Using DNA Tests to help Find Family History

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-08-03

Most of the over 6 million persons who have had DNA tests done want to know where our ancestors were, just prior to emigration. By now, we discovered the limitations in acheiving this goal of all three. Neither, Family Tree DNA, and 23 and Mecan show you which village or even county, and often not even country where your ancestors originated!

Todays DNA Tests can show you where you have relatives today, who also took the DNA tests and which of those people, may or may not, have always lived in those areas along with their parents and grandparents back to ancient ancestors. A couple of these data base-test sites will also list your DNA match relatives with email addresses of those who have given permission to share their data and email addresses. Of that percentage, some will, in these profiles, list family surnames in their ancestry about which they know something, or will perhaps have a family tree, or both. These matches will usually be no more distant than 6th cousins from you, and cover about 200 years of your ancestry, maybe not even to the point of emigration. Here is why.

You get half, or 50%, of your DNA from your parents; one-quarter, or 25%, from each of your four grandparents, one-eighth, 12.5% from each of your eight great-grandparents; and one-sixteenth, 6.25% from each of your 16 second-great grandparents and only one-thirty secondth, or ONLY 3% from your third great-grandparents. Each generation is roughly 25-30 years. Even being generous and using the higher number, your third great-grandparents, only 5 generations before you, are only about 150-200 years depending upon your own age at the time you are doing the research. At least half of all Americans ancestors who emigrated to what became the U.S. did so 250 to 300 years ago, another two to five generations before what the DNA tests can normally show.

However, this is altered when there have been cousin marriages in the past. In these families DNA is more concentrated and a higher percentage of matching sequences are passed on. In these cases, cousins through families from more ancient generations may show up in the matches.

In my case, I have DNA matches with cousins, with common ancestors more than 5 generations past. I also know from documented research, that some of these matches are precisely because of some first and second cousin marriages in those lines. The biggest surprise was finding two things: (1) my late father's 'pure' Hungarian family had British ancestry about 200 years ago which in some way is related to my late mother, and (2) my late mother's mitochondrial DNA haplogroup (that which she received in a strict maternal line from her mother, maternal grandmother and so on) is NOT west European (despite the fact her maiden surname was Wallace, about as Scottish as you can get). Our haplogroup is J1c2e, a late mutation of a "Black Sea area" group, not the H haplogroups more common to Celts and west Europeans. So oddly, my parents who never knew each other before World War II and grew up nearly 2,000 miles from one another, were distantly related--twice! However, these are DISTANT relationships and not much to go on for finding actual, documented family history.

My husband's Tony's DNA was another story. In his case, it turned out to be fortunate that three of his four grandparents are children of relatively recent immigrants, while Sanford McCormick/McCamick, the one 'apparent' orphan in the family history, who has been giving us research fits, came from his ONLY long-term American grand-parent's line.

Sanford McCormick/McCamick (various county clerks and census takers, and the military together managed to create 10 different spellings of this poor man's name)is a quintessential example of a cholera epidemics era Kentucky mystery. Literacy and record keeping all but disappeared for a few decades in frontier states from a combination of frequent warfare with Native Americans, and at one time the British as well, and serious frequent epidemics from water and mosquito borne illnesses, combined with the rise of two anti-alcohol and stimulants (coffee, tea) religions, Baptists and Methodists. Alcohol and boiling water used in tea and coffee were safer than ordinary well and river water, often contaminated by human and animal wastes. Unfortunately, the U.S. was still in the dark ages when it came to hygiene and sanitation and understanding what caused many illnesses and spread them and two religions developed who prohibited alcohol and stimulants--the two very things that minimized epidemics at that time. With cholera, yellow fever, diptheria, typhoid, small pox, etc. the first people, and greatest numbers of people who died were often the most literate and who saw the most people and touched them or items they had handled daily; ministers, doctors, clerks, teachers, and adult care-givers. Although record keeping began to be restored or increase by the late 1840's in states like Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana, it wasn't mandatory for a time, and was still haphazard.

Thus, poor Sanford McCormick had no guardian records showing how he was assigned to the couple who raised him, at what age, and who his parents were; no records at the time of the assignment by God knows who and how, and none when he reached the age of majority. Normally, when an orphan reached the age of legal independence, there was a record showing this and that his guardian was owed money for caring for him either by the county or the parents' estate, and that the guardian paid, or owed the now adult and independent individual since he had an apprenticeship to his guardian and performed real services as a teen-ager. There were also NO marriage records showing that either of his guardians were related to anyone by Sanford's own last name. Thus, there is no evidence of a guardianship by a dying relative asking another to care for a soon to be orphan. Sanford then disappeared from the census record as soon as he became an adult and we don't know if he hooked up with another relative, or where he was living in 1860, right after he reached the age of 21. We know where he enlisted in 1861 and where he was in 1864 after he was captured, caught pneumonia, and paroled back to the Union by the CSA, and furloughed by the Union for recovery. There is no record, however, of with whom he was living when he enlisted or when he was recovering from his first ordeal. He moved to Indiana right after the Civil War (and a second briefer stint of enduring Southern prison camp hospitality), but there are no other persons with his surname who went with him to Indiana that appear in any records. He had no sons, so we have no naming tradition to help us to identify his father. His gravestone is the one I mentioned in the other article that was photographed with no notes made of where it actually was, and where he actually died. Both his wife and his oldest daughter married twice and we have no idea where any notes or records they had ended up, as in both cases, the families of the second spouse took control of matters at the time of their deaths. Hiring a professional genealogist, and paying some $600 or so dollars to go through about four counties' records, only added to the already copious volume of notes of the process of eliminating all the McCormick (and all the variant spellings) families in which Sanford was NOT born and raised.

Finally a kind of clue appeared to put a chink in this stubborn family history brick wall. It happened when we looked at my husband's DNA matches. A few individuals turned out to be from Kentucky families that had always lived in Kentucky. They even placed that tiny bit of information next to the family surnames in their family. Of the several surnames listed, one, and only one turned out to have a very few marriages,with McCormicks. Better yet, these marriages, of the Anderson family, turned out to be all within one line of the McCormicks who all came from a particular line from Bedford County, Virginia. So, we now have some reasonable evidence from the combination of DNA matches and actual marriage records that there is a definite link between my husband and another Kentucky family and that this family only married into one particular line of McCormicks. There are just a few more "little" problems: almost all of that particular McCormick family I've found thus far is at least four counties eastward of where Sanford McCormick was raised and placed under guardianship, and there are not many on-line records to show who were the children of adult members of this particular line who first arrived in Kentucky about one generation before Sanford was born and where their children all went. That "missing generation" with the fewest records is within precisely the period the fewest Kentucky records exist. Sanford was born between two major cholera epidemics that were only about 14 years apart, and other epidemics raged between those. However, the counties are lightly populated with few libraries. Now, I "only" have to write to about a half dozen county libraries and historical societies in hopes of using the process of elimination to finally identify Sanford's father and learn how and why he went from eastern Kentucky to the center of the state and how Sanford's guardians were made his guardians.

Lady Mary Douglas-Hamilton et al

My DNA Dilemma: Scottish East Europeans

Monaco's Runaway Scottish-Hungarian Princess and more

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker

After four decades of family history research I thought all my remaining 'brick walls' of missing documentation were in my mother's line, I recently decided see what clues were hiding in my genes, and got a DNA test. After reviewing the two best rated companies, I chose Family Tree DNA, both because they specialize in identifying cousin matches and allow people with DNA matches to exchange emails, and because, besides the usual autosomal DNA test, they offer tests and analysis of mitochondrial DNA which we inherit exclusively from our mothers, (as well as tests and analysis of Y chromosome DNA which we inherit exclusively from our fathers). I happily signed up for a package of two tests: autosomal and mitochondrial.

After more than 6 weeks, I finally got the results earlier this month. There were several surprises, but the biggest surprise was not in my late mother's mitochondrial DNA but instead in my late father's in the autosomal genes! I expected no more than 50% Scots and Irish matches, but these results showed 70% British Isles! (or 63% if one subtracts that bit of about 6-9% "unknown DNA.") Either way it meant that I have an ancestor who was very British somewhere in my father's allegedly "pure Hungarian" forebearers, and RECENTLY!

Given the location of the darkest part of this bright, blue blob of British DNA, it's also likely that person was largely part Scots or Scots-Irish. With this unexpected extra percentage understanding the division of percentages each generation, it seems to me most likely that someone who was British, with a lot of Scots or Scots-Irish, came into some line of my father's family between about 1815-1840 during or right after the Congress of Vienna. But Who? How? When? and Why, exactly?

Read More

I began to delve into the history of British-Hungarian relationships and found more surprises. If most people know anything about such relationships, about all they know is that a Countess Rhedey is a 2nd great grandmother or so of the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II and that, about a thousand years ago, a Hungarian princess, became Queen Margaret of Scotland.

Well, there is a middle history.

First starting sometime in the 14th century, Scottish clans who didn't have as much land began to engage in sea trade and to build up mercantile branches of their clans. Scotland traded with the Hanseatic League, which included a port in Poland that often was under the Polish kings, Danzig/Gdansk. Over time, some 25,000 to 40,000 members of Scottish families set up branches in several port cities, and the royal courts fed by those ports. Paterson's History of Ayrshire specifically mentions that, in one generation, members of the Wallace of Failford clan sent, three brothers to the Netherlands, a German port, and to the Baltics (likely Gdansk, as Poland and Lithuania were a joint kingdom from the 14th century onwards). From the late 14th century to the 16th, and the death of the last Hungarian king at Mohacs in 1526, SEVERAL kings of Poland became kings of Hungary, and moved their court from Poland to Budapest. Retainers and merchants, including those who were Scots descendants followed.

My late grandmother's Garai family in Hungary, were appointed these kings' counts palatine, generals and as permanent "bans" (Viceroys) of Croatia, Dalmatia and southeast Hungary, now part of Romania. (See websites such as "House of Garai"). A member of the Polish contingent with a Scottish ancestor could have entered that family. Then in the late 18th century, Poland was completely destroyed, divided between Orthodox Russia and Protestant Prussia, with a third smaller portion being allowed to Catholic Austria-Hungary. Needless to say a number of wealthy mercantile, and noble, Catholic families made their way south to settle permanently in Austria-Hungary. When the Wallaces, and other Scots first settled in Poland, these Scots were still Catholic. It is likely some descendants of the Scots families who remained Catholic made their way south to Hungary, among the Polish nobles and merchants. That's two possibilities for Scots-Hungarian relationships.

By the late 18th century, Hungarians were growing wealthy and making "Grand Tours" of Europe and going to England and Scotland. For its part, the new UK (English) Parliament was noticing and taking interest in Austria Hungary, especially Hungary, as a counter to France. Hungary had long tolerated Protestants. Some noble families such as the Counts/Princes Bathory, who were cousins to the Rhedey, were already Protestant by the mid-17th century. Hungary was also more reform minded than Austria and eager to learn from the UK.

By 1812, the British and Austro-Hungarians were allied to defeat and exile Napoleon and afterwards, the new, post-Napoleon peace treaty for Europe, was drawn up in Vienna over the course of a year of negotiations and settlements. With the three main British diplomats, two of whom were Scots and Scots-Irish, were an entourage about 50 wealthy Scots and English families connected to the three leading negotiators. These people of course engaged in the social scene, the balls, theatre, and music of Vienna, as well as renowned hot springs and baths of that empire, including those located in Hungary. They also found that Hungary had fine wines and still had substantial wild game for hunting, including in the Dunantul, where my families had homes, wineries, and hunting lodges. At least one of them left behind a charming daughter or sister who married a Hungarian aristocrat whose estates were primarily in the Dunantul.

