Using DNA Tests to help Find Family History

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-08-03

Most of the over 6 million persons who have had DNA tests done want to know where our ancestors were, just prior to emigration. By now, we discovered the limitations in acheiving this goal of all three. Neither, Family Tree DNA, and 23 and Mecan show you which village or even county, and often not even country where your ancestors originated!

Todays DNA Tests can show you where you have relatives today, who also took the DNA tests and which of those people, may or may not, have always lived in those areas along with their parents and grandparents back to ancient ancestors. A couple of these data base-test sites will also list your DNA match relatives with email addresses of those who have given permission to share their data and email addresses. Of that percentage, some will, in these profiles, list family surnames in their ancestry about which they know something, or will perhaps have a family tree, or both. These matches will usually be no more distant than 6th cousins from you, and cover about 200 years of your ancestry, maybe not even to the point of emigration. Here is why.

You get half, or 50%, of your DNA from your parents; one-quarter, or 25%, from each of your four grandparents, one-eighth, 12.5% from each of your eight great-grandparents; and one-sixteenth, 6.25% from each of your 16 second-great grandparents and only one-thirty secondth, or ONLY 3% from your third great-grandparents. Each generation is roughly 25-30 years. Even being generous and using the higher number, your third great-grandparents, only 5 generations before you, are only about 150-200 years depending upon your own age at the time you are doing the research. At least half of all Americans ancestors who emigrated to what became the U.S. did so 250 to 300 years ago, another two to five generations before what the DNA tests can normally show.

However, this is altered when there have been cousin marriages in the past. In these families DNA is more concentrated and a higher percentage of matching sequences are passed on. In these cases, cousins through families from more ancient generations may show up in the matches.

In my case, I have DNA matches with cousins, with common ancestors more than 5 generations past. I also know from documented research, that some of these matches are precisely because of some first and second cousin marriages in those lines. The biggest surprise was finding two things: (1) my late father's 'pure' Hungarian family had British ancestry about 200 years ago which in some way is related to my late mother, and (2) my late mother's mitochondrial DNA haplogroup (that which she received in a strict maternal line from her mother, maternal grandmother and so on) is NOT west European (despite the fact her maiden surname was Wallace, about as Scottish as you can get). Our haplogroup is J1c2e, a late mutation of a "Black Sea area" group, not the H haplogroups more common to Celts and west Europeans. So oddly, my parents who never knew each other before World War II and grew up nearly 2,000 miles from one another, were distantly related--twice! However, these are DISTANT relationships and not much to go on for finding actual, documented family history.

My husband's Tony's DNA was another story. In his case, it turned out to be fortunate that three of his four grandparents are children of relatively recent immigrants, while Sanford McCormick/McCamick, the one 'apparent' orphan in the family history, who has been giving us research fits, came from his ONLY long-term American grand-parent's line.

Sanford McCormick/McCamick (various county clerks and census takers, and the military together managed to create 10 different spellings of this poor man's name)is a quintessential example of a cholera epidemics era Kentucky mystery. Literacy and record keeping all but disappeared for a few decades in frontier states from a combination of frequent warfare with Native Americans, and at one time the British as well, and serious frequent epidemics from water and mosquito borne illnesses, combined with the rise of two anti-alcohol and stimulants (coffee, tea) religions, Baptists and Methodists. Alcohol and boiling water used in tea and coffee were safer than ordinary well and river water, often contaminated by human and animal wastes. Unfortunately, the U.S. was still in the dark ages when it came to hygiene and sanitation and understanding what caused many illnesses and spread them and two religions developed who prohibited alcohol and stimulants--the two very things that minimized epidemics at that time. With cholera, yellow fever, diptheria, typhoid, small pox, etc. the first people, and greatest numbers of people who died were often the most literate and who saw the most people and touched them or items they had handled daily; ministers, doctors, clerks, teachers, and adult care-givers. Although record keeping began to be restored or increase by the late 1840's in states like Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana, it wasn't mandatory for a time, and was still haphazard.

Thus, poor Sanford McCormick had no guardian records showing how he was assigned to the couple who raised him, at what age, and who his parents were; no records at the time of the assignment by God knows who and how, and none when he reached the age of majority. Normally, when an orphan reached the age of legal independence, there was a record showing this and that his guardian was owed money for caring for him either by the county or the parents' estate, and that the guardian paid, or owed the now adult and independent individual since he had an apprenticeship to his guardian and performed real services as a teen-ager. There were also NO marriage records showing that either of his guardians were related to anyone by Sanford's own last name. Thus, there is no evidence of a guardianship by a dying relative asking another to care for a soon to be orphan. Sanford then disappeared from the census record as soon as he became an adult and we don't know if he hooked up with another relative, or where he was living in 1860, right after he reached the age of 21. We know where he enlisted in 1861 and where he was in 1864 after he was captured, caught pneumonia, and paroled back to the Union by the CSA, and furloughed by the Union for recovery. There is no record, however, of with whom he was living when he enlisted or when he was recovering from his first ordeal. He moved to Indiana right after the Civil War (and a second briefer stint of enduring Southern prison camp hospitality), but there are no other persons with his surname who went with him to Indiana that appear in any records. He had no sons, so we have no naming tradition to help us to identify his father. His gravestone is the one I mentioned in the other article that was photographed with no notes made of where it actually was, and where he actually died. Both his wife and his oldest daughter married twice and we have no idea where any notes or records they had ended up, as in both cases, the families of the second spouse took control of matters at the time of their deaths. Hiring a professional genealogist, and paying some $600 or so dollars to go through about four counties' records, only added to the already copious volume of notes of the process of eliminating all the McCormick (and all the variant spellings) families in which Sanford was NOT born and raised.

