Tag Archives: Genetic Genealogy

Book Review: The Foundlings by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The Foundlings is the ninth novel in the Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist series of books by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. And I promise no spoilers in this review. Suffice it to say if you read the book you’re in for a treat!

Once more genealogist Morton Farrier’s latest investigation is a fast-paced enjoyable read with plenty of plot twists and turns along the way, keeping you guessing right to the end. Farrier’s own family history is woven into the case, which proves all the more emotionally challenging for him because it is close to home.

It’s a case in which Farrier combines traditional family history research with DNA and genetic genealogy in order to find out the parentage of three women abandoned as babies. There’s real creative skill in how the author draws together all the various strands in this multi-layered story, with shades of darkness, to build to a credible ending. And for me it’s a sign of a good book when I’m compelled to flick back through the pages once I’ve finished, to re-read those “Aha” moments whose significance I’d not realised in my first run through.

As a family historian I really appreciate this series of books because I love following Farrier’s research processes. I can relate to the various records used, both online and in archives. And I do try to guess what steps he will take. This tale introduced an ethical dimension too. That being said, you certainly do not need to be a genealogist to become immersed in the story. If you like a satisfying mystery or crime novel, especially with some history thrown in too, The Foundlings – and the previous Forensic Genealogist books – will be right up your street.

I must confess I’m already an avid fan of the Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist series of books, so his character was not new to me. I had just finished reading The Spyglass File. It meant The Foundlings was a few jumps ahead from where I’d got to in the series. And yes, I can confirm it can be read as a stand-alone novel, though I did quickly skip the few references to his previous case so as not to give away any clues to that story. I can also confirm it is up there with the previous books in the series, which goes from strength to strength.

In summary, if you’re in to family history, crime mysteries or historical thrillers I can highly recommend this book, along with all the others I’ve read in the series.

If you’ve not read any of the previous books in the Forensic Genealogist series and want to start at the beginning to sequentially see how the character’s back story evolves, here’s the full list:

  • The Asylum – A Morton Farrier short story;
  • Hiding the Past;
  • The Lost Ancestor;
  • The Orange Lilies – A Morton Farrier novella;
  • The America Ground;
  • The Spyglass File;
  • The Missing Man – A Morton Farrier novella;
  • The Suffragette’s Secret – A Morton Farrier short story;
  • The Wicked Trade;
  • The Sterling Affair;
  • The Foundlings.

Finally, here’s the all-important purchase information for The Foundlings. I read the paperback version, ISBN-13: ‎979-8481041421, price £8.99. There is also a kindle edition. Full purchase details for this, and all the previous books in the series, can be found on Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s website.

Footnote: I was given a copy of this book by the author to preview. But if I hadn’t received a copy I would have certainly bought it – as I have all the earlier ones

Public or Private Family Tree?

This is a perennial question for many people researching their family history. Whether or not to have a public family tree available online. And it is a dilemma which can arise fairly early on in the research path. Sometimes though it is not even considered, and for some the consequences of a decision to go public emerge too late.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Before I go any further I want to make it clear there’s no right or wrong answer. It really is a purely personal decision, one with which you need to be comfortable.

However, here are some considerations which I’m sharing to provoke a deeper examination of, and debate about, the implications. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, more a thought trigger. I’ve split them into pros and cons.

First the advantages of a public online tree.

