DNA Has Changed My Habits…and not for the good, I’m afraid!


I just came to the realization that DNA has made me a lazy genealogist. Here’s why…

I have made public several trees that are quite large. The reason for their size is because I once did surname studies – I tried to link all of the Leiningers, Harbaughs, Duers, Kos[s]s, Landfairs and Kuhns in the U.S. from an identified gateway ancestor. I want contact from far flung relatives as I don’t know these folks personally and needing closer relatives input, I made the trees public.

Due to the many places I’ve placed the trees online, their size, and my weekly blog posts, I get over 500 comments weekly. Granted, many are spam, but quite a few are serious inquiries.

Before DNA, I would go to the tree mentioned, search for the name provided in the inquiry, review what citations I had and then respond.

Since DNA, I find myself instead responding with my own query – Have you had your DNA analyzed and if so, what provider did you use and what is your profile name?

Last evening, after sending the same question repeatedly, it hit me that this is a seriously lazy response to well meaning folks who’ve taken the time to contact me.

My intentions were never to be rude but I’m afraid that’s how it’s appearing. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was the recipient and wasn’t into DNA. I queried colleagues in my local genealogical society and they think my response is acceptable but I’m not so sure. What do you think, readers?! Would you be offended if you emailed someone for more information and received a question in response?

Genealogy Mysteries – The Unclaimed Dead


Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in genealogy encounters missing ancestor information. Although women are more often found in this category due to changing surnames when they wed or a lack of surviving documents due to limited citizenship rights, men, too, often simply disappear into thin air.

Lately, after seeing the Disney movie, Coco, and spending last month traipsing through the Central American jungles in search of Mayan remains, when I get back to my tree I’m more driven then ever to discover why and where my disappearing family went. That’s my current research focus – I’ve identify 10 individuals with missing death dates/places and I’m on the hunt to narrow down information.

Unfortunately, the missing continues even today. If you’re interested, a volunteer organization of which I’ve blogged about previously, Unclaimed People, assists coroners in reunited the recently deceased with extended family. The organization’s motto, Every Life is Worth Remembering, is powerful.

Recently, I came upon the following article, Trail of Ashes: A Local Man’s Work to Restore Identity to the Unclaimed Dead. It is a must read!

1. Photo by Lori Samuelson, a rural unnamed cemetery in Quintana Roo, Mexico, 15 March 2018.

More Nickname Identification Help

Hit a brickwall because of a family pet name? Nicknames are sometimes the reason why we can’t make progress on our family trees. I’ve written previously about matching nicknames to legal names – see Knocking Down Nicknames.

Recently, Niyi at Findnicknames.com asked me to let you know about the site’s Nickname Generator, which consists of a database of various nicknames. I’d like the site to create historical nicknames, such as Mary – Molly, but it is a fun place to go if you’re in need of a little help in creating a new millennial moniker. Enjoy!

Brit Speak


My DNA results showed I have much more Brit in me than I ever thought. If you, too, had this finding and were surprised by your results, you might want to have fun with this BBC “quiz” Do You Have a Secret British Accent?
Apparently, mine is East Midlands. I don’t know if that’s because I spent my youth in the northern U.S and the rest of my life in the south resulting in a blended accent. In my travels, people can never identify where I originate. Or, perhaps, I’m harboring deep down ancestral roots from the East Midlands where my family did originate in the Leicester region in the 1600’s.

Blimey, this is ace barmy! (Translation: Wow, this is amazing crazy!) So give it a try.

Marrying Your Half Sibling? It’s Possible in this Brave New World!

Last week, I wrote about MyHeritage’s backing of a study recently published in Science. One of the questionable findings was that the number of cousin marriages decreased after 1875 due to changing societal norms.

After reading the recent article, Sonoma Teen Tyler Sievers Discovers 20 Half Siblings, my first thought was marrying a cousin wasn’t such a bad thing when compared to possibly marrying a half sib (you didn’t know was your half sib). Sure, that’s not what happened to Tyler but the possibility of that occurring is greater today than anytime in the past. Tyler’s (birth) father donated on both the east and west coast. That means, he has a population of children on both sides of the U S and so far, only 20 have been identified. It’s not far fetched to believe that these children could meet and fall in love. Their mom’s selected the father based on information provided that they liked. It’s not a stretch to think that they would have other habits, beliefs, and commonalities in their raising of the resultant offspring. People tend to hang out with those like them and in sharing friends the circles increase. Social media makes it even easier. Online dating even more so. Thus, an increase in half siblings finding each other, marrying and having children is a real possibility

This got me thinking of what the family trees of these children would look like. I scoff when I see a chart that has a family with 20+ children but I guess in the future, there could be fathers who do have great numbers of children.

Perhaps, in the near future, a blood test with DNA analysis will be required before a couple weds.

Shame on You, MyHeritage


Last week I blogged about MyHeritage’s special free offer for assistance to adoptees who are interested in finding their birth families. I was also pleased that in the past few days, MyHeritage announced several other improvements – their DNA Matches are now 1-to-many instead of 1-to-1 enabling more connections and if you are a member of the LDS faith, a new synch with FamilySearch.org. These innovations are positive and important to the genealogy community.

Unfortunately, their latest “scientific” data analysis that was recently published in Science, is hogwash. You can read about it here and here. I have several problems with the study:

“The tree is based on data assembled by roughly 3 million genealogy enthusiasts who have identified the familial relationships of more than 86 million individuals” the key word here being enthusiasts. I’m enthusiastic about many things but that does not make my attempts at the arts, dance, cooking, etc. well done or accurate. Using inaccurate data does not provide an accurate result. If the results of professional genealogists were used I’d be more inclined to believe the findings.

The study’s authors claimed their data was accurate because they cleaned it. “The researchers found that on average there was a 2% error when listing a person’s father, and a 0.3% error for a mother. They also found that about 0.3% of profiles included clear mistakes such as a person having more than two parents, or someone being the parent and offspring of the same person.” Removing the obvious errors does not mean that the resulting information is correct. Did they check to see the validity of the remaining source citations? Actually, were there any source citations? Did they use DNA? No, they did not. After eliminating the obvious mistakes they took the remaining data an analysed it. That is a major mistake. Anyone can place any info online but that does not make it factual; I would think a computer scientist would be aware of that.

The study is clearly biased and Eurocentric. First of all, only users who have placed info on the website are included. The majority of the sites users would most likely be middle to upper class individuals from the U.S. who have access to a computer. Most of those individuals are not people of color and most would have European ancestry. So, duh, they’re going to see this result “By comparing people in the system with 80,000 death records from Vermont spanning from 1985 to 2000, the authors also found that the people included in their family tree were not any more likely to be rich or poor than the general population. They were, however, much more likely to be white.” Did they know that 96.7% of Vermont is white?1 Are they aware that people who inputted the information were probably middle class as Vermont’s sizable middle class population grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010?2 Making conclusions based on faulty data is irrational.

One of their “findings” was that social norms more than increased modes of travel led to Americans marrying unrelated individuals, ie. someone other than a cousin, after 1875. The time period they were exploring was 1825-1875. For 40 of those 50 years, slavery prohibited large numbers of people from using any form of transportation to go a ‘courtin. Native Americans were increasingly subjected to a life on a reservation. The Irish potato famine contributed to large numbers of very poor individuals scraping together the fare for passage and would settle down in the large cities, like Boston and New York, where the ship landed and they stayed until they could earn enough to relocate elsewhere. Only after becoming established in their new homeland did people have the opportunity to move from Chinatown, Little Italy and other ethnic neighborhoods that had provided support to the new immigrant. And let’s not forget the Civil War during this time period. Unfortunately, the authors excluded all of these important influences in their study. The social norms did change by 1875, thus allowing more movement and along with the increased modes of transportation, migrations farther from place of birth to marry did occur. Claiming analysis of their data cobbled from Geni to reach this conclusion is laughable.

I first read of the study on one of my genealogy list servs and then friends and family began to contact me about it. Here’s my analogy of the Geni database. Imagine asking every kindergartner in a private school in the U.S. what their favorite ice cream is. Now take all of their favorite flavors and extrapolate the findings to every other kindergartener – those in public, charter and home schools. Now take it further and apply it to every individual in every state. Without including other groups, you cannot draw a correlation between the private kindergarteners’ results and others. I would say it was simply silly but the scary part is that the study is being given press by legitimate media outlets on both coasts. If the headlines and the story explained that the most novel finding in the study was it is one of the first to explore free crowd sourced provided information I would be okay with it but that is not what the headlines state.

One outcome I am applauding is that I understand some folks are concerned that their data was used in a way they had not intended. INMHO, that is their own fault for not reading the fine print of the Terms of Service. This is the beginning of the use of large crowd sourced data. If you are uncomfortable with your information being used then it’s a wake up call for you to take the time to read the company’s rights without merely clicking the box to accept. Yes, it is boring and time consuming but important.

I am extremely disappointed in MyHeritage. I expected better from an organization that has been making such positive strides.

1 “% Vermont white” abcnews.go.com, accessed: 4 March 2018.
2 “%Vermont middle class” http://publicassets.org, accessed: 4 March 2018.

Adoptee? Here’s A FREE Opportunity for You!

I received the following email this week and wanted to share it. If you are an adoptee or knows someone who is that wants help in finding information about their birth family, then keep reading…
“MyHeritage is excited to announce a new pro bono initiative — DNA Quest — to help adoptees and their birth families reunite through DNA testing.
As part of DNA Quest, we are giving out 15,000 MyHeritage DNA kits — worth more than one million dollars — for free, with free shipping, to eligible participants.

MyHeritage has set up an advisory board of top experts in the fields of genetic genealogy and adoption to guide and support this initiative on a voluntary basis. The advisory board includes: CeCe Moore, founder of The DNA Detectives; Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist; Richard Weiss of DNA Adoption; Richard Hill, DNA Testing Adviser; Katharine Tanya, founder of Adopted.com; Brianne Kirkpatrick, founder of Watershed DNA; Pamela Slaton, investigative genealogist; Leah Larkin, The DNA Geek; and Susan Friel-Williams, Vice President, American Adoption Congress.

Participation is open to adoptees seeking to find their biological family members, or anyone looking for a family member who was placed for adoption. Preference will be given to people who are not able to afford genetic testing, and to those who apply first. The first phase of the initiative is open to U.S. residents, involving adoptions that took place in the U.S. Additional phases may be considered in the future based on the success of the first phase, which begins now. Future phases may include other countries as well as additional circumstances, such as children of sperm donors and non-paternity events.

Adoptees and family members searching for their biological relatives can apply for a free MyHeritage DNA kit at DNAQuest.org through April 30, 2018. Participants will be selected, and their free DNA kits will be shipped to them by the end of May 2018. Results are expected as early as July 2018. The DNA Quest website includes additional information about the initiative, and a detailed section with answers to frequently asked questions.

Those who have already taken a DNA test with another company are invited to upload their DNA data to MyHeritage for free and participate in this initiative as well.

We invite you to share the link https://www.dnaquest.org with all your followers, to reach and therefore help as many people as possible.”

I do feel it is necessary to put out this caveat: The information you gain may be difficult to deal with. Make sure you have strong supportive individuals in your life to talk with or seek out professional help. Once you take the lid off the can you CANNOT put it back on!

Another Duer Synchronocity!

I’ve written before about the odd experiences I’ve had when I research my Duer line (to read – type Duer in the search box on my website GenealogyAtHeart.com). I just had another one…

Earlier this month, someone found my Duer info that I’ve posted in numerous places online – my website, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, FindMyPast.com, and emailed me as he is a descendant of John P and Susannah Miller Duer. We’ve been exchanging emails and he has been in contact with another distant cousin who has had DNA tested through Ancestry.com. She compiled a very nice DNA chart of the descendants of John and Susannah.

On Friday, I received an email from a third distant cousin who is trying to find info on one of John’s sons, Joseph, who has been rather elusive. At the same time she was emailing me asking about additional info, I received the email from the first cousin with the chart made by another cousin who just happens to be descended from this Joseph.

My goodness, that’s just weird!

My descendants have tested through Ancestry (I did 23andMe), so I logged on and just found another distant cousin who recently tested. I emailed her to include on my interested in Duer research list.

It wouldn’t be seem much of a coincidence since I’ve written extensively about the Duers and I have so many public trees out there in internetland. What makes this odd is after close to 200 years, I get 2 emails from descendants who haven’t been aware of each other on the same afternoon. I just love how technology has enabled us all to reconnect!

Genealogy Reminders from Coco


If you haven’t seen the Disney movie that came out last fall, Coco, then you must do it soon. I’m not the kind of person that watches the same shows again and again but I have seen Coco 3 times. Here’s why I think Coco is important to genealogy and will help you with your research:

Customs – the story takes place in Mexico on the eve of Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Even though my family never celebrated that holiday, we sure celebrated many others. Think back to your own childhood and identify customs that your family practiced. Did Aunt Marge always bring a special dish? If so, ask why before it’s too late. I regret not writing down the words in Croatian that my grandparents said before Christmas Eve dinner. I know it was brought with them from the Old Country but unfortunately, that custom is now lost to me.

Photo clues – One of my favorite parts of Coco is the altar of photos. I don’t have that layout but I do have a family tree of photos on the wall in my office. Those photos are of couples going back 5 generations. Around the tree I’ve placed pictures of large family gatherings to include more of the extended family. I also received as a Christmas gift a metal tree that holds smaller photos. I’ve placed pictures of many of those couples as infants on this stand alone tree. By seeing the “big picture” you can often identify people in other photos that were considered unknown.

In Coco, the main character, Miguel, accidentally discovers a displayed photo had been altered and the missing person is critical to his story. That part of the film made me laugh as my family does the same thing Miguel’s family did! I inherited some photos from a deceased second cousin and one of them was torn vertically to remove someone. I’ve never been able to find a copy of the intact photo but from the dress of the remaining individual, it appears that it was taken before a cantakerous divorce. There’s a story behind every missing person in a photo and it pays to try to uncover it.

Making Wrong Assumptions – Like Miguel, I’ve been down the wrong trail of who I thought was family. Aided by spirits, he was able to uncover the truth. You don’t have to hire a medium to find the answer – simply take a DNA test. One of my husband’s cousins is doing a Lazarus project on a line through Gedmatch. I’ll be writing about it soon but in the meantime, if you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s trying to “raise the dead” by comparing the living’s DNA. The results can help you insure you’re researching your direct family lines.

FAN Club – Miguel learns all about a neighbor of his great grandfather and that connection with his family is a key to the story. What I especially like about this genealogy tip is that the connection isn’t an immediate neighbor or made through a religious organization, such as being a baptism sponsor. This connection is career related and sometimes we overlook that. Checking out union records, membership in business associations and even competitors in an industry could provide you with a wealth of information about an ancestor’s life.

Family Stories – We all have our legends and just like Miguel’s, they get convoluted in the retelling. To separate the facts from fiction in yours, first write down the story as you remember hearing it. If possible, ask another family member to tell you what they remember of the story. There will be some differences and note those. Next, research to see if there were records for the event mentioned. Newspapers, court documents, and even almanacs can help you determine the factual basis of the story. Getting the correct story may help you find that missing marriage record or place of death so this approach is well worth the effort.

Uncovering Buried Memories – The most poignant part of the movie for me was when Abuelita identifies her father, Miguel’s great grandfather. Miguel is so gentle when talking with his senile grandmother and to get information before it’s too late can’t be stressed enough. I interviewed my maternal grandmother and mother before their memories became difficult to access. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded it instead of taking notes. If you haven’t interviewed your older relatives plan on doing that soon.

Our Gifts – Miguel loved music while the rest of his living family did not. His genealogical journey helped him understand where his talent came from. By looking deeper into your family’s history, you’ll uncover much more than just birth-marriage-death info – you’ll discover people you wish you’d met and others who you’d love to understand why they made the choices they did. Some people we can closely identify with, others, not so much. They’re all a part of us and we’re all connected. Like Miguel’s family, we need to make peace with the past so the future can be brighter.

Helix Results Have Arrived


I got the results of my Helix-National Geographic DNA test back this week. I had sent it off the day after Christmas at the same time two family members mailed their samples to Ancestry.com. Ancestry had the results back 3 weeks ago so I patiently waited my Helix analysis.

If you’re planning to test with Helix, please know that you will not discover any matches – these results take you back thousands of years instead of the past few generations. I purposely wanted to see if the findings were similar to the mitDNA Haplogroup results I got about 8 years ago from Ancestry and more recently, from 23andMe. They were basically the same and also confirmed my Neandertal ancestry that 23andMe had found last summer.

Alas, I had no Denisovian which I suspected I might have since they were known to be in the Siberian/Mongolian/China regions. My thinking was my eastern European genes might have come from way east in the distant past but I was wrong.

My favorite part of the results was the interactive web timeline. It’s a nice touch to have pictures of all ages of people and the countryside pop up with the description of when your ancestor resided in the region. Think National Geo Magazine and you get the idea of how well done this is. The migration pattern is also clearly shown and as I’ve blogged about many times, follows the family lore that’s been passed down to me. (If I could only figure out why my family can’t get the stories of the last 100 years right but can remember things from thousands of years ago I will never know!)

You do not get to download your chromosomes to upload anywhere else. I didn’t need that as I’ve already tested with companies that provide that result but that may be important to you so keep it in mind.

My family thought the link to genius was the most interesting result. Personally, I thought it was meaningless as the connections are far removed. Hubby thought it was just phenomenal so, shhh, I bought him a kit for Valentine’s Day. It was on sale and even less expensive than what I paid for it at Thanksgiving. I figure he’ll get the results back by his birthday so he can gloat over his genius cousins. My prediction is that we’re going to have similar findings since our lines have crossed several times in the last 300 years in various parts of the world.

One of those “geniuses” and they qualify how they came to define the word, was of course, Marie Antoinette who shows up in every DNA test I’ve ever taken. I’m thinking I should probably investigate exactly where that connection is so this summer, I’ll be heavily researching my Croatians which, at the time my ancestor’s resided there, was Austria-Hungary. Marie was born in Vienna, Austria. My maternal lines were in the military for generations so I suspect they traveled throughout the region. For displaying valor on the battlefield, they were titled and that’s where I’m going to start my research.

Funny, for years I’ve had the stories and tried to validate them by uncovering the facts. Now I have the DNA facts and I’m trying to find the story. Genealogy upside down!