Tag Archives: ancestry.com

Finding cousins through social media

Ancestry.com has published a helpful video series outlining how to use the power of social media to find cousins.

Just like Ancestry.com says: Social media is not just for cat videos and boring vacation photos. Many family historians post what they know about their ancestors in hopes of finding a long lost cousin or two.

With this in mind, the video explores what you might find on Facebook and Twitter as well as some places you might not have thought of like email lists and message boards.

While the video is Ancestry.com focussed, you can use the same approaches for any genealogy service provider.

You can catch the video via the link below:

Cousin Bait: Make Social Media Work for You

https://www.ancestry.com/academy/course/social-media

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A suggestion for how Ancestry.com could vastly improve its “List of All People” search function

Spoiler  alert: This post will be marginally in the realms of the genealogy anorak. Or to Americans, the realm of the genealogy nerd/geek. I know, I know, there’s already the patina of geekiness associated with genealogy already. How could things possibly get more geeky? Well..  😉

I’m hoping Ancestry.com developers will read this and take much of what I’m going to cover on board for future development of the service.

I’ve spent the past 3 weeks working my way through the All Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014 records database on Ancestry.com.  When you have a family tree the size of mine – nearly 30,000 people – applying the information contained in a death certificate to the correct person isn’t always straightforward or easy on Ancestry. For me, this has to do with numerous people born around the same time in the same county or state bearing the same name.

Rather than just whinge, I think I’ve come up with a pretty straightforward ‘fix’ Ancestry.com could implement.

I’ll elaborate.

For those of you with family trees on Ancestry.com, the image below will be familiar to you. It’s the list of all people area on Ancestry.com.

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This is the landing page area of the ‘List of Individuals’ for my main family tree

This is the area of Ancestry that could definitely, absolutely and positively benefit from some additional programming. Specifically, the search  functionality. For those of us with very large family trees, additional filtering options would greatly aide our efforts in finding specific individuals in large family trees – or at least filtering out a larger number of individuals.

For example, look at what happens when I try to find William Roane using the existing search function in this part of Ancestry.com:

150 William Roanes is a LOT of people to try to assess for relevance for a specific record you are trying to attach to a specific individual.

150 William Roanes is a LOT of people to try to assess for relevance for a specific record you are trying to attach to a specific individual.

150 William Roanes! Depending on why I’m looking for a specific individual, a list like this can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to go through to (hopefully!) find the specific William Roane I’m looking for. While knowing and using middle names can cut this list down dramatically, I can still end up with quite a number of individuals to sort through while looking for a specific ancestor or relation. Using the list above, if I searched for William Henry Roane, I would still have around 15 individuals. If that doesn’t work, then it’s ‘Plan B’ time and I can do a search for all William H Roanes – which can bump the number of individuals up to 25 or so.

Yes, you can scan these results and use dates of birth and counties  of birth and death as a guide – but these aren’t always helpful. Actually, the death records I’m pouring through provide this information, which is missing from a number of individuals in my tree. Lol not that this is always helpful as death record informants can provide misinformation.

And yes, one can always use a middle name or initial to further filter results. However, if middle names and/or initials aren’t known or already given, you’re limited to using just a first and last name. Again, the death records I’m looking at are providing even this fundamental bit of information.

What I’m suggesting is a far more finessed search function as shown below:

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Image for illustrative purposes.

In trying to apply information gained from marriage and death records, I’d like to be able to search using a number of filter data:

  • Names of parents: for this. I’d probably use the father’s full name (if known) and the mother’s first name. I’m finding that a significant number of women in my tree remarried or were married before they married one of my ancestors or relations.
  • Name(s) of spouse(s)
  • Birth year (with +/- number of years option)
  • Place of residence (this would pull individuals based on their birth place, place(s) of residency, place of death and burial location for any individual in your tree)

Sticking with my William Henry Roane example, I have a scenario that still presents some researching issues. A staggering number of William Roanes married Elizabeths – or women with common derivations of the name Elizabeth: Bessie, Betty/Bettie, Lizzie, Liz, Liza, Eliza, Lettie/Letty, etc.