  1. Connecting. It goes without saying, but a public online tree allows other researchers with the same family history interests to easily find and contact you. This enables you to connect with distant cousins, compare research, potentially plug gaps and share photos.
  2. Collaborating. Following on from this, once connections have been made this can lead to collaborative working on trees, pooling research, and the possibility to discuss findings and theories with someone who has a mutual family history connection.
  3. Learning. Linked to the above two, connecting and collaborating can lead to improving your family history research skills.
  4. Expanding. By having an online presence you may be able to expand your tree, pushing back lines and breaking down brick walls. All at a far quicker pace than solo research offers. Though a word of caution. Do not accept the research of others at face value. Always do your own work to check and verify.
  5. DNA. If you have undertaken a DNA test in order to further your family history research, a linked public tree is an important corollary to that test. I realise this may not always be possible. But if it is an option, there are clear advantages. A tree is one of the first things your DNA matches will look at to identify potential links. And it does encourage contacts. Ask yourself if, amongst a plethora of DNA matches, are you more likely to initially investigate and contact the treeless or those with trees? Personally, I find one of the most frustrating things about DNA testing is to see a possible match, but for that match to have no tree.
  6. Tree Purpose. Is your tree family history, pure and simple? Or is it something along the lines of a one-name or one-place study? The latter two may have a lesser emotional/personal attachment, and also a need for a far broader range of collaboration/connection networks than your own family tree.
  7. Family History Community Spirit. Having an online tree may fosters for you a feeling of really contributing and sharing to further the research of others.
  8. Legacy. You may be the only one in your family interested in family history. There may be no-one to bequeath the family history baton to, no subsequent generations willing to take on your work. You may be wondering how to ensure your research is preserved for the long-term. Putting it online is one option.
  9. Unexpected heirlooms. Recently a story made the news about the love letters written by a soldier, killed during the First World War Battle of the Somme, to his wife. They turned up in a sewing box donated to a charity shop. An appeal was put out, and within hours searches by members of the public on an ancestry site resulted in the tracing of family descendants, which will result in the letters being reunited. More details here. This is a rare, potential unexpected bonus of having a public tree.

Turning to the disadvantages of having your tree publicly available.

  1. Information control. Obvious really, but once your tree is out there publicly available to all, you have no control who can access it and how it is used. Be prepared for it being copied wholesale by multiple people without them even contacting you, and without them even referencing the person behind the original research. Is this something which would bother you? If it is, think of other options.
  2. Reduced Contacts. Linked to this, your tree’s proliferation may even reduce the chances of you being contacted. Unless yours is stand-out, it may be lost amongst a forest of other similar trees. Of course though this does not reduce your opportunities to contact others.
  3. Photos. This is a particularly sensitive subject. You may have ancestral photos linked to your tree. You may also have document images, such as civil registration certificates or probate records. Whilst you might be happy to have the basic tree information copied, you may find the copying of photographs in particular, and them popping up on scores of trees, a bridge too far. Several bridges if the photo is misattributed – great aunt Jane labelled as someone entirely different.
  4. Copyright. This is a topic in its own right, so I’m only putting some initial thoughts out there. Your own private tree for your personal use only is one thing. But where do you stand if you link photos, copyright document images etc to a public tree for all to see, copy and share? What about your own linked notes and analysis? And is that going to create a whole new set of potential issues?
  5. Errors. What if you include something in a public tree which you later wish to correct or amend? You may find the horse has already bolted, with your early research replicated across many other online trees.
  6. Privacy Concerns. Whilst living relatives should not be on a public tree, something to bear in mind is how traceable ultimately you (or your family’s) details potentially may be even if the living are unnamed. It might not be the first thing you think of when constructing a public online tree, and it may only be a very minimal risk, but you should be aware of the possibilities for abuse. As an aside, while online trees hosted by genealogy providers do anonymise the living, I’ve come across trees on personal websites where details of the living have been included.
  7. Etiquette. Essentially by openly sharing your tree you are entrusting your work to others. Do not assume all online will have the same courtesy standards regarding information sharing, use and acknowledging.

And finally, in the interest of openness, here’s how I handle the dilemma.

Well over a decade ago I did have a bad experience regarding someone copying my once online tree, including notes and other elements, and it didn’t sit right with me. However, I can see the benefits of information sharing to mutually further research. I now have a threefold tree strategy. This is:

  • A full tree which is on Family Historian and it is entirely private;
  • A private tree on a commercial website shared with a couple of trusted people – a very much pared down version of the Family Historian tree, minus any images or photographs. Only very basic information, with no source links or citations. I’ve not updated it for quite a while, but it is useful to consult when I’m out and about (family history events, archives visits etc.); and
  • An online publicly available skeleton tree, with basic direct line information only, linked to my DNA research. No photos. No documents. No comments. No analysis. It is there primarily for DNA purposes. That way I have a way of connecting with other DNA researchers. And I can then share selected relevant information, rather than my full tree.

I realise it does limit my opportunities for connection and collaboration because of its reduced public visibility. However, that hybrid approach is a decision I am most comfortable with. But it may not necessarily be the right one for you.

The bottom line is make sure you define your reasons for putting your tree online in advance of doing so. Ensure you know the full range of privacy settings on whatever online medium you decide to use for a family tree (if indeed you decide to go down that route). Think about what would work best for you and what you would be comfortable with. And go into it with your eyes wide open.