Finally a kind of clue appeared to put a chink in this stubborn family history brick wall. It happened when we looked at my husband's DNA matches. A few individuals turned out to be from Kentucky families that had always lived in Kentucky. They even placed that tiny bit of information next to the family surnames in their family. Of the several surnames listed, one, and only one turned out to have a very few marriages,with McCormicks. Better yet, these marriages, of the Anderson family, turned out to be all within one line of the McCormicks who all came from a particular line from Bedford County, Virginia. So, we now have some reasonable evidence from the combination of DNA matches and actual marriage records that there is a definite link between my husband and another Kentucky family and that this family only married into one particular line of McCormicks. There are just a few more "little" problems: almost all of that particular McCormick family I've found thus far is at least four counties eastward of where Sanford McCormick was raised and placed under guardianship, and there are not many on-line records to show who were the children of adult members of this particular line who first arrived in Kentucky about one generation before Sanford was born and where their children all went. That "missing generation" with the fewest records is within precisely the period the fewest Kentucky records exist. Sanford was born between two major cholera epidemics that were only about 14 years apart, and other epidemics raged between those. However, the counties are lightly populated with few libraries. Now, I "only" have to write to about a half dozen county libraries and historical societies in hopes of using the process of elimination to finally identify Sanford's father and learn how and why he went from eastern Kentucky to the center of the state and how Sanford's guardians were made his guardians.

Lady Mary Douglas-Hamilton et al

My DNA Dilemma: Scottish East Europeans

Monaco's Runaway Scottish-Hungarian Princess and more

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker

After four decades of family history research I thought all my remaining 'brick walls' of missing documentation were in my mother's line, I recently decided see what clues were hiding in my genes, and got a DNA test. After reviewing the two best rated companies, I chose Family Tree DNA, both because they specialize in identifying cousin matches and allow people with DNA matches to exchange emails, and because, besides the usual autosomal DNA test, they offer tests and analysis of mitochondrial DNA which we inherit exclusively from our mothers, (as well as tests and analysis of Y chromosome DNA which we inherit exclusively from our fathers). I happily signed up for a package of two tests: autosomal and mitochondrial.

After more than 6 weeks, I finally got the results earlier this month. There were several surprises, but the biggest surprise was not in my late mother's mitochondrial DNA but instead in my late father's in the autosomal genes! I expected no more than 50% Scots and Irish matches, but these results showed 70% British Isles! (or 63% if one subtracts that bit of about 6-9% "unknown DNA.") Either way it meant that I have an ancestor who was very British somewhere in my father's allegedly "pure Hungarian" forebearers, and RECENTLY!

Given the location of the darkest part of this bright, blue blob of British DNA, it's also likely that person was largely part Scots or Scots-Irish. With this unexpected extra percentage understanding the division of percentages each generation, it seems to me most likely that someone who was British, with a lot of Scots or Scots-Irish, came into some line of my father's family between about 1815-1840 during or right after the Congress of Vienna. But Who? How? When? and Why, exactly?

Read More

I began to delve into the history of British-Hungarian relationships and found more surprises. If most people know anything about such relationships, about all they know is that a Countess Rhedey is a 2nd great grandmother or so of the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II and that, about a thousand years ago, a Hungarian princess, became Queen Margaret of Scotland.

Well, there is a middle history.

First starting sometime in the 14th century, Scottish clans who didn't have as much land began to engage in sea trade and to build up mercantile branches of their clans. Scotland traded with the Hanseatic League, which included a port in Poland that often was under the Polish kings, Danzig/Gdansk. Over time, some 25,000 to 40,000 members of Scottish families set up branches in several port cities, and the royal courts fed by those ports. Paterson's History of Ayrshire specifically mentions that, in one generation, members of the Wallace of Failford clan sent, three brothers to the Netherlands, a German port, and to the Baltics (likely Gdansk, as Poland and Lithuania were a joint kingdom from the 14th century onwards). From the late 14th century to the 16th, and the death of the last Hungarian king at Mohacs in 1526, SEVERAL kings of Poland became kings of Hungary, and moved their court from Poland to Budapest. Retainers and merchants, including those who were Scots descendants followed.

My late grandmother's Garai family in Hungary, were appointed these kings' counts palatine, generals and as permanent "bans" (Viceroys) of Croatia, Dalmatia and southeast Hungary, now part of Romania. (See websites such as "House of Garai"). A member of the Polish contingent with a Scottish ancestor could have entered that family. Then in the late 18th century, Poland was completely destroyed, divided between Orthodox Russia and Protestant Prussia, with a third smaller portion being allowed to Catholic Austria-Hungary. Needless to say a number of wealthy mercantile, and noble, Catholic families made their way south to settle permanently in Austria-Hungary. When the Wallaces, and other Scots first settled in Poland, these Scots were still Catholic. It is likely some descendants of the Scots families who remained Catholic made their way south to Hungary, among the Polish nobles and merchants. That's two possibilities for Scots-Hungarian relationships.

By the late 18th century, Hungarians were growing wealthy and making "Grand Tours" of Europe and going to England and Scotland. For its part, the new UK (English) Parliament was noticing and taking interest in Austria Hungary, especially Hungary, as a counter to France. Hungary had long tolerated Protestants. Some noble families such as the Counts/Princes Bathory, who were cousins to the Rhedey, were already Protestant by the mid-17th century. Hungary was also more reform minded than Austria and eager to learn from the UK.

