Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Space for a New Year

As 2015 draws quickly to a close, I am here with my year-end wrap-up, for those of you still along for the ride!

As usual, life got in the way of genealogy as it always seems to do. But that doesn't mean I still haven't been working on my family tree. THAT will never change.

Recently, I decided to take over a portion of our basement so I could have a dedicated genealogy space. Previously, the files and computer for my husband's small side business were housed in the basement. He was "supposed" to work down there. Slowly but surely, he and his files made their way upstairs into the computer loft, where both my little workspace and the family computer are located. Rather than compete for space, I made lemonade from lemons and took over the basement.

The basement is divided into a kids video game area and storage, with some basic studding separating the two. My new space consists of two folding tables plus a 6' plastic storage shelf. I bought two new industrial rugs on sale at the local home improvement store to keep the floor area warm. The kids' video game TV was starting to fail, but the PC connection still worked. I hooked up that TV to a basic PC and will use it for internet access to read records on a big screen! My bifocals heartily approve. Then I will continue to use my laptop for my family tree entry and basic computer work.

For storage, I had two rolling IKEA tables. I kindly left one upstairs for my husband. The other one holds both of my scanners and neatly rolls underneath the smaller table. Good use of space!

Finally, the only real decorating expense of my project was shower curtains! We haven't figured how (or if) the basement will be finished, but for now I tacked up two plastic shower curtain liners between the kids' space and mine. Voila - room divider for $5.

Now it is a basement and you may wonder about water problems. Oh, we've had them. June of 2015 brought terrible rain and storms to Illinois. We did have some water in the basement after power loss and the sump pumps not working. We tossed the old carpet scraps and went through mops and bleach, but in the big picture, damage was pretty minor. We do, however, have everything stored in the basement in plastic buckets, all our files are on racks with feet and nothing of value is actually on the floor - we learned! My family photos are stored upstairs, if you were worried.

For file backup, I use a redundant system of backup drives. And Santa brought me a new 2 terabyte drive for Christmas! Files are routinely backed up and the drives stored away from each other.

I think the best part of "moving" will be the opportunity to go through all the papers and notes I dragged downstairs to refile. Sorry - no pictures of that mess. I don't want to spoil your image of me! And as an added bonus, I can keep an eye on the laundry while I'm working ;)

For less than $50 and re-purposing many things we already had, I have a new place of my own!

So now you'll know where I'll be, once my kids are back to school and NOT USING MY NEW SPACE!

Happy New Year to you all!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Monday, October 5, 2015

Oh Ancestry, or How I DNA: Part Two

Last week, I shared an overview post of my family's DNA results from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). This post is devoted to AncestryDNA's results.

To review, here are the tests for me and my family:

When Ancestry had a sale, I ordered two $79 "spit" kits. I took one, and since I had not yet tested my mom, she agreed to take the second one. I have a full Ancestry account and was able to link both tests to my account. Mine shows as me, and hers shows as "managed by me."

Ancestry provides the same basic information: ethnicity, matches from their testing database, and their own "hints," "circles," "new ancestry discoveries," and recently, "shared matches." Additionally, since I have tested my mother, I can sort my own matches against "mother" by selecting that sort option.

(+) Ancestry's biggest connection feature is their Hints, via family trees. In your list of DNA matches, some will show the Ancestry "shaky leaf" hint. These matches share DNA with you AND have a discernible match through a tree in Ancestry's database. However, just because there is a match doesn't guarantee that that is the actual DNA connection. Use it as a hint and only a hint. In some cases, Ancestry also shows a DNA Circle. These are links based on both DNA and multiple trees (albeit through a computer algorithm) that may also give you connections to pursue.

this is a good hint that matches what I already had - yay!

The above graphic is one of my hints that is also my only Circle (cue the sad violins). There are four people in this circle: me, my mom, and two other descendants. This is a tree hint to one of the descendants. I have done a large amount of research on my branch of the Maxson family and am comfortable with this connection. This is a great way to review other sources or connect to other researchers.

(-) Every rose has it's thorns and AncestryDNA has bunches, in my opinion. First, Ancestry is basing the hints to your DNA connections on it's trees. Argh! Online trees can be a notorious means of error dissemination. Therefore, proceed with caution! The DNA doesn't lie, but the trees - perhaps. But many do not have a tree of any kind or keep it locked:

no help here

Which brings me to drawback #2: the messaging system. Ancestry employs a blind messaging system so that you need to connect within Ancestry (not by email). The system is often broken and there are loads of instances where messages don't get though. That's a problem. And some people choose only to test for ethnicity or at the request of a family member and will likely not ever reply. You also cannot search by tree name or by tester name. Huh?! Kind of a big drawback, but that is a site-wide concern, not just DNA.

