Archive - January 2016

Wiki & Blog Updates
Autosomal DNA & Jane Starling
DNA for Genealogy Research


As you have probably figured out by now, I really like the wiki format. That is to say, I like the MediaWiki software. But it is not the only way to build a wiki. The concept of wiki is simply a collaborative website, frequently one that allows anyone to create an account and add to it. In these days of hackers and spammers that isn’t always practical, but the idea of an easy to use markup language still works, even if it might be too easy for the bad guys to “contribute” their stuff, as I found to my chagrin when I didn’t lock down the wiki on this site.


Anyway, last week I discovered a site called WikiTree, which combines the concept of audience participation or collaboration with family trees. So I spent a couple of days adding some of my own family info to the “world tree” they are building there, and in the process learning how this site works. They have a feature that finds potential matches for people as you add them to the site, and tools to let you merge your own info with that added by others if they have already documented some of the same people. It is possible to simply upload a GEDCOM file if you have one, but I choose to enter each name individually, to avoid duplication errors. At the same time, when I spot a bit of missing data or source citations, I can go off and research that before resuming my data entry.

One of the first things that grabbed me about this site was a match for my great-great-great grandfather, Jane Cattell‘s first husband, Sylvester Hutchinson. Sylvester had been a particular brick wall of mine for many years, not least because he had a cousin with the same name who lived in the same state and born just a year or two apart. Not much family history had been passed down about him since he died when my great-great grandmother was a child, and his widow apparently didn’t talk about him much. A few months ago a cousin and I spent a few weeks chipping away at that wall, and we made a lot of progress, but finding this family online with more details, siblings and citations was very encouraging! At least it confirms that we were on the right track, and now we can link our branches of the family together with what more distant cousins have entered online.

Another aspect of WikiTree that I haven’t been able to take advantage of yet is their inclusion of DNA test results. When 23andme delivers my report, this will be one of the first places I enter the data. There are five or six other cousins on the “other end” of that link who may have some matches for us, in the autosomal genetics if not direct Y-DNA or mtDNA, so I am anxious to see what we come up with.

Have you tried WikiTree? What do you think about it? What about other collaborative online family trees? Let us know your opinions in the comments.

Wiki & Blog Updates

If you have been reading this blog as it grows, you may have noticed a few changes to its appearance. I’ve added a few menu items, in particular a link to the Frayed Genes Pinterest boards, and of course the blogroll banner for Geneabloggers (a really wonderful site, with links to genealogy blogs numbering over 3000 and counting). But the wiki has seen even more changes. That trend, with the wiki and Pinterest boards accumulating more additions than the blog, is likely to continue. Whenever I read something that I think is potentially valuable to genealogists I either “pin” it to Pinterest or add a link to the wiki, sometimes both.

At this point, some sections in the wiki are starting to take shape, in particular the DNA Research page, since that is what I am studying myself at the moment. But other sections have been added recently as well.

As more material is added, I may rearrange the pages to improve the interface, and there may be some cases where I will make internal links when a particular entry seems to fall in more than one category. That way, if you concentrate on just one section you are less likely to miss something just because it is filed in a different area. This is the “Web” after all, not a physical filing cabinet where we can only put items in one place.

Pinterest boards

All 39 boards currently on Frayed Genes’ Pinterest homepage

On Pinterest we now have thirty-nine public boards, which are now arranged in a somewhat organized order. They might be classified as tools and methodologies and resources, followed by specific research areas.

Anyway, I hope you will take some time to explore these adjuncts to this blog. I think you’ll be glad you did. And let me know what you think in the comments!

Autosomal DNA & Jane Starling

This week I learned quite a bit about autosomal DNA, that part that is not limited by gender, and that can help find cousins. Of course, there is much more to it than that, but this is how I keep all these terms straight in my own mind. Y-DNA are the genes linked to males, the X-chromosome, or mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), are carried by both sexes, but females have two X chromosomes while males have one, from their mother. But we all have autosomal chromosomes, and in fact the vast majority of our DNA is composed of them. In fact, of the 23 genes tested by 23andme (see where that name comes from?), 22 are autosomal, and only one is comprised of X and Y chromosomes.

By Courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This image illustrates the proportions of the various chromosome types in human DNA. Each chromosome pair is made up of one gene from our father, and one from our mother. And while the 23rd pair seems pretty simple, being either Y-X or X-X (except in rare cases that we won’t go into here), it is really the other 22 pairs that enable us to inherit traits like eye, hair and skin color, potential height and body type, tendencies to develop certain diseases, and so on. They are also the genes that can be compared with other’s genomes to see if we are related to them, and if so, to estimate how close that relationship is likely to be.

And what does this have to do with Jane Starling? Well, as you can see in my last posting here, she is my great-great-great grandmother, whose background is a bit of a mystery. I expressed the hope that when my test results come in from 23andme, maybe they would tell me something about her “deep ancestry”, or what group of people she came from. We do know that she came to the U.S. sometime around 1830-45, but she may have gone to Canada first since on one census she told the census taker that is where she came from. On later census records she said she and her parents were born in Ireland. But if you know your Irish history, you know that just being born in Ireland does not say what your ethnic group is. There are Scottish, English, Norman, Welsh, French and who knows what else as well as Irish people there. In fact, Jane’s daughter married an Irishman who has a Welsh name, and whose mother also had a Welsh-sounding name, although his census records say he and both his parents were also born in Ireland.

After reading more about how genetic testing works, I decided to try to find some cousins who also have Jane in their direct maternal line. As it turns out, we have only two 2nd cousins who share this heritage with me and my sister. If we can persuade one or both of them to be tested and to compare their genomes with ours, we should be able to narrow down which traits we all inherited from Jane.

It will be six or seven weeks before my test report arrives. I wonder how many other family members I can talk into being tested by then?

OK, how many egregious errors have I made in this brief post? Do you have a genetic testing story? Tell us in the comments! And check our wiki, where the DNA section has pages for every heading now.

DNA for Genealogy Research

About ten years ago I persuaded my dad to have his DNA tested. We used Family Tree DNA, which was the best-known company available for genealogy DNA at that time, and which continues to be prominent in the field. Being an adventurous sort of guy, Dad went ahead and got the maximum number of markers tested for both his Y-DNA and mtDNA offered then. It was early days for that kind of thing, and the results were a bit disconcerting for my dad, so he didn’t pursue it. Basically, he didn’t match anyone with his surname at that time, and even falls into a different haplogroup than most of the participants in our one-name study. Now, 10 years later, many more people have been tested and there are some closer matches, but he has lost interest. I’m not sure I can get him to even update his account so we can follow up. It may be necessary to get my brother to have a test if we are going to learn any more.

my mtDNA brick wall

my mtDNA brick wall

Now, however, I’ve been given a DNA kit from 23 and Me by one of my sons, so we will have another go at it. Of course, since I’m female I don’t have any Y-DNA to test, but I’m eager to see the information about my mtDNA. My maternal line peters out in terms of genealogical knowledge with my great-great-great grandmother, who immigrated from somewhere in the British Isles in the early 1800s. Since she answered the “place of birth” question differently on several different censuses, exactly where she came from has been a mystery. While it may not be possible to determine that exactly, I hope to at least get some clue about her ethnicity; was she Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Scottish, or Welsh? Viking, Norman or Huguenot? Or maybe something else? And what does that mean, anyway? Her maiden name was Starling, and she said at various times that she was from Ireland or England, so it could be any of those. Great Britian is such a hodge-podge of people from everywhere, it may require DNA testing to determine one’s deep origins, after all.

Where to get DNA tests

If you are interested in obtaining a DNA testing kit, refer to the list of companies offering them for genealogical purposes on our wiki.

What is Y-DNA or mtDNA?

At this point, it may be a good idea to review exactly what the terms Y-DNA and mtDNA refer to. If you already know this, just skip ahead, but for those who aren’t sure, here’s a brief explanation. Essentially, Y-DNA is that passed down from father to son, while mtDNA is passed from mother to daughter. So, while we have many possible admixtures of chromosomes from all our ancestors, it is easiest to trace those on our direct paternal or maternal lines.

What DNA test results can tell us is another question. We can use them to determine whether we are closely related to someone else, or as implied earlier, to find out where our ancestors came from in the world, or their ethnicities. DNA obviously determines some of our personal traits, such as eye and skin color, and even potential temperament and intelligence (whatever those are). In some cases DNA tests can be used for medical diagnostic purposes, too, but that is outside the scope of this website. In general, if you plan to have your DNA tested, first determine what questions you want to have answered, and find a testing company who offer analysis that might provide the insights you seek. They are all slightly different in that regard, but examining their websites (listed in our wiki) should let you know what each outfit emphasizes.

I’ll be writing more about this topic when I get my own test results. Have you had your DNA tested? Were the results what you expected? Let us know your experiences in the comments.

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