Why Test Y DNA

Y DNA testing carries a great deal of potential – for males. Why just for males? Because the Y chromosome is passed to sons, only, from the father. The Y chromosome is what makes males male. Females receive an X chromosome from their father instead of a Y.

This means that while men can easily test for Y chromosome results, women can’t. Women have to find a male of the surname line they are interested in to test on their behalf. If their father or brothers are living, finding a willing male for their birth name can be fairly easy, but in some cases, one has to go back up the tree a generation or two, and come back down another line to find a living male from your surname line to test.


In this example, if the female in red wants to test her Estes line, and green cells represent living Estes males, she would have to go up the tree to the third generation, Lazarus, and come back down three generations through son Charlie to find a living male.

Let’s say that living male Estes either can’t be found or isn’t interested in testing. To find another male, she would have to go up the tree another generation to John Y. Estes and come down through son Reagan where there are two generations of living Estes males.

That didn’t work either? Go up another generation and come down through son Jechonas to living male, William.

Why would someone be so interested in testing surname lines?

You can learn a lot.

  • You can confirm that the person who tests actually descends from the expected surname line. Of course, this assumes two things. First, that others from that line have already tested and second, that the tester actually IS descended from that line. Sometimes males who carry the same surname have different ancestral lines. And sometimes, well, surprises are waiting to be found, meaning sometimes people aren’t descended from who they think they are.
  • You receive a haplogroup designation which reaches back to ancient times. Haplogroups tell you, for example, if your ancestor was European, Native American, Jewish, African, or Asian. With additional testing, you can discover more specific information about haplogroups, but that requires testing that can’t be performed until after your haplogroup is discovered through regular testing.
  • You receive your matches at each level of testing. If you test at 37 markers for example, you receive a list of matches at 37 markers, at 25 markers and at 12 markers. I recommend testing at 67 or 111 markers if possible, because those tests refine your matches even further.
  • You receive a “Matches Map” that shows the locations of the oldest known ancestors of your matches.
  • You receive a migration map, showing the path your ancient ancestors took to arrive where they are found today in the world.

There are more tools and information too. You can see, below, all of the available information for Y DNA testers on your Family Tree DNA personal home page.


As a female, I can’t test for even one Y line, but I can surely sponsor tests for men who do descend from my ancestral lines. I try to discover the genetic information for each of my lines. You never know what surprises may be lurking.

I have created a DNA pedigree chart where I record the haplogroup information for each of my ancestral lines.

DNA Pedigree

When my cousins test for Y or mitochondrial lines, I also sponsor a Family Finder test, hoping that our autosomal DNA still matches, even though we are some generations removed from each other.

I try to find a male who has tested, or who will test, for each of my ancestral Y lines. You don’t know what you don’t know – and DNA testing is part of the reasonably exhaustive search required by the GPS, the Genealogical Proof Standard.

So, give yourself a gift this holiday season and test your Y DNA. If you don’t have the Y DNA for the line you want to test, find someone who does. Click here to order!



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The Big Y and Genealogy


For the holidays, I want to talk briefly about one particular type of DNA that is tested, and why one might want to order that particular test.

I’ve seen questions this past week about the Big Y test, so let’s talk about this test today.

The Big Y Test

The questions I’ve seen recently about the Big Y mostly revolve around why the test isn’t listed among the sale prices shown on the Family Tree DNA main page.

The Big Y test is not an entry level test. The tests shown on the Family Tree DNA main page are entry level and can be ordered by anyone, at least so long as the Y DNA tests are ordered for males. (Females don’t have a Y chromosome, so Y tests won’t work for them.)

The Big Y test is an upgrade for a male who has already taken the regular 37, 67 or 111 STR (short tandem repeat) marker test. For those who are unfamiliar, STR markers are used in a genealogically relevant timeframe to match other men to search for a common recent ancestor and are the type of markers used for 37, 67 and 111 marker tests.

SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) are used to determine haplogroups, which reflect deep ancestry and reach significantly further back in time.

Haplogroups are predicted for each participant based on the STR test results, and Family Tree DNA’s prediction routines are very accurate, but the haplgroup can only be confirmed by SNP testing. These two tests are testing different types of DNA mutations. I wrote about the difference here.

Different SNPs are tested to confirm different haplogroups, so you must have your STR results back with the prediction before you can order SNP tests.

