Waiting on my DNA Tests

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

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

I first began this blog to clarify my thoughts about my genealogical DNA Test and to explain to my family and friends just what I was finding.  The blog has evolved since then, but it’s time I gave a DNA test update.

We all have our own reasons for entering the genetic genealogy game.  Adoptees looking for their parents. Parents who gave up their children under pressure and would love the child to get back in touch.  Paid and volunteer test subjects for scientific research.  Those with a specific health concern who feel the need to do something to understand themselves.  Genealogists who are at a standstill with the paper records. Those are the ones I have come across but I’m sure there are many other reasons. Long suffering relatives who test to keep their genealogical relative happy.

Once tested, we log in to view our results and are presented with a bewildering array of detail.  I’m sure the DNA company staff think they’ve simplified it all, but they simply don’t remember a time when they knew as little about genetics as we do.  Sometimes, we have to hit the forums for assistance and moral support.

Here, we discover an energy-filled world full of theories and discoveries.  You need a bit of the mad scientist in you, but not too much because it takes the method and clear head of a completely sane scientist to make it work.  All the time, dedicated volunteers are creating new tools to make it easier for the rest of us, but in the meantime we learn a lot of new terms and new concepts, then re-learn as yet another discovery changes current accepted truths.  Taking part in this world is even more addictive than doing genealogy.

Spreadsheet fun, with identifiable features blacked out

Spreadsheet fun, with identifiable features blacked out

I tested out of curiosity.  I was beginning to see online posts from people seeking descendants of a particular pioneering couple looking for other descendants to test.  The early tests were mostly Y-DNA tests which were not relevant to me because I’m female.  The idea of finding a male relative to test was a bit too close to old-fashioned chauvinism.  How skewed is that thinking!  It was more of a subtle impression than a properly formed thought.  Then I met someone who had taken an autosomal test.  I saw her spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets are a wonderful thing. People who are into DNA testing are almost all spreadsheet users.  I don’t know why that is.  I guess you just need spreadsheet skills to comprehend all that data.  Sorting through DNA matches is just like doing a Logic puzzle. A whole lot of clues and eliminations and it all falls into place.

The former Presbyterian Church in Kempton, Tasmania in early morning winter fog. A branch of my family attended this church and I hope to learn more of them through DNA tests.

The former Presbyterian Church in Kempton, Tasmania in early morning winter fog. A branch of my family attended this church and I hope to learn more of them through DNA tests.

I didn’t expect a single match, being in Australia.  But quite early on the test results broke down a brick wall that I doubt would have been brought down any other way.  It’s so satisfying to solve long term mysteries.

As I said in a recent blog, various family members have agreed to test.  This is the current exciting status of all DNA kits which I’m interested in.

Kit#1 – My test.   420 Family Finder matches, the last 30 or so being transfers from Ancestry.com and all of them in the 5th-remote cousin range.  No new close relatives.   I still have 12 MtDNA matches, being 8 at genetic distance 2 and 4 at genetic distance 3.  Nothing close enough to work with.

Kit#2 – My son.  He has exactly 350 Family Finder matches, like me the last 20 or so are 5th-remote cousin and transferred from Ancestry.com.  I have purchased a Y67-DNA test for him which says it will complete in 2-4 weeks.  However, I have joined him to his surname project and the administrator tells us there is a delay, so it may be a week or two longer.

Kit#3 – Spare Family Finder kit.  Purchased for a friend who is no longer doing it.  I’m keeping the kit in reserve and still hoping to use it on my mother’s paternal side.


Kit#4 – My paternal second cousin.  (Father’s maternal side). Our grandmothers were sisters.  His wife bought him a Family Finder kit but he hasn’t agreed to do it yet.  I won’t have access to the results but look forward to seeing him as a match.  Kit has arrived at his house but he is still thinking about it.  I’ll give him a name for the blog.  I’ll call him Peter.

Kit#5 – My mother’s kit, also Family Finder.  Kit has been received by FtDNA and batched.  Expected completion time 1-2 weeks. Very exciting.

Kit#6 – My father’s kit, Family Finder.  Kit has been received by FtDNA and batched.  Expected completion time 2-3 weeks.

Kit#7 – My daughter’s Family Finder kit.  Arrived at the house last week, test completed and just put into the mail this morning.  Should be with them in about 3 weeks and should complete about a month after that.

Kit#8 – My father in law’s kit.  Yet another Family Finder.  Kit arrived on Christmas Eve at his house, I haven’t heard whether they have done them or not.

Kit#9 – My mother in law’s Family Finder kit.  As above – arrived on Christmas Eve and I don’t know if it has been completed.


Kit#10 – My maternal half-aunt.  My aunt purchased this due to her own interest but has given me the login details so I can handle the matching for her.  It has arrived at her house but I don’t know if she has done it yet.

Kit#11 – My father-in-law’s possible recently discovered half brother.  I don’t manage this kit either but I’m definitely interested in any upgrades. I’m purchasing Y-DNA in the correct paternal line which may be useful in the identification, but only if he decides to do the same.  I’d better give him a name.  Let’s call him Jeb.

Kit#12 – My paternal fourth cousin, the one I met on Gedmatch who I’m calling Sarah.  This is my father’s paternal side. Yet another kit which I don’t manage, but she sent me a lovely Christmas card and we’ve become very cousin-like.  We’re looking at transferring her kit to FtDNA to see what else we learn.

So just for the record, these are the DNA kits which will help me verify my paper records and hopefully break down some more brick walls. I’ll have to keep very busy over the next few weeks or the suspense will be the end of me.

I’m not exactly short of things to do.  Now I’ll put the DNA tests aside until a result comes in and get on with finishing two biographies and filing my paper records.

