Author - Katherine Prawl

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Following DNA-generated Leads
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DNA Test is In!
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WikiTree
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Wiki & Blog Updates
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Autosomal DNA & Jane Starling
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DNA for Genealogy Research
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Missed Milestone
8
Wiki Work
9
5 Free Sites for Genealogy Research
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Hello, World: first post on new genealogy blog

Following DNA-generated Leads

The wonder of DNA testing is clearly exciting with all it can tell us about ourselves, but as with everything pertaining to genealogy, a little bit of knowledge always seems to lead to a thirst for more information. And while DNA can give us hints about who we could be related to, it is frustratingly non-specific when it comes to figuring out exactly how we connect to our cousins. That’s where paper genealogy comes in.

Right now I’m working with a person who matches my DNA closer than anyone else I’ve encountered through the various tools available (who isn’t a member of my immediate family). In fact, we are each other’s closest matches on GEDmatch.com. The only catch is that neither of us recognizes any known relatives of the other! So we are digging deeper.

GEDmatch ToolsAs I mentioned in a previous post, there are several tools at GEDmatch.com for helping to locate matches to your DNA. One of these tools, called “People who match 2 or more kits”, helps narrow the field somewhat by returning a list of just those kits that match both me and my cousin, with information about how close they estimate the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is for each match. From that list, I picked the top four matches, and since I have been doing genealogy research for longer, I went through my files to see if I could find any of these close matches in previous correspondence. There was one name I think I recognize, so that gave me an idea of which family we might share. But we need to follow up by contacting each of these people and try to find the commonalities in our family trees if we can. This is where the paper, or traditional, genealogy comes in.

By narrowing down the possible matches to one or two families, it is much easier to see if we share relatives with all those whose kits showed a match to both of ours. In this case, my (potential) cousin has turned up someone’s info on AncestryDNA, where she was tested, whose family tree happens to have a lot of names that match my maiden name. This is exciting, since my GGG grandfather, Charles M. Watson (1838-1889), is one of our brick walls. He just appeared in Alabama in the 1870 & 1880 census, saying he was a carpenter from Georgia, then he died and his widow and children went to Texas. We have looked for his birth family for years, with no luck until now, and this connection is still in the “potential” category until we can get more information that can help prove that he is somehow connected to the Watson family that my cousin had found on Ancestry.

Just to complicate matters, though, I have a hunch that we may share so much DNA because we actually are double cousins — that is, we share ancestry in two family lines instead of just one. Remember the person whose email I thought I recognized? She is from a different family from my paternal Watson line. Instead, if she is the person I’m thinking of, we are related through my father’s mother instead of his father. Both families, incidentally, spent at least one generation in Georgia, and my “potential” cousin who is working on this with me knows her family lived in Tennessee, which of course is just the next state over. If this is the case, it could explain how we have so much overlapping DNA in spite of any possible links being at least 4 generations ago.

So, our next step is to try contacting the people identified by GEDmatch. Depending on whether they can confirm belonging to one or the other family in question, we may have something to go on, and then it is just a matter of researching records until we find the MRCA. Stay tuned!

DNA Test is In!

So, now that we know how much Neanderthal genetics I’ve inherited, what does it mean? Here’s a good article from the BBC that helps fill in the gaps.

My 23andMe report says I have 291 Neanderthal “variants”, which is more than 72% of other 23andMe customers. The highest number they’ve seen up till now in any one person is 387 variants. However, apparently I can’t blame my straight hair on the cavemen. I don’t have the variant for that identified as being Neanderthal. In fact, of the 5 variants mentioned in the report that are known to contribute to specific traits, I had none of them. So I don’t know exactly what having 291 variants from this source actually means. Maybe they’ll publish some more definitive interpretations as time goes on. I hope so. Meanwhile, I’ve been Web surfing to see what I can find out elsewhere.

However, while it says nothing about Neanderthal heritage, I’ve already found confirmation that my cousin and I had correctly identified the family of our GGG-grandfather. My DNA matched some descendants of his parents’ other children. Alisanne and I had decided that Sylvester Hutchinson‘s parents were probably Benjamin and Laura (Ticknor) Hutchinson, but we really weren’t positive, since there was no direct documentation. It is rather thrilling to see we were correct! Thank you, 23andMe, WikiTree and GEDmatch.

I haven’t mentioned GEDmatch before, because I just found out about it, when I tried to upload my genome to WikiTree. Rather than uploading a file with the whole 610545 markers, they prefer for people to use GEDmatch, which links directly to 23andMe to get a “clean” list of markers that filters out those that are not useful for genealogy, and may have sensitive medical implications. GEDmatch also has the ability to take genomes from different labs, and share them with various websites like WikiTree and MyHeritage, etc., so it is a very good idea to use them as the go-between.

So, this whole DNA testing thing is definitely worthwhile for me. If you’ve been wavering over getting tested, my opinion is to go for it. At the moment I’m even thinking of asking my dad to be retested at 23andMe, to get the auDNA markers that he didn’t get from his test 10 years ago. And I’d like to have my mother’s brother tested, and other cousins who share my mtDNA, and so on. This could get expensive….

WikiTree

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.

WikiTree

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.

Missed Milestone

You would think that by now I’d have this on my calendar, but I totally zoomed past my 20th anniversary as a Web publisher, completely oblivious! That’s right, even people who call themselves amateur historians (emphasis on the amateur adjective, obviously) can forget dates sometimes. Mine was in October 1995, when I released my first personally owned and operated website. While I no longer have that site, it is still online.

