My Paternal Line Part One – The Irish Genealogical Wilderness

Feale River near Listowel, By Larsoner at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Feale River near Listowel, By Larsoner at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

When one of my Family Finder kits completes processing at FtDNA, I create a word document of Most Recent Common Ancestors.

I have this data in a variety of formats, including my family tree which comes with tools to calculate relationships, but I have found my basic document to be immensely useful.

For example, here are the possible MRCA’s with my son’s 5th cousins, separate columns for ‘Paternal’ and ‘Maternal’:

My sons and daughter's possible common ancestors with a 5th cousin match

My sons and daughter’s possible common ancestors with a 5th cousin match (click to enlarge)

The document is basically a memory prompt because as I have more and more kits come through, it is easy to get mixed up.  My father’s closest 2nd-4th cousin match, for instance, has a tree jammed full of McIsaac, McLeod and McEachern ancestors – all names strong on my mother’s side.  I keep spotting those names and getting excited, then having to remember that no, this is my father he matches with, not my mother.  A list like this helps me stay focused.  I made a document for my father but it doesn’t look like this at all.  Beyond his 3rd cousins, the list becomes full of ‘unknowns’.  I hadn’t realised how much was missing from his tree until I did this list.

A few days ago my father’s results completed tokenization on Gedmatch and became available.  His top four matches were myself, my son, Sarah who is his known 3rd cousin once removed, and then comes Polly.

Sarah’s gedmatch results showed with a likely common ancestor at distance 4.1 which is in fact spot on – her common ancestor is four generations above my father, and five generations above Sarah.   Polly shows as an expected generational distance of 4.3.  There is another match also with an expected generational distance of 4.3, who is not a match with Polly, and after that comes the 2nd-4th cousin match I referred to above who has lots of McIsaac and McLeod.  He shows on Gedmatch as having a common ancestor 4.4 generations above my father.

My father's top matches with names altered for privacy but other details exact.

My father’s top matches with names altered for privacy but other details exact. Columns are total DNA match, largest segment match, predicted distance to common ancestor, then X total and largest segment.

Late at night about four days ago, I emailed Polly because her match was next on the list.  I received an instant response from her great-nephew who manages her kit.  He has his own kit, his mother’s and Polly’s who is his mother’s paternal aunt.  He and his mother also show as a match with my father, but much further down the list.  Polly is a long way down my own match list but I do not match the niece or great nephew.

He sent me Polly’s basic pedigree chart which contained names but no locations or dates. I immediately spotted an ancestor of hers named Mary Ann Wolfe.  My father’s great great grandmother was Maria Woulfe so I asked if his Mary Ann Woulfe came from Athea in Limerick, Ireland, where our Maria Woulfe came from.

While I waited for an answer, I found his ancestor on Find-A-Grave giving her parent’s names.  To cut a long story short, Mary Ann Wolfe’s grandfather was buried in Templeathea, Limerick, Ireland and this looks very much like the same family.

Irish genealogy is difficult to research from overseas. Very little is online and what is there tends to be transcriptions rather than digitized records.  We are relying heavily on the accuracy of other people.  A great number of handwritten records are difficult to read and what one person gets out of it might be different to what another does.  You also miss the non-verbal clues.  Was the record clear or smudged?  Were there fifty baptisms on one day so they were most likely rushed?  Did the handwriting look clear or as if written by someone without much education themselves?  Was something crossed out and then rewritten as if they had misunderstood the initial information?  Was the next entry in that register involving the same family?  There is so much we miss with a transcription.

Irish Cemetery By DavetheGrey [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Irish Cemetery By DavetheGrey [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.  Nothing truly replaces a personal visit to a cemetery.

Hence, my genealogical record for Maria Woulfe is hazy at best. Up to a certain point I had access to the original or a digitized copy, but beyond that I am relying on the transcribed records at the Rootsireland site, on the IGI and on family members who have visited Ireland in their retirement and gone to view the original parish records.  Some of those relatives are lovely people but prone to mixing up their grandchildren’s birthdates, and quite happy to house their phone book in a leather case sporting the Family Crest of our surname – which happens to be a completely wrong family crest!  So how accurate was their genealogical tour of Ireland?  They are possibly correct and I have added their details with question marks in the tree.

The details brought back by my family generally concur with the Find-A-Grave record which I had not seen before, and with a website on the Woulfe family of Limerick which I had also not seen before.  However, the tree I have would place my father and Polly’s common ancestor way back about eight generations.  Research is definitely required.

The Woulfe family come across as a stable and functional family.  The family around Templeathea appear to descend from Maurice Woulfe born 1690 near Listowel in Kerry, and his wife Kathleen Riordan.  Maurice Woulfe born 1690 had six sisters who remain unnamed but according to family legend, Maurice became head of the household at the death of his father when he was fourteen, and through hard work and sacrifice was able to provide dowries for them all.  The family were very proud of that original Maurice and the way he kept his family from destitution. It makes sense that this story might pass down the family long enough to be recorded in writing.  If true, it means six sisters who married and probably produced a mass of my unprovable DNA cousins.  Certainly, the graves of many family members exist in Templeathea and provide some support for the story.

Listowel Bridge over the Feale River "Listowel bridge" by Created by Kglavin - Made by User Kglavin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Listowel Bridge over the Feale River “Listowel bridge” by Created by Kglavin – Made by User Kglavin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Maurice and his wife Kathleen are reputed to have had five sons.  Two of those sons were James born 1732 and Edmond Maurice born 1740.  Our DNA match Polly is a descendant of James.  My father and I are descendants of Edmond Maurice.  James married Johanna McCoy and his descendants very considerately emigrated to the United States where they left some excellent records to enable the family to be researched.  Edmond Maurice stayed in Ireland, married a mystery bride and his life records vanished in the years after his death, as happened with so many Irish records.  The connection still seems a long way back for the match prediction.

Edmond Maurice Woulfe and his unknown wife had a son called Richard, born in 1765 who is apparently our ancestor.  I have only the word of other researchers for this.  Richard also married an unknown wife and had a son, Maurice Woulfe born around 1795 who lived in Dromadda who died after 1849.  Maurice and his also unknown wife were the parents of Maria.

Up to this point, there were stories and the odd burial record but nothing concrete. I didn’t mind this too much.  I had plenty of other family branches to look at first and was never too sure that this research was correct.  But now we have a DNA match between two branches, involving a few generations on each side, and the only obvious common link is this Woulfe family at Templeathea.

As happens so much when DNA matches are involved, it’s time to re-examine this branch.

Misleading Matches and Other DNA Observations

Not always as similar as they first appear

The same … or not?

Just a few days ago, my father’s DNA test completed processing.  I am now one of those fortunate ones with tests for both parents as well as myself and my son.

A whole new activity has now become available to me.  If I grow tired of searching other people’s trees looking for a connection, I can examine our family data and look for patterns.  I can follow the DNA segments down through three generations and see how the recombination actually occurred.  Was there a uniformity to it?  Is it as random as people say?

In a previous blog I mentioned the X chromosome.  That was one interesting feature.  One of my X chromosomes came from my paternal grandmother – we don’t know if it recombined there or not – but it passed unchanged from my father to me, and I passed it quite unchanged to my son.  If he has a daughter one day, she will have received an X-chromosome directly from her great great grandmother.  That’s five generations with no alteration at all.

Given that it takes on average five or six generations of recombining to render a segment too small to be useful, if an X-chromosome were to recombine only once every five generations our smaller X-Matches might have come to us from a common ancestor some 2,000 years ago – about 25 generations.  No wonder it is hard to use them!  Also no wonder small ones are considered IBS.  Even if they are genuine, they extend back before the genealogical record.  Of course, not all X-chromosomes will behave this way but I have now learned that it is possible.

In some ways, we attempt to create a construction of the past using DNA to find out how it really was.

