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.

Gedmatch How To

Since I last blogged I explored Gedmatch. It was simple (and free!) to use and I highly recommend it. Here’s how:
First watch the Youtube video Gedmatch Basics. There is no handout but you really don’t need one.
I had already created an account on the site but if you haven’t, you can make one as you’re watching the video.
Once you’ve logged in to Gedmatch, look on the right side where you’ll upload your DNA files. I had one 23andMe and one Ancestry to upload and compare.
If you’re not sure how to get your DNA files, don’t worry! The video and the Gedmatch site will direct you to the provider and step you through downloading it to your computer and then uploading it to Gedmatch.
Now you’re ready to analyze what you’ve uploaded. Not all features are available immediately but that’s okay, what you’ll be most interested in is the 1 to Many which compared shared DNA to everyone who’s uploaded on the site and the 1 to 1 which compares two people. I was interested in 1 to 1 as I uploaded my son and my results.
Your options to view the results are position, graph or position with graph. I chose position with graph. I like seeing the color comparison; my son preferred the position table only. See the picture at the top as that shows what you’ll see for position with graph. The yellow denotes the match from person 1 to person 2 is half, the green are full matches. There’s a lot of green looking at all 22 chromosomes and the rest yellow as our relationship is mother-son.
Check the bottom of the data to see the estimated relationship, how many segments matched and the largest matching segment.
There are other analysis tools available which I haven’t checked out. I plan on doing that when I get my daughter tested as I’d like to compare her to my son.
DNA offers continue this week – Ancestry and FTDNA both have promotions for $69.00.

We’re still waiting for hubby’s results to be returned from 23andMe.

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.