By 1812, the British and Austro-Hungarians were allied to defeat and exile Napoleon and afterwards, the new, post-Napoleon peace treaty for Europe, was drawn up in Vienna over the course of a year of negotiations and settlements. With the three main British diplomats, two of whom were Scots and Scots-Irish, were an entourage about 50 wealthy Scots and English families connected to the three leading negotiators. These people of course engaged in the social scene, the balls, theatre, and music of Vienna, as well as renowned hot springs and baths of that empire, including those located in Hungary. They also found that Hungary had fine wines and still had substantial wild game for hunting, including in the Dunantul, where my families had homes, wineries, and hunting lodges. At least one of them left behind a charming daughter or sister who married a Hungarian aristocrat whose estates were primarily in the Dunantul.

After this period, members of several key Hungarian families, including the Wesselenyi, the Festetics and Szecsenyi, made their way to the UK and spent months and years there, studying agricultural and industrial reforms, horse breeding for racing and bringing this new knowledge, and more British guests and investors home to Hungary. Several thousand British workers, particularly Scots, came to Hungary to help build the bridges, and the later railways, also built by the Szecsenyi and in part with British funds. The first bridges spanning the Danube river were built by the Szecsenyi using their and British investment money and designed by Adam and William Clark of the UK.

Some of them stayed. By the mid 1800's a number of the Hungarian Gymnasiums had English language programs in their degrees, including the one at Esztergom. These Hungarian gymnasiums, were not all just secondary schools. Many offered 4, 6 and 8 year programs, the latter two being college degrees, similar to what U.S. junior colleges and state colleges now offer. The most prestigious was Esztergom, under protection and influence by the Cardinal Archbishop of Hungary whose residence and cathedral were there and who was friendly to the British. Esztergom is where my grandfather attended and finished his degree.

Then came the last surprise.

I knew that my grandfather and grandmother were both aristocrats, that they born and raised in Somogy, and in the northern part of the county. The Counts Festetics were known to both of them, and their lands were adjoining. In fact, my grandfather and his father both were keen reformers in agriculture, viticulture and livestock breeding and met with Count Festetics often during the years the Count slowly developed his palace at Kezthely and where he set up a regional agricultural library and school. Dr. Gyula Fabos, the Rutgers professor, (also a former professor at Amherst in landscaping and landscape engineering), was a second cousin of my father and went to this school, in the 1940's before the communists temporarily shut it down as they took over Hungary.

In 1880, the then Count Tassilo Festetics II married someone well known to Scots, as well as the highest social circles of the UK, the Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton, sister of the 11th Duke of Hamilton! Lady Mary had been briefly married to the Prince of Monaco, and bore his only child and heir! She is the ancestress not only of the current Festetics descendants of herself and her husband, but also the current monarch of Monaco. My Garai ancestors who owned most of the four larger villages and towns east of Kezthely on Lake Balaton and other large properties nearby, my Nyers at Vors and Csurgo, and my Fabos (a black sheep branch of the Szecsenyi), who were at the next nearest and largest town, Marczali and points south and southeast (they owned several pieces of the "great Szecsenyi" estate that had been established just after 1711 to rebuild the southeast Dunantul area after the Turks had been driven out of that area of Hungary for good) were the nearest neighbors and close associates of Count Tassilo and his Scottish born wife, Lady Mary. In fact, when my grandparents married in February 1905, the Count and his Scottish wife were among the first to honor them with a reception, at their palace at Kezthely.

The historical articles on the Dukes of Hamilton and Lady Mary, who became Countess, and later Princess Festetics, note that the Duke of Hamilton himself, her brother, mostly lived in Paris and Baden-Baden, and visited his sister Mary at Kezthely, frequently, often bringing his close friend Edward, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. My grandfather, his father and the Count were close, and at this point I can't help but wonder if there was another reason for this close association, that unknown Scottish-British ancestress in my father's father's family who entered the family between 1815-1840, somewhere.

I would be very curious to know if there is anyone, perhaps in the St. Andrew's Society or the San Francisco Caledonian Club, who knows a LOT about the Congress of Vienna and those several dozen British families who were there, or how to identify them, or has heard an interesting story about a charming sister or daughter of some British (probably Scottish) family who was in Vienna at the time and who married a Hungarian aristocrat, contact me, please. Email is best:

The Germanophiles and those who wanted to retain the absolute monarchy of the Habsburgs were by the late 1820's were, highly suspicious of Hungarian families who were close to the British and advocated reforms. This worsened under the emperor Franz Josef. Long before the communists rose, in 1906, my grandfather was sent into exile by Emperor Franz Josef. Shortly afterward, my grandfather's home was firebombed, and some of the family records were destroyed. My grandmother and uncle barely escaped with their lives and a few belongings and had to live with her family while she waited for her husband to be recalled or to be allowed to emigrate to join him. The Austrian Secret Police were not known for kindness and mercy, and this happened to other families as well. The communists weren't terribly fond of either the British or Hungarian aristocrats when they first took over and destroyed a number of families' and other records. Others were collected and stored haphazardly at the national archives and other places, as happened to the gentleman below.

There are likely to be other British/Scottish-Hungarians who could some day use your help in identifying their own Scottish ancestors, some who came to Hungary with Adam and William Clark, and stayed. One such Scottish Hungarian was lucky enough to know his heritage, and able to find additional earlier records in Hungary, is a Campbell, a senior descendant of the brother of the grandfather of the 9th Earl of Breadalbane, (originally Campbell of Borland). John Breadalbane Campbell, 'came to Hungary in 1873 to help build the the bridges and railroads and stayed.' His great grandson, Huba Campbell b. 1945 of Budapest has been accepted recently as the seniormost legitimate heir to the title of Earl of Breadalbane, by Debrett's Peerage and other authorities. Huba Campbell has the documents to support his ancestry, showing his descent from his great grandfather, John Breadalbane Campbell, and his great-grandfather's ancestors back to Scotland. Huba Campbell grew up under communism in an impoverished and oppressed family. He presently owns his own 'haulage' (trucking) business. (See "The Scotsman," Sunday, 14th March, 2004).