Now, if I could filter a search to look for A William Roane born around 1850 and was born in and/or lived in  King and Queen County, Virginia with Jack Roane as a father and Mary as a mother and Lizzie for a spouse…I’d have a list of 5 men to look at. By the way, that took me around an hour-and-a-half to work that one out using the current search functionality. Five people is a far easier number of people to investigate than, say, 25.

Remember, this search function would only search for individuals who are already in your tree.

There is another use for this more finessed search functionality, especially in my research for African American ancestors and relations who were enslaved and separated through that system.

There are certain families my African American relations seemed to prefer marrying into than others.  I’d like to search my tree to see how many Roanes in Virginia married people from the Quarles family. Filtering on this kind of criteria would better enable me to assess family relationships within the various broken Roane family lines. For those ancestors who were enslaved, it could help pinpoint slave owners.

At the moment, this kind of analysis is difficult, given the size of my tree. I know the information is locked away within the details of thousands if individuals. Being able to do a very filtered search would make such an analysis and investigation far, far simpler. And quicker.

One of the reasons why my tree is so huge is my attempt at bringing together what 300+ years of slavery tore apart. And what 300+ years of living in the margins of society as free people of colour also wrought. I am re-connecting lost and forgotten genealogies stretching back to the mid 1600s. I do so in the hopes that other African Americans can benefit from my research, find their place in the family tree that I’ve built over the years – and understand who they come from, who they are related to, and re-connect with lost and forgotten lines of the family.

Or, as I put it in another post, giving slavery and the marginalization of people of colour the finger.

So Ancestry.com developers, I hope you can take these pointers on board. And if there’s a job at Ancestry.com going…I have all kinds of UX (user experience) ideas  😉

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AncestryDNA: So what does it take to get a DNA Circle?

So I’ve previously shared my frustrations with the whole Ancestry.com DNA Circles thing. Namely, the fact that I have a distinct lack of what AncestryDNA refers to as DNA Circles.

For those of you not in the know, DNA Circles on Ancestry.Coms DNA testing service purportedly go beyond finding a common ancestor with your DNA matches. These circles are meant to link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor…thus creating a Circle of people who are all related. Nice and simple, isn’t it? :O)

Given the size of my tree and known DNA matches for my family lines such as Sheffey, Roane, Harling and Josey –  I shared my frustration about the fact that I didn’t have a single DNA Circle on Anctery.com.  I felt (and still do) that this was a legitimate gripe…and a gripe shared by many using the service, especially those with African American lineages.

Two months ago two names suddenly appeared on my AncestyDNA landing page. Now, the sting in the tail was these two names appeared as “New Ancestry Discoveries” and not as DNA Circles. And, of course, neither name was familiar to me. Then, just as suddenly as these two names appeared, they disappeared just as quickly.

So you can imagine my surprise when these two individuals appeared once more today.

ancestrydna01

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I have no Medders or Altmans on my family tree. So, in order to determine how these two people could conceivably relate to me, I had to do some digging.  And this is what I discovered:

I clicked on the link for John Smith Medders.

ancestrydna02

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I then clicked on “See Your Connection” in the right column…for obvious reasons. And got this:

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This left me none the wiser about who John Medders was or how we might be related. So I clicked on the “Relationship” link, hoping this might shed some light.

What this gave me was a list of Ancestry.com members I shared varying degrees of DNA with:

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Well, one thing became quickly apparent: I was definitely in the realm of the Medder family. Each and every individual was a member of various Medders family groups on Ancestry.

The second thing that quickly became apparent was that I had a solid DNA match with two individuals – the same two individuals that are shown in the third image in this post.