Finally the biggest and most egregious issue is NO CHROMOSOME BROWSER OR SEGMENT DATA! We can only rely upon the data in the form Ancestry chooses to share with us. I consider that a huge fail. The other two companies provide actual segment comparison tools as a means to analyze and compare connections. Really, this is the basis of DNA testing! I wish that Ancestry would provide this option, even though perhaps only a small percentage of testers might utilize it. It can't be more difficult than offering up silly circles and new ancestor discoveries. 

Addendum: New Ancestor Discoveries

Holy cow, what a weird thing to waste your engineering resources on, in my opinion. I now have four of these and they make be laugh harder every time I see them.

I'll keep the Circle and ditch the rest...

I clicked on the NADs, even though my sensible inner voice told me not to. I looked at the trees of the first two. The names and especially the locations have no connection whatsoever to my tree. In fact, they even made me start to question my own research. But I am not going to fall into that trap. I am confident in my own genealogy (what the heck, I have REAL documents, pictures and family stories!). 

On closer inspection, all four of these NADs are in the 13,000+ family tree of DNA relative Bob. Now Bob is only a 5th-8th suspected cousin, which is already beginning to stretch the usefulness of DNA and it's predicted amounts (you know, from ACTUAL DNA segment research). So somewhere waaaay back, Bob and I have common DNA. It could be a very small segment that we were both fortunate enough to inherit, but we will never know because Ancestry WON'T GIVE US THE DATA! And it still doesn't mean that any of these people are the reason Bob and I share DNA. Oy.

I appreciate Ancestry for the clues, but my kingdom for some data! If you can afford to, or are all-in with Ancestry, by all means, test! But if you are hoping for serious genetic genealogy, you will be disappointed.

Off to lower my blood pressure! Thanks for reading.

Next time, I'll offer some pitfalls to avoid with your DNA results.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Monday, September 28, 2015

How I DNA - Part One

The focus of my genealogy research lately has been on DNA matching. Working with DNA matches goes hand-in-hand with traditional DNA: you cannot locate the match connection unless you have a paper trail to use. I plan to write a few posts on what I do (and don't do) with my DNA and some mini case studies of real matches.

I started out with DNA testing in 2013 using 23andMe. At the time, they were the first of the "Big Three" companies to lower a test to $99. Good enough for me! Over the next year or so, I was able to test other family members, so I have multiple results to compare as well as having a view of how each of the tests work.

Here's what I did for testing:

I am not made out of money, so some of my decision making was financially-based, and some was obtaining as much information as I could. I'm fortunate that both of my parents are still living. They've put up with my genealogy stories for plenty long, so it didn't take much to convince them to take a test. All of these tests were autosomal (cousin-finder) tests that are applicable to both men and women. My last tester was my brother. In addition to the traditional autosomal test, he also took a Y-DNA test for me, so I had a test for my very unknown Irish male lineage in my DNA arsenal. 

Short of having everyone test everywhere, this lineup has been working pretty well for me. I have a wide variety of tests and results. With some family at multiple companies, it also helps to sort results between paternal and maternal families.


This was my first company. It is a "spit" test. They provide ethnic breakdowns, Neanderthal percentage, haplogroups, general ethnicity by chromosome, and lists of matches by percent of DNA shared and by number of segments in common.

(+) Having my dad test there also allows MY matches to be designated "P" for paternal. What a plus! I don't take this to heart the farther away the matches become, simply because the shared DNA is too small. My dad has one grandparent who is French-Canadian, and easily 75% of his matches have ancestry from Quebec. If you have French-Canadian ancestors, test there!

(-) The biggest drawback is the connection system. You can opt for public or private. If you are private, your connections can see basics, but must agree to connect to see the actual DNA segments. The whole point, in my opinion, is having the segment data, so when a match does not reply or agree to share, it is very frustrating.

Here is a table of data for my dad at 23andMe, showing me in green and three of his first cousins. Who wouldn't want all that information?!

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) does autosomal tests and currently accepts transfers of DNA data from Ancestry. This is how my mom and I moved our data to FTDNA. My brother took their "cheek scraper" autosomal test. FTDNA provides ethnic breakdowns, match lists, longest segment shared, ability to add a family tree, an ICW (in common with) list, and several other features. It's a little clunky, but provides great information.

