linked to surnames in a variety of public family-tree databases.”  Well, that’s sort of true, but not exactly true.  The issue is not the family tree databases, it’s the fact that the researchers in The Thousand Genomes Project, while keeping the names of those 1000 people “anonymous,” provided enough information that these scientific researchers, not hackers, were able to data mine the 1000 Genomes participants information to determine their Y-DNA marker values, then compared those haplotypes (marker values) just like we do in databases such as Ysearch and Sorenson.  And yes, they likely had matches to several surnames, like most of us do.

Individuals in the 1000 Genomes Project signed a release indicating that they knew that their data was to be used publicly, although their identity would not be revealed but that researchers could not guarantee their privacy.  The 1000 Genomes Project, unfortunately, posted the ages of the participants, which at the time seemed innocuous enough, and it was common knowledge within the scientific community that they all lived in Utah.  With these three pieces of information, their age, their location, and from the scientists data mining, a possible surname, the scientists were then able, if the surname wasn’t something like Smith or Jones, to use publicly available Google and “white pages” types of searches to find people in that state, of that age, by that surname, and then using obituaries and such, connect them through online family trees to their more distant families.  They did this with Craig Venter, for example.

This technique is nothing new to genealogists, as we’ve been finding cousins that way for years – the difference being of course that we didn’t data mine, otherwise in this case more aptly referred to as “scientific hacking,” the 1000 Genomes Project in order to find their Y-line DNA markers to determine a possible surname for them.  That is the issue and the point of this article and ironically, it’s scientists who did it, then published the “how-to” manual.

Any genetic genealogist knows, especially anyone dealing with adoptees, that you can only reveal a biological surname about 30% of the time.  In fact the scientists success rate was lower, 12%.  But that’s actually irrelevant in the bigger context of the article.  Their point was that they succeeded at all.

This is sort of like putting personal information on the internet, except your name, and then being surprised that someone could connect the dots and put the pieces together.  No one would be surprised today if that were to happen.  In fact, I’m sure we all have received cautions and warnings about putting too much info on Facebook because burglars were robbing homes when people were vacationing.  Many people have their hometown, their high school and their birthday and year publicly available on Facebook.  Now how many “security questions” does that answer right there?  Combine that with your dog’s name and your mother’s maiden name and you’ve got almost all of the common ones.

Aside from the fear-mongering, I have three issues with these reports as a whole.

1.  Statements like “they traced those three family tree pedigrees to find other connections between relatives and sensitive genetic data.”  Whoa, stop right there.  Just because you share a surname or even if you are a direct and immediate relative, that says nothing, absolutely nothing, about whether or not you inherited some genetically disposed health issue.  Remember, children inherit half of their DNA from each parent.  So unless they are finding identical twins or parents, one cannot infer that an entire family tree of people share frightening health traits.  It’s irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

2.  “For years, experts have worried that sensitive genetic data could be used to discriminate against patients, potential employees or would-be insurance customers.  Such discrimination is illegal when it comes to employment or health insurance, but the law doesn’t’ cover life insurance, disability insurance or long-term care insurance.  Theoretically an insurer could search through genetic records and turn you down because you have a genetic predisposition to, say, Alzheimer’s disease.”

Discrimination is an issue, and laws have been put in place to prohibit discrimination in the workplace.  But insurers aren’t going to sift through genetic data like a private investigator.  Suggesting this is unnecessary fear-mongering.  Insurers don’t do that, they simply tell you that a blood test is a pre-requisite of obtaining insurance.  I know, I bought life insurance and they sent a nurse to my house to verify my identity and take a blood sample.  At that time, they were looking for diabetes, AIDs and probably a whole lot more.  Today, they might be looking for genetic pre-dispositions.  I don’t know, but I do know they have a direct method of obtaining that information and it’s not spending untold hours sifting through someone else’s data that likely isn’t relevant to you anyway.

3.  This “research” project was inspired at Whitehead Institute, an affiliate of MIT, a publicly funded institution.  When Yaniv Erlich dreamed up this new hacking technique, he said he couldn’t resist trying it, so instead of simply discovering a potential issue and privately and quietly working with the proper people to resolve the issue, he decided to exploit it publicly, obtaining, I suppose, his 15 minutes of fame.  So yes, your tax dollars did indeed likely pay for some or all of this “research.”

In one of the articles,  Dr. Jeffrey R. Botkin, associate vice president for research integrity at the University of Utah, which collected the genetic information of some research participants whose identities were breached, cautioned about overreacting. “Genetic data from hundreds of thousands of people have been freely available online,” he said, “yet there has not been a single report of someone being illicitly identified.”  He added that “it is hard to imagine what would motivate anyone to undertake this sort of privacy attack in the real world.” But he said he had serious concerns about publishing a formula to breach subjects’ privacy. By publishing, he said, the investigators “exacerbate the very risks they are concerned about.”

Well, it’s obvious that these folks at Whitehead institute don’t live in the real world and clearly don’t have enough real scientific research to do.

So, what is the take home of all of this?

  • You are not at risk of having anything exposed in this incident unless you are one of the 1000 people in the 1000 Genomes Project.  If you are part of the 1000 Genomes Project, and male, there is a 12% risk that they figured out your last name and using other tools, possibly who you are, along with your family.  If you are related to someone in the 1000 Genomes Project, the researchers might have figured out that you are related to them.  So now the risk is that they’ll do what with that information???  Guaranteed, someone will figure out the same information and much more quickly, without your DNA and without government funding if you simply stop paying your bills.
  • If you participate in a research project, such as the 1000 Genomes Project, where your full results are made publicly available, you sign a release, and that release indicates that your privacy may not be able to be protected.  You are aware of the risks before you begin.
  • We, as a community, have been warned for years not to put information that might be medically informative on the internet, such as full sequence mitochondrial DNA information.  Anyone who does so, does it at their own risk.  The people in the 1000 Genomes Project knowingly took that risk.
  • If you stay within the confines of the genealogy and DTC mainstream testing companies, you are fairly well protected.  Having said that, reading the consent forms of any of the companies makes it clear that your identity is never entirely protected.  We’re genealogists after all.  What good is genealogical testing if you can’t contact people you match?
  • Inferred health risks are not the issue they are being portrayed to be in these articles.  Your cousins health risks are not necessarily yours.  Genetic inheritance is a complex and individual event.  If you want proof of that, test your family at www.23andMe.com and look at the differences in health risks for various diseases.
  • Insurers who can use health information to restrict or deny insurance are simply going to request a blood sample.  They are not going to act like a blood hound on the scent of a rabbit and sort through tons of information for inferences.  Why would they when they can obtain the information they seek, directly and much less expensively?
  • For those researchers involved with information made publicly available, such at the 1000 Genomes Project, this is a wake-up call that perhaps less information available publicly is better.  Some information, such as ages and location should perhaps be available only to legitimate researchers, which would still have included the Whitehead Institute people, but would have taken away much of their thunder.  I understand this change has already been implemented, but that doesn’t entirely mitigate the issue of genetic data mining publicly available full genomic sequence information for identity, only makes it a little more difficult and less likely to succeed.
  • I clearly understand why hackers want my bank account information, and why identity thieves want my personal information, but why, in the real world, not at Whitehead institute, would anyone ever spend the time and effort to do this?  The motivation for these researchers was clearly to publish, but I can think of no reason other than that or simply “because they could” to spend the time doing something like this.  Who would want to and for what purpose?
  • The sky is not falling

It’s behind a paywall, but you can access the scientific article here that started all of this hubbub.