Milestone! 1000 Articles About Genetic Genealogy

Today is a big day for DNA-eXplained. I christened this blog on July 11, 2012 with an invitation for the world of genetic genealogy to follow along. Wow, what a ride!

Today, about 5 weeks shy of the blog’s 6th birthday, I’m publishing my 1000th article – this one. I don’t even want to know how many words or pages, but I do know I’ve gone through two keyboards – worn the letters right off the keys.

My original goal in 2012 was to publish one article per week. That would have been 307 articles this week. I’ve averaged 3.25 articles a week. That’s almost an article every other day, which even surprises me!

That’s wonderful news for my readers because it means that there is so much potential in the genetic genealogy world that I need to write often. Even so, I always feel like there is so much to say – so much that needs to be taught and that I’ll never catch up.

I wonder, which have been the most popular articles?

Most Popular Articles

The most popular article has received almost a million views.

I’m not surprised that the article about Native American heritage and DNA testing is number one. Many people want to verify their family stories of Native American ancestry. It was and remains a very large motivation for DNA testing.

One link I expected to see on this list, but didn’t, is my Help page. Maybe because it’s a page and not an article? Maybe I should publish it as an article too. Hmmm….

What Do These Articles Have In Common?

Four are about ethnicity, which doesn’t surprise me. In the past couple of years, one of the major testing companies has pushed ethnicity testing as a “shortcut” to genealogy. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

Unfortunately, it encourages a misperception of DNA testing and what it can reasonably do, causing dissatisfaction and kit abandonment. Fortunately, advertising encourages people to test and some will go on to get hooked, upload trees and engage.

The good news is that judging from the popular articles, at least some people are researching ethnicity testing – although I have to wonder if it’s before or after they receive their test results.😊

Three articles are specifically about Native American heritage, although I suspect people who discover that they don’t carry as much Native as they expected are also reading ethnicity articles.

Two articles are specifically not about autosomal results, which pleases me because many autosomal testers don’t know about Y and mitochondrial DNA, or if they do, they don’t understand what it can do for them or how to utilize results.

Several articles fall into the research category – meaning an article someone might read to decide what tests to purchase or how to understand results.

Key Word Searchable

One of the things I love about WordPress, my blogging platform, is that DNA-eXplained is fully keyword searchable. This means that you can enter any term you want to find in the search box in the upper right-hand corner and you’ll be presented with a list of articles to select from.

For example, if you enter the phrase “Big Y,” you’ll find every article, beginning with the most recent that either has those words in the title, the text or as a tag or category.

Go ahead, give it a try. What would you like to learn about?

More Tools – Tags and Categories

Tags and categories help you find relevant information and help search engines find relevant articles when you “Google” for something.

If you scroll down the right-hand sidebar of the blog, you’ll see, in order:

  • Subscription Information
  • Family Tree DNA ad
  • Award Received
  • Recent Posts
  • Archives by date
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Top Posts and Pages

Bloggers categorize their articles, so if you want to view the articles I’ve categorized as “Acadians” or “Art,” for example, just click on that link.

I use Tags as a more general article categorization. Tags are displayed in alphabetical order with the largest font indicating the tags with the most tagged articles.

You can see that I categorize a lot of articles as Basic Education and General Information. You can click on any tag to read those articles.

My Biggest Surprise

I’ve been asked what’s the most surprising thing that I’ve learned.

I very nearly didn’t publish my 52 Ancestors series because I didn’t think people would be interested in my own family stories about my ancestors and the search that uncovered their history.

Was I ever wrong. Those stories, especially the research techniques, including DNA of course, have been extremely well received. I’ve learned that people love stories.

Thank you for the encouragement. This next week will be the 197th article in that series.

I encourage everyone to find a way to tell the story of your ancestors too. If you don’t, who will?

My Biggest Disappointment

I think my biggest disappointment has been that not enough people utilize the information readily available on the blog. By this, I mean that I see questions on Facebook in multiple groups every day that I’ve already written about and answered – sometimes multiple times in different ways.

This is where you can help. If you see questions like that, please feel free to share the love and post links to any articles. With roughly 12 million testers today and more before year end – there are going to be lots of questions.

Let’s make sure they receive accurate answers.


Please feel free to share and post links to any of my articles. That’s the purpose. You don’t need to ask permission.

If you would like to reproduce an article for any reason, please contact me directly.

Most of all, read, enjoy and learn. Encourage others to do so as well. The blog is free for everyone, but any support you choose to give by way of purchasing through affiliate links is greatly appreciated. It doesn’t cost you more, but a few cents comes my way from each purchase through an affiliate link to help support the blog.

What’s Coming?

I have a few articles in process, but I’d like to know what you’d like to see.

Do you have suggestions? Please leave them in the comments.

I’ve love to hear from you and I often write articles inspired by questions I receive.


Don’t miss any articles. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe by entering your e-mail just above the Follow button on the upper right-hand side of the right sidebar.

You can also subscribe via an RSS feed, or follow me on Twitter. You can follow DNAexplain on Facebook, but be aware that Facebook doesn’t show you all of the postings, and you won’t want to miss anything. Subscribing via e-mail is the most reliable option.

Thank You

There’s so much available today – it’s a wonderful time to be a genealogist that’s using DNA. There used to be a difference between a genealogist and a genetic genealogist – but I think we’ve moved past that stage and every genealogist should be utilizing all aspects of DNA (Y, mitochondrial, autosomal and X) as tools.

Thank you for subscribing, following or however you read these articles. You’re an amazing audience. I’ve made the unexpected wonderful discovery that many of you are my cousins as well.

Thanks to you, I’ve unraveled mysteries I never thought would be solved. I’ve visited ancestral homelands as a result of your comments and assistance. I’ve met amazing people. Yes, that means YOU!

I’m extremely grateful. I started this blog to help other people, never imagining how much it would help me too.

I love writing for you, my extended family.

Enjoy and Happy Ancestor Hunting!