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

But whatever direction my blogging year takes, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

Irish DNA Breakthrough

Over two years ago I wrote about one of my main DNA aims: to find what became of my grandpa’s three sisters who left County Mayo for the USA in the early 20th century. The mystery of what became of the Callaghan sisters was one which nagged away at me. I knew one of them ended up in Canada via Boston, mum thinks it was Quebec Province, and married a French Canadian. Mum did not know which sister this was, but I suspected the eldest; the two younger sisters I traced to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1920s via ships’ passenger lists.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Mum was also desperate to find out about her aunties – Bridget, Mary and Catherine/Kate, so she joined me in doing an Ancestry DNA test. We were aware the Quebec line would draw a blank DNA-wise, as mum knew this sister had no biological children and adopted a boy who at one time was in correspondence with mum’s brother who was tragically killed aged 19. Contact was lost with the Canadian branch at around this time, or so mum thinks, and she cannot ever remember hearing about the sisters in the USA.

There must have been some contact though between the USA sisters and my grandpa. I have a mysterious, unsent and undated postcard written by him and addressed to “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic].”  The image is the church in which the family were baptised – Glan Chapel near Kilkelly. It seemed a logical assumption this was intended for one of his sisters, now married. Proving it was unfortunately not straightforward, in part due to my lack of experience with USA records.

Several months after submitting the DNA tests I finally had what appeared a very promising match – an extremely high confidence second/third cousin match with mum and a third/fourth with me. No tree but, correlating with other DNA matches with other testers who had trees, it seemed to be down the Callaghan line mum and I were so keen to find out about.

An initial contact with the tester confirmed the DNA match was with a descendant of grandpa’s youngest sister, Catherine. Then nothing more. After two years I had given up. Then out of the blue the other month I received another message followed by a photo of grandpa’s sister which made my mum’s day. I am not including the photo in this post – it is not mine to share. I was also given Catherine’s married name which was all I needed to find out basic details about her and introduce me to some US records in the process.

Catherine became an American citizen in 1937. Her naturalization papers confirm her birthplace as Carrabeg [Carrowbeg], County Mayo and the details correspond with those on the passenger list detailing her arrival in Boston back in 1922. In her naturalization petition she gives a date of birth of 4 September 1903. Later, her social security records amend this to 7 September 1900, which matches with the date of birth given when she was baptised on 9 September 1900 at Glan Chapel, Kilmovee Parish. Interestingly going back to Ireland for her official birth registration in Swinford, County Mayo on 27 October 1900, her officially recorded date of birth there is 7 October 1900.

Like my grandpa, the official date given is a judicious tweak to avoid a late birth registration. This is not unusual for the family, along with many others in rural Ireland. They would have found it a trek to get from their isolated Carrowbeg farm to Swinford to register the births of their children. They did it as and when they could, and amended the birth dates accordingly to avoid any penalties for failing to comply with the legal requirements of registration within 42 days of birth. I therefore take the birth date given at time of baptism for my rural Irish ancestors as the most reliable one – God before state. Their baptisms invariably take place within days of birth. Therefore I find the Callaghan family often have their baptisms pre-dating their births when comparing to officially registered birth dates!

By 1937 Catherine was living at Wellington Street, East Braintree, MA. Her naturalization papers give a brief physical description – a diminutive 5ft 3in, 122lbs with blue eyes, brown hair and a medium complexion – so no change from her 1922 passenger list description. They also state she married James E Rudolph in Boston on 29 August 1925 with a child was born around three years later. By 1937 though, she is a widow. Her husband’s birthplace is recorded as Middleborough, MA., and a date of birth is given as 23 June 1904.

A quick look at the 1930 census sees James E Rudolph, Catherine and their child living at 6 Belmont, Braintree, MA with James working as a pipe fitter. Lothrop’s Braintree Directory of 1931 lists James as Ernest, still living at 6 Belmont with wife Catherine, with the occupation of electrician. There certainly appears to be a little confusion over his name because Clarence is another variation middle name which appears in records, including census and Middleborough town records.

What is clear is Catherine’s husband died by the time of the publication of the 1935 edition of Lothrop’s Braintree Directory, with her now Wellington Street address listing her as the widow of Ja[me]s E Rudolph. The Massachusetts Death Indexes confirm a death registration year of 1935 at Weymouth, under the name of James E Rudolph. Other sources appear to indicate he died in March that year.

