How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 4 – How to quickly, and effectively, use GEDmatch

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 4 – How to quickly, and effectively, use GEDmatch

dna 4 - featured image(A quick note, we’re using the newer version of GEDmatch called “Genesis” for this walkthrough. It’s soon to be the only GEDmatch, but if you’re not familiar with it, please use GEDmatch Genesis for this example.)

Back in our 1st installment of this series (Link), we suggested that you upload your AncestryDNA results to GEDmatch. We’re hoping you’ve done that, and we’re going to walk you through why this site is so powerful.

GEDmatch is a private site that is run out of Florida, for the purpose of allowing genealogists to upload their tests from all commercial DNA providers, with a complete set of tools to help us make matches between different tests. The key to GEDmatch is both its great tools, as well as it being open and public with all of the tests that are uploaded, but that’s also the warning that goes with GEDmatch: your tests are searchable by anyone. Your raw data is never shared, but your match information is openly shared to anyone that joins, including law enforcement. There have been a lot of stories shared about how GEDmatch was used to solve nearly 30 cold cases (so far), and reunited 10,000 adopted children with their birth families. There is a real chance your uploading of your DNA data is going to unearth secrets that your family doesn’t want unearthed.

At first GEDmatch was bewildering and confusing to us…and most of the walk-throughs we saw online were so detailed, it only further confused us.

We’ll be honest, at first GEDmatch was bewildering and confusing to us…and most of the walk-throughs we saw online were so detailed, it only further confused us. So, we’re going to focus more on the functionality GEDmatch than the technical details. This is still rather advanced, but when you practice with your matches, and then search for the more the technical details, you’ll find it makes a lot more sense.

Each test uploaded to GEDmatch is assigned a kit number, and most of the tools will dna 4 - kitsrequire you to enter either your or your target match’s kit number. Especially when you have multiple kits you’re working with, it will be helpful to have your main page with all of your kit #’s open while you work in other tabs. It’s easier to cut and paste.

One-to Many Comparison

On your home screen you will see all of your kits, and if you click a kit # you’ll be taken to the first tool: One-to-Many Comparison. When the first box comes up, to start with we suggest you filter on only those matches that are 20cM and up. A whole list of names and numbers will pop up, and this is the list of everyone who’s uploaded a kit to GEDmatch that matches your kit. Let’s walk through what each of the boxes mean:

dna 4 - one to many 1

Select – You can pick at least 3 kits here and shortcut several of the tools by clicking on the “Visualization Options” button on the top header.

Kit #, Name (Alias), Email – This the information for you match, including a REAL email address! No more sending an Ancestry message, never hearing anything, and wondering if they ever log into Ancestry. Some people (and we recommend this for everyone managing someone else’s kit) use an alias for their testers name.

dna 4 - one to many 2

GED/Wiki Tree – You can enter a GEDcom-format family tree, or a link to your WikiTree, to help your matches find that MCRA. We’ll walk through this later.

Age – How long has the kit been on GEDmatch

Type – The chip version your test was from. Ignore this, it won’t matter for what we’re doing

Sex – If the GEDmatch uploader didn’t select a Sex for their tester, this will be U

Haplogroup – Shows which group you’re line is in if you took a mtDNA (mothers) or YDNA (fathers) DNA test. Ancestry doesn’t offer these tests, and if there are values in this for your matches, ignore them for now.

dna 4 - one to many 3

Autosomal – This is the type of DNA test Ancestry offers, and it’s what you think of when you think of DNA tests (ie: 50/50 inheritance from mom and dad). This is the area we’ll most care about, and it lists the total cM’s you share with the match and the largest piece of match in your samples. The “Gen” value gives you an estimate of how many generations separate you and this match.

X-DNA – We won’t cover this much, although it will get at least a mention in later post. X-DNA won’t be of much value, except in one very specific way.

You can click the header of each column to sort the results, but in this case let’s take a look at one of the higher cM matches on my list that I don’t yet know who they are.

One-to-One Autosomal DNA Comparison

dna 4 - kit match

For our example we’re going to select kit #M717701, especially since they have a family tree shared for this match. Clicking on the “GED Wiki” link in the GED column opens a link to their public tree on wikitree.com, but reviewing all of the surnames there, I don’t see any that jump out at me. I’m going to copy the kit # and go back to the home screen, to check out our next tool: One-to-One Autosomal DNA Comparison

Here’s where you actually confirm your matches to other kits, and start to get a view into the actual DNA segments that all of these matches are built off of. In the Ancestry tool, you take their word for it that you match someone, but this tool will actually prove you’re related.

dna 4 - onetoone match
The blue indicates that I match the target match on Chromosome 14, and it indicates the position of the start of the match and the end. Above the blue, the yellow show that it’s a match to half my chromosome, which would be expected if I inherited that bit from just my mother or just my father.

Entering our kit # first box, and pasting in M717701 in the second, we get a picture of exactly where we match, or if we actually share no significant DNA (it happens!). In this case, we match the sample on Chromosome 14, and the exact start/stop positions of the match are listed. (We’ll come back to that in our next post, about DNApainter).

If you scroll all the way down to the bottom there’s more detail about this match, the most important info showing the estimated number of hops to our Most Common Recent Ancestor (MCRA). In this example it shows as 4.4 between us and the GGP that we share, dna 4 - onetoone detailbut it’s best to double that number and use it to estimate the number of people between you and your match. 4.4×2 is 8.8, so we’ll round up to 9, and when it comes time to build out the link between us we’ll expect that it’s likely 4 or 5 ancestors up to the MCRA, and 5 or 4 ancestors back down to the match. Without even going to the “Shared cM Project” graph, we can guess that it’s most likely the MCRA we’re looking for will be a 3xGGP (4 ancestors from me) or 4xGGP (5 ancestors from me). But, we need to narrow down which side of the family this match is on, which brings us to our next tool: People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits.

People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits

This tool is very powerful, and where we do most of our work, and make most our matches. This is especially true if you have more than one kit in GEDmatch, because you can quickly narrow down target matches to either being on your mother’s or father’s side of the family. For example, I have my mother’s and a paternal uncle’s kits uploaded, so if I use GEDmatch to show me all of the kits match my test and my target test, I can pretty quickly see if it’s on my mother’s side, or my father’s. Plus, I have many known matches that we don’t manage, so we can usually get pretty lucky on narrowing it down further.

dna 4 - matching 2 resultsFor our example, we ran this test on our target user from above and we see that they match my mom’s test also, so we’re looking at a MCRA on her side. We just cut our search in half! Looking more closely, her cousins on her father’s side have maybe a dozen tests in GEDmatch, but none of them are listed here. It’s very likely then, given the volume and closeness of the paternal cousins’ tests that if this was on my mom’s father’s side, they would show up in this list…so we’re going to assume this match is on my mom’s mother’s side. We just took the total number of potential MCRA’s down in half again, so we’re really narrowing in! Given that we already have 21 of 32 5xGGP’s identified in that branch of the tree, odds are pretty good we’re going to find a common surname.

dna 4 - matching 2 ancestry tree, narrowed
5 minutes on GEDmatch and we’ve narrowed the search for our MCRA down to this narrow section of our tree!

In this case, we’re going to have to do what we did in our last post (Link), which corresponds to DNA secret #2: we’ll spend most of our time building out other people’s trees! Looking at the GED Wiki tree they have up, there’s a decent 4 generation tree on the match’s father’s side, but only a mother’s name and birth/death. Since nothing on the father’s side jumps out, we’ll build out their mother’s side first.

The other huge advantage at this point with GEDmatch is that we have the direct email address of our relative immediately, and so, once we’ve validated we’re a match with the 1:1 tool, we can reach out to what’s likely their regular email account and see if they have more information.

DNA Triangulation

Triangulation is confirming that not only does your test match the target’s kit, but that another known ancestor’s kit matches as well. In the above example we confirmed I matched with the “One-to-One” tool, and we linked my mom with the “People who match both” tool, but technically we’re just guessing my mom’s kit also matches the target kit. I’ve never had it be wrong, but to really prove the match it would be best to confirm the matching segment for myself, my mom, and the target all match. There’s a GEDmatch “Tier1” tool for Triangulation (and we find it VERY worth it to donate $10/month to get the Tier1 tools!), but it’s just about as easy to do a One-to-One test between my mom and the target to do a full triangulation.

Going forward

Once we prove out the family tree link to our “Cake” ancestor, and we have our MCRA, we will have really narrowed down how we’re linked to everyone else on the “People who match both” list. There’s nearly 50 matches on that list that we now have very solid evidence on who the MCRA is. Even if we have to build out most of those trees manually, it’s likely we already have pieces of those trees built out when we made the first match.

That being said, it’s one of the reasons it’s so frustrating that Ancestry has such weak tools. If we could combine Ancestry’s strong base of Public Trees with GEDmatch’s tool set, our effectiveness when making DNA matches would be extraordinary! It’s also why it’s so important to upload/link a GEDCOM file to your GEDmatch tree. It doesn’t have a great interface, but even ugly tree’s make this search much, much easier!

Using just these 3 simple tools you can build out many matches using GEDmatch. Just keep practicing, and quickly it’s like you’ve been using it for years. And, as your skill in the tool grows, those overly technical online walk-throughs will help further unlock the power of AncestryDNA tests!

In our next installment, we’re going to use DNApainter to narrow down those matches were we have no data on how we’re connected to a verified match, so we know where to focus our traditional genealogical research, and we’ll talk about some of the more advanced topics we won’t dive into too deeply in this series.

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 3 – Building connections to your unknown DNA matches

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 3 – Building connections to your unknown DNA matches

In Parts 1 and 2 we walked you through the basics of DNA (How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 1 – Getting started), of the importance of having a good tree to your 4xGGP, and how to label you AncestryDNA matches that already have hints (How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 2 – Leveraging your strongest matches to make quicker work of your more challenging matches!). In this part, we start to do the hard work of building out DNA matches where we don’t have a matching trees, and we don’t know how they’re linked to us.