After this period, members of several key Hungarian families, including the Wesselenyi, the Festetics and Szecsenyi, made their way to the UK and spent months and years there, studying agricultural and industrial reforms, horse breeding for racing and bringing this new knowledge, and more British guests and investors home to Hungary. Several thousand British workers, particularly Scots, came to Hungary to help build the bridges, and the later railways, also built by the Szecsenyi and in part with British funds. The first bridges spanning the Danube river were built by the Szecsenyi using their and British investment money and designed by Adam and William Clark of the UK.

Some of them stayed. By the mid 1800's a number of the Hungarian Gymnasiums had English language programs in their degrees, including the one at Esztergom. These Hungarian gymnasiums, were not all just secondary schools. Many offered 4, 6 and 8 year programs, the latter two being college degrees, similar to what U.S. junior colleges and state colleges now offer. The most prestigious was Esztergom, under protection and influence by the Cardinal Archbishop of Hungary whose residence and cathedral were there and who was friendly to the British. Esztergom is where my grandfather attended and finished his degree.

Then came the last surprise.

I knew that my grandfather and grandmother were both aristocrats, that they born and raised in Somogy, and in the northern part of the county. The Counts Festetics were known to both of them, and their lands were adjoining. In fact, my grandfather and his father both were keen reformers in agriculture, viticulture and livestock breeding and met with Count Festetics often during the years the Count slowly developed his palace at Kezthely and where he set up a regional agricultural library and school. Dr. Gyula Fabos, the Rutgers professor, (also a former professor at Amherst in landscaping and landscape engineering), was a second cousin of my father and went to this school, in the 1940's before the communists temporarily shut it down as they took over Hungary.

In 1880, the then Count Tassilo Festetics II married someone well known to Scots, as well as the highest social circles of the UK, the Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton, sister of the 11th Duke of Hamilton! Lady Mary had been briefly married to the Prince of Monaco, and bore his only child and heir! She is the ancestress not only of the current Festetics descendants of herself and her husband, but also the current monarch of Monaco. My Garai ancestors who owned most of the four larger villages and towns east of Kezthely on Lake Balaton and other large properties nearby, my Nyers at Vors and Csurgo, and my Fabos (a black sheep branch of the Szecsenyi), who were at the next nearest and largest town, Marczali and points south and southeast (they owned several pieces of the "great Szecsenyi" estate that had been established just after 1711 to rebuild the southeast Dunantul area after the Turks had been driven out of that area of Hungary for good) were the nearest neighbors and close associates of Count Tassilo and his Scottish born wife, Lady Mary. In fact, when my grandparents married in February 1905, the Count and his Scottish wife were among the first to honor them with a reception, at their palace at Kezthely.

The historical articles on the Dukes of Hamilton and Lady Mary, who became Countess, and later Princess Festetics, note that the Duke of Hamilton himself, her brother, mostly lived in Paris and Baden-Baden, and visited his sister Mary at Kezthely, frequently, often bringing his close friend Edward, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. My grandfather, his father and the Count were close, and at this point I can't help but wonder if there was another reason for this close association, that unknown Scottish-British ancestress in my father's father's family who entered the family between 1815-1840, somewhere.

I would be very curious to know if there is anyone, perhaps in the St. Andrew's Society or the San Francisco Caledonian Club, who knows a LOT about the Congress of Vienna and those several dozen British families who were there, or how to identify them, or has heard an interesting story about a charming sister or daughter of some British (probably Scottish) family who was in Vienna at the time and who married a Hungarian aristocrat, contact me, please. Email is best:

The Germanophiles and those who wanted to retain the absolute monarchy of the Habsburgs were by the late 1820's were, highly suspicious of Hungarian families who were close to the British and advocated reforms. This worsened under the emperor Franz Josef. Long before the communists rose, in 1906, my grandfather was sent into exile by Emperor Franz Josef. Shortly afterward, my grandfather's home was firebombed, and some of the family records were destroyed. My grandmother and uncle barely escaped with their lives and a few belongings and had to live with her family while she waited for her husband to be recalled or to be allowed to emigrate to join him. The Austrian Secret Police were not known for kindness and mercy, and this happened to other families as well. The communists weren't terribly fond of either the British or Hungarian aristocrats when they first took over and destroyed a number of families' and other records. Others were collected and stored haphazardly at the national archives and other places, as happened to the gentleman below.

There are likely to be other British/Scottish-Hungarians who could some day use your help in identifying their own Scottish ancestors, some who came to Hungary with Adam and William Clark, and stayed. One such Scottish Hungarian was lucky enough to know his heritage, and able to find additional earlier records in Hungary, is a Campbell, a senior descendant of the brother of the grandfather of the 9th Earl of Breadalbane, (originally Campbell of Borland). John Breadalbane Campbell, 'came to Hungary in 1873 to help build the the bridges and railroads and stayed.' His great grandson, Huba Campbell b. 1945 of Budapest has been accepted recently as the seniormost legitimate heir to the title of Earl of Breadalbane, by Debrett's Peerage and other authorities. Huba Campbell has the documents to support his ancestry, showing his descent from his great grandfather, John Breadalbane Campbell, and his great-grandfather's ancestors back to Scotland. Huba Campbell grew up under communism in an impoverished and oppressed family. He presently owns his own 'haulage' (trucking) business. (See "The Scotsman," Sunday, 14th March, 2004).


Family History DNA and Tourism

Reconnecting with your Ancestral Home

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Americans benefit greatly by learning and connecting to their actual ancestral history and culture. Both the tourism industries of the U.S., and especially the countries of Europe where Celtic Americans find their ancestors, benefit substantially from Celtic Americans who research and learn their family history, because they often travel there!

Travel indeed broadens the mind, opens the heart and brings people together. When they travel to these countries and meet the people there, they learn and appreciate infinitely more of their ancestral culture than they ever would had they stayed home. Every country should encourage travel, as part of a balanced, diverse economy and to foster and maintain strong positive, international relationships at all levels. When other parts of an economy are changing, or in mild recession, tourism remains, as San Francisco recently proved in the Great Recession.

In recent years, the new industry of personal DNA testing, lead by Ancestry DNA and others, has opened up new opportunities for all nations and US states willing and able to take advantage of them, but there is more that can and should be done to make this new economic boon work better.

As you may know, we have done extensive research on our ancestors and can trace multiple lines back many generations using non-DNA document records. We still have many gaps, and as you can see at right, a few months ago, we decided to do our personal DNA tests, using the Family Tree DNA service. In part, we chose this company because independent reviews found it does a better job of discovering matching DNA and so family relationships, and also gives its clients opportunities to share their email addresses and connect. (Great, and more on this later). More interesting to us were the surprizes in our results.

  1. For Cecilia, who thought her enthnicity was 50% Scots-Irish from her mother, and 50% Hungarian from her father, her test shows 69% 'British Isles'. Her 'Hungarian' father carried 28% DNA from the British Isles! (See 'My Dilemma' Below)
  2. For Tony, who thought his enthnicity was 25% Irish from his paternal grandmother, 25% Welsh from his maternal grandfather, and 50% Austrian from his other two grandparents, his test shows 24% 'Scandinavia'! Were some of Tony's medieval ancestors Vikings?


Tap Roots

It does not take a 300 or 400 years long pedigree to establish the close relationships that interest most people. Most people are not going to want to see people with only a 3% link to them, per se. The greatest interest/priority is going to be the unknown descendants of grandparents', and great-grandparents', siblings, those 2nd to 4th cousin relationships. Recall that from each of your parents you inherit 50% of your DNA, from grandparents (four of them) you inherit 25%, each, from great-grandparents (eight of them) you inherit 12.5%. (See the nice neat mathematics?) An average generation is 25-30 years each. So, the 12.5% ancestor is only about 100-120 years in time and records. Now many people are interested in that one more generation back ancestors to include immigrants and point to their interesting places of origin back in Europe. This means looking for cousins who are descended from a mutual 2nd or 3rd great-grandparent, 125-150 years ago, and these are cousins from before the industrial age of increased travel and urbanization, from a time when cousins married cousins far more often.

This is the most persistent DNA, the strongest, and the type most connected to one's distinct cultural heritage. This the kind of DNA connection that, when you visit the area where it originated, and stand in the village that your ancestor once saw as home, or in front of that ancestor's gravestone, knowing he or she is only feet from you, it can make you feel like you've come home. It sucker punches you in the stomach, buckles your knees and makes your eyes tear up. You feel like you are surrounded by every loving relative and ancestor that ever existed. All the old stories and faded pictures of the past are suddenly real and you understand them, and you know the grand-parents you half-listened to, long ago, a lot better.

It's really not that hard to find just enough documentation to go back 150 years or so. If you have either an subscription or a local LDS library which usually has such a subscription and you know who grandparents were and they were born before 1940, as most were, you can find their unknown parents and grandparents in the census records going back to 1850 and before in the U.S. census records. That gives you all the dominant surnames in your family. The same site has immigration and naturalization records which can give additional information, and links to state and county marriage records to find the surnames and parents of wives/mothers. At that point, you have a list of surnames for 6 or 7 generations to put on a profile and help your cousins find you. You will know in what family the connection exists, and with a couple of emails, how close you are to one another.

For centuries prior to about 150 years ago, when affordable railroad and steamship transportation became available, families stayed pretty much in one relatively small, long-term ancestral home area and kept intermarrying among one another within a radius of no more than about 12-15 miles. This makes some places in the U.S. and Europe, main 'tap roots' for a person, a key part of the foundation of one's being, and cultural heritage, as well as genetic heritage. Prior to about 150 years ago, you are looking at intermarried families, and 'tap root' DNA and ancestral homes. When cousins married cousins and did so repeatedly, there is a closer DNA match that can make it appear that a 6th or 7th cousin, in another country, is a more recent match, because genetically that distant cousin is closer. Understanding this, though, makes travel more interesting and exciting.

America is nation of immigrants who have mixed, over time, with other immigrants from multiple areas in single nations and multiple nations, and our tap roots are where the most intermarriages took place longest, that is, in the oldest and easternmost states of the U.S., the oldest states in Mexico, and in Europe. The chambers of commerce, the governments, the oldest counties and communities will all soon realize this, and if they want the dollars/euros from a tourist economy, then they should be encouraging their airlines, their travel agents, and various types of companies to help facilitate more family history touring by making themselves visible to reconnecting Americans.

Economic Impact

Every part of a family history related tourist visit, brings income to the providers of those services. There are almost 330 million potential tourists in the US alone, and approximately 150 million with 'tap roots' in Ireland, Scotland, & England, and a growing number in Spain. A U.S. couple traveling to Europe to visit their 'tap roots', will likely spend between $3,000 to $9,000 on airfare alone. They will pay between $700 and $1500 a week for lodging. Then there are meals, transportation, history centre helpers, and more. Add up the costs of trips for each and all, and that's a huge amount of money being pumped into local companies and national economies.

