Category Archives: family history

DNA Testing Advice

A friend who is also a client was asked some questions about DNA by her friend. She referred that friend to me who didn’t have time for a telephone conversation for a brief consult as we had mutually conflicting schedules.  She asked for a simple email to help her make some decisions. Well, that’s not so easy when her motivations to test are unknown and there is simply so much to discuss! Which test; which company; what results can be expected. I had to approach my response blind. No problem! Below is the text of the note I sent her. It may contain a few errors here and there but I don’t believe there is any misinformation.

Any thoughts on what else I should have included?

Hello Elizabeth,

The first point I’d like to make is that in general, DNA testing does not replace basic genealogical research. Other than an adoptee tracing parents or the parents of an adopted ancestor, that rule would apply. The testing can prove or disprove your research but doesn’t generally do the research for you.

So the question I ask anyone contemplating a DNA test is the motive. In other words, what are you trying to find out? That will help determine which company and which test. What follows is a “brief” discussion that hopefully will help.

There are essentially 3 types of DNA tests:

  1. Autosomal or atDNA examines 22 of the 23 chromosomes in the nucleus. It is often referred to as “Cousin Finder” or “Family Finder.”  These are the pairs of chromosomes that form the familiar “double helix” which are comprised of approximately 50% from each of the parents. Because of this ratio and the fact that is never exactly 50%, any individual will have roughly 25% of each grandparent (4 individuals), 12.5% of each great-grandparent (8 individuals), 6.25% of each 2nd great grandparent (16 individuals), 3.13% of each 3rd great-grandparents (32 individuals) and so on, melting by half as you go back each generation. Because the percentages are never perfect and get quite small at the 6th or 7th generation and beyond, it is possible that an individual may have none of a 3rd or 4th great grandparent’s DNA and thus making a match difficult if not impossible the farther back you go. All the current DNA testing companies do this test with AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and MyHeritage doing atDNA exclusively.
  2. Y-DNA examines the 23rd chromosome in the nucleus. That chromosome can be a combination of the X from the mother (as females do not carry a Y, otherwise they’d be male) and an X from the father (X/X) or the X from the mother and a Y from the father (X/Y). If the 23rd chromosome is an X/X, the result is a female. If that chromosome is and X/Y, the result is a male. Since the Y comes exclusively from the father and mutates very slowly, it is the Y chromosome that can be very useful in tracing paternal lines. Barring an adoption or “non-paternal events,” it can be a matter of following a line by way of the surname.
  3. Mitochondrial or mtDNA is the found inside each cell but outside the nucleus. Rather than a linear double-helix configuration, mtDNA is circular. It is transferred exclusively by the female to all her children. Everyone has it but the way it is transmitted, mtDNA will follow the maternal line.

FamilyTreeDNA and LivingDNA currently do all types of testing. FamilyTreeDNA has been testing DNA for longer than the other services while LivingDNA is, perhaps, the latest to enter the market. FamilyTreeDNA has a wide variety of combinations of tests with a variety of prices. LivingDNA, a British company, does one level of test by testing all types of DNA. They call atDNA “Familyline,” Y-DNA “Fatherline,” and mtDNA “Motherline.”

Will the results of atDNA testing be the same at all companies? Not necessarily as they all have developed different their own unique databases but there is a great deal of overlap from one company to the other. Should you test at more than one company? That all depends on your motivation for testing.

Here are the websites and there are many sales running this holiday season between all these very competitive companies:

www.familytreedna.com

www.dna.ancestry.com

www.23andme.com

www.myheritage.com/dna

www.livingdna.com

Some companies accept the “raw data” from other companies. For example, you can upload a raw data file of your results from 23andMe to MyHeritage. The only 2 that I know of that do not accept an upload are AncestryDNA and LivingDNA. There are also websites where you can upload your raw data in order to broaden your ability to compare your results to the results of other testers. GedMatch is one such company. They can be found at www.gedmatch.com.