Family History DNA and Tourism

Reconnecting with your Ancestral Home

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Americans benefit greatly by learning and connecting to their actual ancestral history and culture. Both the tourism industries of the U.S., and especially the countries of Europe where Celtic Americans find their ancestors, benefit substantially from Celtic Americans who research and learn their family history, because they often travel there!

Travel indeed broadens the mind, opens the heart and brings people together. When they travel to these countries and meet the people there, they learn and appreciate infinitely more of their ancestral culture than they ever would had they stayed home. Every country should encourage travel, as part of a balanced, diverse economy and to foster and maintain strong positive, international relationships at all levels. When other parts of an economy are changing, or in mild recession, tourism remains, as San Francisco recently proved in the Great Recession.

In recent years, the new industry of personal DNA testing, lead by Ancestry DNA and others, has opened up new opportunities for all nations and US states willing and able to take advantage of them, but there is more that can and should be done to make this new economic boon work better.

As you may know, we have done extensive research on our ancestors and can trace multiple lines back many generations using non-DNA document records. We still have many gaps, and as you can see at right, a few months ago, we decided to do our personal DNA tests, using the Family Tree DNA service. In part, we chose this company because independent reviews found it does a better job of discovering matching DNA and so family relationships, and also gives its clients opportunities to share their email addresses and connect. (Great, and more on this later). More interesting to us were the surprizes in our results.

  1. For Cecilia, who thought her enthnicity was 50% Scots-Irish from her mother, and 50% Hungarian from her father, her test shows 69% 'British Isles'. Her 'Hungarian' father carried 28% DNA from the British Isles! (See 'My Dilemma' Below)
  2. For Tony, who thought his enthnicity was 25% Irish from his paternal grandmother, 25% Welsh from his maternal grandfather, and 50% Austrian from his other two grandparents, his test shows 24% 'Scandinavia'! Were some of Tony's medieval ancestors Vikings?


Tap Roots

It does not take a 300 or 400 years long pedigree to establish the close relationships that interest most people. Most people are not going to want to see people with only a 3% link to them, per se. The greatest interest/priority is going to be the unknown descendants of grandparents', and great-grandparents', siblings, those 2nd to 4th cousin relationships. Recall that from each of your parents you inherit 50% of your DNA, from grandparents (four of them) you inherit 25%, each, from great-grandparents (eight of them) you inherit 12.5%. (See the nice neat mathematics?) An average generation is 25-30 years each. So, the 12.5% ancestor is only about 100-120 years in time and records. Now many people are interested in that one more generation back ancestors to include immigrants and point to their interesting places of origin back in Europe. This means looking for cousins who are descended from a mutual 2nd or 3rd great-grandparent, 125-150 years ago, and these are cousins from before the industrial age of increased travel and urbanization, from a time when cousins married cousins far more often.

This is the most persistent DNA, the strongest, and the type most connected to one's distinct cultural heritage. This the kind of DNA connection that, when you visit the area where it originated, and stand in the village that your ancestor once saw as home, or in front of that ancestor's gravestone, knowing he or she is only feet from you, it can make you feel like you've come home. It sucker punches you in the stomach, buckles your knees and makes your eyes tear up. You feel like you are surrounded by every loving relative and ancestor that ever existed. All the old stories and faded pictures of the past are suddenly real and you understand them, and you know the grand-parents you half-listened to, long ago, a lot better.

It's really not that hard to find just enough documentation to go back 150 years or so. If you have either an subscription or a local LDS library which usually has such a subscription and you know who grandparents were and they were born before 1940, as most were, you can find their unknown parents and grandparents in the census records going back to 1850 and before in the U.S. census records. That gives you all the dominant surnames in your family. The same site has immigration and naturalization records which can give additional information, and links to state and county marriage records to find the surnames and parents of wives/mothers. At that point, you have a list of surnames for 6 or 7 generations to put on a profile and help your cousins find you. You will know in what family the connection exists, and with a couple of emails, how close you are to one another.

For centuries prior to about 150 years ago, when affordable railroad and steamship transportation became available, families stayed pretty much in one relatively small, long-term ancestral home area and kept intermarrying among one another within a radius of no more than about 12-15 miles. This makes some places in the U.S. and Europe, main 'tap roots' for a person, a key part of the foundation of one's being, and cultural heritage, as well as genetic heritage. Prior to about 150 years ago, you are looking at intermarried families, and 'tap root' DNA and ancestral homes. When cousins married cousins and did so repeatedly, there is a closer DNA match that can make it appear that a 6th or 7th cousin, in another country, is a more recent match, because genetically that distant cousin is closer. Understanding this, though, makes travel more interesting and exciting.

America is nation of immigrants who have mixed, over time, with other immigrants from multiple areas in single nations and multiple nations, and our tap roots are where the most intermarriages took place longest, that is, in the oldest and easternmost states of the U.S., the oldest states in Mexico, and in Europe. The chambers of commerce, the governments, the oldest counties and communities will all soon realize this, and if they want the dollars/euros from a tourist economy, then they should be encouraging their airlines, their travel agents, and various types of companies to help facilitate more family history touring by making themselves visible to reconnecting Americans.