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

MyHeritage Data Breach

If you are a MyHeritage customer, change your password. Now. Here’s how.

This is late breaking news.

If you were a MyHeritage user before October 27, 2017, your e-mail was included in a data breach at MyHeritage. MyHeritage was informed of this breach less than 6 hours ago.

MyHeritage is doing the right thing by making the breach public immediately. It appears that no financial or DNA information was involved, but the investigation is just beginning.

Read the MyHeritage blog article here.

TechCrunch reports here.

Change your password now.

Father’s Day DNA Sale – Discovering Information About Male Ancestors

The Father’s Day sale has started. Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th and there’s still plenty of time to order a DNA test. Dad can swab on Father’s Day, but BEFORE he eats, please.

Father’s Day reminds me of barbeques on the grill and making the summer’s first homemade ice cream in the old crank ice cream maker.

Today, we have the option of making memories another way – by utilizing our DNA to honor the men in our direct paternal family line as well as men in other lines.

I’ve noticed lots of men who have taken autosomal tests haven’t utilized the power of Y DNA. That’s like leaving money on the table.

Males can learn extremely valuable information about their direct paternal line that can’t be discovered with autosomal testing. Want to know what you can discover with Y DNA testing? Take a quick look at the article Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story.

Testing our father’s DNA, uncles or brothers (for females who wish to obtain information on their father’s lineage) is relatively easy, but often we want to discover information about other paternal lines in our tree. Women don’t have a Y chromosome, so can’t take a Y DNA test, but women can certainly find males who carry their ancestral surnames and sponsor tests!

Checking the Family Tree DNA projects is one way to see if your ancestral line has been tested. You can search for the surname that you’re interested in on the Family Tree DNA main page to see if your ancestral line has already been tested in a project.

Would you like to make contact? You may already match some of these people autosomally, or you can contact the project administrator to offer the person who tested an upgrade. I’ve sponsored several upgrades and Big Y tests this way.

You can also search your Family Finder results for that surname to see if there are any males in your match list who carry that surname from your line.

To see if a match has taken a Y DNA test, click on their profile and look for the Y haplogroup. If there’s a haplogroup showing, they’ve taken a Y DNA test. But if not, it’s their lucky day – and yours. You can honor your ancestor by offering a paternal Y-line test or upgrade.

Almost everything Y DNA is on sale for Father’s Day. You can purchase traditional tests at 37, 67 or 111 markers, or the Big Y which INCLUDES all 111 markers in addition to the revolutionary Big Y test itself which scans the entire Y chromosome for unique mutations. Upgrades are on sale too. You’ll learn who the tester matches as well as historical information from before the advent of surnames. All pieces of the “where did I come from” puzzle.

You can also order a Family Finder test for those males from your line that have taken the Y DNA test(s), but not autosomal. The Family Finder test is on sale for $59.

You’re not done yet! DNA is the gift that keeps on giving.

You can transfer Family Finder results to MyHeritage for additional matching and to use their great genealogy records. Great news – that transfer is FREE. Not everyone tests at the same companies, so it pays to fish in several ponds. I’ve found close matches at each vendor that haven’t tested elsewhere. You can also transfer in the other direction too, from MyHeritage to Family Tree DNA.

I’ve already purchased one kit and offered a second.

Which lines can you find to test for Father’s Day to honor your male ancestors? What do you hope to discover?


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Johann Michael Muller the First was a Widower, 52 Ancestors #196

When I wrote about Johann Michael Muller (the first) as well as his wife, Irene Elisabetha Heitz, I thought his story was complete.

Just when you think there are no more records, nothing else to squeeeeeze out of that turnip – there’s one more thing. And as it turns out, it exposes a VERY important chapter in Michael’s life by deciphering just one word.

This church entry documents Johann Michael Muller’s wedding to Irene Liesabetha Heitz in Miesau, Germany in 1684. When we discovered this record, it was HUGE news, because proved the real identity of Michael’s wife.

But there’s more…

The Turnip Bleeds

As you can see, the script is very difficult. The original translation stated that Michael had married Irene, picking out the evident words, but there was additional information lurking there that would prove to be very important, obfuscated by centuries-old script.

Upon further investigation, and no small amount of sleuthery in terms of trying to decipher the script – it was determined that one of the words was incredibly important.


Above, an enlarged area from the marriage record.

What the heck is a wuntartzt? Nobody knew. Not Tom, not Chris our Native German speaker, and not another long-time German historical resource.

Tom, my trusty cousin who is also a retired German genealogist, suggested, after much gnashing of teeth because no one knew what a wuntartzt was, that maybe, just maybe, the word was really widower, which in German is “witwer.” German script is extremely contrary sometimes, and of course it’s always the MOST important word that stubbornly resists.

After three knowledgeable people concurred that this word really is witwer, the translated verbiage was evaluated again for context. That’s not always straightforward either!

Chris replied:

So, “son” and “widower” refers to the same person, Michael. The part before “Sohn”: “Heinsmanns Müllers Einwohners zu Schwartz Matt im Berner Gebieth” is put as a genitive, because it refers to Michael`s father Heinsmann.

Which, of course, raises an entirely new question: If Michael Müller was a widower at the time he married Irene Liesabetha Heitz in 1684, who was his first wife then? Did she die in Steinwenden or in the area or rather already back in Switzerland? Maybe it is worth to have another close look at those burials in the Miesau church book from 1681 to 1684 to maybe find her there?

Here’s the retranslated marriage entry as agreed upon by Tom and Chris.

“Johann Michael Muller, widower, son of Heinsmann Muller, resident in Schwartz Matt in the Bern area (Switzerland), married 17 April 1684 in Steinwenden to Irene Liesabetha Heitz, daughter of Conrad Heitz.”

Of course, the blessing or curse of genealogy is that one answer or even a hint always raises many more questions.

And…another gem is unearthed from that script – Michael’s father’s name. Except, of course, as this family always seems to do – that information conflicts with what we thought we knew.