Blogs to which you can subscribe:

www.legalgenealogist.com by Judy G. Russell who blogs on DNA at least once a week.

www.dna-explained.com  by Roberta Estes. Roberta can get a bit overwhelming but still worth a look.

www.thegeneticgenealogist.com by Blaine Bettinger, a nationally renowned expert.

www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com by CeCe Moore who has done analyses for “Who Do You Think You Are” as well as other programs.

Facebook has dozens of pages where you can read the questions and answers that others have posted or join and post your own questions. If you go to Facebook (where there are more than 14,000 genealogically oriented pages), search for ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists; DNA Detectives;  GEDmatch.com User Group: and many, many others.

The website www.familytreewebinars.com offers webinars on a weekly basis, often on DNA as a subject. Anyone can register for and view current programs. The site has a tab for “Upcoming Webinars” where you can keep an eye out for DNA related programs and register to view. These webinars are open to the public on the day of the broadcast and remain open for about a week or 10 days. Membership is very reasonable and allows full access to their entire 600+ webinars on a broad spectrum of subjects beyond DNA.

There is a great deal more to the subject such as the concept of “Haplogroups,” genetic distances, chromosome browsers and so on. But this should be enough to digest for now.

I hope this helps without confusing the issue.

A “Found” Patriot

Heritage. As a youngster, I always wondered of the heritage that resulted in me.  The culture at home was a simple one when it came down to family stories and history. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you!” Well, I guess I won’t ask THAT question again!

What follows are a few descriptions of discoveries I’ve made since I began my genealogical journey.

My father, Henry Dunn Robison (Find A Grave Memorial# 33567770), went into the Navy exactly 3 weeks after Pearl Harbor at the “insistence” of his maternal grandmother, Gilma Cecilia Robertson Dunn. She went so far as to have his birth record destroyed (there’s no record of his birth to this day!), falsify his age and ship him off at age 15!

My father and the previous 4 generations had lived in Alabama and Tennessee. As I discovered years later, my 4th great grandfather, Hezekiah Robertson/Robinson/Robison/Robrson (Find A Grave Memorial# 7048152), was a veteran or the War of 1812 having served with the East Tennessee Volunteers then settled in Limestone County, Alabama. There were a few Confederate ancestors who served in the “War of Northern  Aggression.” One of my 2nd great grandfathers died at the Rock Island Confederate POW camp in Rock Island, Illinois (Find A Grave Memorial# 5092694). During World War II,  while Henry was in the Caribbean, his mother divorced her husband and moved to Massachusetts.  As far as I can tell, this was the reason they wanted Henry out of the way. The short version here is the “Granny” lived with us in Springfield for a while until she entered a nursing home in the mid-60s where she died in 1970.

I never knew my paternal my grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison (Find A Grave Memorial# 5092687), who remained and remarried in Alabama. I was only marginally aware of the fact that I even had a grandfather.  My father would make a 5- or 10-minute call “down south” around Christmas-time every year. I never saw “Papa Lee” nor did I ever speak with him. He died in 1964.  My first view of him was his obituary on the front page of the Anniston (Alabama) Star. While I shouldn’t have been surprised, he looked exactly like my father and it was a little unsettling.

My maternal grandfather, Clement Alexis Dickson (Find A Grave Memorial# 11132523), died when I was about 3 years old but my maternal grandmother lived until 1962. Of all of my grandparents, she’s the only one with whom I had ever had any semblance of a conversation.

The upshot is that my father didn’t care to talk about his side of the dysfunctional Robison family and my mother thought it best to hold the same line with regard to her side.

Now, enter the genealogist! I wouldn’t say that I was desperately seeking anything necessarily. But the lack of information led me to feel that we were all dropped off on earth by an alien spaceship back in the early 50s! Then, as I began researching for details, I was able to interview some of the prior generations of relatives: 3 aunts, 1 great-grandaunt and a couple of second cousins. If I only knew then what I know now!