We try to gain a very clear picture of the past using DNA, just as we do when constructing a model.

I have also noticed that some very large blocks will come down either unchanged or not at all rather than splitting up.  My father and I each match one particular person by a total 47cM including one 33cM segment.  The match shows as a 3rd-5th cousin but I think that big segment is skewing the prediction.  Since this match is on Gedmatch I have been able to check my son against him with reduced thresholds, and my son has no match whatsoever.  Not even 1cM of that large segment was passed on to my son.

I have two kinds of Identical By Descent matches – meaning the genuine matches where our DNA really does match.   One kind is a match on just one segment which doesn’t change size, usually a segment of 10-20cM and usually shared by a large number of people.  With three generations to look at and often two or three generations at the match’s end, we can see that it is passed down in completion, and there is no change in the predicted relation even after two generations.  These, I’m pretty sure, are from long ago.  Who knows how many centuries they have come down at the same size?

The other are the more recent matches – ones within the six or so generations where things work as expected.  My son has a match, I have a bit longer match, one of my parents has a match which is a bit longer again.  When this happens, I’m pretty sure the MRCA really is close.

Using this information, I have taken a fresh look at my matches.

Untitled border from 'The Fairchild Family' by Mary Martha Sherwood printed in 1845

Untitled border from ‘The Fairchild Family’ by Mary Martha Sherwood printed in 1845.  

A long time ago I wrote a blog post about my 3rd-5th cousins, and in it I referenced a match with a man who listed Waller and Warren amongst his surnames.  I wrote to him and he answered very politely telling me that he felt our connection was too tenuous to work with.  It was my first week with DNA results and his reply surprised me, since he showed quite high on my list of matches.  I later learned that he had many matches closer than me – I was about number 35 on his Gedmatch list, whereas he was in my number one position until Sarah showed up.

Although I could do nothing more at the time, I didn’t forget him.  Now with both my parents’ results I took another look to see what was happening.   This is what I learned:

I match this man at the following locations:

Comparing Myself and Our Match

Chr         Start Location    End Location      Centimorgans (cM)         SNPs

10           87276610             101254152           13.8                           3832

14           32041557             37722998             11.0                           1577

Largest segment = 13.8 cM     Total of segments > 7 cM = 24.8 cM

Estimated number of generations to MRCA = 4.6

My identified and confirmed 4th cousin Sarah shows on Gedmatch at 4.4 generations to MRCA whereas she is actually five. That helps me gauge Gedmatch’s accuracy.  I expected to find this man sharing a 3x great grandparent with me and I have identified most of those, so it seemed quite manageable.  I don’t actually have his tree but I thought by using the trees of ‘In Common Withs’ I might get somewhere.   The surnames Waller and Warren – our likely match – are on my mother’s side so I compared him with her.

Comparing My Mother and Our Match

Chr         Start Location    End Location      Centimorgans (cM)         SNPs

10           83568863             102643755           18.5                           5212

Largest segment = 18.5 cM       Total of segments > 7 cM = 18.5 cM

Estimated number of generations to MRCA = 4.8

Here was a surprise.   He matches my mother and myself on chromosome 10 but not chromosome 14, which was clearly big enough to be a genuine match.  My mother’s match is longer than mine on that segment and it is predicted further to MRCA now that we are a generation closer.

I live in Australia.   I have come to the conclusion that most Australians are seeing this sort of thing.  We just have to get used to it.  I compared our match to my father.

Comparing My Father and Our Match

Chr         Start Location    End Location      Centimorgans (cM)         SNPs

14           29853927             36351124             14.0        1764

Largest segment = 14.0 cM    Total of segments > 7 cM = 14.0 cM

Estimated number of generations to MRCA = 5.0

Imagine that.  This man matches my father on chromosome 14 at a slightly increased rate, with a predicted five generations to the MRCA.  I am related to this man on both sides of my family!  The prediction of 3rd-5th cousin is not correct, although it’s easy to see how FtDNA came to it.  I expect to find him about five generations above my parents.  He and I have two common MRCAs and they are at the level of my great great great great grandparents – or maybe with one more great.

The man was quite right.  The connection is tenuous.   It’s one of those challenges that most people would walk away from. But I think it can be done.  It will take time, patience and tenacity, but I have all of that.

My conclusion: DNA inheritance is a bit like the English language.  It follows rules but there are exceptions to every rule. For many Australians,the family tree will be quite entwined due to our emigrating ancestors knowing each other back in their homeland, be it Ireland, England, Scotland, China or Germany.  It really takes the tests of several family members to clarify the DNA trail.  Once some of us have done it, it will become easier for the rest including those who have no family to test with them.

It’s a slow process, but every step makes the next that little bit easier.

My MtDNA Family Part Three – Clues About The Forgotten Past

Fanny Fox born 1855

Fanny Fox born 1855

Family knowledge of my direct maternal line only takes us back to about 1857.  This was the birth of Fanny Fox, a child who can be found in Hanwell Orphanage, London by 1861 aged three.  Ten years later, Fanny travelled apparently alone to Australia to become a domestic servant.  We have her shipping record. Eight years after her arrival, Fanny married William Morey in Albury on the New South Wales/Victoria border.  One of their daughters was my great grandmother.

I did hope for a miracle when I tested my MtDNA.  Maybe, I thought, Fanny’s mother or grandmother had sisters, and maybe their descendants might have tested their MtDNA and we’ll be a match!

It hasn’t happened this way.  I have 12 Full Mitochondrial Sequence matches and I realise now that I am lucky to have this many.  I have four at a genetic distance of 3 and eight at a genetic distance of 2.

Because Fanny was in an orphanage in London, we assume she was born in that city.  There were several of the same name at the time, and most grew up in secure families.  The birth indexes via subscription sites don’t match a name with parent names – not that parent names would necessarily help – and I am slowly purchasing the birth certificates of all the Fanny Fox’s in England, as funds allow.  It would have been nice to find some Fox ancestors amongst my family finder matches’ trees, but this hasn’t happened either.

London was a cosmopolitan place in the 1850s.  People came from everywhere.  There is no guarantee that Fanny was even born in England.  If her parents had arrived on an immigrant ship from .. say Germany or Prussia … what would then happen to a three year old girl if her parents died?  English may not even have been her first language.   She could equally have come from Ireland where the surname Fox is quite common.

Smithfield Market London 1855- the year Fanny was born

Smithfield Market London 1855- the year Fanny was born.  See end of blog for full attribution

In the 1850s in London there were many problems with cholera, diphtheria and tuberculosis.  Perhaps Fanny’s origins were a damp tenement along the Thames where the non-English crowded together to survive.  Perhaps her parents were fully employed tradesmen who were struck down where they had no family.  Perhaps her mother was single and fled to the city to have her child where her family would not be shamed.  There are so many possibilities.

The 1861 census recorded no birthplace for any of the orphans.  It would have taken many hours, the place was huge.  We have no clues there.  The shipping record gave us nothing.  Her marriage certificate says that her mother was Fanny Rice and her father was Unknown Fox.  If this is true then I think it implies that her mother or someone who knew her mother took her to the orphanage and her father was nowhere around.  However, we don’t know if it was true or not.  Fanny might have been told this incorrectly. Or out of a desire for a family story, she could have made it up.

Fanny’s death registration is equally lacking.  Her son was the informant and all he knew was what Fanny had told him.

Fanny Morey's new headstone listing her extensive family.

Fanny Morey’s new headstone listing her extensive family.

An MtDNA mutation can occur at any stage – there might be two within a hundred year period, or there might be none for two thousand years.  All we can deduce is that those of a greater genetic distance probably connect further back.  This may not be the case.  I could have a common ancestress in say 1700 with no mutations in the line and so might one of my matches – giving generation zero.  But my own great aunt – sister to my maternal grandmother – might have a daughter with a mutation.  That daughter (my mother’s cousin) would be a genetic distance of one whereas the distant cousin with MRCA in 1700 might be genetic distance of zero.  This can happen.