My DNA Playground Expands

My great grandfather Ned Dillon - Genetically and probably culturally 100% Irish despite being a third generation Australian

My great grandfather Ned Dillon – Genetically and probably culturally 100% Irish despite being a third generation Australian

I have had a very good November.  Not only did I receive a tax refund, but both my parents and my parents in law have agreed to test their DNA, and ftDNA at the same time began their sale!  It’s almost as if it were meant to be.

Yes, I’ve spent a fortune and I’m too scared to add up the totals.  I keep a word document with kit names and passwords, and it has become a bigger document than I ever dreamed I’d see.  My kit, my son’s, a kit purchased for our friend who has decided not to test (read – spare kit), my daughter’s kit, my father, my mother, my father in law and my mother in law.

I have also upgraded my son’s kit and purchased the Y67 test for him.

However – I don’t regret any of it.  I felt a momentary twinge when the electricity bill came in, but there are other ways to handle that bill.  I’m quite ecstatic that my family are fine with the DNA testing – even after the discovery of the unexpected very close relative.

What’s more – they are interested!  They are logging in to their profiles, updating their details, uploading a photo, speculating on their Origins and pondering on where their matches might come from when they eventually have them. Here I was thinking I was imposing my personal hobby on them and feeling a little bad about it, but it has all turned out well.

Of course, we are a long way from the truly fun stuff.  FtDNA will send the kits to us – overseas – in the midst of Christmas mail, and if we receive them before December is over, the kits will be sent back in the thick of the same, only to be batched with the extra FtDNA test load after the sales.  I’m anticipating March before we have all results.  Maybe April.

Still – exciting times ahead. I’ll be able to see if my theorising was correct over which side a match was on.  If I was right a majority of the time, I’ll be able to proceed with greater confidence.  If I was only correct for 50% of the time or less, I’ll be forced to recognise how much I still have to learn.

I’ve noticed some interesting things through the initial setting up of their profiles. Firstly, I learned a new name – my father-in -law’s earliest known female ancestor, who was Susan Welman of Merriott in Somerset born in 1740.  New records have come online in my subscription sites and I haven’t visited that branch of research for quite a while.

I have also realised that on the Dillane/Dillon side, although they left Ireland in 1856 they only married other Irish born persons and my great grandfather Ned Dillon, born 1878 in Tasmania and died 1958 in Tasmania, might be said to be 100% Irish despite never having left Australian soil.  In fact, even despite his mother having been born and died in Tasmania, her parents were Irish born and she married an Irish born person – her first cousin.  Ned Dillon married a woman descended from English stock – my great grandmother – and introduced the first non-Irish blood in his line.

My grandfather, their son, then proceeded to marry a woman of principally Irish descent so my father is about 70% Irish if not more, despite being a fifth generation Australian.  I really hadn’t noticed this before.   My mother is about 50% English, 25% Irish and 25% Scottish.  Assuming the paper trail is correct and of course depending on whose DNA they have inherited most of.  The results of the DNA test will tell us more.

I also noticed that my daughter’s X-line includes one of my favourite ancestor couples on her father’s side – Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald and his wife Isabella Stevenson.  One day I’ll blog about them.

In the meantime – I’m taking the role of teacher and helping my family navigate their profiles. Luckily, they are quite happy to keep me in the loop and leave me as the principal contact.  This has all worked nicely.

Keeper of the Family Secrets

Cells at Port Arthur.  Not everyone will admit to a convict in the family.

Cells at Port Arthur. Not everyone will admit to a criminal record in the family.

Secrets come in all shapes and sizes, and what one person feels the need to keep under wraps, someone else will be happy for the world to know.

This is one of the fundamentals of family history.  Anyone who delves will soon notice the differing reactions to their new hobby by various family members.  We don’t get very far until the family trusts us.  We can bypass many obstacles now the internet is here, but it is still hard to research if the family is against it.

When my DNA test results first came in I emailed a 3rd-5th cousin. He sent me a very courteous email telling me that his niece was the ‘keeper of the family secrets’ who managed his DNA kit and he was forwarding my email to her.  The phrase has stayed with me. It’s a very honourable title in my mind.

While researching we may learn things about living family members which we haven’t actually been told.  Or we might be told some things in absolute confidence.  Some wish to hide an adoption, others wish to appear rich when they are almost broke, still others don’t want the world to know that their parents were never formally married.  Some don’t want anyone to realize they cannot read and write. We know these things happen and we know it doesn’t change who we are and who our family is.  We can respect their right to privacy and we will keep the secret, even though it is something we are sure our relatives would perfectly understand.

Occasionally in my family investigating I learn something that perhaps would be better out in the open.  What if the person who is almost broke can’t afford to go to the doctor yet other family members would be happy to help?  What if someone has been ostracized for an action and I discover the real perpetrator was a different family member?  But this is their secret, not mine. Maybe I can persuade them that the knowledge won’t change the family’s view of them but I can’t break their confidence.  In my mind, I am bound by a non-disclosure contract as rigid as that which binds police officers, doctors and public servants.

There are some situations where duty of care overrides this – child abuse, mental incapacity or a person at risk of serious harm.  The usual caveats apply.  But that’s not what most of us find.  What we find are the little things that are meaningful to one person but not another.

These are the situations which can cement us as the Family Recorder or relegate us to the one who “did some research into the family but didn’t get too far”.

In my own research, I’m comfortable about exposing the secrets of the far past where they have no impact on living family members, but this does take some knowledge of the views of the existing family members.  I have occasionally made mistakes.  I have one elderly great aunt who did not take the knowledge of a convict ancestor at all well.  It was a shame since that particular convict ancestor was a lady we can all be very proud of.

I also upset a family member once by suggesting we connect with a certain other local family which had a reputation for petty crime, noisy squabbles in the town and a penchant for picking fights with anyone when they’ve had a few drinks.  The current elderly generation firmly state that we are no relation and need to have nothing to do with them.  The reality is that we are related but our branch told their children to keep away to avoid the children on our side ending up in the same downward spiral.