Economic Impact

Every part of a family history related tourist visit, brings income to the providers of those services. There are almost 330 million potential tourists in the US alone, and approximately 150 million with 'tap roots' in Ireland, Scotland, & England, and a growing number in Spain. A U.S. couple traveling to Europe to visit their 'tap roots', will likely spend between $3,000 to $9,000 on airfare alone. They will pay between $700 and $1500 a week for lodging. Then there are meals, transportation, history centre helpers, and more. Add up the costs of trips for each and all, and that's a huge amount of money being pumped into local companies and national economies.

Most of us, both of our generation and many of those younger, were raised to reciprocate hospitality. When some member of one's family does you the favor of taking time from their normal schedule to meet and greet you, show you hospitality and play tour guide to help you feel the area in which your ancestors lived, meet other family, etc., you also do as much for them as they will allow, and is agreeable to all, to repay the favor of their time and attention, with a nice gift and paying for a meal out for them, etc. This too, adds to the economy, enhances the visit and Builds relationships.

Besides American tourist dollars going into the tap root countries, there is one other thing. When people of those countries want to visit the U.S., they can also be assured of hospitality and friendship of family in the U.S. to make their own trips more wonderful. It builds more and better bridges, and not walls.

Digging up Relationships

The DNA test results match information extremely helpful in reconnecting with both ones ancestors and living relations, but has limitations. Some are natural, but there remain some solvable problems. It would really help BOTH the U.S. immigrant descendants trying to find those 'tap root' relatives, and the economies throughout the countries where those roots really are, if more people on BOTH sides of the Atlantic would not only submit their DNA for testing, but put a list of surnames of at least the families within the first 6 or 7 generations on the individual 'profiles' to help better establish real family matches. This is something that both the governments of countries, and counties within them, who want more tourism, and the DNA testing companies, should encourage and promote.

The first is created by these very clients. It is not enough to have a DNA match and only the testee's surname. With only the testee's surname, and nothing else to indicate where the two individuals most likely connect, that another party may or may not recognize it. The tests only establish degrees and quantities of matching DNA sequences between all the ancestors of both parties in the match, not the individual families nor the locations which those families shared for a time and actually connected, or the relevant events (like marriages). These details come only if the persons at least list their known ancestor's family surnames! For example, two 5th cousins each have a possible 32 families that establish a significant percentage of matching DNA. If these surnames are known, can either cousin can much more easily figure out where they connect among these many families.

There is second problem in how these companies then sort the relationships based on the quantities of DNA that match. DNA is not attached to surnames. The cousin relationships are grouped, not by individual specific degrees, but groups of degrees. For example: in Family Tree DNA, the groups of relationships in the menu for selecting matches to examine and with whom to possibly communicate, going from closest to most distant, are:

  1. Immediate relationships (parents, brothers and sisters),
  2. Close and immediate (includes the former and adds first cousins and aunts and uncles and grand-parents, and great-aunts and great-uncles),
  3. "Distant relationships" in two groups: 2nd-4th cousins, and 3rd-5th cousins,
  4. Last are "all matches including those with probable relationships" into which fall some actual 2nd through 5th cousins.


BUT the term "probable" is important because these matches have something about them that is different. They tend to be either very distant, actually 4th through 6th or 7th because of cousin intermarriages within the generations that normally establish the degrees/amount of DNA relationships, or there are half siblings in some generation or other which, in a timeline, are actually closer to a party examining the relationships, but because there was an entirely different parent for the half sibling, the DNA is less of a match. One way or another, these relationships and the amount of DNA match are outside of the normal expected cousin degrees of the programming and its mathematical algorithms. Cousin intermarriages and half siblings skew the timelines and make relationships seem either closer or more distant than they actually are in time. Of course the matching programming, based on simply DNA, also can't, and doesn't, show which parent was the shared parent in half sibling relationships, nor which couple in an ancestral line were cousins who married one another. For us, and for most people who are interested in establishing the real degrees of likely relationships in these matches, it really helps to document family members as much as possible, so we have a list of family surnames on our profiles to compare with any other lists given by the DNA match persons on their profiles.


Using DNA Tests to help Find Family History

What are centiMorgans and How to Interpret them

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2017-08-11

In genetics, the Morgan was named in honor of geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan by his student Alfred Henry Sturtevant. In modern DNA analysis, shared sequences of DNA, measured in 100ths of a Morgan, or centiMorgans, (abbreviated cM) are commonly used to measure genetic linkage between related individuals.

Two DNA testing companies, at least, Family Tree DNA and 23 and Me, give a person's cousin matches in lists, ranked by closest to most distant, in quantities of centiMorgans or cM. So long as you did the tests as per directions (and the lab processing it didn't mix it up with someone's else's tests), you can be highly CERTAIN that the persons listed with 15 centiMorgans (cM) or more of matching DNA are related to you. Family Tree DNA and 23 and Me use these centiMorgan based matching methods, and also do very well at selecting and monitoring their labs.

Most users begin with the inexpensive 'autosomal' DNA tests which give results on your 22 non-sex related chromosomes. For females who also took the mitochondrial (MtDNA) test, you KNOW that if your haplogroup matches another test subject it is through your maternal line, your mother, her mother and so on. For males, who can take both the MtDNA and the y chromosome (Y-DNA) test, you KNOW your paternal-paternal line down to current sons and that other male matches are related to you through your Y-DNA haplogroup. Males have TWO haplogroups, one each from their mother and their father.

