Friday, March 31, 2017

Before Starting a Mirror Tree: Finding Common Ancestors

If you are adopted and you are trying to build a Mirror Tree, finding a common surname or set of grandparents among all the names in the trees on AncestryDNA can seem a daunting task. This is what I do to find and sort common ancestors (CA) and knock down brickwalls. This saves having to print out numerous trees and looking at all the different pages. (We will bounce back and forth from spreadsheet to View all Matches to do this.)

The view match page displays the person tested and five more generations of grandparents. If your match shares little as 14 cM avg for 4th cousin 2x removed the info from this page should often be enough to provide the information you need.
Click on the name of your match to go to the contact, notes and information page. This page also often shows a hidden tree you can click on at lower left. Click on the blue circle with and i to find amount of shared DNA.

You are going to be making a spreadsheet of your closest matches closest matches. Got that?

Don’t worry about how to work with spreadsheets at this point. Just understand: cells are all the little rectangles. Rows are numbered and go horizontally across the page. Columns are identified by letters and go vertically down the page. Got that? You’re good to go. (Youtube search spreadsheet basics if you don’t “get it”.)

You can use any spreadsheet . (Excel, Open Source…)

1.     Open a spreadsheet.

2.     Go to AncestryDNA and open View all matches.

3.     Enter the name of your closest match as a heading in row 1, column A. (You can adjust the column width as needed by hovering your mouse on the lines between the alphabet letters until you see a cross with an arrow on each end. Click and slide to the right.)

4.     If they don’t have a tree, skip to step 9.) If they do have a tree, proceed to the next step. (Note: Sometimes you cannot see that a tree is available until you click on the View Matches page. There may be a link to a tree at the bottom of the info screen that allows you to see one or more trees.)

5.     On the left side of the View Match page is a list of all of their surnames. Click on the greater than symbol (>) and open all the surnames. Do this all the way down to the bottom of the page. Depending on the amount of DNA you share with your match

6.     Starting from the bottom of the page, left click your mouse and hold down as you scroll up the list and highlight all the names in the surname list. Right click to copy.

7.     In the first empty cell under your closest match’s name, row 2 Col A, right click and paste.

8.     Next, you will repeat what you have just done, with one change; you will not be working with your next closest match, but with the Shared Matches of your closest match.

9.     View All Matches page your closet (top) match click View Match, find Shared Matches tab and click. You are now looking at your match’s matches.

10.  Find the first person in their shared matches list that has a tree. Use this person’s name as the heading for row 1 column B in the spread sheet. Repeat steps 5, 6,7,8. Copy and paste at least four shared matches trees in the spreadsheet of your closest match. Now you can compare all of the surnames in alphabetical order side by side.

11.  I start with the first surname and do a search. (click in any empty cell in your spreadsheet and press control+f). Type a surname into the pop-up box. Click find.  If there are no matches go to the next surname on the list. Continue until you find a common surname shared in different columns.

Update: On the spreadsheet you can also highlight each column by clicking on alphabet letter at the top of the column, then go to the A-Z sort and click. This will make it easier to see common ancestors. 

12.   Highlight any repeated surnames that show up in different columns. If you find more than one repeated given+ surname, you may want to highlight it in a different color. Go back to Ancestry and check trees to find the name of the spouse for the most recent (by dates) common ancestor.

13.  Create spreadsheets for each of your top twenty matches shared matches. You will find different sets of common surnames. One may be a surname you have already identified with a different spouse. These are most likely linked together in one side of your tree. A different set of surnames may (not always) indicate the opposite side of your tree. Mark these different sets of linking common surnames into Group A and Group B.

14.  Use the closest matching couple (amount of dna and segment size) and begin building your Mirror Tree.

If you have a tree (gedcom) program. (many free online) You can build different trees on your computer based on a different set of surnames without uploading them on Ancestry.

For adoptees seeking assistance you will want to join the private FB group DNA Detectives. When you request to join, tell them "Hi" from Barbara.

Use Caution with this note below. Some people have huge trees.

Note: I was just informed by a very savvy Ancestry user at DNA Detectives; if you have a full Ancestry membership (not limited to AncestryDNA) you can go to the tree of your match and click on Find Person then select "list all people." Thank you Sharon! 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

DNA and Genealogy: I Am So Confused, I Feel Overwhelmed, What do I do Now?