The 1940 census shows Catherine and her child at Wellington Street, Braintree. Life must have been a real struggle. It shows her seeking work, having been employed for only 8 weeks the previous year and earning only $20. She did have an income of $50 or more from sources other than money, wages or salary. But the fact she was seeking work is indication that this was insufficient.

By the time of her death on 1 October 1970, Catherine was residing at Hanover, MA. She is buried with her husband at Saint Francis Xavier Cemetery, Weymouth, MA. I wonder if my grandpa ever knew? He was still alive in 1970. Mum certainly cannot recall him mentioning anything.

I feel content that at least I now have some details about what became of Catherine. And mum is thrilled to have seen a photograph of her auntie. So DNA has provided the hoped for breakthrough. But that result has also led to the cracking of the postcard mystery. More to come on that in my next blog post.


  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Birth Records 1840-1915, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • GRO Records, Ireland: Births registered at Swinford for the District of Kilkelly
  • 1910 to 1940 US Censuses
  • Lothrop’s Braintree Directory 1931 and 1935
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970].
  • Ancestry.com US Social Security Death Indexes 1935-2014
  • US Billion Graves via FindMyPast
  • United States Obituary Notices via FindMyPast (source Tributes.com)

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was

My Living DNA results have proved a bit of a curate’s egg. Good in parts, but leaving me with major question marks in others.

I’m 100 per cent from Great Britain and Ireland, which correlates with my research so far. I’m also predominantly of Yorkshire ancestry; more precisely South Yorkshire which, as defined by Living DNA, roughly comprises the South and West Yorkshire counties. Park that piece of information. 

Given what I know, my next largest component is unsurprisingly Ireland at 9.2 per cent – but I also know this is a massive underestimate and should be nearer 50%. My research so far shows this is all County Mayo, so my 4th ethnicity component of 6.2 per cent southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland is not a shocker either, with its proximity to Mayo. But that’s where it ends.

My family history research does not match my LivingDNA results in some fairly significant areas. My ancestral origins research doesn’t go back the estimated 10 generations the LivingDNA results capture. But my research shows North East England ancestry,  from the Durham and Northumberland areas: one set of 4x great grandparents were born in those counties (Ann Jackson in Northumberland and Robert Burnett in Durham). The evidence is backed up in several record sources, most crucially a documented, bitter, removal order dispute.

Yet my LivingDNA standard result, the one which links to the test’s best-guess reference population ancestry sources, does not show any ancestry in their designated Northumbria area. This roughly equates to the Northumberland/Tyne and Wear/Durham/Scottish Borders/Fife areas. Neither does Northumbria feature in my complete result, the one where the test attempts to allocate the unassigned 7.7 per cent of my genetic make-up to regions where it look most similar.

Perhaps Ann and Robert’s parents (my 5x great grandparents, John Jackson/Elizabeth Hayes and Stephen Burnett & his one-handed gypsy mistress Charlotte) all migrated and settled in that area from elsewhere – possibly Cumbria or Scotland. Despite me not yet having any ancestors from north of the border, my standard result has identified percentages from three of the Scottish areas (albeit one of those is the aforementioned Scotland/Northern Ireland region).

The other conundrum is the absence of any North Yorkshire trace in the standard test, basically the North and East Ridings. The explanation may simply lie in proximity to county boundaries and 1974 boundary changes. I have relatively recent (if you call 18th century recent) ancestry around the Sherburn-in-Elmet, Saxton-in-Elmet, Brayton and Hemingbrough areas. These all fall within what is now North Yorkshire. However, prior to 1974 the first three were in the West Riding. Hemingbrough was in the East Riding, but it is only five miles, as the crow flies, to Brayton. So they could conceivably fall within the LivingDNA South Yorkshire zone. My complete results do pick up a trace 1.2 per cent North Yorkshire ancestry. 

Other surprises? Well the shock for this white rose Yorkshire lass is she has genetic components from the dark side of the Pennines, possibly (whisper it) the red rose county. Though, in the absence so far of any North West roots, I’m claiming that any such ancestors must be from the Cheshire/Merseyside/Staffordshire and not Lancashire parts. We’ll see what further family history research down the line turns up.

