ThruLines Suggests Potential Ancestors – How Accurate Are They?

I wanted to evaluate the accuracy of Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested Potential Ancestors when compared with a tree I know is accurate. I conducted an experiment where I created a small tree on Ancestry for a DNA tester that included only the first two generations, meaning grandparents and great-grandparents.

Click to enlarge any image.

This gave Ancestry enough data to work with and means that for the upstream ancestors, Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested specific people as ancestors.

How well did Ancestry do? Are the Potential Ancestors suggested by Ancestry accurate? How do they make those suggestions anyway? Are they useful?

I do have a second, completely separate, full tree connected to my other DNA test, and I do know who those ancestors are, or, in some cases, I know who they aren’t. I’ve had the privilege of working intensively on my genealogy for decades, so I can easily compare what is known and proven, or what has been disproven, to Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors.

We’ll start with the great-grandparents’ generation, but first, let’s talk about how ThruLines works. I’ve previously written about ThruLines here and here.

How ThruLines Works

ThruLines is a tool for people who have taken an AncestryDNA test and who link themselves to their position on their tree. Linking is a critical step. If you don’t link the DNA test to the proper profile, the tester won’t have ThruLines. I provided step-by-step instructions, here.

I want to emphasize this again, ThruLines is a TOOL, not an answer. It may or may not be accurate and it’s entirely UP TO YOU to take that hint, run with it, and verify or disprove. Ancestry is providing you with a hint.

Essentially, the more ancestors that you provide to Ancestry, generally, the better they can do when suggesting additional Potential Ancestors. They do need something to work with. I wrote about that in the article Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines.

If you don’t provide at least your parents and at least your grandparents in a tree, it’s unlikely that Ancestry will be able to provide Potential Ancestors for you.

I added two generations above the parents in this experiment in order to provide Ancestry with a significant “hook” to latch onto to connect with:

  • Other DNA testers who match the tester AND
  • Other people’s trees, whether the tree-owners have tested their DNA or not

So yes, to be clear, Ancestry DOES:

  • Use the trees of other people whose DNA you match AND have the same ancestors in their tree
  • Along with the trees of people you don’t match (or who haven’t DNA tested,) to propose ancestors for you

ThruLines only reaches back to ancestors within 7 generations, meaning the ancestor is the tester’s 5th great-grandparent or closer.

Most suggested Potential Ancestors in ThruLines have descendants who have tested and are DNA matches to you, but not necessarily all.

On your tree itself, the ThruLines “3 people” icon shows on the ancestors that have Thrulines.

Click to enlarge

Looking at this graphic of my tree, you can see that ThruLines ends at the 7th generation, but Potential Ancestors continue to be suggested beyond 7 generations. Note generation 9, below, which is beyond ThruLines but has Potential Ancestors suggested based entirely on other people’s trees.

ThruLines stops at 7 generations, but Potential Ancestor suggestions do not.

In the above example, in generation 7, Michael McDowell (1720-1755) is a known ancestor and has a ThruLine, but his wife is unknown. Ancestry has suggested a Potential Mother for Michael McDowell (1747-1840) who is also the spouse of Michael McDowell (1720-1755).

Here’s the ThruLines suggestion for Michael McDowell’s wife.

Ironically, there are no DNA matches for either Michael or Eleanor. However, there are DNA matches for their child who clearly descends from Michael. This may be an example of a situation where the other testers are beyond the 7th generation, so they don’t show as matches for our tester in Michael’s generation. The other possibility, of course, is a glitch in ThruLines.

(For those familiar with the Michael McDowell (1720-1755) lineage, Eleanor is his mother, not his wife. His wife is unknown, so this Potential Ancestor is incorrect.)

Potential Ancestors Without DNA Matches

A person may still be suggested as a Potential Ancestor even without any DNA matches.

I have seen situations where a parent has DNA matches to several ThruLine ancestors, but their child has the same suggested ancestor with zero DNA matches listed because the child and the match are one generation too far removed to be listed as a DNA match on ThruLines.

Yet, if you search the child’s match list for the individual listed as a DNA match to their parent through that ancestor, that match is also on the child’s match list.

In the chart that follows, you can see that ancestors in the midrange of generations have many DNA matches, but as you approach the 7th generation, the number of matches drops significantly, and some even have zero. That’s because both people of a match pair have to be within the generational boundary for ThruLines to list them as matches.

In some cases, the ancestor is not suggested for the child in ThruLines because the ancestor is the 6th great-grandparent of the child. If you look directly at the child’s tree, the Potential Ancestor may be suggested there.

Points to Remember

  • The difference between ThruLines and Potential Ancestors is that Potential Ancestors are still suggested beyond the hard 7 generation or 5 GG boundary for ThruLines.
  • ThruLines may suggest Potential Ancestors with or without DNA matches.
  • Potential Ancestors, either within or beyond ThruLines must connect to someone in your tree, or another Potential Ancestor or ancestors who connect to someone in your tree.

Incorrect Ancestors and Discrepancies

An incorrect ancestor can be listed in multiple people’s trees, and Ancestry will suggest that incorrect ancestor for you based on the associated trees. At one point, I did a survey of the number of people who had the incorrect Virginia wife listed for my ancestor, Abraham Estes, and the first 150 trees I viewed had the wrong wife. We have church record proof of her death in England before his children were born by his colonial Virginia wife. Garbage in, garbage out.

That doesn’t mean those trees aren’t useful. In some cases, the information “saved” to that person in those incorrect trees shows you exactly what is out there and can’t be correct. For example, if there is a death record and burial for someone, they can’t also be alive 50 years later in another location. Or someone born in 1780 can’t have been a Revolutionary War veteran. Sometimes you’ll discover same name confusion, or multiple people who have been conflated into one. Other times, you may actually find valid hints for your own ancestor misplaced in someone else’s tree. Always evaluate.

You “should” have the same number of matches to the man and woman of a couple if neither of them had descendants with another partner, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I would presume that’s due to tree discrepancies among your matches or other trees on Ancestry.

If the same ancestor is listed with multiple name spellings or similar differences, I have no idea how Ancestry determines which version to present to you as a Potential Ancestor. That’s why ThruLines are hints. Ancestry does show you the various trees they utilized and allows you to peruse them for hints for that suggested ancestor.

Just click on the Evaluate button. Unfortunately, neither of these trees have any records for this ancestor.

If you click on the tree, you are then given the opportunity to add Eleanor (meaning the potential ancestor) to your tree from their tree.

I STRONGLY, STRONGLY suggest that you DO NOT do this. By adding information directly from other people’s trees, you’re introducing any errors from their tree into your tree as well.

If you click through to their tree, you’ll often find that they used someone else’s tree as their “source,” so misinformation propagates easily. Seeing “Ancestry Family Trees” as a source, especially in multiple records, provides you with an idea of the research style of that tree owner. This also conveys the message to less-experienced researchers that copy/pasting from other trees is a valid source.

Use this information provided as hints and do your own research and evaluation.

Where Do Potential Ancestors Come From?

Let’s view an example of an incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestion and proof-steps you can utilize to help validate or potentially disprove the suggestion.

We know that George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson is NOT the father of James Lee Clarkson based on Y-DNA testing where the descendants of the two men not only don’t match, they have a completely different haplogroup. They do not share a common paternal ancestor. Furthermore, proven descendant groups of both men do not have autosomal DNA matches.

However, George Middleton Clarkson is suggested as a Potential Ancestor in ThruLines as the father of James Lee Clarkson.

Mousing over the ThruLines placard shows 98 DNA matches to other people who claim descent from George Middleton Clarkson. How is it possible to have 98 matches with descendants of George Middleton Clarkson, yet he’s not my ancestor?

Many people just see that “98,” which is a high number and think, “well, of course he’s my ancestor, otherwise, I wouldn’t match all those descendants.” It’s not that simple or straightforward though. It’s certainly possible to all be wrong together, especially if you’re dealing with long-held assumptions in the genealogy community and trees copies from other people’s trees for decades.

To view the ThruLine detail for George Middleton Clarkson, just click on the placard.

The ThruLine for George Middleton Clarkson has three attributed children with DNA matches. Let’s evaluate.

  • ThruLines Child 1 is my own James Lee Clarkson that has been erroneously attached to George Middleton Clarkson. However, the Y-DNA of the three various lines, above, does not match. That erroneous connection alone counts for 80 of those 98 matches. If all of those people who match me do descend from our common ancestor, James, those matches all make sense.

According to early histories, James Lee Clarkson was believed to be George’s son based on geographic proximity between the state of Franklin in eastern Tennessee and Russell County, Virginia, but then came DNA testing which said otherwise.

This DNA grouping from the Clarkson/Claxton DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows that the men, above, which includes descendants of James Lee Claxton/Clarkson, all match each other.

  • ThruLines Child 2 is Thomas Clarkston who has 17 DNA matches through 7 of his children.

By clicking on the green evaluate button for Thomas, we see that two of the DNA related trees have records, but three do not.

The first tree is quite interesting for a number of reasons.

  1. Thomas Clarkson is found in Lee County, VA, in relatively close proximity to where James Lee Clarkson is first found in Russell County, VA as an adult in 1795.
  2. There is no actual documentation to connect Thomas Clarkson with George Middleton Clarkson who was hung in 1787 in the lost State of Franklin, Tennessee, now Washington and Greene Counties in Tennessee. It has been “accepted” for years that Thomas descends from George Middleton based on information reportedly passed down within that family long before the internet.

The Claxton/Clarkson DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows the Thomas lineage. This lineage reaches back into England based on Y-DNA matches – a huge and important hint for the Thomas descendants that they won’t be able to obtain anyplace else.

Note that Thomas’s Y-DNA does not match that of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton which means these people must match me through a different line. That’s not surprising given that many of the families of this region intermarried for generations.

  • ThruLines Child 3 is David Claxton, who has one DNA match, so let’s look at that by clicking on the green evaluate button.

You’ll see that this ancestor through David Claxton was recommended based on:

  • One DNA match with a tree with 0 source records, and
  • Zero Ancestry member trees of people whose DNA I don’t match, or that haven’t DNA tested

Checking this tree shows no sources for the following generations either, so I have no way to evaluate the accurace of the tree.

However, I did track his descendants for a generation or so and found them in Wilson County, TN, which allowed me to find them in the Clarkson/Claxton Y DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.

In the Clarkson/Claxton DNA project, we see that this David Claxton of Wilson County, TN is in a third DNA group that does not match either the James Lee Claxton or the Thomas Claxton line.

Furthermore, look at the hints for the descendants of David Claxton based on the Y-DNA matches. This link appears to reach back to a Clayton in Kirkington, Yorkshire.

ThruLines Conflation

In this case, three men of similar or the same surnames were cobbled together as sons of George Middleton Clarkson where clearly, based on Y-DNA testing, those three men are not related to each other paternally and do not share a common paternal ancestor. They cannot all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkson.

It’s amazing how much is missed and erroneously inferred by NOT testing Y-DNA. In very short order, we just proved that the ThruLine that connected all three of these men to George Middleton Clarkson as their ancestor is inaccurate.

In defense of Ancestry, they simply used user-submitted erroneous trees – but you have it within YOUR power to search further, and to utilize Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing for additional clarification. This Clarkson/Claxton information was freely available, publicly, by just checking.

You can find surname or other projects at FamilyTreeDNA, by scrolling down, here, or simply google “<surname you seek> DNA Project.”

How Can These People All Match the Tester?

If we know that the male Claxton/Clarkson line is not the link between these matches, then why and how do these people all DNA match the tester? That’s a great question.

It’s possible that:

  • They match the tester through a different ancestor
  • There has been a genetic disconnect in the Claxton/Clarkson line and the match is through the mother, not the Claxton/Clarkson male
  • Some of the other testers’ genealogy is in error by including George Middleton Clarkson in their trees
  • People accept the George Middleton Clarkson suggestion, adding him to their tree, propagating erroneous information
  • The descendants of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton match because he is their common ancestor, but connecting him to George Middleton Clarkson is erroneous
  • The 15 cM match (and potentially others) is identical by chance
  • The Y-DNA disproved this possibility in this case. In other cases, the matches could have been from the same biological Clarkson/Claxton line, but the testers have their ancestor incorrectly attached to George Middleton Clarkson/Claxton. In this case, we can’t say which of David Claxton, James Lee Claxton and/or Thomas Claxton are or are not individually erroneously connected to George Middleton Clarkson, but we know for a fact that David’s, James’ and Thomas’s descendant’s Y-DNA does not match each other, so they can’t all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkston. Furthermore, there is no solid evidence that ANY of these three men are his descendant. We know that these three men do not share a common direct paternal ancestor.

I recommend for every male line that you check the relevant Y-DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA and see if the information there confirms or conflicts with a suggested ancestor, or if a descendant hasn’t yet tested. I also STRONGLY recommend that a male in the relevant surname line that carries that surname be asked to test in order to verify the lineage.

ThruLine Ranking

I’m going to rank Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors by awarding points for accuracy on their Potential Ancestor ThruLines suggestions and subtracting points for incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestions. This chart is at the end with links to my 52 Ancestor’s articles for those ancestors.

OK, let’s take a look, beginning with the great-grandparent generation.

Great-Grandparents

I entered all of these ancestors and they are connected to their children, the tester’s grandparents. They are not connected to their parents for purposes of this article, although I do know who the parents are, so let’s see how Ancestry does making Potential Ancestor suggestions through ThruLines.

Ancestors (above example) that are NOT framed by a dotted line and who are NOT labeled as a “Potential Ancestor” have been connected in their tree by the DNA tester, meaning you.

The next generations, below, are all framed by dotted lines, meaning they are Potential Ancestor suggestions provided by Ancestry. Potential Ancestors are always clearly marked with the green bar.

Eight 2nd Great Grandparents

In this generation, because I have not connected them, Ancestry has suggested Potential Ancestors for all sixteen 2X Great-Grandparents.

I’ve provided gold stars for the correct ancestor information meaning both the name and the birth and death date within a year or a decade when they died between census years.

Of these 16, three are completely accurate and the rest were at least partially accurate.

I repeated this process for each one of the suggested Potential Ancestors in the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparent categories as well, completing a ranking chart as I went.

Ranking Chart

I’ve ranked Ancestry’s accuracy in their Potential Ancestor recommendations.

  • +2 points means the name AND birth and death years are accurate within a year or decade if they died within a census boundary
  • +1 point means that EITHER the name OR the birth and death dates are (mostly) accurate, but not both
  • 0 means uncertain, so neither positive or negative
  • -1 point means that NEITHER the name NOR birth and death dates are accurate but it’s clear that this is meant to be the correct person. In other words, with some work, this hint could point you in the right direction, but in and of itself, it is inaccurate.
  • -2 means that the person suggested is the wrong person

I’ve been generous where there was some question. I’ve linked these ancestors where I’ve written their 52 Ancestors stories. [LNU] means last name unknown. It’s worth noting that one of the trees Ancestry has available to utilize for Potential Ancestors is my own accurate tree with many source documents for my ancestors.

# Generation Ancestry Name & Birth/Death Years Correct Name & Birth/Death Years # Matches Points Awarded Y or mtDNA Confirmed
1 2nd GGP John R. Estes 1788-1885 John. R. Estes 1787-1885 110 2 Yes
2 2nd GGP Nancy Ann Moore 1789-1865 Ann Moore or Nancy Ann Moore c1785-1860/1870 112 1 Need mtDNA through all females
3 2nd GGP Lazarus Dotson 1785-1861 Lazarus Dodson 1795-1861 46 -1 Yes
4 2nd GGP Elizabeth Campbell 1802-1842 Elizabeth Campbell c 1802-1827/1830 46 1 Yes
5 2nd GGP Elijah R. Vannoy 1782-1850 Elijah Vannoy 1784-1850s 82 -1 Yes
6 2nd GGP Rebecca Lois McNeil 1781-1839 Lois McNiel c1786-c1830s 81 -1 Yes
7 2nd GGP William Crumley ?-1859 William Crumley 1788-1859 97 1 Yes
8 2nd GGP Lydia Brown Crumley 1796-1847 Lydia Brown c1781-1830/1840 112 -1 Yes
9 2nd GGP Henry Bolton 1741-1846 Henry Frederick Bolton 1762-1846 152 -1 Yes
10 2nd GGP Nancy Mann 1777-1841 Nancy Mann c1780-1841 134 1 Yes
11 2nd GGP William Herrel 1803-1859 William Harrell/Herrell c1790-1859 31 1 Yes
12 2nd GGP Mary McDowell 1785-1871 Mary McDowell 1785-after 1872 45 2 Yes
13 2nd GGP Fairwick Clarkson 1800-1874 Fairwix/Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton 1799/1800-1874 82 2 Yes
14 2nd GGP Agnes Sander Muncy 1803-1880 Agnes Muncy 1803-after 1880 106 1 Yes
15 2nd GGP Thomas Charles Speak 1805-1843 Charles Speak 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
16 2nd GGP Ann McKee 1805-1860 Ann McKee 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
17 3rd GGP George M. Estes 1763-1859 George Estes 1763-1859 76 1 Yes
18 3rd GGP Mary C. Younger 1766-1850 Mary Younger c1766-1820/1830 75 -1 Yes
19 3rd GGP William Moore 1756-1810 William Moore 1750-1826 72 1 Yes
20 3rd GGP Susannah Harwell 1748-1795 Lucy [LNU] 1754-1832 69 -2 Need Lucy’s mtDNA through all females
21 3rd GGP Lazarous Dotson 1760-1826 Lazarus Dodson 1760-1826 42 1 Yes
22 3rd GGP Janet Jane Campbell 1762-1826 Jane [LNU] c1760-1830/1840 38 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
23 3rd GGP John Campbell 1772-1836 John Campbell c1772-1838 65 1 Yes
24 3rd GGP Jane Dobkins 1780-1860 Jane Dobkins c1780-c1860 22 2 Yes
25 3rd GGP Francis Vanoy/Vannoy 1746-1822 Daniel Vannoy 1752-after 1794 76 -2 Yes
26 3rd GGP Millicent “Millie” Henderson 1755-1822 Sarah Hickerson 1752/1760-before 1820 76 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
27 3rd GGP William McNeil/McNeal 1760-1830 William McNiel c1760-c1817 116 1 Yes
28 3rd GGP Elizabeth Shepherd McNeil 1766-1820 Elizabeth Shepherd 1766-1830/1840 115 -1 Yes
29 3rd GGP William Crumley 1767-1837 William Crumley c1767-c1839 59 1 Yes
30 3rd GGP Hannah Hanner “Hammer” 1770-1814 unknown 60 -2 Have her mtDNA
31 3rd GGP Jotham Sylvanis Brown 1765-1859 Jotham Brown c1740-c1799 100 -2 Yes
32 3rd GGP Ruth Johnston Brown Phoebe Cole 1747-1802 97 -2 Incorrect person but have correct mtDNA
33 3rd GGP Henry Bolton 1720-1757 Henry Bolton 1729-1765 88 1 Yes
34 3rd GGP Sarah Corry 1729-1797 Sarah Corry 1729-1797 80 2 Need mtDNA through all females
35 3rd GGP Robert James Mann 1753-1801 James Mann 1745-? 77 -1 Need Y-DNA
36 3rd GGP Mary Jane Wilson 1760-1801 Mary Brittain Cantrell c1755-? 80 -2 Incorrect but have correct mtDNA
37 3rd GGP John Herrell 1761-1829 John Harrold c1750-1825 19 -1 Yes
38 3rd GGP Hallie Mary [LNU] c1750-1826 18 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
39 3rd GGP Michael McDowell-McDaniel 1737-1834 Michael McDowell c17471840 25 -2 Yes
40 3rd GGP Sarah Isabel “Liza” Hall Isabel [LNU] c1753-1840/1850 27 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
41 3rd GGP James Lee Clarkson 1775-1815 James Lee Clarkson c1775-1815 170 2 Yes
42 3rd GGP Sarah Helloms Cook 1775-1863 Sarah Cook 1775-1863 188 1 Yes
43 3rd GGP Samuel Munsey-Muncy 1767-1830 Samuel Muncy after 1755-before 1820 108 1 Yes
44 3rd GGP Anne W. Workman 1768-1830 Anne Nancy Workman 1760/1761-after 1860 107 -1 Yes
45 3rd GGP Rev. Nicholas Speak 1782-1852 Nicholas Speak/Speaks 1782-1852 93 2 Yes
46 3rd GGP Sarah Faires Speak 1782-1865 Sarah Faires 1786-1865 93 -1 Yes
47 3rd GGP Andrew McKee 1760-1814 Andrew McKee c1760-1814 86 2 Yes
48 3rd GGP Elizabeth 1765-1839 Elizabeth [LNU] c1767-1838 88 2 Yes
49 4th GGP Moses Estes 1742-1815 Moses Estes c1742-1813 27 1 Yes
50 4th GGP Luremia Susannah Combes 1747-1815 Luremia Combs c1740-c1820 33 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
51 4th GGP Marcus Younger 1735-1816 Marcus Younger 1730/1740-1816 30 2 Yes
52 4th GGP Susanna Hart* 1725-1806 Susanna [possibly] Hart c1740-before 1805 26 -1 Yes
53 4th GGP William Moore 1725-1757 James Moore c1718-c1798 25 -2 Yes
54 4th GGP Margaret Hudspeth 1725-1808 Mary Rice c1723-c1778/1781 26 -2 Need Mary Rice mtDNA through all females
55 4th GGP Samuel “Little Sam” Harwell 1716-1793 Incorrect 36 -2
56 4th GGP Abigail Anne Jackson 1712-1793 Incorrect 33 -2
57 4th GGP Rawleigh “Rolly” Dodson 1730-1793 Raleigh Dodson 1730-c1794 19 2 Yes
58 4th GGP Elizabeth Mary Booth 1728-1793 Mary [LNU] c1730-1807/1808 27 -2 Need Mary’s mtDNA through all females
59 4th GGP Nancy Ann Steele 1728-1836 Unknown mother of Jane [LNU], wife of Lazarus Dodson 16 -2 Need Jane’s mtDNA through all females
60 4th GGP James Campbell 1742-1931 Charles Campbell c1750-c1825 28 -2 Y DNA confirmed NOT this line
61 4th GGP Letitia Allison 1759-1844 Incorrect 31 -2
62 4th GGP Jacob Dobkins 1750-1833 Jacob Dobkins 1751-1835 91 1 Yes
63 4th GGP Dorcas (Darcas) Johnson 1750-1831 Darcus Johnson c1750-c1835 92 2 Yes
64 4th GGP John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 47 2 Yes
65 4th GGP Susannah Baker Anderson 1720-1816 Susannah Anderson c1721-c1816 59 2 Need mtDNA through all females
66 4th GGP Thomas Hildreth Henderson 1736-1806 Charles Hickerson c1725-before 1793 37 -2 Have Hickerson Y-DNA
67 4th GGP Mary Frances “Frankie” McIntire 1735-1811 Mary Lytle c1730-before 1794 37 -2 Need mtDNA from all females
68 4th GGP Rev. George W. McNeil 1720-1805 George McNiel c1720-1805 143 1 Yes
69 4th GGP Mary Sarah Coates 1732-1782 Sarah/Sallie or Mary [maybe] Coates c1740-1782/1787 139 1 Need mtDNA through all females
70 4th GGP John James Sheppard Shepherd 1734-1810 Robert Shepherd 1739-1817 136 -2 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
71 4th GGP Sarah Ann Rash 1732-1810 Sarah Rash 1748-1829 178 -1 Yes
72 4th GGP John Crumbley 1737-1794 William Crumley 1736-1793 77 -2 Have Crumley Y-DNA
73 4th GGP Hannah Mercer 1742-1774 Hannah Mercer c1740-c1773 73 2 Yes
74 4th GGP John Hanner (Hainer) Incorrect 19 -2
75 4th GGP Jotham Brown 1740-1799 Incorrect 183 -2 Have Brown Y-DNA
76 4th GGP Phoebe Ellen Johnston 1742-1810 Incorrect 182 -2
77 4th GGP Moses Johnston 1746-1828 Incorrect 45 -2
78 4th GGP Eleanor Havis 1753-1837 Incorrect 47 -2
79 4th GGP Henry Boulton 1693-1737 John Bolton before 1693-after 1729 23 -2 Have Bolton Y-DNA
80 4th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Elizabeth Goaring 1795-1729 22 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
81 4th GGP Thomas Curry (Corry) 1705-1729 Thomas Curry 1705-1729 25 2 Need Curry Y-DNA
82 4th GGP Monique “Moniky” Curry 1704-1729 Monique Demazares 1705-1729 25 1 Need mtDNA through all females
83 4th GGP Robert James Mann 1740-1787 John Mann 1725-1774 26 -2 Need Mann Y-DNA
84 4th GGP Sarah Susannah McCloskey 1716-1797 Frances Carpenter 1728-1833 28 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
85 4th GGP Benjamin “Col. Ben” Colonel Wilson 1733-1814 Incorrect 28 -2
86 4th GGP Mary Ann Seay 1735-1814 Incorrect 29 -2
87 4th GGP John Hugh McDowell 1695-1742 Michael McDowell c1720-after 1755 7 -2 Incorrect but have correct Y-DNA McDowell Y-DNA
88 4th GGP Mary Magdalena Woods 1705-1800 Incorrect 8 -2
89 4th GGP Ebenezer Hall 1721-1801 Incorrect 6 -2
90 4th GGP Dorcas Abbott Hall 1728-1797 Incorrect 6 -2
91 4th GGP George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson 1745-1787 Incorrect 98 -2 Incorrect but have correct Clarkson Y-DNA
92 4th GGP Catherine Middleton 1764-1855 Incorrect 94 -2
93 4th GGP William Henry Cook 1750-1920 Joel Cook before 1755 – ? 83 -2 Need Cook Y-DNA
94 4th GGP Elizabeth Wall 1747-1826 Alcy [LNU] c 1755-? 91 -2 Yes
95 4th GGP Obediah Samuel Muncy 1735-1806 Samuel Muncy 1740-1799 33 -1 Yes
96 4th GGP UFN Obediah Muncy wife Unknowen (sic) 1728-1843 Agnes Craven 1745-1811 27 -2 Need Agnes Craven Need mtDNA through all females
97 4th GGP Joseph Workman 1732-1813 Joseph Workman c1736-c1813 64 2 Yes
98 4th GGP Phoebe McRay McMahon 1745-1826 Phoebe McMahon c1741-after 1815 64 1 Yes
99 4th GGP Charles Beckworth Speake/Speaks 1741-1794 Charles Speake c1731-1794 47 1 Yes
100 4th GGP Jane Connor 1742-1789 Incorrect, unknown first wife 40 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
101 4th GGP Gideon Farris 1748-1818 Gideon Faires before 1749-1821 54 -1 Yes
102 4th GGP Sarah Elizabeth McSpadden 1745-1821 Sarah McSpadden c1745-c1820 55 1 Yes
103 4th GGP Hugh McKee 1720-1795 Unknown 34 -2
104 4th GGP Mary Nesbit 1732-1795 Unknown 35 -2
105 4th GGP Private (sic) Unknown father of Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee 35 -2
106 4th GGP Anna Elizabeth Carney [wife of “private”] Incorrect 35 -2
107 5th GGP Moses Estes 1711-1788 Moses Estes 1711-1787 13 2 Yes
108 5th GGP Elizabeth Jones “Betty” Webb 1718-1782 Elizabeth [LNU] 1715/1720-1772/1782 5 -2 No known daughters
109 5th GGP George W. Combs 1714-1798 John Combs 1705-1762 6 -2 Need Combs Y-DNA
110 5th GGP Phebe Wade ?-1830 Incorrect 6 -2 Need mtDNA of John Combs first wife through all females
111 5th GGP Sarah Ferguson 1700-1781 Incorrect 3 -2
112 5th GGP Anthony Hart 1700-? Possibly Anthony Hart but no evidence 3 0
113 5th GGP Charles Rev. Moore 1685-1734 Incorrect 4 -2
114 5th GGP Mary Margaret Barry Moore 1690-1748 Incorrect 4 -2
115 5th GGP Ralph Hudspeth II* 1690-1776 Incorrect 9 -2
116 5th GGP Mary Carter 1699-1737 Incorrect 3 -2
117 5th GGP Samuel Harwell 1674-1767 Incorrect 3 -2
118 5th GGP Mary Ann Coleman*8th Ggm (sic) 1678-1723 incorrect 6 -2
119 5th GGP Ambrose (Sar) Jackson 1695-1745 Incorrect 6 -2
120 5th GGP Anne Amy Wyche 1692-1765 Incorrect 6 -2
121 5th GGP George E Dodson (DNA) (sic) 1702-1770 George Dodson 1702-after 1756 23 -1 Yes
122 5th GGP Margaret Dogett Dagord 1708-1770 Margaret Dagord 1708-? 24 1 Need mtDNA through all females
123 5th GGP James Booth 1700-1741 Incorrect 4 -2
124 5th GGP Frances Dale Booth (15great aunt) (sic) 1688-1777 Incorrect 3 -2
125 5th GGP Samuel Scurlock Steele 1709-1790 Incorrect 2 -2
126 5th GGP Robert R. Campbell 1718-1810 Incorrect 34 -2
127 5th GGP Lady: Letitia Crockett 1719-1760 Incorrect 8 -2
128 5th GGP John A. Dobkins 1717-1783 John Dobkins c1710-c1788 20 1 Yes
129 5th GGP Mary Elizabeth Betty Moore 1739-1815 Elizabeth [LNU] c1711-? 20 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
130 5th GGP Peter Johnson 1715-1796 Peter Johnson/Johnston c1720-c1794 0 1 Yes
131 5th GGP Mary Polly Phillips 1729-1790 Mary Polly Phillips c1726-? 1 2 Need mtDNA through all females
132 5th GGP Francis Janzen Vannoy Van Noy 1688-1774 Francis Vannoy 1688-1774 8 1 Yes
133 5th GGP Rebecca Anna Catherine Anderson 1698-1785 Rebecca Annahh Andriesen/ Anderson 1697-1727 13 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
134 5th GGP Cornelius Anderson (Andriessen) 1670-1724 Kornelis Andriesen 1670-1724 5 2 Yes
135 5th GGP Annetje Annah Opdyck 1670-1746 Annetje Opdyck c1675-after 1746 5 2 Need mtDNA through all females
136 5th GGP Thomas Hildret Henderson 1715-1794 Incorrect