This article is for those new genealogists who want to use DNA to find their family. It is geared toward adoptees, but will work for anyone.

Read through this article once before using the links.

Many cultures understand the best way to learn is to teach others through doing. I am willing to share what I know with others. For me, that is providing you with the best resources.

I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. Rather than attempt to explain some things myself, I am providing links I have discovered useful when I felt overwhelmed. I hope sharing what others taught me will help to provide you a jump start toward our shared goal: Finding missing family and knocking down brick walls.

Currently the three major DNA testing companies are: 23andMe, Family Tree DNA (Ftdna), and AncestryDNA.

If you think of each DNA testing company’s interface with the user as a genealogy computer game, you will discover each has its own user benefits and limitations. Warning: They can all be addictive.

Regardless of the testing company, when you communicate with others you need to know some of the language. MRCA=Most Recent Common Ancestor. This means you share a great (or more g’s)-grandparent(s) in the past. MRCA is one of the most common acronyms in the language of genealogy. Another common acronym is NPE which politely stands for Non-Parental Event; for many it is more easily understood as Not Parent Expected. You will also find people tossing around the term cM which is a unit of measurement. cM is often used in conjunction with the word segment, which is a chunk of cM’s in certain positions on different chromosomes in your DNA that match with possible relatives. (Did your eyes just cross?) As a beginner you don’t have to know the entire language to start. Here is a link to the language of DNA. Read it at your leisure, or better yet simply use it as you need it.

It is often helpful to refer to measurement charts to determine your probable relationship to your DNA match to determine where to look on trees to find your MRCA. and

Gedmatch is free. Once you have received your data from your testing company, upload your raw data to Gedmatch. I am telling you this at the start because it can take some time for your information to be available to play with at Gedmatch.
What is it? How do I do it? Why? This links to a Youtube video that answers these questions.
AncestryDNA, for the adoptee, is the most user friendly company for a genealogy beginner. Someone was clever enough to figure out how to make AncestryDNA’s user interface do things it wasn’t designed to do, much to the benefit of adoptees in their search for family. This exploitation has been given a name: The Mirror Tree.

The Mirror Tree
One of the best explanations with illustrations for building a Mirror Tree is by a blogger who writes under the name, Puzzled.

Another great link for the Mirror Tree’s building process was written by Knol Aust, a designer who specializes in simplicity. (Copy and paste into search bar or just search the title.)

A note from experience when growing Mirror Trees: Make it a habit to take a screen-shot of the tree of any close relative the moment you see it. (Sometimes the page disappears if the family member has challenges accepting the result of unexpected NPE’s).

Back to Gedmatch. Gedmatch is not a testing company. It is a stand-alone user interface and has the most bells and whistles to find relatives. Gedmatch is designed to use raw data from any of the major testing companies. This site can also be used by Ancestry members to aid in the building of Mirror Trees and “proving” through DNA you have identified the correct relative’s lineage. Paper trail genealogists need to temporarily lay aside their paper and allow their DNA to guide them when seeking to find answers to their brick walls. On the Gedmatch “one-to-many” page under the heading “autosomal” you will find a sub-heading, “Gen,” round this number to nearest generation and deduct 1 to find where to look in a tree for your MRCA.

There is an awesome pdf Gedmatch Utilities Manual written by Barton Lewis and Kitty Cooper that you can download here:
This manual goes into details the video did not cover. (There are many other useful download resources on this page as well, but start with the Utilities Manual; you’ll be glad you did.) Beyond the manual, the Gedmatch Forum is an excellent source for answering questions about how to best utilize the utilities at the site.

If you have a brick wall or are an adoptee, I can’t stress enough the value of joining the Facebook page, DNA Detectives. These are some of the most helpful researchers I have found that are willing to help and prepare you for finding your family. People on this page are finding family at an amazing rate. This group was started by CeCe Moore, DNA genealogist.

In conclusion, though I may not have taught you anything, I have shared with you the best resources I have found to make your quest of finding family one of the most enjoyable and productive experiences you will ever have. Hopefully, by having these resources, your feelings of being overwhelmed, confused and not knowing what to do have been resolved.

Happy hunting!

Friday, March 24, 2017

My Drug of Choice

Funny how I found my drug of choice.