Most of us, both of our generation and many of those younger, were raised to reciprocate hospitality. When some member of one's family does you the favor of taking time from their normal schedule to meet and greet you, show you hospitality and play tour guide to help you feel the area in which your ancestors lived, meet other family, etc., you also do as much for them as they will allow, and is agreeable to all, to repay the favor of their time and attention, with a nice gift and paying for a meal out for them, etc. This too, adds to the economy, enhances the visit and Builds relationships.

Besides American tourist dollars going into the tap root countries, there is one other thing. When people of those countries want to visit the U.S., they can also be assured of hospitality and friendship of family in the U.S. to make their own trips more wonderful. It builds more and better bridges, and not walls.

Digging up Relationships

The DNA test results match information extremely helpful in reconnecting with both ones ancestors and living relations, but has limitations. Some are natural, but there remain some solvable problems. It would really help BOTH the U.S. immigrant descendants trying to find those 'tap root' relatives, and the economies throughout the countries where those roots really are, if more people on BOTH sides of the Atlantic would not only submit their DNA for testing, but put a list of surnames of at least the families within the first 6 or 7 generations on the individual 'profiles' to help better establish real family matches. This is something that both the governments of countries, and counties within them, who want more tourism, and the DNA testing companies, should encourage and promote.

The first is created by these very clients. It is not enough to have a DNA match and only the testee's surname. With only the testee's surname, and nothing else to indicate where the two individuals most likely connect, that another party may or may not recognize it. The tests only establish degrees and quantities of matching DNA sequences between all the ancestors of both parties in the match, not the individual families nor the locations which those families shared for a time and actually connected, or the relevant events (like marriages). These details come only if the persons at least list their known ancestor's family surnames! For example, two 5th cousins each have a possible 32 families that establish a significant percentage of matching DNA. If these surnames are known, can either cousin can much more easily figure out where they connect among these many families.

There is second problem in how these companies then sort the relationships based on the quantities of DNA that match. DNA is not attached to surnames. The cousin relationships are grouped, not by individual specific degrees, but groups of degrees. For example: in Family Tree DNA, the groups of relationships in the menu for selecting matches to examine and with whom to possibly communicate, going from closest to most distant, are:

  1. Immediate relationships (parents, brothers and sisters),
  2. Close and immediate (includes the former and adds first cousins and aunts and uncles and grand-parents, and great-aunts and great-uncles),
  3. "Distant relationships" in two groups: 2nd-4th cousins, and 3rd-5th cousins,
  4. Last are "all matches including those with probable relationships" into which fall some actual 2nd through 5th cousins.


BUT the term "probable" is important because these matches have something about them that is different. They tend to be either very distant, actually 4th through 6th or 7th because of cousin intermarriages within the generations that normally establish the degrees/amount of DNA relationships, or there are half siblings in some generation or other which, in a timeline, are actually closer to a party examining the relationships, but because there was an entirely different parent for the half sibling, the DNA is less of a match. One way or another, these relationships and the amount of DNA match are outside of the normal expected cousin degrees of the programming and its mathematical algorithms. Cousin intermarriages and half siblings skew the timelines and make relationships seem either closer or more distant than they actually are in time. Of course the matching programming, based on simply DNA, also can't, and doesn't, show which parent was the shared parent in half sibling relationships, nor which couple in an ancestral line were cousins who married one another. For us, and for most people who are interested in establishing the real degrees of likely relationships in these matches, it really helps to document family members as much as possible, so we have a list of family surnames on our profiles to compare with any other lists given by the DNA match persons on their profiles.



DNA Testing and Family History Research Tutorial (Comprehensive)

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker — recorded and published 2018-02-02

This article was the basis of a live interview on KKUP radio on Friday, February 2nd, 2018, in which host David Stafford interviewed author Cecilia Fabos-Becker.
Click Here to listen to recording of the interview
Click Here to listen to recording of the interview on YouTube

1: Basic explanation: What is DNA testing?

Human DNA Pre-Near Extinction

99.5% of ALL human DNA is absolutely identical. We had a mass near extinction about 72,000 years ago and the small group that survived was closely related. Where there are now two or three islands in the Sunda Straits in Indonesia, was once one big island with the ancestor of Krakatoa--a super-volcano. It blew up and caused extinctions of many large animal species and small and near- extinctions, including the immediate ancestor of modern humans.

Modern Human DNA

This small inter-related species of humans then took over from the remains of other human species including Neanderthals, Denisovans and others that existed, many earlier, a hundred thousand years or more, than our modern species.

Additionally, even counting immediate predecessors, humans are among the newest species on the earth, less than 500,000 years for what we'd recognize as a human related species, and it takes tens of millions of years to develop large numbers of genetic variations in a single species. Tyrannosaurus Rex evolved around 66 million years ago from earlier large theropods, which appeared around 80 million years ago — a period of about 14 MILLION years. This is more than 28 times longer than humans 500,000 years! Most mutations occur at a slow, predictable rate.

DNA Test Terminology

First, to understand DNA test results, when you receive them, you need to understand some of the basic terms and what part of the DNA that is being tested. When the DNA test companies, including those who test only for medical reasons, test for DNA, they are testing primarily for differences between individuals among the last .5% of DNA that is really individual. In popular DNA test results which are done for determining ancestry and degrees of relationships they also are giving people the results of the differences in just that last .5% of the DNA in humans. You are not looking at the whole of your DNA in those results. Why test the 99.5% when it is exactly the same in all humans? That .5% difference is measured in numbers and groupings of single nucleotide polymorphisms, usually called SNP's or 'snips.' (For a detailed explanation, see the National Institutes of Health article here: What are single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)?) For the purposes of understanding DNA test results, nucleotides are blocks of genetic material, four amino acids grouped together with the initials A, C, G, and T. The blocks form chains. A block may start with A, and the next with another of the four, and go back to the first block, or another order of the four amino acids. The average human has 10 million nucleotides. Of that only 500,000 or 1 in 200 to 1 in 1000 are different from one human to another. The 'snips' that are measured have a transposition of two of the four chemicals that are linked in pairs, found in these blocks of chains. Either C will change places with T, or A will change places with G. It's the beginning of a mutation, or an adaptation to something relatively new in the environment. Nucleotides are parts of a gene, and also exist between genes. Scientists have found that when the snips--the unique nucleotide polymorphs--are in genes or immediately attached to genes they can predict a tendency to, or susceptibility for, some illnesses, such as some cancers, and responses to something in a person's environment, and or medicines. Snips do NOT cause illnesses or cancer. The 'snips' occur in groups, particularly within families, and, according to sex within the families

A group of 'snips' (SNPs) linked to a person's parent is called a haplotype. A haplotype is a group of genes inherited together, (from a single parent). It includes a particular group of snips. A Haplogroup is all the people who have the same haplotype. In the hierarchy, above that, related groups of haplogroups can be a kind of super-haplogroup, called a clade. All the groups within clades are related and share a common ancestor thousands or tens of thousands of years ago. For example: my MtDNA haplotype is coded as J1c2e. 'J1' is the clade or the super haplogroup, and represents the oldest common ancestor in all the haplogroups and haplotypes within J1. She lived about 45,000 years ago, somewhere near where the Middle East and the Mediterranean come together. The c2 within the J1 is the haplogroup of related haplotypes, the next more recent ancestor, about 11,000 years ago somewhere in the southern European or islands part of the Mediterranean. The DNA of Otzi, 'the Iceman' has been extracted and analyzed and his MtDNA is also part of the J1 clade and he was from northern Italy. This clade and most of the haplogroups in it, are the oldest with the largest of a small quantity in Sardinia, Cornwall and Wales, the western Pyrenees, including the Basque region, a small area of southern Turkey near Syria and Lebanon., the 'e' indicates the haplotype linked to my mother and those females nearest her, such as her sisters and their mutual mother.

Because haplotypes, haplogroups and clades are linked to one parent of one sex, they are only determined by special DNA tests that are only offered by a few of the popular DNA testing companies. These tests are the Y-DNA test for males, since only males have the Y-chromosome; and the MtDNA, for the Mitochondrial DNA found in both males and females but comes from the mother, and in females passes from mother to daughter, largely unchanged. Women can determine the Y-DNA in their families to determine relationships if their known full brother or father is willing to be tested, or else, failing to obtain that, a paternal cousin of the brother or father. A paternal line cousin will have the same last name as the father or brother. The Y-DNA doesn't change much from father to son, just as the MtDNA doesn't change much from mother to daughter. Over thousands of years, there are small mutations that do occur in both the Y-DNA and the MtDNA but they are few, small and at a predictable rate.

DNA Test Types

There are three main DNA tests. The most commonly used one, the least expensive, offered by all the popular testing companies is called the autosomal DNA test. There are 22 pairs of 44 autosomes in all humans, regardless of whether they are male or female; each pair of autosomes is a chromosome. These are not sex-linked and are called the autosomal chromosomes. The DNA in the autosomal chromosomes can be inherited from either parent's multiple ancestral lines back to the first human ancestors and ancestresses. Most of the popular DNA testing companies only do the autosomal DNA test. Only two or three companies, including Family Tree DNA, do the Y-DNA and MtDNA tests.

The other two tests, Y-DNA and Mitochondrial (MtDNA), are only for the sex-linked chromosome inheritances, Y-DNA for father to son and MtDNA for mother to children (especially daughters) . If you have a brick wall you are trying to break through on only your mother's maternal ancestry, the autosomal test will be less helpful in figuring out which cousins listed as matches in that company's, or any other database, are on that maternal brick wall line, without also having the MtDNA test. The Y-DNA and MtDNA tests are also the only ones that are used to try to predict health. Many health conditions and illnesses occur in one sex or the other, or more so in one than the other, such as hemophilia, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, some autoimmune disorders.

Statistical Factors

Analysis is based on mathematical formulas of probability from past observations and studies of regional groups. Some universities since the 1970's, and particularly since the 1980's, have sent researchers to every continent, and nearly every nation, to obtain samples, war, religion and general politics permitting. However, they have not always been familiar with the history of the nations and regions within nations and the samples are still smaller than they need to be. There are often fewer than 50 samples for large areas within nations, or tribes. Many people have taken statistics and understand that a sample of 36 is considered minimal--for a relatively small population that is presumed to be all about the same in nature. With a minimal sample, of a relatively small population, of say 100 or a few hundred items or persons, the margin of error in a statement of probability is going to be about 4 or 5%. The margin of error in a statement of probability is reduced again when the sample is about 100, then 400 or so, again out of a relatively small population that is being sampled. There is not a reduction of margin of error, though just by doubling or tripling the sample number. However, the human species has a population of 7 BILLION. The total number of all the persons in the three largest popular DNA testing companies databases is only 16 million of these 7 billion and it is not an evenly spread sampling. By far, the largest numbers of test samples come from the United States. So the databases are skewed. Most people who have had a smattering of statistics in a math or science class even in middle school understand that a wildly skewed database of samples is going to have a lot more errors in analysis and prediction--a much higher margin of error.

Also random sampling is valid only when the entire population of a region being sampled is the same, and all the countries in a continent or regions within the countries are the same size in population. If regions differ within a country, then each region needs a decent sample. You also need a greater amount of samples from larger more populous countries. That hasn't happened yet with any company's samples testing program. This is why when a person gets a test the results do not show what countries are in a person's ancestry, only regions, and can't show specifically any districts, counties or towns within countries.