Genetic distance of zero= everything is identical.  Were I to test my mother and my daughter, the chances are good that we’d be genetic distance zero.  Of course, we just might not if a new mutation began with me.  If the test were not so expensive I would have asked my mother to do the test.

Genetic distance of one= there is one mutational difference but still pretty close.  It might still be within the last 50 years but is just as likely to be up to a thousand years ago.

Genetic distance of two = two mutational differences.   This could mean that the match stayed the same as the ancestress but our line has mutated twice – or that her line has mutated twice – or each of us mutated once. If each of us mutated once then the branches might meet nearer to the present.

I hoped to glean some clues from my matches’ ancestry so I contacted them.  Some replied, some didn’t.  From the ones who replied, I compiled trees for their earliest known direct maternal ancestor.  I then researched those trees to see if I could take them back further.

From Good Words 1864 from an engraving by P Grenier

From Good Words 1864 from an engraving by P Grenier

Bridget Nangle, Mrs Susannah Sealey and Hannah Owens are the earliest known direct maternal ancestors of my GD-3 matches.

Bridget Nangle was born in 1835 in Ireland and emigrated to the United States.  Given her birthplace, she seemed quite promising as a close relation but in my match list she does not appear as a close match.

Mrs Susannah Sealey lived and died in Pasquotank in North Carolina and was married to Philip Sealey.  There’s a nice bit of detail about her life and I even found her will, but no clues about her maiden name or her origins.   The United States is quite famous for its courthouse fires, and Pasquotank’s courthouse burned down in 1862.

Hannah Owens was born in 1735 in Virginia and seems to have lived there all her life.  Hannah married Benjamin Landreth and had several children.  According to many trees, Hannah and Benjamin were married in Patrick in Virginia in 1758.  But according to sites such as Wikipedia and Familysearch, Patrick was named after Governor Patrick Henry and was founded in 1790 – a lot of years later than her marriage.

Whatever the truth is, her dates of birth, marriage and death hold up and everything agrees with Virginia.  This brings the prospect of a common ancestress back before 1730 but it could be back in the Roman Empire for all I know.

Perhaps the closer matches would give more clues?

Virginia. Image from

Virginia.  Colonial home of so many of my distant matches. Image from

Elizabeth Porter was born in 1809 in Virginia.  A trend begins to be apparent.  All of these women have connections to either North Carolina, Virginia or Tennessee.  I don’t know any more about Elizabeth than this.

Sara Franklin – also known as Sophia Franklin – was born in 1784.  She married Mansfield Husbands who was born in North Carolina and they ended their days in Tennessee.  Still in the same region here.

Charlotte Miller was born in about 1757 and lived in Greenville, Greene, Tennessee.  It is not known whether she was born here. She married John Henderson.

Judith Sloane was born in 1646 in Henrico County.  We are back in Virginia.  Judith married Peter Field.

Judith was born in 1646 and her direct descendant is a genetic distance of 2 from myself.  We need a lot more people to test in this haplogroup before we learn the exact path because we don’t know where the mutations occurred.  For all I know, one of Judith’s descendants might have returned to England and she might be my direct ancestress, with the mutations occurring after that.  What is more likely is that even in 1646, our two branches were already at that genetic distance.

What is extremely likely is that the four women above are very closely related to each other.  If their descendants can deduce their common ancestry, it might help me.  I’ll keep compiling my records on these women to see what I can deduce.

These are early days yet and we are probably years away from solving this puzzle.  Luckily, I’m quite patient.  In the meantime, I’ll keep purchasing those certificates from England.

Image of Smithfield:  “Smithfield Last day of Old Smithfield ILN 1855” by Original uploader was Honbicot at en.wikipedia – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

My MtDNA Family Part Two – Ancestors Beyond Genealogical Reach

"Haeckel arbol bn" by Ernst Haeckel - Escaneado por L. Fdez. 2005-12-28. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Image 1: Early clade tree. “Haeckel arbol bn” by Ernst Haeckel – See end of blog for full attribution

The history and progression of living things are usually presented in trees.  Family trees, species classification trees, migration trees … it’s all about one entity branching different ways, and researchers following those different ways simultaneously.

It’s usually an upside-down tree of course.  We tend to represent our trees with the trunk at the top, or lying on their sides.  Somewhere in the back of my mind that seems wrong, just a little.  But as a diagram it works nicely.  Genetics is no different; it’s full of trees.

One such tree is the Mitochondrial Phylotree.  I couldn’t find an image which is clearly labelled for reuse so I don’t have one, but it can be found here .   Anyone who gets their MtDNA full sequence results will probably find their way to this tree at some point, hoping to make sense of their new data.

Looking at this tree, I can see which Haplogroup mutated into the next and exactly where on the genome the mutation occurred.

You can see from the phylotree that this is a complicated field, and new complications emerge with new research all the time.  As a general citizen and consumer with no education in this field, it is something of a huge learning curve.  Being such a new field, most scientists are too busy assimilating their new discoveries and testing new theories to help the uneducated make sense of it all. The forums are pretty well full of people saying “I have my results – but what does it all mean?”.  Those questions are often answered by people saying “Me too. I haven’t figured it out yet.”  Luckily, there are a few very helpful souls out there with a clue who take the time to assist.

Circa 20,000 year old artwork.

Image 2: Circa 20,000 year old artwork giving a clue to women’s appearance back then.

About 20,000 years ago, my direct maternal line appears to have been Haplogroup H2a which apparently developed near Turkey or the Caucasus mountains.  The ice age was still going on.  After the ice age – about 15,000 years ago – H2a populations could be found in or near the Caspian Sea so my direct maternal ancestor was likely living here.   As the ice receded, some members of this subclade headed along the Volga River and into the Ural Mountains while others stayed put.   I’ve listened to enough Turisas songs to appreciate this!  They have an album titled ‘The Varangian Way’ which is the story of a group travelling in Medieval Russia.   Is it inadvertently the story of my ancestress?  Oh, I’d like that!

At some point in my maternal line, a daughter was born who was H2a2.  According to the 23andMe Blog, “the history of H2a2 has not yet been written”.   Not enough samples and the discovery is quite recent.  A Genographic Project case study refers to H2a2 as ‘typically European’.  I take the crumbs I can find and it almost but not quite gives a picture.  The subclade H2a1 is believed to have developed about 14,000 years ago and is the most common, but mine is H2a2.  H2a5 is found only among the Basques – once again, it’s a sister group but not mine.

My own multi great grandma was somewhere there in Europe, about 14,000 years ago.

Ural Mountains

Image 3 Ural Mountains by ugraland. H2a2 women – amongst others of course – made their way into this region about 15,000 years ago. See end of blog for full attribution.

Since my own line branched again and became H2a2a, I decided to research this subclade to see if I could gain any clues about time.  I found myself back at the Genographic Project website where they state:


I guess that’s all that we know.  My many times great grandmother was in Central Asia probably about 10,000 years ago.   Their H2a2a1 Facebook page further adds of H2a2a that they spread west of Central Asia and moved into both West Asia and Europe.  This makes sense, given my admixture results at FtDNA with my 2% Central Asian and a larger precentage of European.

Coming closer to the present, H2a2a1 is a more recent maternal subclade.  In one forum, someone calls it “A very Northern European haplogroup”.  Amongst other nearby populations, it can be found in Scandinavia among the Vikings.  Across the internet, there are a smattering of other references to Vikings and H2a2a1.  They are vague at best, but it certainly fits the family as I know it. When and how the haplogroup reached Scandinavia is up for debate.  Did they simply migrate across the millenia?  Were they woman slaves captured from Arabia by Vikings in the employment of the Ottomans?  Were they the families of traders?