So, let’s evaluate how this puzzle piece fits with the rest of what we actually do know.

For beginners, Michael’s death record in Steinwenden on January 31, 1695 states his age as being 40, which means he was 29 or 30 when he married Irene in 1684. Chances are good (92%) that he had not yet had his birthday in 1695 when he died, which means he was probably born in 1654, and if not, in 1655. He would have become of marriageable age in about 1675, but probably wouldn’t have married yet for a few years, until he could provide support for a family in some fashion. So we are looking for a marriage record for Michael sometime in or after 1675 and of course, before April of 1684. Probably significantly before 1684.

Someplace. But where?


Chris’s continuing thoughts:

What remains interesting to me though is the reported village of origin for the Michael Müller, who married Irene Liesabetha in 1684. As I pointed out he must be from Schwarzenmatt (church records are found in the Boltigen church books), which is in fact really close to Erlenbach in Simmental.

With the two villages being so close to each other, I would think it goes certainly well along with Michael Müller from Schwarzenmatt and Jacob Ringeisen from Erlenbach having been cousins.

Later records in Steinwenden state that Jacob Ringeisen is a cousin of Michael Miller’s and that Jacob is a Swiss from Erlenbach.

Chris goes on to say:

The Boltigen church books: As I read on an internet forum, the church books of the time period around 1650 that would be of most interest for us are lost in a church fire in 1840. You can also see this from the Familysearch compilation:,_Bern,_Switzerland

So I fear we are lost guessing here, with the remaining possibility that pedigrees have been made before 1840 and saved somewhere.

Would we be that lucky? But wait…

There is a coat of arms of a Müller family in Boltigen.

Now that’s quite interesting. I can’t help but wonder if this pertains to my Miller line. I wish I knew more about those Boltigen Millers and I surely, surely, wish that one of the male Boltigen Millers, assuming some of them survived to current, would take a Y DNA test. I’d love to confirm that this is the same line. In fact, if you’re a male Boltigen Miller descendant and carry the surname today, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!

The Original Zollikofen Narrative

It’s disconcerting when new information conflicts with information that has been believed within a family for a long time, even if the family doesn’t exactly know WHY they believe that.

For as long as I’ve researched this family, it’s been repeated that Johann Michael Muller was believed to have been born in Zollikofen, Switzerland in 1655. The age fits and the location fits given that many Swiss were immigrating from that area to Germany. However, there has never been any documentation or record to prove that the Johann Michael Muller born in 1655 in Zollikofen to Johann Jacob Muller and Salome Huber is the same Johann Michael Muller who lived and died in Steinwenden. In fact, I’ve never actually seen that Muller/Huber record either, simply heard repeatedly that it existed.

Researchers, me included, were frustrated for years trying to find this documentation. Had we been able to discover what happened to the child of Jacob and Salome Huber Miller, we could possibly have disproven (or proven) that he was our Michael, but that information too proved elusive.

I did find it worth noting that none of Michael’s children were named either Jacob or Salome. Jacob might not have been remarkable because it’s so common, but Salome is rather unusual. On the other hand, none were named Irene or Regina after his wife, either, nor Heinsmann after his father.

Neither was I able to document Jacob and Salome Huber Miller, the Zollikofen couple that was supposed to be Michael’s parents. Now, that doesn’t matter anymore.

The marriage record for our Johann Michael Muller to Irene gives Michael’s father’s name and location. And it’s not Johann Jacob Muller nor is the location Zollikofen, or even near Zollikofen.

It appears that Zollikofen was a “best fit” by someone using the information they had at the time. Sadly, as a family, we’ve been emotionally married to Zollikofen for decades now, and mistakenly so. One family member, a minister, even preached from the pulpit in Zollikofen, thinking he was in the church where Michael stood. Truth be known, he was about 40 miles away.

So close but so far away.

A Marriage Record

Tom found something quite interesting.

An April 1681 marriage in Boltigen between Michael Muller and Anna Andrist.

Is this our Michael?  It could be. The time is right. But who knows!

This quaint alpine church in Boltigen replaced the church lost in fire in 1840. Is this the location where Michael was first married, in the original church?

By Roland Zumbuehl – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Boltigen marriages started being recorded in 1662 but unfortunately, no parents are recorded in marriages. How FRUSTRATING!

Deaths began in 1683, so if Michael’s wife died there before the records began, that too has slipped away from us.

Tom looked in the Miesau church records for any sign of Michael’s first wife and of course, didn’t find hide nor hair of her or Michael before his 1684 marriage to Irene.

Switzerland to Germany

What brought Michael to Germany from Switzerland?

From the Boltigen/Erlenbach area to the Miesau/Steinwenden area is a nontrivial trip. Note that on the map below you can see parts of seven different countries; France, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Lichtenstein and Austria . Europe is much more compressed than the US, and while we think of country boundaries as borders, in Europe, they function mostly seamlessly and did then as well. Some boundaries are geographical, like the Alps separating Switzerland and Italy, but in other cases, country lines are politically drawn and have moved and been renamed over time.

Viewed from Boltigen, the Juan Pass.

Beginning at the northern base of the Alps, Michael’s path would have ambled along the Rhine River after crossing more mountains near Basel.

1493 woodcut of Basel from the Nuremburg Chronicle

Did Michael move to Steinwenden because his cousin, Jacob Ringeisen had moved or was moving to the Steinwenden area? Did they make the journey together? Had other family members moved there too, attracted by the Palatinate promise of land and tax exemption?

We know there was lots of vacant land available. The area was entirely depopulated by the 30 years war. A 1656 tax list states that no one lived in Steinwenden. By 1671, inhabitants were once again listed. The 1683/4 tax records show only 6 families and 25 people total – although that list appears to exclude the non-taxed Swiss.

The Hans Berchtol family who settled in Steinwenden, whose daughter Susanna married Michael’s son in 1714, seems to have sprung from this Swiss region too.

