Monday, May 27, 2013

Ancestry Tested My DNA -- What Next?

Here we are with our heap of matches on AncestryDNA. We've reviewed them and made notes, but what next? Where do we start? How can we benefit?

My philosophy is the same as any other genealogy problem: start with what we know and work toward what we don't know. DNA is just another tool in our genealogy toolkit.

Upload Your Tree

First, take the time to put your ancestors into an Ancestry tree linked to your DNA results. Make it private or make it public -- just get it done. In the background, your tree will be matched to the trees of your DNA matches and in time (a lot of time) you will get common ancestor hints. I removed my tree in early May after about 70 days online and replaced it on May 8th. As of now, May 27th, there are still common ancestor hints that have not reappeared.

I also suggest, if your tree is private, that you add any theoretical people so that you might get a match on them. For example, I have a possibility of an ancestor named Abednego Carter. He's now in my private tree, not publicized to anyone, but just hanging out looking for a common ancestor match.

Look for Hints

Check every few days for the common ancestor hints. This is not the same as the "shaky leaf". The hint in the DNA matches is that you have a common ancestor. One day there are two hints and the next day there are three. You won't be notified -- you have to look for them yourself. Use the filter "Has a Hint" and slide the relationship range to both ends. These hints are not perfect. I have one such hint that is actually wrong because the other person has some incomplete information.

Use the Optional Notes

See the little note symbol above with each match? Jot a note in there to remind yourself of what you noticed. It pops up when you hover over it with your mouse.


Starting with your closest cousins and those with shared ancestors, see what they know that you don't. Ask about their sources. If you have information they don't have, share it with them.

One of my 7th cousins had a woman's surname that I don't have. She didn't have a good source, but she gave me a clue to work with. In another line, I sent a copy of a probate packet to a 6th cousin who hadn't seen it.

Compare Matches

See my 2nd cousin at the top of my match list? She and I compared notes on our 3rd cousin matches and found that one of them is in both our match lists. Now we know which of our lines he relates to. We can work with him to identify another generation, most likely in his tree, possibly in ours. Helping him may help us and he has the potential to become another collaborator in our shared line.

Work Near to Far

Work those 2nd and 3rd cousin matches before moving on to the 4th and 5th. If you don't know how you relate to the 2nd or 3rd cousin matches, figure that out. The more you know about generations close in time, the easier it is to work back in time.

Stay Alert, Reach Out, Share 

I was probing a 3rd cousin's information ("Bud") and found that I kept looking at "Tim's" tree for hints, as it was far more complete than Bud's. Sure enough, Tim is in my 5th cousin matches.

It turns out that Tim is the nephew of Bud, which then would indicate that 3rd cousin is not accurate! It is more likely that Bud is a 4th or 5th cousin. So I've mentally set him aside for now to work other 3rd cousin matches.

I also sent Tim a message about a family book which will help him with his research, as his known ancestors are intermarried with mine. He was excited to see his ancestors named, including two generations he didn't yet have. We don't have a common ancestor yet. But now I am watching for his ancestor's surnames, as one of them may be my ancestor. And he will be watching for my ancestor's surnames, as the opposite may be true.

It's Karma

I started by asking how we can benefit from this DNA adventure. I think the answer is in the sharing and collaboration.

I'm reminded of a collaboration from years ago. You all know those lovely pre-1850 census pages -- the ones that are just a series of numbers. I'd been collecting them for a puzzling branch of the family. A county-level researcher asked if I could identify a couple of women for whom he had a maiden name, but not parents. I was able to place them in the family based on a pre-1850 census. Without him, I never would have found names to match the numbers. Without me, he would not have identified parents. We had very different parts of the puzzle, but together we solved it.

I believe that when we help others, others will help us. Those of us who are further along will help those coming behind. Together, we'll all move forward.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Organizing AncestryDNA Matches with My Sixteen

If you're working with AncestryDNA results, you have what is called a heap in computer terms. It's a pile of data that can't be easily searched.

So I've decided to do some of my own organization, using my sixteen great-great-grandparents as a starting point. I'm using Excel to list the matches, but other spreadsheet programs could be used as well. In fact, any method that works for you is better than no method.

I sorted my matches in relationship order and then filtered to see only those with common ancestor hints. For each match, I capture enough information to be able to know how the person relates to me and I color-code it to match the colors I assigned to my sixteen.

