Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cousin Jim's Biological Mother

On June 30th I along with three other Adams 1st cousins met in person, for the first time, our newly found 39th first cousin, Jim Jones. Previous posts have chronicled the discovery of Jim through a DNA match: Another Adams Cousin; and X Factor: Another Adams Cousin, part 2

Over the Spring, we had examined each of my mother's 9 sisters which DNA tests indicated could have been Jim's biological mother. Gradually we had ruled out five. Four of them were already married at the time Jim was born so we assumed that Jim's birth name would not have been Adams if any of them had been the the biological mother. 

The 5th was a little more difficult to rule out. Aunt Hattie had been institutionalized for the portion of her life that any living family could recall. The exact circumstances of her entry to the state hospital were unclear. She, at age 21, was still living at home along with her parents and three other sisters in the 1930 census. That was about a year and a half before Jim was born. By 1935 she was a patient in the state hospital. For a time we entertained the thought that Jim's birth could have been the result of a sexual assault that left her severely traumatized. After getting a court order, her records were released. Her disability was documented to have resulted from scarlatina suffered when she was nine years old. In addition she had been continuously hospitalized for the rest of her life beginning a few months before Jim was conceived. 

This was the state of our research when five first cousins (including Jim) met for lunch three weeks ago. 

Doris Logston, Pearl Rogers, Mary Sturm, Jim Jones & Dave Dowell
Right after our lunch Jim returned to the courthouse with renewed vigor to seek any further information that might help our search. On Saturday, July 5th he received a letter from the court which gave him the name of his birth mother. She was one of the four aunts still on our "suspects" list. She had died in 1997 -- one of the last surviving members of her generation of our family. She had never had other descendants to our knowledge.

We now turn our search to a more daunting task of attempting to identify Jim's birth father.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Genealogy on the Small Screen

For those of you who like to watch genealogy revealed on television, three series of shows will be coming your way over the next few months.

Who Do You Think You Are?

First out of the chute is season 6 of the US version of Who Do You Think You Are?

I know that many of you have difficulty viewing this on The Learning Channel (TLC). However, this series kicks off the 2014-15 viewing season on July 23 at 9 PM Eastern time. I did a small sliver of research for one of the episodes; but I don't know if it was even filmed -- let along avoided the cutting room floor. has reported that 10 episodes were ordered by TLC. 

I am hoping that some segments will use DNA research this year. Last season I was surprised that there were no such episodes even though, one of the major US DNA testing companies was a principal sponsor. 

Finding Your Roots

Next up will be  Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It is set to begin on public television on September 23rd. Anderson Cooper, Valerie Jarrett, Ben Affleck, Billie Jean King, Anthony Bourdain, Deepak Chopra, Tina Fey, Alan Dershowitz, and Jessica Alba are among those who have been identified as featured guests.

This series has been in production for many months. DNA results as well as traditional documentary research has been included. CeCe Moore is the DNA consultant for the series.

Genealogy Roadshow

The Genealogy Roadshow will be returning to public television in Spring 2015. 

I'm not sure how many shows will be included. Filming will be underway this fall at different cities around the country. Those of you who are familiar with this series will recall that it deals with the family histories of non-celebrity "common folks". Casting calls have already gone out in New Orleans and Philadelphia.

Happy viewing!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Genetic Genealogy Reading List

I just returned home from at trip to California for Genealogy Jamboree sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society Society (SCGS) which was preceded by an excellent day long pre-conference "Family History & DNA." 

Those of you unable to attend or to remotely view the streamed sessions could benefit from the excellent reading list prepared for inclusion in the syllabus of the DNA Day attendees. The "DNA & Genealogy Reference Books" list was complied by Bonny Cook on behalf of the DNA Interest Group of SCGS and the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG). I believe Alice Fairhurst deserves credit for the companion list of "DNA Web Sites of Interest to Genetic Genealogists." You may find both of these lists useful in building your knowledge of genetic genealogy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ancestry "Retires" Several Products

This somewhat abbreviated post is being sent to you from Burbank where I attended a very successful DNA Day yesterday and will begin Jamboree this morning.

Ancestry prunes its product line

Ancestry has announced several decisions to trim its sails that are not pleasing to most family historians. Most of these are to take effect in early September. Two of them which will most affect me are:
1.       The websites, which many of us use to stay connected with others who are interested in researching and documenting branches of our family trees, will be closing September 5th.
2.       The company is also getting out of the yDNA and the mtDNA testing business.
Neither of these decisions is too surprising. However, taken together, do they indicate some bigger strategy is being implemented? Both of these two products have become orphaned over the years. They are soon to be removed from life support. Other products to be "retired" are MyCanvas, and Mundia.

Most MyFamily customers balked at migrating from version 1.0 to “the next generation of” as Ancestry call its version 2.0. Facebook did the rest. These sites which were early social media sites for family members when they were first offered about 15 years ago have gradually lost the vitality they once enjoyed. Many of us would not have been able to make the progress we have achieved with our family histories without MyFamily or some vehicle like it. Users have been notified that we have until September 5th to download content from our sites.

yDNA and mtDNA testing (now called LegacyDNA)

Many of us think Ancestry has been out of the yDNA &mtDNA testing business for years. However, the company has continued to claim that was not the case even after it became clear in 2012 that their heart and capital investments were all going into atDNA testing. The biggest effect of the recent announcement is to end support for database the test results.

Ancestry is a business
For more information on how these produces will be phased out, Ancestry has established links to aid current customers. It remains to be seen whether these announcements signal a change in Ancestry's basic business plan. However it is a reminder that Ancestry is a business that is answerable only to its investors -- particularly since the corporation was taken private almost three years ago. This is a reminder that Ancestry is a for-profit business and that reality takes precedence over more altruistic goals of collecting and preserving genealogically relevant information.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Paper Will Record Any Nonsense Any Fool Writes Down

Way back in the last century, I took a course on the history of the Renaissance and the Reformation. I don't remember much about the Renaissance or the Reformation from that course, but I still remember and apply a few pearls of wisdom that Professor Emeritus Thornton shared with us. One of them was
"Paper is a very neutral medium. It will record any nonsense any fool writes down."
I wonder what Professor Thornton would have said about the medium of silicone. 

As an expansion of Professor Thornton's admonition, I often say that since I was born in Missouri, the "Show-Me" state that I have to see things to believe them. But of course Photoshop has challenged that as well.

This morning on the right column of my Facebook page I discovered the following image:

I'm happy to have the publicity for my forthcoming book which is now winding it's way through the editorial processes of my publisher. It is also interesting to see it paired with an ad for DNA.Ancestry. However, I don't want people to buy it because CeCe's name is associated with it. She had to withdraw from the project because of her success in other aspects of genetic genealogy. She is blessed with a brain for genetic genealogy, a face for television and is an articulate spokesperson. Although she was originally contracted to participate in the writing of the book, she had to step aside to try to retain some small smidgen of sanity among her many commitments. The publisher has already updated its website to reflect the true status of authorship of the book. is more intransigent to updates. The publisher claims to have no traction there. 

Bottom line: I'd be happy for you to pre-order the book at Amazon or from the publisher. However, I don't want you to do it based on out dated information. For those of you who will be attending Jamboree in Burbank later this week, I'll be distributing flyers about the book. Hope to see you there. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Don't Forget The Older Generation! I did.