We are certainly looking within the last 5,000 years now, and perhaps within the last 2,000.

The final refined haplogroup for my maternal ancestors is H2a2a1c.  I’m not finding any details at all.  If I google this, I get my own blog, a single forum post by someone else, and a brief report on the women of Sri Lanka.   It is on the phylotree but with no details at all.  Now it is time to look at all existing identifications of this haplogroup to see if I can relate it to my own specific family.

I went looking for a picture of a Viking woman to conclude my blog post and found a whole lot of images of young woman in metal bikinis or white dresses.  I don’t think either portrayal are quite accurate.   I think this might be the only realistic image to be found on the web under a license to share.

'A Viking woman at the Viking Market' from the National Museum of Denmark photostream at taken August 17, 2013.

‘A Viking woman at the Viking Market’ from the National Museum of Denmark photostream at taken August 17, 2013.  Copyright some rights reserved, displayed here under conditions required by Creative Commons 2.0 .  This image has been compressed for uploading to this blog but remains unchanged in all other respects.

Image attributions:

Image 1 “Haeckel arbol bn” by Ernst Haeckel – Escaneado por L. Fdez. 2005-12-28. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Image 2 “Venus of Brassempouy” by Photograph : Jean-Gilles Berizzi. Upload : Elapied (talk · contribs). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Image 3 “Ural mountains 448118784 97386d9aac b” by ugraland [1] – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

My MtDNA Family Part One – The Deep Ancestors

How my ancestress might have looked.

Image 1: How my ancestress might have looked. Please see base of blog for attribution – John Gurche and Tim Evanson – and for link to Creative Commons license details.

I purchased the MtDNA Full Sequence test out of sheer curiosity, and I don’t regret the expenditure at all.

Sometimes people ask “It is worth getting this test?”.  I really don’t know how to answer this.  What do you say if someone asks if it is worth buying a particular box of chocolates?  Really, it depends on why you are buying it.  You don’t buy a box of chocolates if you need nourishing food.  Likewise, you don’t buy the MtDNA test if you are proving your recent family tree research.  It doesn’t serve that purpose unless you want to know about the direct maternal line and have other family members who do it too.

MtDNA is passed down from a female to her children relatively unchanged.  Because of this, it has limited capability for identifying recent relations.  The MtDNA of a woman and her direct maternal ancestor of three hundred years ago is very likely to be identical.   But what it can do – theoretically – is trace a chain of direct inheritance back through millenia – assuming we had the samples to do it.

It’s a new field and an expensive test, so the database grows very slowly.  But with the few crumbs of data that I have gleaned, I have attempted to trace those long distant multi-times grandmothers of mine, and the descendants of their other daughters.

My personal migration map, as much as I have deduced so far.

My personal migration map, as much as I have deduced so far. (Click to enlarge and use back arrow to return to the blog)

Although MtDNA mostly passes from one woman to her daughter unchanged, every so often a change will occur – a mutation which becomes a new, permanent characteristic.  The mutation is then passed down to the next generation, then to the next and so on.  Once a mutation occurs, the first daughter to have it is no longer identical to her sister.  She is still nearly identical – still in the same general classification – but just a little bit different.  The new, mutated DNA gets a new name.  Perhaps a whole new letter, perhaps a number or letter tacked on to the existing name.  Thus haplogroup H at some point split into H1, H2, H3 etc etc.

Because the new number and letter is added as it is identified, it cannot be used to determine the age of the mutation.  H2 was discovered before H3, but that doesn’t mean that the H2 mutation occurred before H3.  It only means that modern man found it in that order.

It began, apparently, with Mitochondrial Eve who lived somewhere in a time span of 101,000 years – somewhere between 200,000 and 99,000 years ago.  That’s always the starting point so I’ll start there too, but it doesn’t really feel close enough to be family so I’ll move on quickly.  Haplogroup L was the beginning from what I can tell by looking at Wikipedia and other websites.  There are still L1 women around today – the San women for instance – but at some point an L2 woman was born. 10,000 years later came an L3.  Then, about 70,000 years ago, give or take 20,000 years, humankind left Africa.  Around this time the first N Haplogroup woman was born.  She was my ancestress too.

It all gets a bit complicated from here, but at a time not very distant to the first N Haplogroup woman, came her many times great granddaughter who was born an R Haplogroup.  Not to be confused with a Y-DNA Haplogroup R which is something completely different.   This is an MtDNA Haplogroup R and it began, according to modern research, about 66.8 thousand years ago.  This haplogroup is common in West Eurasia, so I can place my ancestress there near the Middle East.  I still can’t imagine her daily life.  What on earth did she do?  Was it like ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’?  Did she spend half her time climbing trees and avoiding deep water?  I wonder about this because they are two quite instinctive characteristics of my own as a child.  I had no brothers and was certainly not encouraged to be a tomboy, so the need to swing from the branches coupled with an amazing capacity to reach them must have come from some ancestor.  I had no fear of heights yet deep water always bothered me. It’s a fanciful idea, but has appeal.

'Caveman Diorama' image by Wilko.Hardenberg from here under Creative Commons License 2.0

Image 3: Neanderthal family by Wilko.Hardenberg.  Please see end of blog for full attribution and Creative Commons license details

None of this happened very fast, but once humans came out from Africa and started exploring, they took off in many directions at once.  There is a bit of debate about where each civilisation was living at the time the next haplogroup developed.  Populations headed into Europe.  With the climate becoming colder they were slowly forced south and further east.  The ice age drove humans into caves and on into new territory.  They met other races such as the Neanderthals.  They took to wearing animal skins for warmth, and began to create shelters for themselves.   Cave painting developed.  They learned to carve little shapes out of bone.  They learned to make rudimentary musical instruments.  They had fire.  The lifestyle was becoming recognisable.

The theory of humans leading to the extinction of Neanderthals never appealed to me.  I much prefer the intermingling theory and it is good to see studies continue.  R evolved into three branches, one of which was RO.  Several thousand years later, my last RO ancestor’s child was born an HV, At some point an HV gave birth to an H.

Haplogroup H is now believed to have developed in West Asia about 25,000 years ago, and can be found throughout Europe.    When my H2 ancestress was born, they were in Eastern Europe. H2 is also found quite strongly in Germany and Scotland but my own branch of this family evolved into H2a, which is found in East Europe and into Central Asia.  We must have headed for the British Isles at some time, but I’m guessing it was later than this.

A lot more research needs to be done by scientists, and I’m sure it is underway. There are still big gaps in our knowledge.

Image 4: Trondheim by Orcaborealis. The closest to a European ice age that I could find. Please see end of blog for full attribution and Creative Commons license details

Image 4: Trondheim by Orcaborealis. The closest to a European ice age that I could find. Please see end of blog for full attribution and Creative Commons license details


H seems to be the tough one, because it behaved so differently to the other haplogroups.  The other ones are very stable but H mutated often.  In a way it is a good thing.  One day, we will be able to track the path of the haplogroups to within just a few thousand years because there are so many changes.  More and more ancient remains are being tested now, to see what their haplogroup was.  That information tells us a lot about which population was where in the world, and there have already been a few surprises – individuals found in places where they were not believed to have existed.  It’s a time of very exciting discoveries.

By the time my H2a ancestors were around, humans had moved beyond cave people.  I can’t find any figures giving an exact age, but it looks as if this was about 15,000 years ago.  We were farmers.  Early townships were forming. Civilisations were beginning to pop up in China, Mesopotamia and India.  The legend of Atlantis is set in this general time period.

The study of my ancestors ceases to be geological and archeological and turns into actual history.

Stone Age Hut replica. Picture by Katzbach from under creative commons license 1.0.

Image 5: Stone Age Hut replica. Picture by Katzbach from under creative commons license 1.0.

