Plain English Genetic Genealogy

Y-DNA and Y-Adam


Just as a point of interest: I tried to find an appropriate image for Y-Adam, like the one for Mitochondrial Eve. Do you know what happens when you put “Y-Adam” into a search engine and look for images? You get a LOT of photos of Adam Levine.

Another type of DNA that genealogists may find useful in their ancestor hunts is Y-DNA.  Y-DNA is passed down from the father only to his son.  Unlike the mother who passes on her mtDNA to all her children, Y-DNA is unique in that it stays only within the patrilineal (father to son) line.  Y-DNA is passed identically from father to sons through the Y chromosome that determines gender.  Remember, men pass down either an X or Y chromosome that determines the gender of the baby.  When dad passes down his X chromosome, the baby is a girl; if he passes down the Y—which is where Y-DNA is contained—then the baby is a boy.

As with moms and mtDNA, it is possible to follow Y-DNA through the male ancestors in dad’s line.  Y-DNA can lead to identifying MRCAs (most recent common ancestor) for DNA matches and can help prove family trees are on the right track.  Y-DNA follows the same rule as at- or mtDNA: Alone, DNA is not proof of relationship but it can strongly support genealogical research.

Y-DNA is a little different to test than either at- or mtDNA, which are each a single test to determine results.  Y-DNA tests look at sequences called short tandem repeats (STRs, also called markers) within the chromosome.  Each person has a unique number of repetitions of STRs and that number is called an allele (sequence of the gene) of the marker.  Repeated sequences of nucleotides (basic structural unit of DNA) in Y-DNA are counted and the number of repetitions become the assigned value.

Y-DNA tests tend to be sold based on the number of markers (STRs) that it checks.  Those with a simple interest in basic information might be well served by a lower number of markers (and lowest cost).  Those looking to research their surname line might do well with a middle-of-the-road number of markers.  If you are looking for a specific match, such as a bio father, testing the highest number of markers would likely be the most beneficial for you.  I’m being cagey in talking about the testing services for two reasons: First, I’m hesitant to recommend any one testing site over another but, at this point in time, I would recommend one of the more well-known, long-term companies; second, my focus in “Plain English Genetic Genealogy” is atDNA but I recognize it is helpful to have some knowledge of other DNA tests that can assist in genealogical research, hence the detour into mt- and Y-DNA.

Okay.  So, what does dad give you when you get your Y-DNA from him (assuming you’re a son, of course)?  Besides the potential for matching others in your pop’s line, you get your Haplogroup, that thing I mentioned a bit in my mtDNA blog.  So, let’s talk migration.

Let’s go with the accepted understanding that humans began in Africa.  As homosapiens grew in numbers, some people decided to look for new environments—whether for economic (resources), social or adventurous reasons—and so went off in groups to discover the world.

Here’s a visual of the journeys the major haplogroups took; notice that National Geographic folks indicated with a gold star where Y-Adam—yes, there is a Y-Adam, just like there is a Mitochondrial Eve—most likely lived.


This National Geographic map looks kind of confusing, I get that, but populating the planet is a long, confusing project.  One way to follow your journey is to test your Y- or mt-DNA and learn which Haplogroup(s) are yours.  Just like using unique identifiers to determine matches to regional signatures with atDNA, signatures (markers) in Y-DNA can identify the route your ancestors took.

Just like with Mitochondrial Eve, it is possible to trace back—using the same concept of mutations (changes) in Y-DNA—to make a best guess who is the father of all homosapiens (humans) living today.  It is suspected that Y-Adam lived more than 200,000 years ago.  Again, as with Mitochondrial Eve (suspected to live about 140,000 years ago), many lines of Y-DNA do not get passed down.  A man with no sons and only daughters cannot pass his Y-DNA down; a man with no sons who survive to fatherhood will not pass his Y-DNA down.  So, the Y-DNA that a father’s father passes on to him, stops when no male children have male children of their own.

Once you have your Y-DNA and your Haplogroup, one of the things unique to Y-DNA is the ability to trace surnames through the ages.

Since women traditionally took the names of their husbands, this is not really possible with either mtDNA (passed from mom and whose daughters pass it to their children) or atDNA (received from both parents).  Like surnames, Y-DNA is passed down and retained from father to son.

