Category - Family Tree

Following DNA-generated Leads
DNA Test is In!

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 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 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….


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.

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