In 2001, I got the bug to join a lineage society. If successful, that would “install” a heritage that was there all along but of which I was totally unaware. Maternal family lore stated that we descended from Pilgrims. Okay, but who, what, where, why, and when? There was a box of spoons that were allegedly made from the silver buckles of their shoes. Spoiler: hardly any pilgrims had silver buckles on their shoes! More on that some other time.

Paternal lore stated, well, nothing! But after a comparatively short period of time, I began to suspect that there was some validity to the Pilgrim story, underscore “some.” At the same time, I uncovered real evidence that my paternal lines stretched back to at least the War of 1812, as I mentioned earlier, and possibly the Revolutionary War.

So, here we go! Let’s join the Sons of the American Revolution. I downloaded an application and worked on it sporadically for about 15 years. Yes, not 5 or 10, but for 15 years, the application languished in my desk. In my defense, I was certainly busy with dozens of projects, nearly all of which involved genealogy. Then, in 2016, I was a co-chair for NERGC, a relatively large genealogy conference to be held in Springfield, Massachusetts in the spring of 2017. We normally brought in 2 featured speakers along with several dozen others. It was  my intent to solicit Kenyatta Berry, one of the very personable hosts of the PBS program “Genealogy Road Show.” It was to be filmed in Providence, Rhode Island. So off I went to Providence, Rhode Island. Short version, Kenyatta Berry became the third and very welcomed featured speaker. Score 1 for Dave.

In the meantime, many of my fellow genealogists were at the filming representing various clubs and societies in the vendor area of the venue. A friend of mine introduced me to the Registrar for a chapter of the DAR. I told her my story of profound procrastination with my SAR application. She eagerly said, “I can help!” OK, that’s great but I can’t join the DAR, I would qualify! She asked if I had a daughter which I most certainly do. As a result, my daughter is now a member of the Lexington Chapter of the DAR. For my purposes, I merely had to finish my SAR application, exclude my daughter’s generation and I could qualify.

But here, finally, is the most interesting part of the story: I have identified at least 24 ancestors who are age-appropriate to have served in the War, all would have been between their late teens to their early 40s. The specific ancestor we picked was a Patriot who had only most recently been identified as such. Timothy Blodgett’s (Find A Grave Memorial# 74484986) story involves mostly obscurity. He was a family man who, with his wife ran a small farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts while raising a small brood of 14 children. He was born in 1740 in Lexington, Massachusetts and was involved in the first battle of the War. The Lexington engagement occurred on 19 April 1775 then shortly thereafter came the battle at Concord. My ancestor was one of the registered Minute Men under Captain Charles Parker who confronted the British at Lexington, his hometown.

The singular reason that he was finally identified as a Patriot is that he lost his musket during the battle and petitioned for compensation at the Lexington Town Hall the following morning. The record of that petition was only discovered in 2012.

From www.wickedlocal.com:

     “Bill Poole, executive officer with the Minute Men, said he discovered Blodgett when he was researching local militia in the archives of Capt. Parker’s Company in Lexington. Blodgett had  moved to Shutesbury the year after the fateful morning on April 19, 1775 and his name was    never included on the official “muster roll.”

     But Poole said he found several documents confirming Blodgett’s post, noting he even           applied for a reimbursement from then selectmen for a firearm he lost on the Battle Green.     The young militia man lost the musket when he attempted to jump over a fence to while           fleeing from the Regulars, Poole said.”1

Here is the photo from the article clearly showing the addition of Timothy Blodgett’s name to the bottom of the second column:

Timothy Blodgett added to the Memorial at Lexington Green. Photo: http://bit.ly/Blodgett_Lexington

The proof of my ancestor came fairly easy as I already had nearly every document necessary. We used the documentation first for my daughter’s DAR application, then for my own SAR application. Success with both apps!

