Saturday, December 10, 2016

2017 SCGS Webinar Series

Want to continue your genealogical education throughout the year but have a limited travel budget? The 2017 Jamboree Webinar Extension Series of the Southern California Genealogical Society offers some of the best offerings from its Jamboree conference presentations throughout the year and makes them accessible to you in your home. 

My presentation partner Beth Balkite and I make an appearance next October 18th as we present Family History + Health History Lead to Personalized Healthcare:
Genealogies record family relationships. Health histories reveal causes of death, disabilities, chronic diseases, or known genetic disorders within families. How can you build an accurate family health/medical history? Should you? Can genealogists lead the way to personalized healthcare/medicine?
For those of you who are not familiar with Beth's background, here is a summary of why I am delighted to partner with her:  Beth Balkite was a certified genetic counselor for over 30 years. She is an alum of the Graduate Program in Human Genetics at Sarah Lawrence College. She worked as a genetic counselor in Connecticut at the University of Connecticut Health Center, Yale University, and Norwalk Hospital prior to joining Genzyme Genetics as manager of Clinical Genetics Services in 1993. In 1998 she was hired as Genetics Education Strategy Advisor for GlaxoSmithKline. She has continued as a genetics educator in several capacities before retiring in 2012. She has studied her own family history for years and is now one of just two genetic counselors to practice and teach genetic genealogy. She is an instructor at the Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI) at Duke University in Durham, NC, where she teaches a course “Applying DNA to Your Family Tree.” In the summer of 2016 she taught a session in the Advanced Genetic Genealogy course at GRIP (Genealogy Research Institute of Pittsburgh). 

Hope you will join us for this presentation and discussion.

A full description of the 2017 offerings is now available for this rich and diverse series.

Monday, November 14, 2016

FTDNA Holiday Sale 2016

FTDNA is kicking off its 2016 Holiday Sale today. If you are unfamiliar with FTDNA's recent holiday sales, here is how they work. The sale prices are very good. Some at the lowest prices I have ever seen. Here are the sale prices I have seen:

  1. YDNA37       $139 
  2. YDNA67       $229
  3. YDNA111     $319
  4. BIGY           $525
  5. mtDNA Plus $79
  6. mtDNA FMS $179
  7. mtDNA upgrade $139
  8. Family Finder (FF) $59
  9. FF + 37      $188
  10. FF + 67      $278
  11. FF + 111    $364
  12. FF + FMS   $228
  13. FF + 67 + FMS $452
These prices are expected to be available until the end of the year. In addition to these great sales prices, FTDNA has added a minor social media frenzy the last couple of years by offering weekly coupon codes each Monday during the sale. They expire the following Sunday. These codes reduce the cost below the above sale prices. They can be used by the person who receives them on their myFTDNA page OR they can be shared with others. If you receive codes that you know you will not be using, please share them with other family members, fellow DNA project members or the general genetic genealogy community through Facebook. On Facebook it may be better to just state what level of coupon code you have and ask interested people to contact you. These codes can only be used once and then are no longer valid.

The codes are generated at random to your myFTDNA pages. They are expected to include the following discounts:
  1. $10 off any YDNA STR 
  2. $20 off any YDNA STR
  3. $40 off YDNA 67
  4. $60 off YDNA 111
  5. 10% off any YDNA Upgrade
  6. 20% off any YDNA Upgrade
  7. $50 off Big Y
  8. $75 off Big Y
  9. $100 off Big Y
  10. $10 off FF
  11. $10 off any mtDNA product
  12. $20 off any mtDNA product
  13. $40 off FMS

If you see any other coupon codes, please post a comment at the end of this blog post.

The strategy comes in if you are planning to do additional testing but are on a limited budget. How long do you wait for the bigger discounts to show up? There are fewer of them. Is it better to order using a smaller discount which will expire the following Monday or gamble that a bigger discount will come your way some other week?

Let the games begin and enjoy the fun as we build our genetic genealogy databases for the benefit of us all.

Has anyone seen holiday sales prices for other companies?  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

First Meeting: Mary and Joy

Mary and Joy, half sisters, met last night in the airport in Dallas. This event was eight decades in the making. To find out how this came about, please review my two earlier posts:
Finding Joy and
From Whom Did Mary and Joy Come
California Mary with sea shells meets Texas Joy

Do these happy faces look like half-sisters?
The two were just united in person for the first time late last night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


FTDNA, 20th Century Fox and Find My Past team up to offer a one time bundle to those intrepid explorers who wish to explore their inner space. In a promotion aimed to coincide with the December 21st release of the "epic adventure film" Assassin's Creed, participants will be invited to explore their own past. What is included?

