Calling HOGWASH on 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline

Every now and then, I’m aghast when I look at a product and wonder how the devil it ever escaped the lab.  Is there no quality control?  And who thought it was a good idea, anyway, and why?

23andMe’s new Ancestry Timeline, released last week, is one of those.

Not only is it incorrect, but it deceives people into believing something that isn’t true.

Let’s take a look.

23andme-timeline

My Ancestry Timeline at 23andMe is shown above. I notice that my Middle Eastern/North African is missing from the timeline.  It’s less than 1%, but then so is my Native American which is included.

You can see in the text underneath the timeline that 23andMe says this timeline reflects how long ago my MOST RECENT ancestor in that geographic location was born.

Let’s compare this with reality.  You may recall that I recently wrote the article, Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages. In that article, I utilized my known and proven genealogy for my 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents to calculate what my ethnicity results should look like.  I’m referring to the same chart of my 64 ancestors for this exercise as well, since I’ve already done a great deal of the work.  Let’s see how reality stacks up to the 23andMe timeline.

On the chart below, I’ve shown the geographic category, the dates from the 23andMe timeline reflecting my most recent ancestor’s birth, my most recent ancestor from that location, and the accuracy of the 23andMe estimate.

Category 23andMe Dates My Most Recent Ancestor Birth 23andMe Accuracy
British and Irish 1900-1930 1759 – Henry Bolton Utter hogwash
French and German 1840-1900 1854 – Hiram Ferverda Close
Scandinavian 1750-1840 No ancestor More hogwash
Eastern European 1720-1810 No ancestor Hogwash
Italian 1690-1810 No ancestor Hogwash
Native American 1690-1790 Uncertain, mother’s side – early 1600s, father’s side – unknown Not verifiable, reasonable

The part of this equation that I find extremely upsetting is the sheer magnitude of how misleading the 23andMe timeline is.  It’s not just wrong, it’s horribly deceptive – massively inaccurate by any measure possible.

Here’s what the 23andMe white paper says about this new tool:

“Admixture date estimator is a 23andMe feature that enables customers to find out, for each of the ancestries they carry, when they may have had an ancestor in their genealogy who was likely to be a non-admixed representative of that population.”

I’m a seasoned genealogist, so I know unquestionably that my 23andMe Timeline is not only wrong, it’s entirely hogwash in 4 of 6 categories. A 5th category is close, and the 6th is reasonable but not verifiable.

The disparity of the British/Irish dates between 1759 when Henry Bolton was born in London and 1900-1930 is evident without discussion.  I do have a lot of British Isles ancestry, but it’s a result of many ancestors, not one and no one born there even remotely recently, let alone within the past generation. For me, someone born between 1900-1930 would be a parent.

Looking back at the Calculating Ethnicity Percentages article, you’ll note that I don’t have any Scandinavian ancestors in any known generation.  The 8% that 23andMe estimates, if accurate, equates to between a great-grandparent at 12.5% and a great-great-grandparent at 6.25%.  If the Scandinavian was one person, they would have been born in that timeframe (1750-1840) – but there was no one person.  The Scandinavian has to be very ancestral, meaning ancient Vikings or Normans or found in the Dutch population which is often found to be “Scandinavian.”  Regardless, there are no Scandinavian ancestors in my pedigree which reaches back well before 1750-1840.  Neither are there any Eastern European or Italian ancestors. None. Nada. Zip.

Perplexingly, it’s that unverifiable category, Native American, that so many people are desperately researching and scavenge for any possible clue.  There is no way to determine whether that category is right or wrong, so they will assume that it is accurate.  However, judging from the track record of the other categories – it’s more likely to be incorrect than correct.  Resorting to history alone, we know that the first European settlers arrived in North America in the early 1600s and my Native heritage is small, based on both my genealogy and my DNA, so a range of 1690-1790 would be a “good guess” with no genetic information at all.  My proven Native ancestors were born in the early/mid 1600s, but I have not successfully identified all of my Native ancestors, in particular the one(s) from my father’s side and when they were fully Native.

For a beginner or someone with unknown parentage, this timeline is horribly, horribly midleading and will cause novices to make massively incorrect assumptions. A British or Irish ancestor born between 1900-1930? Seriously?  This timeline combined with the 39.8% British/Irish suggests a parent.  Think about what an adoptee would take away from this timeline – and how their research could be derailed as a result.  Without parents available to DNA test, this erroneous information could make someone question their parentage.

Here’s an example of just how misleading this information can be.

In my case, I know beyond a doubt that my mother was primarily descended from German and Dutch recent immigrants with some French and Native American (Acadian) thrown in for good measure.  So, based on this timeline stating that a British/Irish ancestor was born in the British Isles between 1900 and 1930, combined with my ethnicity results of 39.8% British and Irish, OH MY GOD, my father is not who I thought, but is some British/Irish man.  MOTHER………………

All I can say is thank goodness I’ve done the DNA testing that I have and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my father is my biological father and not some British man, despite what this timeline suggests.  If I had no other evidence – I certainly would believe that my father was a British man, and I’d be GRATEFUL for this (highly erroneous) information.

On the flip side, many people will utilize this tool to “confirm” suspicions about genealogy.  I’ve already seen this happening on various lists.  With 4 of 6 categories being entirely, provably, incorrect, not to mention that the first category reflecting my largest percentage of ethnicity is so dramatically wrong, one can have absolutely no confidence in any of the other categories. I can’t and neither can anyone else.

I’m not alone either.  This, from another long-time genealogist: “I am dumbstruck.  It couldn’t be further from the truth for me.  I am very colonial on both sides.  Most recent immigrant ancestor was 1797.”  And from another: “No.  Just no.  Not accurate.”

So let me say this again.

You. Can. Have. No. Confidence.

If you already know your genealogy, then you don’t need this tool.  If you don’t know your genealogy, then you’re going to be misled by this tool.

It’s very clear that anyone with many ancestors that came from a particular population, but that haven’t been born in that location in many generations will have an incorrect timeline.  This would include just about everyone with colonial American roots.  The amount of a particular ethnicity does NOT equate to aggregating that ethnicity into a single ancestor and equating the amount of ethnicity to a recent birth in that location.  This logic is predicated on a whole lot of assumptions stacked on top of each other, like a house of cards. And we all know about assume.

23andMe, you should be ashamed of yourself for perpetrating genetic hogwash on your unsuspecting, believing and often vulnerable customers.  Climb down out of your ivory tower, buy a vowel and get a clue.  Statistics in an academic environment and reality sometimes just don’t mesh – and you, 23andMe, have the wherewithal and the customer base to discern the difference. You are supposed to be a science company.  You have no excuse.

I understand the desire to provide new tools to customers, but inaccurate simplicity is never a priority over realism.

I hope 23andMe will have the decency to remove this new deceptive and misleading “feature” that should never have made it past “proof of concept” in the first place.

thumbs-down

My Son in Vietnam – The Story of Bob and Nahn

Have you ever seen a “birth” announcement for a 48 year old child’s arrival? No? Well, you have now.

nhan-birth

Meet Nahn, son of Bob Thedford. You see, Bob never knew that Nahn existed, and Nahn didn’t know how to find his father.

For 48 years, Nahn dreamed and Bob had no idea…and then one day…that all changed, thanks to a DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

I became peripherally involved in Bob and Nahn’s story in 2013 when Bob’s wife, Louise, contacted me, in shock.

Bob, Nahn and Louise’s story is a bittersweet mix of sorrow and joy. I want to let Louise tell the story. After Nahn’s discovery, Louise created a document chronicling what happened so she didn’t have to write the same information over and over again to various people who wanted to know “what happened.”

Bob’s DNA Story

I want to relate a DNA story that happen in our family that added an unexpected branch to our family tree.

