One of the all-time best family history interviews we’ve ever conducted was with Felice’s Great Aunt “Ann”. Ann and Felice’s Grandmother Delia were well known for being pretty crazy in their younger days. They were clearly free spirits who came of age about 20 years too early, and too deep in the bible belt. They would have fit well into the Summer of Love in 1967, or the singles bar scene of any major city in the 1970s. Neither was single, but that was never an issue for them.
By the time Super Bowl XV kicked off that night we knew we likely had identified Felice’s mystery Grandfather. We also knew that we were going to be changing a lot of family history.
Ann, who is now 82, has always been a kind, happy woman. Never out to hurt anyone, but never too concerned about what others thought about her ways. She told us stories about how she married her first husband, Luther White when she was pregnant at 13 years old. They only briefly lived together and she “made him stay in the streets because he was a whore”. Ann said he would come over from time-to-time and she’d “let him do what he had to do”, which resulted in them having a child every year or two. Luther’s parents supported her and the children, and they went on to have 9 children together.
Ann eventually moved out of the White household, and soon found a man to move in with. She explained that she needed a “babysitter” so she and Delia could go out and enjoy themselves, and this man fit the bill. Ann says that Delia might have been a little crazier than her, but they were clearly partners in crime.
One of the more telling stories Ann told us was from when Delia was living next door to Ann’s close friend Lilymae. Lilymae’s husband Jack and Delia were having an affair, but Ann wasn’t going to get involved. She didn’t judge her sister. Despite being friends with Lilymae, when she got in a physical fight with Delia over the affair, Ann sided with her sister. Ann told her best friend she’d “beat her ass” if she touched Delia again.
That interview was playing through our head that Super Sunday as the theory that Luther was Mary’s father dawned on us. There’s no reason to doubt that Delia might sleep with her sister’s husband. And, if she had gotten pregnant by Luther it could explain why Delia wouldn’t put the father on Susan’s birth certificate. She said she didn’t know who the father was, but it’s likely Delia knew exactly who it was. Susan’s Grandfather didn’t want her to not have a listed father. He filled out the Birth Certificate, entered the name of the man who fathered Delia’s other two children, and life moved on.
Since Delia passed away in 1999, and Luther in 1994, there would be no first-hand confirmation of this theory. We had only DNA to go on.
From our interview with Ann, we knew only that Luther’s parents were Ira and Eula White, so we started there. The work we did in “Casting a Wide Net” pointed to Roman and Mary Jones as our target Most Recent Common Ancestor. We identified 17 DNA matches who shared the Jones’ as their MCRA. If the link between Roman and Mary and Susan was through Luther’s family, either Ira or Eula had to be a descendant.
We first mapped out that Ira White was the son of Pleasant and Cora (Gordon) White. The White family was in the Northeast Mississippi area around the same time as Roman and Mary Jones, but not in close proximity. Pleasant and Cora were both born enslaved, but we were able to establish both of their sets of parents. None of them lined up with what we knew about Roman and Mary.
We then shifted to Eula’s line and discovered her parents, Joseph and Sarah Moore, were living in the same County as the Roman and Mary at the same time. From our earlier research, we knew the Jones’ listed a daughter Sarah in the 1880 US Census, who was born about 1873. As we researched Sarah Moore we found her in the 1900 Census, with her birth date listed as November 1872.
We had a solid lead that only got more firm as we looked further. When we mapped out the 17 DNA matches using DNA Painter using the theory that Luther’s Grandmother Sarah Moore was born Sarah Jones, it all lined up as expected.
By the time Super Bowl XV kicked off that night we knew we likely had identified Felice’s mystery Grandfather. We also knew that we were going to be changing a lot of family history. Ann is still alive, and if we were right her children would learn their Father had an affair with their Aunt, and their cousin also their half-Sister. For Susan discovering her long lost Father was not going to bring the happy reunion, we’d hoped for.
But, our disruption of the family history would stretch further than we knew at the time.