  • The Warrior Gene DNA Test
  • Family Finder DNA Test + myOrigins
  • Findmypast Subscription
Other sweepstakes style prizes are included Check out the details at: 

Friday, September 30, 2016

From whom did Mary & Joy come?

Connect a septuagenarian with her half-sister for the first time and instantly she wants to know more about her ancestors -- particularly those on the sisters' shared paternal side of the family which was to be priority #1:

1. I would like to complete the maternal side of the Dodder family....
2. Then I would like you to investigate the Hessick side of the family.
3. Then I would like you to look at the Vosti family.
4. Finally, we’d like to research Bob’s family.
That was quite an agenda. I was willing to explore what might be involved with priority #1. As I did I noticed there were conflicting opinions as to the name of Mary's and Joy's paternal grandmother. In one source she was listed as Ida Dodder Grove. For short time I entertained the idea that she had remarried a Grove after her marriage to Charles Dodder had ended. That speculation was short lived. FamilySearch's cooperative and comprehensive Family Tree listed her as Ida Smith and assigned her a long multi-generational list of ancestors. But that Ida Smith was going to turn out to be born about a decade too early. Ida's true maiden name was literally chiseled in stone.

To investigate more deeply what the atDNA of Mary and Joy could tell us, I downloaded their raw results from AncestryDNA and uploaded them to GEDmatch. GEDmatch keeps operating on donations and does not charge membership subscriptions for most of its services including the ones I will be discussing here. Additional analysis tools are offered to those who donate to keep this volunteer site operating. I used the People who match both kits tool to narrow my focus to individuals to whom Mary and Joy both were related through their shared father. When I did so some familiar names began to emerge.

The 3rd, 5th, 9th and 18th highest matches on their combined list were known close cousins of mine. Bob is my maternal 2nd cousin. Doris, James and Mary S. are known maternal 1st cousins. Even I was a match but was way down the list. Isn't atDNA fickle? ;-)

Mary M




Mary S


Conclusion: The two half-sisters are related to my family on my maternal side. In addition, this relationship was through my maternal grandmother because of the strong match of my 2nd cousin Bob. Now we are making progress. But how far back was our connection?

To explore that question I ran a Generations analysis. The value shown is estimated generations to Most Recent Common Ancestor.(MRCA):

Mary M
Mary M
Mary S

Unsurprisingly the two half sisters showed up as about a generation and a half apart since they only share one parent. The rest of us showed up about 4 generations removed from the Most Recent Common Ancestor we shared with the half-sisters. Now we are getting someplace. We are looking for someone who is an ancestor of my maternal grandmother who is about 4 generations back. But we still have quite a way to go. 

My grandmother had a Cashatt father and a Grove mother. Where have we seen one of those names before? Can atDNA help us more? 

I do have a 3rd cousin who also has transferred her atDNA results to GEDmatch. She does not share my Cashatt ancestors but she does share the Grove line. Do her results help? Actually they do. She shares 32.2 cM with Joy and 15.3 with Mary. Apparently these just missed the threshold to be included in the test I ran above. She is predicted to be 4.4 generations removed from her common ancestor with Joy and 4.9 generations from Mary. This cousin shares Grove ancestors. I think we have a winner here. 

We still don't know how far back this connection is. To determine that I had to build back the pedigree tree of Ida. Remember her? After considerable research that included several marriage records, several census records, several vital records, etc. I was able to connect her back to my 3rd great-grandparents. I had been able to confirm my connection to them 11 years ago using both property records and tombstones as the remnants of Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on Ohio; but that is another story for another day. 

Below is a chart that connects me to my newly discovered 4th cousin half-sisters:  

One part of the mystery of from whom did Mary and Joy come has been solved.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finding Joy

It was the third full day of Olympic competition in Rio. In the pool Ryan Murphy had just collected a gold medal for the US in the 100 meter backstroke. Michael Phelps swam semis of 200 meter butterfly. Keri Walsh Jennings & April Ross had convincingly defeated the Chinese team of Wang & Yue 21-16, 21-9 on the beach. Although there was more competition on TV, I had had enough for the night and headed to bed. However, I walked past my computer and felt compelled to check my email.