In order to “see what I could see’, I selected the “View Relationship” for both individuals. And that’s when things quickly clicked. I’m only going to show one of the relationships to illustrate the discovery.

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The surnames of Flowers, Gregory and Moore are exceedingly popular surnames in America. However, taken collectively, and with roots in Pennsylvania, and then the Carolinas, I knew exactly what family in my own tree these names related to: the Harlan / Harling family. Yep, another Quaker family connection via the Quaker Harlan family.  The Harlan / Harling family had married Flowers, Gregory and Moore for nearly three centuries: first in England and then northern Ireland. And continuing such marriages in Pennsylvania and then in the Carolinas.

In this instance, Hannah Flowers b. 1722 (a cousin many times removed), married a Joseph Ashton. Their daughter, Hannah Ashton, married William Thomas.  Hannah and William’s son, William Jr, married Celia Alice Gregory (yet another Quaker cousin through the Harlans). The Meddars family shown for my two DNA connections above are descendants of William Thomas, Jr and Celia Alice Gregory.

So, at the very least, I am a distant cousin to at least John Smith Medders.  I may yet be a cousin of Mary Ann Altman. At the moment, I haven’t come across any familiar family names in the family trees I’ve seen for her.

So, while these two DNA matches don’t have a single Harlan or Harling in their tree (yet!), I get the connection.

I don’t get the lack of DNA Circles though.  Of which I still don’t have a single one. Go figure.

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So…I’ve discovered a glitch with Ancesty.com’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. Anyone else experiencing this?

I’ve stumbled across an interesting issue with Ancestry.com’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. It has to do with family lines where multiple generations of people married cousins. I’m wondering if anyone else is experiencing this.

This issue arises with my Harling-Harlan-Harland ancestors. Due to religious reasons (which I’ll get into in my next post), this family has a history of generation after generation of family members marrying 2nd and 3rd cousins stretching back to the early 1600s.

This family tree is so labyrinthine, so inter-connected within its branches, that even I struggle to comprehend the degree to which some of these cousin couples (as I call them) are related to me…forget how they’re related to each other. In many cases, some of these cousin-couples are related three, four and five times over. In other words, their parents, both sets of grand-parents and most of their great-grandparents were also cousins from the different branches of this enormous family.

So if I’m struggling, I can’t really blame Ancestry for struggling.

Here’s a classic example of the problem I’m having with this Ancestry.com feature.

image illustrating How Ancestry.com interprets Lewis Harlan's relationship to me.

How Ancestry.com interprets Lewis Harlan’s relationship to me. click for larger image.

Ancestry’s answer to how Lewis and I are related is quite the mouthful. Basically, boiled down, it’s Ancestry’s way of saying we’re related through marriage. Which is true. However, Lewis is most definitely my cousin by blood. His great-grandfather, Michael Harlan, Sr., and my 9x great grandfather, George Harlan, were brothers, as you can see below.

James Harland

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So, Lewis Harlan really  is my cousin.

Now the logical question to ask is where this family relationship glitch goes wrong. Turns out that it goes wrong straight away. Ancestry.com should show Michael Harlan, Sr to be my grand uncle. That is what he is, after all. Nope, not a bit of it according to Ancestry.com. This is how the service describes my relationship to him:

michael harlan

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What’s going on, then? Maybe it has something to do with the intertwining of all of James Harlan’s (my 10x great grandfather) lines. Trying to work backwards as I add subsequent generations of their descendants, it’s as though Ancestry.com is saying: “Sorry, mate, too complicated for me. Good luck sorting this out!”

My suggestion to Ancestry, for whatever it’s worth, is that it should tweak the algorithm behind this relationship feature so that the most direct familial relationship over-rides all others. In other words, forget all of the other ways I’m connected to  Michael Harlan, Sr and just go with ‘grand uncle’. In other words, ignore that he is also my cousin.