I ran my autosomal DNA data through a company called Promothease. They developed

For a $5 dollar fee the Promothease program compared my DNA to their database which provides a report on certain snps that may indicate a propensity for things like drug allergies, baldness, cancer, and addiction.   

I looked up some of the scientific studies that define addiction. I discovered that a release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain gives a person what is known as a “high,” a condition, where at least for a short time they feel really good. The desire for the natural heightened chemical release reinforces behavior that will recreate that release. Evidently the desire to feel good is considered an indicator one may have an addictive personality.

I can understand why anyone would want to feel good…all the time.

When I am playing with genealogy (to me it’s not work), it’s a game (future blog), and when I make a break-though and extend family back a generation, or find a missing child of a grandparent, I get a spurt of dopamine, and I can feel it. It feels good.

When I can provide resources and methods and preparation for an adoptee in pursuit of finding their biological parents, it feels very good. 

When I make a multi-generational connection via email, with a distant cousin, who blesses me with awesome information and documentation: property deeds, love letters, the transcript of a murder trial, a grandparent standing before a church confessing to getting in a fight and was drunk; I get a big surge of dopamine and feel ten years younger.

My family is not perfect. They made mistakes. Sometimes big ones. They were human. Some are Revolutionary war heroes.  When my toes touch back to earth from my “high”; I go to bed at night with a smile on my face.

But, when I make a new cousin connection, and when I get to be the one sharing what an awesome, human family we have, I get such a gigantic surge of dopamine, I can’t get to sleep.  I start looking for that next surge because it makes me feel so good. So, I stay up all night looking for my next connection. My next fix.

Hi. My name is Barbara. I’m a genealogist.

Gedmatch #T689325
WikiTree: Shoff-7

Template of My Letter to Triangulation Groups

Triangulation Group # in email header

Good morning Cousins,

According to a segment analysis and triangulation on Gedmatch we share a common set of grandparents or a common grandparent sometime in the past. Collectively we are identified as a triangulation group or TG. Our challenge is to compare our trees and find who our common ancestors are.

My most up to date tree is on Wikitree and is listed as Shoff-7. Please study it closely. I’m showing you mine, will you show me yours?

Wikitree is about collaboration with other genealogists; sharing stories and sources to bring our ancestors together linking them in one worldwide tree that is free of redundancies.

I encourage anyone who is serious about genealogy to upload or build a tree on this dynamically awesome free site. Wikitree has volunteers who are very helpful if you have any challenges. The benefit of its easy access, cousins working together, experts mentoring novices, and interface with Gedmatch tools is unparalleled.

Be sure to include your Gedmatch number on your profile page on WikiTree. In addition to traditional sourcing and documentation, triangulation is fast becoming the most powerful scientific tool to validate or disprove an ancestral link.

DNA does not lie* when used within specific guideline parameters:

1. Three people who are not too closely related share the same ancestor in a sourced documented tree. (sources may include: books, periodicals, newpaper articles, census records, ship logs, birth records, marriage records, land records, wills, court records, bible records, personal knowledge of those who have firsthand knowledge.) You may utilize sources by other researchers from other sites. (Please acknowledge their contribution by insertion of internet url to their site. Such as Rootsweb Worldconnect) Photographs and actual document scans are especially appreciated. (see my up coming blog on easy sourcing)

2. The three people match on the same segment of the same chromosome.

3. The length of the shared segment is 16 cM’s or greater.

(In the future smaller segment sizes may be considered valid evidence. As of April 2017, the 16 cM size is considered as solid evidence.)

This is how we triangulate:

(I insert cropped screen shot here.)Here is a of screenshot from Gedmatch Tier 1 tools showing segment triangulation with contact information of those in this shared triangulation  group. Please, let’s collaborate with each other sharing trees and helping each other find our common ancestor. (You may already have the answer in your tree and, by registering and uploading to Wikitree we may immediately find our common ancestor who links all of us together with yet another cousin who is already using the Wikitree site.

(I insert cropped screen shot here.) Here is a screenshot of my graphic triangulation tree from Tier 1 Gedmatch tools that shows another perspective of how we link. (For those who better understand through visualization.)

Kudos in advance to our cousin who first announces our common ancestors to our TG.