Some events are remembered but not spoken of.

Some events are remembered but not spoken of. From The Sunday At Home 1886 by the Religious Tract Company London

When we have our DNA tested, we run the risk of uncovering secrets which were very successfully buried.  The unexpected sibling, for instance – or a complete absence of match to a known sibling.  This is definitely the big one and has occurred often enough that at least one DNA company has altered their privacy policies to avoid any culpability for exposing the truth.  Yes, this has now happened in my family too.  We have a new close relative, a person known for many years as a neighbour and now known as something more.

I won’t be any more explicit as there is a lot more talking and disclosing to be done, but in this case there is not a huge amount of surprise.  Our anticipated connecting family member was always the black sheep of the family and the person most likely to mingle freely where no one knew they were mingling.

So what do you do as the kit manager of three or four kits, the results newly in, and the truth staring at you from the screen?  No one knows the truth but you.  Chances are the person whose kit you are managing will never feel interested enough to view their results, let alone understand what they are seeing.  You might pull it off.  Pretending not to notice might be the right thing to do.  The answer probably depends on what else is happening in that family at the time.  People can only handle so many issues at a time.  Someone in the throes of divorce doesn’t need to learn right now that they are adopted.

But keeping a secret from the family in general is different to keeping a secret from the subject of the secret.  This is their secret and accidentally it has come to you instead, like a misdirected letter in the mail.  If I receive a letter addressed to someone else I know I have no right to keep it from them.  There is no awkwardness at all about passing over a letter.  With a DNA result, unexpectedly we know something very intimate about another person, something that might shake their world.  I have observed in my life that once a secret begins to emerge, it has a habit of forcing its way towards full exposure.  We are not trained for this and never expected our pleasant hobby to throw this at us, but here it is.

If genetic genealogy comes to a grinding halt at any time in the future it will probably be due to this very issue.  This can be confronting and distressing.  There are various committees in different countries already debating the matter.  It is not really an invasion of privacy since everyone who tests has volunteered and signed their permission. But if I discover a sibling for myself, have I inadvertently invaded my parents’ privacy?  A physical characteristic has brought the truth out.  Is it fundamentally different to a golden haired child born into a family with a black haired father who also has two black-haired parents?   It’s open for debate and is being debated in various places.

I have a good friend who started his family tree at my prompting.  No one had done such a thing in his family and he had a very interesting family.  He had two half brothers but strangely enough he had never thought about their exact age.  All children were raised together after the half brothers’ mother passed away.  He asked them their birth dates for his family tree and discovered that one of them was exactly two months younger than himself.  His parents were married before he came along and stayed married. The recognition of his father’s affair shocked him. He has not touched his family tree since.

I felt rather bad about it for a while, almost as if I was responsible.  However, he has rallied.  His half brother had recognised the truth long ago and was waiting for it to twig.  It has, after several months of coldness, cleared the air and they have moved on.

After thirty years of family research I now realize how often this happens.  Also – where there is one instance of it, there’s an even better chance of a second.  This holds true in my own family.  The young man who sowed his wild oats in one direction often turns out to have gone in all directions.  In the family branch now holding our newly discovered family member, I already had a couple of unexpected additions found through church baptism records.  In a tiny village the baptizing minister knew quite well who was spending time with whom and so did both families involved.  The family never spoke of it but it’s there in ink and parchment.  This one is a little different as the child was born to a properly married couple.

Scene from The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding 1841 edition p 305

Fight scene from The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding 1841 Centenary edition p 306

I have a lot of sympathy for someone who suddenly doesn’t know their parents when they thought they did.  In my current family revelation, paternity is still uncertain.  We have two couples – unrelated – each of whom had a child.  It turns out that both children are half siblings. We are pretty sure of each child’s mother so they share a father.  Which of the two men it is has not yet been determined.  One of them will ‘lose’ the father they thought they had and will gain a new father.  Both sets of parents are now deceased, this happened a long time ago. Each child has a well researched tree and that adoptive parent certainly has his place in the family still.  He was still their father – but genetically speaking that branch is severed and the DNA kit will continue to receive matches for a family the child never knew they had. DNA says it like it is.

I have two DNA matches with adoptees who would dearly love to know where they came from.  I have a DNA match with a girl who doesn’t know who her father is and would love to find him.  At some point, I’m sure all children who don’t know their parents wonder who they were and if they share any traits and what happened that the parent could not be there for them. The thought of reuniting severed families is a heartwarming one for most family historians.

On the other hand, I have a relative who adopted out her child and while she would love to contact him, it would cause conflict with her husband who is a very jealous man and not the child’s father.  I have a friend with psychiatric issues who proved incapable of raising her child and that one was adopted out too.  If that child comes looking for her mother, she will find a lady living very convincingly in a fantasy world of her own creation.  I hope that child does not come looking because it takes a whole lot of experience to spot the fallacies in this woman’s reasoning.  She’s very convincing in her delusion.   But of course the child will!  It’s human nature.  Other birth parents were victims of a rigid society and were simply not allowed to raise their own offspring although willing and able.   There are two or more sides to every story.

All we can do is be aware that we risk uncovering skeletons and maybe have a plan for dealing with it in place before the event.  The easiest thing would be to avoid the research in the first place, but hopefully that solution won’t satisfy anyone.  We are family historians because we want to know our family and that means our true family in its mix of acknowledged and unacknowledged parents, siblings, cousins, family friends and pets.  If there are anomalies, that’s just part of what makes our family the unique entity it is today.  Once the truth is out it is no longer a threat to the family’s stability, and most of us will just experience the reassurance of finding our research confirmed.   But we need to understand people, those in our family in particular, in order to deliver and help them cope with any surprises.  It takes some empathy and consideration.