I took my first mtDNA test with Family Tree DNA in early 2006 and received my mitochondrial results in June 2006. In July 2010, I received results from a Family Finder DNA test. Then in March of 2012, I received results mt Full Sequence test.

When I was ordering my mt Full Sequence upgrade, I mentioned to my husband what I was doing. He said, “I want to take a DNA test. Can you order me a kit?”  So I placed an order for him for a Family Finder kit. We both received our results in March of 2012. At that time we had no idea of the life changing experience that was in store for us.

A few months later I ordered a kit for my son, our daughter and Bob’s mother. It was worked out between all of us that I would be the administrator of all kits. Checking on matches, following up on e-mails, contacting matchings. Anything that needed to be done to connect with distant cousins.

In September of 2013 we discovered that my husband had a Skin Cancer. It was caught in the early stages and we had hope that with proper treatment he could be cured.

Toward the end of September 2013, I went on-line to check all the FTDNA profiles for new matches. I have to login into each profile one at a time.

I would always check my profile first. On this night I has a few new matches but nothing that really caught my eye at the time.

Next I logged into my husband’s profile. He had a new match near the top of his match list just under our daughter and his mother.  I sat there and stared at the screen for a couple of minutes trying to comprehend what I was seeing.

The name on the screen was one I had never heard in the past. But the shared centiMorgans between my husband and this person was in the parent / child relationship range.

Our daughter shared 3,380 centiMorgans with her father. And this person shared 3,384 centiMorgans with my husband. I kept staring at the screen and the thought that was running through my head, the lab has made a mistake!!

nhan-match

I decided to contact Roberta Estes who writes a DNA Blog.  I explained to Roberta my findings. I said, “I think I already know the answer, but could there be a mistake by FTDNA in interpreting Vo Hun Nhan’s results?”

Her reply to me was, “I have never seen the lab make a mistake of the kind it would take for this to be in error.  Having said that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but the entire process is automated via the tag on the vials.  I can’t even imagine how it would happen.”

I had checked our daughter and my mother-in-law’s profile, finding the same name with large amounts of matching centiMorgans. I began to think that the lab had not made a mistake.

After lot of investigation and e-mails to several people, we confirmed that Vo Huu Nhan is my husband’s 48 year old biological son. Without the DNA test we would never know of his existence. My husband had no idea that he had a son.

On October, 15, 2013, Bob reached out to Nahn’s contact, asking how to contact Nahn. Bob served in the Vietnam War from March 1968 to March 1969. Nhan was born in August 1969.

After my husband returned to the States he had 8 months left on his tour of duty. He was sent to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama to finish out his tour. Huntsville is my home and that is where we first came to know each other.

Bob’s tour of duty was over in December 1969 and he returned back home to Fort Worth, Texas. It was not long after he returned back to Texas, that me and my 5 year old son moved to Fort Worth.

Four days after Bob reached out to Nahn’s contact, we received this letter about what Nahn said when he was told that they had found his father.

“I just received a message from Nhan’s best friend (Son Tran who introduced Nhan to me and asked me to give Nhan a chance to have a DNA test) that Nhan was very happy about the news… He said that “he would not be happier if someone gave him a million dollar than give him a father!!”

The results of the DNA test were bittersweet. All of the family was overly excited to have found Nhan but were sad to find out that for all these years we did not know of his existence. Nhan lives in South Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, he doesn’t speak English and does not own a computer.

All Nhan had been told about his father was that he was an American G.I. and his name was Bob. That was after he came home crying and asking his grandmother “Why the kid’s made fun of him and why did he look different compared to everyone else.” He looks more like Bob’s father than looks like Bob. Another thing we couldn’t deny after seeing a picture of him.

How Nhan came to know about the DNA test was through a childhood friend that lives in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). His friend Dang Van Son had heard that DNA kits were being brought to Saigon and that they were looking for “Children Left Behind” to come and take the test.

nhan-with-friend

Nahn and his friend, Son, in Vietnam. Son arranged for Nahn’s DNA test.

Son contacted Nhan and told him he should come and take the test. They only had 80 test kits to go around. I don’t know how many came for the test but Nhan was able to be tested.

After we confirmed that all was legit. Son began to e-mail us and send pictures of Nhan and his family as well as send messages from Nhan.  Nhan has 5 children, 1 son and 4 daughters.

nhan-with-children

Nahn has 3 grand-children by two daughters. This added 9 new family members to my Family Tree. Nhan has been married twice. One marriage ended in divorce and his second wife died of liver cancer about 2008.

Nhan had several jobs in Vietnam so I was told by his friend Son. Porter in market, rescue diver, worked on a floating market boat.

nhan-working

On Christmas morning of 2013 we received a call from Vietnam. It was Nhan calling to wish us a Merry Christmas. His friend Son’s daughter translated. Then we received an e-mail picture of the family. We were able to Skype with him one time before my husband passed away.

In 2014, Louise and Bob discovered how difficult Nahn’s life had been. Nahn’s friend, Son, sent them the following:

nhan-letter-2

You can learn about the lives of mixed American and Vietnamese children in this YouTube video, along with information about Trista Goldberg who founded Operation Reunite and partnered with Family Tree DNA to reunite these families.

Louise continues:

On April 17, 2015 before Bob passed away a few days later on April 26, the Washington Post published an article “Legacies of War” Forty years after the fall of Saigon, soldiers’ children are still left behind. They profiled 5 children still looking for their father’s. The lead story was about my husband and Nhan.

There is a picture in the article where they are sitting in front of the computer. The reporter is Skyping with our daughter Amanda for the story. That is Amanda on the screen. The second story is about Nhan’s childhood friend Dang Van Son that has been such a help to us and Nhan with keeping us in touch with each other.

nhan-skyping

Amanda and Nahn Skyping.

On the day Bob passed away, our local paper, the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s front page story was the story about my husband and Nhan from the Washington Post, Legacies of war connect Vietnam, Tarrant County.

It was so surreal to be walking to the coffee shop and pass all the newspaper’s boxes and see Bob and Nhan’s picture in the window of the boxes. Bob was in hospice at the hospital and we knew it was a matter of time, and shortly he would not be with us anymore.

By the time these articles were published my husband was to the point of non-communication. The Washington Post had wanted to Skype with me and Bob but it was not possible. Bob passed away on Sunday night, April 26, 2015.

I knew that Bob was critically ill, then Louise informed me that Bob had passed away. I was just heartsick that Bob and Nhan never had the opportunity to meet in person. It seemed that a dream for both Bob and Nahn, so close, finally within reach, had just slipped away. I thought, at that time, that this was the end of the story, and certainly not the ending any of us wanted – but it wasn’t the end after all.

Twenty-one months later, I heard from Louise again, this time with very unexpected news.

A Visa for Nahn

Again, from Louise:

In October of 2015 we received an e-mail from Trista Goldburg the person with “Operation Reunite” who bought kits from Family Tree DNA and took them to Saigon for testing.

She had received an e-mail from Franc Shelton, Country Fraud Prevention Coordinator, Mission Vietnam FPU, U.S. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Dear Trista,

I hope you are well.  I would like to  encourage you to reach out to the family of Robert Thedford and urge the daughter of Mr. Thedford to consider undergoing another DNA collection, and to pay for a collection here at the consulate for Mr. Vo, at one of the approved labs from the list I sent you.

We just had a case in which we were able to close out because the parties involved proceeded in the manner which I discussed with you—in that case, the American father is practically indigent, but fortunately there were Viet Khieu benefactors in California who generously paid for the testing.  I moved that case to the front of the line and expedited all our procedures-we collected the alleged son’s sample here on 30 September and had the results back 2 weeks later (99.99%).  I hand-carried the results to the immigrant visa unit and strongly encouraged them to expedite their own processes (I have no control over that however).