The Big Y is the granddaddy of SNP testing, because it doesn’t directly test each SNP location, and there are thousands, but scans virtually the entire Y chromosome to cover in essence all known SNPs. Better yet, the Big Y looks for previously unknown or unnamed SNPs. In other words, this test is a test of discovery, not just a test of confirmation.

Many SNPS are either unknown or as yet unnamed and unplaced on the haplotree, meaning the Y DNA tree of mankind for the Y chromosome. The only way we discover new SNPs is to run a test of discovery. Hence, the Big Y.

It’s fun to be on the frontier of this wonderfully personal science.

Applying the Big Y to Genealogy

In addition to defining and confirming the haplogroup, the Big Y test can be immensely informative in terms of ancestral roots. For example, we know that our Lentz line, found in Germany in the 1600s, matches the contemporary results of Burzyan Bashkir men, descendants of the Yamnaya. I wrote about this here, near the end of the article.

Even more amazing, we then discovered that our Lentz line actually shares mutations with ancient DNA recovered from Yamnaya culture burials from 3500 years ago from along the Volga River. You can read about that here, near the end of the article. This discovery, of course, could never have been made if the Big Y test had not been taken, and it was made by working with the haplogroup project administrators. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Sergey Malyshev for this discovery and the following tree documenting our genetic lineage.

JakobLenz Malyshev chart

Our family heritage now extends back into Russia, 3500 years ago, instead of stopping in Germany, 400 or 500 years ago. This huge historical leap could NEVER have been made without the Big Y test in conjunction with the projects and administrators at Family Tree DNA.

And I must say, I’m incredibly glad we didn’t wait to order this test, because Mr. Lentz, my cousin who tested, died unexpectedly, just a couple months later. His daughter, when informing me of his death, expressed her gratitude for the test, the articles and shared with me that he had taken both articles to Staples, had them printed and bound as gifts for family members this Christmas.

These gifts will be quite bittersweet for those family members, but his DNA legacy lives on, just as the DNA of our ancestors does inside each and every one of us.  He gave all Lentz descendants an incredible gift.



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Rockstar Genealogist Voting Now Open

Keep Calm and Vote Now

I’m pretty sure that John D. Reed who writes at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections didn’t mean for the Rockstar Genealogist voting to become a Labor Day tradition – but it has become just that.

Once again, John is sponsoring the Rockstar genealogist voting. The contest is a very beneficent contribution on John’s part, because it’s an easy way for all of us to say thank you to a genealogist in the public space who has contributed to our own lives and enriched our experience as genealogists. As we all know, genealogy is a collaborate sport and we depend on the research and expertise of others, regularly. No one can know it all.

The great news is that you can vote for as many people as you would like. I counted 159 people who were nominated (if I counted correctly) from the English-speaking world and there are amazing people in this gathering of eagles.

So, please, take a minute to say thank you to those who are deserving.  John doesn’t say when the voting closes, but it usually only lasts for a couple days, so don’t wait, vote now before you forget and miss out on the opportunity.

Here’s the link to John’s blog and the link to vote is at the bottom where it says “Vote Here.”

I voted

I voted! It was quick and very easy. Thank you John, from the entire community, for doing this once again.  You, indeed, are a Rockstar!



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The Stages of Genetic Genealogy Addiction

By Evan-Amos - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Evan-Amos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

One of the people I’ve met through genetic genealogy, Eric, sent me an e-mail recently that he composed in a cab in Moscow headed to the airport. Yes, that’s right…in a cab. Ironically, the e-mail was titled “The Nine Stages of Genetic Genealogy Addiction,” which I’ve expanded to 10.

I’m sharing this with you, slightly edited, with Eric’s permission (thanks Eric). I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself and indeed, it is a very slippery slope!

And it all started so innocently…

1)   A friend suggests you drop $100 (now $200) on 23andMe to “do your DNA” and see whether you have “asparagus pee.” Why not? Will make for interesting family reunion and cocktail party conversation, plus, you can find out if you’re going to go bald too. You order the kit and east some asparagus, as a test. You check in the mirror to see if you hair is still as thick as it used to be. All looks well except OMG – there’s a hair on my shirt…and another one…

2)   After discovering that you do have asparagus pee and might go bald, you shrug and curiously click on the 23andMe’s admixture button. You get beyond the surprise of “I’m 50% Scandinavian—really?” and wonder what the list of “DNA relatives” means. You click. Three hours later, you remember that you created a family tree in high school back in the ‘80s, dig it out, put it on MyHeritage. Now you’re wondering who all these “smart matches” are. Yesterday, you had never heard of a smart match or DNA Relatives.