I include the great-great-grandparent number (1-16) where the common ancestor can be found. For very close matches, there are multiple choices -- I just chose one. I also note that there is a match and the degree of the match (2nd cousin, 4th, 6th, etc). The Ancestry user name and the administered by name, the tree name, and the surnames that match also go into the spreadsheet. I also add any notes from reviewing their tree. In the future I will add a column for chromosome matches once I start working with that data from

After including all the matches with hints, I changed the filter to show all matches and began working down the list in relationship order. I assign possible numbers and colors where I think there is a possible match. I  finished all estimated 4th-6th cousins with available trees and had about 70 matches in the list. I have now started into the 5th-8th moderate confidence matches.

Notice the little down arrows in each column. I've added Excel filters so that I can select and review a set of data by family branch, surname, or even words in my notes.

As an example, using the filter on surname, I can see just my matches with the surname Alexander in their ancestor list.

I hope this gives you some ideas about managing your own AncestryDNA match list.

AncestryDNA Frustrations, Features and Alternatives

Today I've been having some challenges with AncestryDNA not performing well. So I searched Twitter for tweets using hashtag #ancestrydna

The recent tweets are very interesting and lead to a number of informative blog posts! I'm glad to know other users are using the Beta Feedback button to tell Ancestry what we need. And I'm not the only one saying that AncestryDNA has a long way to go. Ancestry is promising a search tool this summer for our DNA matches, thank goodness.

But even more exciting, I learned about another DNA tool -- a free tool. Check out this comic strip:
Find New Ancestors with DNA! (

I've now signed up at and have uploaded my AncestryDNA data. The site is having problems due to overwhelming demand from frustrated AncestryDNA users. They estimate that I may have match data in about two weeks, but I'm sure that will depend on when they fix the issues.

I'm looking forward to seeing the DNA match results from GedMatch. I'm hoping a couple of my cousins will join me at GedMatch so we can see how well it works.

My Sixteen

Over at Genea-Musings, Randy Seaver wrote a post a couple of years ago about listing our sixteen great-great-grandparents. If you reach no other milestone in your genealogy research, I encourage you to know your sixteen.

It's been my goal for many years to complete my sixteen with both facts and photos. Recently that knowledge has come in handy. I'll tell you why in the next post.

Sad to say, I don't have photos for many of my sixteen and likely will never have them.

I've numbered and color-coded my sixteen like this. The top four are all Swedish, so I picked colors from the Swedish flag. The rest are random colors.

I'll see you in the next post where I use my color-coded sixteen with AncestryDNA.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Online Privacy and Safety -- Emotional Safety

Emotional safety is the most difficult of the online privacy concerns. It includes freedom from embarrassment and consideration of others' feelings.

Some of us may remember the story of the man who used a gun to shoot squirrels in his attic. We loved the story of how he shot holes in the ceiling, but I would guess he was very embarrassed that his wife shared it online in a public forum.

I have a photo of my grandfather where he was a bit less dressed than he would have liked in a hospital gown. I would never dream of sharing the photo on a scrapbook page that I posted online.

Some people are just very private, including my significant other. I'm not perfect at honoring his wishes, but I do try. My friend Cheryl hides some of the faces on her scrapbook pages to honor the wishes of her family members.

Scrapbook pages and social media are simple to manage compared to family trees. Online trees are a minefield of privacy concerns. I don't have all the answers by any means, but I do try to honor the wishes of any family member who asks.
  • There is the cousin who swears "that marriage never happened!"
  • The great-uncle who wants his first marriage hidden so as to save his second wife's feelings.
  • The cousin whose father wasn't her father but thought he was.
  • The cousin who wants to be removed from the tree.
  • Those adopted in and those adopted out.
Fortunately I don't post my entire tree online and it does not automatically synchronize to any online service. That makes it simpler to manage these requests. I  heavily use the notes area about such people and their relationships. I set family relationships to show adopted versus biological relationships. Some last names are shortened to just the first letter. I might even replace the name with the word Private or Living and place the name into the notes area. Each secret is documented in the to do list so it can be revisited after people pass on.

Adoption can be tricky. The most important consideration is the feelings of the adoptee, the birth parents and the adoptive parents.

Assuming all parties are in agreement, those who are adopted into a family can be shown as any other family member. Generally the birth parents would have no say in this scenario.

Those who are adopted within the family should be able to be related to multiple parents. That will depend on the desires of the family and on the capability of your software. Here is an example of how I can document a woman who was adopted by her stepfather. I can choose to hide either relationship, if desired. First the birth father is shown, then the adoptive father.