There was an incoming message from a former colleague in California. I had renewed my acquaintance with Mary during a chance encounter in June at a restaurant in Morro Bay, CA, where we were having lunch with several friends and former neighbors. She walked in to the restaurant with a former genealogy client of mine and we got to chatting about using DNA in family history research. I had previously made a cameo appearance in her journalism class to discuss two aspects of intellectual property that I covered in my course “Ethics in the Information Age” – copyright and plagiarism.
Mary’s email said in part:
I bought your books and am reading and learning as fast as I can, but I don’t think I can find my sister in less than a year. You are so incredibly fast at this relative hunting do you think you can find her for me? I would be happy to pay for your time but it would never be enough.   She is probably 80 by now so time is critical.
Thanks for considering my proposal. I’ve visited more than 90 countries and now I’d just like to talk about the dad she never knew with this half sister. Her family never approved of my dad, the creative inventor, so pushed him away after only a year. Her name is Joy by the way.
I made sure I had the codes to access Mary’s recent DNA test results and went on to bed.

The search turned out to be easier than any of us expected. By the time Mary got up and checked her email the next morning, there was a message asking her to call me AND there were two pictures of Joy waiting in her email box. 

Before noon Nashville time Mary had used one of the phone numbers I had given her to reach Joy and they had talked on the phone for more than an hour and a half. This was to be the first of many, almost daily calls that have followed.

It is rarely this easy. Two years earlier when I had unexpectedly gotten an unknown 1st cousin DNA match, it had taken over seven months to figure out which sibling of one of my parents was responsible for my newly discovered cousin Jim being on this earth. That tale has previously been chronicled in this blog. As difficult as Jim’s search had been, even Jim’s search was easier than many.

Joy was literally just sitting there waiting to be found. She had positioned herself well. Both she and Mary had tested at AncestryDNA. Joy appeared on Mary's match list:

1,857 cM of shared DNA is far too much for a normal 1st cousin match. This almost certainly had to be the half-sister Mary was seeking. All that remained was to locate her.

I immediately left a message for this match in Ancestry’s proprietary process of contacting other members. However, because years of experience have taught me that this indirect method of contact is slow at best and often ineffective. It values the privacy of the matches over efficiency of making contact. It also does not always notify the match that a message is waiting online – particularly if the match has not maintained an ongoing Ancestry subscription.

Fortunately, in this case Joy had not made a serious effort to hide her identity. I was later to find out that she also had been searching for her half-sister off and on for a decade but there are lots of women named Mary out there.

Joy’s Ancestry login was a combination of her initials and married name --not so good for privacy but great for leaving bread crumbs for matches to follow. Joy had posted a brief pedigree chart on Ancestry which listed her as “Private” but outed her husband and included a picture of him. After searching several online directories of living people I found a recent address in Texas and three phone numbers listed in The U.S. Public Records Index. I was able to find accounts for Joy on LinkedIn and Facebook. While exploring LinkedIn, I got a popup suggestion of a person who might be able to introduce us. That person was a person very active in helping adoptees find their birth families. This led me to believe that Joy might be actively seeking her biological relatives – an assumption that turned out to be only partly correct. The pictures on Facebook matched the handsome fellow attached to Joy’s pedigree chart on Ancestry. 

This search was a little more complicated than that but not much. I’ll probably never have an easier case than this. 

Mary sent me a check with a generous tip added; but I’ll always treasure what was written in the memo section of the check more than the money. It said, “For Great Joy".

A big uniting event is planned for early November in Texas. Pictures to follow.

Dr. D. made another interesting find as he located the missing half-sister. It connects him to the sisters; but that is another story for another day -- sometime very soon.     

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's Not My Life! It's Not My Family!

Even if a million copies of The Stranger in My Genes are sold when it is officially released next week, it is unlikely that one single reader would react at every turn as did the protagonist in this very personal memoir. Complex combinations of motivations cause the course of this pilgrimage of personal discovery to be both unpredictable and compelling. Many of us think we know how we would react in certain situations. Then it happens to us and all bets may be off.

Powerful emotions are the driving force for Bill Griffeth’s actions at least as he begins to process information from a DNA test that suggests his biological father may not be the man who raised him. The book cover including a partial family both present and absent in front of a rural church/school is a very appropriate starting point. These forces compete with professional and religious/moral values to lead him on an unpredictable journey that will compel readers to keep turning the pages. What will he do next? Will he be brash or do nothing at all?

This book should be required reading for those who seek unknown parents and those of us who strive to help them in their quests. If there is one important take-away from this book, it is that there is not one single path that is best for all of us.

This is not a book about DNA or about genealogical research methods although those are interwoven throughout. Most of the DNA information is correct except for the brief confusion in Chapter 16 of X chromosome DNA with mitochondrial DNA. However, this does not detract from the story line and will not be noticed by most readers.

One of the paradoxes of the book is that the author and main protagonist was a serious genealogist who had reveled in uncovering family secrets through traditional research methods. However, when a secret affected him very personally and was uncovered by DNA testing, everything was different. Was that because DNA was involved? Probably not. When we are suddenly forced to reevaluate deeply held personal myths which have guided our daily lives for half a century, we are thrown into uncharted territory.