Image 1 – “Homo erectus adult female – head model – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – 2012-05-17” by reconstruction by John Gurche; photographed by Tim Evanson – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Image 3 – ‘Caveman Diorama’ image by Wilko.Hardenberg from here under Creative Commons License 2.0

Image 4 – “Winter-boreal-forest-Trondheim” by Orcaborealis – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Sorting out the family lines – my Paternal X-Line


I always did feel that X-matches should be useful but hadn’t found a way to do it.

I wrote a blog about X-Matches a long time ago.  The X-Chromosome is potentially quite useful for genetic genealogy because of its special characteristics.  Men have one, women have two.  Men get theirs from their mother.  If a baby is to have just one (eg is a boy) the X comes from the mother.   If a baby is to have two (a girl) she gets one from her mother, one from her father.

With the other chromosomes, we always get one from each parent.  We can only give one to each child, and their other parent also gives one.  A mother could – theoretically – give exactly the same pieces of her DNA to each child and they would turn out quite similar to each other.  But generally the mix is a bit different.  One child gets a lot of Grandma and a bit of Grandpa, the next child gets half and half, the next child gets more Grandpa and not so much Grandma.

One of the first things that serious genetic genealogists do is to try and make sense of all that giving.  What bit did this person get from their mother?  What bit did they get from their father?  It really helps to know, because then we know which side of the family our matches might be on.

I now have three sets of DNA results to work with.  My mother, myself and my son. By comparing my mother’s test with my son’s – her grandson – I can see what DNA I gave him that came from my mother.  I have learned, for instance, that I gave my son a chromosome 21 which came entirely from my father. This is useful, because if he has a match on that chromosome which I also have, I know it is on my father’s side.  However, I don’t know if my father got it from his mother or from his father.  That’s what cousin tests are for.  I don’t have any of those yet for my father’s family.

So back to the X-Chromosome.  I noticed at long last that my mother does not show as an X-Match for my son.  That can’t be right, I thought – but it is.  He has one X-chromosome which came from me, but the whole thing came from my father.  It passed straight to him, no recombining.

My father, of course, also has just one X-chromosome.  It came from his mother.  Therefore, any X-Match that my son gets is a match on my paternal grandmother’s side.  I’m very pleased about that.

My grandmother Beryl Reading

My grandmother Beryl Reading

My paternal grandmother, born Beryl Reading, was a truly delightful lady.  She was the most soft hearted, sympathetic person I have ever come across.  She was an adopter of strays and would stay up all night to nurse an injured bird.  She was not very educated and grew up in a large, loving family with no money but lots of unity.  She married a man of much sharper intellect and moved with him to the deeply forested south of Tasmania, away from her supportive parents, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.  I believe she was quite lonely.  I don’t know that she had any friends, and she certainly had no neighbours.  But she always had motherless lambs, puppies and chickens to raise.  She had her own four children and I became very close to her once I reached adulthood.

My family bible was passed on to me by this lady.  Although Beryl was a younger daughter in her family, she was particularly close to her own mother, and was the recipient of all the family stories.  She had photographs of everyone, letters, mementos … I won’t repeat the dreadful story of their end.  I have the family bible which is something to be very grateful for

Despite the many records, I found the Reading family difficult to research.  Beryl’s father was Thomas Reading, a man already elderly when he married Beryl’s mother.  He passed away when Beryl was a teenager.  Thomas was married twice. Born in 1863, he was aged 32 when he married Rose White in Kempton in the southern midlands of Tasmania.  Rose was thirteen years his junior.  In Kempton, there were a lot of Readings and a lot of Whites. This was a marriage which probably  filled the church.

Thomas and Rose had two children, Leslie and Dorothy.  Rose died of childbirth complications when Dorothy was only three days old.

Kempton in the morning fog.

Kempton, Tasmania, Australia  in the morning fog.

It took another five years for Thomas to tie the knot again.  His second wife was Esther Brown, known to all as Hester. Hester was my great grandmother and I remember her quite well. It was she who passed the bible to my grandmother.

Thomas and Hester had nine children.  My grandmother was the seventh.

The family bible was fascinating to me.  I first looked at it while seated at my grandmother’s kitchen table, and we went through everyone in it.  She had met many of those people and gave me her impressions of them.  I wrote it all down, thank heavens.

Unlike many family bibles which belong to a specific surname, this one was passed down by the women of the family.  Thus the family name changed with each generation.  I would never have discovered some of these ancestors were it not for the bible.

Family bible (click to enlarge)

Family bible (click to enlarge)

Hester Brown, for instance, was the daughter of John Brown and Sarah Cox.  The bible came to her from her mother Sarah, who passed away in childbirth in 1900 having Sarah’s sister.  Mabel was born on the 13th February 1900 and Sarah died on the 14th. Hester was the eldest child and took charge of the family – including the bible which she kept very safe as a memento of her mother.

On the X-Line is both John Brown and Sarah Cox.  John’s mother is my brick wall Mary Morgan.  The trail ends there. Sarah is a different matter.

Sarah Cox was born in 1860 in Cleveden near Ouse in the highlands of Tasmania.  The four children on the yellow print in the bible – Ann, Edward, Christiana and Letitia – were Sarah’s eldest siblings.   They were the children of Edward Cox and Frances Richards who died in a diphtheria outbreak which swept the Tasmanian highlands.  Frances’ death was one of the first and an inquest was held.  The disease then passed to the members of the inquest panel – all locals – and took off from there.  There were no doctors in this region at all.

Deaths of Frances and her husband Edward Cox in the diphtheria outbreak of 1874.

Deaths of Frances and her son Edward George Cox in the diphtheria outbreak of 1874. (click to enlarge)

Edward Cox remained a mystery to me for many years, but I now know he was a convict transported to Van Diemen’s Land for robbery in 1836 aged 24.  The family knew him as a shepherd.  The mountainous areas near Ouse and Bothwell were good for sheep, and the shepherds were a known character of men in Tasmania.  Used to spending time alone, they lived in little wooden huts, they could ride as if they were born on a horse and trained their horses to come when they whistled. They were quiet, wiry men, very self-sufficient who knew the mountain land like the back of their hand.  Once married, they often built two room stone huts to live in and considered it a huge step up.   Unfortunately I have not uncovered Edward’s parents.

Frances Richards was born in 1829, and even in that early year she was a third generation Australian.  The colony of Van Diemen’s Land was only 26 years old when she was born in Launceston.  Her father was George Richards, another convict, and her mother was Ellen Cummings.  Ellen was the only known daughter of a soldier who participated in the famous Rum Rebellion of 1808, Australia’s only military coup.  Ellen’s family moved from New South Wales to Van Diemen’s Land when she was a child.  The place was still pretty wild.  Ellen married George in Launceston and Frances was their eldest.  The Richards family moved to Ouse while Frances was a child, where she met her future husband.   Frances and Edward were married in 1847 in St John the Baptist Church, Ouse, Tasmania.

The terrain near Apsley where Beryl Reading grew up.

The terrain near Apsley where Beryl Reading grew up.

The family bible originated with Frances Richards.  The earliest entry is the birth of Ann Elizabeth Cox in 1848.

In the family bible is also the death of Mary Ann Reading in 1919.  Mary Ann Reading was Thomas Reading’s mother, and she is also on Beryl’s X-Line.

She was born Mary Ann McKinley in Fermanagh, Ireland in 1844.  As a baby, Mary Ann’s parents hatched a scheme to come to Australia.  Well, I’m not sure how it went down but it looks as if it was this way.  They were a young couple with two children, Mary Ann and her brother James.  Times were tough in Ireland in the 1840s.  They committed a crime, together. John McKinley was sentenced to transportation.  His wife Alice was deemed to be acting under her husband’s instruction so was basically let off with a slap on the wrist.  Neither was known to the court and each had a perfectly clean record.