Please use this triangulation group number in emails headers when collaborating with other members of our triangulation group. (TG)

Scientific understanding is not necessary to make triangulation work. This would be like understanding how electricity works in order to have a light. I am simply sharing with you how to locate the switch and turn it on.

Your cousin,

Barbara Shoff
Gedmatch #:  T689325
WikiTree: Shoff-7

P.S. If you decide to contribute to Gedmatch Tier 1 tools and download your own segment and triangulation analysis, feel free to use this letter written by Barbara Shoff as a template for contacting cousins. I used the Paint application for inserted graphics.

If you want to understand the way the electricity works I recommend:  Start with Jim Bartlett’s very first blog.  Your eyes may cross if you haven’t yet read Jim Bartlett’s blog.

*DNA results can be misinterpreted; that is why it is important to use larger segments in triangulation. 

Warp Speed Genealogy

Gedmatch and WikiTree are powerful tools for genealogists. When used in combination with each other you can grow your tree at warp speed. Both sites have some learning curves. Both are free. You can control your privacy settings on WikiTree. Open trees are best (all living people are set as private).

Be sure to add your Gedmatch number to your WikiTree profile.

Want to find some cousins fast? 

You can download your AncestryDNA tree to a gedcom application. There are plenty of free gedcom apps you can download for this purpose. (Some are trial offers, you don't have to buy if you aren't going to use it for anything but this.) It takes about five minutes to download a gedcom app and install it on your computer. Another five minutes to download from Ancestry. (Do an online Youtube search to watch how to download your tree from Ancestry.) Make sure all ancestors have at least three sources even if it is only census records. (Upcoming post on easy sourcing and attributions.)

 If you have a large tree and are lucky, be prepared to spend an afternoon making cousin contacts when you upload to WikiTree.

Link your merges.

When your upload is complete, there will be a list of "possible matches" at the bottom of the page for each person in your tree.  You will be prompted to deny, compare or merge the entry. When you find a merge, chances are, you just found a cousin! A window is available to immediately send the administrator of the other entry (your possible cousin) a note. You might want to be prepared for this by having a generic note prepared in notepad.

Each ancestor in your WikiTree is assigned a number after their surname during the gedcom upload. The match will also have a surname number for a like entry. There will be instructions on the merge page about how to request the merge. That's when you will send your prepared note. "Looks like we have a match! Are we cousins? Looking forward to hearing from you. Have you taken an autosomal DNA test? If so, do you have a Gedmatch Kit Number?" Sign with your personal Surname-Number (you get it when you register at WikiTree). I propose the following merge ..." (Add surnames with WikiTree numbers)

If you have loads of possible matches, you don't really have to compare, deny, confirm, or merge all in one session. However, it's polite to do it as soon as possible after your gedcom is uploaded. You can also update this tree by doing single entries to your tree as you find them. That's what makes Wikitree so dynamic.

If you are on Gedmatch, your WikiTree is available for instant searching on your one-to-many page. WikiTree will send you an email when someone requests a merge. When merged, and your Gedmatch Kit Number is on your profile page, all other cousins who have Gedmatch numbers in their profile, will have their numbers added to this common ancestor as well. Talk about cousin bait! It's triangulation waiting to happen! And when you triangulate you have scientifically verified your linage via DNA. And your cousins may have photos, land records, marriage records, census records to add to those you provide. This is true collaboration.

This is growing your tree at WARP SPEED!

Gedmatch Kit Number T689325

Thursday, March 9, 2017

When Adding People to My Tree

I never gave much thought about adding people to my tree until I started looking at other people's trees. Or they didn't have a tree. I soon realized, including a time and place were handy clues of looking in the right direction to find missing family. I went back and added this information (when I could find it) to my ancestors.

I think they smiled.

The L Button on Gedmatch

I sometimes talk to myself in the third person.

Okay, I watched the Youtube video Gedmatch Basics and learned which buttons to push for "the basics."

Click the L button toward the left of the page to see a list of your matches matches. Okay. I did that.

And I had this conversation with myself.

But why? Why would I want to do that?

To see who matches them.

Why, what difference does it make who matches them? I want to know who matches me!

Well, if that person matches you, you might see the names of people on their page that are also on your page.

Okay, a lot of people are taking DNA tests.

 It may mean you all share the same common ancestor. Otherwise they wouldn't match you in the first place.