In early 2018 we made a series of posts on how to use the multiple “Shared Matches” in AncestryDNA to narrow down the DNA line that connects you to them. The challenge was that often they have no trees, or small trees that don’t come anywhere close to matching your (much more complete!) tree.
This strategy was a way to use mirror trees to match them to themselves, which should indicate a Most Recent Common Ancestor for them, and in all likelihood to be your MCRA as well. For this series we broke down a large set of matches (5000+) to Felice’s mother, to try and establish her first DNA link outside of the immediate family.
There were all of the challenges we all face with African American genealogy (fewer family histories to draw off of, smaller trees, difficulty with 3x/4xGGP’s due to the “1870 Wall”, etc.), and in this series we found the MCRA…but we failed to find the link between them and our family. However, about a year later we broke through that wall, and we’ll be following up on that shortly. In the meantime, here’s the complete series in one page:
We promised to keep this series as science-free as possible, and instead focus on the practical use of AncestryDNA tests to identify your ancestors. We’re going to keep that promise here, but we want to say a few words about other types of DNA tests you can’t get from Ancestry, and how xDNA, yDNA, and mtDNA can be useful! Just remember, we’re generalizing a bit here, and if you want the detailed science behind all of this, Google has many great reads.
yDNA and mtDNA
yDNA and mtDNA come only from your father and your mother, respectively, and change very little over the generations. These tests are often written off in the genealogical community, because they won’t, by themselves, lead you to how you are matched with someone, or how many generations back you might match them.
For example, if our Michael has a yDNA test and he matches “Frank” who shares the same yDNA…it tells us next to nothing. From the test we know that on Michael’s paternal line we have proved he’s matched to Frank…but there’s no way to tell how. It could be 1000 years ago we all had a MRCA, or it could be that Frank’s 4xGGF was a brother to ours, but there’s no way that kind of range will narrow it down by itself.
There are two uses of yDNA and mtDNA, however, that makes these some of the most powerful tests you can take:
Unlike “ethnicity” estimates we see from all the major testers, yDNA and mtDNA can be very effective in pinpointing very accurately the location of your ancestors on the planet. The standard (Autosomal) DNA tests from Ancestry rely on a small global sample of historical DNA (16,000 samples currently), and human created Family Trees, to mathematically try and guess where our ancestors were 800-1000 years ago. They are looking for little shreds of DNA to trace back, and it’s very small amounts because Autosomal DNA gets cut in 1/2 for each side of a lin ever generation. However y/mtDNA doesn’t change over the generations and so we know very accurately where those ancestors were, based on where the bodies were found. This is especially important for African American genealogy, when there are nearly no records of origin before our ancestors were taken from Africa. These tests can be very accurate, and place your ancestral group in to very small physical and/or social (tribal) locations.
Brick wall research
In our example above, we know for a scientific fact that Michael and Frank share an MCRA along their paternal line. The same is true for women who have an mtDNA match. While that again doesn’t help us much if we have no information, it’s invaluable if we have a good guess on how we’re related. Let’s go back to our DNA Painter walkthrough to see how we wish we had yDNA and mtDNA tests.
To recap from last week’s post, we have two lines of DNA tests that we know are connected, and we have narrowed down the MCRA for both a cluster of AncestryDNA matches and on our line, but we don’t know how they connect. So, we have two couples (Jacob/Maria Kupsch, and Joseph/Dorothy Haasl) that we know match, most likely 2-3 generations above them. Each of them have 8 potential match relatives, and we have 4 known relatives, so we’re facing 32 ancestors that might be our MCRA.
But, if we can confirm the y/mtDNA from those 4 relatives, whom all died over 100 years ago, because that DNA doesn’t change between generations. That means a direct male relative from Jacob (say his son’s, son’s, son’s, son’s DNA) will confirm Jacob’s yDNA. Same for Maria, and a direct female relative. If we could yDNA test relatives of both Jacob and Joseph, and mtDNA for both Maria and Dorothy we would have about a 25% chance of finding an immediate match. And, if say Maria and Dorothy share the same mtDNA we just figured out we need to focus our research only on both of their maternal lines to make our match. If we don’t find that match, we just eliminated 25% of our potential match points, so now instead of building out 32 ancestors to find our match, we’re down to 24. But even better, if we can go one level up and do the same thing, we can eventually narrow this down to where we share an MCRA.