Amanda was going to take a second test and we would pay for the test. The lab closest on the AABB Accredited Relationship (DNA) Testing Facilities list was, University of North Texas, Fort Worth, Texas.

When Amanda contacted them she was told they no longer did DNA testing. She replied back to Trista and let her know what she found. There were a few more letters exchanged. Amanda never did take a second test. We did not hear anything more for several months until July of this year when we received and e-mail from Nhan with a copy of his and his daughters Immigration Visa’s.

Nahn’s Letters

I have to share with you two letters Nhan sent to me. I feel sure his friend Son wrote the letter as Nhan dictated them. They are so sweet.

DEAR  MU USA  MUM,

ALLOW  ME  TO CALL    YOU  AS  MY USA  MUM.

IAM HAPPY THAT I HAVE  TWO  MUM  IN THE WORLD

  1. USA  MUM,
  2. VIETNAMSE MUM,

HAVE  GOOD MORNING MY USA MUM.

MAY GOD BLESS US

MY WARMEST REGARDS  TO YOU AND THE FAMILY,

STEP SON OF  LOVED HUSBAND  OF YOU.

VO HUU  NHAN.

1/JULY 2016 DEAR  MY USA MOTHER,

And another letter.

I DO  THANK  TO EVERY-ONE  WHO HELPED  ME  IN DNA  TESTING RESULLT,  AND BASING ON DNA TEST RESULT  I  KNOW  YOUR HUSBAND  IS  MY  BIOLOGCAL FATHER,

  DEAR  MY USA  MOTHER WITH YOUR  HELP  TODAY  I   WILL  OWN  FOR EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE  TO HELP ME,

I WILL  WORK  TO BE COME  AN US CITIZEN AS SOON AS I CAN,

I ALWAYS  AM  PROUD  OF MY US FATHER

I PRAY FOR HIM  DAILY   AND NOW HE HAS HIS LIFE  ON THE HEAVEN IT IS  THE BEST LIFE FOR HIS SOUL

AND I THINK HIS SOUL  ALWAYS  SHOW ME  THE WAY TO GO TO ——–

THANK   US MOTHER!

APPLICANT: VO HUU  NHAN

 11/JULY/2016

A Christmas Surprise

As these events unfolded, I was pulling for Louise and Bob, and rooting for Nahn, but without understanding the immigration process, there was little I could do to help. In fact, I didn’t think there was much anyone could do to help Nahn.

When Louise’s update e-mail arrived a few days after Christmas in 2016, it was with pictures – of Nahn – here – with her in the US. I was amazed, to put it mildly. A miracle had happened.

nhan-with-louise

Nahn and his American Mom, Louise

Not only that, but Nahn arrived with his mother and his youngest daughter – and not just to visit, but to live in the US permanently.

nhan-mother-daughter

Nahn, his Vietnamese mother and daughter in Texas, a few days after arrival, visiting Louise.

I asked Louise how Nahn’s arrival felt, for her and Amanda, given that Bob was gone and had so much wanted to meet Nahn. In a very real way, they were living Bob’s dream for him.

Yes it was a bittersweet reunion without Bob being here to enjoy it with us. Our daughter, Amanda, was excited about the meeting. She is my and Bob’s only child and now she has two half brothers.

nhan-with-amanda

Nahn and Amanda, half-siblings, meeting for the first time in Texas.  I love their smiles.  They look so happy!

Amanda has lived such a different life than Nhan. Nothing extravagant, her father has a hard-working police officer and worked a second part time job for 23 years to allow me to stay home with Amanda. Amanda earned her own way through college, but had so many more opportunities than Nahn. It’s so sad that Bob never knew Nahn existed.

Nhan has been able to prove he has an American father. Nhan, his youngest daughter, 12 year’s old, and his mother have been granted immigration visa’s. Nhan, his mother and daughter arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday night December 20th, 2016, thirty-six hours after leaving Vietnam.

I thought that Nahn and his family came for a visit, but that’s not the case, according to Louise.

My understanding is that Nhan, his mother and daughter plan to make Texas their new home. Currently they are living in Dallas, which is an hour or so from where I live. I am in contact with their Refugee Resettlement Case Worker at Refugee Services of Texas.

The case worker told me the night they arrived it was very cold, they came with one small bag of clothes and the clothes they had on. Clearly they weren’t prepared for winter. The next day, helping them settle in, she took them to a Walmart and said they walked in and their eyes got big and they said “WOW”!!!!!!!!!

Their case worker said her next goal is to help Nahn find a job. She will also help him learn how to ride a bus for transportation.

Nahn and his family have so many obstacles to overcome living here. The major one is the language barrier. None of them know any English except “Thank You, Hello” and “WOW” although they are already taking English classes.

nhan-with-daughter

Nahn and his daughter – their first Christmas in Texas, a few days after arrival.

In many ways, Nahn, his mother and daughter represent the journey of so many of our ancestors who arrived with the hope of making better lives for themselves and their children. They too arrived without knowing the language and with few, if any, belongings. The difference is that they often arrived in a group of other immigrants from the same country – so they had extended family and help – and others who could speak the language. Nahn and his small family arrived in a group of just 3.

I can only think how difficult the life they left must have been to warrant this kind of foray, really a leap of incredible faith, into an totally unknown world where an entirely uncertain future is more attractive than one’s current life. Nahn, his mother and daughter are incredibly brave. At some level, they must certainly be unspeakably frightened too.

I would be terrified, wondering how I would eat, how I would live, where I would live and would I be able to find work to provide for myself, my mother and a daughter with special needs.

One thing is for sure, Bob would be busting-the-buttons-off-his-shirt proud of Nhan.

How to Help

Knowing my blog readers, I know your next question will be how you can help Nahn and his family. I’m not sure what they will need from day to day, and what has already been taken care of. Please feel free to contact Nhan’s case worker, below, if you know of a job or want to help in another way.

Kate Beamon at Refugee Services of Texas
9696 Skillman, Suite 320 Dallas, TX 75243

Phone, (214) 821-4883
e-mail, kbeamon@rstx.org
http://www.rstx.org/about-us.html

Acknowledgements

A heartfelt thank you to Louise for sharing this very personal story of her family’s journey.

Louise conveys a special thank you from her family to Bennett Greenspan at Family Tree DNA.

GeneaBlog Awards and GeneAwards

geneablog-awards

Tamura Jones’ blog, Modern Software Experience, has been awarding GeneaBlog Awards since 2006. I’ve been fortunate enough in the past to garner a mention for individual articles, but this year, I hit the motherlode.

I’m honored that Tamura has recognized DNA-Explained as the Best All-Around Genetic Genealogy Blog in his 2016 GeneaBlog Awards, one of only four awards he gave this year.

I’m in fine company, mind you, in 2016 and earlier as well.

I found it very interesting to view the awards from 2008-2015, listed at the bottom of the 2016 awards. If you click on his Awards page, you can see Awards back through 2006 and several “Best and Worst” articles in his GeneAwards series as well, including for 2016.

geneawards

Guess who garnered the “worst new app” for 2016. If you guessed We’re Related, you’re right. Never let the truth interfere with a good story. I’m with you Tamura!

One of my favorite all-around blogs is ClueWagon, which Tamura has consistently mentioned over the years. One of the reasons I love ClueWagon is that Kerry makes me laugh. Every time. How can you not love ClueWagon? I mean, her tag line reads, “My name is Kerry. I like dead people.” Oh, and if you want to read about what Kerry has to say about why your new Ancestry DNA matches don’t have trees, click here.

Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist, was honored by Tamura back in 2008, in the genetic genealogy dark ages. Blaine’s blog was all of a year old in 2008! In fact, I think it was the only Genetic Genealogy blog back then. My how times have changed!