The plan was on the verge of failure.  Alice committed another crime and this one worked.  The pair were shipped off to Van Diemen’s Land in different ships, Alice with her two children.  The children survived the journey in good health but were placed in the convict nursery upon arrival in Van Diemen’s Land.

That convict nursery was a matter of great debate in the local newspapers.  The conditions were direly unsanitary and the mortality rate in the mid 1840s was as high as 80%.  There were accusations and calls for an inquiry.  Locals said it was designed so that the babies would die, because who wanted convict babies anyway?  Back then, a lot of people still believed that crime was genetic.  A criminal’s baby was going to be a criminal and that couldn’t be helped.  Luckily for us, the convict system was designed with rehabilitation in mind, but old thought patterns died hard.

James died of diarrhea within a week of being placed in the nursery.  The place killed him.  He came off the ship with a clean bill of health and went down in a heap within days.  I just can’t imagine how Alice must have felt.  At this stage, she had no idea if her husband had arrived or was still in Ireland.  It was undoubtedly a dreadful time for her.

The grave of Alice McKinlay (McKinley). The headstone was clearly recycled but which inscription came first is hard to tell.  Due to weathering, any paint has vanished leaving us with the two imprints.

The grave of Alice McKinlay (McKinley). The headstone was clearly recycled but which inscription came first is hard to tell. Due to weathering, any paint has vanished leaving us with the two imprints.

Conditions were tough, but Mary Ann McKinley survived.  Before too long she was taken to the state orphanage where things were better.  It wasn’t just convict’s children here, and they were all valuable future servants and apprentices. Mary Ann grew up and her parents reclaimed her when their sentences were complete.  They never committed a crime again.

At the age of about fourteen or fifteen, Mary Ann married John Reddan/Redding/Reading, ex-soldier, transported convict and now a farmer in Kempton.  John was aged about thirty eight.  It was a huge age difference.  But they made a proper marriage of it, and my grandmother’s eldest sister Vera Reading remembered Mary Ann McKinley when she was an elderly lady.  After John’s death she came to live with Thomas and Hester.  My great aunt remembered her as always dressed in dark clothes and sitting by the fire, a lady who had some trouble walking and who had stiff fingers.  Apparently she spoke with an accent which my great aunt guessed was Irish.  Mary Ann would watch over the young children while Hester washed at the outside tub, or milked the cows.

It is quite abundently clear that we have many mysteries in this line. Now I know that any X-Match with my son is somewhere amongst this group.  Time for some X-Matches to roll on in!

A Small Piece of Ireland’s History

Ireland from public-domain-image dot com

Ireland from public-domain-image dot com

Ireland’s history is huge.  From the early stone age settlements through the formation of the provinces, the establishment of rulers and their inevitable overthrow, to the coming of the various races from overseas which brought new cultures, trade and genetic material, through the famous Viking era … so much happened there.

My favourite Irish history is ‘A History of Ireland’ by Eleanor Hull.  An abbreviated version is available from the Library Ireland website and is a very good read.  She has a dry manner of speech and the first page feels a bit stiff but you soon get into her style.  In that dry, almost formal tone she covers a whole lot of bloodshed, betrayal and destruction, just carrying on with the events one after another.

Ireland was once deeply forested but one of the main strategies in Irish combat for millenia was to raze the forests and destroy the fields of one’s enemies.  After a thousand years or so, the trees just stopped growing.  There are places in Ireland, described in old books, where one can dig down and find the fossilized remains of felled trees, still just as they were when it happened.  It really gets cold in Ireland and without the trees the wind can whip in and freeze any remnants of warmth.

Ireland stones from public-domain-image dot com.

Ireland stones from public-domain-image dot com.

Ireland had a closer relationship with it’s neighbours than I had realised before I read the history books.  At times it was at war with Scotland, but most of the time there was a lot of coming and going between the two places.  France, too, had a great interchange of population with Ireland.

It was due to France’s good relations with Ireland that England knew they had to step in and take control of the place.  They tried for centuries.  Then came the 1500s when England went through so much upheaval – Henry VIII to Edward VII to to  Lady Jane Grey to Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Elizabeth I to James I to Charles I to Charles II.  England went from Catholicism to Protestantism back to Catholicism then to Protestantism, with an increasingly powerful parliament run by very clever men with their own ideas, jumping in every so often.  It’s confusing to read about now, and was even more confusing at the time.  For Englishmen in Ireland it was quite deadly.  Sent over to enact the wishes of one monarch, they might be beheaded for their actions if the rule had changed and they had not been informed.  This happened on occasion.  It seems quite unfair by today’s standards.

The Irish people experienced many policy changes from the English.  Some they could ignore, some affected them greatly.

Irish tower from public-domain-image dot com.

Irish tower from public-domain-image dot com.

Immigration of various sorts had always happened in Ireland.  The borders were pretty much open.  Many newcomers were friendly and mingled in with existing culture.  Henry VIII had the brilliant plan of sending in forces, confiscating land from the Irish and giving that land to English noblemen and respectable freemen who needed their own space – Protestants who would out breed the Irish Catholics.   It was the beginning of centuries of conflict which involved whole families.  The English took land, routed people from their homeland and who knows what else.  The Irish retaliated.  Women and children died in their homes.  Most of the English settlers took off back to England.  A few years later, more English noblemen came to settle.  It happened again and again.  Each time just a few more Englishmen remained, usually marrying into the Irish population to the great displeasure of the English monarchy.

It reached a point of crisis with the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641 when many English planters were ousted from their homes and robbed of their belongings.  There were murders and pillages.  Numbers of dead were reported in England to be as high as 100,000.  Each side liked to embellish the tale.  The official English figure sat at 30,000.  Modern scholars believe 4,000 dead is more likely with another 10,000 dying of cold and starvation later on.  That’s an awful lot of carnage.  Irish history of absolutely full of this.

In this time period in Ireland, I have some ancestors.

Another Irish building from public-domain-image dot com.

Another Irish building from public-domain-image dot com.

I’m not too sure when they arrived, but after the 1641 Rebellion, depositions were taken from thousands of victims and can now be found online.

Affected by the 1641 rebellion were William Hodder, Ralph Woodley, Thomas Wallis and Richard Vowell.  I haven’t searched all the dispositions yet but I have found these four.  I don’t know much about their personalities so I don’t know if they are ancestors to be proud of or not.  They were part of the landed gentry of Ireland from the 1600s through to the 1900s and those families became quite closely entwined through the centuries, but they were not all gentry when they first arrived.

Back in early 1642 when the depositions were taken, they were neighbours but not yet family.  But it was one of those solidarity-building events.

William Hodder of Glanturke in the Barony of Duhalla within the Countie of Corke, Tanner deposeth and saieth that about Christmas last hee lost and hath beene robbed and forcably despoiled by the Rebbells of the said countie … of Cowes and Horses to the value of one hundred and twenty pounds …. he was dispossessed of a farme parte of the lands of Kenlucke wherein he had a lease of forty years to come ….. He lost by means of this Rebellion the debt due from Gabriel Manchopp of Glanturke aforesaid shoemaker, William Thomas of Boottevant shoemaker, John ffrowde of Tullyhoo Limerick shoemaker … 

(excerpt from the deposition of William Hodder TCD, 1641 Depositions Project, online transcript January 1970
[<?php echo 822048r045?>] accessed Thursday 15 January 2015 01:21 PM)

Genealogical treasure.  A glimpse into the life of a long lost ancestor living in a distant time and how he conducted his business as a tanner, clearly supplying leather to those shoemakers.  William Hodder’s great granddaughter, Elizabeth Hodder, married Francis Woodley of Macroom,Cork in 1760.   Their great grandson was Henry Harrison Peard born 1812 in Cork.  Henry Harrison Peard married – we believe – Jane Selby and their great grandchild was Dulcie Myra Peard born 1913 in New South Wales.