It would be highly unlikely we could ever build out a family match with xDNA, and the cM you share with someone tells you almost nothing about close of a match you are with them. The main value of xDNA is if you do match someone, it narrows down your link to that match in a very powerful way. xDNA is inherited in a unique pattern that going back several generations can eliminate more than 50% of your tree as a potential match.
Women will inherit an X chromosome from both their mother and their father, but men will inherit an X from only their mother. Going back to High School Biology, we quickly remembered that women have an XX chromosome, while men have XY!
But, the value for us comes in when we build out our potential ancestor’s chart, using that inheritance pattern. So, if we have a female test subject who has an unknown xDNA match, we know it’s not from her Father’s Father’s line because men only inherit their X from their mothers. Going back 2 generations, we just eliminated 25% of the potential matches. If you know, from other research, that this unknown match is on their father’s line, you just confirmed it’s on the father’s mother’s line.
You won’t see a lot of xDNA matches, but when you do, Google one of the many xDNA inheritance fan charts, and start to see if you can eliminate suspects in how you match. It could bring you much closer to where to hunt for your MCRA.
Just know that all of this work will have to be in GEDmatch however, since AncestryDNA doesn’t provide any information on the details of your genetic matches, and none of the tools needed to view/manage this information.
In this installment we’re going to walk through a key tool to help narrow down where to research when you have AncestryDNA tests that match your family, but despite your research you’re not sure where they match. DNA Painter has a great tool called What are The Odds that gives us the probability of where these unmatched lines link up with our own.
We’re using a real set of unknown matches for this example. Emma Kupps (1879-1953) is a one of our favorite ancestors. She was born and raised the various logging communities that sprang up in North Central Wisconsin in the late 1800’s, but her family settled in Antigo where she graduated from Antigo High School. Within a few years she would married a logger Daniel Leonard (1868-1924), who would soon become Antigo’s Fire Chief, and years later be elected Sheriff of Langlade Coounty, Wisconsin. During his term Dan became ill with cancer, and succumbed with a significant portion of this term remaining. The governor of Wisconsin appointed Emma to the position of Sheriff to complete her late husband’s term, and she became the first woman in Wisconsin to hold the office. (Langlade Co. Historical Society)
DNA Painter has greatly narrowed down where we’re targeting our on-going research to finally break down this brick wall.
But, to family historians, she’s also near the end of a line that is a classic brick wall. Her father died young, and there’s nothing but a couple of records that indicate only the names of his parents. Plus, they are the only lines in our family that come from Bohemia, so it has the combined brick walls of classic genealogy and DNA results.
We’ve identified a group of AncestryDNA matches that have strong Bohemian roots and match descendants of Emma. We used Michael’s Great Uncle as our target DNA match, since he’s the oldest generation tested on that line, and we built a master tree that links as many of the unknown DNA matches as we could. We ended up with 8 AncestryDNA matches that we could link together in a cluster.
The cluster all share Jacob Haasl and Dorothy (Johannek) Haasl as their MCRA, but we haven’t been able to build a link between Great Uncle Leonard and the Haasl’s. So, we’re going to turn to DNApainter’s “What are the Odds” tool, to help identify where we’re most likely linked to the cluster.
When you open “What Are the Odds?”, it will present a box for the most recent common ancestors (MCRA). The options are to “Edit Names”, “Add Child”, or “Add Parent”. In this case, we’re going to edit the name, and add the cluster’s MCRA, Joseph and Dorothea Haasl. When we enter that information, we’re presented with the same 3 choices, but this time we’re going to start building a line to one of the DNA matches but selecting “Add Child” and entering the name of the child that makes up the first step to our DNA match. At first we were surprised how quickly we built out a tree, but it’s because we’re not entering all the data we’d need for a regular tree, just the names!