Was Michael leaving heartbreak behind, someplace that didn’t remind him of his departed love? Or, did Michael and his first wife leave Switzerland with a family group to start a new life – embarking on a great adventure with the rosy-cheeked promise of newlywed love?

And then, tragedy struck…

Kids? Were There Kids?

If Michael was a widower in 1684 at the time of his second marriage, and his first wife had died, were there living children? If Michael married Anna Andrist mid-April, she could have been having a child anytime from January 1682, assuming she wasn’t pregnant when they married.

There was even time for a second child to have potentially been born.

The only child who lived from Michael’s second marriage to Irene was Johann Michael Muller the second, the last child born in 1692. Michael and Irene would suffer the births and deaths of 5 children after their 1684 marriage and before Michael the second was born. Unbelievable grief, grief stacked upon grief for Michael. How did he survive?

Why were there no more children born to Michael and Irene?

Was Michael or Irene ill between 1692 and Michael’s untimely death in 1695? Why was there no record of another child born about October of 1694, which would have been when the next child would be expected? There are no Muller children’s death records either.

Originally, we thought that Irene had died and Michael had remarried, but she hadn’t. We simply don’t have any answers, except that Irene remarried in 1696 to Jacob Stutzman and subsequently had several more children, the first one arriving 11 months after their marriage.

This is killing me. If Michael married Anna Andrist in April 1681, IF Anna was his wife, the first child could have been born in January 1682. A second child could have been born in mid/late 1683. Anna could have died in childbirth with either child, or neither child. If there were two children, there’s certainly no guarantee that either survived, with or without the mother’s death. What we do know is that by April 17, 1684, Michael was a widower, in Miesau, far from where his father lived, marrying Irene.

Having said all of that, it’s possible that there were children born to Michael’s first marriage that did survive. If so, and if we have identified the correct wife and location, we’ll never know because the baptism records are missing for that time period in Boltigen.


  • Anna Andrist died before Boltigen death records began in 1683
  • Or they weren’t living there when Anna died
  • Or this is the wrong couple

Tom feels that, “if Michael had young kids, they would be evident in Steinwenden, which they weren’t. I don’t think we will get a handle on this aspect. I believe you are done with this chapter.”

There were other Millers evident in Steinwenden, BUT, Miller is an extremely common surname and there is nothing to tie Michael to any of them. Given the fact that the godparents might well have stepped in to raise any children by Michael’s first wife, especially if the child needed to be nursed, Michael might have been found in Steinwenden without his children. Michael’s children, if there were any and they survived, could have been being raised in Schwarzenmatt or someplace near Boltigen.

Clearly, we are now far into the land of speculation, an endless maze of rabbit holes without any shreds of evidence.

I think Tom is right, at least for now. This turnip really is bloodless and this chapter has closed. But of course, that’s what I thought before too. You never know, maybe one of those Boltigen Miller’s will DNA test and we’ll be bleeding turnips once again!

A huge, huge thank you (again) to Tom and Chris both, turnip bloodletters, without whom I’d still be eyeing Zollikofen longingly. RIP Zollikofen.

Concepts: Anonymized Versus Pseudonymized Data and Your Genetic Privacy

Until recently, when people (often relatives) expressed concerns about DNA testing, genetic genealogy buffs would explain that the tester could remain anonymous, and that their test could be registered under another name; ours, for example.

This means, of course, that since our relative is testing for OUR genealogy addiction, er…hobby, that we would take care of those pesky inquiries and everything else. Not only would they not be bothered, but their identity would never be known to anyone other than us.

Let’s dissect that statement, because in some cases, it’s still partially true – but in other cases, anonymity in DNA testing is no longer possible.

You certainly CAN put your name on someone else’s kit and manage their account for them. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, depending on the testing vendor you select.

If the DNA testing is either Y or mitochondrial DNA, it’s extremely UNLIKELY, if not impossible, that their Y or mitochondrial DNA is going to uniquely identify them as an individual.

Y and mitochondrial DNA is extremely useful in identifying someone as having descended from an ancestor, or not, but it (probably) won’t identify the tester’s identity to any matching person – at least not without additional information.

If you need a brush-up on the different kinds of DNA and how they can be used for genealogy, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

Y and mitochondrial DNA can be used to rule in or rule out specific descendant relationships. In other words, you can unquestionably tell for sure that you are NOT related through a specific line. Conversely, you can sometimes confirm that you are most likely related to someone you match through the direct Y (patrilineal) line for males, and matrilineal mitochondrial line for both males and females. That match could be very distant in time, meaning many generations – even hundreds or thousands of years ago.

However, autosomal DNA, which tests a subset of all of your DNA for the genealogical goal of matching to cousins and confirming ancestors is another matter entirely. Some of the information you discern from autosomal testing includes how closely you match, which effectively predicts a range of relationships to your match.

These matches are much more recent in time and do not reach back into the distant past. The more closely you are related, the more DNA you share, which means that your DNA is identifying your location in the family tree, regardless of the name you put on the test itself.

Now, let’s look at the difference between anonymization and pseudonymization.

It may seem trivial, but it isn’t.

Anonymization vs Pseudonymization

Recently, as a result of the European Union GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation,) we’ve heard a lot about privacy and pseudonymization, which is not the same as anonymized data.

Anonymized data must be entirely stripped of any identifiable information, making it impossible to derive insights on a discreet individual, even by the person or entity who performed the anonymization. In other words, anonymization cannot be reversed under any circumstances.

Given that the purpose of genetic genealogy conflicts with the concept of anonymization, the term pseudonymization is more properly applied to the situation where someone masks or replaces the name of the tester with the goal of hiding the identity of the person who is actually taking the test.

Pseudonymization under GDPR (Article 4(5)) is defined as “the processing of personal data in such a way that the data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of ‘additional information.’”

In reality, pseudonymization is what has been occurring all along, because the tester could always be re-identified by you.