When you are deciding who in your family to DNA test, don't forget the older generation. I did in my post a couple weeks ago. Within minutes of my post Blaine Bettinger and Dave Nicolson illuminated that blind spot. Blaine commented,
If you can't test both parents, of course - I've tested both my parents and thus haven't tested my siblings. There's a few reasons to do so even though, as Tim Janzen points out for phasing purposes, but these are for very advanced phasing purposes.
Dave added,
Siblings of your parents are fair game for this same analysis (unless you have THEIR parents tested  I have a tested parent, a tested uncle, and an untested parent and aunt... Hoping mom and her sister will be willing to test, to fill out that generation...
When recording the information that can illuminate your family history, the autosomal DNA of your family's oldest generation gives the longest view back into your ancestry. I wrote the earlier post with my own personal blinders firmly in place. By the dawn of atDNA testing for the general public in 2010, I was the older generation in my family. To compound my situation. I am an only child and therefore have no siblings to test.

From that perspective I was challenged by Judy Russell and Thomas Jones at RootsTech 2014. Judy very effectively demonstrated how knowledge of our family members can disappear forever within 3 generations unless we care enough to record and preserve it. Dr. Jones likened DNA to the oral histories that too often disappear unrecorded with each of the members of the older generation of our families as they pass on. 

So far no one has challenged the math of "Should I Test My Siblings Also?" There is still plenty of time to help me refine my calculations in that post. In the meantime I will throw some more out to you to review.

Testing Parents vs Testing Siblings

First let me say this is not an either/or proposition if you are fortunate enough to have a choice of family members to test. Today atDNA tests are relatively inexpensive but cost is always an issue. How do you set testing priorities?

Blaine was correct. If you are fortunate enough to have autosomal test reports on both your parents, testing your sibling will only be of minimal value. Also Dave made a very good point about the importance of collecting the autosomal DNA of your uncles and aunts. The recombination of autosomal DNA through the generations quickly begins to make it difficult to trace shared segments back to commons ancestors. Every generation the person being tested is closer to that common ancestor, the more certain we can be about our conclusions.  

With yDNA and mtDNA that focus is not lost as quickly as the generations pass. However, it does become more difficult to find the right family member(s) to test to trace some of our lines. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Clues from the Resilient"

Today's Science includes two articles of possible interest: 

    Genetic information from individuals who do not succumb to disease may point to new therapies and ideas about wellness

    By S. H. Friend and E. E. Schadt
A video presentation by the principal author is available. For those of you who cannot get through the AAAS pay wall to see the article, this presentation may be a very adequate substitute. You may wish to see the video in any case.

Also in this same issue and of possible interest to those of you into biochemistry is :  

Happy reading.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Genetic test lets parents-to-be dodge disease

Benjamin Atticus Dowell joins his family in their Nashville backyard.

Shana, Benjamin, Noah Simon & Jon Dowell

Just one month ago Benjamin's preimplantation genetic screening was the subject of two posts I made to announce his arrival on DNA Day: 

Today, as Benjamin turns one month old, his story debuted in The Tennessean.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Once Upon A Time: A SNP Fable

This SNP fable is not literally true in all regards. It is a "fictumentary" based on what we know but liberties are taken to fill in blanks where science has yet to provide more definitive answers. I hope that each time I tell it there will be less fabrication and more scientific fact. SNP discoveries are now being made so fast that such an expectation is not impossible.
SNPs are permanent changes in one location along the genomes of our ancestor that have been passed down to us. We can trace the accumulation of these SNPs, much as we could follow the paths of our ancestors backward in time as if they had left notches in tree trunks as they made their journey through time.

This journey can be traced back thousands of generations. However, in the interest of time, I will fast forward down to the last four millennium or so. This is the story of the journey of my own paternal line as I am discovering it with my results from the BIG Y test. 

As most of you have discovered, all families who share the same surname are not recently related. In my case we discovered a decade ago in early ySTR testing that the Dowells who flourished in Southern Maryland in the late 17th century were not biologically related to those who flourished in Central Virginia in the early 18th century. The surname came into use independently in more than one location. However, these two clans who were to become Dowells had traveled down the SNP highway from the beginning of time until they separated as they approached the Atlantic coast of Europe about four thousand years ago. They were both part of the great R1b migration out of Central and West Asia sometime after the last ice age receded. 

