The Field of DNA Just Lost a Founding Father


If you’ve had the pleasure to swipe or spit to collect your DNA for evaluation, you most likely anxiously awaited the results. Perhaps you were trying to discover your birth parents or you were hoping the findings would put to rest the family tale of someone having an affair and therefore, the rest of that line really wasn’t blood related.

More and more individuals, however, are also using the results to get a better picture of their possible medical issues in the future so they can make positive lifestyle changes now. I never stopped to think about the tireless unnamed individuals who have diligently persevered over the years for us to benefit from their work.

Sure, you’ve heard of Watson and Crick and perhaps unacknowledged, Rosalind Franklin. You might also think about the names of Nobel Prize winners in the field of genetics. There are so many others, though, who made significant contributions and one has just passed.

Dr. Arno Motulsky was a genetic pioneer who died this week at the age of 94. His story is amazing; as a German Jewish child trying to flee the impending Holocaust to his eventual landing in the United States, he pressed onward living a long and productive life.

As someone interested in both family history and the science of DNA, I found his obituary of interest. You can read it here.

Thank you, Dr. Motulsky, and rest in peace.

Genealogy Is Not For The Faint of Heart

Yesterday was our local genealogy group’s Family History Support Day. We had a wonderful turnout – larger than ever! The free event matches people with no genealogy experience with a researcher who can help them get started or provide ideas to overcome a family mystery.
A few of the folks I helped were stunned by the results. The DNA testing companies now include a warning but I’m thinking all genealogists might want to do so. Uncovering family secrets is often hard to deal with.
Here’s the 5 pieces of info I uncovered that I had to share with visitors that left them rattled:

1. Cherokee Princess – Her question – What was the name of my great grandma that was a Cherokee princess? A great uncle told the woman that because they were of Native American royalty, they escaped the Trail of Tears and remained in South Carolina. First problem with the legend is that South Carolina wasn’t one of the 9 states that fell under the Removal Act. Most of that region’s Native Americans relocated to Florida and formed the Seminole Tribe. Second problem is the law didn’t exclude any group so even if she was related to a Native American leader, aka “royalty,’ her family wouldn’t have been permitted to remain. Third problem is the Trail of Tears was in the early 1800’s so the family member involved would have been more generations back then a great grandmother. I identified on her maternal line her great grandparents; they were all born and died in South Carolina and were all identified as Black. I recommended DNA to verify if she has Native American ancestry.
2. Only Child – Her question – “My parents divorced when I was small and my mom and I moved from Florida where I was born to New York where I grew up. I think we stayed with a relative in New York but I was small and don’t remember. How can I find out who we stayed with as my mom is deceased and I’m an only child.” Lucky for the woman, this wasn’t difficult to find as she’s in her 80’s so she was in the 1940 US Federal census. What she initially failed to tell me was that she had changed her birth name under which she was enumerated. I first looked for her in New York but didn’t find her. I then looked for her in Florida but she weren’t there. I then did a search without a location and still couldn’t find her. I then looked using her mother’s name and voila – found them in South Carolina (yes, there was a lot of people from South Carolina and Georgia yesterday which isn’t surprising since that’s all the same temperate zones and farmers migrated between those areas). When I showed her the record I thought that the enumerator had mistakenly put her father’s name as hers; that’s when she told me that was her birth name but she had changed it to a more feminine name. I asked about the 11 month old sibling enumerated after her. She was stunned. The sibling had been named after her grandmother who she thought might be the family member they had been living with. I found the grandmother living in the same district with an uncle and his family. I wasn’t able in the short time period to figure out what happened to her sister. She may have died or is still out there having been adopted. It was hard for her to move forward with her initial question since the discovery was made. I found her mother in the 1930 US Federal census living with a family in Florida. The name was familiar to her; it was her great aunt’s family. The cousin had gotten married and divorced and relocated to New York in 1940. Although she wasn’t living with her on enumeration day, it’s likely that was the New York connection. I recommended she get in touch with the woman’s grandchildren as she and her only son are deceased, to see if they have further information.
3. The Reason Grandpa Left Grandma – Her question – “I’d like to find out why my grandfather took my mom away from my grandmother and gave her to my aunt to raise.” This is a tricky question because a family might not have left guardianship records that could tell us what was happening. The grandmother could have been ill – physically or mentally, incarcerated or dead. I didn’t find a death date so I turned to census records to discover where the family was located. Grandma had been born in 1915 in South Carolina. She had told her daughter she remembered living with her parents until right before she started school. That means, she would have been 5-7 years old. The great grandparents and grandma were not found in the 1920 US Federal census anywhere. That’s explainable as supposedly great grandpa was a traveling salesman. The family probably missed being enumerated in their travels. Their circuit was the entire southeast region. I found that great grandpa died in 1922 in South Carolina. I also found that great grandma had another child but it wasn’t with great grandpa – the father’s name was recorded as “DK” (don’t know). That child died soon after he was born in 1921. Although unconfirmed, it’s likely that the great grandparents split up due to great grandmother’s pregnancy from another man. Great grandpa, in poor health and traveling, placed his daughter with his sister’s family to give her stability. The great grandma died in the 1930’s and had resumed using her maiden name. Everyone from that generation are deceased so the real reason may never be uncovered.
4. Darn Those Genes! – Her question – “I’d like to find out about my dad’s side because my parents were divorced and all I know was that he was mean like his dad.” So the counselor in me kicked in to ask her to elaborate on what she meant by the word, “mean.” She said she didn’t remember him but he supposedly was abusive after drinking which he did all the time. I had just begun to try to identify vitals on her father when her cell rang. It was her son calling and by the time she got it out of her purse, she had missed the call. She became quite upset because her son was incarcerated from selling drugs and they could only speak weekly. I asked her if her son was also an alcoholic but that hadn’t been his drug of choice. She mentioned her daughter and adult grandchildren who had no drug issues. She couldn’t understand her son’s life choices. I recommended that when he’s released, the family get their DNA done and upload it to promethease.com. For $5.00 an analysis, the family will be able to identify their health indicators, addiction being one of them. Although genetics alone does not preclude one to make a life choice, it does explain why some have more difficulty then others. She was very appreciative. She had never thought about her father’s influence continuing in his absence. My new genetic slogan – Gone but not forgotten.
5. That’s Not How You Spell It – Her question – “Should I go to Salt Lake City or a library in Minneapolis to find out who my great grandparents were because I can’t find them online? Someone has my family in their tree online but it’s not my people.” The simple answer is – maybe. This woman had a huge binder full of family info which is awesome but the problem was that it was in no order whatsoever. We wasted a lot of time as she tried to find simple information, such as her parent’s vitals. She guessed her mom died in 2011 but it was 2001. She thought her mom had died in one Florida county but it turned out she was in a neighboring county where she had been taken to a specialized hospital. It took us about an hour to get to her grandparents as she shuffled through her binder and would get sidetracked when she came to a picture. Her question then changed to “How can I identify these people?” My advice to her, which I wrote down, was to first organize the binder by generation. Make it into a timeline beginning with birth and going through death of her parents. Buying dividers that were oversized so that she could label the generations for quick info retrieval. I made by hand, a skeletal pedigree chart and explained how to use a group sheet so she could place the group sheet in the front of each section. She had more info, such as death certificates, in her safety deposit box. I recommended she make a copy and include those, too. She was quite upset about the wrong info online. It turns out it wasn’t wrong. She was adamant the surname spelling ended in “son” but the online tree had “sen.” I told her that spelling was optional prior to the last century. Census records showed that her great grandparents did not read or write. Enumerators wrote names phonetically. So, should she go to Salt Lake or Minneapolis? No need to for an answer to the question she had but of course, if she needs to once she organizes what she has.

In five hours, five ah ha moments that shook folks’ core beliefs. Genealogy is definitely not for the faint of heart.