 

3 -2
137 5th GGP Mary Frisby 1709-1794 Incorrect 3 -2
138 5th GGP Alexander (Alex) McEntire 1707-1802 Incorrect 12 -2
139 5th GGP Hannah Janet McPherson 1711-1792 Incorrect 15 -2
140 5th GGP Thomas James McNeil 1699-1803 Incorrect 25 -2
141 5th GGP Mary Hannah Parsons 1697-1784 Incorrect 27 -2
142 5th GGP John Coates 1699-1732 Incorrect 21 -2
143 5th GGP Sarah Ann Titcombe 1710-1732 Incorrect 22 -2
144 5th GGP George Sheppard, Shepherd 1716-1751 George Shepherd c1700-1751 42 1 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
145 5th GGP Elizabeth Mary Angelicke Day (Daye) 1699-? Elizabeth Mary Angelica Daye 1699-after 1750 41 1 Need mtDNA through all females
146 5th GGP Joseph Rash 1722-1776 Joseph Rash before 1728-c1767 36 1 Yes
147 5th GGP Mary Warren 1726-1792 Mary Warren 1726-? 36 1 Yes
148 5th GGP James L Crumley/Cromley 1712-1784 James Crumley c1711-1764 11 -1 Yes
149 5th GGP Catherine Bowen Gilkey 1712-1784 Catherine [LNU] c1712-c1790 11 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
150 5th GGP Edward Willis Mercer 1704-1763 Edward Mercer 1704-1763 5 1 Yes
151 5th GGP Ann Lueretias Coats 1710-1763 Ann [LNU] 1699/1705-c1786/1790 5 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
152 5th GGP Daniel Brown 1710-1798 Incorrect 39 -2
153 5th GGP Mary Brown 1717-1777 Incorrect 40 -2
154 5th GGP Zopher “Elder” Johnson/Johnston* 1700-1804 Incorrect 51 -2
155 5th GGP Elizabeth Williamson Cooper 1703-1794 Incorrect 49 -2
156 5th GGP Joseph Benjamin Johnson (6th ggf) (sic) 1709-1795 Incorrect 3 -2
157 5th GGP Elizabeth Shepard 1709-1786 Incorrect 3 -2
158 5th GGP John (Boulware) Havis (Rev/war) (sic) 1728-1807 Incorrect 4 -2
159 5th GGP Susannah Gentile Boullier (Boulware) 1733-1817 Incorrect 3 -2
160 5th GGP Henry Boulton Jr. 1652-1720 Incorrect 22 -2
161 5th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Incorrect, linked in two generations Duplicate not processing -2
162 5th GGP Norton Bryan 1634-1672 Incorrect 2 -2
163 5th GGP Elizabeth Middlemore 1640-1658 Incorrect 2 -2
164 5th GGP Guillam Demazure 1685-1706 Guillam Demazares before 1685-after 1705 2 2 Need Y-DNA
165 5th GGP Marie Demazure 1686-1705 Marie [LNU] before 1686-after 1705 2 1 Need mtDNA through all females
166 5th GGP John Robert Mann {Minnis} 1711-1772 Incorrect 3 -2
167 5th GGP Anne Vincent 1711-1747 Incorrect 3 -2
168 5th GGP Joseph David McCluskey 1693-1756 Incorrect 3 -2
169 5th GGP Barbara S Rohlflag 1695-1755 Incorrect 3 -2
170 5th GGP Willis Wilson, Jr. 1710-1794 Incorrect 4 -2
171 5th GGP Elizabeth Goodrich ?-1789 Incorrect 4 -2
172 5th GGP Reverend James Matthew Seay 1696-1757 Incorrect 7 -2
173 5th GGP Elizabeth (James M Seay) Wilson or Lewis 1696-1752 Incorrect 6 -2
174 5th GGP Ephriam Samuel McDowell 1673-1774 Murtough McDowell before 1700-1752 0 -2 Yes
175 5th GGP Margaret Elizabeth Irvine 1674-1728 Eleanor [LNU] before 1700-after 1730 1 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
176 5th GGP Michael Marion Woods 1684-1782 Incorrect 9 -2
177 5th GGP Mary Catherine Woods 1690-1742 Incorrect 9 -2
178 5th GGP Joseph Hall 1680-1750 Incorrect 0 -2
179 5th GGP Sarah Kimball Hall Haley 1686-1752 Incorrect 0 -2
180 5th GGP Edward Abbott 1702-759 Incorrect 0 -2
181 5th GGP Dorcas Mehitable Chandler 1704-1748 Incorrect 0 -2
182 5th GGP James Anderson Clarkston 1717-1816 Incorrect 17 -2
183 5th GGP Thomasina Elizabeth Middleton 1720-1796 Incorrect 17 -2
184 5th GGP Harlace Middleton Incorrect 5 -2
185 5th GGP Capt. Vallentine Felty Kuke Cook 1730-1797 Incorrect 25 -2
186 5th GGP Michael Wall 1728-1749 Incorrect 11 -2
187 5th GGP Rebecca Chapman 1725-1791 Incorrect 11 -2
188 5th GGP Samuel Scott Muncy 1712-1786 Samuel Muncy 1712-after 1798 50 -1 Yes
189 5th GGP Mary Daughtery Skidmore 1710-1797 Mary Skidmore c1710-1811 51 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
190 5th GGP Abraham Woertman Workman 1709-1749 Abraham Workman 1709-1813 26 1 Yes
191 5th GGP Hannah Annetje (Smith) Workman 1706-1747 Annetie Smith 1714-? 26 1 Need mtDNA through all females
192 5th GGP Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 17 2 Need Y-DNA
193 5th GGP Agnas Norton 1699-1747 Agnas Norton after 1700-? 17 2 Need mtDNA through all females
194 5th GGP Thomas Bowling Speake V 1698-1765 Thomas Speak c1634-1681 11 -2 Yes
195 5th GGP Jane Barton/Brisco Smoote 1714-1760 Elizabeth Bowling 1641-before 1692 12 -2 No known daughters
196 5th GGP William Farris 1714-1776 William Faires/Farris before 1728-1776 11 1 Yes
197 5th GGP Deborah Johnson Faries 1734-1812 Deborah [LNU] 1734-1812 11 1 Need mtDNA through all females
198 5th GGP Thomas of Borden’s Grant McSpadden 1720-1765 Thomas McSpadden c1721-1785 19 1 Yes
199 5th GGP Mary Dorothy Edmondson (Edmundson, Edmiston, Edmisten) 1721-1786 Dorothy [possibly Edmiston] 1721-? 28 1 Yes
200 5th GGP Thomas Alexander McKee, Sr 1693-1769 Incorrect 7 -2
201 5th GGP Tecumseh Margaret Opessa Pekowi 1695-1780 Incorrect 6 -2
202 5th GGP Thomas F Nesbit 1707-1783 Incorrect 7 -2
203 5th GGP Jean McKee 1707-1790 Incorrect 7 -2
Total -163

Please note that I will provide a free Y-DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for any male descending through all men from the male ancestor where it’s noted that Y-DNA is needed. Y-DNA is typically the surname line in most western countries.

I will also provide a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for anyone who descends from the women where it’s noted that mitochondrial DNA is needed. Mitochondrial DNA passes through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female.

If this is you or a family member, please reach out to me.

The Scores

Of the 203 ancestors for which Ancestry provided a Potential Ancestor, they could have amassed a total of 406 points if each one provided an accurate name and accurate birth and death dates within a reasonable margin. If they were completely wrong on every one, they could have earned a negative score of -406.

Ancestry’s ThruLine accuracy score was -163, meaning they were wrong more than right. Zero was the break-even point where there was equally as much accurate information as inaccurate.

In fairness though, the older ancestors are more likely to be wrong than the more recent ones, and there are more older ancestors given that ancestors double in each generation. Once Ancestry provided a wrong ancestor, they continued down that wrong path on up the tree, so once the path was incorrect, it never recovered.

Regardless of why, Ancestry suggested incorrect information, and as we know, many people take that information to heart as gospel. In fact, many people even call these *TrueLines* instead of *ThruLines*.

Ok, how did Ancestry do?

Category Total Percent
+2 – Both Name and Date Accurate or Within Range 24 11.82%
+1 – Name and/or Date Partly Accurate 41 20.2%
0 – Uncertain 1 0.49%
-1 – Neither Name nor Date Accurate, but Enough Context to Figure Out With Research 22 10.84%
-2 – Inaccurate, the wrong person 115 56.65%

 Take Aways – Lessons Learned

This leads us to the lessons learned portion.

  • Never, ever, take ThruLines or Potential Ancestors at face value. They are hints and nothing more. Ancestry states that “ThruLines uses Ancestry trees to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through common ancestors.” (Bolding is mine.)
  • Verify everything.
  • Never simply copy something from another tree or accept a hint of any kind without a thorough evaluation. No, your ancestor probably did not zigzag back and forth across the country every other year in the 1800s. If you think they did, then you’ll need lots of information to prove that unusual circumstance. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary proof.
  • Never add extraneous “things” to names like “DNA match” or name someone “Private,” unless, of course, that was actually their name. Extraneous “pieces” in names confuses Ancestry’s search routines too, so you’re hurting your own chances of finding relevant information about your ancestor, not to mention ThruLines for others.
  • Naming someone “Private” isn’t useful if they are attached to other non-private people as ancestors, siblings and descendants. Just sayin…
  • Once the first incorrect ancestor is suggested, ThruLines continues to go up the incorrect tree.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches for a particular ancestor may simply mean that lots of people are beyond the ThruLines match reporting thresholds. Unfortunately, Ancestry does NOT have a function where you can hunt for matches by ancestor.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches may also mean it’s either the wrong ancestor, or they have few descendants, or few have tested.
  • The number of matches, in either direction, is not directly predictive of the accuracy of the suggested ancestor.
  • One of the best ways to validate ancestor accuracy is to match other descendants through multiple children of the ancestor, assuming that the children have been assigned to that ancestor properly. Recall George Middleton Clarkson where the three male children assigned to him do not have the same Y-DNA.
  • Another validation technique is to also match descendants of both parents of the ancestor(s) in question, through multiple children.
  • Remember that paper trail documentation is an extremely important aspect of genealogy.
  • Do not rely on trees without sources, or on trees with sources without verifying that every source is actually referencing this specific person.
  • Same name confusion is a very real issue.
  • For male ancestors, always check the Y-DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA to verify that males attached as children have descendants with matching Y-DNA.
  • Always test males for their surname line. You never know when you’ll either prove or disprove a long-held belief, or discover that someplace, there has been a biological break in that line.
  • Y-DNA matches can provide extremely valuable information on earlier ancestral lines which may lead to breaking through your brick wall.
  • Mitochondrial DNA testing and matching of descendants is sometimes the only way of proving maternity or discovering matches to earlier ancestors.
  • Both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, via haplogroups, can provide origins information for that one specific line, meaning you don’t have to try to figure out which ancestor contributed some percentage of ethnicity or population-based DNA.
  • Everyone can test their mitochondrial DNA, inherited from their direct matrilineal line, and men can test their Y-DNA, which is their surname line.
  • Remember that ThruLines can only be as good as the trees upon which it relies.
  • Review the source trees for each Potential Ancestor provided, evaluating each source carefully, including notes, images and web links. You just never know where that diamond is hiding.

How Can Ancestry Improve ThruLines, Potential Ancestors and Provide Customers with Better Tools?

To improve ThruLines and/or Potential Ancestors, Ancestry could:

  • My #1 request would be to implement a “search by ancestor” feature for DNA matches. This would be especially beneficial for situations where matches are beyond the 5GG threshold, or if someone is testing a hypothesis to see if they match descendants of a particular person.
  • Provide a “dismiss” function, or even a function where a customer could provide a reason why they don’t believe a connection or suggestion is accurate. This could travel with that link for other users as well so people can benefit from commentary from and collaboration with others.
  • Provide all DNA matches to people who share a specific ancestor, even if one person is beyond the 5 GG level. Currently, if both people are beyond that threshold, the match won’t show for either, so that’s no problem. The hybrid way it works today is both confusing and misleading and the hard cutoff obfuscates matches that have the potential to be extremely useful. Often this is further exacerbated by the 20 cM thresold limit on shared matches.
  • Add a feature similar to the now defunct NADs (New Ancestor Discoveries) where Ancestry shows you a group of your matches that descend from common ancestors, but those ancestors are NOT connected to anyone in your tree. However, DO NOT name the tool New Ancestor Discoveries because these people may not be, and often are not, your ancestors. If you’re related to a group of people who all have these people in THEIR tree as ancestors, that alone is a powerful hint. You might be descended from their ancestors, from the spouse of one of their children – something. But it’s information to work with when you have brick walls where Ancestry cannot connect someone as a potential ancestor directly to someone in your tree. Even locations of those brick-wall-breaker possible ancestors would be a clue. In fact, it’s not terribly different than the Potential Ancestors today, except today’s Potential Ancestors are entirely tree based (beyond ThruLines) and dependent upon connecting with someone in your tree. These new Brick-Wall-Breaker Potential Ancestors are (1.) NOT connected to your tree, and (2.) are all a result of DNA matches with people who have these ancestors in their tree.
  • If you already map your segment information at DNAPainter, the Brick-Wall-Breaker ancestral lineage connection would be immediately evident if Ancestry provided DNA segment location information. In other words, there are answers and significant hints that could be available to Ancestry’s customers.
  • Extend ThruLines for (at least) another two generations. Today ThruLines ends at the point that many people begin running into brick walls about the time the US census began. Using a 25-year generation, the current algorithm gives you 175 years (about 1825 starting with the year 2000), and a 30-year generation gives you 210 years (about 1790). Extending that two additional generations would give testers two more generations, several more Potential Ancestors, and 50-60 more years, approaching or reaching across the US colonial threshold.
  • Extending ThruLines and adding that Brick-Wall-Breaker functionality wouldn’t be nearly as important if customers could search by ancestor and download their match with direct ancestor information, similar to the other vendors, but since we can’t, we’re completely reliant on ThruLines and Potential Ancestors for automated connections by ancestor. Downloading your match list including a list of each person’s direct ancestors and matching segments would provide resources for many of these customer needs, without Ancestry having to do significant major development. If nothing else, it could be an interim stepping-stone.

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Project Administrators: How to Prepare Your Project for FamilyTreeDNA’s New Group Time Tree

Last week, FamilyTreeDNA  gave us a sneak peek into their new Group Time Tree that displays Big Y testers in time tree format within group projects that they have joined. I wrote about this in the article, Sneak Preview: Introducing the FamilyTreeDNA Group Time Tree.

The Group Time Tree is an excellent way to recruit new members, because people can see how other people with the same surname fit together in terms of common ancestors. Additionally, the time tree shows when they are related meaning TMRCA, time to the most recent common ancestor.

Here’s an example of the Estes project group time tree with some of the subgroups I’ve defined selected.

Click to enlarge any image

Feel free to view the public Estes project, here, and the Estes Group Time Tree, here.

View my subgroupings, and how they appear on the Group Time Tree. See if that’s how you want your project to work. You can use the search box to search for your own project, or other projects.

Preparation

As a volunteer project administrator, there are a number of things you’ll either need to do, or may want to do to prepare for the wider introduction of the exciting Group Time Tree. You’ll want your project members to benefit as much as possible.

Project Must Be Publicly Displayed

In order for your project to be able to be displayed in the Group Time Tree format, it must be a public project, meaning it has a public presence and viewing is not restricted to members only. The minimal selection for the Group Time Tree is that Y SNPs must be public.

Under Project Administration, Public Website, you’ll see the following configuration options.

Please click to enlarge

  • “Display Project Statistics” must be checked to facilitate displaying the Country Map showing the locations around the world of your Big Y project members.
  • You will want to enable the members Surname, and the Earliest Known Ancestor if you want them to display in the Group Time Tree. If at least one of these is not selected, the Group Time Tree will not be displayed.
  • Option 1: Under “YDNA Options,” at right, if you select “Public” for “Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results,” both SNP and haplogroup results will be shown in the public project, but of course, only Big Y tester’s results are shown on the Group Time Tree. You do NOT have to select public here to enable the Group Time Tree, but if you DON’T select public here, then you MUST select “Public” for “Y DNA SNP” (Option 2) or the Group Time Tree will not be enabled.
  • If you select either “Project Members Only” or “Do Not Display” for “Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results,” there will be no public project display for individual results.
  • Option 2: If you do NOT select “Public” for “Y-DNA SNP”, there will be no Group Time Tree display unless the “Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results” (Option 1) are set to Public.

In other words, for the Group Time Tree to be enabled, Option 1 or Option 2 MUST be set to “Public.”

Here’s a chart to help.

Field Selection Group Time Tree Result
Display Project Statistics Not selected No Country Map displayed.
Display Project Statistics Selected Country Map Displayed if group project publicly enabled.
Members Last Name and/or Earliest Known Ancestor Must select one or both If at least one is not selected, Group Time Tree is not enabled.
Option 1: Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results Public STR and haplogroup results show in BOTH the traditional public project display and the Group Time Tree.
Option 1: Member DNA Test (YDNA) Results Project Members Only or Do Not Display Will not display in the traditional project display. If this option is set to anything but Public, then Option 2 must be Public to enable the Group Time Tree.
Option 2: Y-DNA SNP Public Will display Group Time Tree even if Member DNA Test Results are not public.
Option 2: Y-DNA SNP Not Public Will NOT display Group Time Tree unless Option 1 set to Public.
Option 1 and Option 2 Neither set to Public No public group project display and no Group Time Tree.
Option 1 and Option 2 Both set to Public Public display of STR results, haplogroup, SNP results, and Group Time Tree.

Don’t forget to “Save” when you’re finished with your project configuration.

Country Map

For the Country Map to be displayed, you must enable the Project Statistics, above.

The Country Map reflects Big Y results for everyone within the project. If you do not want to include the Y-DNA of men within the project who not associated with the direct paternal surname of the project, you can disable the public display of their Y-DNA results.

An example would be a male who has joined a surname project because he is autosomally related to the surname, but does not carry the Y-DNA of that surname ancestor. I have this situation a LOT in the Estes project, because I “gather” my family members there and encourage cousins to join.

Here’s how to disable the display of those results within the project.

Suppress Display of Tests of Individuals

Select Public Results Display Settings.

Then, select the option for what you wish to implement for the various project members.

Options are:

  • Show Y DNA
  • Hide Y DNA
  • Show mtDNA
  • Hide mtDNA

Group Project Subgroupings

In the Estes project, I opted to colorize the descendants of Abraham Estes, the immigrant, all teal. Now, with the new Group Time Tree subgroup display, I may wish to change that. I might want the descendants of different sons to be different colors.

I definitely want different genetic Estes lineages to be different colors.

If you have people in your project whose Y-DNA is not relevant to the project, and you don’t want to suppress the display of their Y DNA results, you can group them together in a separate subgroup so you can deselect that group altogether when displaying the Group Time Tree, although their results will appear on the Country Map.