With over 10 million persons results in the top three companies' databases, users receive hundreds of 'matches' in their test results. Using centiMorgan based matching methods, there is no possibility of sensationalistic, dubious 'you might be related to' (pick the modern celebrity or historic figure of your choice)' sales pitches common to 'Family Name' or other companies' sales pitches. DNA and haplogroup matches greater than 15 cM are reliable measurements of the objective probability of your shared DNA indicating you are, in fact, related.

If you have your results and your cousin matches are given in cM's, how do you determine which matching individuals are your CLOSEST cousins? Well, the best chart I've seen that explains this in an easy to understand, color-coded manner is the one which originated with Blaine Bettinger, ( As soon as I saw it, I LOVED it, and I'm not alone, it is repeated on a several blogs of other notable experts. Bettinger's chart shows averages and ranges for all categories of relationships extending outward from 'self' (the white box), with siblings and half siblings on the left of that box in blue and olive, and cousins on the right in yellow to red, and it shows the relationships of cousins to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. in green. The color bars are great for separating the degrees of relationships in an easy to use, understand, and remember manner. After using his chart for just a few days, I now find myself remembering the average numbers of cM's for each degrees of relationships much better now.

To read more, Click Here!

On Mr. Blaine Bettinger's website, I found that in addition to this chart, he has a set of wonderful articles on understanding more of DNA testing and how it can be helpful to finding documented family history. Two of his articles were particularly interesting to me. The first is 'Can a genealogist refuse to use DNA evidence' and talks about the credibility of a genealogist who knows DNA test results exist and either solely relies on them to say something about relationships and ancestry, or has these results and dismisses them entirely. In the past few months, I'd just dealt with a professional, certified genealogist whom I'd paid for genealogical research, who dismissed my husband's DNA test results and clues from it. That person also called a picture of a gravestone in a cemetery a phony, claiming it was taken from a print 'in memoriam,' instead, and then gave up in disgust when she couldn't finish tracing a line of my husband's for which I'd hired her to examine records not available to me, either on-line or published. It was gratifying to read that my impression of that genealogist, is supported by Mr. Bettinger's article. It gives me some ideas for questions to ask of prospective paid researchers in the future to avoid spending good money for insufficient help.

The second article, published, March 11, 2017 was even more important, as it helps me move forward in my research goals. Titled, 'Are You Doing Everything to Identify Your Matches' using the cM results and the profile information given by those individuals with matches to you who have agreed to let their names and email addresses be listed, and such data as they want to publish. Long before reading this article, I had figured out a couple of clues to help identify likely ancestral families of mine and my husband, such as the number of times family surnames appeared among individuals who were not all immediate relatives of one another. This helped me determine my husband's highly probable particular Virginia ancestors, his particular branch, in what is a rather large McCormick family.

However, there was still the problem of tracing, back to the Virginia progenitors, his 2nd great-grandfather. On the 1850 census, when he was a boy, he was not listed with parents. This article provided extra clues such as, 'look for family trees with a person in your match who did not publish a gedcom tree/pedigree in the DNA test program.' Bettinger, explains how, within a sample group of well over a hundred persons who didn't publish trees, he found that over 20% still had published trees or were listed in trees, published elsewhere. Sure enough, for my husband's DNA matches with no tree in their DNA profile, I immediately found a couple of more trees listing these exact names, by carefully searching for their name and email. I also used the known match lines to trace the lines forward, particularly for two families who are highly probably my husband's, ancestor's half-brothers and cousins. I discovered these half-brothers and cousins had lived where my husband's ancestor did, for over 30 years. As a result, I now know where persons who were highly probably his grandmother, aunt and step-mother died, where to write for additional records, and where to look for a possible grave site for him as well.

These DNA match clues narrowed the search down from three states and a dozen counties within them, to just three counties in a single state. It's especially great when one discovers how few relatives back east who would have the ideal degrees of relationships to determine family history better, have had DNA tests, in precisely the states and counties where the U.S. Civil War, the War of 1812 and related 'Indian' warfare up to 1830 or 1840 and cholera and other epidemics inflicted the most damage to literacy and record keeping for several decades (usually between about 1810/1820 and 1865). A researcher confronting the 1810-1875 period of history in at least fifteen states, and trying to move past that, already has to work harder, and be more imaginative and patient, to find all the little bits and pieces of fewer records to pull together to determine a real family history. Having to search more counties and states only makes the job harder and longer. Being smart about using DNA test matches can narrow the areas for document searches and make the searches faster and easier.

I'm sharing these techniques with other family history researchers, especially those who have been finding far too many 'brick' walls in American--Scots-Irish, Scots and Irish, family history research prior to 1900 or 1850, along with this wonderful chart by Mr. Bettinger, and his website, ( with all his other articles, items, and links to more. You will find the chart and a link to his website, permanently now, on our own website under 'Ancestry>DNA' and I look forward to more great and very helpful articles from him and hope family history researchers among our readers will also.



DNA Testing Company Reviews

Major Media Finds Conflicting Results

By Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Published 2018-01-19

This past week, two articles appeared in major media about DNA testing and conflicting results when testing with different companies. The first article, by Ethan Baron, appeared in the 'San Jose Mercury News,' January 17, 2018. The other was a television feature on NBC's Today Show, titled Are Home DNA Kits Really Accurate? Jeff Rossen Investigates With Identical Triplet Sisters which ran on December 1st, 2017, and involved three identical triplets from California. Rossen's TV feature has since appeared on Facebook and inspired several major magazine articles.

Of the companies used to compare results of test kits, of 5 companies total, only two were in both the newspaper article and the television news feature spot. The five companies covered in both articles were: Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, My Heritage DNA, National Geographic, and Gencove. Ancestry DNA and 23andMe were the two companies used by all four persons in the two articles, and reviewed by both Ethan Baron and the 'Today' show.