It’s Family History Month


Since 2001 in the U.S., Congress deemed October as Family History Month. If you’re new to genealogy it’s the perfect time to get acquainted with your local society as many offer free events that will help you get on the fast track. Next Saturday, my county group is hosting a get started event at a mid county library. A neighboring county has provided free scanning of heirloom photos and documents, overcoming brick wall help and youth activities to get the next generation involved. How to find these events? Check your local library and historical museums, the newspaper and Facebook.
If you are a well seasoned genealogist then it’s your turn to step up and assist at one of the offered events. Sharing your expertise, I’ve found, is rewarding on so many levels. You’ve exercised your brain muscles and experienced the joy that comes with helping someone solve a mystery. You may even find a connection to your own family!
If you’re unable to attend an upcoming event, you can celebrate in a variety of ways. This year, by posting my husbands, adult child and my dna on several sites, I’ve connected with many 2nd and 3rd cousins I would never have been able to do locally. In just the past 2 weeks, I’ve had 3 photos of my dad from World War II mailed to me. I’d never seen these photos before and would never have viewed them if I hadn’t posted my dna results. Last October, a family member of my mother’s closest friend found me online and sent me a copy of my wedding announcement. Sure, I had one, but it was special to know that someone besides family had treasured it for over 40 years. Over the summer, a cousin on my husband’s side was preparing to renovate and discovered letters that had been sent to her grandmother that were written by my husband’s grandmother. She mailed them to us. I highly recommend having your dna done and posting it but be forewarned – if you aren’t able to emotionally handle the horror that might result in finding out you aren’t who you thought you were then skip the test! Ironic, isn’t it, that Family History Month starts with warm autumn days and ends with Halloween night.
Another celebration idea is to pull out your old photo albums and using a stickee, tab the pages with 12 of your favorite photos. I’ve used them in a rotating frame in my office as they make me smile and put me in the right mood to research that particular line. If you are a paper calendar type, then use the photos to replace the ones that came with it or have a company make one professionally for you. Sometimes you can get bulk pricing with the extras being given as family gifts for the upcoming holidays.
Last week I wrote about heirloom cookbooks. If you checked any you own, make a dish this month that your family had enjoyed. You’d be surprised how the smell and texture of food can bring back an old memory and just might provide the hint you need to move forward with your research.
Three simple ideas for the three weeks left in this month (where is the time going?!) Enjoy!

Genealogical Gems Hidden In A Cookbook

Do you own a treasured family cookbook? I have several from my maternal grandmother and my mother-in-law. We don’t think of these hand me downs as genealogical gems but they are! Take the time to look through each book carefully. I love the dedication that my mom and aunts wrote to their mom. They always noted the holiday – Mother’s Day, birthday or Christmas – and the year the gift was presented.
A dog eared page or starred recipe tells much about the previous owner’s family, as well. I come from a long line of sweet toothed individuals and the favorite recipes of old confirm my sugar cravings.
Sometimes you might find a letter or note that was used as a bookmark. Family relationships and residential addresses can be gained, along with some family gossip.
If you’ve obtained community cookbooks then you may win the genealogical prize find. This type of cookbook combined submitted recipes from members of a local church or civic organization. Not only will you confirm your family member’s name and group affiliation, you’ll also identify their favorite food. Not sure if you’re family member’s cherished recipes were included? Visit vintagekitchenheave.etsy.com and omnivorebook.com. Look for the time period and location where your ancestor resided. For a low price, you might just discover tasty morsels both edible and historical. Bon Appetit!

Hunkered Down with Genealogy

The rain just started pummeling us about 5 minutes ago so sorry – no post today as we’re going into our closet in a minute to ride out Hurricane Irma which is expected to go right over us early tomorrow morning. Backed up the computer on that wonderful little device I got on Amazon during Prime Days (tho I am not really happy with you – Amazon – for your price gouging last week.) The cats must have know cause they found spots in the closet and are cozy right now.
Please send good thoughts/prayers to the peeps in Florida – we’re gonna need all the help we can right now

And More Results…

Last time I blogged about my son’s autosomal dna results being returned so quickly from Ancestry. Minutes after I finished that blog, 23andMe sent me an email that my results were back. We’re still waiting for hubby’s results from 23andMe. All three kits were mailed at the exact same time. I’m not complaining about 23andMe, my results were returned 2 weeks to the day they received them and the original information said results would be back in 4-6 weeks.

Like me son, there was no startling surprises. Instead, it confirmed that I have quite a bit of neanderthal dna which my mom swore we did. I gasped when I saw the numbers. Don’t you hate it when your parents were right?! I wish my mom was alive to see those findings. When I told hubby he was stunned. “How did your mom know that?” he asked. She was always fascinated with them and read anything she could. Back in the day, the thought was there was none of their dna surviving. I would tell my mom that and she would counter that science will find out the truth. Geez! I always thought my mom was interested because most of the excavated sites were in northern Croatia where her parents had been born. She also swore her slightly extended jaw was a carry over from them. Now I have a cave visit on my bucket list.

The rest of the results were exactly as I had expected. Lots of French/German and Eastern European. Those early Persian-Greek roots show up supporting my grandmother’s stories and my grandfather’s gypsy heritage also is visible. I’m so glad I listened when they told those tales. I admit I didn’t believe them 100% in my youth. Seriously, how many families could pass down stories from 2000 years ago but they proved to be correct.

Since I’m an only child and there are no males that could test on my father’s line for 3 generations back, I never had any results on his side. The autosomal gave me that. It’s a no brainer to figure out from where my Great Britain, Scandinavian and French/German was received.

I’m not greatly impressed with 23andMe’s connections to other test takers. I preferred Ancestry’s which shows clearly if another tester had uploaded a tree, how many were in the tree, if the tree was private or public and if a match from my uploaded tree to another tester was found via a shaky leaf. I discovered that most of 23andMe’s matches to myself were recorded as Anonymous and were so old that they don’t even use the site any longer. There was really no one to share a tree with as all were 3-4 or more cousins apart from me. Since I tested my son through Ancestry I could use that feature to make connections which I did.

I created a database in Excel and made the following headings:
Message to
Common Ancestor
Descended Through (this is where the other person was descended and not me)
Date (I sent the email)
Relationship Estimate (such as 3-4 cousin)
Comments (if no tree, how I deduced where the relationship was)

I sent out 50 brief emails to relatives and recorded who I sent a message to on the database. Within 12 hours I’d heard from 25%. I’ve heard complaints that Ancestry’s system is useless since many people do not upload a tree or have a minimal one, at best. I didn’t find this to be a problem for me as I have a very large tree and recognized many unique surnames. Of the first 50 cousins given, only 3 do I not find a connection. Two of the 3 wrote back immediately and we’re exploring relationships now. I could see how this would be a problem if someone was adopted and had no parental knowledge. On a side note, I attended a training in the past week where the presenter made a catty remark about large trees. The trainer felt it was a “waste of time accumulating people.” I agree just trying to collect names isn’t productive but if a surname study was done with citations to prove relationship then accumulating the data is beneficial to making connections.

The coolest thing about my results was reconnecting with people who have emailed me over the last 22 years since I first posted a public tree online. My 4th cousin on the Bollenbacher line and my 3rd cousin on the Leininger side had tested and sure enough, we’re related exactly how we thought. They made those predictions 10 years ago. It’s nice to know that the paper trail matched the science.

The 23andMe result interpretation again mentions Marie Antoinette as my old Ancestry mtDNA had mentioned years ago. Not relevant to me but does correlate with the other test. The new results added Copernicus in the same haplogroup. My son liked that. Since I’m now working in a STEM school I thought that was appropriate.

Now we wait for hubby’s results. In the meantime, I uploaded my raw data to FTDNA and MyHeritage. I’m going to upload my sons and my results to gedmatch, too. Stay tuned.

The Results Are In!


On Amazon Prime Day, I purchased 3 autosomal DNA kits – two from 23andMe and 1 from Ancestry. Seven years ago, hubby and I tested through Ancestry. He completed mt and y; obviously I just could do mt. Ancestry has long since stopped supporting those test results although they are still available to view on their site. Back in those days, I never connected with anyone. My “closest” match was Marie Antoinette of “let them eat cake” fame. I was so unimpressed I decided not to upgrade when autosomal became available.

A second cousin of mine reconnected with me via Find-A-Grave and in our back and forth emails, had tested with National Geographic. We compared maternal Hapogroup and not surprisingly, were the same.

The more I read about dna, which was my genealogy goal this year, and since I am an only child I thought I could gain some additional info on my paternal side by taking an autosomal test. I also was interested in comparing my husband and his sister and then to our children. My plan was to purchase 5 autosomal kits. Sales had come and gone earlier this year – DNA Day in April, Mothers Day in May, Fathers Day in June. Due to our major remodel I figured I’d wait til November and give the kits as Christmas presents, thinking they’d be on sale. You can just imagine the excitement of my family members when I told them this was my plan. (I’m being facetious).

When I saw the price for 23andMe on Amazon Prime Day I decided I’d buy 2 kits for hubby and me since I had read it’s a good practice to compare results from different companies. I had wanted to do the full health tests but they were sold out. Later that day, Ancestry’s kits went on sale with a limit of 1 so I purchased it and offered it to my kids. My son lost the rock-paper-scissors (I am not making this up) so he took the test.

Two days after purchasing, the Ancestry kit arrived and son completed it the following day. The 23andMe kits arrived three days after purchase and my husband and I completed them immediately. Hubby took them all off to be mailed at the same time.

All of these kits were spit kits; our older tests had been cheek swabs. Personally, I like the cheek swabs more as they were quicker to complete.

On Thursday, Ancestry emailed that our son’s results were ready. Although the instructions said it could take as long as 6 weeks, the results were back in less than 2 weeks. I was quite impressed!

The results were interesting but not startling. Now I always knew he was our biological child so I didn’t anticipate any conflicts there. He had a unique look at birth so I knew he hadn’t been switched by the hospital. I just didn’t know if our ancestors had been faithful. I know that sounds awful but I always had a funny feeling that something was not quite right with a family member’s tale. One of my direct line ancestors had gone out west for 6 months. I personally felt that there was a child born out of wedlock but no one would ever confess to knowing more. Reading so many books and journal and newspaper articles lately about DNA surprises I thought I may have one of my own. If my hunch is correct the test results didn’t reveal it, possibly because no one has yet taken a test.

What we found interesting in the results was that it made our son eager to learn about his heritage. My kids grew up visiting cemeteries and old houses that ancestors had lived in long ago. We have many customs and foods that have been handed down, along with things that belonged to those long gone. None of that interests either one of my kids. What hit him was the DNA Matches. The closest match stating it was a 1st or 2nd cousin was his godfather’s brother. He recognized the name immediately and said, “Wow, now I know why you picked such a close family member.” The results were accurate – the individual was his 2nd cousin and we’ve always said our son favors that side of the family more than any other. It’s not just how he looks, it’s what he like and how he acts. He grew up far away from anyone on that side and only knows about them from occasional holiday notes. He is more open to learning about that line now that he has the results. Why? Because he’s the kind of person who is logical, analytical and very scientific oriented and the results proved what I’ve said for years.

The next closest matches were for two other second cousins on his dad’s side. Surnames of third cousin matches were also familiar and a mix of both my sides and his dads. He recognized the names and just kept saying, “Wow.”

The only Community Circle that he had was Pennsylvania which would be his dad’s side. You know I’ve blogged extensively about the Harbaughs and that would be them. Those lines came in the mid-1700’s and intermarried for several generations. It wasn’t until 1869 that they relocated from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

I should have expected the percentages of ancestry to be what they were – predominately Great Britain with lesser amounts of Scandinavia and Eastern European. Back in the day my husband’s results on his y included Chad but our son’s results did not. My husband’s old mt also showed Asian ethnicity and again, this didn’t show up in our son. We’re thinking that was the reference groups that had been used that are more refined now. Also, my husband’s haplogroups did have lines going from those areas.

Yesterday I uploaded the results to FTDNA and MyHeritage. It takes 24-48 hours to get matches there so I’ll write more if anything exciting is discovered.

Was spending $49 worth it? You bet! I’m looking forward to receiving my results soon.

Small, Small World

Disney is right – it’s a small world after all! Just back from my travels through the jungles of Central America with a family member and the similarities I’ve encountered were quite interesting.

First stop was Grand Cayman; our driver gave us historical insights as he took us around the island. The cemeteries, above ground, reminded my of New Orleans. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out if you can’t go down you go up! The colorful island flowers left on graves was a custom that I’ve found everywhere. It’s nice to see the commonality of remembering our ancestors.

Next we visited Honduras which reminded me of the West Tampa neighborhood. At the beach we met a local who told us about his educational journey from the island to the mainland for high school. He received a technical degree in air conditioning but was unable to find work so he returned to his birth island. Sure, wars, religious persecution, natural disasters and limited marriage opportunity influence migration but I’ve found with my own ancestors, it was mostly the desire to find work that created wanderlust. I truly believe that Maslow should have put work as a basic need on his hierarchy. We, as genealogists, need to keep in mind occupation as an important factor for movement.

I love Belize! Any country that only has 5 working stoplights and people with a warm and funny attitude is my kind of place. It was in the jungle, however, where I met 3 guides that shared their love of genealogy. All had had their DNA done. Two were 100% Mayan and one was 1/3 Mayan, Spanish and African. In a remote jungle would be the last place on earth I think I would be talking DNA with someone I met but well, it happened. Their genealogy is oral which is probably wise since we all know what happens when computers crash. In their case, there isn’t electricity close. I wish I could have the capacity to remember my maternal and paternal lines as well as they do.

Our last stop was an adventure at Tulum, Mexico and spending half a day on Mayan land. We had authentic lunches in both Belize and in Mexico and I had to laugh at the staple similarities – chicken, beans, rice, and fruit with slight variations in preparation – different seasonings. When I came back and spoke with family, friends and colleagues I got similar comments which applies to my own family. If your grandmother was known for a specific dish and your mom and you tried repeatedly to replicate it with no success, well, that seems to be a worldwide commonality. I cannot for the life of me make my mother’s flaky apple turnovers. She came up with her recipe because she couldn’t make her mother’s to die for apple strudel. A friend told me she has given up making her mom’s fruit iced tea because she can’t get it right, even with her mom standing over her. The patient guide in Belize gave me the recipe but I bet when I make it, it will not taste as delicious. Guess I’m just going to have to go back!

Genealogical Kindness Needed

Seriously, folks, I’ve had my fill this week of dealing with difficult people. IMHO, life’s too short for bad manners.

I have a very large online public tree on several sites. The reason it’s large is because I’ve done surname studies over the last 20+ years for several lines with unique names – Duer, Harbaugh and Leininger. Taking the last family history book published, that would be 1947 for the Harbaughs and 1973 for the Leiningers, I’ve add all the info into the tree from those sources and then tried to prove the info was correct by adding additional citations. I then tried to update the original works going forward so that family could reconnect. The Duer information was unpublished; I received it from a family historian about 2010.

The gateway ancestor’s for all of these lines died in the 19th century or earlier so some of those included in the tree are far removed from my direct line. I don’t personally know these people. I made the tree public to help reconnect and aid in correcting any errors.

Three times this week I have heard from distant relatives and the comments/emails were rude. One woman told me my tree was confusing her. I offered to help but needed to know what was confusing about it. She said I had no pictures for a person she was interested in. Huh? I understand visual learning but really, you’re complaining because there was no picture.

Later that day, someone posted a comment that they were sure I was wrong about a gateway ancestor because they had their Y-DNA done. I responded to please share and I’d be happy to look further. No response. I wouldn’t have been concerned if the individual had emailed me privately but to post a comment and then not respond when someone is willing to check further is wrong.

That evening, I hit the trifecta when someone commented on another line that he was certain “you must have made this up.” I was taken aback. Did you not look at the citations? Did you not see my comment that mentioned I concurred with other researchers that it was possible two brothers were confused so I included both names as the possible father?

The old adage we can choose our friends but not our relatives applies here! That last comment ticked me off so much that I considered making my tree private. I haven’t done so because I think the good outweighs the few thoughtless individuals.

Thanks, dear readers, for reading my rant. Please help me spread genealogical kindness this week. It’s sorely needed.

I will be taking a much needed vacation so will not have a blog post until I return the end of July.

Artifacts on eBay – A Must Read


I recently read a fascinating story in The Weekly Genealogist, the online edition published by AmericanAncestors.org about stolen artifacts being sold on eBay. The blog, Rare Colonial Documents Found on eBay, originally published by the Smithsonian, is a must read if you search for documents on eBay as I do.

Although I knew that each state has laws regarding record retention, it never occurred to me to search them when I discovered something that just wasn’t quite right. I assumed (ahem, wrongly!) that the document must not be an original or had been disposed by the government and some nice person saved it from a dumpster.

I discovered my several times great grandfather’s indenture records on eBay a few years ago. There were other individuals listed on what appeared to be a court ledger page. The price was steep and I didn’t buy it. I did cite where and when I found it and using the snipping tool, saved a picture of it. The seller was overseas and it never dawned on me to report him/her. Now I know better.