Using all the Tools in the Box

Ancestry has unveiled a new Genetic Communities feature that will show genetic ancestry and migration routes of your ancestors based on DNA, family trees, and records.  Can you spot the weak link?  It glared at me right away since lately it has been an issue for me on Ancestry, inaccurate family trees.

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This is my ancestors alleged genetic routes.

I am sitting in paradise, literally, on Maui. Blue skies, waves, the Aloha spirit every where and I can’t leave genealogy alone.  I almost gave myself whiplash when we passed a beautiful cemetery on the north shore, I was itching to walk it to see the markers and honor those whom I never knew. Ancestry decided to unveil a new feature in the middle of my vacation and it has been bothering me since the unveiling. The thorn in my foot, others’ family trees.  I have been through thousands of others’ family trees, some excellent well documented trees, others, that are the genealogy equivalent of graffiti, no documentation copy and paste from other trees or facts changed to fit, with attribution erased.

I wonder why do it, vanity? Why have a trees with 25,000 people? What’s the point if it’s not accurate with documentation? The handy-dandy DNA Origins is here to help with projects.  I assume that may be how I got linked to founders of New York City since I can find no ancestors even remotely linked to that part of New York. I suppose now I can manipulate my tree to reflect that new information, but that’s not my style.  I like to research, I am all about the hunt and the facts. Hunting and fact-finding become difficult as you delve further back in time.  It is consuming and it is anything but easy when done properly.

Can you learn anything from the new feature? Yes.  Most likely it will point to communities that at least some of your relatives migrated through, HOWEVER, the information will only be as good as the trees associated with information.  So, if everyone in your line has misattributed someone, which can happen if they are all copying and pasting the same mistake of the same common relative then boom wrong migration route.

It is usually not done with malice. Most people want to have a nice tree, like everyone else, some just don’t want to do the work.  I have found errors in my own work and hoped no one copied it. I have went back and removed names from one of my trees because I couldn’t find documentation to confirm them and I didn’t want people copying them.  We are all human, we all make errors.  I remember my computer science teacher in high school telling me, junk in junk out.  That is no different from the analytic process for family trees for migration.  What we can hope for is that there is much more wheat than chaff in the process or that Ancestry will weed out the trees that don’t have documentation in their trees, however, when viewing my list my top match who I know, has no tree and is listed-it makes me wonder.

Where DO I Go from Here?

Great, the DNA results are in, I get the concept of building a tree based on matching to see where I might fit.  How can I use matches that either don’t have information or have private trees?  Last week a poster in one of the forums I belong to suggested deleting people because they added no value to his experience on Ancestry if they didn’t have a visible tree.  I felt  both sad and frustrated that he failed to grasp the larger picture of what a match with no visible information could mean to someone doing research.

I will take for example my matches on Ancestry.  My two highest matches were two individuals that show as what Ancestry calls a First Cousin at around 1100 centimorgans and what Ancestry calls a second cousin at 480 centimorgans. The only problem was that the first cousin had no information and just a user name and the 2nd cousin had a very common user name and a three node visible from the landing page, and those names appeared private. If I had followed the gentleman’s philosophy I would have discarded them both as rubbish clogging my feed, however, I am not a person that knee jerks.

I used another Ancestry feature, the Shared Matches button.  When selected I could see that my two top matches were related.  How were they related? The only way to find that out was to build a tree out and be able to place them in it. Matches this close would most likely signal that we shared Grandparents if we were truly first cousins, however, there are other reasons to share that high of centimorgans with a match.  They could be a First Cousin, Half -Aunt, Uncle, Niece, Nephew, Great Grandparent, Great Grandchild, Great Niece or Nephew.

For the second cousin match, the DNA prediction chart suggested-First Cousin Once Removed, Half-First Cousin, Half-Great Niece, Nephew, Aunt or Uncle.  This seemed more puzzling.  To make matters more confusing neither of the matches had been on in almost a year.  Ancestry has stated that they will not send out emails to lapsed users via in system messages, because it bogs down their servers.  I think it would be a great way to get people to renew their memberships-“Hey you’ve got mail, renew your membership and connect with family.” Turn it into marketing for the positive, but I don’t work for you, Ancestry I just log in every day and am frustrated by the lack of message system use.

I clicked on the second cousins three person node that appeared to be nothing.  There in the node was what looked like a sister who had passed away.  I used that sister’s information to find her obituary online.  From the obituary I was able to get her mother’s name who was my first cousin match and also much too old to be my first cousin. So what was she to me then? That opened the rest of my family tree.  It was a large family, her mother’s family had 12 children on one side and 7 on the other that I would have to research each branch up to today to find possible matches.

If I had discarded these matches, it would have been foolish on my part hurting only me.  Find the good in each match.  Look at shared matches to find commonality, look for user names online to see where they fit into existing trees. Watch matches with no information, check back for added trees and added shared matches.  Someone may test they may become the bridge or the AHA! between you and a brick wall.  Message your matches if you’re still unsure, it MAY go through.

Maritime Monday but Why Do I Love Water?

Most of my life I have spent within either a few hundred yard of water or within no more than a quarter-mile.  Was there a deeper reason for that?  Is there something buried deep within my genetic code that demands that I live near water?  Could it be my own personal Feng Shui? Could be.  I know it had nothing to do with the family I was raised in.


Fishing for my first time in Alaska, it was not brilliant.

My adopted mom hates water with a passion.  As much as I love it, she loathes it.  So I know it’s not a matter of nurture.  My childhood home had a picturesque trout stream running through the back yard.  I spent humid summer days on the banks and in the spring fed waters beneath the deep green branches over head, lost for hours.  It was a childhood paradise, at least until myself and the other neighborhood kids would turn blue and have to get out.

As I have aged one constant has remained, my love of the water.  I feel at home on it and in it.  I now own a place on the ocean in Alaska.  I take out my skiff to fish by myself or whale watch, it’s where I am at peace.  The blue expanse and the white puff of a bow head chasing a school of fish my way just lights a fire in me.   I watch my neighbors hauling in their nets, the silver flashes of salmon and an eagle guarding over head.  It’s like I was meant to be here.  This seems right, but why?


This is my Star of the Low Tide  by my house in Alaska.   I love taking photos out my window.  I also sell prints on Etsy. (Shameless Plug)


That pesky DNA.  Nag, nag, nag, then an email, “Great News! Your AncestryDNA results are in.”  On March 30 of last year, it would mark caffeine driven ancestry fueled cram fest researching.  Pandora’s box was open.  Where were my sailors and fisherman? Oh! There they were!

I used methods recommended by groups like DNA Adoption to build my tree  I found a member of the Royal Navy, could this also be why I am a devoted consumer of BBC programming?  Then on the other tree I labeled maternal, I found a ship’s captain on the Great Lakes.  This sounds familiar, are these men where my love of the ocean, of being on the water came from? Without solid research, documentation, and fact checking it’s just fancy on my part.  This was a start.  My DNA was yielding a picture of those wonderful people who came before me.  Those sailors, those captains, those fishermen who worked hard to make something in the new world for their families.  I had set out like them on a course that was uncertain looking for discovery and my own truth.

It all started with Spit

The quest for dead relatives have led to a myriad of locations. The curse of everyone with a Southern Mother is the visits to Civil War battlefields, which are rife though out our country. Getting pummeled with statistics and facts that fit with which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you are on is just a given. I walked among the dead soldiers gleaming white headstones wondering if I too were related to any of them? Which side might they have fought on? Did they kill one of Mom’s relatives or did they fight alongside?

I needed to know. It was my heritage, it was my past to document.

For years I only had two sheets of type written paper that told so little about my background.  Non-identifying information.  I was a citizen without a past, it was verboten.  There are others like me denied access to records, to medical histories, to family genealogies, to simply human interaction, mainly because of fear. It is like the scarlet letter but this time that letter A is for Adoption.

All of that is changing with a little spit. Hello Genetic Genealogy!  Goodbye sealed records and family secrets.  I didn’t know what my test would reveal, no one really does, not even people who are certain about their backgrounds.  I did know that I was tired of not knowing.  I spent my whole life watching others research genealogy. Pre-revolutionary war genealogy has always been the subject of family reunions, yet something has been missing.

The “Big Three” personal DNA companies all offer excellent services and I researched before starting with Ancestry, or as I refer to them the GATEWAY DRUG.  I bought a membership and used the time waiting for my DNA to look through records to see if I might narrow the field, let’s just say I was off the mark and should have waited. What my searching did for me was teach me how to use the Ancestry system to my advantage and how to use Classmates to search yearbooks for possible matches.