Once you have all of your hints with notes attached, look for your largest unidentified match that has a Public Tree, even if it’s unlinked. Since the tree has no hints you’ll know their tree doesn’t match yours (yet!), but the larger the amount of cM the closer your match…so the fewer relatives you’ll have to build out.

Before we dive in with our first example, here’s the first of several surprising truths about doing genealogical DNA work: you will spend most of your time doing other people’s trees. In a perfect world your DNA match built out their tree to their 4xGGP too…but you’ll find most times you won’t be so lucky!

DNA match surprise #1: You will spend most of your time making DNA matches building out other people’s trees.

Example #1: Eileen Wilson

DNA 3 - Elieen WilsonAs an example, let’s look at a match with an Unlinked Tree and 242 cM of shared DNA. Looking at the match’s Public Tree, the names don’t jump out (other than the very common “Smith”), but based on our notes, we know it’s on Michael’s Father’s Mother’s Mother’s Father’s line…which was William Arthur Smith. To confirm, we entered the cM in the DNA Painter Shared cM Project tool (Link), and the results (eliminating the ½ siblings) indicate the most likely matches are from our tester’s Grandparents or Great Grandparents.

Expanding our tree, we see that we had already identified Wallace David Smith in our tree, his wife Mabel, as the brother of William Arthur Smith. We also had their daughter Lula, which all of which sync’s up with the match’s tree. From there, it’s pretty easy to prove out that the DNA match is the daughter of George and Lula (Smith) Hopkins.DNA 3 - Jewell tree

This is the same process whether the DNA match is 242 cM or 12 cM: use common matches to narrow which line the DNA likely matches you, identify the most likely target for your match through tools like the Shared cM Project charts and the “What are the odds?” tool. From there, build out the likely tree based on your estimates until you find the match. Then, you update the notes so when you find another shared match, you’ll have the info to narrow down their DNA line!

DNA 3 - Edwin Jewell collage
From DNA Painter Shared cM Project tool: When you enter the total cM for your DNA match, it will display both the position of your possible matches and a breakdown of how likely each of those positions are to be your match. In this example, excluding any “half” relationships, we’ve highlighted the most likely matches on the chart, and the second most likely.

Make sure to make a note in your match, as we did in Part 2 of this series, so you’ll be able to focus in on other matches with less shared DNA later.

Let’s try one more match that’s a little further out.

Example #2: “A.G.”

DNA 3-AG tree and cMThe next target is going to “A.G.”, a woman that shares 26cM with the same tester as the first example. The first thing we do is review A.G.’s shared matches with us, and we see notes indicating that the match is on our tester’s Father’s side, so we just narrowed our focus to that ½ of the tree. Next, we went to DNA Painter Shared cM Project tool and maped out the most likely matches for the level of shared cM, which shows that it’s likely our shared match is around a 4th Cousin, Once removed or a 5th Cousin. This means, it’s most likely we’re looking for 3x/4x GGP as our MRCA.

The good news is that we have a strong tree to 3x/4x GGP’s for our tester. The bad news is, we have no tree for A.G. and we’re going to have to build hers out to understand where we match. We followed our own instructions on building out a “quick and dirty” Ancestry tree (Building a good Public Ancestry.com tree – Part One: sources, citations, facts, and proof), especially paying attention to find proof of relationships between each generation. And, in the end, after about 16 hours of total work we found…nothing. No match.

DNA 3-Built out Geske tree
The family tree of “A. G.”, after 16 hours of building it out and confirming relationships.

Which brings us to our second of our surprising truths about doing genealogical DNA work: Your DNA matches will mostly be on family lines you already have great information on, and conversely most of your unlinked DNA matches will be on family lines which are already your brickwalls.

DNA match surprise #2: Your DNA matches will mostly be on family lines you already have great information on, and conversely most of your unlinked DNA matches will be on family lines which are already your brickwalls.

In this case, we have limitations on several key areas of our family tree. Our tester is Michael’s grandmother, and on her paternal line we run into a pretty solid brickwall at her 2x GGP. They likely were born in either New Hampshire or Vermont, before they migrated to Michigan through New York, but 3 generations of family historians haven’t gotten past Alvin Jewell (1830-1911). In A.G.’s line, there are two couples from Vermont, from about that time, but there’s not enough evidence to pursue a solid line of inquiry.

This brings us to of our third surprising truths about doing genealogical DNA work:  Even with the best of trees, and hours of effort, you’re going to have a lot of matches that you’re not going to be able to link to your tree.

DNA match surprise #3: Even with the best of trees, and hours of effort, you’re going to have a lot of matches that you’re not going to be able to link to your tree.

This is also where the limitations of AncestryDNA start to become apparent. There are nearly no tools there to help us determine which side of our match’s line do we expect we match. How can we leverage DNA triangulation to further narrow down where we should be researching? When you’re trying to figure out where to look amongst 32 GGP’s who might be a key to your DNA match, being able to eliminate ½ of those potential matches is a huge boon. But, beyond what we’ve already gone through, there’s not much more they can offer.

One of the other limitations of AncestryDNA is that you can never prove your matches. Even in our first example, we have a good tree match, and the amount of shared DNA (242 cM) matches exactly where we’d expect the two samples to match (2nd Cousins), but without tools like a chromosome browser, it’s impossible to prove those two kits match as we’ve assumed.

We’ll be looking at other tools in later installments, including how we can narrow down the search for our MCRA link to A.G.

In our next installment we’re going to go through a GREAT set of tools in GEDmatch that will demonstrate what we wish we had in Ancestry, and we’ll show you how to leverage you DNA results there to really unlock your matches.

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 2 – Leveraging your strongest matches to make quicker work of your more challenging matches!

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 2 – Leveraging your strongest matches to make quicker work of your more challenging matches!

Last week we discussed the (very!) basics of DNA testing, and we’re going to take that jumping off point and walk you through how we identify our AncestryDNA matches.

So, congratulations you got your test results back! Now what?

Check out our Ethnicity, and then move on

We wrote extensively why Ethnicity is not a valid part of genealogy and it often does more have than good (It’s time to stop giving attention to “Ethnicity” and genetic admixture), but everyone wants to look at it first (including us!), so give it a read through…and then be done with it. You can go back when you’re bored, but for now let’s get to some real work!

Export your results to GEDmatch

AncestryDNA has the largest DNA database, and the largest set of trees to help establish DNA matches, but their toolset isn’t even basic. Their tools are essentially non-existent. GEDmatch is a free site that provides a great tool set, and results there are used for some of the most important tools you’ll use as you progress deeper in mining your DNA matches. Plus, tests from all of the major sites can be compared on GEDmatch, so you will find 23andMe and Family Tree DNA kits matched to your AncestryDNA there. You’ll also get direct email addresses to your match!

Fair warning however, this is a publicly accessible database that’s specifically used to allow strangers to find your DNA and match it to theirs. This is the tool that’s being used by law enforcement to close cold murder and rape cases, and some people are worried about how publicly accessible their data may be. We don’t share those concerns, and we’re comfortable with their privacy policy and we know we can permanently take our data down if we want to (they do NOT share your raw DNA data, only provide matching segments), so the work we can do there is worth the trade-offs. We wrote about this when the Golden State Killer was ID’d off of GENmatch (Family History is a hobby…but DNA is serious business).

Assuming you want to move forward, we suggest that you start the transfer process first thing since it will take a few days for GEDmatch to full analyze your Raw DNA data.

To download your data from AncestryDNA, follow the instructions here: Download your DNA results

To upload your data to GEDmatch, follow the instructions here: Upload your AncestryDNA results to GEDmatch

We’ll come back to GEDmatch in a future post in this series, as we dive deeper into some of the great tools available there.

Evaluating your matches

Now, let’s get to the first matches! That first look at what’s likely to be 2000-3000 DNA matches is overwhelming, but we’re going to break everything into smaller and smaller bits until we can really start to leverage these matches.

If you followed our Part 1 advice of building our your tree to your 4xGGP, with any luck you’ll now have matches with “Hints” (indicated by the little shaky leaf next to the “Match” button). In the “Filter’s” section, click on Hints, and it should show you only your matches with the shaky leaf. When you click “View Match” button, the path of connection between you and your match should come up.

Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 8.25.49 PMIn the example to the left, our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) is our Great Grandparents, and Ancestry has mapped out each of the steps between us. Given AncestryDNA’s limited tool set, we only have a few ways to successfully build out our matches. The first of these was Hints, the next one we’ll use is “Notes”

How to use “Notes” to quickly identify your matches

There are literally a million ways of using the Notes fields in AncestryDNA, and we don’t claim this to be the best way…or even a good way. It’s just the way we’ve found most helpful.

For each MRCA we assign a Line #, and in this example Charles and Rhoda Smith are Line 11. This is the note we’ll use:

Rick-MMF (Not Researched, Charles Henry Smith and Rhoda Upper) – Line 11

Which breaks down as:

  • Rick-MMF – We do our genealogy from the standpoint of our son, Michael, and so this helps quickly identify that the match on Michael’s Father’s Mother’s Mother’s Father’s line.
  • Not Researched – Ancestry, or other quick research like a “Notes” entry has said this is a match, but we haven’t gone through yet and confirmed the genealogy nor have we added this match to our tree yet.
  • Charles Henry Smith and Rhoda Upper – The Most Recent Common Ancestor (MCRA) between us and our match.
  • Line 11 – The line # for these MCRA’s.

These notes help us quickly identify the MCRA for unmatched DNA matches, they quickly identify the matches we need to work to make official, and they give us line numbers we can use later to search for all matches with the same MCRA.

An example of how we use these Notes

After we’re done identifying and validating all of the DNA matches with Hints, and we start trying to identify how other matches tie into us, and what we can learn from those ties, we’re going to start with some very limited ways to identify the MCRA and/or the path to that MCRA. In this example we have a DNA match that has an unlinked Public tree, but with a strong 48 cM of shared DNA.

Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 8.58.50 PMWhen we click through to the test page, and select the unlinked tree, we find a dead-end: everyone is Private.

Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 8.54.50 PM.pngIn GEDmatch we’d have a series of tools we could use to narrow down this match, but in AncestryDNA we can’t tell if this match is even Paternal vs. Maternal. But, if we go into the “Shared Matched” and look for any kits listed there that have a Note, we can click the note and see who they match. In this case, they match our Lila Miller match, which has the note we made before attached, so we know this match also is likely to be on Rick’s MMF’s line, and that they are also on Line 11. We will make the same note in this match, and return to our searching.

Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 9.03.21 PM

These notes will be invaluable as we get into the next installment of “Making the Most of your AncestryDNA Matches”, and use Ancestry as deeply as we can to build out/prove our family trees.

Until next week, update all of your Hints with the proper Notes, and we’ll start blazing new trails!

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 1 – Getting started

How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 1 – Getting started

As we approach Christmas 2018, and given the massive push to have cheap DNA tests given out as gifts this season, it seems natural to finally write a series on how to make genealogical use of a DNA test you, or your loved one, may have just taken.

We’re going to start with the very basics on how DNA testing works, and walk through both how to leverage AncestryDNA to track down ancestors as well as using GEDmatch and other advanced tools to go even deeper.

Assuming you have a few weeks before the test results are in, here are a couple of things to learn and prepare before you dive into the matches.

  • First, understand that while the commercials like to highlight the joys of learning your ethnicity, DNA testing raises serious issues that will likely come up as your journey progresses. You may uncover family relationships, both inside and outside of your family, that could have serious negative impacts on people. We’ve uncovered children born outside of marriages that were never known to the family, and we know of adopted children who were outed by tests where their parents had never told them. We wrote about an example of this last year (Dangers of DNA Testing).
  • Second, they key to effectively making matches will be a good, solid family tree through the test subject’s 4x Great Grandparents. Most of your matches made will be through 3x or 4x GGP, and in a perfect world the match will also have a good tree so the link will be obvious. We can’t over state this, or stress it enough: your success/failure of matching DNA tests from unknown relatives will rely on the quality and depth of your tree. We’ve walked through how to build a good “quick and dirty” Public tree on Ancestry (Building a good Public Ancestry.com tree – Part One: sources, citations, facts, and proof), and the process would be about the same on other sites, many of which are free.
  • It’s also important you have the tree available publicly…many of your interactions are going to be about exchanging trees to build a match. It’s ok if you have just a skeleton tree with basic information(names, date of birth/death, locations, children, etc.), but it will be key that you have something available publicly. 

Basics of DNA

The main new term/concept you’ll need for effective Genealogical DNA research is a measure of distance: centimorgan (cM). Now, it’s not technically distance…but for all intents and purposes, it’s used as a measure of distance.

What does cM measure?

Centimorgan measures length of DNA strands. More specifically, it will be used to measure the length of matching DNA segments between your test and a test that is a genetic match. For example, you have roughly 6800 cM if you take all 22 chromosomes and strung them out end-to-end, and your matches will have varying levels of matching DNA, measured by centimorgans.

How do we use centimorgans to identify matches?

Since you get about 50% of your DNA from each parent, your DNA tests will match a test from your parents with about 3400 cM. You will match a Grandparent with about 1700 cM (50% of your parent’s 50%). The more cM you match someone, the closer a relative they are, and the more likely that you will confirm a match with them. 

We’ll use both charts from ISOSG (The Shared cM Project table) and an interactive version of that chart from the DNA Painter site (Shared cM Interactive Tool), which both break down the average cM to expect with various relatives, and helps us identify where to look to establish a match. For example, if a match is 311cM then we can guess they match the person with the DNA test at around a 1st or 2nd cousin…which means our common ancestor is likely a Grandparent or Great Grandparent, which narrows down our search!

What’s next?

So, there’s the first part of this DNA journey. There’s a little homework while you wait for the test results, a basic understanding about how we’ll actually leverage the DNA to make matches, and why your basicGenealogy and a solid family tree will be key to this process. Next week, we’ll go over what to do when you first get your DNA results!

Next installment: How to make the most of your AncestryDNA matches: Part 2 – Leveraging your strongest matches to make quicker work of your more challenging matches!

How to leverage the power of deed records in Family History research

How to leverage the power of deed records in Family History research

This post takes a little journey to get to the point…but we think it’s worth the trip, and it should help demonstrate the power of old property records. In case you missed it, we’re building off of last week’s review of DeedMapper (Product Review: DeedMapper 4.2 – An essential tool to bring land purchases/sales into your Family History research)

Deed Books are a great tool to move forward some of your most stubborn research questions, and there is a great deal of data in them, but without a tool like DeedMapper you’re likely not going to get the full picture of what’s found in them!

On Michael’s paternal line, the Tradewell’s are one of the two brickwalls left on that side of the tree…which is all the more ironic because the matriarch of family history research on that line was Myra (Tradewell) Morse (1870-1962). In all of her genealogy notes, and DAR applications, and family history presentations she never recorded the name of her Great Grandfather…and thus we have a brick wall.

About a year and a half ago we wrote about discovering formal genealogical “Research Reports” (Elizabeth Shown Mills has just the right guidance at just the right time!) and started drafting them for our toughest cases. Of course, the Tradewell line was the first subject. We knew that James B Tradewell is our 4x GGF and that he arrived in Racine County, Wisconsin Territory ca. 1844, where he and his wife Catherine lived until their deaths. We also knew that there was an Ephraim Tradewell, and his wife Marina, also arrived in Racine County around 1844, and that both men listed New York as their birth location. A little research showed that there were a James B and Ephraim Tradewell in Schoharie County, New York for the 1820, 1830, and 1840 U.S. Census but each disappeared after that and no further records were found for them there.

We wrote an “Analysis and Research Plan” for them, and it laid out the following questions we’d hoped to answer:

  • Were the James B and Ephraim Tradewell in Wisconsin from after 1844 the same men as those listed in the 1820-1840 U.S. Census in Schoharie County, New York?
  • Were they related, and/or did they even know each other?
  • Who was each of their fathers, and was either of those persons the brickwall 5x GGF?

Reviewing the Schoharie County Deed Books for 1797-1850 gave us some of the answers, and DeedMapper filled in a major piece of the puzzle.

Were the Wisconsin Tradewells the same as the New York Tradewells?

The answer is now a proven yes! Deeds were usually recorded with the Husband as the only purchaser, but almost always the wife is listed when a property is sold. In fact, every Deed we reviewed where we know we had an ancestor selling property, the wife isn’t just listed, there’s a statement from the County Clerk that recorded the deed that the wife was taken aside out of the presence of her husband to confirm she was willingly agreeing to the transaction. Besides making us wonder if any wife EVER felt empowered enough to say “no”, several sales gave us the names of the New York Tradewell’s wives: James B Tradewell was married to Catherine (Edwards) Tradewell, and Ephraim was married to Marina Tradewell. A perfect match!

We also saw a clean break in New York, with the last Tradewell land transaction completed in the summer of 1842, and the first Wisconsin transaction being conducted in 1844.

Were James and Ephraim related, and/or did they even know each other?

We still do not know if they were related, but we know they were likely very close and in fact lived next to each other…and we never would have known that without DeedMaker. Just reviewing the Deed Books, we learned that they were involved in one land transaction that indicates they were likely in a close relationship. On 7 April 1838 James sold Lot #7 of “Tradewell’s Tavern Stand” in Gilboa, NY to Ephraim for $200. Two weeks later, on 21 April 1838 Ephraim sold the same property to Sidney Tuttle for $200. We’re not sure exactly what was going on there, but it’s very likely there was coordination between the men for this to occur.

But what really sold us on DeedMapper, was what happened when we mapped all the plots we discovered in the 1797-1845 Deed Books. The biggest breakthrough came when we first mapped two properties, with no common points in their Legal Description, and they clearly fit together. Without sharing Metes & Bounds points in the description (like a Willow Tree), there’s no easy way to determine how they relate, but when you map them visually you can see them like jigsaw puzzle pieces and get a great feeling of location for the land.

Once we had those two properties mapped (both were owned by James B Tradewell and recorded in 1806), we drew another plot owned by Ephraim (recorded 1834) and we immediately knew they lived together as neighbors with an adjoining property line.

Here is the first Legal Description for James’ largest plot:

Beginning at a Willow tree near the Schoharie Creek marked on the east side with the Letters C.E. and runs thence south 15 degrees east 10 chains and 60 links, thence East 25 chains, thence north 21 degrees 30 minutes east 32 Chains, thence north 10 chains 50 links, thence west 17 chains and 50 links to the Schoharie creek, thence along said creek to the place of beginning containing 117 acres of land be the same more or less.

And here is the Legal Description for Ephraim’s plot:

Beginning at a hemlock sapling on the East side of Schoharie Creek marked on 4 sides with 3 notches and a blaze on the North side B.H, on the South side I.D. and runs thence North 30 degrees East 8 chains, thence, North 24 degrees West 12 chains, thence, due West 25 chains, thence, North 15 West 10 chains 60 links, thence, South 41 degrees West 12 chains to the west side of said creek, thence, South 2 degrees West 5 chains 75 links, hence, North 52 degrees East 2 chains, thence South 62 degrees East 6 chains to the North East side of said creek, thence, up said creek to the place of beginning.

These two plots, recorded almost 30 years apart, and showing no common marker other than Schoharie Creek, when drawn, revealed just how closely these men lived:

Tradewell Map
The pink lines are the boundries of Ephraim Tradewell’s property, the black lines are James B Tradewell’s two plots. (Note: The maps don’t fit perfectly the boundary lines, because they specifically reference the edge of a creek that no longer exists and likely changed frequently after floods, etc.)

The beauty of DeedMapper is that this is first time we worked with Metes & Bounds land descriptions, the first time we’d recorded large amounts of deed information, and this was the 3rd time we’d ever entered information into the software. We literally knew almost nothing about what we were doing, and DeedMapper brought home how closely these men lived.

Now, it doesn’t prove James and Ephraim were related, and it’s likely only DNA will ever do that, but there is now no question these men had a close relationship. They weren’t distant cousins that lived miles apart in the same County, their families lived right next to each other.

Who was their father?

We still don’t know. This creek that’s referenced in so many of the deeds was dammed up in the 1920’s to provide drinking water to New York City, and all of this land is under a reservoir. However, that project caused the local Gilboa cemetery to be relocated, which gave us strong evidence that our 5x GGP were Reuben and Esther Tradewell, and if we can ever prove that James and Ephraim were brothers, we’ll then likely know Ephraim’s father too.

So, Deed Books are a great tool to move forward some of your most stubborn research questions, and there is a great deal of data in them, but without a tool like DeedMapper you’re likely not going to get the full picture of what’s found in them!

 

Product Review: DeedMapper 4.2 – An essential tool to bring land purchases/sales into your Family History research

Product Review: DeedMapper 4.2 – An essential tool to bring land purchases/sales into your Family History research
(Note: As always, we receive no financial benefit or consideration for any product or service we review/recommend/discuss here. Everything we discuss is our opinion alone, and we talk about it because we use it.)

Our Ahab-like quest to build links between a group of Tradewell residents of upstate NY in the early 1800’s got a big boost with the discovery of a great new tool: DeedMapper (Direct Line Software)

About two months ago we came across a call to help index exactly the set of records we’d hoped to find, as we tried to build past one of our largest brick walls:  FamilySearch’s New York Land Records, 1630-1975 (Link). This is a collection of all of the NY Deed/Mortgage/Grantor/Grantee books including Schoharie, Albany and Delaware counties from the 1790’s onward. In advance of any Index, we went through every deed in Schoharie county from 1797 through 1845 (when we know our brick wall relatives moved to Wisconsin Territory) and found a gold mine of data.

But very quickly, we ran into the dreaded “Metes & Bounds” problem which we’d read about. Most of our land research has been in areas settled after Western migration when the US Government laid out a grid system that is much easier to determine where land was. Metes & Bounds (Wikipedia) describes land based on landmarks on the property itself, like this:

“Beginning at a Willow tree near the Schoharie Creek marked on the east side with the Letters C.E. and runs thence south fifteen degrees east ten chains and sixty links, thence East twenty five chains, thence north twenty one degrees thirty minutes east thirty two Chains, thence north ten chains fifty links, thence west seventeen chains and fifty links to the Schoharie creek, thence along said creek to the place of beginning”

This makes it nearly impossible to map out what a piece of property looked like, or where it might have been located. But DeedMapper was created to draw a plot based on these property descriptions, and it allows you to overlay the properties on a map. We’re here to tell you, it works well and it’s now a key tool in our tool kit.

The tool has an easy “wizard” like entry window for new deeds, and we had the hang of it the first deed we entered. Essentially, we just had to breakdown the original deed description at each use of “thence”, like this:

  • Beginning at a Willow tree near the Schoharie Creek marked on the east side with the Letters C.E.
  • thence south fifteen degrees east ten chains and sixty links,
  • thence East twenty five chains,
  • thence north twenty one degrees thirty minutes east thirty two Chains,
  • thence north ten chains fifty links,
  • thence west seventeen chains and fifty links to the Schoharie creek,
  • thence along said creek to the place of beginning

The Deed entry screen walked us through each of those lines, until we had our first plot!

DeedMapper - One plotThe next thing we wanted to do was see this on a map, and while DeedMapper has many local maps for purchase, they suggested we download free USGS Topographical maps instead…which worked perfectly because the Schoharie Creek was dammed up in the late 1920’s and no longer runs where any of these property descriptions ran 100 years earlier. The USGS Topo map we downloaded was from 1903, so we were able to get much closer to where the creek ran in 1806.

We found it very easy to move the plots to fit marks on the maps, the feature called “meandering” was especially useful times when the boundary line is described as “along said creek”.

The software is of an older vintage, and it reminds us of a time before ribbons and web interfaces, but it’s more importantly rock solid, well coded, and it does exactly what’s needed. It doesn’t need to be fancy, or modern, it just needs to work and it does.

Just as importantly, DeedMapper support is exemplary! When we first emailed about how we could buy the product without a CD/DVD drive, we had an almost instant reply from a human who is clearly deeply involved in the product. He solved that issue, and then gave us the great info on the USGS maps instead of trying to sell us their own maps. Combined with the great community that’s grown up around this product, with customers sharing their own plotted deeds to the extent that some counties in several states are full mapped, and available for free, it’s clear that one way or another we’re going to get what we need going forward for this software to help us in our genealogical quest.

About the only thing we didn’t like was that DeedMapper is Windows-only, and we do all of our family history on a Mac. Luckily we’re multi-OS, and we’ve been running the program on a MS Surface tablet with no issues.

So, what can you do with DeepMaper and these old Deed books? Next week we’ll give you an example of how we used it to attack some of the questions we’ve been hunting since we first posted about the Tradewell family over a year ago, but here’s what we immediately saw when we drew our first 3 plots…that we thought were just random, unrelated properties:

DeedMapper - Plots

The story of how DeedMapper helped prove a family relationship for us continues here: How to leverage the power of deed records in Family History research

There’s no other way to put it – MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage

There’s no other way to put it – MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage

One quick point, as always, we receive no financial benefit or consideration for any product or service we review/recommend/discuss here. Everything we discuss is our opinion alone, and we talk about it because we use it.

It’s been a year since MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker dominated this blog, as they struggled to deliver their first version since they took over from Ancestry, and this is what we’ve learned: MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker is garbage.

It’s strong language, but their product continues to be literally dangerous to your data. FamilySync has been a COMPLETE disaster since the moment it was promised (then delivered 4 months late), with MacKiev choosing a synchronization strategy that creates data corruption. Companies like RootMagic have delivered sync without issue, and without risk. But nearly a year since MacKiev finally delivered their FamilySync, it’s still buggy and unreliable. It’s dangerous to your work. It’s garbage.

We’re starting to think that it would have been better to let Ancestry kill the product off. It would have been a hard year, but at least we wouldn’t have wasted that year hoping that MacKiev could actually create/support software.

First off, let me say that I have a LOT of experience working with software delivery…with both commercial products and deploying/supporting in-house developed software. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. And if this was product was deployed in the large corporate environment I currently manage for a Fortune 50 company, we’d pull it out. At all costs. We’d never support this horrible effort, with so little partnership from the vendor.

And, for you loyal readers, you might be asking why we’re using FTM anyways. Didn’t we give away free copies of RootMagic to readers who’d paid for the FTM upgrade last August when MacKiev couldn’t get their act together? We did. And we still use/love RootsMagic…but…

Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 10.23.36 PM
“Thank you for stopping your work and spending an hour backing up your data, but our TreeSync is so fragile it’s best you put off more research for another 2 hours or so because we don’t know how to design state-aware data synchronization”

The way RM manages citations just isn’t workable for how we support facts in our trees. For example, we created a custom citation in RootsMagic for the 1900 US Census for Roman and Mary Jones and copied the source to each of the 3 Roman’s facts supported by the citation (Name, Birth, and Residence). When we run a TreeSync with Ancestry, everything went off as expected, but it created 3 separate copies of the same citations…one for each fact. Additionally, there’s no central place to manage/edit/view all sources for a tree, which makes it VERY hard to update citations, etc.

So, we still use RootsMagic for our 60+ speculative trees, but we went back to using FTM for our main, public tree.

Since going back to Family Tree Maker, it’s been one disaster after another. First, there was the months of “Orange” sync status late in 2017 (which we missed, luckily, because we’d kicked them to the curb). About 6 months ago we had to start over and re-download the tree from Ancestry, which destroyed all of our source citations. After two months of work, the database corrupted, and we started a cycle of restoring databases, and getting about a month’s use of Family Tree Maker, and then hitting corruption. We have to restore, and repeat the process.

It really seems that this corruption is happening during FamilySync, and if that’s completely inexcusable. Their sync process HAS to be robust enough to not commit records until the system has no risk of corruption. I’ve worked with data replication since 1997 and every tool has a non-destructive method of committing data, and backing out changes if there’s failure/corruption. Plus, RootsMagic has figured this all out…we sync constantly, and there’s never red/orange/green OR corruption. Just repeated success.

The issue is just with MacKiev.

We’ve figured out how to mitigate the risk of FTM corrupting our data by doing constant syncs (change a record, sync, change another record, sync, etc.) and by reviewing the sync reports each time. For example, the last time we had sync stop working, we noticed that the marriage record for Felice’s side of the family was causing changes in the birth record attached to Rick’s grandmother. By deleting both facts we were able to sync successfully and then re-add the facts, and not have to resort to a restore…but I’m only comfortable doing this because I have 20+ years working with/troubleshooting database issues.

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 2.10.45 PM
Five easy steps to have your data corrupted anyways!!

But the real nail in the coffin is how MacKiev has chosen to deal with their corruption issues. Instead of architecting a proper deployment, or fixing their code, or building in better error trapping, they turn it back on the users of their product to protect themselves from Family Tree Maker’s failures. They are insisting that you add the following steps to every FamilySync:

  • Backup your database (32 minutes for our 3700 person tree)
  • Compress your database (6 min.)
  • Wait for Green conditions (0-240 min.)

Recently, we did a day’s worth of tree building and citing/sourcing (6 hours) and then we had to stop our work and take nearly an hour to sync. Then, we waited for 2 hours for MacKiev’s FamilySync  to go back to Green. Then, the database corrupted anyways, and we lost all 6 hours of work and had to repeat it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 9.40.26 AM
When you see this, you’re screwed…they corrupted your database and you lost everything you did since your last backup!!

If we back up every hour, we risk less data, but we cut our productivity in half (work an hour, back up for an hour)…assuming we don’t have to wait for Green.

In the mean time, I switch over the RootsMagic and work on some speculative side project, with regular FamilySync’s, while FTM is dead in the water waiting to “Go Green”.

As much as I have invested in Family Tree Maker, and as much as it is the tool that really meets my reporting needs the best, We’re starting to think that it would have been better to let Ancestry kill the product off. It would have been a hard year, but at least we wouldn’t have wasted that year hoping that MacKiev could actually create/support software.