If your name is Smith, Jones, Clark, Johnson, etc. this is an extraordinary tool to assist in your genealogy.  When faced with hundreds (or more) of Smiths, testing your Y-DNA will help identify to which group of Smiths you belong.  Imagine the possibilities with this one tool.

Plain English Genetic Genealogy

Mitochondrial (mt)DNA

mtDNA and Y-DNA, two specific types of DNA testing results, can also be useful in genealogy but, for most of my “Plain English Genetic Genealogy” blog entries, I will focus on atDNA.  It is, however, very important to understand both mt- and Y-DNA and how it may be used to further family tree research.

If you remember your high school genetics, you know that males determine the gender of each of their children.  Men carry two distinct types of gender-determining chromosomes: one X and one Y.   Males typically give either an X chromosome or a Y chromosome to their child.  If they give a Y, the child is male; if they give the X, the child is female.  There are times when a different type of chromosome situation appears but that conversation is for blogs on genetics, not genealogy.

From that same high school biology class, you should also remember that women have two identical gender chromosomes, both of which are X.  This means that women can only pass on an X chromosome to their children.  This is why the male always determines the gender of the child, never the female.  And, what gives Henry VIII a bad rep for getting rid of wives who could not produce a male heir; it wasn’t them it was him.

Mitochondrial or mtDNA

So, women only have the X chromosome to pass down and, contained in that X is mitochondrial or mtDNA.  The simple fact is that the X your mom gave you—whether you are male or female—carries the identical mtDNA that her mom gave to her.  And, her mom’s mtDNA is identical to the mtDNA that her mom gave to her and that her mom’s mom gave and her mom’s mom’s mom gave and on and on and on.

Mitochondrial DNA mutates (changes) about once every 20-30,000 years and each of those mutations are really, really small.  So, statistically speaking, you would have to go back about 1000 great grandmas to find a different mtDNA than that which your mom gave you; and, even then it would not really be that much different.  And, unlike dad, mom is an equal-opportunity donor; she gives all her children—whether sons or daughters—an exact copy of her mtDNA.

Science determined we can trace every single human (Homo sapiens) living today back to one (Homo sapien) mom who lived about 120-150,000 years ago; this mom has been given the name, Mitochondrial Eve.  [In fact, it is recognized that there were probably more than one woman with this unique mtDNA but, for the purposes of this blog, we’re going with a single woman because it works.  So when I reference 500 women, you could think of it as 500 unique mtDNA sequences irrespective of how many women there actually were.  It is just easier to write about this as if Mitochondrial Eve was a single woman.  Besides, it’s more fun and I get to use National Geographic‘s cool photo.]

It is not like we know exactly who this woman really was but, based on the length of time mutations happen and the ability to identify the differences (mutations) in mtDNA of the DNA pool we have today, it is possible to figure out how long ago lived the woman who carried the same unique mtDNA (with varying mutations) we see in today’s humans.

It is important to keep in mind that, after that first mutation of Mitochondrial Eve’s DNA, it is not as if each subsequent mutation will be the same as the one on the other side of that first split.  Imagine one little teeny piece of DNA (using the genetic code of ATCG) in Mitochondrial Eve’s mtDNA read: ATCGGTAC and the first mutation produced ATCGATGC for one line and left the other as ATCGGTAC.  The next time each mutates, ATCGATGC changed to ATCGATCG and ATCGGTAC might have been TACGGTAC.  You can now see, with 16,500 DNA building blocks (base pairs) and 37 genes, the potential for the incredibly large number of places a single mutation can happen.  This is how my mtDNA could radically differ from yours even though we both started 120,000-plus years ago with the same ancient ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve.

I’d like to take a moment to say that “Plain English Genetic Genealogy” is not intended to be highly scientific.  The intent is to (hopefully) inform readers, in language that makes sense to their needs, what most need to know to make use of their DNA test results.  My examples and explanations are to inform genealogy, not develop scientists.