However, and this important, neither anonymization or pseudonymization can be guaranteed to disguise your identity anymore.

Anonymous Isn’t Anonymous Anymore

The situation with autosomal DNA and the expectation of anonymity has changed rather gradually over the past few years, but with tidal wave force recently with the coming-of-age of two related techniques:

  • The increasingly routine identification of biological parents
  • The Buckskin Girl and Golden State Killer cases in which a victim and suspect were identified in April 2018, respectively, by the same methodology used to identify biological parents

Therefore, with autosomal DNA results, meaning the raw data results file ONLY, neither total anonymity or any expectation of pseudonymization is reasonable or possible.


The reason is very simple.

The size of the data bases of the combined mainstream vendors has reached the point where it’s unusual, at least for US testers, to not have a reasonably close match with a relative that you did not personally test – meaning third cousin or closer. Using a variety of tools, including in-common-with matches and trees, it’s possible to discern or narrow down candidates to be either a biological parent, a crime victim or a suspect.

In essence, the only real difference between genetic genealogy searching, parent searches and victim/suspect searches is motivation. The underlying technique is exactly the same with only a few details that differ based on the goal.

You can read about the process used to identify the Golden State Killer here, and just a few days later, a second case, the Cook/Van Cuylenborg double homicide cold case in Snohomish County, Washington was solved utilizing the following family tree of the suspect whose DNA was utilized and matched the blue and pink cousins.

Provided by the Snohomish County Sheriff

A genealogist discovering those same matches, of course, would be focused on the common ancestors, not contemporary people or generations.

To identify present day individuals, meaning parents, victims or suspects, the researcher identifies the common ancestor and works their way forward in time. The genealogist, on the other hands, is focused on working backwards in time.

All three types of processes, genealogical, parent identification and law enforcement depend on identifying cousins that lead us to common ancestors.

At that point, the only question is whether we continue working backwards (genealogically) or begin working forwards in time from the common ancestors for either parent identification or law enforcement.

Given that the suspect’s or victim’s name or identifying information is not known, their DNA alone, in combination with the DNA of their matches can identify them uniquely (unless they are an identical twin,) or closely enough that targeted testing or non-genetic information will confirm the identification.

Sometimes, people newly testing discover that a parent, sibling or half sibling genetic match is just waiting for them and absolutely no analysis is necessary. You can read about the discovery of the identity of my brother’s biological family here and here.

Therefore, we cannot represent to Uncle Henry, especially when discussing autosomal DNA testing, that he can test and remain anonymous. He can’t. If there is a family secret, known or unknown to Uncle Henry, it’s likely to be exposed utilizing autosomal DNA and may be exposed utilizing either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing.

For the genealogist, this may cause Pavlovian drooling, but Uncle Henry may not be nearly so enthralled.

In Summary

Genealogical methods developed to identify currently living individuals has obsoleted the concept of genetic anonymity. You can see in the pedigree chart example below how the same match, in yellow, can lead to solving any of the three different scenarios we’ve discussed.

Click to enlarge any graphic

If the tester is Uncle Henry, you might discover that his parents weren’t his parents. You also might discover who his real parents were, when your intention was only to confirm your common great-grandparents. So much for that idea.

A match between Henry and a second cousin, in our example above, can also identify someone involved in a law enforcement situation – although today those very few and far between. Testing for law enforcement purposes is prohibited according to the terms and conditions of all 4 major testing vendors; Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.

Currently law enforcement kits to identify either victims or suspects can be uploaded at GedMatch but only for violent crimes identified as either homicide or sexual assault, per their terms and conditions.

Furthermore, both 23andMe and Ancestry who previously reserved the right to anonymize your genetic information and sell or otherwise utilize that information in aggregated format no longer can do so under the new GDPR legislation without your specific consent. GDPR, while a huge pain in the behind for other reasons has returned the control of the consumer’s DNA to the consumer in these cases.

The loss of anonymity is the inevitable result of this industry maturing. That’s good news for genetic genealogy. It means we now have lots of matches – sometimes more than we can keep up with!

Because of those matches, we know that if we test our DNA, or that of a family member, our DNA plus the common DNA shared with many of our relatives is enough to identify us, or them. That’s not news to genealogists, but it might be to Uncle Henry, so don’t tell him that he can be anonymous anymore.

You can pseudonymize accounts to some extent by masking Uncle Henry’s name or using your name. Managing accounts for the same reasons of convenience that you always did is just fine! We just need to explain the current privacy situation to Uncle Henry when asking permission to test or to upload his raw data file to GedMatch (or anyplace else,) because ultimately, Uncle Henry’s DNA leads to Uncle Henry, no matter whose name is on the account.


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A Dozen Years – 52 Ancestors #195

It was a dozen years ago on a rainy spring day that Mom left this earthly realm.

I thought the rain would never stop.

I like to remember her as a young, hopeful, inspired soul, before she was burdened with the concerns and grief of adulthood that awaited her further down life’s road.

She was beautiful then, and in myriad ways throughout her life.

More beautiful in maturity than in youth, with silver hair, a chipped tooth and laugh lines.

All celebrating chapters in her journey.

Souvenirs collected along life’s path.

That’s the woman I knew best.

The soft countenance that comes to mind.

Her spirit left her body and flew through the mists of time, leaving us to mourn her passing, but knowing it was time for her to depart.

I told her in those last hours and minutes, as she struggled to both live and die, that she could go now, that we would all be fine.

I lied, in essence, to free her from the bonds that held her here in her broken body – her brain ravaged, destroyed by strokes.

Blind. Unable to talk, move or eat. Dying by inches. Dehydrating and starving to death. It was time…

The final breath of death was merciful.

One is never “fine” when their parent passes.

Yet, I told her to go, because my love for her was far greater than my pain.

And I know that her love for me transcends time, space and death.

I know she watches over me. I just hope not too closely and not too often.

My choices would not be hers.