You can create subgroups and then group members under Project Administration, Member Subgrouping.

Weekly Updates

The Group Time Tree is only updated once a week, so there will be approximately a week’s delay after you make project configuration changes before you will see the results reflected in the Group Time Tree.

That’s why it’s a good idea to review your settings now so that when it goes live, you’ll be ready and it will display the way you want.

Padlock

If one of your project members has a padlock in place of their surname and Paternal Ancestor, they are a project member but have not opted-in to the public display within the project.

In their own settings, they can change that by Opting-In to the Group Project Profile Sharing. You can provide them with these instructions.

Under Account Settings, select Project Preferences.

Then, scroll down to Group Project Profile.

Select Opt-in to Sharing.

Encourage Big Y Upgrades and General Fund Donations

I’ve been encouraging everyone in my projects to upgrade to the Big Y-700 and providing several scholarships. Don’t hesitate to send bulk emails to your project members asking for general fund donations to upgrade someone who is willing but needs a scholarship. I’ve had amazingly good luck with the scholarship approach and the Big Y results benefit everyone in the project, including women who don’t have a Y chromosome to test.

Encourage Members to Complete Earliest Known Ancestor and Locations

The three haplotrees supported by FamilyTreeDNA  all depend on location information:

  • The Public Y-DNA and Mitochondrial DNA Haplotrees include country flags
  • The Discover Haplogroup tool includes the Country Frequency and country flags under the Haplogrop Story
  • The Group Time Tree includes country flags for the Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) of individual testers

Please encourage members to complete their Earliest Known Ancestor name and location. Remember, this information is NOT extracted from uploaded trees.

In a few days, I’ll publish step-by-step instructions for how to add EKA and location information.

Now is a good time to update your project selections so you’ll be ready for the official rollout of the Group Time Tree.

Accessing Your Group Time Tree

Until the official rollout, there are two ways to access your group’s time tree:

  1. Click here and then enter the name of the group project in the search box.
  2. Replace the word “estes” with your project’s exact name in the following url: https://discover.familytreedna.com/groups/estes/tree

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Sneak Preview: Introducing the FamilyTreeDNA Group Time Tree

Drum roll please!!!

This is a sneak peek of a new tool being rolled out by FamilyTreeDNA in a VERY EARLY BETA soft launch.

Right now, the only way to view the Group Time Tree is by using the link to my group project, below, then, search for a different project name. I’ll show you, but first, let’s talk about this VERY COOL new tool for Big Y group project results.

The Group Time Tree is a feature that group project administrators and project members have wanted for a VERY long time!

At FamilyTreeDNA, the words “group” and “project” are both used to describe Group Projects which are projects run by volunteer administrators. FamilyTreeDNA customers can join any number of projects to collaborate with other testers who have a common interest.

Four basic types of public group projects exist:

  • Surname Group Projects
  • Haplogroup Group Project
  • Geographic Group Projects which can include other types of special interests
  • Mitochondrial Lineage Group Projects

What Does the Regular Discover Time Tree Do?

The Discover tool that was recently introduced (here) provides a Time Tree view of any specific haplogroup (but no surnames or ancestors) in relation to:

  • Big Y testers (not SNP-only testers and not STR results because they can’t be used for time-to-most-recent-common-ancestor (TMRCA) calculations)
  • Ancient Connections
  • Notable Connections

Using the regular Discover Haplogroup took, here’s an example of the haplogroups of the Estes (and other) men, beginning with the R-BY154784 lineage near the bottom. Time is at the top. The only way you know they are Estes men is because I told you. The Discover tool is haplogroup specific, not surname specific.

What Does the New Group Time Tree Do?

The brand-new Group Time Tree is an extension of the Discover technology, but focused within projects and includes both surnames and earliest known ancestors for people who have opted-in to have their results display in public group projects. This tool only works for group projects that have the public display enabled, and includes only data that the administrator has included. Not all administrators have enabled the display of the “Paternal Ancestor” field, for example.

Now, you can see Big Y group project members:

  • All mapped together on a genetic time tree, or
  • By project subgroups defined by the project administrator

I want to provide a friendly reminder that this is a BETA tool and will be fully rolled out in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, it’s fun to have a sneak preview!!!

Estes DNA Group Project

Before going further, here are some screen shots of the Estes DNA Group Project for comparison.

I’ve created multiple color-coded groups within the project based on the genealogy and Y-DNA matches of the participants. The teal groups all descend from the Estes line from Kent, England, and match each other. Since not every man with an Estes surname descends from this line, there are also other color-identified groups.

Additionally, in the Estes project, I do not restrict members to males with the Estes surname, so there are several non-Estes men who have joined. Their Y-DNA shows in the project so I have placed them in an “Autosomal – Not Y DNA” group because they are Estes-related autosomally, not through the direct Y-DNA surname line.

I’ve grouped other clusters of Estes-surname males who do not descend from the Kent line into other color-coded groups, which turned out to be extremely beneficial for the new Group Time Tree.

Let’s see how the Estes Project works with the new Group Time Tree.

The Estes Group Time Tree

Here’s the link to the Estes Group Time Tree. I’ll be using the Estes data for this article, then show you how to view other group projects of your choosing from this link. So please read these instructions.

The Group Time Tree shows a genetic family tree of direct paternal lineages on a time scale. It shows how Big Y tested members of Group Projects are related to each other and when their shared ancestors are estimated to have lived.

Click on any image to enlarge

This is the first display I see.

Looking around, I notice the menu.

Select either “All search results” or the group or groups you want to view.

If you compare the groups above on the menu to the project screen shots, you’ll notice that the colors along the left side equate to the colors of the project subgroupings. We have Eastridge, meaning those who are not genetically Estes, then “Estes Autosomal, Not Y DNA,” then a group of teal project groupings who descend from the Estes Kent line.

I clicked on “Select All Search Results” which displayed everyone in the project from all haplogroups. This resulted in the Estes men being scrunched on the right-hand side, below, due to the long timeframe involved, which is not useful.

What is VERY useful is the Paternal Ancestor column which is the earliest known ancestor (EKA) for each tester’s line. Hopefully, this will encourage everyone to enter their EKA and location. You can find instructions, here.

Ok, let’s “De-select all” and just focus on specific groups.

Much better. I can see a much more relevant timeline for the men in the line being researched. The Estes men are no longer scrunched up along the right side because the left-to-right time is much shorter – 1500ish vs 100,000ish years.

The colored dot on the location flag indicates which colored group these men have been assigned to by the project administrator.

It’s very easy to see if two groups (or two men) descend from the same paternal line.

Next, I added the Eastridge group back into the display as an experiment.

The common ancestor between the single Eastridge Big Y tester and the Estes men is back in the Stone Age, about 35,000 BCE.

I do feel compelled to mention that this information can’t necessarily be extrapolated for all Eastridge men, because there are a few men with Eastridge surnames that are actually genetically Estes men. Someplace along the line, the name got changed. This is the perfect example of why every man needs to test their Y-DNA.

You can remove the menu by clicking on Subgroups.

You make the menu re-appear by clicking on Subgroups again.

I LOVE – LOVE – LOVE that I can see the ancestors and the clusters and I didn’t have to do this grouping myself. These men could have been in one big group in the project and the software would have created the clusters for me.

For example, there has been debate for decades about whether or not Moses Estes of South Carolina was descended from Abraham Estes, the immigrant, and if so, through which son.

Based on the Big Y-700 test (the Big Y-500 did not reveal this) and clustering, we know assuredly that Moses Estes of SC:

  • Descended from the Kent line
  • Descended from Abraham who has mutation R-BY490
  • Did NOT descend from Abraham’s son Moses whose descendants have mutation R-ZS3700

I’ve been keeping this project spreadsheet for years now. It’s wonderful to be able to see a genetic tree visualization. The Big Y men are blocked in red.

I’m hopeful that the balance of the men who have NOT yet taken the Big Y-700 will upgrade now because there’s so much more to learn. This is especially true for men who reach a brick wall prior to Abraham. The Big Y-700 test, perhaps combined with STRs, will place them in a lineage.

I’m sure that we would discover new haplogroups among Abraham’s descendants if they would all upgrade. There are more men who have not tested at the Big Y level than those that have.

Display Options

Under display options, you can add Ancient or Notable connections, remove confidence bars, and adjust the tree height.

Discoveries for Administrators

As a project administrator, one thing I discovered is that I might want to regroup within some of my projects to take full advantage of the color coding on the Group Time Tree. If you are a project administrator, you may want to ponder the same.

I also discovered that when I clicked on Country Map, I did not have Project Statistics enabled.

If you make project configuration changes, this report will only be updated weekly, so it’s not immediate.

The country map shows the distribution of all the countries within the project, not specific groups within projects

You can view Country Maps in either map or table format, but remember that if the project is a surname project and includes autosomal testers, the map view will not be representative of the surname itself. This view shows all groups.

Viewing Another Group Project

To view a different group project, simply enter that project name in the search box. For now, this is how you’ll be able to view group projects until this tool is fully rolled out.

I entered the surname “Speak” and was presented with these options.

Obviously, the surname Speak or a variation is found in these projects. Just click to view.

Your Turn

If you have not yet taken or upgraded to the Big Y-700 test, now’s the time. Order or upgrade, here.

If you have already taken the Big Y-700 test, or want to view a project, click on this link, and search for your project of choice.

Have fun!!!

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Thank you so much.

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The Best of 2022

It’s that time of year where we look both backward and forward.

Thank you for your continued readership! Another year under our belts!

I always find it interesting to review the articles you found most interesting this past year.

In total, I published 97 articles in 2022, of which 56 were directly instructional about genetic genealogy. I say “directly instructional,” because, as you know, the 52 Ancestors series of articles are instructional too, but told through the lives of my ancestors. That leaves 41 articles that were either 52 Ancestors articles, or general in nature.

It has been quite a year.

2022 Highlights

In a way, writing these articles serves as a journal for the genetic genealogy community. I never realized that until I began scanning titles a year at a time.

Highlights of 2022 include:

Which articles were your favorites that were published in 2022, and why?

Your Favorites

Often, the topics I select for articles are directly related to your comments, questions and suggestions, especially if I haven’t covered the topic previously, or it needs to be featured again. Things change in this industry, often. That’s a good thing!

However, some articles become forever favorites. Current articles don’t have enough time to amass the number of views accumulated over years for articles published earlier, so recently published articles are often NOT found in the all-time favorites list.

Based on views, what are my readers’ favorites and what do they find most useful?

In the chart below, the 2022 ranking is not just the ranking of articles published in 2022, but the ranking of all articles based on 2022 views alone. Not surprisingly, six of the 15 favorite 2022 articles were published in 2022.

The All-Time Ranking is the ranking for those 2022 favorites IF they fell within the top 15 in the forever ranking, over the entire decade+ that this blog has existed.

Drum roll please!!!

Article Title Publication Date 2022 Ranking All-Time Ranking
Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages January 2017 1 2
Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 2012 2 1
Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them in in You? June 2017 3 5
AutoKinship at GEDmatch by Genetic Affairs February 2022 4
442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? Daily Updates Here September 2020 5
The Origins of Zana of Abkhazia July 2021 6
Full or Half Siblings April 2019 7 15
Ancestry Rearranged the Furniture January 2022 8
DNA from 459 Ancient British Isles Burials Reveals Relationships – Does Yours Match? February 2022 9
DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 2020 10
Ancestry Only Shows Shared Matches of 20 cM and Greater – What That Means & Why It Matters May 2022 11
How Much Indian Do I Have in Me??? June 2015 12 8
Top Ten RootsTech 2022 DNA Sessions + All DNA Session Links March 2022 13
FamilyTreeDNA DISCOVER Launches – Including Y DNA Haplogroup Ages June 2022 14
Ancient Ireland’s Y and Mitochondrial DNA – Do You Match??? November 2020 15

2023 Suggestions

I have a few articles already in the works for 2023, including some surprises. I’ll unveil one very soon.

We will be starting out with:

  • Information about RootsTech where I’ll be giving at least 7 presentations, in person, and probably doing a book signing too. Yes, I know, 7 sessions – what was I thinking? I’ve just missed everyone so very much.
  • An article about how accurately Ancestry’s ThruLines predicts Potential Ancestors and a few ways to prove, or disprove, accuracy.
  • The continuation of the “In Search Of” series.

As always, I’m open for 2023 suggestions.

In the comments, let me know what topics you’d like to see.

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You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

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DNA Black Friday is Here

Yes, I know it’s not Friday yet, but the DNA Black Friday sales have started, and sale dates are limited, so here we go.

These are the best prices I’ve ever seen at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. If you’ve been waiting to purchase a DNA test for that special someone, there’s never been a better time.

Remember, to jump-start your genetic genealogy, test close or targeted relatives in addition to yourself:

  • Parents, or if both parents are not available, full and half-siblings
  • If neither parents nor siblings are available, your siblings’ descendants
  • Grandparents or descendants of your grandparents – aunts, uncles, or their descendants
  • Cousins descended from great-grandparents or other known ancestors
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA descendants of specific, targeted ancestors

For yourself, you’ll want to fish in all the ponds by taking an autosomal test or uploading a DNA file to each of the four vendors. Upload/download instructions are available here.

Everyone can test their own mitochondrial DNA to learn about your mother’s direct matrilineal line, and males can test their Y-DNA to unveil information about their patrilineal or surname line. Women, you can test your father’s, brother’s, or paternal uncle’s Y-DNA.

I’ve written a DNA explainer article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, which you might find helpful. Please feel free to pass it on.

Vendor Offerings

FamilyTreeDNA

Free shipping within the US for orders of $79 or more

FamilyTreeDNA is the only major testing company that offers multiple types of tests, meaning Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal. You can also get your toes wet with introductory level tests for Y DNA (37 and 111 marker tests), or you can go for the big gun right away with the Big Y-700.

This means that if you’ve purchased tests in the past, you can upgrade now. Upgrade pricing is shown below. Click here to sign on to your account to purchase an upgrade or additional product.

At FamilyTreeDNA, by taking advantage of autosomal plus Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, you will get to know your ancestors in ways not possible elsewhere. You can even identify or track them using your myOrigins painted ethnicity segments.

FamilyTreeDNA divides your Family Finder matches maternal and paternally for you if you create or upload a tree and link known testers. How cool is this?!!!

MyHeritage

The MyHeritage DNA test is on sale for $36, the best autosomal test price I’ve ever seen anyplace.

MyHeritage has a significant European presence and I find European matches at MyHeritage that aren’t anyplace else. MyHeritage utilizes user trees and DNA matches to construct Theories of Family Relativity that shows how you and your matches may be related.

Remember, you can upload the raw data file from the MyHeritage DNA test to both FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch for free.

Free shipping on 2 kits or more.

This sale ends at the end-of-day on Black Friday.

You can combine your DNA test with a MyHeritage records subscription with a free trial, here.

Ancestry

The AncestryDNA test is $59, here. With Ancestry’s super-size DNA database, you’re sure to get lots of matches and hints via ThruLines.

You can get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

If you order an AncestryDNA test, you can upload the raw DNA file to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch for free. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not accept uploads from other vendors.

23andMe

The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits DNA test is $79, here. 23andMe is well known for its Ancestry Composition (ethnicity) results and one-of-a-kind genetic tree.

The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits + Health test is now $99, here.

You can get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

If you order either of the 23andMe tests, you can upload the raw data file to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch for free. Unfortunately, 23andMe does not accept uploads from other vendors.

Can’t Wait!!

This is always my favorite time of the year because I know that beginning soon, we will all be receiving lots of new matches from people who purchased or received DNA tests during the holiday season.

  • What can you do to enhance your genealogy?
  • Have you ordered Y and mitochondrial DNA tests for yourself and people who carry the Y and mitochondrial DNA of your ancestors?
  • Are you in all of the autosomal databases?
  • Who are you ordering tests for?

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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 Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Y DNA Genealogy Case Study: SNPs, STRs & Autosomal – Why the Big Y-700 Rocks!

An expanded version of this article, including the genealogical aspects written for the Speak family, is available here. There is significantly more DNA information and analysis in this article, including STR values and autosomal analysis which can sometimes augment Y DNA results.

In 2004, 18 years ago, I founded the Speak(e)(s) Family DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA in collaboration with the Speaks Family Association (SFA).

The goal of the Association broadly was to share research and to determine if, and how, the various Speak lines in America were related. The “rumor” was that the family was from England, but no one knew for sure. We didn’t even know who was actually “in” the family, or how many different families there might be.

The good news is that to answer these types of questions, you don’t need a huge study, and with today’s tools, you certainly don’t need 18 years. Don’t let that part scare you. In fact, any Speak(e)(s) man who takes a Y-DNA test today will have the answer plopped into his lap thanks to earlier testers.

When I established the Speaks DNA Project, our goal was stated, in part, as follows:

This project was begun to determine the various Speak(e)(s) lines around the world. According to family legend, the original ancestor came to England with William the Conqueror and his last name then was L’Espec. It was later spelled Speke and then the derivatives of Speake, Speak, Speakes, and Speaks carried by descendants today.

We knew there was a Thomas Speak (c1634-1681) who settled in St. Mary’s County, MD by 1661 and had two sons, John the InnKeeper or InnHolder (1665-1731) and Bowling (c1674-1755), named after his mother’s birth surname.

Fast forwarding two or three generations, my ancestor, Nicholas Speak or Speaks was born about 1782 and was first found in Washington County, Virginia in 1804 when he married Sarah Faires. That’s a long way from Maryland. Who was Nicholas? Who were his parents? How did Nicholas get to Washington County, Virginia? There aren’t any other Speaks men, or women, in Washington County. Was he dropped fully grown by the stork?

In 2005, I attended my first Speaks Family Association Convention and gave an introductory talk about Y-DNA. Speaks males volunteered to test.

By the 2006 Convention, we had 8 Y-DNA testers.

At first, everything was fine. Two testers each from Thomas the Immigrant through sons John and Bowling.

  • Thomas, Bowling and then two different sons. They matched.
  • Thomas, John, and his son Richard. They matched too.
  • All four men above match each other.

Everything’s good, right?

Not so fast…

Then, a father/son pair tested who were also supposed to descend from the Thomas, Bowling, and Thomas line. Thankfully, they matched each other, but they did NOT match the other descendants of Thomas the Immigrant.

Because we had multiple men through both of Thomas the Immigrant’s sons, we had confirmed the Y-DNA STR marker signature of Thomas – which means that the father/son pair had experienced a genetic disconnect, or, they were actually descended from a different Speak line.

That wasn’t all though. Two more men tested who believed they descended from Thomas the Immigrant through John and then Richard. They didn’t match each other, nor any of the other men either.

This was a difficult, painful situation, and not what was anticipated. Of course, I reviewed the results privately with the men involved before presenting them at the convention, and only did so with their permission.

In an effort to identify their genealogical lines, we discovered seven other mentions of early colonial Speak immigrants, including one named Thomas.

Over time, we would discover additional Y-DNA genetic Speak lines.

Bonus Cousin

Y-DNA also revealed an amazing new cousin, Henry, who didn’t know who his father was, but thanks to DNA, discovered he is a genetic Speaks AND identified his father.

In 2006, our Y-DNA haplogroup was known only as I1b1. We knew it was fairly rare and found in the rough Dinaric Alps border region between Bosnia and Croatia.

We weren’t wrong. We were just early. Our ancestors didn’t stop in the Alps.

Haplogroups have come a long way since that time.

Today, using the new maps in the Discover tool, the migration path into Europe-proper looks like this.

By the 2009 Convention, more Speaks men were taking Y-DNA tests, but we still had no idea where the Speaks line originated overseas.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail of Y-DNA testing is often a match with a man either from the “old country,” wherever that is, or someone who unquestionably knows where their ancestor is from. Through a match with them, other testers get to jump the pond too.

In early 2010, a man in New Zealand was interested in taking a Y-DNA test and knew where, in England, his ancestors originated.

A few weeks later, the New Zealand tester matched our Thomas Speaks, the Immigrant, line, which meant our ancestors might be from where his ancestors were from. Where was that?

Gisburn.

Gisburn? Where the heck was Gisburn?

Gisburn

Gisburn is a tiny, ancient village in Lancashire, England located in the Ribble Valley on the old Roman road. It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ghiseburne and is believed to have been established in the 9th century.

This was no longer speculation or unsourced oral history, but actual genetic evidence.

We knew that Thomas Speake, the Immigrant, was Catholic. Maryland was a safe haven for Catholics hoping to escape persecution in England.

Thomas was rumored to have been born to a John, but we had no idea where that rumor arose.

Was our Thomas born in Gisburn too?

Shortly, we discovered that St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn held 50 marked Speaks burials in addition to many unmarked graves.

Next, we discovered that the records of St. Mary’s and All Saints Church in Whalley, eleven miles from Gisburn, held pages and pages of Speak family records. The earliest Speak burial there was in 1540.

In 2011, the SFA Convention was held near Thomas and Bowlng Speak’s land in Charles County, Maryland. My Convention presentation contained a surprise – the information about our Gisburn match, and what we had found. A Y-DNA match, plus church records, and graves. How could that get better?

I showed this cemetery map from St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn, where our New Zealand cousin’s family was buried.

It felt like we were so excruciatingly close, but still so far away.

We knew unquestionably that we were in the neighborhood, but where was our Thomas born?

Who was his family?

I closed with this photo of St. Mary’s in Gisburn and famously said, “I don’t know about you, but I want to stand there.”

It was a throw-away comment, or so I thought, but as it turned out, it wasn’t.

2013 – The Trip Home

Gisburn

Two years later, our Convention was held in Lancashire, and indeed, I got to stand there.

So did our Speak cousin from New Zealand whose Y-DNA test bulldozed this brick wall for us. To be clear, had this ONE PERSON not tested, we would NOT have known where to dig for records, or where to visit.

St. Mary’s Church was surrounded by the cemetery, with many Speak stones. The church itself was built as a defensive structure sometime before 1135 with built-in arrowslits for archers in many locations, including the tower. Our family history was thick and rich here.

St. Mary’s Church in Whalley

Our next stop was St. Mary’s Church in Whalley, where Henry Speke was granted a lease in 1540.

This church is ancient, built in the 1200s, replacing an earlier church in the same location, and stunningly beautiful.

The little green men carved into the wooden choir seats are a wink and a nod to an earlier pagan era. Our ancestors would have known that era too.

In addition to the churches in Gisburn and Whalley, we visited St. Leonard’s Church in Downham which is a chapelry of the church in Whalley.

Downham

This church, in the shadow of Pendle Hill, proved to be quite important to our hunt for family.

Downham, on the north side of Pendle Hill was small then, and remains a crossroad village today with a population of about 150 people, including Twiston.

Twiston is located less than 3 miles away, yet it’s extremely remote, at the foot or perhaps on the side of Pendle Hill.

During our visit, Lord Clitheroe provided us with a transcription of the Downham church records wherein one Thomas Speak was baptized on January 1, 1633/34, born to Joannis, the Latin form of John, in nearby Twiston.

Is this Thomas our Thomas the Immigrant who was born about that same time? We still don’t know. There are clues but they are inconclusive and some conflict with each other.

Records in this area are incomplete. A substantial battle was fought in Whalley in 1643. Churches were often used for quartering soldiers and horses. Minister’s notes could well have been displaced, or books destroyed entirely. There could easily have been more than one Thomas born about this time.

Probate files show that in 1615, “John Speake of Twiston, husbandman” mentions his son William and William’s children, including John who was the administrator of his will. For John to be an administrator, he had to be age 21 or over, so born in 1594 or earlier. Some John Speak married Elizabeth Biesley at Whalley in 1622 and is believed to be the John Speak Sr. recorded in Downham Parish Registers.

The Whalley, Gisburn, and Twiston Speake families are closely connected. The difference may well be that our Thomas’s line remained secretly Catholic, so preferred the “uninhabited” areas of the remote Twiston countryside. Even today, Gisburn is described as being “rural, surrounded by hilly and relatively unpopulated areas.” And that’s Gisburn, with more than 500 residents. Downham is much smaller, about 20% of the size of Gisburn.

What do we know about Twiston?

Twiston

Twiston is too small to even be called a hamlet. The original farm and corn mill was owned originally by Whalley Abbey at least since the 1300s and stands near an old lime kiln, probably in use since Roman times.

This is where you know the earth holds the DNA of your ancestors, and their blood watered the landscape.

When the Speak family lived here, it was considered a “wild and lawless region” by local authorities, probably due in part to its remoteness – not to mention the (ahem) rebellious nature of the inhabitants.