Both articles noted that the test subjects had more questions about the 23andMe test results than most of the other test companies, Gencove being the exception. Additionally, Gencove, National Geographic and My Heritage DNA had strange results that didn't match what the test subjects knew of their family and didn't show up in the other companies' test results. Ancestry DNA gave the most reliable results for the triplets and the test subject interviewed by Ethan Baron, and provided the greatest specifics for European ancestry. Ancestry DNA test kits are sold by

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), which has the second largest database of all the companies, was not used by either the triplets or the test subject that Mr. Baron interviewed, suggesting that company may need to work on its marketing more. Your AmeriCeltic newsletter editors have used FTDNA, found it to be a good company, and the ONLY company which tests for mother-daughter transmitted DNA called Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) and father-son transmitted DNA called Y-DNA. This is one of the reasons FTDNAs database is as large as it is.

Together, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA and National Geographic all have one other advantage. You can upload your Ancestry DNA and National Geographic tests to the Family Tree DNA database to compare them. This gives one access all three databases with no more than two tests (autosomal only for two of them) which maximizes the scope of your search for cousins and ancestral heritage.

For the triplets, all three companies produced similar results, showing that they were full sisters to one another. However, while Ancestry DNA and My Heritage DNA showed a 100% match to one another, 23andMe showed a 93% match. Also, my Heritage showed a different pattern of ethnic ancestry than the other two. Ancestry and 23andMe were more consistent with one another for ethnic heritage, but Ancestry showed more countries, while 23andMe only showed regions at times.

Ethan Baron interviewed Kristen Brown, who knew she had a nearly full Norwegian father. Kristen had complained on Gizmodo that “she had taken four tests and had four very different test results.” She was particularly upset that 23andMe identified only 3.1% of her DNA as firmly Scandinavian and put another 41.9 percent as “broadly northwest European”. The 23andMe analysis explained that other 41.9 percent could not be confirmed as solely Scandinavian by the 23andMe database and related algorithm. Both the triplets and Kristen Brown then had at least one company claim they had some small part of DNA from a completely unexpected place that did not appear in the others. In Kristen’s case, Gencove’s results said she was 8% South Asian--something that was NOT on any of the other three tests she took, another major surprise.

Ethan Baron called all the four companies Ms. Brown had used for explanations of their test results, but only three responded. (National Geographic never responded) Baron also consulted with an unnamed university professor. This professor, who claims to watch the industry and accuses the companies of misleading consumers about their products, and feels they can be damaging to families at times. The professor did not identify which companies and products he felt were worst or best. Of the three companies that responded to Baron, all defended their products, but acknowledged limitations in the accuracy of results. Gencove was the most honest about why there are limitations, and their occasional “way out” results: their databases of only tens of thousands of persons, are too small to accurately establish relationships and “have only a limited view of the diversity across the entire world.” This results in test subjects often having a portion of “unique”--to the test company and its database--DNA. When this is seen by the computer programming and its algorithms, the algorithms that assign ancestry will make a “best guess” as to what the ancestry is, which is “often (or usually) close but imperfect.”

All these companies use the same methodology described by Joseph Pickrell of Gencove. They all estimate when they have insufficient data to make a firm, definitive match to one or more parts of the DNA of a person who sends in a test kit. All three of the companies that responded to Mr. Baron’s questions “made it clear that the popular, inexpensive DNA ancestry tests often produce estimates, rather than certain results.” This does not mean that all the DNA results are simply mathematical estimates. Some is accurate, and a few companies, the ones with large numbers of persons DNA in their databases, appear to have greater accuracy than others. It depends on how many people with the same parts of DNA from the same regions or countries are in the test company’s database. Worldwide, over 10 million persons have had their DNA tested. However there is no ONE database with which to compare test results. Also some countries and regions have consistently had more test results. African Americans and Africans in the countries in the region from which the most slaves were taken away, have had the most curiosity about their heritage and their cousins and thus, you will find countries stated by more than one company for some African origins. These countries of West Africa are the only part of the world, thus far, where Americans and their cousins are reaching out to one another in large numbers.

The biggest reason for the limitations, and why some of the companies categorize DNA into regions in Europe rather than individual countries, is the same reason for all of them. This reason is something we learned by asking questions and reading earlier reviews. Most DNA tests are being done by Americans of European descent, not by Europeans. As a percentage of population, after the U.S., the largest numbers of DNA tests, are done by Australians and Canadians. These three countries alone have the most immigrants from many nations who have intermarried after emigration. It is Americans, Canadians and Australians who know the least about many lines of their ancestors, the countries of origin of their many ancestors, and thus they have the most questions. Unfortunately, most immigration came to the U.S. from Europe, not a small region of Africa, or a few countries in Asia. There were major waves of emigrants from many regions of Europe. Major waves included Scots, Irish, English and Welsh, French, Germans, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Scandinavians, Finns, and several million from what used to be the Austro-Hungarian empire--now all or part of at least 8 countries usually called “East Europe” AND “the Balkans” or “Southeast Europe.”

Unlike Americans, most Europeans live no more than 100 miles from where most of their ancestors have lived for 1,000 years or more and they know who and what they are and who their ancestors are. They can take a short Sunday drive and picnic lunch with a nice wine and “visit” hundreds of them in cemeteries all in a single day, if they want. Over 60 million Americans west of the Rocky Mountains had ancestors 2000 miles east in multiple states, AFTER those ancestors had all emigrated from various countries in Europe!