For those of you who know a little about SNPs, both of these two groups who became Dowells belonged to R-L21 which is the most prevalent haplogroup along the western coast of Europe. The timeline is still fuzzy but a few hundred years later they were both part of the SNP DF13 that was the major branch below L21. Here they came to a parting of the ways that we are just now beginning to be able to decipher with results from tests of discovery such as BIG Y, Chromo2, Full Genomes, etc. These tests are still not for the casual genetic genealogists or the timid of wallet, but they are where the fast and furious action is.

The trail of my own paternal line is being revealed to have branched off at SNP S1026. So far the Chromo2 project has discovered six individuals whose ancestors have passed this SNP down to them. Seven, including me, have been identified by the BIG Y test. And the number seems to grow weekly. 

So far my tale is more fact than fiction, but buckle your seat belts. The chart above is thought to describe the genetic journey of seven of us over the last 3,500 years or so. However, we don't know yet in what sequence each of us passed through these various SNP junctions. We will learn more about that as more members of this clan have test results.

The Fable

However, as of now it appears that each of us have approximately thirty or so SNPs spread out over a little more than three thousand years. That averages out to about one SNP junction every one hundred years. It appears at the moment that ancestors of the man whose path is second from the left never left France for the Isles. They stopped just short on the Brittany coast across from Cornwall. The ancestors of the rest of us appear to have made the plunge at some point in the last three thousand years or so. The ancestors of the man on the left seem to have made it to Ireland. 

The ancestral lines of the five of us on the right seem to have stayed together for another five hundred years or so. We all share 5 SNPs not shared by the two on the left. 

Have you heard the one about the three brothers? It looks as if something like that happened almost 2,500 years ago. One headed for Scotland. Well, you
have heard that one before. 

My own ancestral line [the middle one in the chart above] and that of another fellow traveler continued together for about seventeen hundred years or so. The two of us already had STR matches but no common paper trail for the last three hundred years. According to my fable version of our common family history, our closest common male ancestor might have been as far back as eight hundred years ago. TiP at FTDNA predicts our connection is a little closer:  
Generations  Percentage
8 11.54%
12 60.70%
16 88.49%
20 97.48%
24 99.55%

Oh well.

I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the journey of my own accumulation of SNPs. If you can correct what I have written or add to it, I would love to hear from you. That is how I learn.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dr. D's Genealogy Summer

The old question "What are you going to do on your summer vacation?" hardly applies when one is supposed to be retired. Maybe a more appropriate question is "What genealogy activities do you have planned for your summer?"


Dr. D is planning to open his genealogy summer with a visit to the left coast for Jamboree in Burbank. Although I will not be making a formal presentation there, I will be at Table #13 on Friday morning June 6th for an informal small group discussion of "Incorporating DNA Research into Genealogy." I would be delighted to have you drop by and share your research and a part of your morning with me. For the rest of the conference, I will be hanging out in the exhibits around the ISOGG booth and those of DNA test vendors. I'll even attend several of the programs -- particularly on Thursday which is DNA Day.

1st Cousins' Reunion

Later in June we are trying to set up a welcome to the family for my 39th Adams 1st cousin. We are going to see how many of the surviving cousins can get together in Missouri to meet Jim for the first time. Jim who was adopted as an infant is now 81. We continue to work to help him identify his birth parents.

Genealogy Research Class

For 6 Tuesday mornings in July and August I will be teaching a "Genealogy Research" class through the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at Vanderbilt University. If you are going to be in Middle Tennessee this summer, come on down.

Institute for Genetic Genealogy

In mid-August I'll be on the right coast for the First Annual Conference of the Institute for Genetic Genealogy in Chevy Chase, MD. While we are there we hope to introduce our 10 year old grandson to his Nations' Capitol.

Have you planned your genealogy summer yet? I hope our paths cross somewhere.