This was a long post and unusually serious, but a subject which I felt needed to be covered.  It is part of my family history journey and part of many others’ as well.  I don’t know for sure if my approach is the best, but it is the one that has served me best.  It is well worth being prepared for this before it strikes.

It’s like a forest fire approaching the house. It might never happen but if it does and you don’t have a prepared drill it is very hard to think clearly in the heat of the moment.  The Keeper of the Family Secrets has a particular role to play in the protection of their family.

FtDNA Family Trees – My Opinion

A family tree is a big big entity and finding a match requires all the detail available.

A family tree is a big big entity and finding a match requires all the detail available in both trees.

A few weeks ago, FtDNA changed their gedcom upload process to simple family trees.  There was uproar!  Actually, all these weeks later it hasn’t quite died down.

I like them.  The gedcoms were useful, but the family tree works well for me too.  The new system has its kinks – setting the primary person in an uploaded gedcom is near impossible, for instance.  Individuals without death dates show as ‘private’ because they are presumed living unless they have a specific ‘deceased’ tag.  It takes more space on the screen and that’s never a good thing, but the benefits far outweigh the difficulties to me.

They can be updated online, which is excellent.  If I discover a new ancestor I can go in and add just that person.  If I discover a precise date where a had ‘circa year’, I can do that.  If everyone used these trees I would find it much easier to identify my matches.

The search facility took me a while.  If I first went to a tree I could search for a surname and find it.  Later, after looking around, I would search and not find it.  Now I realise that only the ancestry tree of the selected individual is searched.  So if I load Joe Smith’s tree and search for his maternal grandmother Anne Maple, I’ll find her.  If I load Joe’s paternal grandfather John Smith and then search for Anne Maple, I won’t – because she is not an ancestor of John Smith.

The same goes for place names.  I do like this facility.  It can definitely help in a tree where I match no names. For instance, I have a hot spot on one chromosome segment centred in Chardstock, Dorset which I have identified by the location search.  No names match, but our families were all married and baptised at the same church in the 18th century.  It ought to work for the US as well, but so few people have added precise locations to their trees so I can’t get closer than ‘NC’ or ‘GA’ or ‘VA’.

I gather the system is not working so well for project managers and hopefully this will be resolved soon.

I was very concerned to read forum posts by people saying they hated the trees so much that they have removed their gedcoms.  Why?  What is the purpose of DNA testing at FtDNA if not to solve family tree puzzles?  We work with whatever details or tools we have until better ones are around.  A lot of those people seem to have trees at Ancestry and maybe forget that we don’t all have subscriptions.  A tree at Ancestry is not accessible to me.  I have a free registration but this does not allow me to access trees or records – not even ‘public’ trees.  So hearing that people have removed their details from the one place I can view them is a little distressing.  I quite understand that tracking down a very distant match is not a priority for many testers, but I do like the opportunity to pursue it myself.  I’ll then email that distant cousin when I have worked it out.

In the meantime, I have updated both my tree and my son’s tree and I work with the trees I can access. Thank you to all who tested on FtDNA and have added details into their tree, even if they hate it.  If you match me, I will try to repay you by finding our connection.

Family Clusters – Those Almost-Identified MRCA’s

This began while reviewing my son’s matches.

There is a website called DNAGedcom.com with an application called ADSA – Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer.  It’s brilliant.  It does all the hard work of identifying matches which can be triangulated.  Running that application listed my matches chromosome by chromosome and showed me exactly where two or three or even more were matching on the precise same segment.  It could be the same segment on either side, but that can then be deduced.

When I ran my own, I found it interesting that I have lots of matches on some segments and not many on others.  For example, on chromosome one I have a segment of 8-10 cM which is matched by twelve people.  Two of those twelve match for exactly 8.76 and when I look at their profiles it’s obvious that they are siblings managed by the same person.  They match each other for much more but that 8.76 cM is what I have that matches them.

Running ADSA showed many how many of my matches belong to such groups and are obviously from the same family which has tested several people.  I collected them together as much as possible and realised that I have less than half the distinct matches than I thought I had, because being siblings the match is basically a duplicate for me.  There’s no point individually deducing my MRCA with each of those chromosome 1 matches, for instance.  I just need to deduce their own MRCA which is their father, and call them one match.

I felt much better.  I didn’t really have 380 matches, I actually have about 105, and my son has even less.


So first I grouped them together and called the family groups A, B, C,D etc.  Then I worked out which segments I share with each family group.  On chromosome 11 on the same segment I match fourteen cousins with Prince Edward Island ancestry, most of them in the Normanites Group.  This is not coincidental since group members are trying to test as many relatives as possible in the hopes of identifying their certain connection.

When I looked at my son’s data using ADSA, I discovered an absolutely huge block of same-segment matches on chromosome 17 of 8 – 14 cM in length.   FORTY of them!  Many came with family trees and looking through the trees, as usual, I failed to find a common link.  So I looked at the profiles and found a few managed by one person.  I emailed her and asked if her profiles belonged to a DNA Project since my son’s kit was matching them so well.

They didn’t.  However, she ran her own ADSA report and picked the probable MRCA  for her own matches in a very short time.  The majority of those forty profiles are in the United States and have links to the surname Garner.

John Garner and Susanna Keene were a couple in early Virginia.  Susanna was born in Virginia but John emigrated apparently from Shropshire in England.  Final confirmation of his birthplace has not been made.  John was born around 1633 so this is a long long way back.  It would take a particularly persistent segment to come down to the present day, but a few cousin matches might help it along.  In my son’s line, this was also helped by a few elderly fathers so there were not as many generations as you might expect.