Another paradox is that the author had built a very successful professional career as a high profile investigative interviewer on a live nationally televised show. Would he subject his own personal discovery to the same level of scrutiny that he regularly employed to his on air guests? Why or why not? Is it different to probe business transactions and family values?

You never should judge others until you have walked in their moccasins. For those of us who work daily with genetic genealogy, this book can sensitize us to the balancing act we should be employing as we seek the proper equilibrium between the right to know and the right to privacy of various actors in the multifaceted and often deeply emotional dynamics of family life.

I strongly recommend the book. Once you start reading you won’t be able to put it down for long. I don’t think I would have made some of the decisions Griffeth made; but then it was his life not mine and it was not deeply personal for me. In such intimate situations we all need to respect and validate the rights of others to find out what works for them. Our role should be to give them the support they need to process their own emotions and family situations. One solution definitely does not fit all situations.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thank you James E. Dowell!

For the last quarter century James E. Dowell has been my genealogical mentor in all things Dowell -- well at least until we got to DNA testing. :-) Soon after we moved to California in 1990, I found in the Los Angeles LDS Library the Index of Dowells he had put together in collaboration with Dick Dowell. After exchanging many emails, I visited him in his home in Walnut. We hoped that would be the first of many in person meetings but that turned out not to be. Shortly thereafter he moved to Colorado and I moved to the Central California coast in Morro Bay. We have never been physically together again in spite of a few attempts. However, we have continued to collaborate over the years. 

That index has now been digitized and can be downloaded.

Over the ensuing years James and I, in collaboration with Tadd Bartley, built the "Dowell Family History Site" at This became a much used venue for attracting and sharing a great deal of Dowell history materials until made the unfortunate decision to pull the plug on these sites a few years ago. 

Then came yDNA testing. One of our earliest successes was when Tadd's dad and James were compared and were found to be closely related thus confirming that the Bartleys descended from a woman who cohabited with a male Dowell but never married him. She gave her descendants her maiden name.
The next finding was jolting to some longtime Dowell surname researchers. Even a year or two after receiving the conclusive DNA results, some otherwise rational and objective genealogists were still in a state of disbelief. It long had been assumed that all Dowells were related in some way. If they just were able to push the paper trail back one more generation to the immigrant, they believed he would turn out to the “missing link” between his descendants who settled in both Maryland and Virginia. There were some Dowell researchers who could trace their ancestry back to early Colonial Virginia and some who could trace their roots back to early Maryland. No big deal. Back then, people traveled by water when they could. Roads were barely passable at best since President Eisenhower had not yet built the Interstate Highway system. It appeared obvious that upon passing through Hampton Roads some Dowells had gone west up the James River in Virginia and some had turned right and gone north up the Chesapeake Bay into Maryland. These were the paths that goods took when they came from England and were reversed when tobacco was exported. It would have been a relatively easy trip from central Virginia to southern Maryland via these waterways. But it didn’t happen like that. DNA results have established that the Maryland Dowells and the Virginia Dowells have not had a common male ancestor for about three centuries—a period that would extend far earlier than when surnames like Dowell began to be used. The use of this name had emerged independently in at least two separate locations. [David R. Dowell, NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection. Libraries Unlimited, 2015, p. 29.]

Big Y SNP testing has recently confirmed that the closest common male ancestor of the Virginia Dowells and the Maryland Dowells lived at least four millennia ago. The male progenitors of both Dowell groups were part of the invasion of Haplogroup R1b which sweep into Europe from the steppes five to seven thousand years ago with their horses and chariots thus overwhelmed the hunter gatherers and early farmers who were already there. However, genetically, they soon parted.

In spite of this family split, James has continued to mentor Dowells of all persuasions by willingly sharing the massive amount of family data he has accumulated over the last half century. Most recently he allowed me to copy more than a hundred 3 1/2 inch diskettes to a Dropbox location from which it will be easier for Dowell family researchers to extract data.

Thank you James for continuing to mentor us and to share your research data! We hope to spread far and wide the fruits of your research labor and your willingness to share.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Additional Resources since the Jamboree Syllabus published: 

DNA Day morning session:

"NextGen Y-SNP DNA Testing Can Illuminate Your Paternal Line"


John Cleary, "Using SNP Testing & STRs to enhance a genetic genealogy research project." Rerecorded from Who Do You Think You Are Live 2016, Birmingham, England to enhance audio: 

DNA Day afternoon session:

"When Technology Conflicts with Human Values"

Harari (2015):

Haidt (2013):

Mukherjee (2016):


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

More Family Finder Matches?