3)   Having discovered Ancestry’s little green leaves, you shell out for a subscription and find yourself able to use its databases to extend your tree twice as far (even while learning that the accuracy of the data in others’ online trees should be taken with at least a pound, if not a kilogram, of salt). You order a DNA test from Ancestry to see if you need to order a kilt or leiderhosen. You will later discover that most of that extended tree is wrong, and have to saw off branches, but by then, it’s too late… you’re hooked.

4) You realize that from a genetic genealogical point of view, a parent’s DNA is twice as valuable as your own, so you get each of your oldest ancestors (grands, their siblings) to send in a DNA kit … to all three personal genomics services companies – 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry. Your family begins to doubt your sanity, but you don’t care as long as they agree to test.

5)   You discover both GedMatch and DNAGedcom and learn how to use the chromosome browsers built into 23andMe, GedMatch and FTDNA. You download your matches and begin recording your (elder generation’s) shared DNA and “DNA cousins” in an excel spreadsheet.

6)   The elementary chromosome mapping you learn from Roberta Estes’ and Jim Bartlett’s blogs teaches you that creating triangulated groups is a game of numbers, and you build “invitation templates” to reach out to everyone who shares at least 15 cM, then 10 cM, then 7cM with “your” DNA which of course includes all of your family members who have tested. This is first 100 people, then 1,000, then 10,000 folks. At first you’re quite unhappy that so many people don’t answer, but eventually you realize this has become an addiction and most people just aren’t into it as much as you are—and that’s okay; there’s enough data to work with, and if everyone answered, you’d actually be snowed under. Still, in spite of that, you ponder strategies to encourage more people to reply.

7)    You realize that even though you’re thrifty, there are ways to invest a little to make the process easier, so you start paying to get all your elders’ first cousins, and then second cousins tested so you can triangulate matches to them.

8)   The combination of lots of DNA, lots of family tree information, and lots of triangulation, gives you the confidence to “solve” first one “DNA cousin” (build a paper-trail relationship to someone you “met” via DNA testing), then a second, then a tenth. With each success, the next one gets easier with triangulation! This is starting to be a lot of fun. You now build trees for your matches to see if you can find a common ancestor. They think you’re wonderful! You feel guilty because you know you’re really not doing it for them.

9)   You learn a whole new language the includes words like pileup, haplogroup, triangulation, IBC. IBD, SNP and STR. You realize that your life will never be the same again. Your family no longer just doubts your sanity. You tell them there are no recovery programs and you don’t want one.

10) You are in a cab going to the airport half way around the world and you are not only thinking about genetic genealogy and wondering when your next set of DNA results for a fourth cousin once removed will be available, but you’re writing about the 9, ummm, make that 10, Stages of Genetic Genealogy addiction.



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Back in the Saddle Again – OK, Sidesaddle, Riding Very Slowly

sidesaddle me

Well, I’m pleased to let my readers know that I’m back in the saddle again. Ok, maybe not fully in the saddle.  Maybe I’m riding side saddle and very slowly right now, and gingerly.  According to some in the family, I shouldn’t even be on the horse…but I am.  Or, in my case, perched on a rock.

My husband was gracious enough to make me a temporary office on the main floor of the house – probably because he got sick of me whining about getting texting hand injuries from trying to function entirely on my iphone as I lay flat on my back on ice packs. Let’s just say it has been a very long 5 weeks and my family has been just wonderful – beyond all expectations.

And this walk outside – it was glorious. Being cooped up inside (5 weeks today, not that I’m counting) is so difficult when I know those weeds are growing and needing to be pulled up by the roots!  The beautiful phlox is in bloom, the cherry trees are just finishing, in the background…nothing as beautiful as springtime!  And the sunshine – it just felt SOOOoooo good.

In all seriousness, back injuries are no joke and excruciatingly painful, especially if you cannot take narcotic drugs.

However, ice, heat, rest and time help a great deal (In addition to my wonderful family) and my neurosurgeon has told me that I just need more of the same. I’m improving every day and have informed my husband that the surgeon said that I cannot do yard work nor housework, and I have a witness.  In fact, I’m likely to never be able to do those things again, ever.  Miss Mary, my quilt sister, accompanied me to the appointment and she swears that’s exactly what the doctor said!  She’s got my back, pardon the pun.

Right Miss Mary???