It was an enlightening couple of emails for me.  One thing which has stayed with me is that many have not uploaded their whole family tree to FtDNA.  No doubt this was because one could not edit an uploaded gedcom, one had to delete and then upload a new one.   I also learned about ‘cold spots’ being segments from the distant past.   John Garner was born in 1633.  Either he himself was the MRCA or it was even earlier.

I looked into it further.

Juggling DNA Test Results

A Family Finder match is like a very clear little piece of a very blurred bigger picture.

A Family Finder match is like a very clear little piece of a rather obscure bigger picture.     Photo: Geoffrey O’Keefe

Some people manage many kits – 15 or 20 or more.  My hands are full with two.

Perhaps it’s because I want to identify every match before I move on.  But that’s mad. There are changes in the DNA Test market all the time, and there is always some legislation or ethical guideline under consideration which might make it harder in the future for us to DNA test – especially those of us in other countries.  I should just get on and test everyone.

I am also very aware of the passage of time.  My father and father in law are both in their seventies.  They are fairly active but not as healthy as they once were.  Deep inside I still feel as if I’m just out of my teens and as if my parents have a lifetime ahead of them.  But they don’t.

So why haven’t I asked them to test?  Mostly because I’m afraid they’ll say no.  I’ve told them about my own test and my results.  They are interested.  But I think they are interested in the usual way – the ‘what is my interstate daughter doing now?’ way.  It’s not a genuine interest in their past.  In fact, I think they border on considering my hobby to be inappropriate.  Let sleeping dogs lie and all that.

Which is not as short-sighted as it initially seemed to me.  My son’s test has revealed one surprising fact which I will carefully blog about once I have discovered the whole story and ensured that everyone is happy with it. Our immediate ancestors were not without their secrets.

Writing this blog is in part for them – my extended family, in the hopes I can whet their appetite.  It has worked, but on friends not family.  I have several friends now testing which is wonderful.  But I do want family data.

The other issue is the cost.  I’m a bit jealous of these Americans with their $49 test at Ancestry.  That’s not available to Australians.  It costs about $130 AUD to purchase a Family Finder test from FtDNA, and another $10 for return postage.  I’m waiting for someone to discover a vital reason to test Australians which might subsidize it – or better yet, a Genealogical DNA Test service to start up here!  I don’t think that will happen anytime soon due to the ethics concerns. Most of the people I know can accept what goes on in other parts of the world as long as it stays there.  No, I don’t see DNA testing becoming mainstream here for some time.  Better to take a second job to fund my desire for  a complete DNA  record of all family members.

So now I have two tests.  Across those tests, I have now 390 matches and my son has 310.  After beginning with 16 pages of matches, his test populated quickly over the following few weeks. About half of his matches, presumably, are through my side and also amongst my match list.  The rest are new names and once again a bunch of family trees with no obvious connection.

I was getting used to this now – heaps of matches which I can’t identify.  What I have come to realize is that Family Finder is finding family within 8 Generations, not 6. To make use of a Family Finder test I need to get back to 1700 on each side. I was feeling pretty complacent being back to the 6th Generation on all sides but my three brick walls!

I went back to the paper tree again.

New DNA Test Results to Play With

A summary of my experience to date:

Family Finder on FtDNA – 38 pages of matches @ ten to a page = 380 matches.

2nd-4th Cousins – Two adoptees, one unresponsive, one confirmed 3rd cousin

3rd-5th Cousins – 17 mysteries, 2 of which are probably connected via Annie McLeod and Prince Edward Island but this is by no means certain.

4th-Remote Cousins – several pages, 23 of which are connected via Annie McLeod and Prince Edward Island and one confirmed 6th cousin via John Burleton and Elizabeth Lush.

5th-Remote Cousins – a few more via Annie McLeod and PEI, but the rest of 29 pages remain mysteries.

Gedmatch – one confirmed 4th cousin via Robert Lockley and Catherine Hingley.

Several more potential connections to whom I have sent emails and about 300 matches where I just don’t have a clue.

At this point, my son’s Family Finder DNA Test came through.  It was a big moment!  As with mine, FtDNA were still predicting results to come through in 2-3 weeks.  I logged into my own kit, clicked on FF matches and realised I had a kit with enough matches for the ‘shared cM’ graphic to take a second to load.  Total shared cM 3384 and largest block 267 cM.

Of course, I knew he was coming in but it was still nice to see how a close match looks.  I also knew quite well that he was my own son but there’s nothing like scientific confirmation of it.  So I logged out of my kit and logged into his to see who he matched.

Not being as wealthy as I was when I purchased my own test, I only had Family Finder results for my son. I had of course researched his tree, but had in places accepted the research of other relatives.  One of them I know to be very meticulous so I had not checked, but quite recently I learned that he had done exactly as I had – there was at least one branch of that tree which he had accepted on faith, not being his area of especial interest.

My own family is obscure enough, but at least I had one branch of long term Tasmanians and one branch from New South Wales.  Tasmania is a rather quiet and isolated state and not so much in the world.  It is expensive to cross Bass Strait and not always a pleasant journey, so for many decades the same families tended to intermarry.  For greater variety, someone from the south might marry someone from the north.

As an example – I grew up in the far south, in the Huon Valley.  We went to Hobart roughly once a year.  Hobart was truly the Big City.  Many drivers in my home town had never driven in Hobart and when a roundabout was installed in one southern town in the late 1990s, many many drivers did not know how to use it and confusion reigned supreme!  It was quite something.

Growing up down there, I went to Hobart occasionally but Launceston in the north – well, that was just too far to contemplate.  260km – the roads were not too good and there was just no need for a trip like that.