But wait! There’s more! In early 2016, I was giving a presentation on genealogy to the East Longmeadow (Massachusetts) Historical Society. It was a basic introduction to family research that was scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm. Apparently, the members of the East Longmeadow Historical Society are in the habit of showing up just a little late for their meetings. So at 6:58, I was “concerned” but not showing it. Then in walked our first guest. A delicate woman, a senior citizen, who I greeted with a smile. Her name is Ruth Washburn, my first guest that night. I smiled because I had at least one person for the audience. She said, “I’m so glad I could make it. I usually don’t drive at night.” I offered her a ride home as I was sure there would be someone there she knew but she turned me down, flat! As I walked her to the front of the room, I sat her in a seat that was directly in front of where I would be speaking. When I mentioned the SAR, I also mentioned that my Patriot Ancestor was Timothy Blodgett. At that moment Ruth gasped and covered her mouth. Naturally, I suspected that something was wrong. I stopped and asked if she was OK. With a tear in her eye (really…she teared up!) she said that she, too, was a descendant of Timothy Blodgett.

As it turns out, Ruth Muriel Blodgett Fisher Washburn is a very energetic 91-year-old cousin who, in her own right, is a well-established family historian.  She’s pictured here in front of the window that was in one of her cousin’s family’s home. When her cousin asked if there was anything in the house she would want, she said she’d love to have the window from her bedroom but knew it was impossible. She had spent a great deal of time at this house during the summers of her youth and remembered the happiness that the sunlight brought her when it came streaming through the multicolored window. The window is a real piece of art!

Ruth Muriel Blodgett Fisher Washburn

I’ve spent time with Ruth to hear her stories and learn more about the Blodgett line. She has an extensive database which she has been more than willing to share with me.  But more important to me than a database, she has extensive personal knowledge and a clear, sharp memory.

Now, if I ever have the time, I just might prove more Patriot ancestors from both my maternal and my paternal side.

And one more thing, I’ve found 4 direct Mayflower ancestors. All I need to do is prove those lines and I’ll have a unique way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Mayflower landing in 2020.

  1. “Lexington Minute Men add new name to monument,” website, (http://bit.ly/Blodgett_Lexington : accessed 18 July 2016).

NERGC? What’s a NERGC?

Using the Tools of Today & Tomorrow to Understand the Past

“Using the Tools of Today & Tomorrow to Understand the Past”

The New England Regional Genealogical Consortium produces a conference every other year. Each NERGC conference is held in a city somewhere in New England. Past conferences have been in Hartford, Connecticut, Manchester, New Hampshire, Providence, Rhode Island, and this year, Springfield, Massachusetts. The event will kick off on 26 April 2017 with a specialty day devoted to Librarians, Professionals, Genealogical Society Management and Technology. During the following three days, you’ll have a chance to hear and learn from 70 genealogists of every level and in every aspect of genealogy and genealogical research. NERGC organizers have devoted quite a bit of time and space to DNA, a “hot topic” in today’s genealogy world.

The MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield is the venue. Hotel accommodations are available within a block. Other than presentations, this year’s conference includes several workshops, banquets and a “private” tour of the archives at the Museum of Springfield History.

Our opening speaker is Mary Tedesco, a co-host of the PBS program, Genealogy Road Show. Speaking several times during the conference are 3 featured speakers, Thomas MacEntee, Warren Bittner and a third, another co-host of Genealogy Road Show, Kenyatta D Berry.

NERGC is supported by 23 genealogical from societies around New England, all of whom will be represented at the event. Volunteers from each will be busy making sure your experience is optimal. Stop and visit each of them in the Exhibit Hall and perhaps you can meet with a society near where you live.

Also in the Exhibit Hall, you’ll see a wide variety of vendors of genealogy products: Books, CD’s, old maps, clothing, and other genealogy-oriented products. Scheduled are genealogy companies such as Ancestry.com, Evidentia Software, FindMyPast and Geni.com to name a few.NERGC is worth a look! If you can’t make Springfield this year, the 2019 conference is scheduled for a return trip to Manchester, New Hampshire.