For Native American ancestry it's even worse. The most that will show in the pie charts and tables under 'results' of most testing companies is something like 'North American Native American,' 'South American Native American.' The early university testers did not realize how different regions within nations could be. When it came to tribes within Africa, Australia and the Americas, entire tribes would reject testing and forbid members under the government of tribal leaders from being tested. Thousands of skeletons were reburied in agreements with tribes and governments without any DNA testing every being done--at the insistence of the tribes who believed non-tribal scientists had no respect for the native/tribal peoples and their ancestors. There is one other additional complication for identifying Native American ancestry, particularly in North America. Not all the Native Americans in North America, and possibly to some degree Central America as well, were from North Asia and came across the Bering Strait. Somewhere between 60-70% or so of the first persons who settled in the Americas did come from North Asia and most between about 18,000 to 7,000 years ago. However, it has been proved there was another group that followed the ice sheet edges hunting seals and sea life, from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) that came to north America about 20-25,000 years ago. These people brought a particular tool kit with them that included the Clovis point-a spear point that was finely knapped and had a very particular shape and function. It's found in only three places: the Iberian peninsula, the northwestern most parts of Africa and North America. In North America, the greatest numbers of these points have been found in the eastern U.S., not the western U.S. Canada was still covered with glaciers when these people arrived. The people who came from the Iberian peninsula were a Mediterranean group, with relatives in Northwesternmost Africa as well as the Iberian peninsula. Scientists have called them 'the Solutreans.' They were not blond-haired and blue-eyed but had a Mediterranean complexion and brown, gray or hazel eyes and brown to black hair. Blonde hair developed in Europe only in the last 8,000 years or so and blue eyes are even more recent, only about 5-6,000 years old. The haplogroups and clades of the Solutreans, however, are different from those of North Asia and are still found in Europe today. They are not North Asians. This means some real Native Americans may have a maternal or paternal haplogroup or clade that is not what is commonly associated with Native Americans, a variant of North Asian clades or haplogroups. As if that didn't complicate eastern Native American DNA enough, we now know that the Vikings were indeed in North America and had small trading posts or places to resupply their fishing and exploring fleets. Two sites, including one showing evidence of iron smelting have been found in Newfoundland and a large incised rock off of Martha's Vineyard (which fits the description of Lief Ericcson's 'Vinland') was found and photographed decades ago and recently rediscovered, which was televised on Joshua Gates' Expedition Unknown which is in Viking Runes with the name Lief Ericcson on it and the date 1001. The runes are the type used at that time with the pecular 'spelling' of Lief's name. A Harvard researcher/professor, Barry Fell, found Vatican records indicating fur tributes being paid to the church from 13 churches in what is now the northeastern U.S. and Canada prior to the Black Plague of 1348. It is very likely that some northeastern U.S. and Canadian Native Americans also have Viking DNA from roughly 1000-1348 CE, in addition to the Solutrean DNA. Of course, this will also cause some very real Native Americans to have paternal or maternal haplogroups that we commonly identify as 'European.'

We also have considerable scientific evidence that two other Mediterranean 'empires' knew of North America and sent fleets here: what we call the Minoans ('Keretuans' in ancient Egyptian records--possibly the derivation of the island name 'Crete/Krete'), and their predecessors, a mostly island empire centered on Malta and parts of the Italic peninsula, which was the first empire to smelt and use quantities of bronze--an alloy of copper and tin. The ancient Maltese and Minoans/Keretuans were the first peoples to mine for copper and tin in Ireland, Cornwall and Wales and the northwest area of the Pyrenees and adjacent areas, including the Basque regions and what was later Galicia, the Balkan peninsula (what is now Croatia, mostly)--and settled in these areas. The Maltese and Minoans/Keretuans would have also, like the Solutreans, had ancient Mediterranean haplogroups. The Maltese and Minoans/Keretuans had the monopoly on bronze, one empire after the other, for over 3,000 years. Northern Michigan is dotted with thousands of their mines for copper. A shipwreck of a Minoan/Keretuan ship in the Mediterranean was found with copper ingots. When trace element/mineral analysis was done, which is used to identify the location a metal was mined (and also used in the gem trade to identify the countries and mines from which gems come), it showed that the only exact match with the same numbers and quantities of the trace elements was in Northern Michigan. Bronze-age Mediterranean peoples were in the Americas, even if they did not leave significant numbers of their own people behind, for over 3,000 years, and stopped coming (after the explosion of the volcano at Thera/Santorini, which effectively wiped out the Minoan/Keretuan empire) over 2,000 years before the Vikings and 2,500 years before Columbus and the modern Spanish and Portuguese. A small number of ancient Bronze age Mediterranean people, though, are part of the DNA of Native Americans, too. The important fact to remember though, is the Solutreans and the North Asians were in the Americans for up to 30,000 years, evolving, before modern Europeans. Even the Maltese and Minoan/Keretuan DNA mingled with the older two, had another 2,000--5,000 years to evolve with the others together as American DNA before modern Europeans. Native American DNA is simply a bit more complex than originally thought.

When the popular DNA testing companies were started, some of the universities, who first mapped the human genome, shared their original sample tests which were done without naming individuals, for privacy purposes, but identifying a few basic things like places the samples were taken, and sex of the individuals. Some of the DNA testing companies have done their own additional sample testing since then. The quantity and quality of world-wide samples for comparisons is not the same from company to company. For the popular DNA ancestry and relationship testing, most of what is in their data bases of DNA samples for comparisons has been submitted voluntarily. This means the database is skewed, analysis is skewed, the mathematical formulas for comparison are skewed and the probability of error in the analysis is greater. The smaller the company's database, and the world-wide sample in it, the greater the chance there will be an error in analysis and results. If you want the chance of greater accuracy with an ancestry, autosomal DNA test, alone, go with the companies that have the largest databases and a reputation in reviews over the years for the best--highest accuracy--cousin matches. DNA and Family Tree DNA are one and two respectively. has by far the largest, even if skewed, data base: over 10 million. However, to keep accessing the database to look for cousin matches and common ancestry, it costs a monthly fee. Family Tree DNA has a database of over 2 million-roughly the same size as 23andMe-but does a better job of cousin-matching, and does not require a continuous monthly fee to have continued access to the database. Additionally, if you get an inexpensive autosomal DNA test from either DNA or My Heritage, you can upload the results to Family Tree DNA and have access to TWO databases, though there will be some overlap in the two databases.

Many people will get tested by more than one popular DNA testing company to compare results and look for consistencies. Generally, the more consistencies you find in multiple tests, the more accurate the results for those consistencies. Getting tested by more than one company, though, means the most popular companies with the largest databases do have some overlap. This also means that the total world-wide sample is then smaller than the sum of all the databases. Instead of 16.5 million different individual samples for the top four databases, together, there is likely to be only somewhere between 11 and 13 million--and all of them are U.S. skewed. To have much better analysis, predictions and estimations, with much smaller 'margins of errors' the companies need to share databases and have a total world-wide sample together of at least 70 million persons and they really need to pay attention to the history and migrations, invasions, etc. of the peoples in all the 190 plus countries, in addition to population size, per country.

One question we've heard on DNA testing is, does the Mormon church own or control any of the testing companies, particularly the largest ones, such as The answer is no the Mormon church does not own the companies. However, some of the oldest of the popular companies were started by persons who often were Mormons. is headquartered in Utah. The reason is the Mormons were interested in DNA testing to identify ancestors and cousins because in their religion, if you want yourself and all your relatives to live again in the hereafter together in heaven, they all must be baptized in the Mormon church. Their church rituals allow their members to baptize their long-dead ancestors in absentia by knowing who they are and announcing their names during the ritual. As individuals, Mormons developed an early interest in DNA testing to identify ancestors. Other persons who developed an early interest are those whose written records suffered great losses from wars, such as Scots-Irish descended people whose families long lived in the southern or border states and African Americans who had the fewest and least detailed written records about themselves in the first place, because they were treated as property as things, not people. Other individuals who, as individuals, started companies have been those who had serious hereditary birth-defects and known genetic linked illnesses. Anne Wojcicki once the wife of Sergey Brin, a founder of Google, and Sergey's mother has Parkinsons' Disease. When Sergey learned he had the genetic markers for it also, Anne took interest and co-founded 23andMe. Now, just because you have the markers doesn't mean you will always get some illnesses, but why this is so is not understood. DNA testing and analysis is a new, powerful tool to help understand genetic related illnesses and how to treat and even prevent them.

Relationship Measures Drawn from the Tests

When you get your autosomal test results from most popular testing companies that also do cousin matches in their databases and show you the matches, the results of most DNA test 'matches' to potential cousins are stated in numbers of centiMorgans, (cM), a 'unit of measure of genetic recombinant frequency within a single generation.' A certain amount of genes, and strings of genes, from the same two parents to all their children have a very low probability of differing among their children within a single generation. All the children will have many of the same strings and have close to the same number of centimorgans from these strings in relationship to one another. These are the gene strings being used to determine relationships. All of this is also only within the 500,000 snips of that 0.5% DNA that make individuals individual. To identify close relationships, the researchers are looking for the multiple lengths of gene pairs that have a probability of a very low recombinant frequency within a single generation (0.01% chance). The matching number of these same lengths of the same genes, in two individuals, then, roughly determines how closely they are related to one another.

The most centiMorgans of these low frequency recombinant genes a female has is about 4800 centimorgans. The most a male has is about 2800 centimorgans. The more centimorgans a person shares with another individual in that testing company's database, the more closely related the two persons are likely to be. However, the closest relationships, are identical twins and triplets who are all the same sex, and of this grouping the most centimorgans will be shared by identical twins, triplets, etc. who are all FEMALES. Even full sisters and brothers are only in the range of 2100 to 2600 shared cM for males with their siblings and 2600-3100 for females with their own female siblings. By the time you get to second cousins, where two individuals share a great-grandparent, maybe only 100 years ago, a female may share with her second cousin only 238 to 504 centimorgans and a male with his second cousin only 43 to 238 centimorgans. This all gets skewed when comparing a male and another male, or a male to female, in a relationship. A first cousin relationship between two males can be as little as 230 centimorgans. For fourth cousins, where two individuals share a 2nd great-grandparent, only about 150-160 years ago, the amount of shared centimorgans for females with their fourth cousin will be as little as 30 to 60 cM, and for males 7-30 cM with their fourth cousins.

There is a monkey wrench in the wheel spokes of all these estimates of numbers of shared DNA, and what relationships might be. When cousins have married cousins, over time, shared centiMorgans increase. It makes the relationships look closer than they might be indicated from the family Bible, church records or civil vital records. DNA tests don't know, and can't really tell that any individuals being tested descend from cousin marriages. The companies' mathematical formulas being used for comparisons and to estimate amounts of relationships don't take into account individuals who have inbred ancestors.

2: What DNA Tests Can and Cannot Do and Why

Origin Accuracy – Database sample coverage

There is one big problem with all the DNA testing companies and their databases, which causes the most conflicting and erroneous results, particularly for the smaller amounts of DNA that might be used to identify places ancestors originated before emigration. All of their databases are too small and skewed. Not one single company has obtained enough samples from all countries in the world with which individual clients can compare their DNA test results. It affects the companies' own abilities to estimate percentages of DNA from regions and countries.