I make this suggestion for a reason. It has a knock-on effect on AncestryDNA results. I have  matches with a number of James Harlan’s descendants on AncestryDNA. However, because they are not showing as actual cousins on Ancestry.com, AncestryDNA doesn’t provide any match hints. Nor does it shows how we’re actually related. So there’s no chance of connecting through AncestryDNA’s ‘Circle’ feature. This is probably due to Ancestry interpreting that we’re only connected through marriage and not through blood. Which kind of defeats the purpose of spending months of intensive research on this family – and adding generations of descendants to my family tree.

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Top tip video: Using FTDNA Chromosome Browser raw data + MS Excel for your rearch

So you’ve transferred your raw autosomal DNA data from Ancestry or 23andme to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). So now what?

Downloading FTDNA’s Chromosome Browser raw data and working with it in MS Excel (or another spreadsheet software) can lead to some amazing discoveries. I was so excited about what I discovered that I had to share this top trick.

This video will step you through the process that I’ve developed for my own genetic genealogy research. Step by step.

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The problem with sub-Saharan Africa and DNA analysis tools

This is the first post in a series that covers issues I’ve experienced with reporting of sub-Saharan African results in DNA analysis. This series of posts will have a particular emphasis on DNA testing for African Americans. Over the next series of posts, I’ll be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of DNA admixture analysis tools – with tips for things to look out for.

I recently had the opportunity to upload my Ancestry.com DNA results to Gedmatch.com. And what a revelatory experience Gedmatch.com has been. To be honest, this DNA analysis service is proving fascinaing. There is just so much to explore and comprehend. I have been doing a LOT of research in order to get my head around all of the information Gedmatch has provided.

My experience with Gedmatch has better enabled me to finely tune a quibble I’ve had with my Ancestry.com results. Don’t get me wrong, Ancestry’s DNA test has done exactly what I wanted it to – put me in touch with distant (and not so distant) relations from my various family lines. It’s allowed me to find my 4x great Sheffey grandfather. And it put me on the right track towards identifying my 4 x Roane great-grandfather.

My niggle with Ancestry’s results has to do with my admixtures and the countries it genetically tied me to. These results were always going to be general in nature. Ancestry.com states as much. The quibble I had has to do with Africa. And my recent experience with Gedmatch has allowed me to better understand the nature of my quibble.

DNA test results are based on data sets. These data sets are compiled by DNA test result databases. A database can only be as precise as the data that’s put into it. In this case, precision DNA results rely on large numbers of a population 1) having a DNA test and 2) those results being added to a data set which is imported into a database. For instance, a data set with 200,000 DNA results from the Baltic region of Eastern Europe will provide more precise insights than a data set of 50,000 individuals from the same region. It also depends on how each individual is classified and sub-classified (i.e. Bulgarian, Caucasian Bulgarian, Central Asian Bulgarian, Altaic Bulgarian, etc).

This brings me to my quibble about Africa. The way African DNA test results are classified, you would thing Africa was one large country populated by a homogenous people. This simply is not the case. The continental African population is arguably one of the most heterogenous populations. The admixture analysis tools and reports I’ve used on Ancestry.com and Gedmatch simply don’t reflect this diversity of African peoples.

For instance, I know that the central African pygmy populations have contributed roughly 2% to my genetic makeup. This comes from my mother’s mtDNA as well as through my paternal grandmother’s DNA as evidenced by my Genebase Y-DNA and mtDNA tests as well as my father’s mtDNA test.

Now where things get tricky is what’s classed as ‘Sub-Saharan Africa.

image of the map of African
Ancestry.com, along with a number of Gedmatch’s DNA analysis tools, takes the literal approach: all countries below the Sahara desert. Genebase, on the other hand, does not. Genebase, for instance, has categorized the territory from Western Sahara to Niger and south to Nigeria as Northwestern Africa. On its service you will also find North Central Africa, West Africa, Eastern Africa, Central Africa and so on and so forth. These sub-classifications of Sub-Saharan regions (and its peoples) allows for far more accurate interpretation for DNA analysis purposes. It’s also much more meaningful.

