In the Beginning – First Steps in Genealogy

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

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

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

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

Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How accurate was your original pedigree chart?

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Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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:

Ancestor Birthdays Mean Presents for YOU!

I’ve been wanting to celebrate my ancestors’ birthdays for some time now, and I’ve finally figured out exactly how to accomplish this goal in a really fun way.

Being reminded once a year about their birthday and the anniversary of their death reminds me to work on their genealogy, and in particular, genetic genealogy. With more people testing every single day, meaning different people at every vendor, we need to check often with specific ancestors in mind. You never know who’s going to be the person who puts the chink in that brick wall.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a spreadsheet to track what I know about each ancestor. This makes it easy to schedule those dates in my calendar, with a reminder of course, and then to check my spreadsheet to see what information might have been previously missing that might be able to be found today.

It’s like a birthday present for them, but now for me. I am, after all, their heir, along with the rest of their descendants of course! If I’m lucky, I inherited part of their DNA, and if not, their DNA is still relevant to me.

Checking the List

Here’s my spreadsheet checklist for each ancestor:

  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Death date
  • Death place
  • Spouse
  • Y DNA haplogroup (if male)
  • Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup
  • Autosomal confirmed
  • Ancestry Circle

New information becomes digitized every year making new information available.

Additionally, some items may change. For example, if a base haplogroup was previous known, a deeper haplogroup might be available a year later if someone has taken a more detailed test or the haplogroup name might have been updated. Yes, that happens too.

I originally had a triangulation column on the spreadsheet too, but I pretty quickly discovered that column was subject to lots of questions about interpretation. Is the actual ancestor triangulated, or the line? I decided that “autosomal confirmed” would suffice to cover whatever I decide constitutes confirmation and a comment column could hold the description. For example, my grandparents are autosomal confirmed because I match (and triangulate) with cousins who are descended from ancestors upstream of my grandparents. If my grandparent wasn’t my grandparent, I wouldn’t be related to those people either. In particular, first cousins.

I also added an “Article Link” column to paste the link to that ancestor’s 52 Ancestors article so I can quickly check or maybe even provide this spreadsheet to a family member.

Here’s an example of what the first several entries of my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet look like.

Ancestor Birthday Presents for You

In order to remind myself to check on my ancestors’ status, on their birth and death days, I schedule reminders in my phone calendar. Every morning when I wake, I’m greeted by my ancestor – well – at least this much of them.

  • First, I check at Family Tree DNA for new matches, haplogroups and the presence of my family lines in surname projects.
  • Then it’s off to Ancestry to see if I have any new green leaf DNA or record hints, to add or update the circle for this particular ancestor, and to see if any of my matches would be a candidate for either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, assuming they reply to messages and agree to test at Family Tree DNA. I keep a separate spreadsheet of each person that I’ve identified as a match with an identified ancestor. I know it’s extra work, but that spreadsheet is invaluable for determining if the ancestor is autosomal proven and if the match is a candidate for Y or mtDNA testing.
  • Then I get another cup of coffee and check at MyHeritage for new record matches for that ancestor, along with new DNA SmartMatches.
  • GedMatch and 23andMe aren’t as easy to check for matches specific to ancestors, but I still check both places to see if I can find matches that I can identify as descending from that ancestor.
  • While I’m at it, sometimes I run over to FamilySearch to see if there’s anything new over there, although they don’t deal with DNA. They do, however, have many traditional genealogical records. I may add another column to track if I’m waiting for something specific to be digitized – like court minutes, for example. FamilySearch has been on a digitization binge!
  • As I go along, I add any new discovery to my genealogy software and my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet as well.
  • Last, I paint new segment information from Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch or 23andMe at DNAPainter. My three articles about how I use DNAPainter are here, here and here.

I just love ancestor birthdays.

Any day that I get to find something new is a wonderful day indeed – fleshing out the lives, history and DNA of my ancestors. With this many places to look, there’s seldom a day that goes by that I don’t discover at least something in my ancestor scavenger hunt!

Ancestor birthday presents for me😊

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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:

Family Tree DNA – Summer Sale and Project Changes (Thank Goodness)

In late breaking news, this morning two things happened at Family Tree DNA:

  • The Summer Sale has started with great prices
  • The project defaults are now “Limited Access” when new people join projects

Group Project Changes

I am jumping for joy!!!

Thank you Family Tree DNA for listening to your customers and project administrators!