Lastly, how to show those adopted out of the family is, I believe, the hardest scenario. The feelings of the adoptee and the adoptive parents must take precedence over those of the birth family. I've dealt with this case by starting a separate tree for such a person. It is not shared online at this time.

I hope this series has given you some ideas about protecting your family and yourself in your online life.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Online Privacy and Safety -- Financial Safety

Whenever you share online, whether it's a scrapbook page, a family tree, or through social media, privacy needs to be on your mind. I was recently asked about sharing part of a family tree that has some privacy issues and it is a very complicated subject.

Over the next three days I will share my thoughts about online privacy in three areas: financial safety, physical safety and emotional safety.

Financial Safety

You probably know the information to help protect yourself from identity theft. But what about your children, siblings, cousins and parents. Can you be revealing information that could lead to their financial lives being compromised?

Thanks to the genealogy explosion, mother's maiden name is no longer a good security question. When you have the option to pick another security question at your bank, do that. Advise your children and siblings of that, also. I never reveal my city of birth or my real birthdate. I lie like a rug about my birthdate except when it is legally needed.

Review your security settings frequently on Facebook to be sure your privacy wishes are being honored. If you use other social media where that information might be available, monitor that, too. And be mindful of what you post about your family members.

If you post a family tree online, make sure that birthdates for living family members are not showing. A former in-law posted family birthdates in the format 4-5-67. Ancestry did not understand that format and so revealed information that should have been private. Have a friend or relative check your online tree.

Look over your scrapbook pages before posting them and hide critical information. Here's a sample where I hid a relative's maiden name. Both mother and baby were still living at the time I posted this online.

Paisley Paper Kit from ClubScrap

It's not possible to prevent all identity theft. Just don't make it too easy. Hopefully, the bad guys will move on to someone who lets it all hang out.

Online Privacy and Safety -- Physical Safety

The information you post online through social media, scrapbook pages and family trees may jeopardize yourself, your family, your friends or your property.

A friend once "checked me in" to a location without asking. As it turned out, it was not a big deal, but I did ask that she not do it again. You might wonder why. Who really cares if I'm at the LSS for the evening?

If I shared my travel plans, it would reveal to would-be thieves when my home might be vulnerable. Checking in from a ballgame or a trip out of town would indicate my potential return.

But property theft is not the only concern. What if I had a stalker or was trying to escape domestic violence? Revealing my plans or current location could be dangerous to myself and those around me.

My cousin's husband works with sex offenders. What if one of his clients found his name in my online family tree and learned the names of his wife and children? Could their safety be compromised? In this case, I include him and his children with just the first letter of the last name, while my cousin is, of course, identified by maiden name only.

Another example is a child in foster care who lived briefly with my daughter and granddaughters. For the safety of all concerned, her face was masked in all scrapbook pages where she was featured.

Generations Digital Kit from ClubScrap

It's not possible to know all the safety concerns of everyone in our lives. When in doubt about sharing information about others, please ask.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mappy Monday -- Location Counts

When researching an ancestor, knowing where they lived can be important to identifying both them and other family members. Maps are a wonderful tool for location, when they can be found. I had a find in a series of 1875 newspaper articles, but needed to use a map to see if my ancestor was the man identified.

Was George Fostler, an old German tenant farmer who found gold, my ancestor, George Vossler? Combing through three newspaper articles, here are the clues:

  • Published July, 1875
  • Old German tenant on farm
  • 3.5 miles west of Decatur, IL
  • Has boys
  • Lives on the Springfield Road
    • Lives on 88 acres purchased by Kepler from Martin Forstmyer
    • Limited ability to speak English
    •  Mention of John Hostetler

    Where did George Vossler live during the 1870 census, five years previously? We see that George Fossler is living next door to John Hostetler, both in Decatur Township, Macon County, Illinois. He has several young boys in his household and he was born in Wuerttemberg. Already, without a map, it seems like the same man. Having all these clues, I needed a map, which fortunately I already had collected. The newspaper told me where to look, something I had never known before.

    This Decatur Township map is from 1874, about four years after the census and one year before the newspaper article. This map was available on microfilm from the LDS Family History Centers and recently showed up on an old map website, also.

    The regular layout of square miles in Illinois makes it easy to see that 3 and a half miles west of downtown (the black area) is near the west edge of Decatur Township. Working with the full-sized map, I looked along the road to Springfield and was easily able to find M. Forstmeyer, with 87 acres next to J. Hostetler. Israel Gring was above Hostetler on the 1870 census and the map shows some of his property on the other side of Hostetler.

    All clues taken together led me to the conclusion that George Vossler had indeed been misspelled as Fostler, similar to the misspelling on the 1870 census. The map validated that my assumption was correct.

    These old landowner maps are a wonderful resource. Be sure to look for them as you research farmers and landowners in your family.

    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Simple Saturday

    It's just simple to pick Simpson. 

    That was the gist of a tongue-in-cheek email comment I received on my previous post. Unfortunately, when researching family history, simple is not always right. With the two-men / same-name problem, simple is a word that just does not apply. Interestingly, we also learn far more about our families when the research is difficult and we delve deeply into time and place.

    If you have this sort of problem, it's essential to examine every piece of evidence and try to assign it to the right man.

    If I were to ignore the Ancestry users who chose Simpson Alexander as the father of Thomas Jefferson Alexander, I would not be doing thorough research myself. Although I've studied this problem for over 10 years, it was important to see what everyone else has found.

    Revisiting the Ancestry public trees, I looked at the sources cited for Jeff, Simpson and other family members. I found not one shred of evidence that was new to me. The most often cited sources were "that person said so" and census records.

    Using a census record is acceptable, but when there are two conflicting census records, choosing one and ignoring the other is incorrect. You can't just ignore it as an inconvenient truth. Also, remember that a census record is not a primary source. So by disregarding census records and other users as sources, there is no evidence. None.

    What evidence does exist?

    One key record has recently come online for our use. Jefferson Alexander's error-filled death certificate names his parents as Sampson Alexander and Beulah Ann Nix.

    You say, well there's your proof -- no need for further debate!

    Did you know that a death certificate is not considered a primary record for the birth of the deceased? If the informant is a parent, it's more likely to be accurate than when the informant is a child, sibling or spouse.

    In this case, the informant is his wife, Rebecca. The errors on the death certificate include Jeff's first name and his birthplace. Those glaring errors then make the entire document suspect and leave his parents names still open to debate.

    In the absence of any other evidence, this is the one record we have found to rely on. Interestingly, a few of the Ancestry users had attached this death certificate as a source, yet kept Simpson and Delilah as the parents.

    Now we learn that Sampson is the simpler choice, but is he the right choice?

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    DNA Endgame? Maybe Not!

    There's a lot of buzz in the genealogy community right now about DNA and that trend is not going away. A recent technology article at The Verge predicts that DNA will end genealogy research, as we know it, within the next twenty years. It makes sense that DNA genealogy will change how we research and document our family history, but I don't see it ending the hard research.

    Picture my granddaughter, 40 years from now, deciding she wants to know about her heritage. She gives a DNA sample to the premier testing company and within minutes she receives a pretty printout of her family tree. But think about what's on that chart. Where did the information come from?

    That's right. You got it. The family tree of tomorrow is born from the research that we and our cousins are doing today and sharing with companies and organizations such as Ancestry, Family Search, My Heritage, and many more. The accuracy and completeness of our research will be critical to future generations.

    I decided today to gather some statistics on one of my longest-standing puzzles. The two-men / same-name puzzle is often very hard to solve and this one is made even more difficult by the previous generation.

    We have two cousins named (Thomas) Jefferson Alexander born a year apart, with fathers Simpson and Sampson. The fathers may have been twins, brothers or cousins. My ancestor married Rebecca. But who were his parents? Jeff and Rebecca had many children, but not a one was named for grandparents.

    On today there are 30 public trees and 8 private trees showing Jeff with wife Rebecca and the right death date. There are perhaps 20 others with a death date and no wife, or with no death date.

    Focusing only on the first 38 trees, 39% have no parents for Jeff. I applaud those researchers for not taking the easy route!

    By far, most researchers have chosen Simpson as the father. Only one has chosen Sampson.There is one record that strongly suggests Sampson is the correct father, but it's a secondary document. Yet it is the best source known today. My own "no parents" is changing to "Sampson".

    What tree will my granddaughter receive in 40 years? Will it be Simpson based on "votes"?

    DNA may definitively solve this puzzle someday, based on the wives of Simpson and Sampson. For now, continued research in obscure record sets is the only way to unravel this tangled tree.