Most can only identify percentages from a few countries at best. They can show you maps of regions of multiple countries where your ancestors originated. This is because almost all samples in their databases are voluntary, and from countries with large numbers of immigrants to those countries. Even if the four companies with the largest databases pooled their test results, or allowed their clients access to all of them for comparison, they will still be inadequate to determine individual countries of origins, must less counties or districts within them. First there is some overlap of the databases. People will get tests from more than one company and try to compare the results, especially for the small amounts of ancestral DNA, which vary the most in the comparative tests. Not all of the companies offer all types of testing. A few companies test for health in addition to ancestry, or offer the Y-DNA and MtDNA tests, which show haplogroups and clades and health information can be looked up from those on several sites. Two of the best known, larger database companies that test for health or offer and use the Y-DNA and MtDNA tests are Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. The latter has obtained FDA approval for its DNA testing for health.

Last, but not least, the four largest companies and thus likely to have the least errors for what they offer in mapping, combined all their data, (the 10 million samples from, the 2 million of Family Tree DNA and 2 million more from 23andMe and the 700,000 or so from My Heritage), three-quarters or more of all 16 million or so samples come from just a few countries: the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa. Because these are the largest nations of mostly immigrants and where the most of other nations' peoples mixed, these people are most interested in getting their DNA tested. It's much harder in these nations to know where your ancestors come from. There may be a half dozen or more countries where your ancestors originated and where you have cousins. Of all your ancestry, the smallest percentages of ethnicity are going to be the hardest to determine accuracy and the ancestors who contribute their DNA to those small percentages are not as far back as most people think. Each parent (two persons) of an individual contributes 50% of that individual's DNA; each grandparent (four persons) contributes 25%. Each generation is about 25-30 years. One's grandparents are two generations before an individual only about 50-60 years in the past. Each great-grandparent (of 8 persons total), only three generations before an individual are only 12.5% of an individual's DNA, and each 2nd great-grandparent (of a total of 16 persons) is only 6.25% Those 2nd great-grandparents are only 100-120 years in the past and already they each are only 6.25% of their modern descendant's DNA. The 3rd great-grandparents (32 individuals total) are each 3.125% of their modern descendant's DNA and only 120-150 years in the past. Less than 3% is often called 'trace DNA' on the charts and tables sent as test results and has the greatest potential for inaccuracy--yet it is less than 200 years in the past. While most Americans have numerous ancestors, within the most recent 200 years, who were ethnically the same; there has been intermarriage with smaller groups, such as Native Americans, or people of West Asian descent, or some southeastern Mediterranean areas/countries. Some of the smallest minority ethnicities in the U.S. originated in some of the smallest countries in Europe and West Asia who have the smallest numbers of DNA samples in all of the popular testing companies databases.

Migration Trends – 'Deep Roots' in Europe vs. Continuous Migration in the US

Using just the U.S. as an example, most people in the U.S. move three or four times in their own lifetime and their children usually don't grow up where they themselves did. Their U.S. ancestors of 250 and 300 years ago, were mostly 2,000 or 3,000 miles away on the eastern seaboard, or in Northern Mexico or the Caribbean.

Prior to emigrating to the Americas, these European ancestors were in the same places as their own ancestors for much longer periods of time—as much as thousands of years. They also married neighbors, people like themselves. Americans now marry people of many ethnicities and races and have been doing so for 300 years. The more recent, 300 years or less, and now nearly constant changes in environment and marriage patterns cause problems in predicting health and because reacting/adapting to differing environments causes genetic change. Increased frequency of long distance migration of individuals and immediate families, it makes it harder to determine where individuals had their ancestry longest.

Additionally, all the intermingling of ethnicities especially in the most recent 300 years of people in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand makes it harder to link their modern mixed DNA to particular ethnicities in the past. Americans-North and South, Australians and New Zealanders are well on their way to becoming new ethnicities of their own, very different from their European, Asian and African ancestors. We are repeating what happened 20,000-30,000 years ago when the first North Asians mixed with the Mediterranean Solutreans to create the first Native Americans. We are on our way to becoming the next race of Native Americans, though it will be at least another 1500 years or so before we're 'there.' We are already sufficiently 'different' enough by our post invention of the railroad, frequent long-distance, movements to pursue non-farming economic opportunities and intermarriage among multiple ethnicities.

A big environmental difference that affected future genetic evolution occurred when almost all modern American ancestors crossed thousands of miles of one ocean or another to get here. However, for the present, and many decades to come. Americans will share some significant degree of DNA with cousins in Europe, Africa and Asia, represented by the greatest percentages of DNA shown in test results.

Paper Records and Family History Documents

Paper Records and Documented Family History are Still ImportantThey are Cross Checks to the DNA Tests, Particularly Analysis.

With all the change in environments so often and so fast, and the increased intermarriages among ethnicities and races, we need a cross check on the snapshot of individuals on the day of the DNA test. The best Cross Check is still a well-documented family history that is prepared with original, contemporary primary and valid secondary source records of the identified ancestors. The U.S. lost a lot of records in the U.S. Civil War in southern states and border states, when occasionally overzealous junior union--and CSA--officers and enlisted men were punishing the other side by burning down, shelling or blowing up, what was important to the 'other side.' This was not a general Union policy. Most senior officers realized that the purpose of the war was to hold the union together and eventually the states were to be rebuilt and they'd need tax revenues on property to do that. It's very hard to tax property when it's been completely destroyed and the records of who owned it are gone. The U.S. also lost records in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Even without the warfare, courthouse interiors were almost all made of wood and people could be clumsy or negligent with the candles and oil lamps used for lighting. What is left of church and civil records that might help people sort out their family history is mostly not on-line or easily accessible. One has to know the county or counties where one's ancestor lived prior to 1900 and go to those counties to find the records. There are good estimates that only between 10 and 20% of the records that still exist and would be helpful to family history research are online. The rest are still in the counties, and someone, a family member or a researcher the family employs, has to go and find them and transcribe or digitize them, in person.

The African Exception

Bad as the records loss was for everyone in the southern and Border States, it was hardest on one group who had the fewest records of all - African Americans. This is why the largest ethnic group using DNA testing to find family in the U.S. and their origins in Africa are the African Americans. African families from tribes who saw parts of their families ripped away in tribal warfare and then sold by African chiefs and kings into slavery abroad are just as curious as to what happened to their cousins and hoped they lived and prospered. Nations were still forming in Africa, boundaries changing, peoples within these nations were being moved about, ripped apart or slaughtered at the same time some were coming to the U.S. as slaves--sold by the leaders building nations, ripping others apart and so on. Some Africans aren't entirely sure where their ancestors were 200 years ago, also, as well as what happened to brothers and sisters, children and cousins ripped away in warfare. They are reaching out through DNA testing just as African Americans are and the combination of both sides of the Atlantic getting tests done is building bridges, re-establishing contacts among families and doing a better job of identifying ancestry, and cousins. Of all the nations in the world, the most samples have been voluntarily submitted by Africans in several nations, particularly Nigeria and Ghana, giving those Americans whose ancestors came from these nations the greatest chance of finding their ancestry and modern distant cousins.It is African Americans, and some African nations, who demonstrate right now the potential of a good database with enough samples from both sides of the Atlantic.

After those nations, it is finally dawning on Scots, and English, and to a lesser degree some Irish, that many Americans also tour and spend tourist dollars in the areas where they think they have ancestry and might have cousins. This past year, and at least one other entity has decided it can now link Americans of British descent more precisely to countries in the British Isles and even particular shires of Scotland and England.

If you are African American you will have good luck finding both modern cousins in the U.S. and in specific countries in western Africa and your ancestral countries, even tribes within them in western Africa. If you are Scottish or English and only want to know your ancestry and cousins in the U.S. and parts of Scotland and England, your best luck is with because it has the largest database and is now able to begin to identify countries of origin in the UK and parts of those countries.

Cross Database Cousin Matches

There is a caveat with's DNA database though. You can only look for cousin matches within it if you keep your annual subscription up to date--and it costs money to do so. Family Tree DNA has been among the best rated for several years now for the quality of its cousin matches, though its database is smaller. and the fact you don't have to keep buying an annual subscription to access the database and look for cousin matches You even get notifications when new cousin matches show up in new samples in their database. If you get an autosomal test done by either or My Heritage, you can also upload the results to Family Tree DNA and then be able to use the cousin matching and mapping without having to pay a monthly subscription fee. Family Tree DNA does have a cooperative agreement of some kind with and My Heritage, but it's a one way arrangement. Only Family Tree DNA accepts uploads from all three companies. Family Tree DNA also has a global map showing you where your closest cousin matches actually live right now and, if they have submitted their email addresses, give you email addresses to contact them. Many European cousins of Americans live near or in towns or counties where their families, and those of their U.S. cousins lived for centuries. Even without knowing precisely all the countries and districts within countries where ancestors originated, these cousin matches of Europeans who live near where their families long have lived, are very good clues to the ancestry of their U.S. cousins.

To help further to identify ancestry and cousins, Family Tree DNA has segments where you can list all the KNOWN surnames in your ancestry and add a few word about them, such as the states and counties where they were, a range of years. You can also fill out and upload the basics of a family tree which the program will display for a reader in either family structure or pedigree with some of the other companies as well, such as At the least, DO put in the surnames in your ancestry that you know. Most people know their biological parents and grandparents at the least, and maybe one or two great-grandparents. If a person really wants help in finding ancestry and other cousins, the best results come from all of the persons in a database reaching out a little by entering known data--data where they have copies of records of their ancestors, not just a transcription or a download of an tree that was copied from others and has no documentation supporting anything in it.

Most family history researchers looking to finally knock down brick walls are not going to waste their time contacting a potential 3rd, 4th or 5th cousin who has given no information about their ancestry whatsoever, or are uploading an undocumented, copied tree, when there are others in the database who have an equal relationship who have shared a little, documented, information to help determine how a reader might be related. Most people are looking to share information not do the work for everyone in an extended family. Most people who live in the U.S. have at least one parent or grandparent whose ancestors have been in the U.S. at least four generations or more (140 years or more) and there are hundreds of cousins or more from that family online and in the databases.

Identifying Medical Risks through DNA analysis

First of all to answer another common question, no insurance companies in nearly all states since 2008 (45 states in 2008 had state legislation on the books) can use DNA tests or themselves do DNA testing to place individuals in risk categories and deny or reduce coverage or care, or raise individuals rates. They didn't even protest much when the states began enacting these laws beginning in 1997.

DNA tests such as those from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA's Y-DNA and MtDNA tests can show you haplogroups which are linked to tendencies or susceptibilities to illness and greater incidences of genetic-defects caused illness such as Sickle-cell anemia, Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, etc.. People are not born with cancer, however, nor most forms of heart disease. Cancer and most forms of heart disease, and other illnesses are environmental and life-style illnesses in which people do not react well to differences in their environment, or certain new products. The reactions will not be the same to the same changes or products, even among siblings in the same family. Insurance companies did not protest most states banning the use of DNA tests to determine risks and premiums, risks classifications, etc., because the medical community and insurance companies already realized lifestyle choices and risks, and moving from one climate or one geologic environment to another, were greater factors in health and longevity.

In general, the three areas of highest numbers of cancers of multiple varieties are the United States, Oceania and Northern Europe. Only the U.S. can be said to have so much modernization and new sometimes not well tested products to cause a lot of additional environmental risks, so there is something else going on with these other areas. One thing all three areas have in common, though, is that these are the three last places colonized by peoples from outside those areas. Northern Europe could not be inhabited until the ice sheets withdrew, only about 10,000-12,000 years ago. The same with most of Canada, which has a much smaller population than the U.S.. Oceania was not inhabited until only 1,000 to 2,000 years ago when people from southeast Asia moved across the Pacific, by far the largest and most dangerous ocean, by long-distance boats and navigation. The United States, and the most Europeanized of the countries of the American continents, were only settled between 300 - 500 years ago. The environments of the Americas, Oceania and Northern Europe were thus the newest to humans and humans have had the least amount of time to adapt to them, just generally.