FTDNA project administrators should be getting notices soon that announce the following changes in the threshold Family Finder customers must meet in order to be matched with each other. For those of you who like to monitor how such changes impact the number of matches you are shown, you better document your baseline data quickly. Your number of matches should change soon. 

You asked for it - we listened!

For several years the genetic genealogy community has asked for adjustments to the matching thresholds in the Family Finder autosomal test. After months of research and testing, we have implemented some exciting changes effective very soon.
Currently, the current matching thresholds - the minimum amount of shared DNA required for two people to show as a match are:

       Minimum longest block of at least 7.69 cM for 99% of testers, 5.5 cM for the other one percent
       Minimum 20 total shared centiMorgans 

Some people believed those thresholds to be too restrictive, and through the years requested changes that would loosen those restrictions.

Soon, the following changes will have been implemented to the matching program.

       No minimum shared centiMorgans, but if the cM total is less than 20, at least one segment must be 9 cM or longer.
       If the longest block of shared DNA is greater than 9 cM, the match will show regardless of total shared cM or the number of matching segments.
The entire existing database has been rerun using the new matching criteria, and all new matches have been calculated with the new thresholds. 
Most people will see only minor changes in their matches, mostly in the speculative range. They may lose some matches but gain others.  

I am assuming that most of you will get additional matches -- particularly those formed by single shared segments between 9 and 19 cMs. This will not be close relatives but potentially could be with family members in the 4th to 6th cousin range. Such matches have been suppressed because the shared cMs totaled less than 20. They can be detected in comparisons run at GEDmatch on FTDNA data.

Some die hard genetic genealogists love to analyze the changes in matches reported when adjustments are made such as the one that is imminent from FTDNA. Yesterday Jason Lee reported in a ISOGG Facebook post: "Two thirds of my matches at AncestryDNA are single segment matches under 9 cM." Those wishing to dissect the differences between databases and differences in a single database before and after screening criteria is changed will have a field day as FTDNA rolls out the above change.

If you want to be able to compare your "before" matches with the "after" ones, you better move fast. This change may start rolling out very soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

DNA Day Sales & a Birthday Party

Many of you know that we celebrate DNA Day on April 25th to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the publication of the Nature article that detailed the structure of DNA. It's a little late to enter ASHG's DNA Day essay contest this year, but you still may want to contemplate your own response to the assigned topic. Read the next paragraph before you guess what my position might be. 

A few of you may know that this day has a special significance for the Dowells of Nashville. It will be the 2nd birthday of our 2014 DNA Day miracle. Benjamin was born 9 months AFTER he had part of his DNA screened to select a healthy fertilized egg that did not contain his mother's heritable mutated and potentially deadly Brugada gene.


To help us celebrate Benjamin's 2nd birthday this weekend, at least two of the big three US DNA labs are having sales from now until April 26th.

1. Last night CeCe Moore spread the word about the DNA Day sale at AncestryDNA 
- $79 and free shipping if you use the FREESHIPDNA code -

2. 10 AM Central time today is the kickoff of a big DNA Weekend sale at Family Tree DNA

Ancestry's sale price is for the only product in the company's line of DNA tests. FTDNA's sale includes many but not all of the company's tests -- some of them discounted more than they often are during sales. 

I'm going to a 2 year old's birthday party this weekend dressed as -- (did you guess it?) -- a carnival barker.

So come one, come all and let the spitting and swabbing begin!! 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My 10th great-grandfather is my 9th great-grandfather?

I was stimulated to write this post by reading Lara Diamond's blog today which has the clever title: My Pedigree Has Collapsed! I figured that anything the Ashkenazi could do us WASPs could  do better. Nothing like a little ethnic rivalry. The other granddad of my three Dowell grandsons is Ashkenazi.

According to my RootsMagic software, my immigrant ancestor Richard CURRIER is my tenth great grandfather. But wait he is also my ninth great grandfather:

Yes, Nathaniel Currier of Currier and Ives fame was a 4th great-grandson of immigrant Richard. Thank you for asking. But back to my main point.

 If you insist in trying to read all the details, your browser may open a somewhat clearer image if you click on each page. All the individuals below the line of type projecting to the left halfway down each page are identical in each line. Only their generation number is different.

So one could theorize that I should have inherited some atDNA from these early Puritan ancestors since my pedigree collapsed under their weight. But that was a long time ago and many generations to pass the segments down. By now they would be well traveled, well worn and often recombined. Thank God for those thorough and well preserved New England vital records. As a result I know that my 10th great grandfather is also my 9th great grandfather is also my 9th great grandfather.