The funniest thing about the doctor visit was when the doctor said, “Well, you can’t change your genetics” and Miss Mary piped right up and said, “Well, if anyone can, she can.” He looked very quizzical of course and we all had a good laugh after discussing how different medicine, including genetics will be in another generation or even another decade.

This of course made me think about the past and wonder what happened when my poor ancestors encountered this type of situation.

The history of spinal cord injury reaches far back into history, with some insight and a lot of myth and mystery – not to mention misery and experimentation.

Spinal surgery had begun in England in the early 1800s, and yes, without anesthetic. It’s no wonder so many patients died.  They wanted to.

The first successful laminectomy which removed a disc which was compressing a nerve which resulted in paralysis from a fall from a horse was performed in Kentucky in 1829 by a doctor who had studied in Philadelphia.

That’s probably because while there was no anesthetic, Kentucky had plenty of moonshine.

In the 1800s, and before, back pain that was not a direct injury was thought to be a form of rheumatism. In fact, according to the book, “Occupation and Disease: How Social Factors Affect the Conception of work-Related Disorders” by Allard Dembe, it wasn’t until about WWI when the US passed the major worker’s compensation laws that back pain was considered to be a result of trauma, meaning an injury, not rheumatism, which was considered to be an illness.

There was also considered to be difference between a debilitating spinal injury, from something specific, like falling from a horse, or a building, and an injury from something like working in the field, or the garden. The latter was rheumatism.  In fact, I still remember the old people talking about their “rheumatism flaring up” and rubbing their backs when I was younger.  I didn’t understand then, but now it makes perfect sense.

The term rheumatism in the current sense has been in use since the late 17th century, as it was believed that chronic joint pain was caused by excessive flow of rheum or bodily fluids into a joint.

The term rheumatism is somewhat older, adopted in the early 17th century  from Late Latin rheumatismus, ultimately from Greek ῥευματίζομαι “to suffer from a flux”, i.e. any discharge of blood or bodily fluid.

Before the 17th century, joint pain thought to be caused by viscous humours seeping into the joints was named gout, a word adopted in Middle English from Old French gote “a drop; the gout, rheumatism.”

Now, the good news, if there was any for those 17th and 18th century sufferers, is that opioid medications were readily available “over the counter” at that time, so hopefully, while our ancestors were in pain, they truly didn’t suffer terribly.

I know for a fact that my bootlegging ancestors had their own brand of pain-killer, and I doubt that some of them did enough manual labor to hurt their backs in the first place.

Still, I’m very glad to be living today, because if I do need surgery again one day, I want anesthetic, and I’m very grateful for modern medicine, especially after reading that article titled, “A Brief History of Therapy for Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury” by Jason Lifshutz and Austin, Colohan, M.D.s. In many cases, it looked to me like the treatment was worse than the injury.  If I were you, I’d just skip that article and take my word for it, or better yet, maybe just go and get yourself some of that moonshine and you won’t care anymore about what’s in that article, and you won’t remember that your back was hurting either!

Thanks to one and all for your kind words of support, prayers, flowers, e-mails, cards, chocolate (that’s a medicine, didn’t you know) and the cookies too – not to mention lunch visits, smoothie runs, fabric cupcakes (no calories and cat approved), rides to the doctor and two turtles. Don’t ask about the turtles.  That’s a story for another day – and yes, that too involves Miss Mary!!!

fabric cupcake



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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A Short Timeout

I know all of my faithful followers are used to my posting schedule, but unfortunately, we have a bit of a problem this week.

Call it:

Garden: 1
Roberta: 0

We finally had a nice day and I went to ready the perennial beds for summer.  Apparently, that was a mistake.

I did something that did not agree with my back on Sunday and have been rather incapacitated ever since.

OK, enough with the niceties – it hurts like bloody hell.  And you cannot blog or write in a prone position.

So please bear with me for the next few days as my normal publication schedule is interrupted.  I do have a few articles nearly prepared and I’ll see what I can do with those.

And as for that cliffhanger…I really didn’t do that on purpose.  Seriously.

In the mean time, there are almost 700 articles on this blog and it’s fully searchable by key word in the search box in the upper right hand corner – so maybe this is a good time to read about something new!

My apologies.

daffy and bug



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Katey Sagal – Who Do You Think You Are – “A PeaceMonger”

Katey Sagal joins TLC this Sunday evening, April 17, at 9/8c for an extremely interesting episode featuring the unique history of the pietist religions on the colonial frontier in Pennsylvania – in this case, the Amish.

You’ve probably figure out by now that I have a media relationship with TLC for these episodes, which means that I get to preview them in advance so that I have the opportunity to write about them, if I choose to do so.

I watched this episode twice. It’s the only episode I’ve ever watched more than once, but then again, it turns out there is a personal reason.  I’m not going to share that with you just yet, but I will be writing about it and utilizing DNA results to prove or disprove….no…..I can’t say more. You’ll have to watch the episode and then read my follow-up article in a few days!

Katey Sagal was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of show business veterans: director Boris Sagal and child radio star, Sara Zwilling.

Losing both of her parents in her mid-twenties, Katey feels that she has no family to ask questions of. She would like to know about her mom’s time performing with the USO, and fill in the blanks on her mother’s paternal line, since she knows nothing beyond her grandfather, Daniel Zwilling.

Katey starts her journey in New York City, where her mom lived when she joined the USO. Katey meets with a military historian, who she hopes can shed some light on her mother’s experience with the USO during WWII. A 1944 newspaper article shows Katey’s mom, under the stage name Sara Macon, as a singer for a USO camp show called “Smooth Sailing,” which performed for wounded soldiers as part of the hospital circuit.

Katey Sagal Mom article

She discovers guidelines her mother had to follow at the hospitals, including:

“Do not mention anything about their wounds, sickness or condition, nor notice that they have lost a limb.”

Katey reacts to what her mom was exposed to at the young age of 18 and wonders more about her experience with the USO. She heads off to meet an actual member of the USO who was performing at the same time as Katey’s mother.

Katey Sagal Mom group

Katey sits down with Hilda “Tinker” Rautenberg, an absolutely lovely lady, and discovers that Tinker actually performed with her mother. Katey is overcome with emotion as she looks at old photos of her mom that she’s never seen before, and is touched to hear personal stories and meet someone who actually knew her.

I cannot tell you how profoundly I related to this. My mother was also a performer during this same timeframe, and several years ago when I was speaking (yes, about DNA) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a lady approached me afterwards and told me that my mother was her dance instructor.  She had recognized my mother’s pictures from the mitochondrial portion of the presentation.  We had a lovely, albeit very emotional visit.  At least, it was emotional for me.  She shared heart-warming stories with me about my mother as a young woman and professional dancer that I had never heard before.

Armed with a sense of her mom’s early life touring and with a better understanding of the source of her mother’s life-long anti-war sentiments, Katey hopes to push further back on her line genealogically, starting with her mother’s father, Daniel Zwilling.

Katey asks a genealogist for help in researching her family and discovers that her 2 times great-grandfather Abraham Miller paid $300 to have someone else fight in the Civil War in his place. She finds he was buried in a cemetery in Iowa for Dunkards (Brethren), which is a pacifist religion similar to the Amish, and heads to Pennsylvania to investigate her ancestor’s family and faith.

In Pennsylvania, Katey finds that, in fact, generations of her family were peacemongers, and that she is connected to two well-known Amish families stretching back to early America.

She uncovers the harrowing story of her Amish 7 times great-grandfather Jacob Hochstetler, whose family was caught up in the tensions between Native Americans and the colony’s settlers. Katey learns that while under attack by the Native Americans, Jacob held true to his religious beliefs and refused to bear arms against his assailants; but his wife and two children were killed, and he and two other children were taken captive. This event became known as the Hochstetler Massacre.

Personal accounts reveal Jacob’s daring escape, and Katey discovers that both sons were adopted into Indian tribes and treated like family. Years later, the sons struggled to return to their old family and way of life. Katey finds that her ancestor’s brave and moving story has left such a mark on Amish history that it is written about in Amish schoolbooks.

Katey heads to her ancestors’ former homestead for a moment to reflect on Jacob and her family’s inspiring story.

When you watch Katey’s episode, make note of the Miller-Stutzman marriage and join me in a few days for “the rest of the story” and what DNA can do for you!


You want a hint?

Hmmm…if you read this article in my 52 Ancestors series, you’ll find both surnames…but that’s all I’m divulging for now.  Stay tuned!



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Thank you so much.

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Scott Foley – Who Do You Think You Are – “God Knows I Am Innocent”

Scott Foley is featured on Who Do You Think You Are this Sunday, April 10 on TLC at 9/8c.