Besides that, many people of both sexes and all ethnicities were getting lung cancer and other forms of cancer that had once been rare, directly after years of smoking cigarettes once they were invented and widely used. Over-imbibing alcohol was clearly causing more liver illnesses, including eventually cancer. Certain chemicals like dioxin were rapidly seen as causing cancers in many animals and both sexes and all ethnicities of humans. We also now have one more inadequately studied known cancer causing phenomena world-wide. No part of the earth is unaffected by this. This is radiation exposure from the decades of intentional and sometimes unintentional, above ground atomic bomb testing done by, at this point, six nations in different parts of the world. The atomic testing, a lot like volcanoes put particulates high into the air which were carried by the winds all over the globe and settled in all the soil and water of the planet, but not equally so. There are maps of zones of amount of fallout done by the U.S. and international groups. In the U.S. zones 1 were within about 300 miles radius to the three main test sites in Washington, Nevada and Alaska. Zones 2, however, were much larger and eastward of the first zones because of the pattern of northern hemisphere winds, mountains and lakes. Zone 2 in the U.S. is roughly between the Minnesota-Iowa state line in the north to the Oklahoma-Texas state line in the south and the longitude of Cleveland in the east and Denver in the west. In Europe, the largest atomic bomb test in the world took place off the northwest coast of Russia and zone 1 was over 500 miles around that site. Zone 2 included most of western Russia, northern Ukrainia, the Baltics, all of Scandinavia except for southern Norway, and most of Germany. The Russians poisoned most of the arable land in Russia, and most of its own people. Then it allowed Chernobyl. The French and U.S. tested in the South Pacific and France also had tests in north Africa. The British had tests in Australia. China had tests in the deserts of Northwest China and Inner Mongolia. None of the long-term effects of radioactive isotopes with long half lives in soil and water and ingested by plants, animals and people have been studied, nor differences from the generations that preceded the nuclear bomb testing. Insurance companies are aware of this, and so are most governments.

Thus, an increased genetic susceptibility to developing cancer from a particular environmental exposure does not mean anyone will absolutely get cancer and the genetic component to the problem too small a consideration for insurance companies, compared with large known potential environmental problems that put billions of people at risk and are largely beyond the control of most people. Twins studies done by major U.S. and European universities in the last few decades consistently have shown this.

Last, in part because of all that is now know how cancer actually begins and the environmental causes, since 2008, most states have had the added protection of state laws specifically forbidding insurance companies to use genetic testing or results of genetic tests to determine risks, or coverage at all, the costs of premiums and more. As of 2009 only six states had yet to do this: Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Washington. If a person doesn't live in those states and wants to get a health-related test done to learn if one might have greater inherited susceptibilities, and to learn better lifestyle choices to avoid these illnesses anyway, then he or she should not be afraid to get the test. Then, when a person gets the results, he or she should go to websites like those of the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Mayo Clinic, major medical research magazines that have articles from major universities and institutes in developed countries and read. Find the consistencies in the newest research and studies about what to eat, drink and do, and what to minimize or avoid, to live a healthier lifestyle even with some small genetic susceptibility. Then there fewer things to prevent you from living a long healthy life to 80, 90 even 100 years old.

Even a genetic caused illness is no longer an automatic death sentence with increased research and development of gene therapies using stem cells and other techniques to turn off the epigenomes that trigger some illnesses or replace defective genes. Some cancers are now being cured, really cured and not just stopped for a while, with some of these therapies.

3. How Can the DNA Test Databases Be Made More Accurate?

Sharing your Tree

First, when you take a DNA test with one of the major companies be sure to also look at how their database is constructed and if there are segments in which you can either put in a list of the surnames you know your ancestors have and about when and where, or a short tree (6th cousin/4th great-grandparents or closer) can be entered, do it. Enter what you know to share information that might help everyone find more ancestors and cousins.

Lobby Your Cousins

Second, lobby your cousins, particularly first through third cousins, to get DNA tests and make sure there are males getting Y-DNA tests, as well as females getting MtDNA tests. If you have the financial means, pay for some cousins to get at least autosomal tests, which are during the holidays typically under $80 from one of the four major database companies, and if it's from or My Heritage make sure that it is also uploaded to Family Tree DNA. Pool resources and make sure your paternal line DNA and your maternal line DNA (Y-DNA and MtDNA) are in the databases somehow. Identify your father's closest paternal kin and your mother's closest maternal kin to have choices.

If you have known relatives in Europe, or Asia or Africa, or on Native American reservations, persuade them to get tested, even if you have to occasionally pay for the kit yourself. We need to expand the non U.S. parts of the databases, all of them. Urge governments and the companies to help each other together to set up thorough sampling of all countries worldwide. Urge them to also spend some money to help get all the remaining paper vital records on-line: the wills and probate/administration records, the civil records, church records with the baptisms and marriages, estate collections of transactions, family papers that were left to colleges, all of which help identify family members, show where they actually lived, how long and in what environments as the good body of paper records is a cross-check to snapshot DNA tests and mathematical formulas trying to predict responses to environments and longevity and help people what they need to do for themselves to improve their own health and longevity. Remind them that everyone wants to live as long as they can with good health and the most effective health care these days is that which can respond to individuals and families as they are, given their particular environments. Tell them the governments, families and insurance companies will all eventually save billions of dollars or euros, or whatever, annually, by having more effective health care that can respond to individuals, as needed. Tell the governments also that knowing one's ancestry and cousins promotes tourism within the U.S. and to all the countries from which people emigrated or where they have more distant cousins. It boosts the economies of all the countries and promotes greater understanding of one another, cooperation and peace.

Using DNA Tests to help Find Family History

What are centiMorgans and How to Interpret them

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-08-11

In genetics, the Morgan was named in honor of geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan by his student Alfred Henry Sturtevant. In modern DNA analysis, shared sequences of DNA, measured in 100ths of a Morgan, or centiMorgans, (abbreviated cM) are commonly used to measure genetic linkage between related individuals.

Two DNA testing companies, at least, Family Tree DNA and 23 and Me, give a person's cousin matches in lists, ranked by closest to most distant, in quantities of centiMorgans or cM. So long as you did the tests as per directions (and the lab processing it didn't mix it up with someone's else's tests), you can be highly CERTAIN that the persons listed with 15 centiMorgans (cM) or more of matching DNA are related to you. Family Tree DNA and 23 and Me use these centiMorgan based matching methods, and also do very well at selecting and monitoring their labs.

Most users begin with the inexpensive 'autosomal' DNA tests which give results on your 22 non-sex related chromosomes. For females who also took the mitochondrial (MtDNA) test, you KNOW that if your haplogroup matches another test subject it is through your maternal line, your mother, her mother and so on. For males, who can take both the MtDNA and the y chromosome (Y-DNA) test, you KNOW your paternal-paternal line down to current sons and that other male matches are related to you through your Y-DNA haplogroup. Males have TWO haplogroups, one each from their mother and their father.

With over 10 million persons results in the top three companies' databases, users receive hundreds of 'matches' in their test results. Using centiMorgan based matching methods, there is no possibility of sensationalistic, dubious 'you might be related to' (pick the modern celebrity or historic figure of your choice)' sales pitches common to 'Family Name' or other companies' sales pitches. DNA and haplogroup matches greater than 15 cM are reliable measurements of the objective probability of your shared DNA indicating you are, in fact, related.

If you have your results and your cousin matches are given in cM's, how do you determine which matching individuals are your CLOSEST cousins? Well, the best chart I've seen that explains this in an easy to understand, color-coded manner is the one which originated with Blaine Bettinger, ( As soon as I saw it, I LOVED it, and I'm not alone, it is repeated on a several blogs of other notable experts. Bettinger's chart shows averages and ranges for all categories of relationships extending outward from 'self' (the white box), with siblings and half siblings on the left of that box in blue and olive, and cousins on the right in yellow to red, and it shows the relationships of cousins to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. in green. The color bars are great for separating the degrees of relationships in an easy to use, understand, and remember manner. After using his chart for just a few days, I now find myself remembering the average numbers of cM's for each degrees of relationships much better now.

To read more, Click Here!

On Mr. Blaine Bettinger's website, I found that in addition to this chart, he has a set of wonderful articles on understanding more of DNA testing and how it can be helpful to finding documented family history. Two of his articles were particularly interesting to me. The first is 'Can a genealogist refuse to use DNA evidence' and talks about the credibility of a genealogist who knows DNA test results exist and either solely relies on them to say something about relationships and ancestry, or has these results and dismisses them entirely. In the past few months, I'd just dealt with a professional, certified genealogist whom I'd paid for genealogical research, who dismissed my husband's DNA test results and clues from it. That person also called a picture of a gravestone in a cemetery a phony, claiming it was taken from a print 'in memoriam,' instead, and then gave up in disgust when she couldn't finish tracing a line of my husband's for which I'd hired her to examine records not available to me, either on-line or published. It was gratifying to read that my impression of that genealogist, is supported by Mr. Bettinger's article. It gives me some ideas for questions to ask of prospective paid researchers in the future to avoid spending good money for insufficient help.

The second article, published, March 11, 2017 was even more important, as it helps me move forward in my research goals. Titled, 'Are You Doing Everything to Identify Your Matches' using the cM results and the profile information given by those individuals with matches to you who have agreed to let their names and email addresses be listed, and such data as they want to publish. Long before reading this article, I had figured out a couple of clues to help identify likely ancestral families of mine and my husband, such as the number of times family surnames appeared among individuals who were not all immediate relatives of one another. This helped me determine my husband's highly probable particular Virginia ancestors, his particular branch, in what is a rather large McCormick family.

However, there was still the problem of tracing, back to the Virginia progenitors, his 2nd great-grandfather. On the 1850 census, when he was a boy, he was not listed with parents. This article provided extra clues such as, 'look for family trees with a person in your match who did not publish a gedcom tree/pedigree in the DNA test program.' Bettinger, explains how, within a sample group of well over a hundred persons who didn't publish trees, he found that over 20% still had published trees or were listed in trees, published elsewhere. Sure enough, for my husband's DNA matches with no tree in their DNA profile, I immediately found a couple of more trees listing these exact names, by carefully searching for their name and email. I also used the known match lines to trace the lines forward, particularly for two families who are highly probably my husband's, ancestor's half-brothers and cousins. I discovered these half-brothers and cousins had lived where my husband's ancestor did, for over 30 years. As a result, I now know where persons who were highly probably his grandmother, aunt and step-mother died, where to write for additional records, and where to look for a possible grave site for him as well.

These DNA match clues narrowed the search down from three states and a dozen counties within them, to just three counties in a single state. It's especially great when one discovers how few relatives back east who would have the ideal degrees of relationships to determine family history better, have had DNA tests, in precisely the states and counties where the U.S. Civil War, the War of 1812 and related 'Indian' warfare up to 1830 or 1840 and cholera and other epidemics inflicted the most damage to literacy and record keeping for several decades (usually between about 1810/1820 and 1865). A researcher confronting the 1810-1875 period of history in at least fifteen states, and trying to move past that, already has to work harder, and be more imaginative and patient, to find all the little bits and pieces of fewer records to pull together to determine a real family history. Having to search more counties and states only makes the job harder and longer. Being smart about using DNA test matches can narrow the areas for document searches and make the searches faster and easier.