I also have Welsh DNA – 5 per cent in total from North and South Wales. And then there’s the 3.8 per cent Devon and 3 per cent Cornwall. So THAT’s why I’m addicted to Poldark!  And I’ve a remarkable absence of southern-ness.

How does my LivingDNA ethnicity result compare with my Ancestry and Family Tree DNA ones?  Family Tree DNA places me as 97 per cent European, of which 71 per cent is British Isles.My Ancestry test is 100 per cent European. Of this 52 per cent is Great Britain and 44 per cent Ireland. In terms of their Genetic Communities, I fall within two of the nine regions assigned to the UK and Ireland as follows:

  • the Irish North Connacht category (very likely) which ties in neatly with my County Mayo ancestry; and
  • English in Yorkshire and Pennines (very likely) which again fits with my research.

The confusion here is the Genetic Communities of my parents are slightly at odds with me, as shown below.

And mum, given her dad is from County Mayo, may be disappointed with her “likely” Irish North Connacht outcome.At a simplistic level, it’s easy to ask should not all the results be the same? After all, there’s only one genetic me (hurray!) But delving deeper, the difference is not unexpected. The companies have different reference groups, time measures and, possibly, a different emphasis on the ethnicity element of their tests as opposed to the DNA matching side. LivingDNA is much more of a deep dive into 21 British/Irish genetic groupings (80 worldwide ones), rather than the broad-brush overview given by Family Tree DNA and, to a lesser extent, Ancestry’s nine UK/Ireland regions.

Finally, for those DNA experts, my LivingDNA Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has me in Haplogroup U4, Subclade: U4b1b1. U4 is found in low frequencies across much of Europe and Asia, more commonly in populations near the Ural Mountains and Volga River in Siberia. According to LivingDNA U4 is “an old group, which helps to explain the relatively low frequencies in populations today. It is now thought that haplogroup U4 was involved in migrations into Europe from the Middle East that occurred before the end of the last ice age”.

So, to sum up, my test leaves me with much more work to do to build my tree to try to prove these new elements to my ethnic make-up. But it also gives me some new migration theories to work with.


Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the Hill (DNA) – Part 3, No Silver Bullet

This is the third in my series of posts about my genetic genealogy journey. I ended my last post at the waiting game phase, all kits on their way. Things have progressed and I thought it helpful to provide an update.

I have included the information below of the various test stages to give some indication as to the variability of posting/processing times:

Test Type Posted Arrived Lab Processing Starts Anticipated Result Date Result Arrived
Ancestry autosomal (mum) 27 June 3 July 7 July 6-8 weeks 13 July
Ancestry autosomal (dad) 27 June 15 July 18 July 6-8 weeks
FTDNA Family Finder (me) 29 June 11 July including lab processing stage 5-19 August
FTDNA Y-DNA 37 (dad) 29 June 13 July including lab processing stage 23 Sept – 7 October
FTDNA mtFull Sequence 29 June 13 July including lab processing stage 26 August – 9 September

There is a lengthy delay in the anticipated result date of the FTDNA Y-DNA test. Hopefully this is a good sign, due to its popularity and hence the number of testers.

But the thing I found must perplexing was the difference in timescales for mum and dad’s Ancestry tests. These were both posted the same day from England to Dublin. The results for mum’s test came through significantly ahead of schedule, in fact even before dad’s vial of spit got there.

I really did suspect his was lost in the post but, when I asked, Ancestry said it allows 20 working days before a test is designated such.

More amazingly the FTDNA tests posted a couple of days after dad’s Ancestry one, and destined for Texas, arrived before his Ancestry test.

But dad’s test did finally reach its destination. So the moral of the story, which seems to be the DNA theme,  is do not give up hope and do not assume tests posted on the same day will arrive at roughly the same time! And one final thing to watch out for, there can be a delay between the test actions being annotated on the site and the email notification reaching you.

Mum’s Ancestry results came in on 13 July, a mere 17 days after posting. I have now had a quick preliminary look at them and these are my initial findings.

First thing to say is the site is easy to navigate and a pleasing mix of charts, tables and expandable “?” Boxes. It is all very intuitive and clear.

In terms of ethnicity there are no surprises. My mum has an English mother and Irish father. Her ethnicity results show 63% Great Britain, 34% Ireland. Of the four trace regions, Ancestry state “it is possible that these regions appear by chance and are not actually part of your genetic ethnicity”. So on this basis I am not claiming any tentative Armada, possibly false in any case, ancestry.