I chuckle at the thought.

Assuredly, I would earn a finger-wagging lecture from time to time.

Perhaps daily.

I smile though tears as I compare my brash directness with her consummate lady persona.

Perhaps two sides of the same coin. Genes expressed differently.

She was a tower of strength, forged by life’s misfortunes, her warrior’s sword hidden away until she needed to reveal it just long enough to slay the dragon at hand.

Then sheathed and concealed beneath her smiling Avon-Lady deacon-of-the-Baptist-church veneer, until she needed it again.

She would love you to death.

She would also, without hesitation, slice, dice and rice you if that’s what you deserved.

You never knew what hit you – or what happened to that nice little old lady.

Or, if a fool made the regrettable mistake of crossing someone she loved.

God help them.

Get. Out. The. Way.

We called it “whup-ass” on the farm, a term distinctly not lady-like, according to Mom.

Dad just smiled.

He knew.

I doubt Mom understood the empowering strength of the example she spent her life setting.

Or, how, like the best inheritance, it would be passed on for generations.

I see her in my children.

In the wonderful adults they’ve become.

Standing up, always, for right, no matter how untimely or inconvenient the burden.

I see her in their faces.

The unruly curl of the front lock of my, and my daughter’s hair.

I see her in my grandchildren.

I catch a glimpse of her as they enter the stage in their dance recitals or drama club plays.

Or, as Elsa, as they perform pirouettes in joyful springtime glee outside in the sunshine.

That’s her spirit, and she is there.

I hear her in their voices.

In their laughter.

See her in their smiles.

They are beautiful, talented and smart – oh so smart.

The promise of the future.

She would be proud.

The woman they will never know, but whose lifeblood runs renewed in their veins.

Their roots.

Nourishing them, just as she did me, a generation earlier.

They – they are her legacy.

I miss her this Memorial Day.

I will always miss her.

Honor her.

Thank her.

And love her.

That beautiful, hopeful, young woman so full of life, destined to become my mother.

GDPR – Birthing the 100 Pound Baby

GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation – Today’s the day of deliverance – May 25th. GDPR is finally enacted after MONTHS and MONTHS of agony.

Believe me, to those of us in the field, the GD does NOT stand for General Data – it stands for Gol Danged or something much, MUCH stronger.

And speaking of stronger, when I’m really stressed, I do one of three things:

  • Buy a bauble commensurate with my level of misery
  • Eat dark chocolate
  • Drink

In extreme cases, all three.

Actually, if you know me, you know I don’t drink. So item number 3 is really, REALLY a distant 3rd- – and I’m on my third bottle of wine this week. Good thing I only like muscato wine, ice wine and my rightful Irish legacy, Guinness.

I actually prefer to quilt, because you can stress-quilt wearing baubles and eating chocolate, but if you drink while quilting, your seams will be crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

So, how do you like my new GDPR-size blue bauble flanked by support “staff”?

Yes, it’s been one horrid, awful, miserable, give-me-a-case-of-wine and buy-chocolate-in-bulk six months or so.

Did I mention that it’s been horrid?

I equate dealing with GDPR to giving birth. Not being pregnant, mind you – just the miserable giving birth part – like being in labor for let’s say – 9 months or so. Then delivering a really ugly 100 pound baby that not even a mother can love. Not to mention, I broke my foot during this time too – and no, it wasn’t kicking anyone or anything. AND I was stone cold sober, at a quilt retreat.

For those of you who don’t know, I have 30+ years of technology consulting experience. While I’m “semi-retired,” I’m not entirely retired and I’ve spent the last many months wrestling with this monster known as GDPR. I’m glad to report that my clients are ready, but no one emerged unscarred. I have crooked-seam quilts that I’m claiming are a new art form, am walking like peg-leg the pirate in a very “special” shoe and I’ve gained 5 “chocolate” pounds.

Wonder why I haven’t been doing many DNA reports? Well – now you know!

I have tried, really tried, to maintain a positive outlook – but as the date has approached and I’ve seen how much we are cumulatively losing in the genetic genealogy community – any semblance of a positive perspective has disappeared.

You can read my GDPR articles:

Making it even worse are the hollow assurances of individuals on social media saying that “everything will be alright” because GDPR is really no big deal, or worse yet that people are “scaremongering.”

So, let me be extremely candid and not sugarcoat anything, because after being in GDPR-labor for several months, I have absolutely not one shred of patience left whatsoever.

What Is This Behemoth and Why Do I Care?

GDPR, was enacted by 28 EU member countries referred to as “states” to regulate information privacy. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that, and given the Facebook Cambridge Analytics fiasco and others, it’s much needed.

However, and this is a huge HOWEVER, the way this regulation was written and implemented is not only a massive overreach in regulation, it’s vague, poorly written and almost impossible to comply with. In many cases, there are no standards or definitions included and where there are, they are often draconian, misinformed or outdated in nature.

Furthermore, GDPR is enforced by the unnamed and unknown commissioners of the 28 different “member states” at their sole discretion – including how to leverage fines up to and including 20 million Euro or 4% of a company’s gross worldwide revenue – whichever is MORE.

And no, there is no, absolutely no indication of how that fine will be decided, the steps or processes, or if the penalty will be imposed based on the severity of the infraction or the size of the organization or individual.

How, you wonder, is the process of an investigation set in motion? By a malcontent complaining.

Now that malcontent may well be justified (read about Equifax breach here and here, and the Facebook fiasco here) or the malcontent might be someone who is simply vindictive – or someplace inbetween. Regardless, the person or company on the receiving end of the complaint is then obligated to defend themselves, to PROVE the malcontent is inaccurate or the fines can be levied at the discretion of the unnamed commissioner. Yes, the burden of proof is on the company, not the complainer.

There is no court involved, no appeal process – nothing.

Are these regulators going to make examples of people or companies? Is this a cash grab by the EU member states? Will there be GDPR chasers, like ambulance chasers? Who knows? I don’t, but it’s clearly a huge risk with zero, zip case law yet. Which is exactly why smaller entities are folding.

How does someone even defend themselves? They would hire a lawyer, of course. Know what lawyers that understand GDPR are charging right now?

I can tell you, from direct, personal experience. $1000/per hour, billable by the minute. So if you do manage to avoid the fines, your legal defense will bankrupt you instead. Well, that’s certainly a win!

Now you understand why several small businesses have closed their electronic doors, blogs have disappeared and some sites are blocking all EU IP addresses. Better safe than sorry, but not terribly conducive to genealogical sharing.

Not only that, the GDPR regulation is not just moving forward from May 25th into the future, it’s retroactive, meaning it applies not just to new sales but to any database worldwide that contains data of an EU resident. The more information, or the more openly they shared, the more difficult GDPR was to implement. Hence, many have closed.

How can you tell if someone is an EU resident from a gmail address, for example? You can’t. So as a business or even a blogger, you are left in the position of not knowing which individuals this regulation might apply to – so if you want to stay in business, or stay safe and NOT attract the notice of the EU commissioners who have the ability to function as GDPR fine-levying Gods – you must comply.

For those of you thinking that GDPR can’t be enforced in the US – maybe, and maybe not. How would we know before lawsuits are filed? And at $1000 an hour, who among us can afford to find out.

Raise your hands please…



I see no hands.

But GDPR created a solution for that too – because non-EU companies that function in Europe MUST appoint a European Representative – who absorbs some of the risk of non-compliance so that the EU commissioners know who to reach out to in order to get their hands on you.

Care to guess how much this service costs? Well, just start running that attorney’s per hour meter rapidly – and this has to be paid YEARLY – forever.

Now, care to guess ultimately who will pay for all of this?

Yes, YOU, the consumer – whether you live in the EU or not.

Sometimes I try to spare my readers from the under-the-hood nitty gritty – but this time, you really do need to know so that you can appreciate what vendors have dealt with to revamp their businesses and internal processes. Otherwise, we as a community stood to lose genetic genealogy and that would have been a mind-numbing tragedy.

What Does Comply Mean?

Some people are being very dismissive of GDPR, or hyper-critical of companies who are trying to change their products, features and websites to become compliant. It’s worth noting here that none of the major companies or vendors are EU companies.

Here’s an example of an e-mail update I received today from a US company:

After nearly two years of hard work and preparation, we are ready for May 25 — the start of “GDPR” in Europe. More than 500 employees from across our company have helped meet more than 1,500 project milestones.

The General Data Protection Regulation is a sweeping set of new and enhanced rules in the European Union. It covers how companies treat the personal data of customers and employees. Specifically, it makes sure an individual’s rights are enforced, personal data is inventoried, breaches are reported promptly, and privacy is baked into all products.

If someone tries to convince you that GDPR compliance is no big deal, they are either grossly uninformed about GDPR itself or don’t have any idea about the magnitude of the ramifications of GDPR on entities from large corporations down to (some) volunteers. Some people have opined that if the companies were “taking care of their customers’ data,” they wouldn’t have to do anything and “would have nothing to worry about in the first place.” That’s blatantly wrong.

For starters, every company had to undergo a specific compliance evaluation process, which was far from easy because GDPR doesn’t just tell you THAT you have to protect information, in some cases they specify how – keeping e-mails in a separate database for example. Data bases aren’t necessarily designed in that manner, nor is that the best solution for security or performance – not to mention genetic genealogy is about sharing.

However, if a company doesn’t comply and someone complains,they have to undergo an audit. If found out of compliance, they’re liable for a potentially astronomical fine by an unknown commissioner (each country has their own) who may or may not have a clue about technology or in this case, genetic genealogy and how it’s utilized.

I’ve made a list of a FEW of the GDPR requirements. Also, keep in mind, many of the requirements tell you in general terms what they want, but there are no examples of what they consider adequate, so you just have to guess and if an issue arises, the data commissioner gets to decide if you guessed correctly.

If not, you’ll get to pay up!

I have included the GDPR citation in the table below, so you can check for yourself if you think I’ve just made this up and am, well, scaremongering. In fact you can read the entire document here and here with the added schedules AND, if that’s not enough, you can then read the UK version here with explanatory notes available separately. Yes, it’s hundreds of pages of pure misery but if you have insomnia, it, guaranteed, will cure you immediately. Hey, there has to be a silver lining someplace.

I’ve briefly listed the requirement, summarized unless in quotes, and the reference citation from the first linked document above, published in the “Official Journal of the European Union.” So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to correlate the requirements of the first, second and third documents, together, and figure out how to resolve any conflicts. Good luck! Start now and you’ll exit the maze, dazed and confused, sometime around late summer😊

You will quickly see that I’m neither over-reacting nor making this up.

In the following table, a controller is the primary entity working with information. For genetic genealogy, that would be a DNA testing company or a third party vendor. A processor is any other entity, which could be a lab doing the actual processing, a third party working with a vendor or project administrators who also “process” information.

Processing is defined basically as anything you do with someone’s information:

‘Processing’ means any operation or set of operations which is performed on personal data or on sets of personal data, whether or not by automated means, such as collection, recording, organisation, structuring, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making available, alignment or combination, restriction, erasure or destruction;…

A controller is defined in L119/33 article 4.7 and a processor in L119/33 article 4.8.

GDPR Requirement Reference/Comment
“This Regulation applies to the processing of personal data in the context of the activities of an establishment of a controller or a processor in the Union, regardless of whether the processing takes place in the Union or not and regardless of whether the controller is in the EU or not.” L119/32 article 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 – This EU document’s effects are worldwide.

L119/4 item 22

Controllers must carry out a GDPR “data protection impact” assessment that includes mapping data flow and security and must be able to demonstrate compliance with GDPR. L119.50 article 28.4

L119/14 item 74

L119/16 item 84

L119/16 item 83

Consent must be given by a clear affirmative action for each thing consented to and everything processed. Silence, pre-selected boxes or inactivity is not consent. L119/6 item 32 – I actually like this, but if you’re irritated by being asked to reconsent or reconfirm, this is why. As a business or person “processing” information, you must be able to PROVE they gave informed consent.
You must explain to the person how they gave consent for what you are doing with their information and be able to demonstrate that in fact, they did consent. L119/7 item 39
Person must be not suffer negative consequences for not granting consent. L119/8 item 43
Information must be concise, east to understand and easily accessible. L119/11 item 58 – Actually, as a consumer I love this requirement because too many companies hid behind verbiage that was impossible to understand without a law degree.
Person has right to be forgotten, or to correct data, and processor must comply or respond within one month. Furthermore, the controller (the main entity processing information) must inform any secondary processors, who also must comply. L119/11 item 59 – If you’re wondering why FTDNA suggests that administrators remove any data they’ve put on any site about FTDNA customers who leave projects, within 30 days, this answers your question.

L119/13 item 66

L119/5 item 29

L119.12 item 65

Person must be informed when data is transferred between entities, especially to entities outside of the EU. L119/12 item 61
Person can request any information held about themselves. L119/13 item 68, L119/45 article 20

L119/45 article 20

Any controller/processor outside of the EU must designate an EU representative who “will cooperate with a supervisory authority with regard to any action taken to ensure compliance with this regulation. The designated representative should be subject to enforcement proceedings in the event of non-compliance by the controller or processor.” L119/15 item 80, also L119/48 article 27.1 – Yep, just try to find someone in the EU willing to do this. Costs are astronomical.


Processors must be bound to controllers by contract and must delete data when finished processing and GDPR requirements of controller must be passed on to processors. L119/16 item 81 – This is probably why the Family Tree DNA administrators must sign the new agreement and are instructed to delete project member information when members leave projects.

L119.50 article 28.4

Controllers and processors must maintain records of processing and make those records available on demand to the supervisory authority. L119/16 item 82
Processors must adhere to an approved code of conduct. L119.50 article 28.5 – And no, in case you were wondering, there is no suggestion about that code of conduct.
Required security includes pseudonymisation and encryption of personal data, assessing risks of disclosure, loss, alternation, adherence to approved codes of conduct and prohibits keeping e-mail address in same file as test results. L119/51/52 article 32 inclusive
ʺSensitive processingʺ means processing of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin (and other things)…or processing genetic data for the purpose of uniquely identifying an individual. HL Bill 66: Chapter 2 Principles 7a/b
Some personal data is considered “sensitive” including any that reveals…racial or ethnic origin. L119/10 item 51

L119.12 item 65

Volunteers are not excluded because they are not paid. L119.5 item 23
Does not apply to dead people or research for genealogy. L119/30 item 160 – Don’t get excited. Genetics is considered in a special category of sensitive information.

L119/5 item 27

Does not apply to individuals in a purely personal or household activity with no connection to a professional or commercial activity…but does apply to controllers or processors which provide the means for processing personal data. L119/3 item 18 – Ironic isn’t it that the very document that requires straightforward non-legal understandable language is so vague and uses confusing language subject to very different interpretation.
Information must be pseudonymized and additional information for attributing the information to a specific individual must be kept separate. L119/5 item 29
Person must be able to withdraw consent as easily as it was given. L119/5 item 29

L119.37 article 7.3

Personal data breaches must be reported within 72 hours if the breach is determined to be damaging to the rights and freedoms of the individuals and communicate to the people affected that a data breach has occurred. L119.50 article 28.4

L119/16 item 85

L119/6 item 86

Must hire or assign a data protection officer focused on GDPR. L119/55 article 37-39 inclusive, also L119/34 item 4.17, also 119/15 #80
“Where more than one controller or processor, or both a controller and a processor, are involved in the same processing and where they are, under paragraphs 2 and 3, responsible for any damage caused by processing, each controller or processor shall be held liable for the entire damage in order to ensure effective compensation of the data subject.” L119/81 article 82.4
“Non-compliance with an order by the supervisory authority as referred to in Article 58(2) shall, in accordance with paragraph 2 of this Article, be subject to administrative fines up to 20 000 000 EUR, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 % of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.” 119/83 article 83.6, also HL Bill 66 page 83 #150

119/82 article 83.4

L119/27 items 146-150

Criminal penalties and liability are discussed along with individuals’ right to compensation. L119/81 article 82 inclusive

Over these next few days and weeks, when we’re tempted to be critical or impatient with a genetic genealogy vendor who has made changes instead of closing up shop and throwing in the proverbial towel – let’s try to be patient, grateful and cognizant of their effort. They have collectively been slaving away in the hot kitchen now for many months, trying to get ready to birth this 100 pound baby, while smiling, with as little disruption as possible to the rest of us.

I know we are all frustrated, but until we’ve walked that proverbial mile, we really have no idea what they’ve been through. From my experiences, I can tell you it was bloody painful.

Vendors’ GDPR compliance is much like an iceberg with a smiley face stuck on top. You’re only seeing the tippy top of the effort involved and it’s an entirely different picture underneath where everyone has been rowing like crazy.

Design By Committee

If you are thinking to yourself that this regulation looks a lot like it was designed by a committee, you’re right, it was. That negotiation process took 4 years, and the regulation took effect another 2 years later – meaning today.

Glory halleluiah, the birthing is FINALLY over, and the baby looks a lot like a….camel.



A camel?

Have you heard the analogy that a camel is a horse designed by a committee?

The idea was sound, but the outcome was not at all what was intended or expected. Indeed, the law of unintended consequences. GDPR’s effect on genetic genealogy certainly fits that bill.

In fact, here’s our new a-mazing GDPR horse.

For another perspective, head on over and read what Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist has to say on the matter.

Now, for me, back to genealogy – a much needed respite!