This episode is truly interesting, focusing on two defining periods in American history – and little known aspects of both – The Salem Witch Trials and the American Revolution.  If you’re a history junkie you won’t want to miss this episode.

I am innocent

Actor Scott Foley has been married to his wife, Marika, since 2007. They have three young children and he credits them as being a huge reason why he wants to learn about his own heritage. Marika is Polish-American, and her family has a rich history in Poland. As a patriotic American, Scott would like his children to understand their American ancestry too.

Since Scott’s tree is virtually a blank page, he’d like to investigate the only family lore he’s heard. There’s always been a rumor that his paternal grandparents’ side has ties to the Revolutionary War, but Scott isn’t sure how or why. Scott decides to sit down with his father to see if there’s any other clues he can glean to start his search.

Scott’s father Hugh has a few vague leads for his son; he believes the Revolutionary War story is connected to his mother Evelyn Fogg’s line, who died before Scott could meet her. From what he can remember, her mother’s maiden name was something like Wadworth. Curious about the Revolutionary War story, Scott and Hugh go online to the DAR website and search for anyone named Wadworth – which returns zero results. Scott tries “Wadsworth” instead and hits 50 listings. Scott figures he should head to the DAR itself for more answers – and it’s a good thing he did, because Wadworth isn’t the right name at all.  Thankfully, Scott teams with a professional genealogist.

Scott meets with genealogist Kyle Betit at the DAR in Washington, D.C. Kyle has dug into records and compiled a family tree for Scott on ancestry.com to see if he could get back to an ancestor who was alive during the Revolutionary War.

Pouring over the tree, Scott discovers that the family name was actually “Wardwell,” and confirms through the tree and DAR website that his 5x great-grandfather Simon Wardwell is in fact recognized as a Patriot. But who was this ancestor, and how was he associated with the War? Simon Wardwell’s pension file reveals that he enlisted around the start of the Revolutionary War in 1776 and revealed something truly amazing about his service. Scott heads off to Washington’s former headquarters in Cambridge, MA to find out more.

At Washington’s Headquarters, Scott meets with historian Scott Stephenson. And learns that his ancestor, Simon would’ve witnessed incredibly significant events in American history, including an attempt on Washington’s life, and the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Having finally discovered the truth behind his family’s Revolutionary War story, Scott is still curious if he can trace his ancestors back to colonial times in America. He travels to the New England Historic Genealogical Society to do some more digging.

At the NEHGS in Boston, Scott meets with historian Mary Beth Norton, who presents him with a large family tree. Scott confirms that the Wardwells stretch back generations in Massachusetts, all the way to his 9x great-grandfather, the immigrant. But Mary Beth reveals that Scott’s 8x great-grandfather Samuel Wardwell is well known to certain colonial historians. Scott discovers that in 1692, Samuel was caught up in the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

Scott learns the Salem Witch crisis started when two young girls from Salem began suffering from bizarre fits. Soon a local doctor declared they were under the influence of evil. This sparked great fear and hysteria; accusations of witchcraft exploded. The mainly Puritan community felt God was punishing them, and sought to reaffirm their religious beliefs by going after those they believed in league with the devil. They aggressively pursued anyone accused, including Samuel Wardwell. Mary Beth suggests that to find out what happened to Samuel, Scott head to Salem.

At “The Witch House” in Salem, MA, Scott talks with Salem Witch Trials historian Margo Burns. Curious about his ancestor’s trial, Scott uncovers testimony from a teenage girl who accused Samuel of “afflicting” her, and a man who claimed Samuel could predict the future and witnessed him reading palms.

Scott discovers the date of his ancestor’s death, September 22, 1692 – and the details. Wanting to pay his respects, Scott heads off to the Salem Witch Trial Memorial.

Scott takes a moment to reflect on the incredible lives of the men he’s discovered. Scott is pleased to know his family has deep roots in some of the most iconic events in American history; true stories for his children.

Family Tree DNA and GedMatch Dustup

crystal ball

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse

It’s really unfortunate that a “conversation” that should have been private has gone public, but it has and there is no closing the barn door after the cow has left.

Genetic genealogy, and genealogy, is a highly emotional topic. Many of us feel very strongly, myself included.  After all, it’s our ancestors, flesh and blood we’re talking about.

I know that many people look to my blog for direction and commentary on these matters, so I feel obligated to say something.

For those who are not aware, in the past few days, GedMatch has stopped accepting Family Tree DNA autosomal data file uploads.  Circumstances and timing of events beyond that are murky at best and involve a bit of a “he said – she said” type of situation.  So, I’m not going to fuel any flames by reposting anything because I can’t verify the timing or order since I was not online when it occurred.  If you are a GedMatch user, you can see their announcement and commentary, which is what sparked the public portion of this issue, after signing on to your account and you can see Family Tree DNA’s responses and commentary to GedMatch’s posting on their Facebook page.

In summary, Family Tree DNA became aware of a potential security issue relative to their customer information at GedMatch and reached out to GedMatch to resolve the issue.  From that point forward, what actually happened is unclear, is only known to the “people in the room” at the time and judging from the outcome, may well involve some confusion or misinterpretation.  In any event, the resolution did not occur and GedMatch posted that they were no longer accepting uploads from Family Tree DNA.  (For the record, I am not one of the “people in the room,” so I, like you, don’t know.)

Unfortunately, this announcement fueled rampant speculation and outrage online and does nothing to resolve the potential problem for people whose kits are already being utilized on GedMatch.

So, here’s what I can and can’t tell you, and why.

What I can tell you:

This is not an issue with an individual having or sharing their DNA files.  You can still download your autosomal DNA files from Family Tree DNA.  This is not about paternalism or someone telling you what you should or shouldn’t do.  This is not about the DNA itself.  This is about security and privacy.  Period.

What I can’t tell you:

Having worked in a technology industry for years, I cannot responsibly tell you “the problem,” at least not until it’s resolved, or why it’s a potential problem, because it would then become open season for people to attempt to exploit the potential problem. And yes, they would try, in a heartbeat – just because.  This is why neither GedMatch nor Family Tree DNA have elaborated on this part of the issue.  They are being responsible, but unfortunately, their intentional and responsible ambiguity is feeding rather wild speculation in the larger community – and none of it positive.

No Crystal Ball

No one has a crystal ball. What is perfectly fine one day may not be the next due to changes beyond any one individual or firm’s control.  What is completely secure under one circumstance may not be when you add another vendor or service into the mix.  It happens continually in our high-tech world and it’s not intentional or due to negligence on anyone’s part.  Sometimes issues or potential issues don’t become evident immediately.  When they do, it’s incumbent upon the involved parties to resolve the problem or potential problem.  Where there is more than one party involved, it makes the situation inherently more difficult and calls for cooperation, which is where we are today.

What To Do

The good thing about social media is that it makes communications immediate. The bad thing about social media is that it’s very easy for misinformation and speculation to run like wildfire and to quickly take on the context of fact, fuel everyone’s emotions, and for a mob mentality to take over.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at the political rhetoric and associated “spin” this year, regardless of your position.

Here’s the bottom line. No one really knows what is going on.  Even the parties on both sides really only know “their” side and there are two sides to every story.  For outsiders, which means all of us, to jump into the fray is like the distant family taking sides in a family squabble.  Almost everyone has the information wrong, or only part of the information, but everyone has a very strong opinion based on what they think they know.  Agendas come into play and it gets ugly, very ugly, very quickly, which is again, where we are today.  I have been utterly horrified at some of the vitriol I’ve seen online.

The people who have figured out the problem, and there are a few, generally technology professionals, are doing what they should do and keeping their mouths shut. Let me translate this – they are more concerned for our security and well-being than the perception of the online community that they were “right.”   To those people, from all of us, thank you for your professionalism.

The other bad thing about social media is that even when the problem goes away, the hard feelings generated by speculation and misinformation don’t. The damage done by jumping to early, incorrect conclusions and fueling vilifying social rhetoric may never be undone either.  Damaging, or attempting to damage either party socially or otherwise is not beneficial to a resolution and may actually hinder the resolution that we want to see.  This ultimately damages all of genetic genealogy.

What I’m saying is this: We can’t do anything to actively “help” but we can certainly negatively impact the situation.  We really don’t know what is going on, and as such, should not be speculating or arriving at premature conclusions.  Rampant speculation is not helpful, is inaccurate and has the potential to make the situation much worse.  As a community, we need to give these firms some time and space without fueling the emotional flames which may indeed make their negotiations or communications, or whatever needs to happen, more difficult.

So, in the vernacular of my parenting, I’m asking us all to calm down, take a deep breath and a personal timeout:)  Let’s find something else fun and productive to do for a few days and leave GedMatch and Family Tree DNA alone, relative to this topic.  They have both stated that they want to resolve this situation.  Both of the companies are listening to us, are well-intentioned and engaged, which is far more than we receive from other companies in this field.  What more can we ask at this point?

I have every confidence that both of these firms are committed to genetic genealogists and want to resolve this issue – and that they will, given some time and space out from under the microscope and spotlight.  I’m sure they understand how the community feels regarding this issue – so at this point there is no need to say any more unless the issue isn’t resolved.

In this same vein, I apologize to my sane and rational commenters, but the comments portion of this blog posting is closed. I do not want to add to the online rhetorical issue.  If you have something to say to either party, then send it, in a polite and civil manner that would not embarrass your grandmother, directly to the parties involved.

Update 3-19-2016 – A joint announcement from GedMatch and Family Tree DNA this afternoon:

Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch jointly announce that we are in serious conversations regarding issues that have resulted in GEDmatch discontinuing uploads of FTDNA data. Both companies recognize the importance of these talks to their customers and are committed to quickly resolve differences. We regret any inconvenience that may have been caused and assure our users that our primary focus and efforts are geared toward your benefit.



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Genealogy in Time Magazine’s Top 100 Genealogy Websites of 2016

top 100

2016 marks the fifth year in a row that Genealogy In Time Magazine has ranked genealogy websites worldwide.

This ranking is far more than a popularity contest, utilizing statistical information from Alexa, an internet analysis tool which measures not only traffic (clicks) but how long a visitor spent on a website and how many pages they visited. In other words, Alexa tries to measure not just if you went there, but if you found value and utilized the content.

You can see their Top 100 list here.  I suggest that you also take time to read the associated commentary – the article is 10 pages long – because they have some very insightful analysis and observations.  For example, DNA is moving up, fewer sites are run by individuals and one of 7 genealogy site visits is to Ancestry.com in one flavor or another.

I particularly like the fact that their ranking is worldwide, because genealogy is also becoming more international as records in other countries become increasingly accessible and as DNA connects us. Additionally, more international professional genealogists are becoming highly visible, like Yvette Hoitink with her very successful Dutch Genealogy blog.  No, she’s not in the 100 sites listed, but then again, her blog and focus is very specific – the Netherlands.  However, genealogy and genetic genealogy is becoming dramatically more accessible internationally due to the visibility generated on the web by the larger commercial genealogy sites combined with specialty sites and services such as Yvette’s.  It was only in 2012 that I made the fateful statement that my Dutch genealogy line was beyond my reach – which prompted Yvette to show me that it was not – which started an amazing journey.

The bad news is that because of the way ranking was done by international site, Ancestry takes up three slots of the top 10 which means that Family Tree DNA is ranked at #11.  I was thrilled to see a DNA testing company listed so high in the rankings though, which tells me how far we’ve come in the past few years.  GedMatch, my favorite genetic genealogy tool site is also listed at #20.

Another favorite of mine, Judy Russell’s The Legal Genealogist is listed at number 76 and is one of only three blogs on the list.  Not only is Judy’s blog amazing, but so is Judy in person, so if you ever get the opportunity to see her speak, take it, regardless of the topic.  Whoever thought I’d ever WANT to listen to an attorney.  (Sorry Judy.)

And yes, in case you were wondering, my blog, www.DNA-eXplained.com is there too, at number 92.  That really made me smile and was great news to wake up to this morning.  My blog wasn’t on the list last year, but the article indicated that it’s ranking has increased by 31 locations, so apparently last year I would have been at 123.

Thank you everyone who has visited this site and found useful information. Given that I provide my blog as a service to the genetic genealogy community, I have never sought or focused on “rankings” or viewed them as a measurement of success – but it does feel good to be recognized by virtue of visitor site usage as a valuable contributor, especially since most websites on the list are corporate – so the competition is stiff.

Speaking of blogs, although unfortunately not on this list, I subscribe to Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections, which is where I found out about the Genealogy in Time article.  John Reid provides a lot of great information and not just to Canadian genealogists.  Thanks John.

I want to thank Genealogy in Time Magazine for their efforts in gathering the information, doing the analysis and producing this list.  That undertaking is not trivial.

I found several sites I wasn’t aware of on the Top 100 list.  No, I don’ know how that happened.  I must have been sleeping under a rock with my double helix, because obviously a lot of other people knew about these sites.  So now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and visit some new websites!  There might be some ancestral tidbit waiting for me.  MooseRoots, here I come….



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research