Mum's Ancestry DNA Test Ethnicity Breakdown

Mum’s Ancestry DNA Test Ethnicity Breakdown

The results correspond with all my research to date (going back to the early 17th century on mum’s maternal line). It is good to have general confirmation of my research. But this is more an interesting coffee-table talking point rather than anything more substantive.

Then onto the meaty stuff – the DNA matches. The upfront view is mum has 44 4th cousins or closer and one shared ancestor hint. The latter is like the Ancestry tree shaky leaves.

I excitedly went to the “View all DNA matches” button and immediately felt overwhelmed, but thrilled, to see 57 pages of them, with around 50 entries per page. These are split into relationship ranges and confidence levels. The 4th cousin box refers to possible 4th – 6th cousins range and this is the first batch of matches listed in mum’s case, as this is the closest identified relationship.

Mum naturally has a significantly larger distant cousin category, with a possible range of 5th– 8th cousins. This is the remaining 56 and a bit pages.

Ancestry assign the following “confidence” ratings to the matches: “Extremely High”, “Very High”, “High”, “Good” and “Moderate”.

At this point it may be worth mentioning that ISOGG has a useful piece explaining the Ancestry confidence scores and their realism. It may be that the percentages for sharing a common ancestor are set too high[1]. There is also the caveat that the “AncestryDNA database is 99% American, and it is not yet known if these ranges will apply in the same way to other populations”.

Enthused I spent an afternoon ploughing through the first page of matches, only to become increasingly frustrated. This page included all 44 4th cousin matches. Six of these had “extremely high” confidence markings and the remainder “very high”. There were also two “very high” and four “high” distant cousins on this page.

Clicking onto the individual matches brings you to the next level. There is a “Pedigree and Surnames” tab which identifies all the surnames associated with the match’s tree. Helpfully shared surnames are pinpointed at the start, so this cuts out trawling through a whole list of surnames to pick out the ones in common. There is also the tree section on the right hand side of the page.

A second tab entitled “maps and locations” has a summary column as well as a map with coloured indicators identifying your family tree locations (blue) and those of the DNA match (mustard). Any shared locations are immediately recognisable, as the pointer for these is green.

A word of caution though – the maps are not entirely accurate. I uploaded my tree via a Family Historian GEDCOM file. The Ancestry programme has some fundamental discrepancies because my descriptors do not accord exactly with the Ancestry format. For example some of my Yorkshire ancestors are placed in the Isle of Man, Kent and the North East. I have corrected this.

Of less importance, but useful to know, is that if a vague location descriptor is attached, such as England or Ireland, the pointer will appear in the middle of the country. Or some may have assigned a county level rather than place-specific location. For example I have seen several matches with County Mayo as a location, (including a couple on my tree), but no further detail as to where in Mayo. So do not take the pointers at face value.

Worth using is the “Note” box. I am entering brief details about the DNA match’s tree and any obvious connections. It is also helping me keep track of the reviewed matches.

Example of Ancestry DNA relationship/confidence levels and my notes

Example of Ancestry DNA relationship/confidence levels and my notes

However my initial enthusiasm soon evaporated as it began to feel more like an exercise in futility. Of the 44 4th cousin matches six have private trees, although some of these do have public trees elsewhere on Ancestry; 11 have no tree; and five have less than ten people in their tree. Possibly some of these are individuals trying to find their DNA roots. Though this means straightaway a significant proportion are rendered relatively meaningless for my DNA purposes, at least for the immediate future.

When I first embarked on this journey I did wonder about linking my hitherto private tree to the test. I have for several years steered clear of putting my tree in the public domain, for privacy/copying reasons, having had my fingers burned years ago when I had a public Genes Reunited tree. It was a horrid experience and that copied information is still out there on a website.  It is not something I ever wish to repeat. So I get perfectly why some trees are private. Others may, for personal family sensitivities, decide against a public tree. It is after all an individual decision.

However in the end I decided to do a reduced, skeleton-form tree specifically for DNA test purposes. My reasoning for doing this is  having a private tree might cause people to by-pass me; it might be of assistance to other potential matches and facilitate contact in the interest of a shared goal; it could eliminate protracted fishing-questions; and it hopefully will  minimise the risk of wholesale copying, my big fear.