I'm sharing these techniques with other family history researchers, especially those who have been finding far too many 'brick' walls in American--Scots-Irish, Scots and Irish, family history research prior to 1900 or 1850, along with this wonderful chart by Mr. Bettinger, and his website, ( with all his other articles, items, and links to more. You will find the chart and a link to his website, permanently now, on our own website under 'Ancestry>DNA' and I look forward to more great and very helpful articles from him and hope family history researchers among our readers will also.



DNA Testing Company Reviews

Major Media Finds Conflicting Results

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2018-01-19

This past week, two articles appeared in major media about DNA testing and conflicting results when testing with different companies. The first article, by Ethan Baron, appeared in the 'San Jose Mercury News,' January 17, 2018. The other was a television feature on NBC's Today Show, titled Are Home DNA Kits Really Accurate? Jeff Rossen Investigates With Identical Triplet Sisters which ran on December 1st, 2017, and involved three identical triplets from California. Rossen's TV feature has since appeared on Facebook and inspired several major magazine articles.

Of the companies used to compare results of test kits, of 5 companies total, only two were in both the newspaper article and the television news feature spot. The five companies covered in both articles were: Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, My Heritage DNA, National Geographic, and Gencove. Ancestry DNA and 23andMe were the two companies used by all four persons in the two articles, and reviewed by both Ethan Baron and the 'Today' show.

Both articles noted that the test subjects had more questions about the 23andMe test results than most of the other test companies, Gencove being the exception. Additionally, Gencove, National Geographic and My Heritage DNA had strange results that didn't match what the test subjects knew of their family and didn't show up in the other companies' test results. Ancestry DNA gave the most reliable results for the triplets and the test subject interviewed by Ethan Baron, and provided the greatest specifics for European ancestry. Ancestry DNA test kits are sold by

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), which has the second largest database of all the companies, was not used by either the triplets or the test subject that Mr. Baron interviewed, suggesting that company may need to work on its marketing more. Your AmeriCeltic newsletter editors have used FTDNA, found it to be a good company, and the ONLY company which tests for mother-daughter transmitted DNA called Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) and father-son transmitted DNA called Y-DNA. This is one of the reasons FTDNAs database is as large as it is.

Together, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA and National Geographic all have one other advantage. You can upload your Ancestry DNA and National Geographic tests to the Family Tree DNA database to compare them. This gives one access all three databases with no more than two tests (autosomal only for two of them) which maximizes the scope of your search for cousins and ancestral heritage.

For the triplets, all three companies produced similar results, showing that they were full sisters to one another. However, while Ancestry DNA and My Heritage DNA showed a 100% match to one another, 23andMe showed a 93% match. Also, my Heritage showed a different pattern of ethnic ancestry than the other two. Ancestry and 23andMe were more consistent with one another for ethnic heritage, but Ancestry showed more countries, while 23andMe only showed regions at times.

Ethan Baron interviewed Kristen Brown, who knew she had a nearly full Norwegian father. Kristen had complained on Gizmodo that “she had taken four tests and had four very different test results.” She was particularly upset that 23andMe identified only 3.1% of her DNA as firmly Scandinavian and put another 41.9 percent as “broadly northwest European”. The 23andMe analysis explained that other 41.9 percent could not be confirmed as solely Scandinavian by the 23andMe database and related algorithm. Both the triplets and Kristen Brown then had at least one company claim they had some small part of DNA from a completely unexpected place that did not appear in the others. In Kristen’s case, Gencove’s results said she was 8% South Asian--something that was NOT on any of the other three tests she took, another major surprise.

Ethan Baron called all the four companies Ms. Brown had used for explanations of their test results, but only three responded. (National Geographic never responded) Baron also consulted with an unnamed university professor. This professor, who claims to watch the industry and accuses the companies of misleading consumers about their products, and feels they can be damaging to families at times. The professor did not identify which companies and products he felt were worst or best. Of the three companies that responded to Baron, all defended their products, but acknowledged limitations in the accuracy of results. Gencove was the most honest about why there are limitations, and their occasional “way out” results: their databases of only tens of thousands of persons, are too small to accurately establish relationships and “have only a limited view of the diversity across the entire world.” This results in test subjects often having a portion of “unique”--to the test company and its database--DNA. When this is seen by the computer programming and its algorithms, the algorithms that assign ancestry will make a “best guess” as to what the ancestry is, which is “often (or usually) close but imperfect.”

All these companies use the same methodology described by Joseph Pickrell of Gencove. They all estimate when they have insufficient data to make a firm, definitive match to one or more parts of the DNA of a person who sends in a test kit. All three of the companies that responded to Mr. Baron’s questions “made it clear that the popular, inexpensive DNA ancestry tests often produce estimates, rather than certain results.” This does not mean that all the DNA results are simply mathematical estimates. Some is accurate, and a few companies, the ones with large numbers of persons DNA in their databases, appear to have greater accuracy than others. It depends on how many people with the same parts of DNA from the same regions or countries are in the test company’s database. Worldwide, over 10 million persons have had their DNA tested. However there is no ONE database with which to compare test results. Also some countries and regions have consistently had more test results. African Americans and Africans in the countries in the region from which the most slaves were taken away, have had the most curiosity about their heritage and their cousins and thus, you will find countries stated by more than one company for some African origins. These countries of West Africa are the only part of the world, thus far, where Americans and their cousins are reaching out to one another in large numbers.

The biggest reason for the limitations, and why some of the companies categorize DNA into regions in Europe rather than individual countries, is the same reason for all of them. This reason is something we learned by asking questions and reading earlier reviews. Most DNA tests are being done by Americans of European descent, not by Europeans. As a percentage of population, after the U.S., the largest numbers of DNA tests, are done by Australians and Canadians. These three countries alone have the most immigrants from many nations who have intermarried after emigration. It is Americans, Canadians and Australians who know the least about many lines of their ancestors, the countries of origin of their many ancestors, and thus they have the most questions. Unfortunately, most immigration came to the U.S. from Europe, not a small region of Africa, or a few countries in Asia. There were major waves of emigrants from many regions of Europe. Major waves included Scots, Irish, English and Welsh, French, Germans, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Scandinavians, Finns, and several million from what used to be the Austro-Hungarian empire--now all or part of at least 8 countries usually called “East Europe” AND “the Balkans” or “Southeast Europe.”

Unlike Americans, most Europeans live no more than 100 miles from where most of their ancestors have lived for 1,000 years or more and they know who and what they are and who their ancestors are. They can take a short Sunday drive and picnic lunch with a nice wine and “visit” hundreds of them in cemeteries all in a single day, if they want. Over 60 million Americans west of the Rocky Mountains had ancestors 2000 miles east in multiple states, AFTER those ancestors had all emigrated from various countries in Europe!

For Americans to be able to link up, accurately, with confidence, with cousins in specific countries, and districts or counties within the countries, and know, not guess, where their ancestors originated, the major DNA testing companies, ALL need much larger and more diverse databases--and to link them. To achieve this, at the least, they need to coordinate a thorough sampling tests program with the governments and the locals in each county of all the countries that sent the most emigrants.

As a result of invasion and conquest in the last 800 years, when doing this sampling, special consideration needs to be taken of population changes and concentrations of those changes for some countries, particularly in East Europe. Such changes did not happen to so great and extent in the rest of Europe. Yes, the UK and Ireland had the Vikings (Normans were just a Christianized group of Vikings that settled in France before invading), and French Huguenots fled to both in the late 1500’s and 1600’s and Flemish weavers were imported by kings and nobles all over the UK, starting in the 14th century. In the last 100 years England has also had immigration from former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. However, except for the Vikings, that’s all small potatoes to what other parts of Europe experienced. Poland had hordes of Mongols and Germans, occupation of half its country by Germans, and even a few Vikings up by Danzig/Gdansk, and was a dual kingdom with Lithuania for several centuries. Hungary was occupied briefly by the Mongols, who deliberately had large harems of Hungarian women whom they deliberately impregnated to create more warriors, and then was occupied by the Turks who killed or carried off into slavery a almost a third, of the country. After both the Turks and Mongols were driven out, kings and emperors brought in excess Bavarians and Austrians to help resettle the most depopulated areas. Hungary was a dual kingdom with Croatia for 700 years, with extensive intermarriage, and other two-way movements of people. Slovakia didn’t exist as a separate nation until 1993, but its original three counties/duchies merged with Hungary early also. Then there were about 30,000 Irish, English and Scottish railway workers that decided to stay in Hungary after helping to build the railroads and bridges there in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Five generations later that throws an interesting twist into “Hungarian” DNA! Spain had the Moors and had Asturias and Galicia Celtic regions never conquered by Romans, Goths or Moors: and the southern Basque region of Navarro (Navarre north of the Pyrenees). Then there was Catalonia, now trying to break away from Spain and asserting strong differences from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is a sort of close cousin to Savoy which was long independent of France but is now part of France, and along with Provence, which speaks a significantly different dialect often referred to Langue D’Oc because the word “oc” replaces the word “oui” (yes, in English; oc is a Latin term and the Romans were more concentrated in southern France). Germany has several distinct regions, also and there is a peculiar, ancient region on the border of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany that for over 1,000 years had its own language that was roughly a blend of Dutch and German with varying degrees of each, depending upon how close a community was to one nation or another, called Limburgische. Its genetics are rather unique also--again a blend of peoples of all four modern nations. Populations are not going to be genetically identical in all parts of some European countries and the necessary, truly thorough, sampling is going to be complicated.

What we’ve found, though, is none of the major testing firms seems to be as aware of this history of the genetic populations’ development of Europe as they are of the different countries and regions of Asia or Africa and they have NOT done as much sampling across Europe as they have in some other parts of the world. Nor have enough Europeans volunteered, on their own, to be tested to create a strong, diverse and comprehensive statistical sample, of all the countries, and the counties or districts of provinces in them, in Europe. Until that happens, and all the databases have several hundred thousands more Europeans, most Americans are going to be somewhat disappointed with test results from ALL of the companies, in trying to find their ancestors’ specific countries and districts of provinces/counties within them, in Europe. They will not feel confident that they KNOW where all their ancestors originated in Europe, and whether or not they still have cousins where their emigrant ancestors were born.

Now having a much greater number of DNA test samples would also benefit Europe in several ways. First and foremost, it would increase U.S. tourism and mean more tourist dollars being spent in more areas of countries, not solely the capitols. Second it would be a boon for genetic medical research and lead to greater understanding of the origins of genetic illness, and possible prevention, and treatments for all kinds of illnesses that are more cost effective and provide faster, better recovery, by being tailored to genetic groups that respond differently to different treatments.

It would be a boon to the medical products and pharmaceuticals companies and enable them to create more and better products, tests, and employ more people--at decent wages. Medicine IS an INDUSTRY after all. Its companies are employers and make profits, and both employees and companies pay taxes, which build infrastructure and provide human services. Good health and prompt effective treatment of the sick is something EVERYONE wants.