When we reached a DNA match we entered the cM value that matches our known DNA test. We repeated this step for as many matches as we’ve identified. This works well with a single match, but better with more. In our case we identified 8 matches, so we’re built them all out. Now we’ll really see the power of this tool.
Now that we’ve entered what’s known, it’s time to start mapping out our guesses. In fact, the entire purpose of this tool is to compare the likelihood of at least 2 hypotheses matching the entered cM, and from those likelihoods we can focus on where it’s most likely we all share a most MCRA.
The most likely connection for Jacob and Mary Keips’ line is her parents. We don’t know her maiden name, or birth date, but if we guess that she was born in 1820-1825 it’s reasonable to guess she is a sibling of either Jacob Haasl or Dorothy (Johannek) Haasl, so let’s build that out as option 1. We’ll add an “Unknown 3xGGP” to Joseph and Dorothy, and add a child called Jacob/Mary (because it could be either!). From there we’ll build down to the Great Uncle that is the known DNA match, and select “Use as Hypothesis”.
It shows us a probability of “1” because DNA painter doesn’t show you raw percentages, it shows you comparative probability of one match vs. another. For example, if you enter two hypotheses and one returns “1” and the other returns “2”, we’ll know the second one is twice as likely as the first. In this case, we have no other hypotheses entered, so it shows just a 1.
Given the cM match, it’s most likely that we match the cluster with Great Uncle Leonard’s 3x to 5x GGP’s, so we built out the same line as above, but this time with one more unknown ancestor above Jacob/Dorothy Keips, which would then make Uncle’s MCRA a 4xGGP.
When we built that out, and selected the second “Great Uncle Leonard” as a hypothetical, it soared to a whopping score of “1174” vs. the first “Great Uncle Leonard!! Given that we have 1174 for one possible link and 1 for the other, DNA painter just told us that while not impossible, we’re looking for a 4xGGP as our MCRA, not 3xGGP. Not great news, since now we have to go at least two more generations back, and to build this match back further we’re going to have to dig deep into 18th Century European genealogical records. That’s not our strong suit. But, at least now we have a clear picture of where we’re looking to link these groups.
Since the range of likely Great Grandparents is 3x-5x, we then built this hypothetical out to our match’s 5xGGP, and we see the same score of 1174 from a hypothetical 5xGGP. That means it’s equally likely that our link to this cluster of match is through our Great Uncle Leonard’s 4xGGP or this 5xGGP, but it’s almost certainly NOT through his 3xGGP.
While in some ways this is disappointing, and we’d hoped to come through with a match, this is actually a huge piece of this brickwall puzzle. When we started the work on this DNA cluster we knew that John Keips/Kupps had migrated from Bohemia and, at the time of his death, his wife thought his father was Jacob D. Kupps when she filled out her husband’s death certificate. From their marriage certificate we knew John’s mother, and Jacob’s wife, was Mary. We also knew we had a large cluster of DNA matches who came from the area of Bohemia.
Just by going through that cluster, building out a central tree that links them all, we found a great lead that likely shows John’s arrival information, along with approximate birth years for Jacob, Mary, and John…as well as John’s previously unknown siblings who seem to have a long history together in the US, and left many records. That means instead of having exhausted all the on-site research we could do on the John’s line, we now have a large number of leads to follow and see if we can push back another generation from both Jacob and Mary. We now know enough to start targeting death certificates for both, which may contain critical names, as well as 6 more marriage/death certificates to look for Mary’s maiden name, as well pieces of evidence that link our Jacob to the arrival Jacob. And, DNA Painter has greatly narrowed down where we’re targeting our on-going research to finally break down this brick wall.
We also have about 20 trees integrated into the master tree, and all of their owners are likely working towards the same goal as we are. As they do their research, and new DNA matches are added to the mix over the years, it’s likely one of us is going to have that piece of the puzzle we’re missing, and finally put it all together.
(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 require 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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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, but 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.
For 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.
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.
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.
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.