Anyway, back to the DNA results. Of the remainder of mum’s matches with trees of more than ten individuals, a couple are of peripheral interest and I may in due course make contact. At least though there is something concrete to base any contact with the tree-owners on. For the other matches on this first page there is no obvious connection.

I will go through the remaining 56 pages of matches over the coming months. But I will prioritise my search focusing first on those with larger, accessible trees.  I will also make more judicious use of the location/surname search filters as this will indicate common data  even in private trees, although in the latter cases just at the top level. And hopefully, as I become more familiar with what the site has to offer, my frustration will decrease.

And I have not entirely given up hope. My mum’s shared ancestor hint is a distant cousin match with a “good” confidence rating. This appears on page four of the matches. There is a tree attached. And, from this, the match is at 6th cousin level. It does not break down any brick walls for me, but it is a start.

So, in summary, I am finding that genetic genealogy is no silver bullet to break through brick walls. It is more of a long game and another tool in the genealogy box. Hopefully DNA match success rates for me will improve as more and more people, especially from England and Ireland[2], sign up. I am even considering doing the test myself.

But the bottom line is you are still reliant on people linking a meaningful tree to their DNA test; or those with private trees responding to messages; and those trees being accurate. 


[1] http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Identical_by_descent
[2] Only available here at the start of 2015 http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/01/29/ancestrydna-now-available-in-the-united-kingdom-and-ireland/

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the Hill (DNA) – Part 2, “Operation Spit and Swab”

Last month I wrote about my decision to embark on a genetic genealogy journey.  This included a FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) Y-DNA 37 and mitochondrial “Full Sequence” test for dad; a FTDNA Family Finder autosomal test for me; and an autosomal test for both mum and dad with Ancestry.co.uk.

The test kits from both companies arrived speedily. The Ancestry kits ordered on 19 June arrived on 23 June; the FTDNA kits ordered on 17 June arrived on 26 June.

It was now time to commence what I described as “Operation Spit and Swab.”

I decided it would be too much to inflict both tests on the same day for my dad. So the Ancestry tests were undertaken on the evening of 26 June, as dad was home from the nursing home for the weekend.  Timing was key. You are advised not to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum for 30 minutes before taking this test. So I had to work round dad’s tablet regime.

Ancestry DNA Test Instructions

Ancestry DNA Test Instructions

The test itself involved spitting into a small tube. Although the kit explains it amounts to less than ¼ teaspoon, I was a little concerned it may prove problematic as my parents are elderly and dad is not in the best of health.  I also think they were both a little daunted initially because the tube looks to be deeper than it actually is. In reality dad had no difficulty. And, although mum took longer, I suspect this owed something to the fact she had just emerged from a hot bath.

Tests completed and activated online, they were posted (return postage included) on 27 June and I now await the results. The processing time according to the Ancestry.co.uk website is 6-8 weeks. I’m now at the obsessive site stalking stage, tracking the progress of the little vials of spit. Mum’s arrived on 3 July 2015, although I was temporarily thrown  by the American date format of 07/03/2015! Dad’s is still somewhere in the post.

I have also linked the tests to my Ancestry Family Tree. This is proving to be the most time-consuming activity, because I realised that my Ancestry (private) tree is so old; and I have a backlog of data to input into my Family Historian package so it is not simply a case of uploading a GEDCOM file. I also wonder if it is worth linking the tests to my full family tree or whether I should just create a specific direct (public) ancestor tree for the purposes of the DNA tests.

28 June was the date set for the swab element of “Operation Spit and Swab”. The advice it it is best to conduct this test first thing in the morning before brushing teeth, eating, drinking or putting in dentures, (fortunately the latter was not a consideration for either of us).  It meant getting to my parent’s house as soon as dad woke up on Sunday morning, an early start on a non-work day for me.

FTDNA instructions

FTDNA instructions

The test involves two 30-60 second swab scrapings, one for swab for each cheek. These swabs are then inserted into separate vials.

Dad, who has undergone the Ancestry and FTDNA tests, said they were equally simple to do. The most difficult element  for me was planning the optimum time.

Both dad and my swab kits were posted on 29 June. Postage is not included from England[1] with FTDNA, so this cost £3.50 per kit.