If you were a Catholic, living in a hotbed of “recussants,” and trying to be invisible, Twiston, nestled at the base of Pendle Hill would be a location where you might be able to successfully disappear among those of like mind.

Yes, of course, you’d show up, hold your nose, and baptize your baby in the Anglican church because you needed to, but then you would retreat into the deep hillside woodlands until another mandatory church appearance was required.

The road to Twiston was twisty, rock-lined, and extremely narrow, with rock walls on both sides. If only these ancient buildings and stone walls could speak, share their stories, and reveal their secrets.

Old documents, however, do provide some insight.

This document, originally penned in Latin, was provided by the Lancashire archives.

John Speak, in 1609, was a farmer, with a house (messauge), garden, orchard, 10 acres of farmland, 5 of meadow, and 10 acres of pasture.

Indeed, Twiston is where John Speak lived. If the Thomas born in Twiston to Joannis, Latin for John, in 1633 and baptized on January 1, 1633/34 in old St. Leonard’s Church in Downham is our Thomas, this is his birth location.

For our family, this is, indeed, hallowed ground.

Local Testers

Prior to our visit, we published small ads in local newspapers and contacted historical societies. We found several Speak(e)(s) families and invited them to dinner where the after-dinner speaker explained all about DNA testing. You probably can’t see them clearly, but there are numerous DNA kits lying on the table, just waiting for people to have a swab party.

Our guests brought their family histories, and one of those families traced their line to…you guessed it…Twiston.

Five men from separate Speak families tested. None of them knew of any connection between their families, and all presumed they were not related.

I carried those men’s DNA tests back in my hand luggage like the gold that they were.

They were wrong. All five men matched each other’s Y-DNA and our Thomas Speake line. We got busy connecting the dots genealogically, as best we could given the paucity of extant records.

  • Two of our men descended from Henry Speak born in 1650 who married Alice Hill and lived in Downham/Twiston.
  • Two of our men descended from John Speak born about 1540 who married Elina Singleton and lived in Whalley.
  • Two of our men, including our New Zealand tester, descend from John born sometime around 1700, probably in Gisburn where his son, James, was born about 1745.

We indeed confirmed that we had found our way “home” and that our Speake family has lived there a long time. But how long?

2022 DNA Analysis

Today, the Speaks family DNA Project has 146 members comprised of:

  • 105 autosomal testers
  • 32 Speak Y-DNA testers
  • 24 of whom are Thomas the Immigrant descendants
  • 8 Big Y testers

Over the years, we’ve added another goal. We need to determine HOW a man named Aaron Lucky Speaks is related to the rest of us.

Autosomal DNA confirms that Aaron Luckey is related, but we need more information.

Aaron Lucky is first found in 1787 purchasing land and on the 1790 Iredell County, NC census. We finally located a Y-DNA tester and confirmed that his paternal line is indeed the Lancashire Speaks line, but how?

After discovering that all 5 Lancashire Speaks men descend from the same family as Thomas the Immigrant, we spent a great deal of time trying to both sort them out, and tie the family lines together using STR 25-111 markers, with very limited success.

Can Y-DNA make that connection for us, even though the records can’t?

Yes, but we needed to upgrade several testers, preferably multiple people from each line to the Big Y-700 test.

The Y-DNA Block Tree

When men take or upgrade to a Big Y-700 DNA test, they receive the most detailed information possible, including all available (700+) STR markers plus the most refined haplogroup, including newly discovered mutations in their own test, placing them as a leaf on the very tip of their branch of the tree of mankind.

The only other men “in that branch neighborhood” are their closest relatives. Sometimes they match exactly and are sometimes separated by a single or few mutations. Testers with 30 or fewer mutations difference are shown on the Block Tree by name. Eight Speaks men have taken or upgraded to the Big Y test, providing information via matching that we desperately needed.

This Big Y block tree view shown below is from the perspective of a descendant of Nicholas Speaks (b1782) and includes the various mutations that define branches, shown as building blocks. Each person shown on the Block Tree is a match to the tester with 30 or fewer mutations difference.

Think of haplogroups as umbrellas. Each umbrella shelters and includes everything beneath it.

At the top of this block tree, we have one solid blue block that forms an umbrella over all three branches beneath it. The top mutation name is I-BY14004, which is the haplogroup name associated with that block.

We have determined that all of the Speak men descended from the Lancashire line are members of haplogroup I-BY14004 and therefore, fall under that umbrella. The other haplogroup names in the same block mean that as other men test, a new branch may split off beneath the I-BY14004 branch.

Next, let’s look at the blue block at far left.

The Lancashire men, meaning those who live there, plus our New Zealand tester, also carry additional mutations that define haplogroup I-BY14009, which means that our Thomas the Immigrant line split off from theirs before that mutation was formed.

They all have that mutation, and Thomas didn’t, but he has a mutation that they don’t. This is how the tree forms branches.

Thomas the Immigrant’s line has the mutation defining haplogroup I-FTA21638, forming an umbrella over both of Thomas the Immigrant’s sons – meaning descendants of both sons carry this mutation.

Bowling’s line is defined by haplogroup I-BY215064, but John’s line does not carry this mutation, so John’s descendants are NOT members of this haplogroup, which turns out to be quite important.

We are very fortunate that one of Thomas’s sons, Bowling, developed a mutation, because it allows us to differentiate between Bowling and his brother, John’s, descendants easily if testers take the Big Y test.

Those teal Private Variants are haplogroups-in-waiting, meaning that when someone else tests, and matches that variant, it will be named and become a haplogroup, splitting the tree in that location by forming a new branch.

Aaron Luckey Speak

As you can see, the descendants of Aaron Lucky Speak, bracketed in blue above, carry the Bowling line mutation, so Aaron Luckey descends from one of Bowling’s sons. That makes sense, especially since two of Bowling’s grandsons are also found in Iredell County during the same timeframe and are candidates to be Aaron Luckey’s father.

Here’s a different view of the Big Y testers along with STR Y-DNA testers in a spreadsheet that I maintain.

Thomas the Immigrant (tan band top row) is shown with son, Bowling, who carries haplogroup BY215064. Bowling’s descendants are tan too, near the bottom.

Thomas’s son, John the InnKeeper, shown in the blue bar does NOT have the BY215064 mutation that defines Bowling’s group.

However, the bright green Aaron Lucky line, disconnected at far right, does have the Bowling mutation, BY215064, so this places Aaron Luckey someplace beneath Bowling, meaning his descendant. We just don’t know where he fits yet. The key word is yet.

Can STR Markers Be Utilized for Lineage Grouping?

Sometimes we can utilize STR marker mutations for subgrouping within haplogroups, but in this case, we cannot because STR mutations in this family have:

  • Occurred independently in different lines
  • Potentially back mutated

Between both of these issues, STR mutations are inconsistent and, therefore, in this case, entirely unreliable. I have found this phenomenon repeatedly in DNA projects that I manage where the genealogy line of descent is known and documented.

Let’s analyze the STR mutations.

I’ve created a table based on our 26 Y-DNA testers. However, not everyone tested at 111 markers, so there is a mix.

You can view the Speak DNA Project results, here.

I’ve divided the testers into the same groupings indicated by genealogy combined with the Big Y SNP mutations, which do agree with each other. Those groups are:

  • The Lancaster men that never left, except for the New Zealand tester whose ancestor left just two generations ago. They all share a defining SNP which provides them with an identifying haplogroup that the American line does not have.
  • The Thomas the Immigrant line through son Bowling.
    • The Aaron Luckey line who descends, somehow, from Bowling.
  • The Thomas the Immigrant line through son John the InnKeeper.
  • Two men who have provided no genealogy

We already know that Aaron Luckey descends from Bowling, somehow, but I’m keeping them separate just in case STR values can be helpful.

Let’s look at a total of five STR markers where multiple descendants have experienced mutations and see if we can discern any message. The mutations in the bright yellow Lancashire groups on the project page are summarized and analyzed in the chart, below.

You read the chart below, as follows:

  • For marker DYS-19, the testers who have a value of 16 – then the numbers indicated the number of testers in that group with that value. The Lancaster group has 5, the Bowling group has 7, the Aaron Luckey group has 4, and so forth.
  • The next row, colored the same, shows the value of 17 for marker DYS19.
  • Rows for values of the same marker are colored the same.

This chart does not include several markers where there are one-offs, meaning one mutation in the entire group, or one in each of two different groups that are different from each other. This chart includes markers with mutations that occur in multiple descendants only.

If these mutations were predictive and could be used for lineage assignment, we would expect to see the same mutation only within one of the lines, descended from a common ancestor, consistently, and not scattered across multiple lines.

Let’s start our analysis with the only marker that may be consistently predictive in this group. Marker DYS389ii has an ancestral value of 28, We know this because that value is consistently found in all of the Speaks descendants. A value of 29 is ONLY found in the 4 descendants of Aaron Luckey, and the value of 29 is consistently found in all of his known descendants who have tested. Therefore, it could be predictive.

However, given the nature of STR mutations, it’s difficult to place a lot of confidence in STR-based lineage predictions. Let’s look at the other four markers.

  • Marker DYS19 has a value of 16 in every line, which would be the ancestral value. However, we also find a mutation of 17 in 1 of Bowling’s children, and in 2 of John the InnKeeper’s descendants. That can’t be lineage-defining.
  • Looking at the CDY a/b marker, we find one instance of 35/36, which is a one-off. I wouldn’t have included it if I wasn’t using the other two combinations as examples. The values of 36/36 are found in every line except for the one with no genealogy and only one person has tested at 111 markers. A value of 36/37 is found in only the Bowling line, but not the Aaron Luckey line. The MRCA, or most recent common ancestor between the Bowling descendants is his son, Thomas of Zachia. The best candidates for Aaron Luckey’s father are two of Thomas of Zachia’s sons, but his descendants have a hodgepodge mixture of the two values, so this, again, cannot be a lineage-defining marker.
  • Looking at DYS534, we see a 15 in one of Bowling’s descendants and in 4 of John the InnKeeper’s descendants. Obviously not lineage-specific. There’s a value of 16 in every line which would be ancestral.
  • A value of 33 at DYS710 is found in every lineage, so would be the ancestral value. The value of 34 is found once in each line except for Bowling, which precludes it from being lineage-defining.

Inconsistent lineage results is one of the best reasons to purchase or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test.

Unfortunately, STR placement and lineage determination can be very deceptive and lead genealogists astray. At one time, we didn’t have advanced tools like the Big Y, but today we do.

STR Tests Are Useful When…

To be clear, STR marker tests, meaning the 37 and 111 marker tests available for purchase today, ARE very useful for:

  • Matching other testers
  • Identifying surnames of interest
  • Ruling out a connection, meaning determining that you don’t match a particular line
  • Introductory testing with limited funds that provides matching, a high-level haplogroup, and additional tools. You can always upgrade to the Big Y-700 test.

However, the Big Y-700 is necessary to place groups of people reliably into lineages and determine relationships accurately.

In some cases, autosomal DNA is useful, but in this case, autosomal doesn’t augment Y-DNA due, in part, to record loss and incomplete genealogy in the generations following Thomas of Zachia.

Family Finder Autosomal Analysis

In total, we have the following total Family Finder testers whose genealogy is confirmed:

  • 8 Aaron Luckey
  • 6 Lancashire testers
  • 15 John the InnKeeper testers
  • 33 Bowling testers

An autosomal analysis shows that Aaron Luckey Speak’s descendants match each other (green to green) most closely than they match either of Thomas the Immigrant’s sons, Bowling (tan) or John’s (blue) descendants. We would expect Aaron Luckey’s descendants to match each other the most closely, of course.

The numbers in the cells are total matching centiMorgans/longest segment cM match.

Click on any image to enlarge

Aaron Luckey’s descendants don’t collectively match John or Bowling’s descendants more closely than the other group using centiMorgans as the comparison. Although they match more of Bowling’s descendants (21%) than John’s (13%). This too would be expected since we know Aaron Luckey descends from Bowling’s line, not John’s.

At best, Aaron Luckey’s descendants are 8 or 9 generations removed from a common ancestor with other descendants of Thomas of Zachia, making them 6th or 7th cousins, plus another couple of generations back to Thomas the Immigrant. We can’t differentiate genetically between sibling ancestors or cousin lines at this distance.

Furthermore, we have a large gap in known descendants beneath Thomas of Zachia, other than Charles Beckworth Speak’s son Nicholas’s line. We have at least that many other testers in the project who don’t can’t confirm their Speaks ancestral lineage.

Combining genetic and genealogy information, we know that both Charles Beckworth Speak and Thomas Bowling Speak, in yellow, are found in Iredell County, NC. The children of Thomas of Zachia, shown in purple, are born in the 1730s and any one of them could potentially be the father of Aaron Luckey.

The men in green, including William, Bowling’s other son, are also candidates to be Aaron Luckey’s ancestor, although the two yellow men are more likely due to geographic proximity. They are both found in Iredell County.

We don’t know anything about William’s children, if any, nor much about Edward. John settled in Kentucky. Nicholas (green) stayed in Maryland.

There may be an additional generation between Charles Beckworth Speak (yellow) and Nicholas (born 1782), also named Charles. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this part of the tree.

It seems that Aaron’s middle name of Lucky is likely to be very significant. Aaron Luckey’s descendants may be able to search their autosomal matches for a Luckey family, found in both Iredell County AND Maryland, which may assist with further identification and may help identify Aaron’s father.

If all of the Speak men who took STR tests would upgrade to the Big Y, it’s probable that more branches would be discovered through those Private Variants, and it’s very likely that Aaron Luckey could be much more accurately placed on the tree. Another Aaron Luckey Speak Big Y-700 DNA tester would be useful too.

Connecting the Genetic Dots in England

What can we discern about the Speak family in the US and in Lancashire?

Reaching back in time, before Thomas the Immigrant was born about 1633, what can we tell about the Speak family, how they are connected, and when?

The recently introduced Discover tool allows us to view Y-DNA haplogroups and when they were born, meaning when the haplogroup-defining mutation occurred.

The Time Tree shows the haplogroups, in black above the profile dots. The scientifically calculated approximate dates of when those haplogroups were “born,” meaning when those mutations occurred, are found across the top.

I’ve added genealogical information, in red, at right.

  • Reading from the bottom red dot, Bowling’s haplogroup was born about the year 1660. Bowling was indeed born in 1674, so that’s VERY close
  • Moving back in time, Thomas’s haplogroup was born about 1617, and Thomas himself was born about 1633, but his birth certainly could have been a few years earlier.
  • The Lancashire testers’ common haplogroup was born about 1636, and the earliest known ancestor of those men is Henry, born in Twiston in 1650.
  • The common Speak ancestor of BOTH the Lancashire line and the Thomas the Immigrant line was born about 1334. The earliest record of any Speak was Henry Speke, of Whalley, born before 1520.

The lines of Thomas the Immigrant and the Lancashire men diverged sometime between about 1334, when the umbrella mutation for all Speaks lines was born, and about 1617 when we know the mutation defining the Thomas the Immigrant line formed and split off from the Lancashire line.

But that’s not all.

Surprise!

As I panned out and viewed the block tree more broadly, I noticed something.

This is quite small and difficult to read, so let me explain. At far left is the branch for our Speaks men. The common ancestor of that group was born about 1334 CE, meaning “current era,” as we’ve discussed.

Continuing up the tree, we see that the next haplogroup umbrella occurs about 1009 CE, then the year 850 at the top is the next umbrella, encompassing everything beneath.

Looking to the right, the farthest right blocks date to 1109 CE, then 1318 CE, then progressing on down the tree branch to the bottom, I see one surname in three separate blocks.

What is that name?

Here, let me enlarge the chart for you!

Standish.

The name is Standish, as in Myles Standish, the Pilgrim.

Miles is our relative, and even though he has a different surname, we share a common ancestor, probably before surnames were adopted. Our genetic branches divided about the year 1000.

The Discover tool also provides Notable Connections for each haplogroup, so I entered one of the Speaks haplogroups, and sure enough, the closest Speak Notable Connection is Myles Standish 1584-1656.

And look, there’s the Standish Pew in Chorley, another church that we visited during our Lancashire trip because family members of Thomas Speake’s Catholic wife, Elizabeth Bowling, are found in the Chorley church records.

Our common ancestor with the Standish line was born in about the year 850. Our line split off, as did the Standish line about the year 1000. That’s about 1000 years ago, or 30-40 generations.

Our family names are still found in the Chorley church records

Ancient Connections

The Discover tool also provides Ancient Connections from archaeological digs, by haplogroup.

Sure enough, there’s an ancient sample on the Time Tree named Heslerton 20641.

Checking the Discover Ancient Connections, the man named Heslerton 20641 is found in West Heslerton, Yorkshire, and lived about the year 450-650, based on carbon dating.

The mutation identifying the common ancestor between the Speak/Standish men and Heslerton occurred about 2450 BCE, or 4500 years ago. Twiston and West Heslerton are only 83 miles apart.

Where Are We?

What have we learned from the information discovered through genealogy combined with Big Y testing?

  • We found a Speek family in Whalley in 1385.
  • One of our Lancashire testers descends from a John born about 1540 in Whalley.
  • One of our Lancashire testers descends from Henry born about 1650 in Downham/Twiston
  • Thomas Speake was baptized in Downham and born in Twiston in 1733.
  • Our New Zealand tester’s ancestor was found in Gisburn, born about 1745.

All of these locations are within 15 miles of each other.

  • Chorley, where the Standish family is found in the 1500s is located 17 miles South of Whalley. Thomas Speake’s wife, Elizabeth Bowlings’ family is found in the Chorley church records.

What about the L’Espec origin myth?

  • The Speak family clearly did not arrive in 1066 with the Normans.
  • We have no Scandinavian DNA matches.
  • No place is the surname spelled L’Espec in any Lancashire regional records.
  • The Speak family is in the Whalley/Chorley area by 1000 when the Speak/Standish lines diverged
  • The common ancestor with the Standish family lived about the year 850, although that could have occurred elsewhere. Clearly, their common ancestor was in the Chorley/Whalley area by 1000 when their lines diverged.

The cemetery at Whalley includes Anglo-Saxon burials, circa 800-900. The Speak men, with no surname back then, greeted William the Conqueror and lived to tell the tale, along with their Standish cousins, of course. This, in essence, tells us that they were useful peasants, working the land and performing other labor tasks, and not landed gentry.

Little is known of Lancashire during this time, but we do know more generally that the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people, arrived in the 5th century when there was little else in this region.

Are our ancestors buried in these and other early Anglo-Saxon graves? I’d wager that the answer is yes. We are likely related one way or another to every family who lived in this region over many centuries.

Y-DNA connected the dots between recent cousins, connected them to their primary line in America, provided a lifeline back to Twiston, Whalley, and Gisburn, and then to the Anglo-Saxons – long before surnames.

Aaron Luckey Speak’s descendants now know that he descends, somehow, from Bowling, likely through one of two sons of Thomas of Zachia. They don’t have the entire answer yet, but they are within two generations, a lot closer than they were before.

And this, all of this, was a result of Big-Y DNA tests. We could not have accomplished any of this without Y-DNA testing.

Our ancestors are indeed speaking across the ages.

We found the road home, that path revealed by the DNA of our ancestors. You can find your road home too.

_____________________________________________________________

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The Ancestors are SPEAKing: An 18-Year Y-DNA Study That Led Us Home – 52 Ancestors #381

In 2004, 18 years ago, I founded the Speak(e)(s) Family DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA. I descend from Nicholas Speaks through his son, Charles Speaks.

Some two decades before, I had met my wonderful cousin, Dolores Ham, by snail mail. We were introduced by Mary Parkey (1927-2000), a genealogist in the Cumberland Gap region who seemed to know something, if not everything, about the early settler families.

Mary wasn’t my cousin through the Speaks line, but she knew who was researching each line, and put me in touch with Dolores.

I met other researchers and discovered that a Speaks Family Association (SFA) had been formed in 1979.

I had a young family at the time, so I joined, but never attended any of the annual meetings, known as conventions, until 2005. I did enjoy the newsletters, however. It was always a good day when a newsletter or a letter from a cousin was waiting in the mailbox.

The goal of the Association was to share research and to determine if, and how, the various Speak lines in America were related. The “rumor” was that the family was from England, but no one knew for sure. We didn’t even know who was actually “in” the family, or how many different families there might be.

In 2004, when I established the Speaks DNA Project in collaboration with the SFA, our goal was stated, in part, as follows:

This project was begun to determine the various Speak(e)(s) lines around the world. According to family legend, the original ancestor came to England with William the Conqueror and his last name then was L’Espec. It was later spelled Speke and then the derivatives of Speake, Speakes, and Speaks carried by descendants today.

We knew that there was a Speak family in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Did our ”Nicholas” line descend from Maryland, or not?

We knew there was a Thomas Speak (c1634-1681) who settled there by 1661 and had two sons, John the InnKeeper or InnHolder (1665-1731) and Bowling (c1674-1755), named after his mother’s birth surname.

Fast forwarding two or three generations, our Nicholas Speak or Speaks was born about 1782 and was first found in Washington County, Virginia in 1804 when he married Sarah Faires. That’s a long way from Maryland. Who was Nicholas? Who were his parents? How did Nicholas get to Washington County, Virginia? There aren’t any other Speaks men, or women, in Washington County. Was he dropped fully grown by the stork?

In 2005, I attended my first Speaks Family Association Convention, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and met my lovely cousins who I’m quite close to. I gave an introductory talk about Y-DNA, and several Speaks males volunteered to test, including a descendant of Nicholas.

I was ecstatic, but within a year, we had a, well, “problem.”

In 2006, the Convention was held in Alabama, in the heat of summer. Not only did we have technology issues and lose power during the presentation, part of me hoped it wouldn’t come back on.

At that point, we had 8 Y-DNA testers.

At first, everything was fine. Two testers each from Thomas the immigrant through sons John and Bowling.

  • Thomas, Bowling and then two different sons. They matched.
  • Thomas, John, and his son Richard. They matched too.
  • All four men above, match each other.

Everything’s good, right?

Not so fast…

Then, a father/son pair tested who were also supposed to descend from the Thomas, Bowling, and Thomas line. Thankfully, they matched each other, but they did NOT match the other descendants of Thomas the immigrant.

Because we had multiple men through both of Thomas the immigrant’s sons, we had confirmed the Y-DNA STR marker signature of Thomas – which means that the father/son pair had experienced a genetic disconnect, or, they were actually descended from a different Speak line.

That wasn’t all though. Two more men tested who believed they descended from Thomas the immigrant through John and then Richard. They didn’t match each other, nor any of the other men either.

This was a difficult, painful situation, and not what was anticipated. Of course, I reviewed the results privately with the men involved before presenting them at the convention, and only did so with their permission.

In an effort to identify their genealogical lines, we discovered seven other mentions of early colonial Speak immigrants, including one named Thomas.

Over time, we would discover additional Y-DNA genetic Speak lines.

Bonus Cousin

Y-DNA also revealed an amazing new cousin, Henry, who didn’t know who his father was, but thanks to DNA, discovered he is a genetic Speaks AND identified his father.

Unfortunately, his father had recently passed away, but Henry contacted his uncle and was welcomed into his immediate family, as well as our broader Speaks family. Talk about life-changing! I will never, ever forget Henry’s emotional journey, or the small role I was privileged to play. For a long time, I couldn’t even tell his story without tearing up.

I met Henry in person for the first time at the convention last week. Lots of hugs all around!

In 2006, our Y-DNA haplogroup was known only as I1b1. We knew it was fairly rare and found in the rough Dinaric Alps border region between Bosnia and Croatia.

By User:Doron – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1551217

We weren’t wrong. We were just early. Our ancestors didn’t stop in the Alps.

Today, the migration path into Europe-proper looks like this.

In 2009, the convention was held in the Speaks Chapel United Methodist Church founded by the Reverend Nicholas Speaks, in Lee County, Virginia.

My dear cousin, Lola Margaret Speak Hall descends from Nicholas through two of his children and visited us as Nicholas’s wife, Sarah Faires, describing their lives together.

I can’t even begin to describe how moving it was to hear “Sarah” read from her Bible and recall her life with Nicholas and each of their children, especially those she buried across the road in the cemetery.

The cemetery was visible through the door as Sarah was speaking, describing Nicholas preaching their children’s funerals, and the sound of the clods of dirt hitting their coffins.

That reunion in Nicholas’s church was memorable for another reason, too. I was baptized, surrounded by my family, in my ancestor’s church.

Progress

More Speaks men were taking Y-DNA tests, but we still had no idea where the Speaks line originated overseas.