Since 1995 I’ve started many other websites, some successful, others not so much. Most were on my own behalf, a few for friends or organizations, and some for business purposes, whether my companies or for hire. This New Year’s Eve seems to have triggered some reminiscing, but I promise not to get too nostalgic. Let’s just say it’s been quite a ride, and I’m happy to have yet another new site launched here, still experimenting with mixing things up. In this case, of course, the experimentation comes in the form of an integrated wiki and blog, which I have high hopes will prove to be a winning combination. Each publishing format has its pros and cons, so by doing both simultaneously the objective is to take advantage of the up sides of both, while making up for any deficiencies by trading off between the different sides of the site. I’d be happy to hear your comments about how well it’s working, here or on Twitter.

So, here’s to the past, and to the future! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2016

Wiki Work

In my first post I mentioned that as well as this blog, Frayed Genes offers a wiki for collecting information in a more organized format than blogging allows. It is available now, and is starting to take shape, with the beginnings of an outline on the main page, and a few pages of actual information. You can always find it by clicking the “Wiki” link in the navigation bar at the top right of this page, and find your way back here by using the link in the navigation sidebar on the wiki.

FG wiki screenshot

The first items added to the wiki are from the previous blog post about free websites (with a few more added to the ones discussed in the blog), and several pages about using social media, especially Twitter, for genealogy research and sharing results or quests. While most of the topic headings are just empty placeholders for now, I will be working on adding pages behind the links on a continuing basis, so keep coming back to watch the progress. My hope is that the wiki will become a useful reference for all genealogists and family historians, not just beginners.

If you have suggestions for things to include that I haven’t yet added to the list, please do let me know in the comments here, @FrayedGenes on Twitter or sign up for an account on the wiki and add them yourself! The software is the same as that used by Wikipedia, so it is robust and has ample documentation. If you haven’t used it before, have a look at the User Guide available from a link at the bottom of the main page. The markup language is a bit different from HTML, but it is pretty easy to learn.

Enjoy!

5 Free Sites for Genealogy Research

Please notice that this is not called the “top sites” or “best sites”. This list is simply five websites I find useful when doing genealogy research, and think you might, too.

  1. FamilySearch.org
    Started and mostly funded by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon church), the FamilySearch site is free for anyone to use, not just church members. As well as family trees contributed by individuals, which may be unsourced and possibly inaccurate, there are many digitized original documents available, including books, civil records and other useful material. The LDS Church has the largest archives of genealogical and historical material in the world, which is constantly growing.
  2. FindAGrave.com
    Now a part of Ancestry.com, a paid site, FindAGrave is pledged to remain a free service. This site is useful for finding family links as well as details about individuals whose burial sites are recorded as “memorial” pages. A large number of volunteers contribute data and photgraphs of graves and people, and strive to provide links to memorial pages of family members, which can aid researchers in finding relatives. While errors do occur, and source documentation is not always cited, it is sometimes possible to contact the contributors and get that information. I have personally made contact with several distant relatives who have worked with me to expand our knowledge of our mutual families. The site also has a useful feature called “virtual cemeteries” where contributors can collect links to pages that may not have connecting links. This is very useful for sharing information with family who are not as much “into” researching themselves, but are curious about who they are related to, as well as helping the contributor organize pages by groups in many possible ways.
  3. GENi
    I have only recently begun using GENi, which provides a visual way to build a family-tree record. As well as adding one’s own information, there is a matching process to help achieve the site’s goal of “one person, one card” (to eliminate duplicate entries). The free basic account makes it a little less convenient, but not impossible, to find matches, but there are helpful, articulate volunteers available to guide those who need help (as I do). The “pro” account is reasonably priced and provides some additional tools, but it is possible to benefit from and contribute to the site without paying anything.
  4. Google Books
    While not strictly a genealogy website, Google Books does have a large and growing collection of digitized publications, including many hard-to-find antique family genealogies and histories, historical journals, and publication information about some publications that are not available as ebooks, but may still be available from booksellers or libraries. Many of their ebooks are free, some are available for a price, while others are merely listed as references for the reader to find on their own. My online “library” of Google books is extensive and has been very useful for my genealogical work and general historical self-education.
  5. Wikipedia
    A user-supported, user-created free online “encyclopedia of everything”, Wikipedia is an excellent source of geographical information as well as info about famous and some not-so-famous people. It also has pages about other things of interest to genealogists, such as diseases, occupations and tools, historical events, and so on. As the site has developed over the years, it has become more reliable, although as with any secondary source data found in it should be verified if at all possible.

Natually, there are many, many other useful websites, but this is a good start. I will be creating more annotated lists like this one in the future, so if you have favorites you would like me to include, or questions about any of these, or want to know about some I have not included here, please let me know in the comments section or on Twitter.

Hello, World: first post on new genealogy blog

There is still a lot of work to do in the background, but the FrayedGenes site is live now. This is about doing genealogy, not necessarily about my own family’s story, although I may use bits and pieces of it from time to time to illustrate a point.

I have been “doing” genealogy and family history research for over 40 years now, learning as I go along as we all do. The first time I found a reference to one of my ancestors in a book at a library, in about 1974, I learned a valuable lesson, in fact. I didn’t write down the citation, and I have yet to find that particular mention in all the years of looking since then. Keep track of your sources, people!

One of my purposes in writing this blog is to help less experienced knowledge seekers with tips, links to research tools, and reviews of things I’ve found useful in my own researching efforts. Since I also have some background in the technology of data archiving and publishing, these topics will be covered from time to time as well.

On this site I plan to take a slightly different approach from a straight blog. In addition to the narrative format afforded by the blogging medium, I will have a wiki where information can be stored in an organized, easier to locate structure.

So, let the fun commence! I’m glad you’re here.

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