In 2015, Jim Bartlett’s wonderful blog, Segmentology, was awarded Best New Genetic Blog. Now don’t be confused by this, Jim isn’t new to genetic genealogy. In fact, I found him in the 2005 photos I took at the Family Tree DNA Genetic Genealogy Conference held in Washington DC at the National Geographic Society. It just took the rest of us all that time into nagging Jim into blogging.

Thanks Tamura for having the love for genealogy to do this every year and taking the time to create your realistic, thought-provoking articles and entertaining product reviews. Love them or hate them – you make all of them interesting – and hopefully save the rest of us a lot of frustration and heartache along the way!

New Year’s Genealogy Resolution – Hey, Look, ANCESTOR

heart

As genealogists, we love genealogy, right?

So we certainly don’t need to be encouraged to work on genealogy. Often, we have to be encouraged to stop working on genealogy – like to do bothersome things like eat and sleep.  Oh yes, and work.

However, sometimes, I find myself researching haphazardly without direction, and I don’t seem to ever get anything “done,” as if there is such a thing in genealogy.  This is the genealogical equivalent of “SQUIRREL” aka “ANCESTOR.”

For me, goals give me direction and clarity. If I wake up in the morning without a plan for the day, I’m much less likely to accomplish anything.

Once a year we make New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions give us the opportunity to reflect upon what is important to us and how we might go about achieving those things.

But more importantly, resolutions are promises to ourselves. And in my case, a commitment to my ancestors.

I only have one Genealogy Resolution this year.

I know, I know….how can there just be one?

Well, defining what is the MOST IMPORTANT lets me focus on that one goal, without distractions. Ok, with hopefully only a few distractions. Scratch that. I welcome distractions, but only if they are brick walls falling on other lines. See, I’m already distracted. Just thinking about brick walls falling does that to me.  Which is exactly why I need a focused plan.

resolution

I love the 52 Ancestors stories because they give my ancestors’ lives shape.  Birth, death, where they lived, what happened during their lifetimes, what we know or can figure out about each of them and weave into a story – including something about DNA for each of them. These articles bring these people, who are part of me, to life.  And because the articles are online, they can be updated as more information is discovered. How’s that for optimistic! Plus, the stories are available for posterity and they function as “cousin bait.”

Notice, I didn’t say 52 stories.  I want my goal, promise, resolution to be achievable. I don’t want to get discouraged and set myself up for “failure” if I miss a week for some reason. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is how we phrase the goal!

Let’s face it, sometimes life just gets in the way. Sometimes the research and gathering of information for a particular ancestor is particularly intense. Sometimes, I have to wait for information to arrive. Sometimes I need to find someone to DNA test, or order upgrades.  Sometimes we find out that we were, uh, cough…um, wrong…and we have to do some revising.  Ok, we have to saw the whole darned branch off the tree and start over. Dang!

I’d be very happy with 50 stories, truthfully!

This isn’t like that age old promise to exercise more, which, by the way, I’ve already abandoned this year – in favor of genealogy research. I mean, really, who has time for  sweating when there are ancestors who need to be found???

Plus, now that I’ve shared my resolution with you, you are all going to hold me accountable! Right?

Do you have a genealogy resolution for 2017?  Do share!

2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective

In past years, I’ve written a “best of” article about genetic genealogy happenings throughout the year. For several years, the genetic genealogy industry was relatively new, and there were lots of new tools being announced by the testing vendors and others as well.

This year is a bit different. I’ve noticed a leveling off – there have been very few announcements of new tools by vendors, with only a few exceptions.  I think genetic genealogy is maturing and has perhaps begun a new chapter.  Let’s take a look.

Vendors

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA leads the pack this year with their new Phased Family Matches which utilizes close relatives, up to third cousins, to assign your matches to either maternal or paternal buckets, or both if the individual is related on both sides of your tree.

Both Buckets

They are the first and remain the only vendor to offer this kind of feature.

Phased FF2

Phased Family Matching is extremely useful in terms of identifying which side of your family tree your matches are from. This tool, in addition to Family Tree DNA’s nine other autosomal tools helps identify common ancestors by showing you who is related to whom.

Family Tree DNA has also added other features such as a revamped tree with the ability to connect DNA results to family members.  DNA results connected to the tree is the foundation for the new Phased Family Matching.

The new Ancient Origins feature, released in November, was developed collaboratively with Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona Hammer Lab.

Ancient European Origins is based on the full genome sequencing work now being performed in the academic realm on ancient remains. These European results fall into three primary groups of categories based on age and culture.  Customer’s DNA is compared to the ancient remains to determine how much of the customer’s European DNA came from which group.  This exciting new feature allows us to understand more about our ancestors, long before the advent of surnames and paper or parchment records. Ancient DNA is redefining what we know, or thought we knew, about population migration.

2016-ancient-origins

You can view Dr. Hammer’s presentation given at the Family Tree DNA Conference in conjunction with the announcement of the new Ancient Origins feature here.

Family Tree DNA maintains its leadership position among the three primary vendors relative to Y DNA testing, mtDNA testing and autosomal tools.

Ancestry

In May of 2016, Ancestry changed the chip utilized by their tests, removing about 300,000 of their previous 682,000 SNPs and replacing them with medically optimized SNPs. The rather immediate effect was that due to the chip incompatibility, Ancestry V2 test files created on the new chip cannot be uploaded to Family Tree DNA, but they can be uploaded to GedMatch.  Family Tree DNA is working on a resolution to this problem.

I tested on the new Ancestry V2 chip, and while there is a difference in how much matching DNA I share with my matches as compared to the V1 chip, it’s not as pronounced as I expected. There is no need for people who tested on the earlier chip to retest.

Unfortunately, Ancestry has remained steadfast in their refusal to implement a chromosome browser, instead focusing on sales by advertising the ethnicity “self-discovery” aspect of DNA testing.

Ancestry does have the largest autosomal data base but many people tested only for ethnicity, don’t have trees or have private trees.  In my case, about half of my matches fall into that category.

Ancestry maintains its leadership position relative to DNA tree matching, known as a Shared Ancestor Hint, identifying common ancestors in the trees of people whose DNA matches.

ancestry-common-ancestors

23andMe

23andMe struggled for most of the year to meet a November 2015 deadline, which is now more than a year past, to transition its customers to the 23andMe “New Experience” which includes a new customer interface. I was finally transitioned in September 2016, and the experience has been very frustrating and extremely disappointing, and that’s putting it mildly. Some customers, specifically international customers, are still not transitioned, nor is it clear if or when they will be.

I tested on the 23andMe older V3 chip as well as their newer V4 chip. After my transition to the New Experience, I compared the results of the two tests. The new security rules incorporated into the New Experience meant that I was only able to view about 25% of my matches (400 of 1651(V3) matches or 1700 (V4) matches). 23andMe has, in essence, relegated themselves into the non-player status for genetic genealogy, except perhaps for adoptees who need to swim in every pool – but only then as a last place candidate. And those adoptees had better pray that if they have a close match, that match falls into the 25% of their matches that are useful.

In December, 23andMe began providing segment information for ethnicity segments, except the parental phasing portion does not function accurately, calling into question the overall accuracy of the 23andme ethnicity information. Ironically, up until now, while 23andMe slipped in every other area, they had been viewed at the best, meaning most accurate, in terms of ethnicity estimates.

New Kids on the Block

MyHeritage

In May of 2016, MyHeritage began encouraging people who have tested at other vendors to upload their results. I was initially very hesitant, because aside from GedMatch that has a plethora of genetic genealogy tools, I have seen no benefit to the participant to upload their DNA anyplace, other than Family Tree DNA (available for V3 23andMe and V1 Ancestry only).

