DNA results

For those of you that feel you have wasted time and money on DNA testing there is a free masterclass in the current LostCousins newsletter.

I am composing a post about my DNA experiences, which is different from the glowing praise that Peter from Lost Cousins gives, but I get no income from promoting DNA test companies.

The lost Cousins is a great site though, not only for the regular newsletters and special offers but you get a very good chance of finding cousins who are researching the same lines as you, a match with a lost cousin is about 98% certain to be a relative and 30% are probably from a different continent.

Cousin relationships

For some reason there is often a problem in describing cousin relationships, at times I manage to confuse myself when trying to explain these relationships to others.

In essence relationships are easy to describe in words but do get more confusing the further away they are. Let us start at the beginning with someone you know – yourself.

Everyone has two parents, no more and no less. Current research may make this fact obsolete as it may be possible, in the future, for someone to have three parents, and of course I am only referring to biological parents.

These two parents may have brothers and sisters, these are your aunts and uncles. Any children of your parents siblings are usually called your cousins, technically they are your first cousins, and you all share the same grandparents. These grandparents are known as your most recent common ancestors (MRCA). Your mothers parents are the MRCA of you and your mothers siblings children, you have a different MRCA with your fathers side of the family.All of your Grandparents may have had siblings, they are your Great Aunts and Great Uncles, their children are first cousins of your parents and their siblings, any children of the first cousins of your parents are your second cousins, with one of your sets of Great Grandparents as MRCA. Perhaps better explained with a picture.

It does go on the same way for more generations, as seen here. The MRCA of any cousins are the parents of the first siblings you get to.

So that is the easy bit, where people often have more problems is in generation differences, the removed references. So lets look at these, if you have a first cousin then you have a set of Grandparents in common, but what of your cousins children? They have the same couple as common ancestors with you but for them they are Great Grandparents, you cannot be first cousins as the MRCA are not Grandparents for both of you, and the same logic excludes them from being second cousins, you are in fact first cousins once removed, there is one generation step extra in one of the lines. Similarly when they have children they will be your first cousins twice removed as they have two generation steps more than you to get to the MRCA. It is all really quite simple.

The important first step is finding the MRCA for the two people. If the MCRA are parents then the people are siblings, if only one parent is common then they are half siblings. If Grandparents are the MRCA then they are first cousins, Great Grandparents gives 2nd cousins and so on, the cousin number is the number of Greats plus one. So if you have a 6 times Great Grandparent in common with someone then you are 7th cousins. The person with the shortest number of steps to the MRCA determines the cousin number and the difference in number of steps determines the number of removes.

Understanding cousin relationships becomes more important with DNA research, often relationship matches are listed in the form of 2nd Cousin Once Removed to 2nd Cousin Twice Removed. This tells you the DNA match is possibly with your or his Great Grandparents but there is a one or two generation step in one of the lines, so my Grandparents, their parents of Grandparents should be the MRCA. All my lines around that time are fully researched in the same area as his family lived so all he needs to do is find his ancestors back to 2 X Great Grandparents and we will have a match on paper as well as DNA. So far this has produced no matches in eight months of research mainly due to undocumented illegitimate births and cuckolded fathers.

DNA Part 2

In DNA which was a long time ago, I said I was going to do some DNA tests so I could comment on DNA testing for genealogy with some facts.

The first problem is the inordinate amount of time it takes to get things done, mostly caused by the DNA testing company being unorganised and not having enough capacity to cope with their sales and also by postal services who seem to think it is normal for small packets to take a month to deliver.

So after 3 months I got my first results from an autosomal test, and initially it looked like good news with 1800 matches. It did not take long for disappointment to arrive.

The matches list was sorted by size of matches but could be reordered by closeness of relationships. The best results were 20 people who matched as 2nd to 4th cousins, so that seemed the best place to start, they should be easier to find than 6th cousins, and with the size of my tree the links might already be partly in place.  The problem noted first was that 60% of the matches had not uploaded any tree for me to compare mine to, some just had two or three people marked private, some had a few 20th century ancestors but often with no places mentioned. I assume these people have done a DNA test so that someone will do the research for them, being to stupid or lazy to do the research themselves. I emailed most of these prospective matches and half have not replied, so not a lot of help there.

The next thing you notice is the relationship calculator is very ambitious, I find it very improbable that a family line that has been exclusively US based for 300 years is going to have a second cousin relationship to my line which has been British for the same period and more.

Uploading my data to gedmatch seemed to produce better results, relationships seemed better estimated comparing gedcom files was a useful start to narrowing results, but once again many people did not have a gedcom to check with and a high number do not respond to questions.

So far I have narrowed my search to two potential matches, in both cases we have numerous family names in common, in the right region at the same time but no obvious common ancestor yet. For the most likely match I have added about 300 people to descendant lines of my direct ancestors, found two marriages with his paternal line that were not connected to him yet.

So are there any conclusions to be drawn yet?

The first conclusion is that you cannot expect to take any DNA test and have your ancestry mapped out for you, you are more likely to match with some other idiot doing the same thing and both of you will get nowhere.

The second point is that to get anything from a DNA test you need to have done a lot of research first, and preferably properly sourced research where you give citations. In my mind if you have done this then DNA will not add anything, except maybe some certainty over some dubious history.