The Association had been working with John Speake in Cambridge, England, above, who had been assisting the American Speak family by obtaining British records. We had hoped that we would match his Y-DNA, because that would mean that we shared a common ancestor, probably from Priestweston, Shropshire in the 1500s. Plus, we really liked John and wanted to be related.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case, so we knew one English family we did NOT descend from, but we still didn’t know where our family line was from. We are, however, eternally grateful to John for his amazing research and the critical role he would play.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail of Y-DNA testing is often a match with a man either from the “old country,” wherever that is, or someone who unquestionably knows where their ancestor is from. Through a match with them, it allows other testers to jump the pond too.

In early 2010, John Speake in Cambridge reached out to me and said that he had found an anonymous man in New Zealand who was agreeable to taking a DNA test.

By this time, I wasn’t terribly hopeful, but John sweetened those waters by telling me that this man’s family had only been in New Zealand for two generations – and he knew where his ancestors “back home” were from.

I ordered a test for our anonymous tester.

I had nearly forgotten about this man a few weeks later when I suddenly received what seemed like a slot machine jackpot clanging when an entire series of emails arrived, one for each of our Y-DNA testers, saying they had a new match. Yep, our anonymous NZ tester.

Suddenly, I cared a whole lot about his genealogy.

Where was his paternal ancestral line from?

Gisburn.

Gisburn? Where the heck was Gisburn?

Gisburn

Gisburn is a tiny village in Lancashire, England.

This antiquarian map shows “Gisborn” located along the Ribble River. Gisburn is ancient, located on the old Roman road, appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ghiseburne, and is believed to have been established in the 9th century.

This was beginning to get serious. This is no longer speculation or unsourced oral history, but actual evidence.

Another cousin, Susan Speake Sills, a DAR Chapter Regent, started digging immediately. Nothing motivates genealogists like the imminent hope of breaking down a brick wall.

Susan and I shot emails back and forth, night and day, for three or four days, and confirmed that our New Zealand cousin’s ancestor, James Speak, had been born in Gisburn between 1735-1749.

We knew, or though we knew, that Thomas Speake, the immigrant, was Catholic. Maryland was a safe haven for Catholics hoping to escape persecution in England.

Thomas was rumored to have been born to a John, but we had no idea where that rumor arose.

Was our Thomas born in Gisburn too?

Susan discovered that St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn held 50 marked Speaks burials.

In 1602/03, William in Gisburn had a son named John.

We found men named Richard, Stephen, John, William, Thomas and more.

And, there were many unmarked graves and unreadable stones.

Susan was just getting started.

Next, Susan discovered that the records of St. Mary’s and All Saints Church in Whalley held pages and pages of Speak family records.

The earliest Speak burial there was in 1540.

During this timeframe, people did not have the right to come and go freely. They were vassals, tied to the land.

Whalley is 11 miles from Gisburn.

Susan and I were fairly quiet as we worked, because we did NOT want to start any unfounded rumors by speaking too soon in the heat of our excitement. We were desperately trying to connect elusive dots.

In 2011, the Convention was held near Thomas and Bowlng Speak’s land in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, our ancestral homeland in America.

Thomas the immigrant settled in Port Tobacco sometime before 1661 and would have attended St. Ignatius Church at St. Thomas Manor where he was probably buried after his death in 1681, in what is now an unmarked grave.

I wonder if Thomas stood in the churchyard, perhaps during funerals, and gazed out over the Port Tobacco River which of course empties into the Chesapeake Bay, and wondered about the family members he had left behind, across the expansive ocean.

Thomas willed his land to his eldest son, John, who was an InnKeeper in Port Tobacco.

His younger son, Bowling Speak had to secure land on his own. He obtained land generally known as Zachia Manor.

This portion of the grant was specifically called “The Mistake,” although we have no idea why, which is owned in part today by St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

The land where the church actually stands was not owned by Bowling, just the attached land beginning about where the bus is parked and extending into the woods beside Jordan’s Run.

The old St. Peter’s cemetery, where the original church stood, is located nearby, just outside the boundary of Bowling and his son, Thomas of Zachia’s land.

It’s likely that our ancestors, Bowling and his son, Thomas, who died in 1755, within days of each other, and their wives, are buried here.

We gathered on Bowling’s land called Speaks Enlargement, adjacent The Mistake. It felt like Nirvana to have located his land and obtained permission to visit both parcels.

Me, Susan Speake Sills, Lola-Margaret Speak Hall and Joyce Candland, a descendant of John the InnKeeper, standing on Bowling’s land. We laughed so much that day as we explored Bowling and Thomas’s land, cherishing our time together.

Lola-Margaret’s heart-felt kiss of gratitude for this discovery says it all – for all of us. The only difference is that she actually had the hutzpah to do this!

Cousins on the prowl. What would we discover?

Susan found old, unmarked graves in the woods.

Lola-Margaret and I found rocks that had once been owned by Thomas and Bowling.

In 2011, my Convention presentation contained a surprise – the information about our Gisburn match, and what we had found. Church records, and graves.

I showed this cemetery map from St. Mary’s in Gisburn, where our New Zealand cousin’s family was buried.

It felt like we were so excruciatingly close, but still so far away.

We knew unquestionably that we were in the neighborhood, but where was our Thomas born?

Who was his family?

I closed with this photo of St. Mary’s in Gisburn and famously said, “I don’t know about you, but I want to stand there.”

It was a throw-away comment, or so I thought, but as it turned out, it wasn’t.

2013 – The Trip Home

Gisburn

Cousins Susan and Mary Speaks Hentschel left no stone unturned. Two years later, our Convention was held in Lancashire, and indeed, I got to stand there.

So did our Speak cousin from New Zealand whose Y-DNA test bulldozed this brick wall for us.

We were then, and remain, incredibly grateful for this amazing opportunity.

Of course, I couldn’t resist the St. Mary’s cemetery, nor the cemeteries at the other churches we would visit. It must be something about being a genealogist. There are still Speak family members being buried here.

There are many ancient and unmarked graves as well.

With abundant rainfall, cemeteries overgrow quickly.

It’s common for stones to be moved to the side, or even built into a wall, in order to facilitate maintenance of the grounds.

St. Mary’s church itself was built as a defensive structure sometime before 1135 with these arrowslits for archers in many locations, including the tower.

The Stirk House

During our visit, we stayed at the beautiful Stirk House in the Ribble Valley, a 17th century manor house and the only local lodging available for a group.

We discovered after we checked in that the Speak family had owned this property in the 1930s and had converted it into a hotel. How lucky could we be? Talk about synchronicity!

The Stirk House was originally built in 1635 using stone from the dismantled Sawley Abbey during Henry VIII’s reign and the resulting dissolution of the monasteries. Our Catholic ancestors would have witnessed this devastation, and probably grieved the destruction deeply.

For some reason, I was incredibly moved as we passed the remains of Sawley Abbey during our visit, and grabbed a shot through the rain-speckled window. At this point, I had no inkling of the historical connection that would emerge.

Whalley Abbey

Whalley Abbey, above, was destroyed as well in the Protestant attempt to eradicate Catholicism. Instead, they succeeded in driving it underground.

As our ancestors’ lives revolved around churches and religion, so did our visit as we retraced their steps through time.

While the stones of Sawley Abbey were repurposed to build local structures after its destruction, the Whalley Abbey and cloister walls, above, still stand, albeit in ruins.

The Abbey, formed in 1178, is shown in ruins here in this 1787 drawing. The village of Whalley is visible in the background, at right, with the church tower evident.

The Abbey spring, believed by some to be sacred, is fenced for protection today.

This trip was truly the opportunity of a lifetime and we tried to take advantage of every minute, absorbing everything our ancestors would have experienced, walking in their footsteps.

I didn’t fully grasp at that time that we weren’t hunting for “the” location or locations where our ancestors trod, but that they trod everyplace here. Wherever we walked, it was in their footsteps.

St. Mary’s Church in Whalley

Our next stop was St. Mary’s Church in Whalley, not far from the Abbey, where Henry Speke was granted a lease in 1540.

This church is ancient, build in the 1200s, replacing an earlier church, and stunningly beautiful.

Our trip group photo was taken inside St. Mary’s.

As we sat in the choir, our guide explained the history of the church, which is our history too.

The little green men carved into the wooden choir seats are a wink and a nod to an earlier pagan era. Our ancestors would have known that era too.

We sat in the pews where earlier generations of Speaks families sat. The boxed, enclosed pews were for the wealthy manor owners. Our family wouldn’t have been sitting there.

The original St. Mary’s church, shown in this painting, looked different than today. The church in the painting would have felt quite familiar to the early Speak families who sat in the pews here each Sunday.

In addition to the churches in Gisburn and Whalley, we visited St. Leonard’s Church in Downham which is a chapelry of the church in Whalley.

Downham

The tower is original to the 1400s, but the rest of the church was rebuilt in 1909-10. Lord Clitheroe graciously brought a drawing of the old church as it looked when the Speak family attended.

This church, in the shadow of Pendle Hill, proved to be quite important to the family.

Pendle Hill from the cemetery outside St. Leonard’s church, where Thomas was baptized.

Pendle Hill can be seen across the roofs of the village houses.

Downham, on the north side of Pendle Hill was small then, and remains a crossroad village today with a population of about 150 people, including Twiston.

Twiston is located less than 3 miles away, yet it’s extremely remote, at the foot or perhaps on the side of Pendle Hill.

What’s left of the stocks at Downham, beside the church cemetery, just waiting for those who needed to be punished, like those reviled Catholics hiding out in the wilds over by Pendle Hill.

During our visit, Lord Clitheroe provided us with a transcription of the Downham church records wherein one Thomas Speak was baptized on January 1, 1633/34, born to Joannis, the Latin form of John, in nearby Twiston.

Is this Thomas our Thomas the immigrant who was born about that same time? We still don’t know, but there are clues.

The problem is that there is a marriage record for a Thomas Speak to Grace Shakelford in 1656, and a burial record in 1666 for Grace recorded as “the wife of Thomas Speak of Twiston.” But there is no burial record for Thomas, and no children recorded either during that time, which is very strange.

So, is that our Thomas, or a different Thomas? Those records don’t align well. It’s certainly a Thomas of the right age, in the right place, and born to a John as well.

However, our Thomas was in Maryland by at least 1661 and probably earlier. Would he have left a wife behind? Would she still have been noted as his wife and him recorded as “of Twiston” if he was in America?

Records in this area are incomplete. A substantial battle was fought in Whalley in 1643. Churches were often used for quartering soldiers. Minister’s notes could well have been displaced, or books destroyed entirely.

In Downham, the years of 1608-1619 are missing, along with 1638-1657, inclusive which would hold records vital to our family for nearly two critical decades.

We know, according to probate records, that the Downham families originated in Whalley based on research by John D. Speake, of Cambridge, contained in the recently published book, The Speak/e/s Family of Southern Maryland

Probate files show that in 1615, “John Speake of Twiston, husbandman” mentions his son William and William’s children, including John who was the administrator of his will. For John to be an administrator, he had to be age 21 or over, so born in 1594 or earlier. Some John Speak married Elizabeth Biesley at Whalley in 1622 and is believed to be the John Speak Sr. recorded in Downham Parish Registers.

However, John seemed to be the Speak given name of choice.

The existing Hearth Tax returns for 1666-1671 that recorded, and taxed, the number of hearths observed in each home during an inspection shows the following Speak households, none of which were too impoverished to have a hearth:

  • 3 in Twiston
  • 2 in Gisburn (Remington)
  • 1 in Stansfield, near Halifax

Of the above entries, 5 were named John, and one was Ann.

There were two additional Speak families in Newchurch, near Pendle, which is more distant, as is Stansfield, maybe a total of 30 miles end-to-end.

There were no Thomas Speaks listed.

One final hint may be that there are three tailors mentioned in the Gisburn church registers over time, one of whom was Thomas, a tailor, who died in 1662. Did our Thomas the immigrant come from a long line of tailors? If so, how could he have supported himself as a tailor in the remote Lancashire countryside? Is that, perhaps, part of why he immigrated, in addition to being Catholic?

Or, maybe our Thomas apprenticed as a tailor in Maryland as an indentured servant and tailors in Gisburn are simply a red herring.

The Whalley, Gisburn and Twiston families are closely connected. The difference may well be that our Thomas’s line remained secretly Catholic, so preferred the “uninhabited” areas of the remote Twiston countryside. Even today, Gisburn is described as being “rural, surrounded by hilly and relatively unpopulated areas.” And that’s Gisburn, with more than 500 residents. Downham is much smaller, about 20% of the size of Gisburn.

What do we know about Twiston?

Twiston

Twiston is too small to even be called a hamlet. These ghostly buildings are what’s left of the former Twiston Mill, built after an earlier mill burned in 1882. The original farm and corn mill was owned originally by Whalley Abbey at least since the 1300s. Twiston is near an old lime kiln, probably in use since Roman times, and the Witches Quarry, a steep, vertical rocky outcrop popular with hikers and rock climbers.

The ancient homesteads were clustered along the bubbling Twiston Brook, a branch of Pendle Brook that originates on Pendle Hill, watering the farm and powering the original corn mill. It was actually a smart place to settle, because the stream was fresh, given that there were no upstream homesteads to pollute the water.

These buildings stood, huddled together, probably for safety, in a field carved out of the wilderness, surrounded today by hundreds of sheep grazing on the hillsides and high moors.

Stone walls divide pastures and line the steep hillsides, with gates allowing shepherds and now, farmers to pass through. Eventually, the sheep venture high enough to graze and shelter on the moorland.

At the higher levels of Pendle Hill, the forest gives way to moors and the sheep roam freely.

The sheep also have the right-of-way, so vehicles travel slowly. The heathered moor is quite stark and incredibly beautiful.

The fields along the Ribble River with its feeder brooks and settlements, running through the valley beneath Pendle Hill are lush, green, and timeless. The land surrounding the River is relatively flat, beckoning settlers and encouraging farming.

This is one of those places where the ancient voices call out and pluck the strings of your heart.

And your heart answers in recognition.

Where you know the earth holds the DNA of your ancestors, and their blood watered the landscape in the Ribble Valley.

By Beacon Hill overlooking the Ribble valley by Bill Boaden, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106624444

Beacon Hill overlooks the Ribble Valley, with Pendle Hill in the background.

Our ancestors lived, and loved here and because of that, we live now.

Their descendants are scattered across the world, on many continents, yet we reunited here in our homeland – like birds following their sacred compass, guiding them across the oceans home again.

When the Speak family lived here, it was considered a “wild and lawless region” by local authorities, probably due in part to its remoteness – and also the rebellious nature of the inhabitants. We have never submitted easily to pressure.

Twiston is nestled at the base of Pendle Hill.

If you were a Catholic, living in a hotbed of “recussants,” and trying to be invisible, Twiston would be a location where you might be able to successfully disappear among those of like mind.

The road to Twiston was too twisty, rock-lined and narrow for our bus to navigate, causing us to have to back up down a one lane road with rock walls on both sides for some distance.

These ancient moss and fern-covered walls have stood for centuries, some with gateway passages to neighboring houses in small hamlets.

Others stand sentry along the old cartways where they’ve been for centuries.

The stone walls keep sheep and cattle in, and today, wayward vehicles out.

The walls have been tended and repaired by generations of stewards. Generations of our Speaks men probably placed some of these very stones, having removed them from their fields.

The footpaths, now roads, pass within inches of old stone homes and barns, dissecting farms in many places. That’s exactly how the old cart road traveled, and how you got to your neighbor’s farm. In fact, that old road took you right to their door.

Pendle Hill always serves as your guidepost.

If you’re lost and don’t know which way to turn, just find the hill and reorient yourself.

Its stark beauty is ever-present. Pendle Hill always looms someplace in the distance.

Since the bus couldn’t get to Twiston, a few adventurous cousins somehow found a taxi to rent and a brave driver willing to take them to Twiston, after he finally figured out where Twiston actually was.

I’m still REALLY mad at myself because I took a hike in the forest instead, although I enjoyed connecting with the land.

It had been a very long day and I didn’t really realize the significance of Twiston at that time. Plus, space in the taxi was limited and I suffer from motion sickness. I should have taken Dramamine, sat on the roof, and gone anyway.

The road to Twiston, now called a lane, grows increasingly narrow. Who knew there was such a remote region in the hill country of Lancashire?

Finally, Twiston appears where the forest ends and the road widens a tiny bit.

If only these ancient buildings and rock walls could speak, share their stories and reveal their secrets. Old documents, however, do provide some insight.

This document, originally penned in Latin, was provided by the Lancashire archives.

John Speak, in 1609, was a farmer, with a house (messauge), garden, orchard, 10 acres of farmland, 5 of meadow, and 10 acres of pasture.

Even orchards were walled to prevent unwanted visitors.

Indeed, Twiston is where John Speak lived. If the Thomas born in Twiston to Joannis, Latin for John, in 1633 and baptized on January 1, 1634 in old St. Leonard’s Church in Downham is our Thomas, this is his birth location.

For our family, this is, indeed, hallowed ground.

Catholics weren’t the only people sheltering in the shadow of Pendle Hill.

The accused Pendle Witches, probably women who were traditional healers, lived here too, persecuted and executed in 1612, as did Quakers, all vilified along with Catholics.

No wonder Thomas, along with the Catholic Bowling family, found a way to make his way to the safety of Maryland.

It’s ironic that in 1670, after being persecuted themselves for their Catholic beliefs, in this same valley, the Speake men were reporting Quakers.

Records of Speak men in Twiston persist into the 1800s, and one of our local testers descends from Henry Speake, born about 1650 in Twiston.

Local Testers

Prior to our visit, we published small ads in local newspapers and contacted historical societies. We found several Speak(e)(s) families and invited them to dinner at the Stirk House where the after-dinner speaker explained all about DNA testing. You probably can’t see them clearly, but there are numerous DNA kits laying on the table, just waiting for people to have a swab party.

Our guests brought their family information and photos and we had an absolutely lovely evening.

One of those families traced their line to Twiston. Be still my heart.

Five men from separate Speak families tested. None of them knew of any connection between their families, and all presumed they were not related.

I carried those men’s DNA tests back in my hand luggage like the gold that they were.

They were wrong. All five men matched each other, AND our Thomas Speake line. Susan and I got busy connecting the dots genealogically, as much as possible

  • Two of our men descended from Henry born in 1650, married Alice Hill and lived in Downham/Twiston.
  • Two of our men descended from John Speak born about 1540, married Elina Singleton, and lived in Whalley.
  • Two of our men, including our New Zealand tester, descend from John born sometime around 1700, probably in Gisburn where his son, James, was born about 1745.

We knew indeed that we had found our way “home.”

2022

Today, the Speaks family DNA Project has 146 members comprised of:

  • 105 autosomal testers
  • 31 Speak Y-DNA testers
  • 24 of whom are Thomas the immigrant descendants
  • 8 Big Y tests

Over the years, we’ve added another goal. We need to determine how a man named Aaron Lucky Speaks is related to the rest of us. Autosomal DNA confirms that he is related, but we need more information.

Aaron Lucky is first found in 1787 purchasing land and on the 1790 Iredell County, NC census. We finally located a Y-DNA tester and confirmed that his paternal line is indeed the Lancashire Speaks line, but how?

After discovering that all 5 Lancashire Speaks men descend from the same family as Thomas the immigrant, we have spent a great deal of time trying to both sort them out, and tie the family lines together, with very limited success.

Can Y-DNA do that for us?

The Y-DNA Block Tree

When men take a Big Y-700 DNA test, they receive the most detailed information possible, including all available STR markers plus the most refined haplogroup possible, placing them as a leaf on the very tip of their branch of the tree of mankind. The only other men there are their closest relatives, divided sometimes by a single mutation. Eight Speaks men have taken or upgraded to the Big Y test, providing information via matching that we desperately needed.

This Big Y block tree is from the perspective of a descendant of Nicholas Speaks and shows the various mutations that define branches, shown as building blocks. Each person shown on the Block Tree is a match to the tester.

Think of haplogroups as umbrellas. Each umbrella shelters and includes everything beneath it.

At the top of this block tree, we have one solid blue block that forms an umbrella over all three branches beneath it. The top mutation name is I-BY14004, which is the haplogroup name associated with that block.

We have determined that all of the Speak men descended from the Lancashire line are members of haplogroup I-BY14004 and therefore, fall under that umbrella. The other haplogroup names in the same block mean that as other men test, a new branch may split off beneath the branch.

Next, let’s look at the blue block at far left.

The Lancashire men, meaning those who live there, plus our New Zealand tester, also carry additional mutations that define haplogroup I-BY14009, which means that our Thomas the Immigrant line split off from theirs before that mutation was formed.

Thomas the immigrant’s line has the mutation defining haplogroup I-FTA21638, forming an umbrella over both of Thomas the immigrant’s sons – meaning descendants of both sons carry this mutation.

Bowling’s line is defined by haplogroup I-BY215064, but John’s line does not carry this mutation, so John’s descendants are NOT members of this haplogroup, which turns out to be quite important.

We are very fortunate that one of Thomas’s sons, Bowling, received a mutation, because it allows us to differentiate between Bowling and his brother, John’s, descendants easily if testers take the Big Y test.

Aaron Luckey Speak

As you can see, the descendants of Aaron Lucky Speak, bracketed in blue above, carry the Bowling line mutation, so Aaron Luckey descends from one of Bowling’s sons. That makes sense, especially since Charles, the father of Nicholas, my ancestor born in 1782, is also found in Iredell County during the same timeframe.

Here’s a different view of the Big Y testers along with STR Y-DNA testers in a spreadsheet that I maintain.

Thomas the immigrant (tan band top row) is shown with son, Bowling who carries haplogroup BY215064.

Thomas’s son John, the InnKeeper, shown in the blue bar does NOT have the BY215064 mutation that defines Bowling’s group.

However, the bright green Aaron Lucky line, disconnected at far right, does have the mutation BY215064, so this places Aaron Luckey someplace beneath, meaning a descendant of, Bowling. We just don’t know where yet.

Sometimes we can utilize STR marker mutations for subgrouping within haplogroups, but in this case, we cannot because STR mutations in this family have:

  • Occurred independently in different lines
  • Back mutated

Between both of these issues, STR mutations are inconsistent and entirely unreliable.

In some cases, autosomal DNA is useful, but in this case, autosomal doesn’t get us any closer than Y-DNA due to record loss and incomplete genealogy above Nicholas. An analysis shows that Aaron Luckey Speak’s descendants match each other closer than they match either John or Bowling’s descendants.

We have a large gap in known descendants beneath Thomas of Zachia, other than Nicholas’s line.

Combining genetic and genealogy information, we know that both Charles Beckworth Speak and Thomas Bowling Speak, in yellow, are found in Iredell County. The children of Thomas of Zachia, shown in purple, are born in the 1730s and any one of them could potentially be the father of Aaron Luckey.

The men in green, including William, Bowling’s other son, are also candidates to be Aaron Luckey’s ancestor, although the two yellow men are more likely due to geographic proximity. They are both found in Iredell County.

We don’t know anything about William’s children, if any, nor much about Edward. John settled in Kentucky. Nicholas (green) stayed in Maryland.

There may be an additional generation between Charles Beckworth Speak (yellow) and Nicholas (born 1782), also named Charles. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this part of the tree.

Aaron Luckey’s descendants may be able to search their matches for a Luckey family, found in both Iredell County AND Maryland, which may assist with further identification.

It seems that Aaron’s middle name of Lucky is likely to be very significant.

Connecting the Genetic Dots in England

What can we discern about the Speak family in the US and in Lancashire?

Reaching back in time, before Thomas was born about 1633, what can we tell about the Speak family and how they are connected, and when?

The recently introduced Discover tool allows us to view the Y-DNA haplogroups and when they were born, meaning when the haplogroup-defining mutation occurred.

The Time Tree shows the haplogroups, in black above the profile dots. The scientifically calculated approximate dates of when those haplogroups were “born,” meaning when those mutations occurred, are found across the top.

I’ve added genealogical information, in red, at right.

  • Reading from the bottom red dot, Bowling’s haplogroup was born about the year 1660. Bowling was indeed born in 1674, so that’s VERY close
  • Moving back in time, Thomas’s haplogroup was born about 1617 and Thomas himself was born about 1634, but it certainly could have been earlier.
  • The Lancashire testers’ common haplogroup was born about 1636, and the earliest known ancestor of those men is Henry, born in Twiston in 1650.
  • The common Speak ancestor of BOTH the Lancashire line and the Thomas the immigrant line was born about 1334. The earliest record of any Speak was Henry Speke, of Whalley, born before 1520.

The lines of Thomas the Immigrant and the Lancashire men diverged sometime between about 1334, when the umbrella mutation for all Speaks lines was born, and about 1617 when we know the mutation defining the Thomas the Immigrant line formed and split off from the Lancashire line.