Any serious genealogist is going to test at least at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, both, and upload to GedMatch. My Heritage was “just another upload site” with no tools, not even matching initially.

However, in September, MyHeritage implemented matching, although they have had a series of what I hope are “startup issues,” with numerous invalid matches, apparently resulting from their usage of imputation.

Imputation is when a vendor infers what they think your DNA will look like in regions where other vendors test, and your vendor doesn’t. The best example would be the 300,000 or so Ancestry locations that are unique to the Ancestry V2 chip. Imputation would result in a vendor “inferring” or imputing your results for these 300,000 locations based on…well, we don’t exactly know based on what. But we do know it cannot be accurate.  It’s not your DNA.

In the midst of this, in October, 23andMe announced on their forum that they had severed a previous business relationship with MyHeritage where 23andMe allowed customers to link to MyHeritage trees in lieu of having customer trees directly on the 23andMe site.  This approach had been problematic because customers are only allowed 250 individuals in their tree for free, and anything above that requires a MyHeritage subscription.  Currently 23andMe has no tree capability.

It appears that MyHeritage refined their DNA matching routines at least somewhat, because many of the bogus matches were gone in November when they announced that their beta was complete and that they were going to sell their own autosomal DNA tests. However, matching issues have not disappeared or been entirely resolved.

While Family Tree DNA’s lab will be processing the MyHeritage autosomal tests, the results will NOT be automatically placed in the Family Tree DNA data base.

MyHeritage will be doing their own matching within their own database. There are no comparison tools, tree matching or ethnicity estimates today, but My Heritage says they will develop a chromosome browser and ethnicity estimates. However, it is NOT clear whether these will be available for free to individuals who have transferred their results into MyHeritage or if they will only be available to people who tested through MyHeritage.

2016-myheritage-matches

For the record, I have 28 matches today at MyHeritage.

2016-myheritage-second-match

I found that my second closest match at MyHeritage is also at Ancestry.

2016-myheritage-at-ancestry

At MyHeritage, they report that I match this individual on a total of 64.1 cM, across 7 segments, with the largest segment being 14.9 cM.

Ancestry reports this same match at 8.3 cM total across 1 segment, which of course means that the longest segment is also 8.3 cM.

Ancestry estimates the relationship as 5th to 8th cousin, and MyHeritage estimates it as 2nd to 4th.

While I think Ancestry’s Timber strips out too much DNA, there is clearly a HUGE difference in the reported results and the majority of this issue likely lies with the MyHeritage DNA imputation and matching routines.

I uploaded my Family Tree DNA autosomal file to MyHeritage, so MyHeritage is imputing at least 300,000 SNPs for me – almost half of the SNPs needed to match to Ancestry files.  They are probably imputing that many for my match’s file too, so that we have an equal number of SNPs for comparison.  Combined, this would mean that my match and I are comparing 382,000 actual SNPs that we both tested, and roughly 600,000 SNPs that we did not test and were imputed.  No wonder the MyHeritage numbers are so “off.”

My Heritage has a long way to go before they are a real player in this arena. However, My Heritage has potential, as they have a large subscriber base in Europe, where we desperately need additional testers – so I’m hopeful that they can attract additional genealogists that are willing to test from areas that are under-represented to date.

My Heritage got off to a bit of a rocky start by requiring users to relinquish the rights to their DNA, but then changed their terms in May, according to Judy Russell’s blog.

All vendors can change their terms at any time, in a positive or negative direction, so I would strongly encourage all individuals considering utilizing any testing company or upload service to closely read all the legal language, including Terms and Conditions and any links found in the Terms and Conditions.

Please note that MyHeritage is a subscription genealogy site, similar to Ancestry.  MyHeritage also owns Geni.com.  One site, MyHeritage, allows individual trees and the other, Geni, embraces the “one world tree” model.  For a comparison of the two, check out Judy Russell’s articles, here and here.  Geni has also embraced DNA by allowing uploads from Family Tree DNA of Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, but the benefits and possible benefits are much less clear.

If the MyHeritage story sounds like a confusing soap opera, it is.  Let’s hope that 2017 brings both clarity and improvements.

Living DNA

Living DNA is a company out of the British Isles with a new test that purports to provide you with a breakdown of your ethnicity and the locations of your ancestral lines within 21 regions in the British Isles.  Truthfully, I’m very skeptical, but open minded.

They have had my kit for several weeks now, and testing has yet to begin.  I’ll write about the results when I receive them.  So far, I don’t know of anyone who has received results.

2016-living-dna

Genos

I debated whether or not I should include Genos, because they are not a test for genealogy and are medically focused. However, I am including them because they have launched a new model for genetic testing wherein your full exome is tested, you receive the results along with information on the SNPs where mutations are found. You can then choose to be involved with research programs in the future, if you wish, or not.

That’s a vastly different model that the current approach taken by 23andMe and Ancestry where you relinquish your rights to the sale of your DNA when you sign up to test.  I like this new approach with complete transparency, allowing the customer to decide the fate of their DNA. I wrote about the Genos test and the results, here.

Third Parties

Individuals sometimes create and introduce new tools to assist genealogists with genetic genealogy and analysis.

I have covered these extensively over the years.

GedMatch, WikiTree, DNAGedcom.com and Kitty Cooper’s tools remain my favorites.

I love Kitty’s Ancestor Chromosome Mapper which maps the segments identified with your ancestors on your chromosomes. I just love seeing which ancestors’ DNA I carry on which chromosomes.  Somehow, this makes me feel closer to them.  They’re not really gone, because they still exist in me and other descendants as well.

Roberta's ancestor map2

In order to use Kitty’s tool, you’ll have to have mapped at least some of your autosomal DNA to ancestors.

The Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer written by Don Worth and available at DNAGedcom is still one of my favorite tools for quick, visual and easy to understand segment matching results.

ADSA Crumley cluster

GedMatch has offered a triangulation tool for some time now, but recently introduced a new Triangulation Groups tool.

2016-gedmatch-triangulation-groups

I have not utilized this tool extensively but it looks very interesting. Unfortunately, there is no explanation or help function available for what this tool is displaying or how to understand and interpret the results. Hopefully, that will be added soon, as I think it would be possible to misinterpret the output without educational material.

GedMatch also introduced their “Evil Twin” tool, which made me laugh when I saw the name.  Using parental phasing, you can phase your DNA to your parent or parents at GedMatch, creating kits that only have your mother’s half of your DNA, or your father’s half.  These phased kits allow you to see your matches that come from that parent, only.  However, the “Evil Twin” feature creates a kit made up of the DNA that you DIDN’T receive from that parent – so in essence it’s your other half, your evil twin – you know, that person who got blamed for everything you “didn’t do.”  In any case, this allows you to see the matches to the other half of your parent’s DNA that do not show up as your matches.

Truthfully, the Evil Twin tool is interesting, but since you have to have that parent’s DNA to phase against in the first place, it’s just as easy to look at your parent’s matches – at least for me.

One new tool of note this year is the Double Match Triangulator by Louis Kessler.

dmt Cheryl to Bill status

The Double Match Triangulator utilizes chromosome browser match lists from Family Tree DNA, so you must have access to the matches of cousins, for example. This tool shows you with whom you and your cousin(s) mathematically triangulate. Of course, it still takes genealogy to discover your common ancestor, but triangulation goes a long way in terms of labeling segments as to where they came from in your tree.

I must say, most of the third-party tools mentioned above are for seasoned genetic genealogists who are serious about wringing every piece of information available from their DNA and their matches from various vendors.

Others offer unique tools that are a bit different.

DNAadoption.com offers tools, search and research techniques, especially for adoptees and those looking to identify a parent or grandparents, but perhaps even more important, they offer genetic genealogy classes including basic and introductory.