The third conclusion is that testing methods of totally inaccurate and dubious. I studied DNA at university and know that the cheap tests on offer are not good enough for accurate results, evidence for this is I have no matches with known cousins who tested with the same company and the hundreds of matches that cannot be correct. Note that by cheap I mean comparatively cheap, a proper, accurate test would cost about 10 times what the rip off merchants charge, and for what the offer they are really overpriced.

At the moment I cannot recommend or even suggest that anyone buys a DNA test of any sort. If someone really thinks they should test then I would advise them to not test with familytreeDNA, they are incompetent and rude as well as inefficient.

I am still waiting for more test results so I may revisit this and update my opinions, and it could just be that my results are so poor as I am only half human. Surely there is someone who has good results from DNA testing.

The Chester triangle

Something like the Bermuda one but around Chester, UK.

I wrote some weeks ago about Edward Davies, a brickwall and Great Great Grandfather who is involved in the Chester triangle.

Boarders between many countries are clearly defined and generally stable, the boarder between the USA and Europe is the Atlantic, there could be disputes on where the boarder is in the sea exactly but who the land belongs to is definitely known. Some land boarders are very fluid, like Belgium for example, parts of it were in Spanish Nederland, many towns have German, Nederland and French names as they belonged to different countries at different times.

It might be imagined that Britain has clearly defined boarders, being islands but that is not so. The boarder with Scotland has moved by a hundred miles over the last 2000 years, I think Berwick on Tweed is still officially at war with Germany. Ireland was stolen 500 years ago and most was given back 100 years ago, the rest may follow soon. The whole Welsh boarder has be moving around for centuries and Edwards family highlight some of the problems created.

From 1851 to his death census records are consistent that he was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire although Birkenhead has changed counties since and been in several different registration districts. As he was born before civil registration we would only be concerned with parish records which would probably come under the Bishop of Chester. Of course he may not have been born there but thought he was born there or near by. In any case no reliable records have been found for birth or baptism.

His wife was initially only know as Elizabeth from census records, her birth name was never mentioned, but her place of birth was consistently given as Hanmer, Flintshire in Wales. Hanmer is a problem for several reasons, firstly being a parish consisting of a collection of villages and hamlets together with individual farms, it had no central town and in fact the county it was in was divided in two so it had no direct connection the the county town. Secondly parish records from the time of her birth are probably also under the Bishop of Chester but could be under Wrexham in Denbighshire or Whitchurch or Oswestry in Shropshire, which confuses foreigners by being called Salop. Being from Wales there is also a chance that her family were dissenters and so we need to look under non conformist records in Wales as well. None of this is much use without a family name though.

From the birth record of my Great Grandfather I found her maiden name was Williams, as much use a a chocolate teapot, hundreds of possibilities. Their marriage record might prove helpful, it may give their age but more likely just give over 21, but it should give their address and their fathers name and occupation which might tie the baptism records together. What can we deduce from the census records to determine the approximate date and place of marriage?

The 1841 census gives them living in Liverpool with two young sons born in Lancashire, Henry 2 years and Edward 2 months. This should be simple, but no. There were only two Edward Davies’ born in the first half of 1841, one a long way away, south of Shrewsbury and one in Holywell, in the Chester triangle. The certificate from Holywell gives the mother as Elizabeth Williams. There are no records for a Henry being born within 150 miles or two years of 1839 but I have found a baptism record for Edward in Liverpool in 1842, he died shortly afterwards. Henry is listed as being born in Liverpool on later census records, all the other children were born in Wrexham.

Assuming Henry was officially registered under a different name and he was born June 1838 to June 1839 the parents may have married in 1837 and in the third quarter of 1837 there is a record that has Edward Davies and Elizabeth Williams in Holywell, this looks promising, certificate ordered.

Bad news followed, my fee was refunded as, though both names were on the registration record they did not marry each other but did marry someone else on the page. The Chester triangle swallowed another lead. There are other possible marriages but ordering certificates for them by trial and error will get expensive and if they married before 1 July 1837 there is no civil record anyway. Finding if Henry had another name might help, but there are 250 registrations to check so it is back to waiting for DNA results and hope.



Do Not Ask

or Deoxyribonucleic acid if you prefer.

I have not yet been convinced of the value of DNA testing for genealogy, but working in a vacuum of facts does nothing so I bit the bullet and ordered a DNA test.

I avoided the Ancestry test as it seems a confidence trick, you have to subscribe to Ancestry to start with. FamilytreeDNA seemed the most recommended and perhaps versatile.

So far I have been severely underwhelmed by the process. The website seems fairly useless  adding a family tree using the ‘Spawn of Satan’ gedcom system worked reasonably well, viewing the tree was problematic, I am constantly reminded to add my parents although they are shown on the page, I am hoping this is to do with not having the results on the site yet.

The test itself was a simple affair once I had it, getting it was the problem. Two weeks after ordering online the address label was printed and I got a tracking number which showed it took three days to get into the postal system, the package travelled around Texas for 24 hours and three days later appeared in Chicago, it travelled around several locations in Chicago over the next 24 hours before an entry was added, departed Chicago. In my innocence I assumed it was now flying to Europe, but no, the next entry was it back in Texas, it departed there 25 December then 3 days later it departed Frankfurt and took a week longer to get here as it sat around the customs check over the weekend and feast days.

Now it is making the return trip and I expect the results sometime before the new year