Dulcie’s great grandchildren are my own children.  That is a whole lot of generations between William Hodder and our living family.

It’s amazing how new records keep coming out of the woodwork like this, to keep the family historian interested.

Unexpected Siblings and other family tree scandals

Nursery in London in the 1860s which cared for the babies of working mothers.  From Home Circle Magazine circa 1865

Nursery in London in the 1860s which cared for the babies of working mothers. From Home Circle Magazine circa 1865

Families like to present their best side to the world – or what they believe is their best side. What we consider the best side today may not be what was considered the best side a few hundred years ago.

In order to find the truth, sometimes you need to understand the times.  The truth shows the real struggles and how they were overcome.  This is something everyone can be proud of.  Just the fact that a family hung in there, through physical and mental illness, through poverty, through substance abuse, through persecution and separation – it’s big stuff and well worth the family pride.

If you think about a family from a distance of one hundred years, the little things are gone.  No one remembers that young Joe swore a lot, that Susie lost her virginity to her childhood sweetheart a whole five years before she met her husband, that Dad used to drink too much and once the policeman found him sleeping in the park and had to bring him home … these things are very disturbing at the time, but in the general scheme of things they’ll be completely forgotten, even if they happened over and over again.

Some things, of course, have entered the official records.  Even if the family forgets, someone down the track is going to do their family history and discover anomalies.  Maybe they’ll take a DNA test and discover a whole lot of anomalies.

FtDNA Matches stripped of identifying details.  So many mysteries.

FtDNA Matches stripped of identifying details. So many mysteries.

I was involved in a conversation recently about NPEs.  This acronym is used in the genealogical DNA community to refer to a parental event where the DNA does not support the official record.  Originally it referred to fatherhood – Non-Paternal Event. A bit of a silly phrase.  Then it transmuted to become Non-Parental Event which makes even less sense.  The conception of a child is very very much a parental event.  Maurice Gleeson refers to it as ‘Not the Parent Expected’ which makes perfect sense, and also removes any judgement so I like that one.

Our discussion was really focused on how many families can expect to find them in the tree, if they were able to DNA test all their near ancestors.  Some felt they would be found in every tree.  Some felt 90%, some 50% … a few were convinced that NPEs are an unusual event and only about 5% had them.  Most of those people were certain there were none in their own tree.  One did have one and was losing sleep over the mortifying discovery.

The odd thing about that one is that it is a Y-DNA matter.  His Y-DNA test matches him at close genetic distance with a group of men of one surname that is not his own.  For example,  assuming his surname is Smith, his Y-DNA matches are all surnamed Cooper. They definitely have the same paternal ancestor and the others are scattered far across the branches of the tree. Cooper became Smith and not the other way round. His father, grandfather and great grandfather and so on back are all Smith.  Looks like one of those Smith ancestors was not really his ancestor.  He’s quite shaken.

I’ve seen this now in many internet forums and email lists.  I fully understand how one might feel shaken to find that your own father or grandfather are not your genetic ancestor.  This is personal, we know these people quite well – what they look like, what their personality was like.   You have uncovered a secret about them which either they kept from you or did not know themselves.  That’s quite fair enough and takes some working through. But a great great grandfather that you have never heard of?  We can’t possibly know the story so why would we immediately think it was something shameful?

Actually, I quite understand also how we can become attached to a favourite ancestor, one whose life and decisions we admire and who we have researched particularly carefully.  I have a few of those myself.  It’s hard to let them go. But our true ancestors will be just as exciting when we find them.

Certificate of Marriage for William Morey and Frances Fox.  Families are full of unknowns.

Certificate of Marriage for two of my ancestors. Families are full of unknowns like Fanny’s father.

Once something like this is uncovered, I’ve noticed that a whole lot of people jump to the unwarranted conclusion that there was cheating going on.  My friend the present Mr Smith is not in the minority when making the assumption that there was a Mr and Mrs Smith but Mrs Smith had a thing with Mr Cooper.  Yes, it could have happened that way. But it could be that Mrs Cooper was Mrs Smith’s sister and that she and her husband couldn’t raise their own son. Just because we don’t know the story doesn’t mean it was a nasty secret at the time.  Perhaps young Mr Cooper simply changed his name to sound more dignified, or to remove any association with a less-nice family of Smith nearby.  It was perfectly acceptable once to use an alias and not at all illegal.  Newspaper notices often referred to ‘Thomas Jones also known as Samuel Kiddy’.  It’s just how it was.  Nothing dodgy.

Even if the first Smith in this line was born to Mr Cooper and Miss Smith, this still does not mean anything shady happened.  In my own family we have an unexpected sibling but his father was a soldier who had been sent overseas before the young lady knew she was pregnant.  The man had no idea he had fathered a child.  She had no way of telling him.  So she married someone else, who probably knew all about the coming child, and the child was born with that man’s name.

I have read that in farming communities in England and France in the late 1700s, young farmers preferred to marry a pregnant girl because they knew she was fertile.  The children were definitely required to work on the family property so a barren wife was a problem, however nice she was.  It meant hiring untrustworthy labour and no one to step in when there was illness.  If the bride was pregnant, even to someone else, that was fine with everyone around.  It is easy to impose our own values on those who lived long ago.

The other side of this is that there is no point hiding the fact now.  If they accepted it openly, why should we cover it up in our present family trees?

I have recently spent some time on the family tree of a close match to my mother, one who must be about third cousin level.  We have an identified third cousin, this match is just as strong – but we cannot find the link.  Finally I re-created my match’s tree, from her parents up.  I found four places – FOUR – where the ancestor was the eldest child and born a few years before the parents married.  The mother’s line belongs in this tree but the father’s line doesn’t.  In the UK census, the child is listed as ‘daughter in law’ of the mother’s new husband.  There was no secret, she bore her mother’s surname and her place in the family was accepted.  But my match has not included this detail in her tree, not even the tree on FtDNA where only the genetic ancestor is relevant.

My own ancestor is perhaps the mystery father of the closer of those girls.  On her other side, her own grandfather was born to a single mother.  That entire branch is irrelevant.  While the adoptive/step/foster parents fully belong in a tree due to the cultural inheritance we receive from them, they don’t belong in a DNA tree.

The first challenge in genealogy is finding the right tree to climb.

The first challenge in genealogy is finding the right tree.

One final point on misreading the past and mentally tarnishing our ancestor’s reputation – I have an ancestor named Timothy Morey.  He was born in 1767 to a twenty eight year old single mother.  I’d say she preferred a child out of wedlock to finishing her days without becoming a mother, because two years later she had a second son while still single.  I have found no record that she ever married.

In the baptism register Timothy is the ‘baseborn son of Ann Morey’ with no father given.  However, Bastardy Bonds exist for that parish and one Timothy Hoare, yeoman and church guildman, has accepted paternal responsibility and signed the Bastardy Bonds.   He has signed the bonds for young Timothy’s brother William as well.  In the same year he signed the bonds for infant Fortunatis Enticott, baseborn son of Sarah Enticott.   You’d wonder how he kept his status in the church!

Anyone with experience in early English research will have jumped to it much faster than I did, but I did get there in the end. The Bastardy Bonds were about the support of the child and the mother whose life choices were restricted by her single motherhood status.  If the mother applied to the parish for assistance, the parish would attempt to identify the father and force him to pay the maintenance.  This was the law and we are talking a very small, close community in Dorset here.  It is quite likely that Timothy Hoare was a most charitable, sympathetic and wealthy man who took his responsibilities serious.  He probably stood here as an economic guardian to these fatherless children.  His signing the Bastardy Bonds was not necessarily an admission of paternity, but a commitment to support the fatherless children in his parish. He MAY have been their father, but we cannot assume.  He was probably just a very kindly man helping his neighbours.  This is my apology to that long deceased man for my judgement.  However, if he was not Timothy’s father then I have yet another mystery line.  I can only hope the paternal line persists to the present day and is interested in a Y-DNA test.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to impose my 21st century understandings on my ancestors of previous centuries.