I send all adoptees in their direction, but I encourage everyone to utilize their classes.

WikiTree has continued to develop and enhance their DNA offerings.  While WikiTree is not a testing service nor do they offer autosomal data tools like Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, they do allow individuals to discover whether anyone in their ancestral line has tested their Y, mitochondrial or autosomal DNA.

Specifically, you can identify the haplogroup of any male or female ancestor if another individual from that direct lineage has tested and provided that information for that ancestor on WikiTree.  While I am generally not a fan of the “one world tree” types of implementations, I am a fan of WikiTree because of their far-sighted DNA comparisons, the fact that they actively engage their customers, they listen and they expend a significant amount of effort making sure they “get it right,” relative to DNA. Check out WikiTree’s article,  Putting DNA Results Into Action, for how to utilize their DNA Features.

2016-wikitree-peter-roberts

Thanks particularly to Chris Whitten at WikiTree and Peter Roberts for their tireless efforts.  WikiTree is the only vendor to offer the ability to discover the Y and mtDNA haplogroups of ancestors by searching trees.

All of the people creating the tools mentioned above, to the best of my knowledge, are primarily volunteers, although GedMatch does charge a small subscription service for their high end tools, including the triangulation and evil twin tools.  DNAGedcom does as well.  Wikitree generates some revenue for the site through ads on pages of non-members. DNAAdoption charges nominally for classes but they do have need-based scholarships. Kitty has a donation link on her website and all of these folks would gladly accept donations, I’m sure.  Websites and everything that goes along with them aren’t free.  Donations are a nice way to say thank you.

What Defined 2016

I have noticed two trends in the genetic genealogy industry in 2016, and they are intertwined – ethnicity and education.

First, there is an avalanche of new testers, many of whom are not genetic genealogists.

Why would one test if they weren’t a genetic genealogist?

The answer is simple…

Ethnicity.

Or more specifically, the targeted marketing of ethnicity.  Ethnicity testing looks like an easy, quick answer to a basic human question, and it sells kits.

Ethnicity

“Kim just wanted to know who she was.”

I have to tell you, these commercials absolutely make me CRINGE.

Yes, they do bring additional testers into the community, BUT carrying significantly misset expectations. If you’re wondering about WHY I would suggest that ethnicity results really cannot tell you “who you are,” check out this article about ethnicity estimates.

And yes, that’s what they are, estimates – very interesting estimates, but estimates just the same.  Estimates that provide important and valid hints and clues, but not definitive answers.

ESTIMATES.

Nothing more.

Estimates based on proprietary vendor algorithms that tend to be fairly accurate at the continental level, and not so much within continents – in particular, not terribly accurate within Europe. Not all of this can be laid a the vendor’s feet.  For example, DNA testing is illegal in France.  Not to mention, genetic genealogy and population genetics is still a new and emerging field.  We’re on the frontier, folks.

The ethnicity results one receives from the 3 major vendors (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe) and the various tools at GedMatch don’t and won’t agree – because they use different reference populations, different matching routines, etc.  Not to mention people and populations move around and have moved around.

The next thing that happens, after these people receive their results, is that we find them on the Facebook groups asking questions like, “Why doesn’t my full blooded Native American grandmother show up?” and “I just got my Ancestry results back. What do I do?”  They mean that question quite literally.

I’m not making fun of these people, or light of the situation. Their level of frustration and confusion is evident. I feel sorry for them…but the genetic genealogy community and the rest of us are left with applying ointment and Band-Aids.  Truthfully, we’re out-numbered.

Because of the expectations, people who test today don’t realize that genetic testing is a TOOL, it’s not an ANSWER. It’s only part of the story. Oh, and did I mention, ethnicity is only an ESTIMATE!!!

But an estimate isn’t what these folks are expecting. They are expecting “the answer,” their own personal answer, which is very, very unfortunate, because eventually they are either unhappy or blissfully unaware.

Many become unhappy because they perceive the results to be in error without understanding anything about the technology or what information can reasonably be delivered, or they swallow “the answer” lock stock and barrel, again, without understanding anything about the technology.

Ethnicity is fun, it isn’t “bad” but the results need to be evaluated in context with other information, such as Y and mitochondrial haplogroups, genealogical records and ethnicity results from the other major testing companies.

Fortunately, we can recruit some of the ethnicity testers to become genealogists, but that requires education and encouragement. Let’s hope that those DNA ethnicity results light the fires of curiosity and that we can fan those flames!

Education

The genetic genealogy community desperately needs educational resources, in part as a result of the avalanche of new testers – approximately 1 million a year, and that estimate may be low. Thankfully, we do have several education options – but we can always use more.  Unfortunately, the learning curve is rather steep.

My blog offers just shy of 800 articles, all key word searchable, but one has to first find the blog and want to search and learn, as opposed to being handed “the answer.”

Of course, the “Help” link is always a good place to start as are these articles, DNA Testing for Genealogy 101 and Autosomal DNA Testing 101.  These two articles should be “must reads” for everyone who has DNA tested, or wants to, for that matter.  Tips and Tricks for Contact Success is another article that is immensely helpful to people just beginning to reach out.

In order to address the need for basic understanding of autosomal DNA principles, tools and how to utilize them, I began the “Concepts” series in February 2016. To date I offer the following 15 articles about genetic genealogy concepts. To be clear, DNA testing is only the genetic part of genetic genealogy, the genealogical research part being the second half of the equation.

The Concepts Series

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical By Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting With Your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data From Family Tree DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 1 – Assigning Parental Sides

Concepts – Genetic Distance

Concepts – Relationship Predictions

Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation

Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 2 – Updating Matching Spreadsheets, Bucketed Family Finder Matches and Pileups

Concepts – Why DNA Testing the Oldest Family Members Is Critically Important

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions Versus Untested Y Lines

My blog isn’t the only resource of course.

Kelly Wheaton provides 19 free lessons in her Beginners Guide to Genetic Genealogy.

Other blogs I highly recommend include:

Excellent books in print that should be in every genetic genealogist’s library:

And of course, the ISOGG Wiki.

Online Conference Resources

The good news and bad news is that I’m constantly seeing a genetic genealogy seminar, webinar or symposium hosted by a group someplace that is online, and often free. When I see names I recognize as being reputable, I am delighted that there is so much available to people who want to learn.

And for the record, I think that includes everyone. Even professional genetic genealogists watch these sessions, because you just never know what wonderful tidbit you’re going to pick up.  Learning, in this fast moving field, is an everyday event.

The bad news is that I can’t keep track of everything available, so I don’t mean to slight any resource.  Please feel free to post additional resources in the comments.

You would be hard pressed to find any genealogy conference, anyplace, today that didn’t include at least a few sessions about genetic genealogy. However, genetic genealogy has come of age and has its own dedicated conferences.

Dr. Maurice Gleeson, the gentleman who coordinates Genetic Genealogy Ireland films the sessions at the conference and then makes them available, for free, on YouTube. This link provides a list of the various sessions from 2016 and past years as well. Well worth your time!  A big thank you to Maurice!!!

The 19 video series from the I4GG Conference this fall is now available for $99. This series is an excellent opportunity for genetic genealogy education.

As always, I encourage project administrators to attend the Family Tree DNA International Conference on Genetic Genealogy. The sessions are not filmed, but the slides are made available after the conference, courtesy of the presenters and Family Tree DNA. You can view the presentations from 2015 and 2016 at this link.

Jennifer Zinck attended the conference and published her excellent notes here and here, if you want to read what she had to say about the sessions she attended. Thankfully, she can type much faster and more accurately than I can! Thank you so much Jennifer.

If you’d like to read about the unique lifetime achievement awards presented at the conference this year to Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, the founders of Family Tree DNA, click here. They were quite surprised!  This article also documents the history of genetic genealogy from the beginning – a walk down memory lane.

