DNA: Test All Your Siblings

I’m on a hunt for the parents of the first of our Morrisseys in the U.S. James (see his profile pages) was born in Abbeyleix, County Laois, Ireland in 1832. The only indication of his parents are on the back of his marriage record: Michael Morrissey and Catherine King. I’ve yet to uncover any siblings, or other blood relations in my extensive research on James, including online Irish records like Griffith’s or Catholic Parish Records.

James being my great grandfather, you’d think it would be a piece of cake. Nope. Nopedy, nope, nope. I think that part of the issue is age. My dad was 48 when I was born (I’m the youngest of 6 kids.) My dad was 3rd out of 6 kids.  My paternal grandfather (Ambrose) was 49 when my dad was born. James was 43 when Ambrose was born and Ambrose was 10th out of 11 kids. Each is old enough to be a grandparent when their kids were born. What’s 4 generations on paper, could be 7 generations for another family or in another’s DNA. Those 7 generations outside of the range of accuracy for an autosomal test.

Y-DNA testing (of my brother) has yet to offer any helpful insight.

Back to the title of my post: Test all of your siblings.

I’ve tested 2 of my 4 living siblings. So, 3 kids in the same family. My mom is still with us, so I’ve tested her. One of my resolutions for 2018 is to work all of those paternal matches. So, if someone doesn’t match mom, their labelled paternal. I add them to an excel spreadsheet an farm all the data I can. I’ve gotten through all of my 4th cousin matches on Ancestry for me, my brother and my sister.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed in crunching the data.

  1. Test taker “B.” My brother matches “B” at 106 cMs. My sister matches at only at 33 cMs. I don’t match this person at all! We have a confirmed paternal 1st cousin who matches “B.”
  2. Test Taker “J.” My brother matches at 92 cMs. My paternal 1st cousin matches “J.” Neither my sister, nor I match “J.”
  3. Our relationship with “P” was identified based on an online tree. We’re 3rd cousins, once removed. “P” matches me, my brother, my sister and my paternal 1st cousin. But at small amounts. 13 cMs, 24 cMs and 14 cMs respectively. While, these numbers fit into the 3C1R range in the Shared cM Project, they aren’t what I expected.

In each case, the lack of sibling tests would have left me without DNA confirmation of several lines on my tree. I wouldn’t have matches “B” or “J,” and “P” would have been such a small match that I probably would have overlooked it.

So, test everyone you can. And get those spreadsheets warmed up!

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If you’re searching for an unknown…

As I’ve been working with friends and clients to find lost family members. Whether put up for adoption or adopted themselves. Whether you are a child of a brief relationship. Or the parent of a child of a brief relationship. Whatever the circumstances that have led you to search for someone. I have some advice, if you want to be found.

  1. Get on Social Media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. All of them. Post information about you, and your vital stats (you don’t even have to be exact and should still protect you PII.) If you are a parent who is searching, include that in your profile. For example, if you have a child up for adoption, you might put, “I lived in X county in 19??, and am searching for a baby girl/boy who was born mm/dd/yyyy.” Put as much information as you can: your information (birth year, birthplace, heritage information, parents’ surnames and residences, grandparents’ surnames and residences.) Consider including a link to your family tree that you’ve posted online.
  2. If you are a man looking for a child that you suspect was adopted without your knowledge. You should follow #1, and include all of that information as well. Also, consider listing your residence at the time of the physical relationship or pregnancy. Generally, parents still have to be in the same place and the same time to make a baby.
  3. Return to the adoption agency and request information. Leave word there, that you will welcome contact from any inquiries. Leave several means of contact: address, phone, email and next of kin contacts. Keep this up to date.
  4. Take a DNA test. This is sometimes a searchers only option. Leave contact information in your profile. Create a tree on the site, with as many generations back from you as you can. At least to your grandparents.
  5. If you were born in the U.S. to American parents start at Ancestry. It has the largest database of U.S. testers.
  6. If you are European, a recent immigrant or the child of recent immigrants, start at FamilyTreeDNA or My Heritage. Both of these sites seem to have more international testers.
  7. Then Upload that DNA test to Gedmatch and FamilyTreeDNA. Gedmatch is free, but FamilyTree will cost you a few more bucks.
  8. Use those DNA test results! Ignore the admixture/ethnicity results. Really! Go straight to the share ancestor matches. Start with the closest family members. Check out DNAAdoption.com and follow their process. It works.
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Virginia Genealogical Society – Spring Conference, 22 April 2014

I was a first-time attendee this past Saturday at the Virginia Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference. So, I thought I’d record a few thoughts.

First, a caveat. The conference took place in the greater Richmond area. I’m a local, so there are parts of the conference that I did not attend. For example, VGS set up a research time at the Library of Virginia with a archivist on Friday afternoon. I’m a frequent visitor to the Library, so I didn’t participate.

VGS did a great job. They were organized and all directions were clear. Volunteers were well-trained and helpful. The venue was praised by several of those at my table.

Saturday was dedicated to 4 sessions with Shannon Combs Bennett who spoke on “DNA and Social Media Search Strategies.” They sessions were “Genetic Genealogy for the Beginner,” “Creating a Research Plan for DNA Testing,” “Organize Your DNA Data,” and “Crowdsourcing Your Genealogy to Break Down Brick Walls.” Shannon is a scientist and genealogist, so her command of the DNA material was obvious. She is a well-rehearsed and well-edited speaker with a winsome and approachable style that creates a wonderfully easy and engaged audience. What a great choice to lead this conference!

It was difficult to measure the attendee experience with genetic genealogy. Most had already tested. Many administered more that one test. Questions from the audience ranged from the basic to the highly complex.

If I had a criticism, it would be very minor. Shannon is a scientist. My experience is that most experts have trouble drilling complex ideas down to easily understandable concepts for the layman. This is always a challenge for science and math-types because there is a line where simplicity overcomes accuracy. Scientists are trained to be bulls-eye accurate. Shannon was able to, in most cases, and especially during Q&A to overcome the expert-layman barrier.

Any historian-type (genealogists included) walking in cold would have to be prepared to activate the dusty parts of their brain, that haven’t been accessed since high school biology class. A great place to start are the short video series on the University of Utah‘s site on “Introduction to Molecular Biology.”

After the lunch break, VGS honored Peter Broadbent. A former director of the the National Genealogical Society, former Presidents of VGS, and Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. This was absolutely deserved. His tireless, effective and widespread work on behalf of the genealogical community in Virginia is laudable. While his accomplishments are many, the most recent was a successful Virginia state budget lobbying campaign for the restoration of funds on behalf of the Library of Virginia.

Finally, these events are always great for meeting new folks, learning with them and from them, hearing their stories, encouraging their work, and enjoying your common passion together. My new friends are a highlight.

Join VGS. Visit their webpage. Fall Conference brochure.

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