Even on Vacation Genealogy Abounds

I’m back from my dream vacation in Peru.  Ever since I was in the 3rd grade, I’ve yearned to travel there thanks to a National Geographic for Kids article.  Finally got the opportunity and even though it was a bucket list item and not for genealogical purposes, I’m sure you’re not surprised that genealogy related happenings occurred.

Our guide, Washington, related on our first meeting that he was 50% Incan and 50% Spanish, known as a mestizo.  He introduced us to one of sixty remaining shaman who lives in the Andes and speaks Quechuan.  Thankfully, Washington was an awesome translator as the shaman doesn’t speak Spanish or English.  Washington learned Quechuan as his mother’s side has passed it down for centuries.  The shaman had his DNA done and reported he was between 96-98% Incan, depending on the test.  Nice reminder that the test pool determines the percentage, even in the most remote areas of the planet!

One of our stops was to visit a cemetery in Cuzco, pictured above.  Families may “rent” a burial site and if the rent is not renewed or the space purchased, the body is cremated and interred in another portion of the cemetery.  Families visit the cemetery often and remember the dead by displaying memorabilia from their life in a niche in front of the coffin that had been plastered into the assigned space.  Items for purchase – such as flowers, vases, alcohol in tiny bottles, and career related articles – a small truck for a former truck driver, for example – may be purchased by vendors lined up outside the grounds. 

Remembering ancestors is so important to this culture that high school honor students are selected to intern in the cemetery to serve as helpers to families who have come to visit their loved ones.  As young people, they climb the ladders to change the flowers, tidy the memorial and clean the glass that keeps out the dirt.  Washington translated for us a conversation with one of the students who was hoping to earn a spot in a technical college to study tourism.  He demonstrated how he takes care of a niche. 

As a genealogist, I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries so I guess it was not surprising that I recognized Washington’s surname shortly after arriving.  I asked him if he was related and he said he didn’t know.  I then asked if his surname was considered common.  He said it was not.  I recommended he ask his mother about the relationship as he had mentioned, as the family matriarch, she knew the family’s history.  Made me laugh when he said he often wondered about the relationship; just like clients in my area who never think to ask until it’s too late.

The Inca’s probably had a written language, however, most records were destroyed by the Spanish.  If you’re looking to discover your lineage, the oldest records will not be found in Peru.  Just like the oldest records from Florida and Cuba, where I traveled last summer, the earliest documents were returned to Spain. 

Why You Should Share Your DNA Results

I have uploaded by DNA results to several sites and you could benefit from doing that, too.  The reason is simple – think about why you tested with the company you chose.  I tested with 23andMe because I wanted to find out the amount of Neandertal ancestry I  carry and that feature wasn’t available through the other major sites (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com).  

Some folks may have selected a company based on pricing.  Others may have received a kit as a gift.  In the U.S., Ancestry.com commercials are everywhere but that’s not necessarily true in other parts of the world.  You stand the greatest chance of maximizing your DNA results by uploading them to sites that accept results.

Last week, I received an email from MyHeritage.com that I have several new DNA matches.  Typically, they are 3rd to 5th cousins that I’ve connected with in the past.  This time, was different.  Luckily, I recognized the surname as one of my maternal line’s great grandmothers of which I have scant information as she had died young in childbirth.  

Immediately, I clicked on the “cousins” tree which only contained 10 entries, most of which was private but I could see the geographic region and I knew that this proved promising.  I wrote the cousin an email and was happily surprised when he responded a few hours later.  We wrote back and forth all week.  The irony is that he lives just a little over 100 miles from the homestead but has no knowledge of the family.  Why?  His grandfather had relocated the family during World War II and never spoke to his children about the family’s history.  The grandfather died a few years before the cousin I was corresponding with was born so he could never ask him directly.  There is now only one elderly relative, in his 80’s remaining.  He plans on taking my family stories to the elder.  I’m anxiously awaiting his knowledge.  

No telling what you might discover from connecting with a family member across the pond!  DNA matching makes it easy and inexpensive.  