For Americans to be able to link up, accurately, with confidence, with cousins in specific countries, and districts or counties within the countries, and know, not guess, where their ancestors originated, the major DNA testing companies, ALL need much larger and more diverse databases--and to link them. To achieve this, at the least, they need to coordinate a thorough sampling tests program with the governments and the locals in each county of all the countries that sent the most emigrants.

As a result of invasion and conquest in the last 800 years, when doing this sampling, special consideration needs to be taken of population changes and concentrations of those changes for some countries, particularly in East Europe. Such changes did not happen to so great and extent in the rest of Europe. Yes, the UK and Ireland had the Vikings (Normans were just a Christianized group of Vikings that settled in France before invading), and French Huguenots fled to both in the late 1500’s and 1600’s and Flemish weavers were imported by kings and nobles all over the UK, starting in the 14th century. In the last 100 years England has also had immigration from former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. However, except for the Vikings, that’s all small potatoes to what other parts of Europe experienced. Poland had hordes of Mongols and Germans, occupation of half its country by Germans, and even a few Vikings up by Danzig/Gdansk, and was a dual kingdom with Lithuania for several centuries. Hungary was occupied briefly by the Mongols, who deliberately had large harems of Hungarian women whom they deliberately impregnated to create more warriors, and then was occupied by the Turks who killed or carried off into slavery a almost a third, of the country. After both the Turks and Mongols were driven out, kings and emperors brought in excess Bavarians and Austrians to help resettle the most depopulated areas. Hungary was a dual kingdom with Croatia for 700 years, with extensive intermarriage, and other two-way movements of people. Slovakia didn’t exist as a separate nation until 1993, but its original three counties/duchies merged with Hungary early also. Then there were about 30,000 Irish, English and Scottish railway workers that decided to stay in Hungary after helping to build the railroads and bridges there in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Five generations later that throws an interesting twist into “Hungarian” DNA! Spain had the Moors and had Asturias and Galicia Celtic regions never conquered by Romans, Goths or Moors: and the southern Basque region of Navarro (Navarre north of the Pyrenees). Then there was Catalonia, now trying to break away from Spain and asserting strong differences from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is a sort of close cousin to Savoy which was long independent of France but is now part of France, and along with Provence, which speaks a significantly different dialect often referred to Langue D’Oc because the word “oc” replaces the word “oui” (yes, in English; oc is a Latin term and the Romans were more concentrated in southern France). Germany has several distinct regions, also and there is a peculiar, ancient region on the border of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany that for over 1,000 years had its own language that was roughly a blend of Dutch and German with varying degrees of each, depending upon how close a community was to one nation or another, called Limburgische. Its genetics are rather unique also--again a blend of peoples of all four modern nations. Populations are not going to be genetically identical in all parts of some European countries and the necessary, truly thorough, sampling is going to be complicated.

What we’ve found, though, is none of the major testing firms seems to be as aware of this history of the genetic populations’ development of Europe as they are of the different countries and regions of Asia or Africa and they have NOT done as much sampling across Europe as they have in some other parts of the world. Nor have enough Europeans volunteered, on their own, to be tested to create a strong, diverse and comprehensive statistical sample, of all the countries, and the counties or districts of provinces in them, in Europe. Until that happens, and all the databases have several hundred thousands more Europeans, most Americans are going to be somewhat disappointed with test results from ALL of the companies, in trying to find their ancestors’ specific countries and districts of provinces/counties within them, in Europe. They will not feel confident that they KNOW where all their ancestors originated in Europe, and whether or not they still have cousins where their emigrant ancestors were born.

Now having a much greater number of DNA test samples would also benefit Europe in several ways. First and foremost, it would increase U.S. tourism and mean more tourist dollars being spent in more areas of countries, not solely the capitols. Second it would be a boon for genetic medical research and lead to greater understanding of the origins of genetic illness, and possible prevention, and treatments for all kinds of illnesses that are more cost effective and provide faster, better recovery, by being tailored to genetic groups that respond differently to different treatments.

It would be a boon to the medical products and pharmaceuticals companies and enable them to create more and better products, tests, and employ more people--at decent wages. Medicine IS an INDUSTRY after all. Its companies are employers and make profits, and both employees and companies pay taxes, which build infrastructure and provide human services. Good health and prompt effective treatment of the sick is something EVERYONE wants.

The editors of this newsletter are currently getting tests done by multiple companies to compare results, only we’re using the major ones with the largest databases. We have already used Family Tree DNA, and wrote an article about those results. We just sent in our test kits to 23andMe and will soon also get test kits and send in our samples to Ancestry DNA. We’ll let you know what we find. As a result of uploading what we have from Family Tree DNA to another site that does a more detailed centimorgan analysis we found out that, as suspected, that we are 6th or 7th cousins. Although we grew up 700 to 1800 miles apart, about 250 years ago, we had ancestors who lived next to--and married with--one another. We have documentation showing a few of our ancestors living next to one another, and this confirms these DNA tests and analysis results. Thus, there is a real, significant degree of test and analysis accuracy, despite the admitted current limitations of the seven or eight testing companies and their “let’s try to fill in the blanks” estimating algorithms.

Readers who know people in Europe, including known family, should urge them to get tested and be in the databases. Readers should also lobby the testing companies and the countries in Europe to get together and build a thorough, comprehensive database. We also should urge the seven or eight DNA testing companies to do as three companies are already doing--let persons being tested upload results from one company to the databases of others to maximize their chances of finding definitive ancestry, and current cousins. The researchers at all the companies who create the algorithms and pass on studies to pharmaceutical and medical test products’ companies should be able to do the same thing. Everyone would benefit, be much more satisfied, and we’d see fewer skeptical articles like the one done by Mr. Baron in the “San Jose Mercury News.”