But that’s not all.

Surprise!

As I panned out and viewed the block tree more broadly, I noticed something.

This is quite small and difficult to read, so let me explain. At far left is the branch for our Speaks men. The common ancestor of that group was born about 1334 CE, meaning current era, as we’ve discussed.

Continuing up the tree, we see the next haplogroup umbrella occurs about 1009 CE, then the year 850 at the top is the next umbrella, encompassing everything beneath.

Looking to the right, the farthest right blocks date to 1109 CE, then 1318 CE, then progressing on down the tree branch to the bottom, I see one name in three blocks.

What is that name?

I’m squinting!!!

Here, let me enlarge this for you!

Standish.

The name is Standish, as in Myles Standish, the Pilgrim.

Miles is our relative, and even though he has a different surname, we share a common ancestor, probably before surnames were adopted. Our genetic branches divided about the year 1000.

The Discover tool also provides Notable Connections for each haplogroup, so I entered one of the Speaks haplogroups, and sure enough, the closest Speak Notable Connection is Myles Standish 1584-1656.

And look, there’s the Standish Pew in Chorley, another church that we visited during our Lancashire trip because family members of Thomas Speake’s wife, Elizabeth Bowling, are found in the church records here.

Our common ancestor with the Standish line lived in about the year 850. Our line split off, as did theirs about the year 1000, or about 1000 years, or 30-40 generations ago.

Our family names are still found in the Chorley Church records

Ancient Connections

The Discover tool also provides Ancient Connections from archaeological digs, by haplogroup.

Sure enough, there’s an ancient sample on the Time Tree named Heslerton 20641.

Checking the Discover Ancient Connections, the man named Heslerton 20641 is found in West Heslerton, Yorkshire and lived about the year 450-650, based on carbon dating.

The mutation identifying the common ancestor between the Speak men and Heslerton occurred about 2450 BCE, or 4500 years ago. Those two locations are only 83 miles apart.

Where Are We?

What have we learned from the information discovered through genealogy combined with Big Y testing?

  • We found a Speek in Whalley in 1385.
  • Thomas Speake was baptized in Downham and born in Twiston in 1733.
  • Our New Zealand tester’s ancestor was found in Gisburn about 1745.
  • All of these locations are within 15 miles of each other.

  • Chorley, where the Standish family is found in the 1500s is located 17 miles South of Whalley. Thomas Speak’s wife, Elizabeth Bowlings’ family is found in the Chorley church records.

What about the L’Espec origin myth?

  • The Speak family clearly did not arrive in 1066 with the Normans.
  • We have no Scandinavian DNA matches.
  • No place is the surname spelled L’Espec in any Lancashire regional records.
  • The Speak family is in Whalley/Chorley area by 1000 when the Speak/Standish lines diverged
  • The common ancestor with the Standish family occurred about the year 850, although that could have occurred elsewhere. Clearly, their common ancestor was in the Chorley/Whalley area by 1000 when their lines diverged.

The cemetery at Whalley includes Anglo-Saxon burials, circa 800-900.

The Speak men, with no surname back then, greeted William the Conqueror.

And lived to tell the tale, along with their Standish cousins, of course.

Are our ancestors buried in these early Anglo-Saxon graves? I’d wager that the answer is yes. We are likely related to every family who lived in this region over many millennia. Little is known of Lancashire during this time, but we do know more generally that the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic people, arrived in the 5th century and integrated, eventually, with the Native Britons, the Celts. These carvings certainly do have a Celtic feel.

This family photo, standing in the church in Whalley where it all began, is now imbued with a much deeper significance.

Little did we know.

And this, all of this, was a result of Big-Y DNA tests. We could not have accomplished any of this without Y-DNA testing.

Our ancestors are indeed speaking across the ages.

We really have found the road home, the path revealed by the DNA of our ancestors.

_____________________________________________________________

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FamilyTreeDNA to Surpass 60,000 Y DNA Haplogroups and Introduces New Time Tree

The public Y DNA tree at FamilyTreeDNA is on the brink of crossing the 60,000 branch threshold.

When do you think it will sprout enough leaves to get there? I’m betting on tomorrow, or maybe the next day?

You can check here to see when it happens!

Discover Tool Grows Too

The new Discover tool launched almost exactly three months ago, and people are purchasing or upgrading to the Big Y test to learn about their matches and discover their place in the history of mankind. Of course, every test boosts genealogy and helps the tree of mankind grow. You can read about how to use the Discover tool, here.

The Discover Tool continues to add features for Y DNA testers too.

Introducing the Time Tree

A couple of weeks ago, FamilyTreeDNA introduced the time tree.

The time tree shows your haplogroup age and placement on the tree, plus age estimates for nearby haplogroups too. You can click up and down the tree by haplogroup.

My Estes haplogroups are shown above with incredible accuracy based on my proven genealogy. I’m still amazed that science, alone, without the benefit of genealogy, can get within half a century many times.

Looking at another example, you can see that haplogroup Q-FTC17883 has two testers and a notable connection, Kevin Segura.

The genetically calculated age estimate of this branch is about 1950.

Using the back arrow to click back one haplogroup shows the current testers, the Lovelock4 ancient sample, and additional haplogroups.

Note that while the Lovelock sample is shown to be the same haplogroup as today’s testers, recovery of ancient DNA is not always complete. In other words, that sample might have SNPs that the contemporary testers don’t have, or the sample may be incomplete, or no-calls may not be reported. Sample ages may not be included either, so FamilyTreeDNA has to work with what’s available.

What I’m saying is that Lovelock 4 is “at least,” reliably, haplogroup Q-FTC17883 and shares that SNP with present-day testers.

But Wait, There’s More

This past week, FamilyTreeDNA made another big update.

Included are the ancient samples published in the recent paper about the Southern Arc, the bridge between western Asia and Europe and samples from western Europe and England that help tell the story of Anglo-Saxon migration.

These ancient peoples helped form the gene pool in Europe, then pushed on into the British Isles.

Additionally, this past week’s updates include:

  • 345 new haplogroup reports (Haplotree changes up until September 23rd)
  • In total, almost 2,600 ancient DNA samples, including all the samples from the Southern Arc and Anglo-Saxon migration papers, two large new studies with a total of 590 samples!
  • In total, over 4,300 academic modern DNA samples from different parts of the world, including 1,200 new from Sardinia
  • New flags added: Druze, Italy (Sardinia), Western Sahara (Sahrawi)

Fun

I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to find my ancestral lines in appropriate surname and regional projects, upgrading cousins, and finding new people to test.

I enter their Y DNA haplogroup into Discover and share my new-found information with my cousins who agreed to test. Everyone loves Discover because it’s so relatable.

For example, you can enter haplogroup:

  • I-A1843 to view Wild Bill Hickok
  • Q-M3 for Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket
  • R-FT62777 to learn about Johnny Cash

By entering your own, or your ancestor’s Y DNA haplogroups, you can discover where they came from, which lines they share with notable people, and identify their ancient cousins. The more refined your haplogroup, the more relevant the information will be, which is why I recommend the Big Y test. My Estes line estimated haplogroup from STR testing is R-M269

There are 23 haplogroups between R-M269 and my ancestor, Moses Estes’s haplogroup, R-ZS3700 in 1711. R-M269 is interesting, but R-ZS3700 is VERY relevant.

Even if you can’t “jump the pond” with genealogy records, you certainly can with Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Can you find the Y DNA haplogroups of your male ancestors? Check surname projects and your autosomal matches for cousins who may have or would be willing to Y DNA test. I wish I had just tested all those earlier cousins at the Big Y level, because several have gone on to meet their ancestors and I can’t upgrade their sample now.

Test yourself and your cousins to reveal information about your common ancestors, and have fun with your new discoveries!!

_____________________________________________________________

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Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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 Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

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DNA: In Search of…Full and Half-Siblings

This is the fifth article in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied by genealogists to identify ancestors further back in time as well.

Please note that if a family member has tested and you do NOT see their results, ask them to verify that they have chosen to allow matching and for other people to view them in their match list. That process varies at different vendors.

You can also ask if they can see you in their results.

All Parties Need to Test

Searching for unknown siblings isn’t exactly searching, because to find them, they, themselves, or their descendant(s) must have taken a DNA test at the same vendor where you tested or uploaded a DNA file.

You may know through any variety of methods that they exist, or might exist, but if they don’t take a DNA test, you can’t find them using DNA. This might sound obvious, but I see people commenting and not realizing that the other sibling(s) must test too – and they may not have.

My first questions when someone comments in this vein are:

  1. Whether or not they are positive their sibling actually tested, meaning actually sent the test in to the vendor, and it was received by the testing company. You’d be surprised how many tests are living in permanent residence on someone’s countertop until it gets pushed into the drawer and forgotten about.
  2. If the person has confirmed that their sibling has results posted. They may have returned their test, but the results aren’t ready yet or there was a problem.
  3. AND that both people have authorized matching and sharing of results. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your vendor’s customer care if you need help with this.

Sibling Scenarios

The most common sibling scenarios are when one of two things happens:

  • A known sibling tests, only to discover that they don’t match you in the full sibling range, or not at all, when you expected they would
  • You discover a surprise match in the full or half-sibling range

Let’s talk about these scenarios and how to determine:

  • If someone is a sibling
  • If they are a full or half-sibling
  • If a half-sibling, if they descend from your mother or father

As with everything else genetic, we’ll be gathering and analyzing different pieces of evidence along the way.

Full and Half-Siblings

Just to make sure we are all on the same page:

  • A full sibling is someone who shares both parents with you.
  • A half-sibling is someone who shares one parent with you, but not the other parent.
  • A step-sibling is someone who shares no biological parents with you. This situation occurs when your parent marries their parent, after you are both born, and their parent becomes your step-parent. You share neither of your biological parents with a step-sibling, so you share no DNA and will not show up on each other’s match lists.
  • A three-quarters sibling is someone with whom you share one parent, but two siblings are the other parent. For example, you share the same mother, but one brother fathered you, and your father’s brother fathered your sibling. Yes, this can get very messy and is almost impossible for a non-professional to sort through, if even then. (This is not a solicitation. I do not take private clients.) We will not be addressing this situation specifically.

Caution

With any search for unknown relatives, you have no way of knowing what you will find.

In one’s mind, there are happy reunions, but you may experience something entirely different. Humans are human. Their stories are not always happy or rosy. They may have made mistakes they regret. Or they may have no regrets about anything.

Your sibling may not know about you or the situation under which you, or they, were born. Some women were victims of assault and violence, which is both humiliating and embarrassing. I wrote about difficult situations, here.

Your sibling or close family member may not be receptive to either you, your message, or even your existence. Just be prepared, because the seeking journey may not be pain-free for you or others, and may not culminate with or include happy reunions.

On the other hand, it may.

Please step back and ponder a bit about the journey you are about to undertake and the possible people that may be affected, and how. This box, once opened, cannot be closed again. Be sure you are prepared.

On the other hand, sometimes that box lid pops off, and the information simply falls in your lap one day when you open your match list, and you find yourself sitting there, in shock, staring at a match, trying to figure out what it all means.

Congratulations, You Have a Sibling!

This might not be exactly what runs through your mind when you see that you have a very close match that you weren’t expecting.

The first two things I recommend when making this sort of discovery, after a few deep breaths, a walk, and a cup of tea, are:

  • Viewing what the vendor says
  • Using the DNAPainter Shared cM Relationship Chart

Let’s start with DNAPainter.

DNAPainter

DNAPainter provides a relationship chart, here, based on the values from the Shared cM Project.

You can either enter a cM amount or a percentage of shared DNA. I prefer the cM amount, but it doesn’t really matter.

I’ll enter 2241 cM from a known half-sibling match. To enter a percent, click on the green “enter %.”

As you can see, statistically speaking, this person is slightly more likely to be a half-sibling than they are to be a full sibling. In reality, they could be either.

Looking at the chart below, DNAPainter highlights the possible relationships from the perspective of “Self.”

The average of all the self-reported relationships is shown, on top, so 2613 for a full sibling. The range is shown below, so 1613-3488 for a full sibling.

In this case, there are several possibilities for two people who share 2241 cM of DNA.

I happen to know that these two people are half-siblings, but if I didn’t, it would be impossible to tell from this information alone.

The cM range for full siblings is 1613-3488, and the cM range for half-siblings is 1160-2436.

  • The lower part of the matching range, from 1160-1613 cM is only found in half-siblings.
  • The portion of the range from 1613-2436 cM can be either half or full siblings.
  • The upper part of the range, from 2436-3488 cM is only found in full siblings.

If your results fall into the center portion of the range, you’re going to need to utilize other tools. Fortunately, we have several.

If you’ve discovered something unexpected, you’ll want to verify using these tools, regardless. Use every tool available. Ranges are not foolproof, and the upper and lower 10% of the responses were removed as outliers. You can read more about the shared cM Project, here and here.

Furthermore, people may be reporting some half-sibling relationships as full sibling relationships, because they don’t expect to be half-siblings, so the ranges may be somewhat “off.”

Relationship Probability Calculator

Third-party matching database, GEDmatch, provides a Relationship Probability Calculator tool that is based on statistical probability methods without compiled user input. Both tools are free, and while I haven’t compared every value, both seem to be reasonably accurate, although they do vary somewhat, especially at the outer ends of the ranges.

When dealing with sibling matches, if you are in all four databases, GEDmatch is a secondary resource, but I will include GEDmatch when they have a unique tool as well as in the summary table. Some of your matches may be willing to upload to GEDmatch if the vendor where you match doesn’t provide everything you need and GEDmatch has a supplemental offering.

Next, let’s look at what the vendors say about sibling matches.

Vendors

Each of the major vendors reports sibling relationships in a slightly different way.

Sibling Matches at Ancestry

Ancestry reports sibling relationships as Sister or Brother, but they don’t say half or full.

If you click on the cM portion of the link, you’ll see additional detail, below

Ancestry tells you that the possible relationships are 100% “Sibling.” The only way to discern the difference between full and half is by what’s next.

If the ONLY relationship shown is Sibling at 100%, that can be interpreted to mean this person is a full sibling, and that a half-sibling or other relationship is NOT a possibility.

Ancestry never stipulates full or half.

The following relationship is a half-sibling at Ancestry.

Ancestry identifies that possible range of relationships as “Close Family to First Cousin” because of the overlaps we saw in the DNAPainter chart.

Clicking through shows that there is a range of possible relationships, and Ancestry is 100% sure the relationship is one of those.

DNAPainter agrees with Ancestry except includes the full-sibling relationship as a possibility for 1826 cM.

Sibling Matches at 23andMe

23andMe does identify full versus half-siblings.

DNAPainter disagrees with 23andMe and claims that anyone who shares 46.2% of their DNA is a parent/child.

However, look at the fine print. 23andMe counts differently than any of the other vendors, and DNAPainter relies on the Shared cM Project, which relies on testers entering known relationship matching information. Therefore, at any other vendor, DNAPainter is probably exactly right.

Before we understand how 23andMe counts, we need to understand about half versus fully identical segments.

To determine half or full siblings, 23andMe compares two things:

  1. The amount of shared matching DNA between two people
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) of DNA compared to Half Identical Regions (HIR) of DNA to determine if any of your DNA is fully identical, meaning some pieces of you and your sibling’s DNA is exactly the same on both your maternal and paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an example on any chromosome – I’ve randomly selected chromosome 12. Which chromosome doesn’t matter, except for the X, which is different.

Your match isn’t broken out by maternal and paternal sides. You would simply see, on the chromosome browser, that you and your sibling match at these locations, above.

In reality, though, you have two copies of each chromosome, one from Mom and one from Dad, and so does your sibling.

In this example, Mom’s chromosome is visualized on top, and Dad’s is on the bottom, below, but as a tester, you don’t know that. All you know is that you match your sibling on all of those blue areas, above.

However, what’s actually happening in this example is that you are matching your sibling on parts of your mother’s chromosome and parts of your father’s chromosome, shown above as green areas

23andMe looks at both copies of your chromosome, the one you inherited from Mom, on top, and Dad, on the bottom, to see if you match your sibling on BOTH your mother’s and your father’s chromosomes in that location.

I’ve boxed the green matching areas in purple where you match your sibling fully, on both parents’ chromosomes.

If you and your sibling share both parents, you will share significant amounts of the same DNA on both copies of the same chromosomes, meaning maternal and paternal. In other words, full siblings share some purple fully identical regions (FIR) of DNA with each other, while half-siblings do not (unless they are also otherwise related) because half-siblings only share one parent with each other. Their DNA can’t be fully identical because they have a different parent that contributed the other copy of their chromosome.

Total Shared DNA Fully Identical DNA from Both Parents
Full Siblings ~50% ~25%
Half Siblings ~25% 0
  • Full siblings are expected to share about 50% of the same DNA. In other words, their DNA will match at that location. That’s all the green boxed locations, above.
  • Full siblings are expected to share about 25% of the same DNA from BOTH parents at the same location on BOTH copies of their chromosomes. These are fully identical regions and are boxed in purple, above.

You’ll find fully identical segments about 25% of the time in full siblings, but you won’t find fully identical segments in half-siblings. Please note that there are exceptions for ¾ siblings and endogamous populations.

You can view each match at 23andMe to see if you have any completely identical regions, shown in dark purple in the top comparison of full siblings. Half siblings are shown in the second example, with less total matching DNA and no FIR or completely identical regions.

Please note that your matching amount of DNA will probably be higher at 23andMe than at other companies because:

  • 23andMe includes the X chromosome in the match totals
  • 23andMe counts fully identical matching regions twice. For full siblings, that’s an additional 25%

Therefore, a full sibling with an X match will have a higher total cM at 23andMe than the same siblings elsewhere because not only is the X added into the total, the FIR match region is added a second time too.

Fully Identical Regions (FIR) and Half Identical Regions (HIR) at GEDmatch

At GEDMatch, you can compare two people to each other, with an option to display the matching information and a painted graphic for each chromosome that includes FIR and HIR.

If you need to know if you and a match share fully identical regions and you haven’t tested at 23andMe, you can both upload your DNA data file to GEDmatch and use their One to One Autosomal DNA Comparison.

On the following page, simply enter both kit numbers and accept the defaults, making sure you have selected one of the graphics options.

While GEDmatch doesn’t specifically tell you whether someone is a full or half sibling, you can garner additional information about the relationship based on the graphic at GEDmatch.

GEDMatch shows both half and fully identical regions.

The above match is between two full siblings using a 7 cM threshold. The blue on the bottom bar indicates a match of 7 cM or larger. Black means no match.

The green regions in the top bar indicate places where these two people carry the same DNA on both copies of their chromosome 1. This means that both people inherited the same DNA from BOTH parents on the green segments.

In the yellow regions, the siblings inherited the same DNA from ONE parent, but different DNA in that region from the other parent. They do match each other, just on one of their chromosomes, not both.

Without a tool like this to differentiate between HIR and FIR, you can’t tell if you’re matching someone on one copy of your chromosome, or on both copies.

In the areas marked with red on top, which corresponds to the black on the bottom band, these two siblings don’t match each other because they inherited different DNA from both parents in that region. The yellow in that region is too scattered to be significant.

Full siblings generally share a significant amount of FIR, or fully identical regions of DNA – about 25%.

Half siblings will share NO significant amount of FIR, although some will be FIR on very small, scattered green segments simply by chance, as you can see in the example, below.

This half-sibling match shares no segments large enough to be a match (7 cM) in the black section. In the blue matching section, only a few small green fragments of DNA match fully, which, based on the rest of that matching segment, must be identical by chance or misreads. There are no significant contiguous segments of fully identical DNA.

When dealing with full or half-siblings, you’re not interested in small, scattered segments of fully identical regions, like those green snippets on chromosome 6, but in large contiguous sections of matching DNA like the chromosome 1 example.

GEDmatch can help when you match when a vendor does not provide FIR/HIR information, and you need additional assistance.

Next, let’s look at full and half-siblings at FamilyTreeDNA

Sibling Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA does identify full siblings.

Relationships other than full siblings are indicated by a range. The two individuals below are both half-sibling matches to the tester.

The full range when mousing over the relationship ranges is shown below.

DNAPainter agrees except also gives full siblings as an option for the two half-siblings.

FamilyTreeDNA also tells you if you have an X match and the size of your X match.

We will talk about X matching in a minute, which, when dealing with sibling identification, can turn out to be very important.

Sibling Matches at MyHeritage

MyHeritage indicates brother or sister for full siblings

MyHeritage provides other “Estimated relationships” for matches too small to be full siblings.

DNAPainter’s chart agrees with this classification, except adds additional relationship possibilities.

Be sure to review all of the information provided by each vendor for close relationships.

View Close Known Relationships

The next easiest step to take is to compare your full or half-sibling match to known close family members from your maternal and paternal sides, respectively. The closer the family members, the better.

It’s often not possible to determine if someone is a half sibling or a full sibling by centiMorgans (cMs) alone, especially if you’re searching for unknown family members.

Let’s start with the simplest situation first.

Let’s say both of your parents have tested, and of course, you match both of them as parents.

Your new “very close match” is in the sibling range.

The first thing to do at each vendor is to utilize that vendor’s shared matches tool and see whether your new match matches one parent, or both.

Here’s an example.

Close Relationships at FamilyTreeDNA

This person has a full sibling match, but let’s say they don’t know who this is and wants to see if their new sibling matches one or both of their parents.

Select the match by checking the box to the left of the match name, then click on the little two-person icon at far right, which shows “In Common” matches

You can see on the resulting shared match list that both of the tester’s parents are shown on the shared match list.

Now let’s make this a little more difficult.

No Parents, No Problem

Let’s say neither of your parents has tested.

If you know who your family is and can identify your matches, you can see if the sibling you match matches other close relatives on both or either side of your family.

You’ll want to view shared matches with your closest known match on both sides of your tree, beginning with the closest first. Aunts, uncles, first cousins, etc.

You will match all of your family members through second cousins, and 90% of your third cousins. You can view additional relationship percentages in the article, How Much of Them is in You?.

I recommend, for this matching purpose, to utilize 2nd cousins and closer. That way you know for sure if you don’t share them as a match with your sibling, it’s because the sibling is not related on that side of the family, not because they simply don’t share any DNA due to their distance.

In this example, you have three sibling matches. Based on your and their matches to the same known first and second cousins, you can see that:

  • Sibling 1 is your full sibling, because you both match the same maternal and paternal first and second cousins
  • Sibling 2 is your paternal half-sibling because you both match paternal second cousins and closer, but not maternal cousins.
  • Sibling 3 is your maternal half-sibling because you both match maternal second cousins and closer, but not paternal cousins.

Close Relationships at Ancestry

Neither of my parents have tested, but my first cousin on my mother’s side has. Let’s say I have a suspected sibling or half-sibling match, so I click on the match’s name, then on Shared Matches.

Sure enough, my new match also matches my first cousin that I’ve labeled as “on my mother’s side.”

If my new match in the sibling range also matches my second cousins or closer on my father’s side, the new match is a full sibling, not a half-sibling.

Close Relationships at MyHeritage

Comparing my closest match provided a real surprise. I wonder if I’ve found a half-sibling to my mother.

Now, THIS is interesting.

Hmmm. More research is needed, beginning with the age of my match. MyHeritage provides ages if the MyHeritage member authorizes that information to be shared.

Close Relationships at 23andMe

Under DNA Relatives, click on your suspected sibling match, then scroll down and select “Find Relatives in Common.”

The Relatives in Common list shows people that match both of you.

The first common match is very close and a similar relationship to my closest match on my father’s side. This would be expected of a sibling. I have no common matches with this match to anyone on my mother’s side, so they are only related on my father’s side. Therefore they are a paternal half-sibling, not a full sibling.

More Tools Are Available

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been able to determine if your mystery match is a sibling, and if so, if they are a half or full sibling, and through which parent.

We have some additional tools that are relevant and can be very informative in some circumstances. I suggest utilizing these tools, even if you think you know the answer.

In this type of situation, there’s no such thing as too much information.

X Matching

X matching, or lack thereof, may help you determine how you are related to someone.

There are two types of autosomal DNA. The X chromosome versus chromosomes 1-22. The X chromosome (number 23) has a unique inheritance path that distinguishes it from your other chromosomes.

The X chromosome inheritance path also differs between men and women.

Here’s my pedigree chart in fan form, highlighting the ancestors who may have contributed a portion of their X chromosome to me. In the closest generation, this shows that I inherited an X chromosome from both of my parents, and who in each of their lines could have contributed an X to them.

The white or uncolored positions, meaning ancestors, cannot contribute any portion of an X chromosome to me based on how the X chromosome is inherited.