A pity, because the Midlands Highway in Tasmania is an adventure.  It’s still one of my favourite drives.  Knowing Tasmania’s history as intimately as I know it, I have some idea of how all those towns came about, their reputations, their difficulties and their prides.  The old colonial road still exists in places, either beside the current road or in places as part of the walking tracks which can be found throughout Tasmania.  You can still see the cobblestones laid by convicts at times and the bridges they made.  When I was a child, the old milestones were still there on the road sides, in miles although kilometres as the standard measure came in before I was born.  There were also horse troughs and the wrecks of old inns.

Some parts of Tasmania have not changed from the early years of settlement.

Some parts of Tasmania have changed very little through the years and give a tantalizing glimpse into the past.

This is only partly a digression.  Tasmania through my childhood was a place lost in time.  This only changed in the late 1990s when so many Tasmanian institutions began to be administrated from the state of Victoria, resulting in a very sudden modernisation – no doubt necessary but I can’t help missing the old pockets where one really did ‘step back in time’.  I think that experience also helps me with my family history research.

I am surprised that I don’t have more DNA matches within Australia, but I’m only surprised by the lack of matches on my mother’s side.  New South Wales was always bigger, more cosmopolitan, more international.  I have not really expected matches on the paternal side.  Sarah was a pleasant surprise but of course she had left the state.

My husband’s family are entirely local to Tasmania.  His father came from the town of New Norfolk, which was settled very early on in the history of Van Diemen’s Land.  His mother’s family came from the northwest, from a little place called Forest which was also established quite early. Between us, with my Huon ancestry, my husband’s New Norfolk side and his Forest/Stanley side, we have most of Tasmania covered.

I expected very few matches and I wasn’t surprised.  Well, I tell a lie – there weren’t many but there were actually more than I expected.  My son had 16 pages total.

The breakdown was similar to my own:  he had a connection to my kit – predicted to be his parent.  He had four matches at the 2nd-4th cousin level, and a page and a half of 3rd-5th Cousin matches.  The rest were more distant.

Now, I thought my own match situation was bad, but my son’s is even worse.  Of his four close cousin matches, one was Jennifer the unresponsive, one was John my 3rd cousin through Annie McLeod, and the two others were clearly on his father’s side.  One came with a good gedcom, the other with about three names showing.

I’ll call them Simon and Walter, not their real names.  Simon’s tree was as extensive as my own but no match found.  What was perhaps worse, the ancestors came from all over the British Isles and all the same counties as my son’s ancestors.  More than that – three came from the same little towns, while two more came from Tower Hamlets in London – this tree was like a replica of my son’s but with all different names.

Just to clarify – it isn’t a replica, I’ve located most of Simon’s ancestors in the UK Census and the vital records.  They just happen to have all come from the same places.  I sent an email.

As for Walter’s – three names and no dates or locations.  I emailed him also.

Then I uploaded my son’s tree to Gedmatch and settled in for a good browse through the pages.

My Genealogical DNA Test Experience – X Matches

This subject has suddenly become topical in the DNA email lists and I considered holding off until I learned more from the experts on the list, but I think the fact that I am completely at sea with this type of match has its relevance.  It’s been six months since I received my test results and I still don’t know what to think about X Matches.  I’ll explain where I’m at.

On FtDNA when I list my matches, there is a small dropdown panel at the bottom of each match in the list, showing further details. This panel provides many interactive options including listing ‘In Common With’, showing what other tests that kit has taken eg YDNA or MtDNA and giving their basic results.  I can select the kit to compare in the chromosome browser.  It shows the longest block on which I match this kit, and finally tells me if this kit is an X-Match or not.

I can also use the ‘Relations’ sort box at the top of the screen which by default is set on ‘Show All Matches’.  If I change this to ‘X-Matches’ it will show me only my X-matches.

This is a potentially useful field.  I have only potentially received DNA on my X-Chromosomes from just over half my matches so if I can confirm an X-Match, I can immediately eliminate nearly half my ancestors in determining the MRCA.  In theory.  In reality, it seems that X-Matches are highly prone to being IBS, and that large segments can come down basically unbroken from WAY back.  I have not proved this either way yet, but I do have some potential connections on my non-X lines which show as X-Matches for small portions.  Nothing concrete – hence my confusion.

Being female, I received an X chromosome from my mother and another from my father’s mother through my father.  There is still a bit of confusion out there about this, with some pieces of writing stating that the X-chromosome only comes from the mother.  They were probably written by men and therefore perfectly correct as far as they went. Men get only one – from their mother.  Women get two – one from their mother, one from their father’s mother.

I have four children – three boys and a girl.  My three boys only received their X-chromosome data from me.  My daughter received one from me, one from my mother-in-law through her father.

I had two to pass on – one from my mother, one from my father. Which portions of my two that went to each child will be different.  It is very doubtful that they received the same thing.  One might have received more from my mother, one more from my paternal grandmother.  So even though my three boys all received their X-chromosome from me, it won’t be identical.

We can see, given that coming from a female – male – female – male etc down that line, the X-chromosome does not recombine when coming from a male to his daughter.  It might be a unique combination of his mother’s and his paternal grandmother’s, but once the man has it, he passes it on to his daughter’s in its entirety.  It takes two to recombine.  Hence the longevity.  X-chromosome down that female – male – female – male – female line is going to take about 10-12 generations to turn into something unrecognisable, not 5-6 like Family Finder.

Family from the past.  A picture very similar to the ones I took of my own children when they were this age.  It reminds me that these DNA segments are a connection to real people with everday lives.

Family from the past. A picture very similar to the ones I took of my own children when they were this age. It reminds me that these DNA segments are a connection to real people with everday lives.

It makes it very hard to work with, but as I said earlier, potentially very useful.  Not only can I eliminate almost half my ancestors in seeking this match, I can also use it to find deeper ancestors – if accompanied by a good paper trail.   A good paper trail is so hard to achieve from maternal ancestors unless they were rich.

Adding to the usefulness – if they are an X-Match, the common ancestor is on one of their X-Lines as well.  We can eliminate half of their tree also.

I created an X-Tree for myself in PAF.  Just a simple tree with myself, my parents, my father’s mother, both my mother’s parents, my father’s mother’s parents, my mother’s mother’s parents – as far back as I could.  Then I looked at my X-Matches to see if I could find a connection.

Of my four closest matches, the 2nd-4th cousin matches, unresponsive Jennifer is my only X-Match.  Of the rest, four of my distant cousins on Prince Edward Island are X matches.  This is way less than half of them and the segment is small, so I think they are probably IBS.  However, until I deduce our exact connection, I have to keep them on the radar.  Maybe I have more links than I knew with that place.

Annie McLeod, my known Scottish ancestor, is my mother’s father’s father’s mother so not an X-match.

Robert Lockley and Catherine Hingley are on my distant cousin Sarah’s X line, but they are not on mine so we are not an X match.

It may be that I happen to have inherited huge X-portions from an ancestor without many descendants and this is why I have so few, but a lot of people are dubious about using X matches to identify ancestry.  I’ll keep studying it and maybe something will become clear.

My Genealogical DNA Test Experience – 5th to Remote Cousins

No, I had not forgotten about these very distant cousins.

Given that I had 4 2nd-4th cousin matches, 17 3rd-5th cousin matches and eight pages of 4th-remote cousins, the remaining matches had to be 5th-remote cousins.

I don’t remember how many of these I had when I took my first look.  Now, I have 28 pages of them.  That’s about 280 matches.

There is still a lot of debate about IBS and IBD.  Yes, I’m sure there is a proportion of IBS among these, but FtDNA only shows matches which have at least one shared segment of 7 cM or more.  There is a total shared segment limit too, but I don’t remember what that is.

When I began, I read up on autosomal DNA – that it was good for the closest six generations, that it reduced each generation, that small segments are IBS.  Now, just a few months later, I have come to see that these are guidelines only.  Some segments seem to be very resilient, as I said in an earlier post.  They pass down in their entirety.  Others are broken up but they were still passed down so remain IBD.   Some testers feel that they have a large amount of IBS amongst their distant matches.

I am not yet convinced.  I won’t really be convinced until several people have mapped their complete genome and identified which ancestor every segment came from, and then compared this with their match list with a very well researched family tree.  There are a lot of nearly impossible factors in there but technology – and genealogical research – improves all the time.

I have and continue to have success with small segments.  I have more success with matches where we share several small segments than one small segment but nonetheless, to me, the small segments should not be ignored.

We may learn down the track that this varies family by family. Some of us may be built of quite ancient segments that stay together like glue and will not break down.  Others might have genetic structure which recombines more quickly.  But I speculate here.  Genealogical DNA testing is very new and I’m sure someone is collecting the data somewhere.

My impression is that some believe they can’t trust the small segments to locate their relations.  Others believe they can.  I’m one of the latter type.  Undoubtedly some of them are IBS but I’m going to have a damn good try at finding a link before I decide that.

A big new land

Australia – A big new land

I realised several weeks ago that I have a better chance of identifying my remote cousin matches than most, because I live in Australia.  Records are pretty good for Australian colonisation.  Yes, we have our brick walls and there are holes in our research, but I don’t think many settled in Australia without finding themselves on some record, somewhere.  A burial record, a hospital record, the electoral roll or a muster.  If we go looking for our direct ancestors who clearly met a partner and produced a child, we’ll find them somewhere.

Of my emigrating ancestors, most were 5 generations back and there are only 32 of those.  Take another step back and there are 64.  There are only 64 people who I need to find to know where my family emigrated from.  I have a couple of exceptions but this basically holds.

Most of my remotest cousin matches have ancestry in North Carolina and Virginia.   There are a few distinct clusters and there are a spattering of others.  So I am looking for a common feature between the immediate ancestors of my 64 at emigrant level, and families from those two locations in the now United States.

Looking for common factors between inhabitants of those states and my own ancestors, I find two.  Poor but able farming families emigrating in search of a new home, and convicts.

Convicts were sent to Virginia from about 1615.  The process was stop-start, with a concentrated portion from 1657-1671.  It resumed in 1711 and continued till 1775.

Between 1775 and 1788 there were only thirteen years.  Anyone researching convicts in Australia will know how often siblings were transported across a ten or twenty year period.  Undoubtedly, in some cases, a convict was transported to Virginia and a sibling several years later was transported to Australia.  The poor and struggling families of 1750 were often the same poor and struggling families of 1800.  In both the US and Australia there was a stigma about convict ancestry.  In Australia too many records continued to exist and the convict era was too recent for us to cover it up.  We moved on, we grew to understand and accept them.

Replica Cottage from early colonisation era in Sydney, New South Wales

Replica Cottage from early colonisation era in Sydney, New South Wales

In the United States, the cover up was more successful.  Many people today, researching their family, will come to a point where an ancestor suddenly ‘appeared’ in Virginia or Georgia or Maryland or South Carolina. Pennsylvania also had a few.

It is explained nicely at Early American Crime.  With useful figures.  There were well over 50,000 convicts transported to the United States in the 18th Century.  Many of them served out their sentence, married and became labourers or tradesmen.  A few generations down, their children told stories of their grandfather who came over ‘to seek his fortune’ or because he was a younger son who would not inherit land in England.

If these convicts were anything like the ones which came to Australia, they were able men and women who had been held back by circumstance and lack of education.  Sure, there were alcoholics and habitual thieves amongst them, rapists and murderers – but there were even more who just wanted an end to strife and hardship.  Those ones married, raised a family, saved up and bought themselves some land and two generations on their children were bankers and magistrates and large property owners.  It definitely happened in Australia, it undoubtedly happened in the United States.

I have now made contact with two distant cousins whom I am sure are connected via convict siblings, but they don’t even want to consider the idea.  So I’ll do some more research and see if I can prove it from the English end.

Other cousins of course have been very receptive to all possibilities.

I notice from various email lists that Ancestry testers have their matches sorted into categories, one of which is ‘Colonial Ancestry’.  I can see why.  I helped a friend trace his family tree within America and the trail died off in Tennessee in the early 1820s.

However, from Australia, I might just be adding a clue for my distant cousins to use.  They connect to one of 64 people, most of whom are well documented.

If they would all put their trees on FamilyTree DNA, I could browse to my heart’s content and follow all possibilities.  I’m a blood hound and ferret rolled into one, when I have the opportunity. In the meantime – I’m grouping, linking and making spreadsheets.

A Thousand Family Trees

I already use a variety of family tree programs.  For a start, I have my personal private very protected family tree on The Master Genealogist, where I keep the true details of all ancestors with notes, sureties, copies of documentation and all living people’s history.  The Master Genealogist on my computer does not ever come into contact with the internet and never will.

Then at the other end of the scale I have my family tree posted on Wikitree, stripped of living people and presenting the facts as I know they will suit all family members.  If someone did jail time for rape or even if someone was a hopeless drunk, you won’t find that fact there – I’ll simply state that they were in jail or had health problems.  The details on Wikitree are my children’s main ancestor lines.  Other sibling lines have filled out as I receive cousin contacts and as other members have connected with my tree, but that one is a call to fellow genealogists to review my research and help me celebrate our ancestors.  It’s accurate, but socially acceptable.

In between, I have MyHeritage’s Family Tree Builder and I have a very large tree hosted by MyHeritage.  This one costs me a packet and every year I consider cancelling my subscription, but it is so useful that every year I find the money to keep it running.  It has become especially useful since I DNA tested.

In Australia, more people seem to use MyHeritage than use Ancestry.  I chose MyHeritage in the first place – well, partially because it was cheaper – but also because ancestor searches located more of my relevant trees on MyHeritage than on Ancestry.  I always get matches on MyHeritage with family details.

I also have a small tree on Ancestry.  I started a basic tree on each but since the smart matches came from MyHeritage that was the one I went with.  I don’t really update my Ancestry tree but I do jump in and check it every so often.  I have made about three valuable contacts through that site.  However, I have made many more through Wikitree and MyHeritage.

Also, I have a growing tree on Genes Reunited which has netted me some contacts that I have found nowhere else.  It is definitely the one for researching ancestors in England.

Almost last of all, I have an ancient copy of Cumberland Family Tree which is how I started out, and I keep a very old version of my tree for the times I need some reassurance that I am moving forward.  I used Cumberland in the early 1990s and when I load that tree, I have all my notes and theories about brick wall ancestors which I have now resolved.  I can remember just how stymied I was and I can see just where my thinking had blocked me from seeing the truth.  It’s quite motivating and it helps me now when my current brick walls get me down.  Nothing is unsolvable. Really.

I now have two more trees to add to this enormous list.  One is on Tribal Pages and I started it in order to learn how to view other people’s trees, since it looks as if trees are private and all you publicly see is a list of names but not their relation to each other.  Someone on there has solved a mystery which I am still puzzling over but I can’t put their list of names together to figure it out.  I sent a message to the person who made the tree but lately no one is replying to my emails and I don’t know – are my emails going to people’s spam folders, are they not getting there in the first place or is the person subtly saying they don’t want to talk?  I really don’t want to be pushy so I haven’t sent a second message.  Instead, I built a tree including the branch I am puzzling over in the hopes they will spot it and contact me.

Finally – REALLY finally – after discussion over the ending of support for The Master Genealogist, the TMG email list casually and unofficially reviewed a whole lot of replacement options and one was the very simple and basic Personal Ancestral File Version 5.2  .  I downloaded it out of curiosity and for a basic, quickly up-and-running low space low graphics program, it’s very intuitive and easy to use.  I wouldn’t use it for my main family tree, but it has assisted heaps in my DNA tree research.

This is the tip of the iceberg.  I have many many gedcom files and use them often.

I have many many gedcom files and use them often.  This is the first page of one of my several gedcom libraries. Most of these are not published, they are trees in progress.

As the administrator of the Normanites Project explained, the best way to find a connection is to take your matches’ tree and build it out to find your own link.  This is so much easier than doing it the other way.  If I build out my own tree, I have to check each new name to see if it is in the other tree.  If I build out their tree, I don’t have to do this.  I know exactly who I have in my tree.

Don’t ask me how I know, it’s a mystery to everyone around me.  I have 16,000 individuals in my MyHeritage tree and anytime I spot a name that is in it, I recognise the name as being somewhere in my tree.  It’s an uncanny knack I have which has no use in the world of employment because computers can do it too.  Very useful for visiting large cemeteries, I know which graves to take a photo of.

So now, as well as my own ancestor trees, I use PAF to very quickly build the trees of my matches.  I don’t need anything other than vital dates and locations.  I will add notes which might turn out relevant, so I don’t try to place a man who was born in England into a family which emigrated from there ten years earlier.

I now have 39 pages of matches and still growing.  For each five matches, on average, one comes with a provided tree and two come with ancestor surnames – one of which is the one with a tree.  Three have no information at all.   For the ones with provided trees, I only need to build on the likely connection. Once I have created the tree and entered the names and dates, those details enter my mental database and when I see them pop up in a different matches’ tree, I can build them onto that tree rather than create a new one for them.

I have found the connection between several distant cousin’s trees, but still have not worked out their link to me. However – at least I know which branch I am interested in.  That can be the subject of another blog post.

I needed to explain this to set the scene for the next stage in my DNA related research.