My Latest DNA Results

Recently, my St. Patrick’s Day Ancestry.com special DNA deal results were returned.  I had tested with Ancestry years ago prior to autosomal’s availability.  When the price for autosomal dropped, I decided to test with two other companies to gain access to their testing population and opted to have my children test with Ancestry.  I decided to purchase the Ancestry test because the price was right ($49.00), I wanted to go back one generation further than my children could do in search for my Morrison and Adams brick wall lines, and I wanted to play with Ancestry’s new DNA feature, Thru Lines, without having to wade through my husband’s side that my children inherited.

I’m pleased to connect with one Morrison and five Adams’ family members.  Although this certainly doesn’t resolve my brick wall it does support the direction I was going in with my research.  I suspected that my Edward Adams was the grandson of Sylvanus Adams of Sussex County, New Jersey but not being able to identify Edward’s father, I couldn’t prove it.  My hunch was due to the interesting male name of Evi.  After Edward died intestate in Perry County, Ohio in 1822, an Evi Adams living in the area served as administrator.  Evi died a few years later and I never was able to find his father, either.  Evi was about the same age as Edward so I surmised that they were either brothers or cousins.  There were several Evi’s in Sylvanus Adams’ lines before and after him so I felt strongly that Edward’s brother/cousin must be related somehow.  DNA seems to be showing that’s correct but I still haven’t found that one document that’s out there somewhere to prove it.

Although I’m pleased with the results I can understand how people who are new to genealogy and DNA give up after getting their results.  I know that the ethnic percents are only as valid as the pool used to compare findings.  In Ancestry’s case, I’m 51% German.  I don’t know how that’s possible since I would have gotten half of my DNA from my mom, who was full blooded Croatian and half from my dad, who was a mix of German, Irish, English, Welsh and Scotts.  Ancestry shows me with NO Irish, English Welsh or Scotts.  According to Ancestry, I’m only 4% French.  23andMe had me as all French and no German. 

I not only understand the pools from which the sample was compared differed, but the history of the areas.  My dad’s people were from the Palatinate, the German-French area that experienced bloodshed for years and went back and forth between the two countries. So, am I French or German?  I realize I’m a mix of both and I’m fine with that.  If I didn’t understand how this works, though, I would be totally confused. 

Recently Ancestry got into trouble with their latest DNA commercial.  I believe their well loved commercial about the man trading his lederhosen in for a kilt should have been an eye opener.  I’m thinking that man needs to test elsewhere to get a fuller picture of his ancestry. 

Growing Your Genealogy with Living Family Member Interaction

Zen needed

Sometimes, you just have to practice self control when you’re around your family.  (‘m referring to the living ones and not the death ones who left no documents or photos behind.)  I bet, as the family historian, you’ve encountered some of the following situations:

  • They just make one excuse after another for not going into (Fill in the blank – attic, basement, closet, storage facility, garage) to retrieve the (Fill in the blank – birth certificate, Bible, photo)  that you desperately need yet…
  • You receive a frantic call at an inopportune time wanting to know if your family is related to a celebrity
  • Your family expects you to help them for FREE join a lineage society
  • Even though you’ve shared all the discoveries you’ve found and ignored the glassy eyed bored looks you’ve gotten in return, they want some arcane piece of info on some distant ancestor because someone at work or some show on TV made them think about that story you told, only you have no knowledge of what they’re talking about because they’ve jumbled different people and events together in their minds
  • You’ve bought the DNA kit, helped them follow the simple instructions, mailed it back for them and monitor it and they don’t believe the results (even though your DNA and theirs is a close match)

Those are my top 5 pet peeves and over the past holiday season, each of them raised their ugly heads.  Two of the above became the most problematic.  

The first situation was the result of Ancestry’s recent upgrade of their DNA results.  With the old results, one family member showed more Swedish than anyone else in the family.  As a genealogist, my take on it is “So what” as we all know that the percentages are fluid since they’re based on the pool tested.  As the pool grows, so the results change.  I have explained this in the past but I guess somehow I’m not doing a good job.  In my family’s case, the updated stats shifted the percent slightly making the former number 1 in second place and the the former second place in first.  No big deal, right?  Evidently it was.  Instead of just asking for my take on the change, the newly placed number 1 decided that the results were questionable and so purchased a test from a competitor.  Of course, the competitor’s pool was different and the results varied but in this individual’s head, those results were more valid (because they hadn’t been updated yet).  Since the percents of test two were even less than the first test results, the individual became upset at all the ‘misleading info and the waste of money.”