You’ll notice that my father inherited none of his X chromosome from any of his paternal ancestors, so of course, I can’t inherit what he didn’t inherit. There are a very limited number of ancestors on my father’s side whom I can inherit any portion of an X chromosome from.

Men receive their Y chromosome from their fathers, so men ONLY receive an X chromosome from their mother.

Therefore, men MUST pass their mother’s X chromosome on to their female offspring because they don’t have any other copy of the X chromosome to pass on.

Men pass no X chromosome to sons.

We don’t need to worry about a full fan chart when dealing with siblings and half-siblings.

We only need to be concerned with the testers plus one generation (parents) when utilizing the X chromosome in sibling situations.

These two female Disney Princesses, above, are full siblings, and both inherited an X chromosome from BOTH their mother and father. However, their father only has one X (red) chromosome to give them, so the two females MUST match on the entire red X chromosome from their father.

Their mother has two X chromosomes, green and black, to contribute – one from each of her parents.

The full siblings, Melody, and Cinderella:

  • May have inherited some portion of the same green and black X chromosomes from their mother, so they are partial matches on their mother’s X chromosome.
  • May have inherited the exact same full X chromosome from their mother (both inherited the entire green or both inherited the entire black), so they match fully on their mother’s X chromosome.
  • May have inherited the opposite X from different maternal grandparents. One inherited the entire green X and one inherited the entire black X, so they don’t match on their mother’s X chromosome.

Now, let’s look at Cinderella, who matches Henry.

This female and male full sibling match can’t share an X chromosome on the father’s side, because the male’s father doesn’t contribute an X chromosome to him. The son, Henry, inherited a Y chromosome instead from his father, which is what made them males.

Therefore, if a male and female match on the X chromosome, it MUST be through HIS mother, but could be through either of her parents. In a sibling situation, an X match between a male and female always indicates the mother.

In the example above, the two people share both of their mother’s X chromosomes, so are definitely (at least) maternally related. They could be full siblings, but we can’t determine that by the X chromosome in this situation, with males.

However, if the male matches the female on HER father’s X chromosome, there a different message, example below.

You can see that the male is related to the female on her father’s side, where she inherited the entire magenta X chromosome. The male inherited a portion of the magenta X chromosome from his mother, so these two people do have an X match. However, he matches on his mother’s side, and she matches on her father’s side, so that’s clearly not the same parent.

  • These people CAN NOT be full siblings because they don’t match on HER mother’s side too, which would also be his mother’s side if they were full siblings.
  • They cannot be maternal half-siblings because their X DNA only matches on her father’s side, but they wouldn’t know that unless she knew which side was which based on share matches.
  • They cannot be paternal half-siblings because he does not have an X chromosome from his father.

They could, however, be uncle/aunt-niece/nephew or first cousins on his mother’s side and her father’s side. (Yes, you’re definitely going to have to read this again if you ever need male-female X matching.)

Now, let’s look at X chromosome matching between two males. It’s a lot less complicated and much more succinct.

Neither male has inherited an X chromosome from their father, so if two males DO match on the X, it MUST be through their mother. In terms of siblings, this would mean they share the same mother.

However, there is one slight twist. In the above example, you can see that the men inherited a different proportion of the green and black X chromosomes from their common mother. However, it is possible that the mother could contribute her entire green X chromosome to one son, Justin in this example, and her entire black X chromosome to Henry.

Therefore, even though Henry and Justin DO share a mother, their X chromosome would NOT match in this scenario. This is rare but does occasionally happen.

Based on the above examples, the X chromosome may be relevant in the identification of full or half siblings based on the sexes of the two people who otherwise match at a level indicating a full or half-sibling relationship.

Here’s a summary chart for sibling X matching.

X Match Female Male
Female Will match on shared father’s full X chromosome, mother’s X is the same rules as chromosomes 1-22 Match through male’s mother, but either of female’s parents. If the X match is not through the female’s mother, they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot have an X match through the male’s father. They are either full or half-siblings through their mother if they match on both of their mother’s side. If they match on his mother’s side, and her father’s side, they are not siblings but could be otherwise closely related.
Male Match through male’s mother, but either of female’s parents. If the X match is not through the female’s mother, they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot have an X match through the male’s father. They are either full or half-siblings through their mother if they match on both or their mother’s side. If they match on his mother’s side, and her father’s side, they are not siblings but could be otherwise closely related. Both males are related on their mother’s side – either full or half-siblings.

Here’s the information presented in a different way.

DOES match X summary:

  • If a male DOES match a female on the X, he IS related to her through HIS mother’s side, but could match her on her mother or father’s side. If their match is not through her mother, then they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot match through his father, so they cannot be paternal half-siblings.
  • If a female DOES match a female on the X, they could be related on either side and could be full or half-siblings.
  • If a male DOES match a male on the X, they ARE both related through their mother. They may also be related on their father’s side, but the X does not inform us of that.

Does NOT match X summary:

  • If a male does NOT match a female on the X, they are NOT related through HIS mother and are neither full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. Since a male does not have an X chromosome from his father, they cannot be paternal half-siblings based on an X match.
  • If a male does NOT match a male, they do NOT share a mother.
  • If a female does NOT match another female on the X, they are NOT full siblings and are NOT half-siblings on their paternal side. Their father only has one X chromosome, and he would have given the same X to both daughters.

Of the four autosomal vendors, only 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA report X chromosome results and matching, although the other two vendors, MyHeritage and Ancestry, include the X in their DNA download file so you can find X matches with those files at either FamilyTreeDNA or GEDMatch if your match has or will upload their file to either of those vendors. I wrote step-by-step detailed download/upload instructions, here.

X Matching at FamilyTreeDNA

In this example from FamilyTreeDNA, the female tester has discovered two half-sibling matches, both through her father. In the first scenario, she matches a female on the full X chromosome (181 cM). She and her half-sibling MUST share their father’s entire X chromosome because he only had one X, from his mother, to contribute to both of his daughters.

In the second match to a male half-sibling, our female tester shares NO X match because her father did not contribute an X chromosome to his son.

If we didn’t know which parents these half-sibling matches were through, we can infer from the X matching alone that the male is probably NOT through the mother.

Then by comparing shared matches with each sibling, Advanced Matches, or viewing the match Matrix, we can determine if the siblings match each other and are from the same or different sides of the family.

Under Additional Tests and Tools, Advanced Matching, FamilyTreeDNA provides an additional tool that can show only X matches combined with relationships.

Of course, you’ll need to view shared matches to see which people match the mother and/or match the father.

To see who matches each other, you’ll need to use the Matrix tool.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the Matrix, located under Autosomal DNA Results and Tools, allows you to select your matches to see if they also match each other. If you have known half-siblings, or close relatives, this is another way to view relationships.

Here’s an example using my father and two paternal half-siblings. We can see that the half-siblings also match each other, so they are (at least) half-siblings on the paternal side too.

If they also matched my mother, we would be full siblings, of course.

Next, let’s use Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA.

Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA

In addition to autosomal DNA, we can utilize Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in some cases to identify siblings or to narrow or eliminate relationship possibilities.

Given that Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA both have distinctive inheritance paths, full and half-siblings will, or will not, match under various circumstances.

Y DNA

Y DNA is passed intact from father to son, meaning it’s not admixed with any of the mother’s DNA. Daughters do not inherit Y DNA from their father, so Y DNA is only useful for male-to-male comparisons.

Two types of Y DNA are used for genealogy, STR markers for matching, and haplogroups, and both are equally powerful in slightly different ways.

Y DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

Men can order either 37 or 111 STR marker tests, or the BIg Y which provides more than 700 markers and more. FamilyTreeDNA is the only one of the vendors to offer Y DNA testing that includes STR markers and matching between men.

Men who order these tests will be compared for matching on either 37, 111 or 700 STR markers in addition to SNP markers used for haplogroup identification and assignment.

Fathers will certainly match their sons, and paternal line brothers will match each other, but they will also match people more distantly related.

However, if two men are NOT either full or half siblings on the paternal side, they won’t match at 111 markers.

If two men DON’T match, especially at high marker levels, they likely aren’t siblings. The word “likely” is in there because, very occasionally, a large deletion occurs that prevents STR matching, especially at lower levels.

Additionally, men who take the 37 or 111 marker test also receive an estimated haplogroup at a high level for free, without any additional testing.

However, if men take the Big Y-700 test, they not only will (or won’t) match on up to 700 STR markers, they will also receive a VERY refined haplogroup via SNP marker testing that is often even more sensitive in terms of matching than STR markers. Between these two types of markers, Y DNA testing can place men very granularly in relation to other men.

Men can match in two ways on Y DNA, and the results are very enlightening.

If two men match on BOTH their most refined haplogroup (Big Y test) AND STR markers, they could certainly be siblings or father/son. They could also be related on the same line for another reason, such as known or unknown cousins or closer relationships like uncle/nephew. Of course, Y DNA, in addition to autosomal matching, is a powerful combination.

Conversely, if two men don’t have a similar or close haplogroup, they are not a father and son or paternal line siblings.

FamilyTreeDNA offers both inexpensive entry-level testing (37 and 111 markers) and highly refined advanced testing of most of the Y chromosome (Big Y-700), so haplogroup assignments can vary widely based on the test you take. This makes haplogroup matching and interpretation a bit more complex.

For example, haplogroups R-M269 and I-BY14000 are not related in thousands of years. One is haplogroup R, and one is haplogroup I – completely different branches of the Y DNA tree. These two men won’t match on STR markers or their haplogroup.

However, because FamilyTreeDNA provides over 50,000 different haplogroups, or tree branches, for Big Y testers, and they provide VERY granular matching, two father/son or sibling males who have BOTH tested at the Big Y-700 level will have either the exact same haplogroup, or at most, one branch difference on the tree if a mutation occurred between father and son.

If both men have NOT tested at the Big Y-700 level, their haplogroups will be on the same branch. For example, a man who has only taken a 37/111 marker STR test may be estimated at R-M269, which is certainly accurate as far as it goes.

His sibling who has taken a Big Y test will be many branches further downstream on the tree – but on the same large haplogroup R-M269 branch. It’s essential to pay attention to which tests a Y DNA match has taken when analyzing the match.

The beauty of the two kinds of tests is that even if one haplogroup is very general due to no Big Y test, their STR markers should still match. It’s just that sometimes this means that one hand is tied behind your back.

Y DNA matching alone can eliminate the possibility of a direct paternal line connection, but it cannot prove siblingship or paternity alone – not without additional information.

The Advanced Matching tool will provide a list of matches in all categories selected – in this case, both the 111 markers and the Family Finder test. You can see that one of these men is the father of the tester, and one is the full sibling.

You can view haplogroup assignments on the public Y DNA tree, here. I wrote about using the public tree, here.

In addition, recently, FamilyTreeDNA launched the new Y DNA Discover tool, which explains more about haplogroups, including their ages and other fun facts like migration paths along with notable and ancient connections. I wrote about using the Discover tool, here.

Y DNA at 23andMe

Testers receive a base haplogroup with their autosomal test. 23andMe tests a limited number of Y DNA SNP locations, but they don’t test many, and they don’t test STR markers, so there is no Y DNA matching and no refined haplogroups.

You can view the haplogroups of your matches. If your male sibling match does NOT share the same haplogroup, the two men are not paternal line siblings. If two men DO share the same haplogroup, they MIGHT be paternal siblings. They also might not.

Again, autosomal close matching plus haplogroup comparisons include or exclude paternal side siblings for males.

Paternal side siblings at 23andMe share the same haplogroup, but so do many other people. These two men could be siblings. The haplogroups don’t exclude that possibility. If the haplogroups were different, that would exclude being either full or paternal half-siblings.

Men can also compare their mitochondrial DNA to eliminate a maternal relationship.

These men are not full siblings or maternal half-siblings. We know, unquestionably, because their mitochondrial haplogroups don’t match.

23andMe also constructs a genetic tree, but often struggles with close relative placement, especially when half-relationships are involved. I do not recommend relying on the genetic tree in this circumstance.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only females pass it on. If two people, males or females, don’t match on their mitochondrial DNA test, with a couple of possible exceptions, they are NOT full siblings, and they are NOT maternal half-siblings.

Mitochondrial DNA at 23andMe

23andMe provides limited, base mitochondrial haplogroups, but no matching. If two people don’t have the same haplogroup at 23andMe, they aren’t full or maternal siblings, as illustrated above.

Mitochondrial DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA provides both mitochondrial matching AND a much more refined haplogroup. The full sequence test (mtFull), the only version sold today, is essential for reliable comparisons.

Full siblings or maternal half-siblings will always share the same haplogroup, regardless of their sex.

Generally, a full sibling or maternal half-sibling match will match exactly at the full mitochondrial sequence (FMS) level with a genetic distance of zero, meaning fully matching and no mismatching mutations.

There are rare instances where maternal siblings or even mothers and children do not match exactly, meaning they have a genetic distance of greater than 0, because of a mutation called a heteroplasmy.

I wrote about heteroplasmies, here.

Like Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA cannot identify a sibling or parental relationship without additional evidence, but it can exclude one, and it can also provide much-needed evidence in conjunction with autosomal matching. The great news is that unlike Y DNA, everyone has mitochondrial DNA and it comes directly from their mother.

Once again, FamilyTreeDNA’s Advanced Matching tool provides a list of people who match you on both your mitochondrial DNA test and the Family Finder autosomal test, including transfers/uploads, and provides a relationship.

You can see that our tester matches both a full sibling and their mother. Of course, a parent/child match could mean that our tester is a female and one of her children, of either sex, has tested.

Below is an example of a parent-child match that has experienced a heteroplasmy.

Based on the comparison of both the mitochondrial DNA test, plus the autosomal Family Finder test, you can verify that this is a close family relationship.

You can also eliminate potential relationships based on the mitochondrial DNA inheritance path. The mitochondrial DNA of full siblings and maternal half-siblings will always match at the full sequence and haplogroup level, and paternal half-siblings will never match. If paternal half-siblings do match, it’s happenstance or because of a different reason.

Sibling Summary and Checklist

I’ve created a quick reference checklist for you to use when attempting to determine whether or not a match is a sibling, and, if so, whether they are half or full siblings. Of course, these tools are in addition to the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool and GEDmatch’s Relationship Predictor Calculator.

FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage GEDmatch
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shared Matches Yes – In Common With Yes – Shared Matches Yes – Relatives in Common Yes – Review DNA Match Yes – People who match both or 1 of 2 kits
Relationship Between Shared Matches No No No Yes, under shared match No
Matches Match Each Other* Yes, Matrix No Yes, under “View DNA details,” then, “compare with more relatives” Partly, through triangulation Yes, can match any kits
Full Siblings Yes Sibling, implies full Yes Brother, Sister, means full No
Half Siblings Sibling, Uncle/Aunt-Niece/Nephew, Grandparent-Grandchild Close Family – 1C Yes Half sibling, aunt/uncle-niece-nephew No
Fully Identical Regions (FIR) No No Yes No Yes
Half Identical Regions (HIR) No No Yes No Yes
X matching Yes No Yes No Yes
Unusual Reporting or Anomalies No No, Timber is not used on close relationships X match added into total, FIR added twice No Matching amount can vary from vendors
Y DNA Yes, STRs, refined haplogroups, matching No High-level haplogroup only, no matching No No, only if tester enters haplogroup manually
Mitochondrial DNA Yes, full sequence, matching, refined haplogroup No High-level haplogroup only, no matching No No, only if tester enters haplogroup manually
Combined Tools (Autosomal, X, Y, mtDNA) Yes No No No No

*Autoclusters through Genetic Affairs show cluster relationships of matches to the tester and to each other, but not all matches are included, including close matches. While this is a great tool, it’s not relevant for determining close and sibling relationships. See the article, AutoClustering by Genetic Affairs, here.

Additional Resources

Some of you may be wondering how endogamy affects sibling numbers.

Endogamy makes almost everything a little more complex. I wrote about endogamy and various ways to determine if you have an endogamous heritage, here.

Please note that half-siblings with high cM matches also fall into the range of full siblings (1613-3488), with or without endogamy. This may be, but is not always, especially pronounced in endogamous groups.

As another resource, I wrote an earlier article, Full or Half Siblings, here, that includes some different examples.

Strategy

You have a lot of quills in your quiver now, and I wish you the best if you’re trying to unravel a siblingship mystery.

You may not know who your biological family is, or maybe your sibling doesn’t know who their family is, but perhaps your close relatives know who their family is and can help. Remember, the situation that has revealed itself may be a shock to everyone involved.

Above all, be kind and take things slow. If your unexpected sibling match becomes frightened or overwhelmed, they may simply check out and either delete their DNA results altogether or block you. They may have that reaction before you have a chance to do anything.

Because of that possibility, I recommend performing your analysis quickly, along with taking relevant screenshots before reaching out so you will at least have that much information to work with, just in case things go belly up.

When you’re ready to make contact, I suggest beginning by sending a friendly, short, message saying that you’ve noticed that you have a close match (don’t say sibling) and asking what they know about their family genealogy – maybe ask who their grandparents are or if they have family living in the area where you live. I recommend including a little bit of information about yourself, such as where you were born and are from.

I also refrain from using the word adoption (or similar) in the beginning or giving too much detailed information, because it sometimes frightens people, especially if they know or discover that there’s a painful or embarrassing family situation.

And, please, never, ever assume the worst of anyone or their motives. They may be sitting at their keyboard with the same shocked look on their face as you – especially if they have, or had, no idea. They may need space and time to reach a place of acceptance. There’s just nothing more emotionally boat-capsizing in your life than discovering intimate and personal details about your parents, one or both, especially if that discovery is disappointing and image-altering.

Or, conversely, your sibling may have been hoping and waiting just for you!

Take a deep breath and let me know how it goes!

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who could benefit.

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DNA: In Search of…Signs of Endogamy

This is the fourth in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied by genealogists to ancestors further back in time as well.

In this article, we discuss endogamy – how to determine if you have it, from what population, and how to follow the road signs.

After introductions, we will be covering the following topics:

  • Pedigree collapse and endogamy
  • Endogamous groups
  • The challenge(s) of endogamy
  • Endogamy and unknown close relatives (parents, grandparents)
  • Ethnicity and Populations
  • Matches
  • AutoClusters
  • Endogamous Relationships
  • Endogamous DNA Segments
  • “Are Your Parents Related?” Tool
  • Surnames
  • Projects
  • Locations
  • Y DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and Endogamy
  • Endogamy Tools Summary Tables
    • Summary of Endogamy Tools by Vendor
    • Summary of Endogamous Populations Identified by Each Tool
    • Summary of Tools to Assist People Seeking Unknown Parents and Grandparents

What Is Endogamy and Why Does It Matter?

Endogamy occurs when a group or population of people intermarry among themselves for an extended period of time, without the introduction of many or any people from outside of that population.

The effect of this continual intermarriage is that the founders’ DNA simply gets passed around and around, eventually in small segments.

That happens because there is no “other” DNA to draw from within the population. Knowing or determining that you have endogamy helps make sense of DNA matching patterns, and those patterns can lead you to unknown relatives, both close and distant.

This Article

This article serves two purposes.

  • This article is educational and relevant for all researchers. We discuss endogamy using multiple tools and examples from known endogamous people and populations.
  • In order to be able to discern endogamy when we don’t know who our parents or grandparents are, we need to know what signs and signals to look for, and why, which is based on what endogamy looks like in people who know their heritage.

There’s no crystal ball – no definitive “one-way” arrow, but there are a series of indications that suggest endogamy.

Depending on the endogamous population you’re dealing with, those signs aren’t always the same.

If you’re sighing now, I understand – but that’s exactly WHY I wrote this article.

We’re covering a lot of ground, but these road markers are invaluable diagnostic tools.

I’ve previously written about endogamy in the articles:

Let’s start with definitions.

Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy

Pedigree collapse isn’t the same as endogamy. Pedigree collapse is when you have ancestors that repeat in your tree.

In this example, the parents of our DNA tester are first cousins, which means the tester shares great-grandparents on both sides and, of course, the same ancestors from there on back in their tree.

This also means they share more of those ancestors’ DNA than they would normally share.

John Smith and Mary Johnson are both in the tree twice, in the same position as great-grandparents. Normally, Tester Smith would carry approximately 12.5% of each of his great-grandparents’ DNA, assuming for illustration purposes that exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA is passed in each generation. In this case, due to pedigree collapse, 25% of Tester Smith’s DNA descends from John Smith, and another 25% descends from Mary Johnson, double what it would normally be. 25% is the amount of DNA contribution normally inherited from grandparents, not great-grandparents.

While we may find first cousin marriages a bit eyebrow-raising today, they were quite common in the past. Both laws and customs varied with the country, time, social norms, and religion.

Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy is NOT the Same

You might think that pedigree collapse and endogamy is one and the same, but there’s a difference. Pedigree collapse can lead to endogamy, but it takes more than one instance of pedigree collapse to morph into endogamy within a population. Population is the key word for endogamy.

The main difference is that pedigree collapse occurs with known ancestors in more recent generations for one person, while endogamy is longer-term and systemic in a group of people.

Picture a group of people, all descended from Tester Smith’s great-grandparents intermarrying. Now you have the beginnings of endogamy. A couple hundred or a few hundred years later, you have true endogamy.

In other words, endogamy is pedigree collapse on a larger scale – think of a village or a church.

My ancestors’ village of Schnait, in Germany, is shown above in 1685. One church and maybe 30 or 40 homes. According to church and other records, the same families had inhabited this village, and region, for generations. It’s a sure bet that both pedigree collapse and endogamy existed in this small community.

If pedigree collapse happens over and over again because there are no other people within the community to marry, then you have endogamy. In other words, with endogamy, you assuredly DO have historical pedigree collapse, generally back in time, often before you can identify those specific ancestors – because everyone descends from the same set of founders.

Endogamy Doesn’t Necessarily Indicate Recent Pedigree Collapse

With deep, historic endogamy, you don’t necessarily have recent pedigree collapse, and in fact, many people do not. Jewish people are a good example of this phenomenon. They shared ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years, depending on which group we are referring to, but in recent, known, generations, many Jewish people aren’t related. Still, their DNA often matches each other.

The good news is that there are telltale signs and signals of endogamy.

The bad news is that not all of these are obvious, meaning as an aid to people seeking clues about unknown close relatives, and other “signs” aren’t what they are believed to be.

Let’s step through each endogamy identifier, or “hint,” and then we will review how we can best utilize this information.

First, let’s take a look at groups that are considered to be endogamous.

Endogamous Groups

Jewish PeopleSpecifically groups that were isolated from other groups of Jewish (and other) people; Ashkenazi (Germany, Northern France, and diaspora), Sephardic (Spanish, Iberia, and diaspora), Mizrahi (Israel, Middle Eastern, and diaspora,) Ethiopian Jews, and possibly Jews from other locations such as Mountain Jews from Kazakhstan and the Caucasus.

AcadiansDescendants of about 60 French families who settled in “Acadia” beginning about 1604, primarily on the island of Nova Scotia, and intermarried among themselves and with the Mi’kmaq people. Expelled by the English in 1755, they were scattered in groups to various diasporic regions where they continued to intermarry and where their descendants are found today. Some Acadians became the Cajuns of Louisiana.

Anabaptist Protestant FaithsAmish, Mennonite, and Brethren (Dunkards) and their offshoots are Protestant religious sects founded in Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries on the principle of baptizing only adults or people who are old enough to choose to follow the faith, or rebaptizing people who had been previously baptized as children. These Anabaptist faiths tend to marry within their own group or church and often expel those who marry outside of the faith. Many emigrated to the American colonies and elsewhere, seeking religious freedom. Occasionally those groups would locate in close proximity and intermarry, but not marry outside of other Anabaptist denominations.

Native American (Indigenous) People – all indigenous peoples found in North and South America before European colonization descended from a small number of original founders who probably arrived at multiple times.

Indigenous Pacific Islanders – Including indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii prior to colonization. They are probably equally as endogamous as Native American people, but I don’t have specific examples to share.

Villages – European or other villages with little inflow or whose residents were restricted from leaving over hundreds of years.

Other groups may have significant multiple lines of pedigree collapse and therefore become endogamous over time. Some people from Newfoundland, French Canadians, and Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) come to mind.

Endogamy is a process that occurs over time.

Endogamy and Unknown Relatives

If you know who your relatives are, you may already know you’re from an endogamous population, but if you’re searching for close relatives, it’s helpful to be able to determine if you have endogamous heritage, at least in recent generations.

If you know nothing about either parent, some of these tools won’t help you, at least not initially, but others will. However, as you add to your knowledge base, the other tools will become more useful.

If you know the identity of one parent, this process becomes at least somewhat easier.