The 13th annual Family Tree DNA conference which will be held November 10-12, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency North Houston. Registration is always limited due to facility size, so mark your calendars now, watch for the announcement and be sure to register in time.

Summary

2016 has been an extremely busy year. I think my blog has had more views, more comments and by far, more questions, than ever before.

I’ve noticed that the membership in the ISOGG Facebook group, dedicated to genetic genealogy, has increased by about 50% in the past year, from roughly 8,000 members to just under 12,000. Other social media groups have been formed as well, some focused on specific aspects of genetic genealogy, such as specific surnames, adoption search, Native American or African American heritage and research.

The genetic aspect of genealogy has become “normal” today, with most genealogists not only accepting DNA testing, but embracing the various tools and what they can do for us in terms of understanding our ancestors, tracking them, and verifying that they are indeed who we think they are.

I may have to explain the three basic kinds of DNA testing and how they are used today, but no longer do I have to explain THAT DNA testing for genealogy exists and that it’s legitimate.

I hope that each of us can become an ambassador for genetic genealogy, encouraging others to test, with appropriate expectations, and helping to educate, enlighten and encourage. After all, the more people who test and are excited about the results, the better for everyone else.

Genetic genealogy is and can only be a collaborative team sport.

Here’s wishing you many new cousins and discoveries in 2017.

Happy New Year!!!

The Genealogist’s Stocking

genealogist-stocking

As a genealogist, what do you want to find in your stocking this year? You don’t even have to have been good! No elf-on-a-shelf is watching – I promise!

  • Do you need a tool that doesn’t yet exist?
  • Do you need to learn a skill?
  • Do you need to DNA test a particular person?
  • Do you want to break down a specific brick wall?

Here’s what I want, in no particular order:

  1. A chromosome browser from Ancestry. Yes, I know this comes in the dead horse category and Hades has not yet frozen over, but I still want a chromosome browser.
  2. Resurrection of the Y and mtDNA data bases at Ancestry and Sorenson (purchased by Ancestry.) Refer to dead horse and Hades comment above.
  3. Tree matching at Family Tree DNA. (The request has been submitted.)
  4. A tool to find Y and mtDNA descendants of an ancestor who may have tested or be candidates to test at Family Tree DNA. Family Tree DNA is the only major company who does Y and mtDNA testing today, so this is the only data base/vendor this request applies to.
  5. To find the line of my James Moore, c1720-c1798 who married Mary Rice and lived in Amelia and Prince Edward Counties in Virginia before moving to Halifax County. I’d really love to get him across the pond. This is *simply* a matter of waiting until the right person Y DNA tests. Simply – HA! Waiting is not my strong suit. Maybe I should ask for patience, but I’ve already been as patient as I can be for 15 years. Doesn’t that count for something? Santa???
  6. To discover the surname and family of Magdalena (c1730-c1808) who married Philip Jacob Miller. Magdalena’s descendant has an exact mitochondrial DNA match in the Brethren community to the descendant of one Amanda Troutwine (1872-1946) who married William Hofacker on Christmas Day, 1889 in Darke County, Ohio.. Now all I need to do is extend Amanda’s line back far enough in time. I’m very hopeful. I need time and a little luck on this one.

I’d be happy with any one of the half-dozen “wishes” above, but hey, this is permission to dream and dream big – so I’ve put them all on my list, just in case Genealogy Santa is feeling particularly generous this year!

Tell us about your dream gift(s) in your genealogy stocking and what you need to make those dreams come true. What might you do to help make that happen? Do you have a plan?

For example, items 1-4 are beyond my control, but I have made my wishes known, repeatedly.  I’ve researched #5 to death, so waiting for that Moore match now comes in the “genealogy prayer” category.  But item 6 is clearly within reach – so I’ll be focused on Amanda Troutwine as soon as the holiday festivities are over.  Let’s hope you’ll be reading an article about this success soon.

So, ask away.  What’s on your list?  You just never know where Santa’s helpers may be lurking!!!

Sarah’s Quilt, 52 Ancestors #141

In 1870 in Kentucky, if a man died, the entire estate was presumed to be his, legally, with his wife having a “dower right” of 30% of the value of the estate.  By the way, this also included anything, including real estate, that the wife had inherited, from anyone, unless it was specified in the inheritance that she was to hold it separately from the husband.  So the old adage of, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine” was true.

The only way to value that estate was to have an inventory taken, submitted to the court, then a sale of all of the property. Yes, a sale, of everything the “man” owned. Now that “everything” included plates, cups, forks, pans, skillets and kitchen utensils he had maybe never touched, except to eat, but were legally considered his. Nothing was “hers” or “theirs.” The only way for the widow to retain “her” things, aside from her clothes (literally) was to purchase those items from her husband’s estate sale.

So, let’s get this straight.  If a Jane’s mother had left Jane a plate that was a family heirloom, that plate immediately became Jane’s husband’s property, and if he died, Jane had to purchase her mother’s plate from her husband’s estate sale.  Got it.

If you think this was a barbaric practice, it was.

I can only imagine the sale day, not long after the widow had already suffered the loss of her husband, maybe just a couple weeks after hearing those clods of dirt fall against his wooden coffin. The grave, now with fresh dirt mounded over the top was within sight of the auction as neighbors arrived.  Perhaps they acknowledged their deceased neighbor as they passed by and family placed a few flowers before turning and walking towards the house.

The widow was left wondering how she was going to feed the family and get the crops in out of the field. Her, or legally, his belongings were now standing outside in the yard or perhaps in the barn for all to inspect before the sale.  The widow would have felt stripped bare-naked to the bone, exposed, with her entire life on display for all to evaluate and comment upon.  And rest assured, those comments weren’t all made in the spirit of love.

The grieving widow, hearing the auctioneer’s rhythmic incantations to bid, echoing through her mind forever like a terrible melody, watching her life indiscriminately and methodically being sold off piece by piece to family members, neighbors and strangers alike. Heirlooms were sold outside of the family, including items like the family Bible. Going…going…gone! Nothing was exempt.

Furthermore, given that the widow only had the “right” to one third, she had to be careful only to bid on what she desperately needed and could afford, no more than one third of the value of the estate. If she spent her entire one third recovering household and farm items, enough to at least attempt to farm, she would have no cash from the sale to purchase supplies or food she couldn’t grow, like sugar, or pay for labor. And who was going to give a widow woman credit? What a terrible quandry.

I hope, I really hope, that when other bidders saw the widow bidding on something, they just shut up.

William Chumley’s Estate

This past week, I was perusing the estate of my ancestor’s daughter’s husband, William Chumley, who died in 1870 in Russell County, Kentucky. There were three documents filed with the court. The first document I found was the actual estate sale. Like normal, I saw the widow’s name, Sarah Chumley, among the bidders, which always saddens me greatly.

chumley-williams-sale

Sarah Chumley bid on and purchased several inexpensive items.

  • 5 comforts – 1.00
  • Sett teas – .10
  • 7 plates – .10
  • 5 glass tumblers – .15
  • 1 clock – .25
  • 1 looking glass – .10
  • 1 small table – .25
  • 1 hoe – .15
  • 1 plow – .15
  • 1 plow – .15
  • Cavalry saddle – .15
  • 1 sythe and cradle – .50
  • 1 sucking colt – 5.00

The second document I came across was titled “Allotment to widow Chumley” with a list of items allotted to Sarah and values attached. In this case, these items were in addition to what she purchased at the sale. In other words, these items below seem to have been set aside for Sarah at the appraised value of the items. She never had to bid for them, but she had to accept whatever the appraisers estimated their values to be.

Sometimes this was fine, but other times, not so much. The appraised value could be more, or less, than what the item actually sold for. In William’s estate, an ox cart that was appraised at $12 only sold for $6.60. If the widow had wanted that cart, she would have “paid” $12 for it to keep it from being auctioned. Of course, had she waited to buy it at auction, she might not have been able to purchase it, and it might have cost more than the $12 that it appraised for.  The 5 bed comforters that appraised for $1 to $1.50 each were purchased together at auction by the widow for $1 total. So this “setting aside” practice could be a double edged sword.

chumley-widows-allotment

The estate appraisal was the third document filed for William Chumley, although that normally was filed first. All of William’s estate documents were filed at once, on October 7, 1870, and the appraisal just happened to be the third one copied into the book.  It appears right after the final portion of the widow’s allotment.

chumley-inventory

Each item that a deceased person owned was valued by, traditionally, 3 appraisers. The first appraiser being the person the deceased owed the most money to, the idea being that individual stood to benefit the most from the estate items being sold at the highest value possible so the debts of the deceased could be paid, in full, hopefully. The second appraiser was generally someone related to the wife to represent her interests. And the third appraiser was an entirely disinterested party, but with a working knowledge of prices in the area. Often you see the same people being appointed by the court over and over again in this third capacity.

Estate appraisals are wonderful documents for the genealogist, because in essence you’re peering into their house and barn from the distance of decades and sometimes centuries.

I was scanning down the inventory list, imagining what their life was like in rural Kentucky, based on what was and wasn’t present in the appraisal.

That’s when I saw it.

The Quilt

1 Quilt…..$15

chumley-quilt

A quilt.

chumley-civil-war-era-quilt

This quilt isn’t Sarah’s quilt, but it is a quilt top (unquilted) made from Civil War era scrap fabrics from the same time and may have looked similar. The pieced blocks in this quilt appear to have been made from old clothes, complete with stains – a very common way to utilize remaining fabric after clothes were too damaged to wear any longer. Everything was salvaged and reused one way or another.

The quilt in William’s estate inventory was probably a quilt that Sarah had made with her own hands, often piecing and quilting with scraps from clothes, old and new, by candlelight in the evenings.

Maybe Sarah made that quilt from the scraps of the clothes she had made for her children. Sadly, those would be the children Sarah either never had, or that never lived long enough to be recorded in a census. The children Sarah longed for and hoped for, but were never born, or were born and died and were buried in the ever-expanding family cemetery behind the house where she could watch over their graves daily. The same cemetery where she would one day bury William.

Maybe eventually Sarah took the tiny clothes she made for those children she dreamed about apart and used the fabrics in the quilt she and William used to keep warm. Maybe this quilt got them through the Civil War.

It may have been the quilt Sarah sobbed into when her father, Lazarus Dodson, died in October 1861, just a month before the Confederates camped beside, or maybe on, her family land. Two months later, the Battle of Mill Springs (Logan’s Crossroads) took place a mile or so away – the Union forces advancing across the family land – perhaps through the cemetery where her father was buried.

Did Sarah huddle, wrapped in this quilt, with her step-mother and sister as the menfolk engaged in battle? Did the women hide a gun for protection in the folds of that quilt, praying they would never have to use it and hoping they could shoot straight if they did? They could surely hear the battle, the cannons, the shots and the cries, half a mile or a mile away, across the fields, past the cemetery.  Hundreds died that day and scores more were injured. Did this quilt comfort a wounded soldier?

Were Sarah and her sister huddled together with the quilt wrapped around them for warmth in front of the fireplace when they received word that Sarah’s sister, Mary Redmon’s step-son had been killed? His stone rests just down the road at the Mill Springs National Cemetery, but his body never came home.

And what about Mary’s husband, William “Billy” Redmon, who was fighting for the Confederacy?  He came home safe, but Sarah and Mary would have worried relentlessly until he did.  Did Billy know his son had been killed until he arrived home after the war?

Did Sarah shed tears of anxiety as she worried about her half-brother, Lazarus Dodson, named after her father, who fought for the Union in the war? And what about Sarah’s half-sister, Nancy’s husband, James Bray, also fighting for the Union?

How about Sarah’s half-sister Rutha’s husband, John Y. Estes who while fighting for the Confederacy was injured, captured and held prisoner of war? Did he stop at the cabin on his way walking back to Tennessee after his captors released him north of the Ohio River, injured and with no food or supplies? Did John find his way to his father-in-law’s land, knowing he would find food and shelter, only to discover Lazarus’s grave? Did John sleep beneath this quilt perhaps, or as a former Confederate, was he not welcome in Sarah’s home?

And then there was Sarah’s half brother, John Dodson, and his wife, Barthenia, who lived nearby and simply disappeared between the 1860 and 1870 census, with some of their children in 1870 found living among relatives and neighbors. Were John and Barthenia war casualties too?

Sarah probably wrapped up in that quilt for comfort when she buried her children, if she was able to conceive, then when she buried her father, Lazarus Dodson, her sister’s step-son, her brother, his wife and some of their children and then in 1870, when Sarah buried her husband as well. Life was difficult and there were probably many more burials, sorrows and trials that we know nothing about.

The quilt, valued at $15 was worth more than the brown heifer at $11, about the same as 8 shoats (young pigs) at $16 and the man’s saddle at $14, and more than the ox cart and a saddle with bridle, valued at $12, respectively. As far as household goods, nothing was worth more. The quilt was valued at exactly the same as 10 head of sheep, and animals were the most valuable items in this estate inventory except for a grouping of 2 beds, bedding and furniture for $30.

This tells you that the quilt was not a tied comforter, but a beautifully hand crafted quilt. This quilt was clearly more than just “bedding,” given the appraised value, and since there was only one, it was likely an heirloom to Sarah – something she had poured her heart and soul into.

Maybe some of the fabrics in the quilt had even come from Sarah’s mother’s dresses. Sarah’s mother had died when Sarah was a child, sometime between Sarah’s sister Mary’s birth about 1833 and Sarah’s father’s remarriage in 1839. Was Sarah’s only memory of her mother through fabrics in the quilt?

At her husband’s estate sale, Sarah Chumley, the widow, bought “5 comforts” for $1.

chumley-comforters

But comforts aren’t quilts. For clarity, comforters are whole pieces of cloth, front and back, with some sort of cotton or wool “batting” layered in-between, and tied or “knotted” every few inches with thread or yarn to hold the layers together. Comforters were quick to make. Quilts weren’t and aren’t – taking months and sometimes years.  Not only was the quilt top hand pieced, but the top, batting and back were held together by millions of tiny stitches, every one lovingly placed by hand, about 10 stitches per linear inch of thread.

What happened to that quilt?

We don’t know.

It’s not listed on the bill of sale from the auction. It’s not listed in Sarah’s allotment. Let’s hope that someone, someplace had the good sense to simply let Sarah have her quilt and just “lost” it in the process.

Lord knows she needed it.

Ten days after Sarah’s husband died, on May 20, 1870, Sarah made her own will, at roughly 37 years of age, stating that she was “week of body but of good sound mind.” She left everything to a child she appeared to have raised, but with a different surname, and her sister’s children, her “neeces and neffu.”

On September 23rd, that same year, Sarah’s will was recorded with the court, indicating she had passed on.

Indeed, Sarah desperately needed that quilt, just for another 3 months or so, as she mourned the life she had, the family she had lost and the children that were never born, or were and died. Sarah needed comfort as she left this earthly world. When you wrap up in a quilt, those who made the quilt, or those who love you from the other side are hugging you – earthly caresses from the wings of angels to ease your way.

All things considered, I wondered if Sarah was perhaps wrapped in and buried with her quilt.

While Sarah couldn’t be spared the many griefs in her short lifetime, let’s pray that Sarah was at least spared her quilt.