It was time to take a deep breath.  I ignored the waste of money part since I had paid for the first test and the individual had gotten a deep discount on the second test.  I brought up my own results from several companies and showed how the results vary and again explained why.  I don’t think it got through any better than the previous times I’ve explained but it did end the conversation on a positive note.  

The second situation was a family member who asked me to write down the birth and death dates for two ancestors.  When I did, I was informed that I was wrong.  I had to bite my tongue to not respond, “If you know the information why are you asking me?”  Instead, after a pause, I asked if the individual wanted a copy of the birth and death certificates.  The response was no.  I then asked why the information was being questioned.  The answer was it didn’t seem like it had been that long ago when the individuals died.  Sure, as we age, time seems to go much quicker.  In this situation, I owned the problem as I jumped to the conclusion that the asker doubted my research when that wasn’t the case at all.  

Family can be a help in our genealogy quest – not just with gaining names and dates of ancestors but in showing us character areas where we need to grow.  

Interesting News on Life Span


I read 2 articles this week (Thanks to the NEGHS Newsletter) that at first look appeared to be unrelated but as I processed the information, realized that they were indeed related. The first, Life span has little to do with genes, analysis of large ancestry database shows by Sharon Begley clearly surprised me. Not having a medical background, I assumed, wrongly it appears, that genes were a much stronger indicator to longevity. The article is also interesting in that the data analyzed most likely included my people and yours, if you are an Ancestry.com member. I have no problem with my tree info being shared for research purposes but if you do, and you didn’t take the time to read the disclaimers when you were signing up, you need to be aware that your information is being used by third parties.
The second article, ‘She was like a second mother’: the German woman who saved our Jewish family history by Simon Finch drove home to me how fortunate my family has been in leaving areas of unrest in the nick of time. Those that bravely fought for freedom, from Jacob Wilson Parrot,the First Congressional Medal of Honor awardee from the Civil War and my first cousin three times removed, to two Purple Heart recipients (WW I and II), George Bryant and George Willard Harbaugh, my husband’s grandfather and uncle, all made it home safely.
Family mortality has always interested me. Aside from the occasional accident, such as my great grandfather Frank Landfair falling off a train platform, to my Great Uncle Francis Earl Landfair, being struck my lightening while standing outside talking with friends, I attempted to deduce longevity by averaging the prior three generations of family members, taking into account gender, and adding two years for men and three for women to account for medical advancements. This seemed to work for both my maternal and paternal sides. I guess my data set was too small to make an inference.
I’d be interested to hear if you’ve looked at your ancestor’s longevity and drawn any conclusions. Let me know if you have!

Why Sharing Your DNA is Important

There has been much controversy lately regarding law enforcement’s use of DNA results from public sites to solve crimes. I’ve even had a Client who requested the removal of results due to media coverage. Here’s my top five reasons to keep your DNA public:

You’re reconnecting with close family that may hold the key you otherwise wouldn’t ever uncover
You’ve gained collaborators who care about the line you’re interested in learning more about
You gain health information that you otherwise wouldn’t obtain so you can make better lifestyle changes, if needed, to enhance your quality of life
By sharing your information, you’re being altruistic in helping others
You’re leaving a footprint for future genealogists
I understand the cons. No one likes to snitch on family but the real truth is that withholding your DNA results is not going to alter people who make poor choices need to make restitution for their actions. The serial killers who have recently been outed continued to make bad choices that negatively affected others. If DNA results had been available years ago, think of how many families would not have suffered the loss of a loved one.

My long time readers will know from past blogs that my family has made some really awful choices – abusive behavior and law breaking readily come to mind – and I’ve found that other families I’ve researched have a few bad apples or black sheep, too. All humans share DNA, obviously some more closely than others. Just because you share DNA genetically with someone who committed a crime does not make you more likely to do the same. Hiding your DNA is not going to change their actions at all.

No one appreciates Big Brother nosing in on you and your loved ones. A few nights ago, however, the importance of using technology to catch a criminal was really driven home to me. Because their is currently an open police investigation I’m going to be vague in details. Suffice it to say that we were able to possibly prevent a future homicide due to a Fitbit, security cameras and a cell phone record. Giving up a little bit of privacy for the common good of a community is the right thing to do.

If you’re thinking about removing your public results, seriously think again. The information you withhold may save a life.

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?

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.

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!