In future articles, we will search specifically for parents and each of your four grandparents. In this article, I’ll review each of the diagnostic tools and techniques you can use to determine if you have endogamy, and perhaps pinpoint the source.

The Challenge

People with endogamous heritage are related in multiple, unknown ways, over many generations. They may also be related in known ways in recent generations.

If both of your parents share the SAME endogamous culture or group of relatives:

  • You may have significantly more autosomal DNA matches than people without endogamy, unless that group of people is under-sampled. Jewish people have significantly more matches, but Native people have fewer due to under-sampling.
  • You may experience a higher-than-normal cM (centiMorgan) total for estimated relationships, especially more distant relationships, 3C and beyond.
  • You will have many matches related to you on both your maternal and paternal sides.
  • Parts of your autosomal DNA will be the same on both your mother’s and father’s sides, meaning your DNA will be fully identical in some locations. (I’ll explain more in a minute.)

If either (or both) of your parents are from an endogamous population, you:

  • Will, in some cases, carry identifying Y and mitochondrial DNA that points to a specific endogamous group. This is true for Native people, can be true for Jewish people and Pacific Islanders, but is not true for Anabaptist people.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Please note that there is no “one size fits all.”

Each or any of these tools may provide relevant hints, depending on:

  • Your heritage
  • How many other people have tested from the relevant population group
  • How many close or distant relatives have tested
  • If your parents share the same heritage
  • Your unique DNA inheritance pattern
  • If your parents, individually, were fully endogamous or only partly endogamous, and how far back generationally that endogamy occurred

For example, in my own genealogy, my maternal grandmother’s father was Acadian on his father’s side. While I’m not fully endogamous, I have significantly more matches through that line proportionally than on my other lines.

I have Brethren endogamy on my mother’s side via her paternal grandmother.

Endogamous ancestors are shown with red stars on my mother’s pedigree chart, above. However, please note that her maternal and paternal endogamous ancestors are not from the same endogamous population.

However, I STILL have fewer matches on my mother’s side in total than on my father’s side because my mother has recent Dutch and recent German immigrants which reduces her total number of matches. Neither of those lines have had as much time to produce descendants in the US, and Europe is under-sampled when compared with the US where more people tend to take DNA tests because they are searching for where they came from.

My father’s ancestors have been in the US since it was a British Colony, and I have many more cousins who have tested on his side than mother’s.

If you looked at my pedigree chart and thought to yourself, “that’s messy,” you’d be right.

The “endogamy means more matches” axiom does not hold true for me, comparatively, between my parents – in part because my mother’s German and Dutch lines are such recent immigrants.

The number of matches alone isn’t going to tell this story.

We are going to need to look at several pieces and parts for more information. Let’s start with ethnicity.

Ethnicity and Populations

Ethnicity can be a double-edged sword. It can tell you exactly nothing you couldn’t discern by looking in the mirror, or, conversely, it can be a wealth of information.

Ethnicity reveals the parts of the world where your ancestors originated. When searching for recent ancestors, you’re most interested in majority ethnicity, meaning the 50% of your DNA that you received from each of your parents.

Ethnicity results at each vendor are easy to find and relatively easy to understand.

This individual at FamilyTreeDNA is 100% Ashkenazi Jewish.

If they were 50% Jewish, we could then estimate, and that’s an important word, that either one of their parents was fully Jewish, and not the other, or that two of their grandparents were Jewish, although not necessarily on the same side.

On the other hand, my mother’s ethnicity, shown below, has nothing remarkable that would point to any majority endogamous population, yet she has two.

The only hint of endogamy from ethnicity would be her ~1% Americas, and that isn’t relevant for finding close relatives. However, minority ancestry is very relevant for identifying Native ancestors, which I wrote about, here.

You can correlate or track your ethnicity segments to specific ancestors, which I discussed in the article, Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments, here.

Since I wrote that article, FamilyTreeDNA has added the feature of ethnicity or population Chromosome Painting, based on where each of your populations fall on your chromosomes.

In this example on chromosome 1, I have European ancestry (blue,) except for the pink Native segment, which occurs on the following segment in the same location on my mother’s chromosome 1 as well.

Both 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA provide chromosome painting AND the associated segment information so you can identify the relevant ancestors.

Ancestry is in the process of rolling out an ethnicity painting feature, BUT, it has no segment or associated matching information. While it’s interesting eye candy, it’s not terribly useful beyond the ethnicity information that Ancestry already provides. However, Jonny Perl at DNAPainter has devised a way to estimate Ancestry’s start and stop locations, here. Way to go Jonny!

Now all you need to do is convince your Ancestry matches to upload their DNA file to one of the three databases, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDMatch, that accept transfers, aka uploads. This allows matching with segment data so that you can identify who matches you on that segment, track your ancestors, and paint your ancestral segments at DNAPainter.

I provided step-by-step instructions, here, for downloading your raw DNA file from each vendor in order to upload the file to another vendor.

Ethnicity Sides

Three of the four DNA testing vendors, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and recently, Ancestry, attempt to phase your ethnicity DNA, meaning to assign it to one parental “side” or the other – both in total and on each chromosome.

Here’s Ancestry’s SideView, where your DNA is estimated to belong to parent 1 and parent 2. I detailed how to determine which side is which, here, and while that article was written specifically pertaining to Ancestry’s SideView, the technique is relevant for all the vendors who attempt to divide your DNA into parents, a technique known as phasing.

I say “attempt” because phasing may or may not be accurate, meaning the top chromosome may not always be parent 1, and the bottom chromosome may not always be chromosome 2.

Here’s an example at 23andMe.

See the two yellow segments. They are both assigned as Native. I happen to know one is from the mother and one is from the father, yet they are both displayed on the “top” chromosome, which one would interpret to be the same parent.

I am absolutely positive this is not the case because this is a close family member, and I have the DNA of the parent who contributed the Native segment on chromosome 1, on the top chromosome. That parent does not have a Native segment on chromosome 2 to contribute. So that Native segment had to be contributed by the other parent, but it’s also shown on the top chromosome.

The DNA segments circled in purple belong together on the same “side” and were contributed to the tester by the same parent. The Native segment on chromosome 2 abuts a purple African segment, suggesting perhaps that the ancestor who contributed that segment was mixed between those ethnicities. In the US, that suggests enslavement.

The other African segments, circled, are shown on the second chromosome in each pair.

To be clear, parent 1 is not assigned by the vendors to either mother or father and will differ by person. Your parent 1, or the parent on the top chromosome may be your mother and another person’s parent 1 may be their father.

As shown in this example, parents can vary by chromosome, a phenomenon known as “strand swap.” Occasionally, the DNA can even be swapped within a chromosome assignment.

You can, however, get an idea of the division of your DNA at any specific location. As shown above, you can only have a maximum of two populations of DNA on any one chromosome location.

In our example above, this person’s majority ancestry is European (blue.) On each chromosome where we find a minority segment, the opposite chromosome in the same location is European, meaning blue.

Let’s look at another example.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the person whose ethnicity painting is shown below has a Native American (pink) ancestor on their father’s side. FamilyTreeDNA has correctly phased or identified their Native segments as all belonging to the second chromosome in each pair.

Looking at chromosome 18, for example, most of their father’s chromosome is Native American (pink). The other parent’s chromosome is European (dark blue) at those same locations.

If one of the parents was of one ethnicity, and the other parent is a completely different ethnicity, then one bar of each chromosome would be all pink, for example, and one would be entirely blue, representing the other ethnicity.

Phasing ethnicity or populations to maternal and paternal sides is not foolproof, and each chromosome is phased individually.

Ethnicity can, in some cases, give you a really good idea of what you’re dealing with in terms of heritage and endogamy.

If someone had an Ashkenazi Jewish father and European mother, for example, one copy of each chromosome would be yellow (Ashkenazi Jewish), and one would be blue (European.)

However, if each of their parents were half European Jewish and half European (not Jewish), then their different colored segments would be scattered across their entire set of chromosomes.

In this case, both of the tester’s parents are mixed – European Jewish (green) and Western Europe (blue.) We know both parents are admixed from the same two populations because in some locations, both parents contributed blue (Western Europe), and in other locations, both contributed Jewish (green) segments.

Both MyHeritage and Ancestry provide a secondary tool that’s connected to ethnicity, but different and generally in more recent times.

Ancestry’s DNA Communities

While your ethnicity may not point to anything terribly exciting in terms of endogamy, Genetic Communities might. Ancestry says that a DNA Community is a group of people who share DNA because their relatives recently lived in the same place at the same time, and that communities are much smaller than ethnicity regions and reach back only about 50-300 years.

Based on the ancestors’ locations in the trees of me and my matches, Ancestry has determined that I’m connected to two communities. In my case, the blue group is clearly my father’s line. The orange group could be either parent, or even a combination of both.

My endogamous Brethren could be showing up in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but it’s uncertain, in part, because my father’s ancestral lines are found in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland too.

These aren’t useful for me, but they may be more useful for fully endogamous people, especially in conjunction with ethnicity.

My Acadian cousin’s European ethnicity isn’t informative.

However, viewing his DNA Communities puts his French heritage into perspective, especially combined with his match surnames.

I wrote about DNA Communities when it was introduced with the name Genetic Communities, here.

MyHeritage’s Genetic Groups

MyHeritage also provides a similar feature that shows where my matches’ ancestors lived in the same locations as mine.

One difference, though, is that testers can adjust their ethnicity results confidence level from high, above, to low, below where one of my Genetic Groups overlaps my ethnicity in the Netherlands.

You can also sort your matches by Genetic Groups.

The results show you not only who is in the group, but how many of your matches are in that group too, which provides perspective.

I wrote about Genetic Groups, here.

Next, let’s look at how endogamy affects your matches.

Matches

The number of matches that a person has who is from an entirely endogamous community and a person with no endogamy may be quite different.

FamilyTreeDNA provides a Family Matching feature that triangulates your matches and assigns them to your paternal or maternal side by using known matches that you have linked to their profile cards in your tree. You must link people for the Family Matching feature known as “bucketing” to be enabled.

The people you link are then processed for shared matches on the same chromosome segment(s). Triangulated individuals are then deposited in your maternal, paternal, and both buckets.

Obviously, your two parents are the best people to link, but if they haven’t tested (or uploaded their DNA file from another vendor) and you have other known relatives, link them using the Family Tree tab at the top of your personal page.

I uploaded my Ancestry V4 kit to use as an example for linking. Let’s pretend that’s my sister. If I had not already linked my Ancestry V4 kit to “my sister’s” profile card, I’d want to do that and link other known individuals the same way. Just drag and drop the match to the correct profile card.

Note that a full or half sibling will be listed as such at FamilyTreeDNA, but an identical twin will show as a potential parent/child match to you. You’re much more likely to find a parent than an identical twin, but just be aware.

I’ve created a table of FamilyTreeDNA bucketed match results, by category, comparing the number of matches in endogamous categories with non-endogamous.

Total Matches Maternal Matches Paternal Matches Both % Both % DNA Unassigned
100% Jewish 34,637 11,329 10,416 4,806 13.9 23.3
100% Jewish 32,973 10,700 9,858 4,606 14 23.7
100% Jewish 32,255 9,060 10,970 3,892 12 25.8
75% Jewish 24,232 11,846 Only mother linked Only mother linked Only mother linked
100% Acadian 8093 3826 2299 1062 13 11
100% Acadian 7828 3763 1825 923 11.8 17
Not Endogamous 6760 3845 1909 13 0.19 14.5
Not Endogamous 7723 1470 3317 6 0.08 38
100% Native American 1,115 Unlinked Unlinked Unlinked
100% Native American 885 290 Unknown Can’t calculate without at least one link on both sides

The 100% Jewish, Acadian, and Not Endogamous testers both have linked their parents, so their matches, if valid (meaning not identical by chance, which I discussed here,) will match them plus one or the other parent.

One person is 75% Jewish and has only linked their Jewish mother.

The Native people have not tested their parents, and the first Native person has not linked anyone in their tree. The second Native person has only linked a few maternal matches, but their mother has not tested. They are seeking their father.

It’s very difficult to find people who are fully Native as testers. Furthermore, Native people are under-sampled. If anyone knows of fully Native (or other endogamous) people who have tested and linked their parents or known relatives in their trees, and will allow me to use their total match numbers anonymously, please let me know.

As you can see, Jewish, Acadian, and Native people are 100% endogamous, but many more Jewish people than Native people have tested, so you CAN’T judge endogamy by the total number of matches alone.

In fact, in order:

  • Fully Jewish testers have about 4-5 times as many matches as the Acadian and Non-endogamous testers
  • Acadian and Non-endogamous testers have about 5-6 times as many matches as the Native American testers
  • Fully Jewish people have about 30 times more matches than the Native American testers

If a person’s endogamy with a particular population is only on their maternal or paternal side, they won’t have a significant number of people related to both sides, meaning few people will fall into the “Both” bucket. People that will always be found in the ”Both” bucket are full siblings and their descendants, along with descendants of the tester, assuming their match is linked to their profiles in the tester’s tree.

In the case of our Jewish testers, you can easily see that the “Both” bucket is very high. The Acadians are also higher than one would reasonably expect without endogamy. A non-endogamous person might have a few matches on both sides, assuming the parents are not related to each other.

A high number of “Both” matches is a very good indicator of endogamy within the same population on both parents’ sides.

The percentage of people who are assigned to the “Both” bucket is between 11% and 14% in the endogamous groups, and less than 1% in the non-endogamous group, so statistically not relevant.

As demonstrated by the Native people compared to the Jewish testers, the total number of matches can be deceiving.

However, being related to both parents, as indicated by the “Both” bucket, unless you have pedigree collapse, is a good indicator of endogamy.

Of course, if you don’t know who your relatives are, you can’t link them in your tree, so this type of “hunt” won’t generally help people seeking their close family members.

However, you may notice that you’re matching people PLUS both of their parents. If that’s the case, start asking questions of those matches about their heritage.

A very high number of total matches, as compared to non-endogamous people, combined with some other hints might well point to Jewish heritage.

I included the % DNA Unassigned category because this category, when both parents are linked, is the percentage of matches by chance, meaning the match doesn’t match either of the tester’s parents. All of the people with people listed in “Both” categories have linked both of their parents, not just maternal and paternal relatives.

Matching Location at MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides a matching function by location. Please note that it’s the location of the tester, but that may still be quite useful.

The locations are shown in the most-matches to least-matches order. Clicking on the location shows the people who match you who are from that location. This would be the most useful in situations where recent immigration has occurred. In my case, my great-grandfather from the Netherlands arrived in the 1860s, and my German ancestors arrived in the 1850s. Neither of those groups are endogamous, though, unless it would be on a village level.

AutoClusters

Let’s shift to Genetic Affairs, a third-party tool available to everyone.

Using their AutoCluster function, Genetic Affairs clusters your matches together who match both each other and you.

This is an example of the first few clusters in my AutoCluster. You can see that I have several colored clusters of various sizes, but none are huge.

Compare that to the following endogamous cluster, sample courtesy of EJ Blom at Genetic Affairs.

If your AutoCluster at Genetic Affairs looks something like this, a huge orange blob in the upper left hand corner, you’re dealing with endogamy.

Please also note that the size of your cluster is also a function of both the number of testers and the match threshold you select. I always begin by using the defaults. I wrote about using Genetic Affairs, here.

If you tested at or transferred to MyHeritage, they too license AutoClusters, but have optimized the algorithm to tease out endogamous matches so that their Jewish customers, in particular, don’t wind up with a huge orange block of interrelated people.

You won’t see the “endogamy signature” huge cluster in the corner, so you’re less likely to be able to discern endogamy from a MyHeritage cluster alone.

The commonality between these Jewish clusters at MyHeritage is that they all tend to be rather uniform in size and small, with lots of grey connecting almost all the blocks.

Grey cells indicate people who match people in two colored groups. In other words, there is often no clear division in clusters between the mother’s side and the father’s side in Jewish clusters.

In non-endogamous situations, even if you can’t identify the parents, the clusters should still fall into two sides, meaning a group of clusters for each parent’s side that are not related to each other.

You can read more about Genetic Affairs clusters and their tools, here. DNAGedcom.com also provides a clustering tool.

Endogamous Relationships

Endogamous estimated relationships are sometimes high. Please note the word, “sometimes.”

Using the Shared cM Project tool relationship chart, here, at DNAPainter, people with heavy endogamy will discover that estimated relationships MAY be on the high side, or the relationships may, perhaps, be estimated too “close” in time. That’s especially true for more distant relationships, but surprisingly, it’s not always true. The randomness of inheritance still comes into play, and so do potential unknown relatives. Hence, the words “may” are bolded and underscored.

Unfortunately, it’s often stated as “conventional wisdom” that Jewish matches are “always” high, and first cousins appear as siblings. Let’s see what the actual data says.

At DNAPainter, you can either enter the amount of shared DNA (cM), or the percent of shared DNA, or just use the chart provided.

I’ve assembled a compilation of close relationships in kits that I have access to or from people who were generous enough to share their results for this article.

I’ve used Jewish results, which is a highly endogamous population, compared with non-endogamous testers.

The “Jewish Actual” column reports the total amount of shared DNA with that person. In other words, someone to their grandparent. The Average Range is the average plus the range from DNAPainter. The Percent Difference is the % difference between the actual number and the DNAPainter average.

You’ll see fully Jewish testers, at left, matching with their family members, and a Non-endogamous person, at right, matching with their same relative.

Relationship Jewish Actual Percent Difference than Average Average -Range Non-endogamous Actual Percent Difference than Average
Grandparent 2141 22 1754 (984-2482) 1742 <1 lower
Grandparent 1902 8.5 1754 (984-2482) 1973 12
Sibling 3039 16 2613 (1613-3488) 2515 3.5 lower
Sibling 2724 4 2613 (1613-3488) 2761 5.5
Half-Sibling 2184 24 1759 (1160-2436) 2127 21
Half-Sibling 2128 21 1759 (1160-2436) 2352 34
Aunt/Uncle 2066 18.5 1741 (1201-2282) 1849 6
Aunt/Uncle 2031 16.5 1741 (1201-2282) 2097 20
1C 1119 29 866 (396-1397) 959 11
1C 909 5 866 (396-1397) 789 9 lower
1C1R 514 19 433 (102-980) 467 8
1C1R 459 6 433 (102-980) 395 9 lower

These totals are from FamilyTreeDNA except one from GEDMatch (one Jewish Half-sibling).

Totals may vary by vendor, even when matching with the same person. 23andMe includes the X segments in the total cMs and also counts fully identical segments twice. MyHeritage imputation seems to err on the generous side.

However, in these dozen examples:

  • You can see that the Jewish actual amount of DNA shared is always more than the average in the estimate.
  • The red means the overage is more than 100 cM larger.
  • The percentage difference is probably more meaningful because 100 cM is a smaller percentage of a 1754 grandparent connection than compared to a 433 cM 1C1R.

However, you can’t tell anything about endogamy by just looking at any one sample, because:

  • Some of the Non-Endogamous matches are high too. That’s just the way of random inheritance.
  • All of the actual Jewish match numbers are within the published ranges, but on the high side.

Furthermore, it can get more complex.

Half Endogamous

I requested assistance from Jewish genealogy researchers, and a lovely lady, Sharon, reached out, compiled her segment information, and shared it with me, granting permission to share with you. A HUGE thank you to Sharon!

Sharon is half-Jewish via one parent, and her half-sibling is fully Jewish. Their half-sibling match to each other at Ancestry is 1756 cM with a longest segment of 164 cM.

How does Jewish matching vary if you’re half-Jewish versus fully Jewish? Let’s look at 21 people who match both Sharon and her fully Jewish half-sibling.

Sharon shared the differences in 21 known Jewish matches with her and her half-sibling. I’ve added the Relationship Estimate Range from DNAPainter and colorized the highest of the two matches in yellow. Bolding in the total cM column shows a value above the average range for that relationship.

Total Matching cMs is on the left, with Longest Segment on the right.

While this is clearly not a scientific study, it is a representative sample.

The fully Jewish sibling carries more Jewish DNA, which is available for other Jewish matches to match as a function of endogamy (identical by chance/population), so I would have expected the fully Jewish sibling to match most if not all Jewish testers at a higher level than the half-Jewish sibling.

However, that’s not universally what we see.

The fully Jewish sibling is not always the sibling with the highest number of matches to the other Jewish testers, although the half-Jewish tester has the larger “Longest Segment” more often than not.

Approximately two-thirds of the time (13/21), the fully Jewish person does have a higher total matching cM, but about one-third of the time (8/21), the half-Jewish sibling has a higher matching cM.

About one-fourth of the time (5/21), the fully Jewish sibling has the longest matching segment, and about two-thirds of the time (13/21), the half-Jewish sibling does. In three cases, or about 14% of the time, the longest segment is equal which may indicate that it’s the same segment.

Because of endogamy, Jewish matches are more likely to have:

  • Larger than average total cM for the specific relationship
  • More and smaller matching segments

However, as we have seen, neither of those are definitive, nor always true. Jewish matches and relationships are not always overestimated.

Ancestry and Timber

Please note that Ancestry downweights some matches by removing some segments using their Timber algorithm. Based on my matches and other accounts that I manage, Ancestry does not downweight in the 2-3rd cousin category, which is 90 cM and above, but they do begin downweighting in the 3-4th cousin category, below 90 cM, where my “Extended Family” category begins.

If you’ve tested at Ancestry, you can check for yourself.

By clicking on the amount of DNA you share with your match on your match list at Ancestry, shown above, you will be taken to another page where you will be able to view the unweighted shared DNA with that match, meaning the amount of DNA shared before the downweighting and removal of some segments, shown below.

Given the downweighting, and the information in the spreadsheet provided by Sharon, it doesn’t appear that any of those matches would have been in a category to be downweighted.

Therefore, for these and other close matches, Timber wouldn’t be a factor, but would potentially be in more distant matches.

Endogamous Segments

Endogamous matches tend to have smaller and more segments. Small amounts of matching DNA tend to skew the total DNA cM upwards.

How and why does this happen?

Ancestral DNA from further back in time tends to be broken into smaller segments.

Sometimes, especially in endogamous situations, two smaller segments, at one time separated from each other, manage to join back together again and form a match, but the match is only due to ancestral segments – not because of a recent ancestor.

Please note that different vendors have different minimum matching cM thresholds, so smaller matches may not be available at all vendors. Remember that factors like Timber and imputation can affect matching as well.

Let’s take a look at an example. I’ve created a chart where two ancestors have their blue and pink DNA broken into 4 cM segments.

They have children, a blue child and a pink child, and the two children, shown above, each inherited the same blue 4 cM segment and the same pink 4 cM segment from their respective parents. The other unlabeled pink and blue segments are not inherited by these two children, so those unlabeled segments are irrelevant in this example.

The parents may have had other children who inherited those same 4 cM labeled pink and blue segments as well, and if not, the parents’ siblings were probably passing at least some of the same DNA down to their descendants too.

The blue and pink children had children, and their children had children – for several generations.

Time passed, and their descendants became an endogamous community. Those pink and blue 4 cM segments may at some time be lost during recombination in the descendants of each of their children, shown by “Lost pink” and “Lost blue.”

However, because there is only a very limited amount of DNA within the endogamous community, their descendants may regain those same segments again from their “other parent” during recombination, downstream.

In each generation, the DNA of the descendant carrying the original blue or pink DNA segment is recombined with their partner. Given that the partners are both members of the same endogamous community, the two people may have the same pink and/or blue DNA segments. If one parent doesn’t carry the pink 4 cM segment, for example, their offspring may receive that ancestral pink segment from the other parent.

They could potentially, and sometimes do, receive that ancestral segment from both parents.

In our example, the descendants of the blue child, at left, lost the pink 4 cM segment in generation 3, but a few generations later, in generation 11, that descendant child inherited that same pink 4 cM segment from their other parent. Therefore, both the 4 cM blue and 4 cM pink segments are now available to be inherited by the descendants in that line. I’ve shown the opposite scenario in the generational inheritance at right where the blue segment is lost and regained.

Once rejoined, that pink and blue segment can be passed along together for generations.

The important part, though, is that once those two segments butt up against each other again during recombination, they aren’t just two separate 4 cM segments, but one segment that is 8 cM long – that is now equal to or above the vendors’ matching threshold.

This is why people descended from endogamous populations often have the following matching characteristics:

  • More matches
  • Many smaller segment matches
  • Their total cM is often broken into more, smaller segments

What does more, smaller segments, look like, exactly?

More, Smaller Segments

All of our vendors except Ancestry have a chromosome browser for their customers to compare their DNA to that of their matches visually.

Let’s take a look at some examples of what endogamous and non-endogamous matches look like.