Projected timescales for the autosomal test is similar to Ancestry.co.uk. However a FTNDA website update indicates that, as of 24 June, turnaround times for mtDNA tests are subject to delay (now anticipated to be 7 to 9 weeks); the Y-DNA tests have a slightly longer delay (11 to 13 weeks). So it pays to keep checking the website for any changes.

Once again I found setting up surnames and most distant ancestor details on the FTDNA website to be more labour-intensive than the tests.

Now it’s a case of an anxious waiting game. I will provide a further update once the results start arriving. But this could be quite some time away.


[1] Postage is prepaid for US customers

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the (Hill) DNA – Part 1

I have finally succumbed to the lure of genetic genealogy.  DNA testing was heavily pushed at Birmingham’s “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” earlier this year. Up until that point it was not an issue I had really given a second thought to and I did resist the hard sell on the day.

To be perfectly honest I viewed it as an “Emperor’s new clothes” type of subject and to a certain extent I still remain very sceptical about what it can offer for my tree.

Also I am more of a humanities than pure science bent so, although there is some cross-over, I found the science behind the whole DNA package a bit overwhelming.  Therefore if you are interested in that side of it you will be disappointed in my genetic genealogy adventure. This will be more about my personal genealogical DNA journey of discovery and what, if anything, it will add to my traditional family history research.

The Birmingham experience did sow the seed of interest in the field so I guess the hard sell worked to a slower, less impulsive time-frame.  Since my return I have tried to broaden my education around the subject.  I wanted to find out as much as possible before deciding whether or not to take the big leap, not to mention part with my hard-earned cash.  That is just my personality – cautious, wanting to weigh up all the options before I commit, undertaking a risk/benefit analysis type of approach.

As a first step I looked at the “International  Society of Genetic Genealogy” Website and Wiki page[1].  I read a number of informative blogs.[2]  Kerry Farmer’s book “DNA for Genealogists” gives a brief but information-packed overview of the subject, including details about the major providers. Finally I looked at the websites of the various suppliers.

My uncle died last summer, the man who got me into family history in the first place.  I realised as I read the various books and blogs on the subject that with him went my last obvious chance to undertake a Y-chromosome test for my maternal grandfather’s line.  This is one of my Irish lines, ironically the one I have had the most trouble with.

There was also the dawning recognition over the past few months that my parents will not be around for ever.  I may not have many more months and years to mull over a decision. A few years down the line I do not want the regret of not doing it when I had the chance. So for me the decision about going for testing is not around what I want to get out of it in the short-term, its more about seizing the opportunity whilst I still have it.  Wrapped up in this is an element of lodging DNA for future reference, so it is there as tests develop.Family Tree DNA

Once the decision to go for it crystallised in my mind, I had to choose which testing company to go with.  Size of database was a major factor, and within that the interest of those undertaking tests for the genealogy angle.  I am not particularly bothered about any health screening element so that swayed me against going with a company offering those services – maybe I am wrong but I had the perception that those undertaking such tests may be less interested in the genealogy element.

Linked to database size I also considered potential future growth and geographical areas covered.  Type of test offered played a part.  Finally I also have an inherent curiosity and wanted to see what each of the tests offered in terms of results.

Decision made and time to approach by parents. Dad’s initial response was to ask why I wanted to waste my money.  However he agreed to it.  Initially I intended ordering only a Y-DNA 37 test for him.  But after consideration I also decided to go for a mitochondrial “Full Sequence” test.   Not wanting to be left out I have gone for the Family Finder autosomal test for me.  I placed my order with Family Tree DNA[3] on 17 June and am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of said kits.

Mum was interested too.  So on 19 June I ordered an autosomal DNA test for her.  However I decided to go with a different company, to see how the experience compared.  I’ve placed this order with AncestryDNA[4].  At the same time I decided to order an autosomal test for dad too, though I have yet to tell him.  I only hope all the spitting and swabbing does not cause him to regret his decision to say “yes”!

Amazingly, as I’ve been writing this post the Ancestry testing kits have arrived. Astonishingly quick delivery time as it is only 23 June. Now to pass these on to my parents – and let the fun begin!

Ancestry test kits


[1] http://www.isogg.org/ and http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Wiki_Welcome_Page[2] For example http://cruwys.blogspot.co.uk/
[3] https://www.familytreedna.com/
[4] http://dna.ancestry.co.uk/