(+) Using the ICW list is helpful in determining who a match might also match. Using the list, as well as any tree information, you may be able to narrow the connection. ICW does NOT mean they all match each other in the same place, but in a more broad sense; think Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. FTDNA also has a chromosome segment map that is very useful.

(-) Two of the bigger drawbacks using FTDNA are that (1) they tend to overestimate the closeness of a match, and (2) your matches are sorted by largest block of DNA, not total amount. When you dig a little deeper with your matches, sometimes you'd rather have total DNA shared, not just the longest block.

Here's what my top four DNA matches look like on FTDNA. First is my mom, then my brother, then a maternal match and then a paternal match:


Ancestry has so many features going on - good and bad - that I will leave them for their own post!

Thanks for reading!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Seems like an appropriate post title, considering that it is back to school time. Again.

Back to school time for me means the household has a better routine. Thanks for hanging around - I do appreciate it. Hopefully, my brain will be more engaged in blogging and reading everyone else's posts.

My last post was from the deep South. I traveled to Alabama in May because my college son qualified for NAIA track and field National Championships in the 5000m. He's settled in so well in college and we were so thrilled for him. Unfortunately, competing in 85 degrees and 85% humidity on the Gulf Coast of Alabama was less than ideal. He still finished 20th, though a long ways from his personal best time.

#1194, white over black

Back in Illinois, high school son was hoping to qualify for the Illinois 3A state track and field meet in the 3200m (2-mile). He did! So after flying back home from Alabama, I packed up and we drove to Eastern Illinois University to watch him compete. As it goes with my sons and coincidences, he also finished 20th! We were so proud. The best part is that they were both just sophomores, so hopefully there will be more qualifying ahead. Now...cross country season!

#6, orange and white

The rest of the summer was spent working and dealing with everyone's crazy schedules. We took a family weekend to Wisconsin and Lake Michigan, and now it is back to reality.

Lake Michigan, near Port Washington, Wisconsin

Part of MY routine, of course, is genealogy. That will never go away. So even though I didn't blog this summer (and frankly, I am still exhausted from #52Ancestors in 2014!), I have continued my research. I keep up with my DNA matches and because of that, keep working on my tree. Previously, I usually added new lines and sometimes in-laws, based on what I learned. Now with DNA in the mix, comparing my tree to another's may not yield an immediate match, but if we both fill in our trees, that potential match may show itself.

In addition to the tree-ing, I have jumped back into my online database ( I use TNG to present my research online, and have been learning more of the behind-the-scenes "coding" to make it appear to my liking. That will always be a work in progress! One thing I decided to add was a DNA logo for those people who I have discovered a DNA match with. Here's an example.

I learned how to add Google maps in my database to show a person's life locations. That was easy. Then looking at my database, I realized how badly I needed to actually update the locations. Wow, was that a (necessary) chore. I use Legacy Family Tree for my database (which uses Bing) but TNG uses Google. I've decided Google maps are far superior to Bing maps. That meant manually geocoding many locations. I think I got most. If you see something that looks weird, do tell me!

I still want to start posting about my DNA work and the connections I've made. I'm not sure of the approach - do I start with basics, assuming this audience is not terribly familiar, or do I jump right in? Hmm, more to ponder.

I hope you all had great summers! I, for one, am glad to be back to the grind.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day in Biloxi

For the past several days, I was in various parts of the South: Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. While driving through Biloxi, Mississippi yesterday, I paid a visit to the Biloxi National Cemetery. It was established in 1934, and lies on the grounds of the US Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Thank you to all who served.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy (early) Mother's Day to my mother, grandmother (at age 96!), and all of our ancestral mothers before us.

Louise Wilhelmina Dork Hummel (1895-1973)
died Lansing, Ingham, Michigan

Wilhelmina Kopkau Dork (1871-1915)
died Lansing, Ingham, Michigan

Wilhelmina Stachel Kopkau (1842-1914)
died Lansing, Ingham, Michigan

Gottliebe Schmidtke Stachel (1815-1900)
died Lansing, Ingham, Michigan

Anna Maria Macziewska Schmidtke (1785-after 1854)
died Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia

Christina Brant Macziewska (unknown)
died Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia


reprinted from my original post 5/12/12

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Friday, April 24, 2015

Slightly Sidetracked

I'm still here, I swear.

Now that I've discovered DNA testing, I've vastly altered how I research. It takes a lot of time and I am so fascinated! I hope to get a better grip on various results and start blogging about them soon.

So many ways to get sidetracked! This:

and these:

Kid1 winning a college 3000m last weekend

Kid2 (r) running an Illinois Top 10 1600m time last weekend

Me: wandering through the past and cheering on the present. Thanks for your patience!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen