Thursday, February 26, 2015

Three Questions from Spitland

There are three things I think everyone needs to consider before taking a genetic DNA test. No, it's nothing sinister or scary. My three things are lessons I've learned long after testing.

My DNA journey began well over two years ago, when 23andMe dropped their genetic test kits to $99. Yep, please take and analyze my spit. After that, I was doomed. And by doomed, I mean time stolen by that genealogy 'shiny' we all fall victim to; that thing that sends us down the proverbial rabbit hole. DNA is my shiny. (You can read more about me in the DNA tab on the blog menu)

My name is Sally and I'm a DNA test addict. If you're still reading, you might be too.

So here are my questions for you to consider:

(1) Why are you taking a DNA test and what do you expect from it?

(2) Do you have some go-to resources to educate yourself before, during, and after testing?

(3) Do you have endless free time, extreme patience, excellent communication skills, and a knack for data analysis?

Those are the three questions I pose to you. Ideally your answers should be (1) to connect with distant cousins to help further my research, (2) yes, ISOGG is my friend, and (3) absolutely!

Let's explore these questions. These are things I know now but didn't know then, and will hopefully help you during your quest. I am not an 'expert' but I have been analyzing my own tests long enough that I feel like I have found another calling. Genealogy was the first, and adding DNA data analysis to it - ah, perfect! I have personally tested with 23andMe and Ancestry, transferred to FTDNA, tested each of my parents, have a Y test pending for my brother, use GEDMatch and GenomeMate faithfully, and answer questions on various Facebook message boards. Did I mention I check each of my DNA kit sites weekly at a minimum? Yeah, I'm that one.

Back to the questions...

(1) Why are you taking a DNA test and what do you expect from it?

'Because everyone is doing it' is not the right answer. It's great that so many people are testing, don't get me wrong. But ideally you will know what the test will offer you once you do have your results. I had no great expectations, other than hoping to find long lost cousins who could help me shore up some loose ends and further my various lines. I have been working on my own genealogy for over 20 years, like back in the Dark Ages of renting microfilm days. But there are many lines I just can't get past. I hope DNA, in time, will help connect me to others in my distant family.

Many testers I encounter have unrealistic expectations. DNA will not solve every mystery. DNA will not knock down every brick wall. It will not tell you your familial GPS coordinates many moons ago. It is a tool, a means of connection, another method of analysis, but it does NOT provide every answer.

(2) Do you have some go-to resources to educate yourself before, during, and after testing?

The best advice I can offer is educate, educate, educate yourself. DNA and genetic genealogy is so new and so rapidly evolving that it is nearly a full-time job to keep up with. I can't stress enough how valuable reading and learning from others is in this area.

These are the blogs of a few of the real pros in genetic genealogy:
These are but a handful of blog resources. They answer questions and are willing to help. There are many Facebook pages geared toward testing and the test sites. Read them, join them, and you will learn a great deal.

My best web resource is ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. The website (wiki) is loaded with how-to's and charts and files and comparisons and everything a tester could want to know about DNA. Please check them out!

(3) Do you have endless free time, extreme patience, excellent communication skills, and a knack for data analysis?

DNA analysis is a marathon, not a sprint. You will have breakthroughs on occasion. Most of your time will be spent gathering and reviewing and learning.

Digging deep into all of your DNA's potential is not a casual endeavor. Every new test, new website, new cousin connection, and new tree link will take analysis. The one thing about DNA is that the DNA is exact but the connections are anything but. It will require your time. Lots of time. You will need a good way to manage your information or you will be quickly overwhelmed. You will email people with every level of exposure to DNA testing under the sun, so you need to be able to communicate well. You have no idea who is on the other side of your message - a long-time tester or someone brand new.

The only way to know who you may be matching is through your paper genealogy research. Do not neglect this! In fact, this is a great time to flesh out more tree branches, find those siblings of ancestors, create a map of where your people lived and their migration routes. DNA matching is only as good as the leaf to which it connects.

Questions and comments are always welcome. I wish you much success in your journey through genetic genealogy!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

DNA vs Dating

I have been DNA-tested and have been knee-deep in analyzing those results for about two years. For me, it is endlessly fascinating. I love the data analysis and the continual learning. What I don't love so much is the lack of regular communication with my potential cousins. It's an interesting little place, this world of DNA reseach. and it has some unwritten rules. And then I got to thinking...

DNA searching is like dating!

Now I am long married and my children aren't quite at the dating age. But through the media, we are bombarded with ads for dating sites:, eHarmony, ChristianMingle, JDate, and my son's favorite,

You may be chuckling, either at me or at the thought of an online dating site, but I think it's a good comparison!

Taking the Plunge

You enter your, ahem, personal information and maybe a picture (from about 10 years ago, looking awesome) into your profile, hoping to be connected to a perfect match from the website's algorithm. Using a genetic DNA site? Pretty much the same thing.


A match reaches out to you. Or more likely in DNA, it's you reaching out to the match. You carefully tiptoe around, sharing small, but not highly identifiable pieces of information to see if you click: favorite movies or books, or surnames of your great-grandparents. If you're lucky, you get a number to text, or on a DNA site, a profile connection.

The Date

You're finding things in common and decide to meet. In the dating world, maybe it is a movie or coffee or a drink. You find commonalities. You're happy if there is great conversation. You decide if there is intellectual and/or physical attraction. Would you introduce this person to your friends and family? In the DNA world, it's a flurry of emails or messages, and sharing a tree or a database while carefully reviewing your match's family tree. Hmm, do you like the way they created their files? What about their sourcing techniques? Can you live with these differences?! You're happy if there are large matching chromosome segments.

The Aftermath

Do you like this person enough to go out again? Better yet, do you give it a 2-day wait to text or call? And who initiates the follow-up?! Are they really your type, or are they a creeper? Why haven't they texted?! After the initial exchange of family tree information, you have no reply. Maybe for days. Do you email or re-initiate contact? You send three emails. How many emails is too many? Why don't they reply?  Do they think I'm the creeper?!

Back to the Drawing Board

Maybe that wasn't the one for you. You know the phrase: it's not you, it's me. Then try another option to meet people. If you can't get information from a DNA connection, try another. Maybe it's back to searching records, filling out trees with collateral lines and other siblings, and firming up questionable information.

The world of genetic genealogy, while similar to dating, is new and has many of it's own rules of connection and communication. It's taking the time to learn and try and fail and get back up again that will help find you those elusive connections.

If you truly want to further your DNA contact, may I suggest:

  • accept contact on the site
  • reply to emails
  • consider what you write (not "Hey, we're related!")
  • be pleasant and gracious, naturally
  • offer family names to the degree you are comfortable 
  • have a tree posted to your profile, even just a direct lineage tree, if possible
  • just because your surnames don't match, don't discount the DNA
  • update YOUR tree
  • it isn't just names, it's places! let your connection know where your family lived
  • keep reading and learning

There's a relationship for everyone and you will find your connection. Keep on looking for yours!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Ears Have It

DNA is the basic building block of life. It determines essentially every physical characteristic we, and every other creature, exhibit. It makes us short or tall, blond or brunette, big feet or small feet. These are typical physical differences we expect.

Sometimes DNA rewires a signal and creates a trait that is very, very specific and unexpected. In my maternal grandmother's line, it is The Ear.

My great-great-grandfather Otto Dork is our earliest known carrier of The Ear. It is a left ear that, unfortunately, sticks out. I know: he's my Dork with a big ear.

It skipped his children. It also skipped my grandmother and her sister. I don't have it, nor do my siblings or nieces or nephews.

My mom has it. And so does my son. 

Behold: The Ear.

*Faces blurred to protect the living...and the inn-ear-cent.

I am on this crazy quest for more family history through DNA. Sometimes the really interesting DNA doesn't come from a lab test, but is visible in family itself.

Do you have a unique family trait you see throughout generations?

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Real Me

Check out the navigation bar above! I just added a new page showing my DNA information. Can't get much more 'real' than me at a cellular level!

2015 is going to be the Year of DNA Analysis for me. Be prepared for a lot of posts regarding my obsession with hunt for DNA relationships. I'll share some of my successes, and the parts of the testing process that were both helpful and annoying!

Starting in 2013, I first tested at 23andMe. I was really fortunate that some of my dad's second cousins also tested. Having people to compare to makes DNA searching a w-h-o-l-e lot easier. I have since tested with Ancestry and had my results transferred to Family Tree DNA. Each of my parents have taken one test as well.

I use the free analysis site to enhance my pool of potential cousins, and I primarily use GenomeMate to analyze my results in a database format.

DNA searching, or more properly, genetic genealogy, is not an easy quest. It can be frustrating both scientifically and genealogically. But if you are up to the challenge, finding and understanding DNA relationships is incredibly satisfying!

These are the 'Big Three' DNA testing companies:


Family Tree DNA

There are also three main types of tests, in order of genealogical usefulness:

autosomal, which tests both sides of your family, back a few generations
Y-DNA, which tests your father's father's father's... line
mitochondrial, or mtDNA, which tests your mother's mother's mother's... line

Autosomal testing, which all three companies provide for about $99US, will catch the most potential cousins. Y-DNA testing can be helpful to locate where your paternal ancestors may have originated. I am presently testing my brother so I can hopefully learn more about my paternal Irish heritage. Mitochondrial is probably the least useful, mostly because women's names changed so frequently and having a paper trail many generations back is very rare.

To learn more about DNA testing, check out the multiple resources located on the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) wiki pages.

I would love to hear about other DNA experiences. Feel free to comment here or on any of my future posts.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How Many Named Ancestors?: 2015 Edition

Happy New Year!

My first post of 2015 is a little fun - Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, that is. And obviously, Saturday night has now moved into Sunday morning. Better late than never.

+Randy Seaver proposed this latest 'genealogy quest' on his blog and it's a good way to assess my knowns and unknowns.

The proposal is to list the 'known by name' ancestors at each genealogical level: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. As the potential ancestors double and the available records decrease over time, let's check mine and see where that big research dropoff shows up.

Here's my chart:

I also prepared a similar post last year. And yes, there have been some improvements!

In yellow above are the generations where I found new ancestors. Well, they've always been there but I finally figured out their names ;)

I made a circle chart in my Legacy program to count the knowns and unknowns. My biggest dropoff comes at Level 7, the great-great-great-great-grandparents. Most of my knowns in this period were born in the early 1800's. So it appears I have a real research block beyond that century line.

The records I have the farthest (in fact, to 12 generations) are two French-Canadian lines and one colonial American line. I also have had good luck with my maternal grandmother's Prussian ancestry. I have one ancestral couple identified to the 10th generation and three couples to the ninth generation.

The records I have the most work to do are my dad's paternal Irish lines, where they end at Level 7 across the board. I have no known Irish ancestor born earlier than the early 1800's. [A personal aside: my brother is taking a Y-DNA test, so maybe that will improve things for next year - cross your fingers!]

Last year's total percent known was 16.52. This year's is 19.16, an increase of 27 ancestors.

So I found a few peeps!

Thanks for the idea, Randy!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#52Ancestors (52) The Big Bad 2014 Challenge Wrap-Up


One year ago, I embarked upon the 52 Ancestors Challenge. The challenge was proposed by +Amy Johnson Crow as a way to revisit, re-research and remember your ancestors. I organized my posts mostly by alphabet and did a pretty good job of posting once a week through the year.

The Most Viewed Post was: (33) John Joseph McBride: A Victim of Proofreading followed by (22) Benjamin Joslin: An 1836 Death By Poisoning?.

Clearly, you readers went for the sensationalism!

The Least Viewed Post was: (43) John Patrick Riley

What?! No love for my Irish ancestors?

The Most Commented Upon Post was: (9) Peter Countryman: Dead and In Debt

I was pretty proud of that post :)

I was grateful to complete the challenge. Mostly, it was an opportunity to revisit ancestors and research I completed long ago. It helped me to see many of them in a fresh light and determine my next steps. Most of my brick walls are still brick walls, but to refresh my memory and consider new paths of exploration is immensely helpful moving forward.

Thank you to all who have read my posts. Congratulations to all of you who completed the challenge, in full or in part. Good luck to those of you who journey on to next year's challenge! And Happy New Year!

Here is my list of post subjects and a link to each post.

Recap 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

#52Ancestors (51) Amelia Tenney Countryman

As we reach the end of the year, and in my case, the alphabet, my penultimate #52Ancestors entry is a maternal great-great-great-grandmother.

Amelia S. TENNEY (or possibly TENNY) was born about 1839, probably in Monroe County, New York. I have had quite a lot of difficulty locating Amelia with her birth family at any point prior to her marriage. You would think a fairly unique name like Amelia would help, but not so far.

How do we solve a problem like Amelia?

Over the years, I have formed some hypotheses about her beginnings. I worked with distant 'cousins' met on message boards who are certain my Amelia is part of their TENNEY family. Based on her census age and birthplace, I can narrow down suspects. It doesn't help that her purported father, Henry TENNEY died before the 1850 census and her purported mother, Harriet NOBLE, remarried at least two more times. That certainly broadens the playing field.

Her first good record is her marriage to Jacob COUNTRYMAN on 2 November 1855 in Iosco Township, Livingston County, Michigan. Harriet was only 16 and Jacob about 19. Jacob was orphaned at a very young age in next-door Ingham County. Now if Amelia also had a transient upbringing after her own father died, that might help explain why neither Amelia or Jacob, who could be working out as help, appear in census records. They did not have [surviving] children for almost nine years. Perhaps they were waiting to have more stability before having children? ...or had children that didn't survive? ...or just plain moved a lot? I may never know.

Jacob and Amelia, c 1880

They did have five daughters:

The children were all born in Tompkins Township, Jackson County, Michigan between 1864 and 1876. The family eventually moved just north into Ingham County where they remained. Amelia died 9 June 1891 according to her gravestone. They are buried in Graham Cemetery in Woodhull Township, Shiawassee County, Michigan. 

For future researching, I will continue on the leads I presently have. Interestingly, Harriet NOBLE, Amelia's purported mother, descends from some very old Massachusetts colonial lines through her NOBLE/CALLENDER and DEWEY/HAWES families. My own DNA results have connected me with several people who also descend from these families. 

Maybe my leads are better than I think!

Amelia's page in my database

© 2014 Sally Knudsen