The project restrictions imposed due to GDPR privacy concerns were strangling administrators’ ability to work with project members and their results. Post-GDPR, when people joined projects, the administrators couldn’t even see who new members matched or their trees, making grouping impossible. I understand the concept behind this restriction, but it also made it impossible, from a project administrator’s position, to work with members.

Furthermore, new administrators will now be granted Limited Access to group participants information as well.

There are still post-GDPR challenges that remain, but for now, this is a HUGE step forward.

The Summer Sale

Everything is on sale – literally everything. New purchases and upgrades too.

Product bundles, already discounted, are now discounted even further during the sale.

The sale ends on August 31st. Now is a great time to buy those kits for your relatives and take them along to family reunions.

Click here to order now!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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:

Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?

All genealogists should be asking this question for every single relationship between people in their trees – or at least for every person that they claim as an ancestor. The answer differs a bit when you introduce DNA into the equation, so let’s discuss this topic.

It’s easier to begin by telling you what proof IS NOT, rather than what proof is.

What is Proof, Anyway?

First of all, what exactly do we mean by proof? Proof means proof of a relationship, which has to be proven before you can prove a specific ancestor is yours. It’s a two-step process.

If you’re asking whether those two things are one and the same, the answer is no, they are not. Let me give you a quick example.

You can have proof that you descend from the family of a specific couple, but you may not know which child of that couple you descend from. In one case, my ancestor is listed as an heir, being a grandchild, but the suit doesn’t say which of the man’s children is the parent of my ancestor. So frustrating!

Conversely, you may know that you descend from a specific ancestor, but not which of his multiple wives you descend from.

You may know that your ancestor descends from one of multiple sons of a particular man, but not know which son.

Therefore, proof of a relationship is not necessarily proof that a particular person is your ancestor.

Not Proof of an Ancestor

OK, so what’s NOT proof? Here are a dozen of the most common items – and there are surely more!

  1. Proof is not a DNA match alone. You can match as a result of ancestors on any number of lines, known or unknown.
  2. Proof is not an oral history, no matter how much you want to believe it or who said it. Oral history is a good starting point, not an end point.
  3. Proof is not, not, 1000 times NOT someone else’s tree. A tree should be considered a hint, nothing more.
  4. Proof is not a book without corresponding evidence that can be independently corroborated. Being in print does not make it so, people make mistakes and new information surfaces.
  5. Proof is not a man by the name of Jr., meaning that he is the son of a man by the same name with the suffix of Sr. Sr. often means older and Jr. means younger, but not necessarily related. Yes, this has bitten me.
  6. Proof of a father/son relationship is not two men with the same name in the same location.
  7. Proof is not a Y DNA match, at least not without additional information or evidence, although it’s a great hint!
  8. Proof is not an autosomal DNA match, unless it is an extremely close match and even then you (probably) need additional information. For example, if you have a half-sibling match, you need additional information to determine which parent’s side.
  9. Proof is not an Ancestry Circle, at least not without additional information.
  10. Proof is not similar or even identical ethnicity, or lack thereof.
  11. Proof is not a “DNA Proven” icon, anyplace.
  12. Proof is not a will or other document, at least not alone, and not without evidence that a person by the same name as the child is the RIGHT person.

I learned many of these NOTS or KNOTS as I prefer to call them, because that’s what they tie me in, by ugly experience. I began genealogy before there were proof standards, let alone the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard). DNA adds yet another dimension to existing paper standards and is an important aspect of the requirement for a “reasonably exhaustive search.” In fact, there is no reason NOT to include DNA and I would suggest that any genealogical search is not complete without including genetic evidence.

Proof Is a Two-Way Street

Using traditional genealogy, genealogists must be able to prove not only that an ancestor had a child by a specific name, but that the person you believe is the child, is indeed the child of that ancestor.

Let me use an example of Daniel, the son of one Philip Jacob Miller in Washington County, Maryland in 1783.

The tax list shows Philip J. Miller, 15 entries from the bottom of the page, shown below. It also shows “Daniel Miller of Philip” 6 entries from the bottom, and it’s our lucky day because the tax list says that Daniel is Philip’s son.

But wait, there’s another Daniel, the bottom entry. If you were to look on the next page, you would also notice that there’s a Philip Miller who does not own any land.

What we have here is:

  • Philip J. Miller, with land
  • Daniel, son of Philip, no land
  • Daniel, no father listed, land
  • Philip, no land

This just got complex. We need to know which Philip is Daniel’s father and which Daniel is which Philip’s son.

Establishing proof requires more than this one resource.

The great news about this tax list is that it tells us how much land Philip J. Miller owned, and utilizing other resources such as deeds and surveys, we can establish which Philip J. Miller owned this land, and that his name was indeed Philip Jacob Miller. This is important because not only is there another Philip, who, by the way, is NOT the son of Philip Jacob Miller (knot #6 above), there is also another Jacob Miller, who is NOT Philip Jacob Miller and who isn’t even related to him on the Miller line, according to the Y DNA of both men’s descendants.

How would we prove that Philip Jacob Miller is the father of Daniel Miller? We’d have to follow both men backward and forward in time, together. We have great clues – land ownership or lack thereof.

In this case, Philip Jacob Miller eventually sells his land. Philip Jacob Miller also has a Bible, which is how we know that there is no son named Philip. Philip Jacob’s son, Daniel leaves with his brother David, also on this tax list, travels to another location before the family is reunited after moving to Kentucky years later, where Philip Jacob Miller dies with a will. All of his heirs sign property deeds during probate, including heirs back in Frederick and Washington County, Maryland. There is enough evidence from multiple sources to tie these various family members from multiple locations conclusively together, providing two way proof.

We must be able to prove that not only did Philip Jacob Miller have a son Daniel, but that a specific Daniel is the son of that particular Philip Jacob Miller. Then, we must repeat that exact step every generation to the present to prove that Philip Jacob Miller is our ancestor.

In other words, we have a chain of progressive evidence that taken together provides conclusive proof that these two men are BELIEVED to be related. What? Believed? Don’t we have proof now?

I say believed, because we still have issues like unknown parentage, by whatever term you wish to call it, NPE (nonpaternal event, nonparental event,) or MP (misattributed parentage,) MPE (misattributed paternal or parental event) or either traditional or undocumented adoptions. Some NPEs weren’t unknown at the time and are results of situations like a child taking a step-parent’s surname – but generations later – having been forgotten or undocumented for descendants, the result is the same. They aren’t related biologically in the way we think they are.

The Big Maybe

At this point, we believe we have the Philips, Philip Jacobs and Daniels sorted correctly relative to my specific line. We know, according to documentation, that Daniel is the son of Philip Jacob, but what if MY ancestor Daniel ISN’T the son of Philip Jacob Miller?

  • What if MY ancestor Daniel just happens to have the name Daniel Miller and lives in the same geography as Philip Jacob Miller, or his actual son Daniel, and I’ve gotten them confused?
  • What if MY ancestor Daniel Miller isn’t actually my ancestor after all, for any number of reasons that happened between when he lived and died (1755-1822) and my birth.

If you think I’m being facetious about this, I’m not. Not long after I wrote the article about my ancestor Daniel Miller, we discovered another Daniel Miller, living in the same location, also descended from the same family as evidenced by BOTH Y and autosomal DNA. In fact, there were 12 Daniel Millers I had to sort through in addition to the second Daniel on the 1783 tax list. Yes, apparently Daniel was a very popular name in the Miller family and yes, there were several male sons of immigrant Johann Michael Muller/Miller who procreated quite successfully.

Enter DNA

If DNA evidence wasn’t already a factor in this equation, it now must come into play.

In order to prove that Philip Jacob Miller is my ancestor, I must prove that I’m actually related to him. Of course, the methodology to do that can be approached in multiple ways – and sometimes MUST be approached using different tools.

Let’s use an example that actually occurred in another line. Two males, Thomas and Marcus Younger, were found together in Halifax County, Virginia, right after the Revolutionary War. They both had moved from Essex County, and they consistently were involved in each other’s lives as long as they both lived. They lived just a couple miles apart, witnessed documents for each other, and until DNA testing it was believed that Marcus was the younger brother of Thomas.

We know that Marcus was not Thomas’s son, because he was not in Thomas’s will, but Marcus and his son John both witnessed Thomas’s will. In that time and place, a family member did not witness a will unless it was a will hastily constructed as a person was dying. Thomas wrote his will 2 years before it was probated.

However, with the advent of DNA testing, we learned that the two men’s descendants did not carry the same Y DNA – not even the same haplogroup – so they do not share a common paternal ancestor.

Needless to say, this really threw a monkey wrench into our neat and tidy family story.

Later, the will of Thomas’s father, Alexander, was discovered, in which Marcus was not listed (not to mention that Alexander died before Marcus was born,) and, Thomas became the guardian of his three sisters.

Eventually, via autosomal DNA, we proved that indeed, Marcus’s descendants are related to Thomas’s descendants as well as other descendants of Thomas’s parents. We have a proven relationship, but not a specifically proven ancestor. In other words, we know that Marcus is related to both Thomas and Alexander, we just don’t know exactly how.

Unfortunately, Marcus only had one son, so we can’t confirm Marcus’s Y DNA through a second line. We also have some wives missing from the equation, so there is a possibility that either Marcus’s wife, or his unknown biological father’s family was otherwise related to Alexander’s line.

So, here’s the bottom line – we believe, based on various pieces of compelling but not conclusive evidence that Marcus is the illegitimate child of one of Thomas’s unmarried sisters, who died, which is why Marcus is clearly close to Thomas, shares the same surname, but not the Y DNA. In fact, it’s likely that Marcus was raised in Thomas’s household.

  • It’s entirely possible that if I incorrectly listed Thomas as Marcus’s father on Ancestry, as many have, that I would be placed in a Thomas circle, because Ancestry forms circles if your autosomal DNA matches and you show a common ancestor in your trees. This is why inclusion in a circle doesn’t genetically confirm an ancestor without additional information. It confirms a genetic relationship, but not how a person is related.
  • It’s entirely possible that even though Marcus’s Y DNA doesn’t match the proven Y DNA of Thomas, that Marcus is still closely related to Thomas – such as Marcus’s uncle. That’s why Marcus’s descendants match both Thomas’s and Alexander’s descendants through autosomal testing. However, without Y DNA testing, we would never know that they don’t share a paternal line.
  • It’s entirely possible that if Marcus was supposed, on paper, to be Thomas’s child, but was fathered by another man, such as his wife’s first husband, I would still be in the circle attributed to both Thomas and his wife, by virtue of the fact that I match DNA of Thomas’s descendants through Thomas’s wife. This is your classic step-father situation.

Paper is Not Proof

As genealogists, we became so used to paper documentation constituting proof that it’s a blow when that paper proves to be irrelevant, especially when we’ve hung our genealogical hat on that “proof” for years, sometimes decades.

The perfect example is an adoption. Today, most adoptions are through a court of law, but in the past, a functional adoption happened when someone, for whatever reason, took another child to raise.

The history of that “adoption” although not secret when it happened, became lost in time, and the child is believed to be the child of the couple who raised them. The adoption can actually be a step-parent situation, and the child may carry the step-father’s surname but his own father’s Y DNA, or it can be a situation where a relative or unrelated couple raised the child for some unknown reason.

Today, all paper genealogy needs to be corroborated by DNA evidence.

DNA evidence can be some combination of:

  • Y DNA
  • Autosomal DNA
  • Mitochondrial DNA

How Much Proof is Enough?

One of my favorite saying is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

People often ask:

  1. If they match someone autosomally who shares the same ancestor, do they really need to prove that line through Y or mitochondrial DNA?
  2. Do they really need to match multiple people?
  3. Do they really need to compare segments?

The answers to these is a resounding, “it depends.”

It depends on the circumstances, the length of time back to the common ancestor, and how comfortable you are not knowing.

Relative to question 1 about autosomal plus Y DNA, think about Marcus Younger.  Without the Y DNA, we would have no idea that his descendant’s Y DNA didn’t match the Thomas Younger line. Suddenly, Marcus not being included in either Thomas nor Alexander’s will makes sense.

Relative to question 2 about matching multiple people, the first cousin we tested to determine whether it was me or my brother that was not the child of our father turned out to have different Y DNA than expected. Thank goodness we tested multiple people, including autosomal when it became available.

Relative to question 3 about comparing segments, every matching segment has its own unique history. I’ve encountered several situations where I match someone on one segment from one ancestor, and another segment from an entirely different line. The only way to determine this is by comparing and triangulating individual segments.

I’ve been bitten so many times by thinking I knew something that turned out to be incorrect that I want every single proof point that I can obtain to eliminate the possibility of error – especially multiple kinds of DNA proof. There are some things that ONLY DNA can reveal.

I want:

  • Traditional documentary evidence for every generation to establish the actual paper trail that proves that the child descends from the proper parents.
  • Y DNA to prove the son is the son of the father and to learn about the deeper family history. For example, my Lentz line descends from the Yamnaya culture, something I would never have known without the Big Y DNA test.
  • Mitochondrial DNA to prove that the mother is the actual mother of the child, if possible, not an unknown earlier or later wife, and to learn about the deeper family history. Elizabeth Mehlheimer’s mitochondrial DNA is Scandinavian – before her ancestors are found in Germany.
  • Autosomal DNA to prove that the paper lineage connecting me to the ancestor is correct and the line is not disrupted by a previously unknown adoption of some description.

I attempt to gather the Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of every ancestor in my direct line if possible and confirm using autosomal DNA.

Yes, my personal proof standard is tough, but I suggest that you at least ask these questions when you evaluate documentation or see someone claim that they are “DNA proven” to an ancestor. What, exactly, does that mean and what do they believe constitutes proof? Do they have that proof, and are they willing to share it with you?

Genealogical Proofs Table

The example table below is designed to be used to document the sources of proof that the individual listed under the name column is in fact the child of the father and mother shown. Proofs may vary and could be personal knowledge (someone you knew within your lifetime), a Bible, a will, a deed, an obituary, death certificate, a church baptismal document, a pension application, census records, etc. DNA confirmation is needed in addition to paper documentation. The two types of proof go hand in hand.  

Name Birth Death Spouse Father Mother Proofs – Sources DNA Confirmed
William Sterling Estes Oct. 1, 1902, Claiborne Co., TN Aug. 27, 1963, Jay Co., IN Barbara Ferverda William George Estes 1873-1971 Ollie Bolton 1874-1955 Personal knowledge – William is my father and William George is my grandfather. Autosomal triangulated to multiple Estes cousins
William George Estes March 30, 1873, Claiborne Co., TN Nov. 29, 1971, Harlan Co., KY 1. Ollie Bolton

2.  Joyce Hatfield

3. Crocia Brewer

Lazarus Estes 1845-1918 Elizabeth Vannoy 1846-1918 1.  Will of Lazarus Estes Claiborne Co., Tn. Will Book 8, page 42

2.  Deed where Lazarus states William George is his son.  Claiborne Co., Deed Book M2, page 371.

3. My father’s personal knowledge and birth certificate

Autosomal triangulated to multiple descendants of both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy.
Lazarus Estes May 1845, Claiborne Co., TN 1916-1918, Claiborne Co., TN Elizabeth Vannoy John Y. Estes 1818-1895 Rutha Dodson 1820-1903 1. Personal knowledge of George Estes, now decd

2.  Deed here John Y. deeds all his possessions to his eldest son, Lazarus when he goes to Texas, Claiborne Co., Deed book B1, page 37.

Y DNA confirmed to haplotype of Abraham Estes, autosomal triangulated to descendants of Lazarus and Elizabeth and upstream ancestors through multiple matches on both sides.
John Y. Estes December 29, 1818, Halifax Co., VA Sept. 19, 1895, Montague Co., TX Rutha Dodson John R. Estes 1785/88-1885 Nancy Ann Moore c 1785-1860/1870 1. Family visits of his children in Tennessee

2. Census records, 1850, 1860, Claiborne Co., Tn. shows families in same household

Y DNA confirmed through multiple sons. Autosomal triangulates to several descendants through multiple lines of other children.
John R. Estes 1785-1788, Halifax Co. VA May 1885, Claiborne Co., TN Nancy Ann Moore George Estes 1763-1869 Mary Younger bef 1775-1820/1830 1. Halifax County 1812 personal property tax list where John R. Estes is listed as the son of George Estes and lives next to him.  Only 1 George in the county. Later chancery suit lists John R.’s wife’s name and location in Tennessee Y DNA confirmed through multiple lines.  Autosomal confirmed triangulation of multiple lines of his children and his ancestors on both sides.

If you’d like to read more about the difference between evidence and proof, and how to get from evidence to proof, check out this article, What is proof of family history? by my cousin, retired attorney, Robin Rankin Willis.

Proof is a Pain!

So now that we’ve discussed what proof is not, and what types of records constitute proof, you may be thinking to yourself that proof is a pain in the behind. Indeed, it is, but without sufficient proof, you may literally be doing someone else’s genealogy or the genealogy of an ancestor that’s not your own. Trust me, that’s infinitely more painful.

I hate sawing branches off of my own tree. If I have to do it, the sooner I make the discovery and get it over with, the better.

Been there, done that, and really, I don’t want the t-shirt.

There is never such a thing as “too much” proof, but there is certainly too little. We are fortunate to live in a time when not only are historical records available, but the record passed by our ancestors inside our very cells tells their story. Use every tool and every type of DNA at your disposal! Otherwise, you get the t-shirt:)

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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:

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.

Sharing

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.

Subscribe

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:

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.

Why?

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.

_____________________________________________________________________

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:

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…

Waiting….

Waiting…

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.

Huh?

What?

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!