Genealogical DNA Tests – Let the Hard Work Begin …

Family Tree - A whole lot of data

Family Tree – A whole lot of data

The holidays are nearly over. This is a race against time.

Here I am, sandbags set aside, fires out and a mere fortnight before the back-to-school panic sets in for our household. I’m way behind with my family history objectives and hopefully my father’s DNA test is to complete in three days time.  I’m just not organised yet.

First of all, there were the usual new matches trickling in each week which I’ve scarcely even looked at.  They are all distant, they’ll wait.  More exciting stuff is afoot.

My mother’s Family Finder test dropped quietly in with 563 matches – way more than I have and way way more than my son has. First lesson learned – every single generation makes a huge difference with matches.  Test the earlier generation. Everyone has said this but now I’ve seen the difference with my own eyes.

Second lesson is a corollary of the first but I just hadn’t twigged.  My mother, genetically, is quite different to myself.  I thought she’d have half of what I had, only bigger, stronger, more defined and the rest would be less useful.  What she has is a whole lot of different stuff with strong cousin matches.  I can’t view her results in comparison to mine.  I can go the other way, yes – look at a matching segment from her and see where I have inherited only three quarters of that segment – but the reverse doesn’t work as easily.  The segment boundaries have to come from her kit.  My portion is fused with the neighbouring portions and the cutoff point isn’t clear.

Perhaps this is the nature of the Australian colonial population.  We came from distinct endogamous regions so even if the families did not mix in Australia, they were cousins back in the homeland.

Cemetery at Stanley full of immigrant's graves.

Cemetery at Stanley full of immigrant’s graves, many of whom are equally related to my husband and myself back in the late 18th century.

In my mother’s match list are one daughter, one grandson and one third cousin, known and verified.  It’s a nice beginning.

Next are twenty 2nd-4th cousin matches.  TWENTY!  I was very pleased to have four, but my mother has twenty.  If I ever get beyond these it will be a miracle.

The verified third cousin aside, I had three which I was hoping to resolve via my mother’s test.  One turns out to be on my father’s side.  This one may be further clarified when his test comes in.  This leaves two as yet unidentified 2nd-4th cousin matches from my own list which also match my mother.  These are the ones I am writing about today.

In an earlier blog I gave these matches fake names for easier identification.  I called one adoptee cousin Cecilia and the unresponsive cousin Jennifer.  In my own match list Jennifer was in second place and Cecilia in fourth place.  In my mother’s list, Jennifer is in seventh place and Cecilia is in tenth.

Jennifer is simple.  My mother matches a total 57.6cM with her.  I match 47.65cM.  The matching segments are consistent.  It looks quite genuine and behaves predictably.  This is not a long term resilient segment passed down unchanged from practically the middle ages, as some look to be.  Jennifer is a genuine medium-range cousin..  It would be nice to know where she fits. It looks as if she connects on my mother’s paternal side and I’m guessing she is a fourth cousin to my mother.


Cecilia is interesting and complex.  Her match with my mother is 54.35 cM and her match with me is 48.85 cM.  Some of it makes sense where I inherited a lesser portion of my mother’s segments.  However, I match Cecilia on three chromosomes for about 4cM each where my mother doesn’t.  Her 54.35 cM match is only about 70% in line with mine.  The rest of my match with her, therefore, either is Identical by State (coincidentally the same) or is inherited through my father.  I’ll find out in a few days.

Which brings me to the third lesson learned from my mother’s DNA test results.  You cannot assume the size of an inherited segment from just one match.

In my mind, a segment is a block of data inherited from a forebear.  It came unbroken.  If I have a large segment match, it seemed quite clear that the segment came from our common ancestor. I fully understood that I might match via two distinct MRCA’s, but somehow I assumed those segments would be distinct from each other.  Would have lines between them, for instance.  Something like this where on chromosome 5 there are two portions near each other but not touching.  The dark blue is my mother’s 100% and the orange is the bit where Cecilia matches her:

Portion of a match shown in the chromosome browser graphic at FtDNA

Portion of a match shown in the chromosome browser graphic at FtDNA

Yes, that was a mad conclusion and certainly not one I had consciously come to.  Here is one chromosome of Cecilia’s compared to myself (top) and to my mother (bottom):

Chromosome 6 match

Chromosome 6 match

A small portion of this match came from my mother.  A larger portion – sitting seamlessly beside it – did not.

This has taught me a whole lot about my matches in general.  I was operating under a sort of binary methodology – it would be one way or the other.  But if DNA comes from both sides, then a 3rd cousin match might really be a 6th cousin match on both sides.  What a challenge for anyone trying to use DNA testing to break down brick walls.  You really need to improve the odds by increasing the identifiable portions before taking off into ancient times on a forebear hunt.  Once I can identify which DNA came from which grandparent, that’s when I should be looking further back.  This means testing cousins!  I wonder if I have any cousins who would like to be tested?

In the meantime, I’m going back to the start – mapping my chromosome to identify which grandparent gave me which segment.  Learning to walk before I try to run – and that’s one lesson I never seem to learn!

A New Lot of DNA Test Results – Endogamy

Image from 'A Text-Book of Inorganic Chemistry' by G S Newth,Longmans Green and Co London, 1902 Figure 44 page 209

‘A Text-Book of Inorganic Chemistry’ by G S Newth,Longmans Green and Co London, 1902 Figure 44 page 209

Endogamy is the dreaded word for genetic genealogists.   Perhaps not the only one, but definitely up there as one of the greatest obstacles to solving the family tree puzzle.

It’s traditional usage is in reference to small populations who married each other and excluded outsiders.  This happened for cultural and economic reasons, thus you see the Royal Families of past Europe marrying each other to cement alliances and protect assets, or the English plantations in Ireland only marrying into their fellow planter families.  The result is cousins marrying cousins, uncles marrying nieces, second and third cousins marrying each other.  Four or five generations on the tree is a tangled web of interrelations.

This tangled state is called pedigree collapse – where instead of eight great grandparents someone has four or six due to the cousin marriages.

Obviously this means there is less genetic material to go round.  If cousins marry, their recombined DNA still looks a lot like the grandparents’ DNA because each parent had inherited identical segments.  That’s all they had to pass down.

What this can mean to a modern, living DNA test subject, is that they could have inherited DNA from one ancestor through both their father and their mother.  It’s hard to pick sometimes.

You really find out what is going on when you test your parents.

Currently in South Australia, we have had a week of fires and heatwave and are now on a flood alert.  Hence, I haven’t had much time to look at this new DNA test.  But of course I’ve sneaked a few minutes!  It’s very exciting.  There I was thinking my mother’s DNA would show me who was on which side of the family.  For some matches, it has done this.

I had four 2nd-4th cousin matches.  I’ve blogged about this.  Two adoptees, one McLeod cousin and one non-responder. I now know that one adoptee is on my father’s side.   The non-responder is on my mother’s side and the McLeod cousin is on my mother’s side.  No surprise with that one.

The other adoptee is on both sides.  In fact, she is a stronger match for me than she is for my parents.  She matches one segment from each and I have inherited both those segments. This makes me wonder about the status of many of my other matches.

I didn’t see that coming.  I’m looking in the wrong ancestor distance for our match.

What’s more, my mother’s 2nd-4th cousin matches are not showing up for me at all!  Not even at the 5th-Remote level.

This is a quick post just because I don’t want to get too far behind. My father’s test will be through any day.  For a short time, being very tired from heat and a constant level of emergency, I felt very disheartened.  But I have now bounced back.

Once the flood event is over, I’ll sort the whole mess out!

The elderly surviving members of one Dillon family of ten children.

The elderly surviving members of one Dillon family of ten children.