Let’s approach this concept of Mitochondrial Eve a little differently.  Though I am certain someone somewhere has attempted to determine the number of Homo sapiens living 200,000 years ago, I could not find it so let’s pick a really easy number: 1000.  Of this, approximately 50 percent would be female so 500 women.  Of these, let’s say that one-quarter did not live to bear children, which leaves us 375 women, each with unique mtDNA.  Of these 375, let’s say only 281 had daughters.  This means that from this very first point in history, the unique mtDNA of 93 or 94 of these women never went any further because they only passed down their unique mtDNA to sons who do not pass it on.

Why?  Because while mothers pass down their mitochondrial DNA to all their children, only those children who are daughters can pass it down to their children.  For some biological reason (for which many genealogists will forever be grateful) men do not pass on their mom’s mitochondrial DNA.  So, only the women in a long line of women will pass on their unique mtDNA.  Again, it doesn’t matter how far back you go, mitochondrial DNA follows only a single female line.

Slide from my Basic Genetic Genealogy presentation.

So, now we’re left with 281 unique mtDNA chromosomes.  Of those, let’s conclude that together these moms had 1124 children of which 600 lived to child-bearing years, with 300 (50 percent) being female.  No matter how we look at it, this now limits the number of unique mtDNA chromosomes to a maximum of 300 and an unknown but potentially low minimum to be passed down to the next generation of Homo sapiens (because some of those 300 would have been sisters with identical mtDNA).  Even using the same percents as with the initial example, let’s say one-quarter of these moms only have sons; this leaves 225 unique mtDNA chromosomes to be passed down through the generations of daughters.  So, within just three generations, at least 275 unique mtDNA chromosomes were not passed on to future generations. This continues on and on and on until today.

And, each of these unique mtDNA chromosomes will undergo mutations—one about every 20-30,000 years.  These mutations form new unique versions of mtDNA, which are what is present in today’s humans (Homo sapiens).  Identifying and accounting for the mutations, it is possible to (tentatively) go back far enough to determine which original mtDNA chromosome has outlasted all the rest and when that woman lived.  The (unknown) owner of that original mtDNA chromosome has been called, Mitochondrial Eve and science believes she likely lived 120-150,000 years ago; this number is fluid as science progresses.

Again.  Mom passes her mom’s mtDNA to all her children.

Only daughters will pass on their mtDNA—that they get only from their mother—to their children and only their daughters will pass it on (in its identical form) to the next generation.

I am guessing that some of you—especially those searching for information on female ancestors—already see the potential of using mtDNA in your genealogical research.  Yes.  If one of the women in a direct female line (mom, mom’s mom, her mom’s mom, etc.) exactly matches another mtDNA test, then there is a common ancestor.

Tremendous, right?  Except.  How many of your 2x great aunt’s great grandchildren will know anything about your direct family line?  It is possible, absolutely, but not all that likely unless that third cousin, is a fellow genealogist with a treasure trove of diaries.  Definitely worth checking out but I would not hold my breath.

Because, if your mom only had sons, her mtDNA stops with you (because, if she only had sons, you’d be one of them).  But, if she had a sister, then that same mtDNA would be passed down, just not through your direct family line.  If each of your mom’s sisters only had sons, then your grandma’s sisters would have passed this mtDNA down to their daughters who would pass it down.  If your grandmother had no sisters, either, then you will need to keep going back to the first great grandmother who had more than one daughter who lived to bear daughters who bore daughters.  

What if you’re looking for a birth mother?  Now, I have your attention.  An mtDNA match with another person (male or female) could very likely be a half-sibling.  If they are willing to communicate freely, you may have found the birth mom.

This works even if you are trying to find your great grandmother’s birth mother.  mtDNA changes only about once every 20-30,000 years so if you find a match to your mtDNA, then that person is likely your second or third cousin from whom you have a good chance of getting your 2x great grandmother’s name (your most recent common ancestor or MRCA) and, other than the person you match, all of those ancestors you and your match have in common with mtDNA will be women all from the same maternal line.

Mitochondrial DNA also provides something called a haplogroup.  A haplogroup identifies which ancient regional signature your DNA matches.  Haplogroup information is passed down from both parents (in moms through mtDNA; in dads through Y-DNA) and is useful in understanding a person’s early origins and the migration paths their ancient ancestors took to get where you are today.  More on this in the Y-DNA blog entry.


mtDNA has long been useful in an historic perspective.  For an interesting story on how science proved Jesse James really was dead and buried in Kearney, Nebraska, check out Blaine Bettinger’s The Genetic Genealogist blog on Famous DNA Review, Part IV — Jesse James.  I remember when this happened and I have been hooked on the uses of DNA ever since; long before I got captivated with genealogy.

Mitochondrial Eve image from National Geographic: “Human Journey.”

Plain English Genetic Genealogy

atDNA 2—DNA testing, Spearmint and Caraway

The other day I mentioned that the tests between different testing firms will produce nonidentical results. Today, I received notification from MyHeritageDNA that my ethnicity results were available. Now, I did not pay their service but MyHeritageDNA (and other sites, like FTDNA but not AncestryDNA) will allow tests from other sites to be uploaded to their site for no fee. So, I uploaded mine some time ago and here are my results.

Heritage Ethnic Breakdown

Here are my results from AncestryDNA.

Ancestry Ethnic Breakdown

And, from DNA.Land.

DNALand Ethnic Breakdown

And from GEDMatch (as best as can be captured on this site).

GEDMatch Ethnic Breakdown

All different but, basically, the same. This is how using different data sets (people whose DNA is on their site creating the pool from which all are compared) and different algorithms (mathematical equations set to match each to different DNA signatures) allow each site to come up with something a little bit different.

The only way to really know where your ancestors came from is to conduct genealogical searches. Find the documentation—wherever possible—to identify where your ancestors lived. In truth, it’s the only way to prove from where you came to be where you are. atDNA testing is one tool. It helps you narrow down—but not confirm—where your ancestors lived.

On a different note, in my last blog, I talked about bags of marbles and how—even if each parent gave the same number of marbles to each of their children, it is not necessarily the same exact marbles. I was watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Inexplicable Universe earlier today and he talked about something that may help some understand this even better. Or *grin* confuse everyone even more. Yes, we’re going to (kinda sorta) dabble in molecular biology and astrophysics (only because Tyson is an astrophysicist) for just a moment.

How many of you have tasted spearmint? Go on, raise your hand, you know you have. Now, how about caraway? Not so many, huh? Would it help if I mentioned caraway is a spice used in rye breads? Ah. There we go.

Very different flavors, eh? And, spearmint has a very recognizable scent, right? Now, picture this.

Spearmint caraway

Absolute mirror images of each other, right? Well, R-(-) carvone is spearmint and S-(+)-carvone is caraway. Same exact components, but laid out differently. Just like DNA. While mirror images of molecular structure is not what I’m getting at, I am showing how two different combinations of the same thing can produce incredibly different results.

Or not. *chuckle*

Plain English Genetic Genealogy

Autosomal (at)DNA, Part 1

There are three basic types of DNA testing that those interested in genetic genealogy—the field within which genealogists employ DNA to advance their work—use. Today, I’m going to write about atDNA.

atDNA, or autosomal DNA, is what most people are interested in. It takes the DNA that we get from both parents and provides us a list of nations or regions with which our DNA matches. Notice I didn’t write “where our ancestors came from.” There’s good reason for this. It’s not like there’s a “British gene” that, if you have it, you can automatically declare your ancestors British—woo hoo!

Think of it this way. Humans (and all other organic entities, including the wooden table your computer may be sitting on) share almost all of the same DNA. All humans share about 99 percent of their DNA—yep, we are that identical. It is that one-or so-percent of differences that allow us to look, perhaps even act, different. It gives one child red hair, creates those eyes of your best friend that you envy, provides skin tone, and just about any other trait—physical and maybe, intellectual—that we see as making us different. And, that one-ish percent also reflects where our ancestors may have lived.

Around one percent does not seem like much to work with but the 23 chromosomes that make up the human genome (a genome is the complete set of genes in a living organism) contain more than 3 billion bases and 20-25,000 distinct genes. One percent of 3 billion is a lot (30 million) of chromosome bases and distinct genes (200-250) to help create those differences.

So, imagine a group of people go around the world to test populations that did not move much in the past few hundred years from their current location and then identify the parts of their DNA that differ from that of people in other regions/communities. Right now, because we don’t yet have enough information or just the right technology, how narrowly these communities can be identified for us is limited. This will not always be the case.

These differences create a British genetic signature and a Kenyan genetic signature and a Korean genetic signature and a Venezuelan genetic signature and so on, that can be identified. You are being compared to these genetic signatures of people who live in places where your ancestors were also likely to have once lived.

Unless you are Native American, there really isn’t an “American DNA” or genetic signature because—well, let’s face it—we have been the world’s first melting pot (or salad bowl, as a professor of mine used to say) for much longer than other regions of the world.

It is how your DNA matches the genetic signature of a given nation or region that identifies the most likely location(s) of your ancestors. This is how testing companies can say a person is less than one percent North African, 42 percent European Jewish, 19 percent Irish, 18 percent British, 8 percent Western European, 6 percent Scandinavian, less than one percent Iberian Peninsula and 5 percent Caucasus. Yes, those were my results from Today.

Tomorrow may be different (in fact, these assessments are not the ones I originally received from Ancestry in 2013, though they are not that different). As more and more people get their DNA tested, each testing company creates a new set of numbers based on algorithms (math equations) designed to figure out ancestry to be used for their company. If a person were to test at each of the testing firms, the chance that each set of results will come back identical is unlikely because each firm works not just with a different algorithm but with a different pool of people who took their DNA tests to compare with yours. But, there should be enough similarities to give an accurate sense of where our DNA matches groups in each nation/region.

Since mobility has only recently been a big part of our international societal fabric, if your atDNA comes back as 50 percent British, you can be confident in thinking that about half of your more recent (maybe 300 or so years, maybe more, maybe less) ancestors lived and bred in Britain for a considerable amount of time. This certainly won’t be the case for our descendants of 300 years into the future as more and more regions become heterogeneous (mixed). Though, who knows? Perhaps new regional DNA signatures will be created from these migrations.

Then, there are a few communities, like Ashkenazi Jews (my dad) who make everything about as confusing as can be. The history of the Ashkenazi is one of mobility. Starting in the Middle East, splitting then between the Caucuses (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria) and those who migrated to North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain); then the group in the Caucuses primarily migrated north and east to Eastern Europe, where the majority of Ashkenazi settled beginning in the 11th century.

This mobility was primarily a response to persecution in each region forcing entire communities to move together. The fact that Ashkenazi moved with their communities for a millennium or more meant they married within their own communities and rarely with those outside it (endogamy). The genetic signature of Ashkenazi so strongly reflects endogamy that atDNA matches are difficult to define as these will be significantly higher than for those in exogamous (marrying outside a cultural group) communities.

Furthermore, as you may have noted, my Ashkenazi region is listed as “Eastern European.” That’s a very large area to be from, though some sites—including Ancestry with its new “Genetic Communities”—have narrowed it down to six nations, or nine, depending. *chuckle* Finally, to make it yet more difficult, most Jews today are Ashkenazi.

Understanding all of the above will be important for when you begin to use your DNA data to learn even more. But, hopefully you can already see that DNA isn’t enough; genealogical research must go along with the science to clarify what DNA indicates.

Where does your atDNA come from? Exactly half comes from your dad and exactly half from your mom. No matter how much you look like your father, he only gave you half of the autosomal DNA you have. We will avoid any further discussion of the science of genetics and dominant and recessive genes because, for genealogists, the key is family relationships not “Who the heck did I get these freckles from?”

So, half from mom, half from Dad. Now, it is not like mom or dad has a solid block of DNA that they pass down as an identical package to every one of their children. This is because mom got 50 percent of her DNA from her dad and 50 percent of her DNA from her mom. Same with your dad—exactly half from each of his parents. And the DNA they pass down to each of their children is randomly selected from their mixed pot.  So, not a block, but a mixed bag. I like the analogy of marbles in a myriad of colors.

For child one, mom gives 50 percent of her colored marbles she received from her parents. It’s plausible (though not likely) that she gives this child only the DNA she got from her father. Possible, but again, not likely. Statistically, mom’s 50 percent will be made up of 50 percent of what she got from her father and 50 percent of what she got from her mother. Same with dad.

I will use the example of Native Americans because about two-thirds of American families believe they have a Native American ancestor. No clue why this is but it is incredibly common and equally incredibly not likely. About 10 percent (one in ten) American families actually have a Native American ancestor.

Okay, so let’s say your mom’s grandfather is supposed to be Native American and her grandmother (his wife) is British and Irish. If gramps is fully Native American, he only (pretty much) has Native American DNA to pass down so mom’s dad (this grandfather’s son) will have about 50 percent Native American DNA and about 25 percent British DNA and 25 percent Irish DNA. Let’s make mom’s mom mostly German so mom will wind up at about 50 percent German. But, what will she get from her dad who has three regions to pass down?

In almost every case, mom will wind up being nearly 50 percent German, 12.5 percent Irish, 12.5 percent British and 25 percent Native American. Yeah, it’s all about statistics.

Since each person’s DNA is akin to a bag of mixed marbles, it is (remotely) possible that while that 50 percent German is almost a given (depending upon what else Grams might carry in her DNA), mom could be anywhere from zero percent Native American to 50 percent. It is the luck of the draw what a single sperm or a single egg will carry when they meet. And, DNA does not skip a generation. If your mom got not one bit of Native American in her DNA, you will not have any in the DNA she passes on to you. You can only pass on what you received from your parents.

DNA is passed down randomly, so almost any combination is probable but, if you know anything about statistics, probability is a mathematical given. If your parents are half British/half Irish and half German/half Lithuanian, you are most likely going to be 25 percent each of British, Irish, German and Lithuanian.

If your dad is 60 percent French, 20 percent Algerian, 10 percent Spanish and 10 percent Peruvian and your mom is 50 percent Chilean, 25 percent Swedish and 25 percent Chinese, it is almost a given that you will be close to 30 percent French, 10 percent Algerian, 5 percent Spanish, 5 percent Peruvian, 25 percent Chilean, 12.5 percent Swedish and 12.5 percent Chinese (and with probably a very intriguing look about you). That’s pretty much how random statistics work.

Remember, you can only pass down to your children that DNA which was passed down to you. And, while you randomly pass down your DNA to your children, statistically, you will usually pass down nearly equal shares of what you have.

Let’s throw in a chimpanzee wrench (like that evolutionary reference? *grin*). Mom is just about 100 percent Egyptian. Let’s envision this using the marble analogy. Mom has 50 marbles to pass down that are all some shade of purple, from thistle to dark purple. Mom gives her first child 20 Purple Pizzazz, 15 Pomp and Power, and 15 Mulberry marbles. Second child comes along and he gets 30 Psychedelic Purple and 20 Purple Pizzazz. It’s all still (in this case) Egyptian DNA but it’s not always the same combination of the mixed bag of chromosomes/genes that mom got from her two parents who got their DNA from their four different parents who got it from their eight different parents.

If Dad has 20 “Scandinavian green marbles” and 20 “Russian yellow marbles” and 10 “Irish pink marbles” to pass down to his first child, he will most likely pass down 10 of the Scandinavian marbles but it probably won’t be the same exact 10 (of his 20) green marbles that he will pass down to his second child. And, if Dad also passes on 13 yellow marbles to his first child, he may pass on only 11 to his second. Again, close to predictable probabilities but not always exact.

To finish this out, most of us who work on family trees know that the number of grandparents we need to track grow exponentially with each generation.

2 parents
4 grandparents
8 great grandparents
16 2x GG
32 3x GG
64 4x GG
128 5x GG

One branch of my Helferich family tree goes back many generations but atDNA tends to cover maybe 300-400 years (on the far outside), which brings me to my 7-times great-grandfather (1653-1736). If my atDNA does, indeed, include DNA from this 7x GG, then my DNA includes DNA from many of 512 great grandparents. That, is a lot of marbles.

Γενετική Γενεαλογία

Yeah.  Me, too.  Every time I try to learn something new in genetic genealogy, it is all Greek to me.  This week, I’m trying to understand something called Visual Phasing.  Visual Phasing is a tool that allows a genealogist interested in genetic genealogy (or Γενετική Γενεαλογία in ancient Greek) to determine from which ancestor three related persons received each portion (by chromosome) of their DNA.

I am a fairly well-educated person but trying to follow the explanations available online for most genetic genealogical processes is like having to learn a completely new language.  Languages are not something I do well, but when the Army taught me Korean, it was a whole lot easier than some of this stuff.  And believe me, Korean for me was like giving birth on a daily basis.

In my role as editor of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly journal and with my first issue, I instituted a segment on genetic genealogy because it is all the rage for today’s genealogist and I believe it is an area which many of our 1200 readers nationwide are interested in learning more.  It is one of the few segments of our journal that receives constant reader applause.  I had lined up a nationally-known genetic genealogist to write our Summer issue who wound up having to beg off and so I stepped in to write the article.  The response was unlike any I’d seen in the total of three issues I have produced thus far.

So, put these two things together and I think it’s time to write–in understandable English–what I am learning about genetic genealogy; what can be done with it and, more importantly, why.  I’ve read Wikis and blogs and books on these tools and I get lost.  Every single time.  I have no idea if I can really produce something more understandable but I think it worth a try.  It’s not that I believe I’m any better than any other author of genetic genealogy information but perhaps, since I am as neophyte as anyone and with more than three decades of teaching adults, I may have a more useful approach.  If I join the crowd and find I can only replicate the Γενετική Γενεαλογία I feel I find elsewhere, I will beg my readers’ pardon and give up the ghost.

Wish me luck!

Spirits of Willow Creek Farm

For about a year now, I’ve been working on an interesting and unusual project, the house history and resident genealogy of Willow Creek Farm–considered the third most haunted residence in Illinois.  I haven’t written of it before because I have submitted an ongoing series of articles in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly (which is how I wound up as its editor!) and there is an agreement that anything published in the ISGS Quarterly cannot be published elsewhere for six months.  It’s been six months since the first article was published, so I’ve now posted it here.  Subsequent articles will be published every three months until the fourth and final article.

Click here for the first of four articles on the Spirits of Willow Creek Farm.

Busy, Busy, Busy.

It has certainly been a while and I promise to never go this long without posting again.  But, much has been happening.

Picture2I finally put the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly journal for Summer 2017 to bed this past week.  My third as editor and—if I do say so myself, and I do—it is my best yet.  Looks good, excellent articles and (hopefully, with multiple reviews) error free.  This week I also wrapped up a program I facilitated for some veterans in Stephenson County on behalf of the county’s Veterans Assistance program.  Thursday, the Stephenson County Genealogical Society (of which I am the prez) sponsored a living history event with President Ulysses and First Lady Julia (Dent) Grant.  I wrapped up development (well, working with developers) on our Stephenson County Genealogical Society new website (  And, I received nearly 50 sets of new DNA data last Tuesday and have been diligently putting them on GEDMatch and doing some genetic genealogy analysis.

And, finding a new family member.

Genetic genealogy seems to have taken over my life in the past year.  A half-sister discovered last February and within hours of beginning to post family DNA data on GEDMatch this past week, it was clear my already huge maternal family side was about to add yet another cousin.  A young man looking for his biological father.  It seems I’ve found him but, wouldn’t you know it?  His father is from the one line descended from my grandfather with whom no one seems to have continued contact.  But, since there are at least 400 other family members in this group (we have our own Facebook page) this gentlemen is no longer at a loss for family on his paternal side.

I marvel at the technology we have today.  My mind reels from the ability to find information—documents, mind you—of ancestors dead for centuries.  Did they ever even think that one- or two-hundred years from then that their ancestors could potentially track their entire lives?  If so, you’d have to wonder about some of the trails they left behind…..

So, on to the next things on my agenda.

  • Back to work on the Wayne Street house histories.
  • Back to work on the Willow Creek Farm book I’m ghostwriting (and it’s about a haunted house, so pun kinda intended).
  • Recruiting authors for the Fall 2017 issue of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly.
  • Analyzing family DNA kits.
  • Writing this blog on a return-to-regular basis.
  • Prepping for the three Lifelong Learning genealogy courses I’m teaching this fall at Highland College.

I think that ‘bout covers it!