The editors of this newsletter are currently getting tests done by multiple companies to compare results, only we’re using the major ones with the largest databases. We have already used Family Tree DNA, and wrote an article about those results. We just sent in our test kits to 23andMe and will soon also get test kits and send in our samples to Ancestry DNA. We’ll let you know what we find. As a result of uploading what we have from Family Tree DNA to another site that does a more detailed centimorgan analysis we found out that, as suspected, that we are 6th or 7th cousins. Although we grew up 700 to 1800 miles apart, about 250 years ago, we had ancestors who lived next to--and married with--one another. We have documentation showing a few of our ancestors living next to one another, and this confirms these DNA tests and analysis results. Thus, there is a real, significant degree of test and analysis accuracy, despite the admitted current limitations of the seven or eight testing companies and their “let’s try to fill in the blanks” estimating algorithms.

Readers who know people in Europe, including known family, should urge them to get tested and be in the databases. Readers should also lobby the testing companies and the countries in Europe to get together and build a thorough, comprehensive database. We also should urge the seven or eight DNA testing companies to do as three companies are already doing--let persons being tested upload results from one company to the databases of others to maximize their chances of finding definitive ancestry, and current cousins. The researchers at all the companies who create the algorithms and pass on studies to pharmaceutical and medical test products’ companies should be able to do the same thing. Everyone would benefit, be much more satisfied, and we’d see fewer skeptical articles like the one done by Mr. Baron in the “San Jose Mercury News.”

Tyrone Bowes
Tyrone Bowes, Ph. D.

Tracing your ancestors

How autosomal, mtDNA, or Y-DNA tests can help

By Tony Becker, Cecilia Fabos-Becker and Tyrone Bowes, Ph. D.

Published May 4th, 2018

Tyrone Bowes
Scottish Origins Maps

In the past few months, we have struck up a correspondence with Dr. Tyrone Bowes, who has made a name for his innovative approach to tracing one's ancestors, combining cutting edge DNA test results matching with historical records research. Dr. Bowes is a full time Genetic Genealogist doing mainly personalised Irish, Scottish, and English Y-DNA Case Study Reports for individual clients.

DNA tests results are NOT RANDOM! Many people begin assuming they are, then, as they look into the subject, discover that they are anything but random.

For many centuries, the Salic law (male preference) has governed the inheritance of property, as well as taxation and military obligations, throughout Ireland, Scotland, and most related places, and so they generally these pass from father to son, and only sometimes to daughters when there is no male heir. There are very many various public records of these transfers, and many of them are now available online for research.

Irish Origenes Maps
Irish Origins Maps

As it happens, the DNA on one's Y chromosome is likewise inherited only from the paternal line, father to son.

Dr. Tyrone Bowes has made a business of taking advantage of these facts and resources to trace the place of origin of many Celtic surnames, and also offers his personal services to use a client's personal DNA results to match the client with such a 'place of origin' for a given surname.

Earlier this year, we learned of his many publications, and reached out to him to begin some collaborations, particularly in helping those who are looking for their ancestors become aware of his techniques and perhaps services as well, to achieve their goal.

In such cases, where male relatives with the surname of interest are available to provide a Y-DNA test result, the searching process is made considerably less difficult. If we consider an ancestor back 4 generations, where one has 16 grandparents, with a Y-DNA test result, we only need to sort out 1/16th as many relationships, very much less than if one must winnow through all one's other ancestors and descendants.

However, many of us do not have a direct, exclusively male line of descent to our Celtic ancestors. Thankfully, there are numerous other ways to discover the 'Adam' who first used a given surname.

15-20% of Irish and Scots surnames are unique. One can determine the origin for these surnames even in the absence of DNA test results. For example, one of Tony's maternal great-grandmothers, was named Maryann Coyne (1835/6-1921). Historical records show that the surname Coyne was first used by a single small clan in a single location, near Clonbur in County Galway, around the 1500's. All the Coynes of the counties Mayo, Galway and Roscommon ultimately descend from the single small clan at Clonbur, in County Galway.

Even more Celtic surnames are rare, but not unique. While chatting with a female visitor to the booth at a recent Celtic festival, she asked about the origins of her maternal grandfather, whose surname was 'Callander'. This particular spelling indicates the name is Scottish, not the English occupational surname. There are two locations, where a small number of families with this surname have long lived: but one is in Perthshire and the other in Stirlingshire. Although ~ 25% of her DNA comes from her Callander grandfather, because he is her mother's father, and not her father's father, she does not carry his Y-DNA, and would not even if she was a male rather than a female.

Unfortunately, she is not in touch with any of her Callander uncles or cousins.

When there is no male relative of a given surname readily available, one approach to tracing the surname begins with taking an autosomal test, like the Family Finder DNA test, (Click Here for the Family Tree DNA Family Finder test). An autosomal test examines all the DNA of your 23 chromosomes. In this approach, you take the autosomal test result, use it to look for a close match to a related, male of the same surname, (in this case, a Callander), and verify any Callander match by comparing your family trees. Then you can ask that male relative to take the more male specific, Y-DNA test, and use his Y-DNA results in determining the surname's origin.

This visitor then asked if her mitochondrial DNA test results could help in the Callander surname tracing. We all inherit our mtDNA only from our direct maternal line (your mother's mother's mother etc.....). One CAN use mtDNA to help pinpoint a maternal 'Eve', but it's more challenging task than using Y-DNA, and again, one must depend on finding a match to one's relatives.

With the mtDNA results, because there is no link with a surname, one must explore the ancestral locations revealed among one's mtDNA matches. Again, these matches will not be random. and one can identify a common location of association among them. But the problem still remains of putting a date to an 'Eve' in X location.

If you are going to do an mtDNA test, you'll want to maximize the chance of finding matches by ordering the Full Sequence mtDNA test. It is more expensive, but there is less maternal DNA to work with compared to the Y-DNA test. Again, we recommend that you Test with FTDNA, as FTDNA has the largest mtDNA database, larger than their competitors, and therefore the best chance of finding a matching relative.

Dr. Bowes has built two websites, which make a large portion of the accumulated results of years of work in this area, available to everyone: and www.scottishorigenes. There are many useful family history resources available on these two sites. For just one example, on, one can select from the menu 'The Databases>Surnames Database', enter a surname and find where a given surname occurs and how it is distributed across Ireland. Dr. Bowes surnames database(s) are constantly expanding, and work is underway to make it even more easily accessible.

The entire field of DNA Ancestry technology is evolving very quickly, so if you don't find what you are looking for now, you are well advised to check back every few months - it may become available!

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Woods / Wood Case Study

By Tony Becker and Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Tyrone Bowes
Tyrone Bowes, Ph. D.

In the past few months we have written several times about using DNA test results to help find one's Ancestors, and mentioned Dr. Tyrone Bowes. Dr. Bowes is a full time Genetic Genealogist who does personalised Irish, Scottish, and English Y-DNA Case Study Reports for individual clients looking for their ancestors in their Celtic homelands. He also has, from 2016 - 17, been a professor in the medical college of National University of Ireland, Galway--and they knew of his interests and research when they employed him.

In his short article in the May 4th edition of this newsletter, (Read it here), Dr. Bowes gave an overview of his innovative approach to tracing one's male line ancestors and surname, combining Y-DNA test results matching with historical land record matching. His typical results can identify a region and often the particular village where a Scottish or Irish surname was first used!

Coincidentally, just in time for Father's Day, Family Tree DNA is offering a $40 discount on their 37 marker Y-DNA test from now through Monday, June 18th, bringing the cost down to just $129.00.

DNA tests, especially Y-DNA results, are NOT RANDOM! Look into the subject, and you will find that they are anything but random, and Dr. Bowes is THE expert at using them to tease out the family connections that can trace your Scottish and Irish ancestors and your surname back to their time and place of origin.

We recently referred one group to Dr. Bowes for a Y-DNA review and they are very happy recipients of his help.

Like many other Wood and Woods families researchers, these folks had spent decades in document hunts to try to pinpoint their Wood family origins. After many decades, they had minimal success. At the time of the French and Indian War, 1755 - 1763, at least three separate Wood and Woods families converged in Orange County, North Carolina--and they all used a naming tradition that had several of the same forenames. Members of the family had also used both the Wood and Woods surnames, going back and forth for a time. For hundreds of family history researchers in the U.S. like Celia who had the misfortune to be descended from Woods or Wood families, it is well known there are two consistent 'migraine families' who enrich the NSAID manufacturers: One of them is Wood and Woods, and the other, Campbell, is sometimes related to the them. If you want to see a spike in Celia's blood pressure--just ask about or mention family history research issues connected with either one of these families to her.

A small group of the males of one of these Orange County, North Carolina line sent their DNA results to Dr. Bowes, on Celia's recommendation, when neither they nor she could come up with much new solid documentation. They'd already seen something that was curious in their first DNA test results. They had little or no connections to most of the other Wood and Woods family groups who had been exchanging DNA results on several websites, including gedmatch. They kept coming up with a secondary group to their Wood families all surnamed or connected to Blevins families. It turns out, through analysis of both DNA and land records done by Dr. Bowes there is a single particular line of Wood families with Blevins connections. This Wood family with its particular markers started out in Lancashire near Kirkby, the only place the Blevins are found near Woods families today, and in the last couple of centuries, as well as 1,000 years ago. This same DNA match then moved into Scotland between 1400 and 1500 CE into Ayrshire and up near Glasgow, where they were then heavily intermarried with the Boyd family.

So this particular Wood family actually is from one of the six counties identified as original Wood and Woods families counties almost 40 years ago just from land records and which was seen then as a possible origin of some of the Scots Wood and Woods families, by researchers with the American Genealogical Research Institute in Arlington, VA, in about 1970-72, published in The Woods Family, by the AGRI in 1973. At that time, the group of researchers identified the major counties of Wood and Woods families origins as Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Derbyshire, Notts, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, and extending originally from Yorkshire, Norfolk with a smaller group in neighboring Suffolk.

The group concluded, from the earliest land records and recordings of the surname, that most of the original families who became surnamed Wood and Woods, were pre-Roman and pre-Saxon, though the name itself is Saxon--what the Saxons used to address the people. Celtic peoples who had been associated with forests and possibly Druid groves of oaks and the greatest numbers of these surnames and similar names like Atwood are found nearest the oldest surviving forests, particularly those with oak, ash and rowan trees. It was believed by this group of researchers that the Wood and Woods families in Scotland came from primarily two original groups: those in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Indeed in 16th century records of the Woods and Wood families in Scotland, there are two groups that stand out: those near Perthshire (Wood of Largo, etc.) and those near Glasgow and Ayrshire. There's not a lot in between them. Lancashire is closer to the western, Ayrshire and Glasgow group: Yorkshire to the eastern Scottish group. In the early 1970's, this was just some semi-educated guessing based on land records, not much generation to generation documentation or anything else, at that time. DNA testing did not exist.

But recently, the new analysis done by Dr. Bowes confirmed these long held land records based hypotheses. His efforts, used several male Wood's Y-DNA tests and some rock-hard science, to work with the limited documentation that has survived over 1,000 years of warfare and bolster these suspicions enough to make them conclusions.

A few years ago, one critic of Dr. Bowes, a competitor with her own group, made some valid criticisms about the need to use more, and older land records. Dr. Bowes, to his credit did that and it made his programs better and more accurate. We looked at the original criticisms and his original claims and the new and improved program he offers and we've learned people whom we respect in Ireland are using his updated program. We felt confident enough in his program and Family Tree DNA testing that we not only recommend both, but we are now affiliates. We only hope that others who use both the FT DNA testing and Dr. Bowes' programs will be as happy as that Wood family group that sent us effusive thank you's, and others.

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