Based on this classification, my 18% African result is primarily spread across: Northwest (4%), Western (2%), Northern (5%), North Central (3%) and Eastern (4%) Africa. This is more meaningful that either a report that simply says 18% African or 12% sub-Saharan African, specifically.

For someone who is developing a travel-adventure series based on his DNA results, I’m a stickler for DNA reporting accuracy.

Gedcom & the MDLP DNA analysis tool

So first up is the MDLP DNA analysis tool which can be found on Gedmatch.

MDLP is a bio-geographical analysis project for the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania should have been my first clue. It was only after I saw the first set of results that I discovered that MDLP was designed for individuals with European and some Eurasian ancestry (mostly Finno-Uralic and Altaic). This tool is not recommended for inferring African-American, East-Asian etc. ancestry.

You’ll see why this tool wouldn’t be particularly useful to peoples of a largely African or East Asian ancestry:

MDLP World-22 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-World-22-results

Population  
Pygmy 2.63%
West-Asian 3.99%
North-European-Mesolithic 0.53%
Indo-Tibetan
Mesoamerican
Arctic-Amerind
South-America_Amerind 0.09%
Indian 1.86%
North-Siberean 0.31%
Atlantic_Mediterranean_Neolithic 13.71%
Samoedic
Indo-Iranian 1.61%
East-Siberean
North-East-European 12.89%
South-African 0.78%
North-Amerind 1.38%
Sub-Saharian 54.86%
East-South-Asian
Near_East 5.30%
Melanesian 0.08%
Paleo-Siberian
Austronesian

The sub-Saharan results were all out of proportion to what I already knew. Which made me go back to do some more research on this particular analysis. That’s when I found it was created to actually analyze European and Eurasian admixtures. Basically, this tool takes quite a literal and generous view of what’s meant by sub-Saharan.

However, where this tool has been interesting, for me, is in analyzing exactly what it was meant to – my European and Eurasian admixtures.

Variations of this test can be found below. Each has a different emphasis. I’m still researching what the emphasis of each actually is. There isn’t much information available. My DNA contact is off doing his research about this series of tools. The basic clue is in the name: “proportions”. However, I’m in the dark about what’s being proportionally measured – or why results for each geographical region can differ so staggeringly from one sub-test to another

If anyone out there actually understands what aspects of a person’s admixtures these analysis, feel free to post in the comment section below.

MDLP World Admixture Proportions

MDLP-World-Admixture

Population
Caucaus_Parsia 5.26%
Middle_East 5.45%
Indian 2.04%
South_and_West_European 17.20%
Melanesian 0.07%
Sub_Saharian 49.22%
North_and_East_European 11.00%
Arctic_Amerind 0.74%
East_Asian
Paleo_African 8.48%
Mesoamerican 0.56%
North_Asian

 

MDLP K=5 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=5-Admixture

Population
East-Eurasian 24.68%
West_Eurasian 4.08%
Caucasian 32.99%
South-Asian 12.02%
Paleo_Mediterranean 26.24%

 

MDLP K=6 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=6-Admixture

Population
South_Asian 11.92%
Caucasian 32.59%
North_West_Eurasian 4.29%
West_Eurasian 1.85%
Paleo_Mediterranean 26.01%
East_Euroasian 23.34%

 

MDLP K=7 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=7-Admixture

Population
Volga_Uralic 3.78%
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.80%
Altaic_Turkic 22.87%
South_Central_Asian 11.78%
Caucasian 32.27%
Paleo_Scandinavian 1.97%
West_Eurasian 1.54%

 

 MDLP K=8 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=8-Admixture

Population
Altaic_Turkic 22.81%
Paleo_Scandinavian 1.38%
South_Central_Asian 11.65%
East_European
West_European 10.73%
Caucasian 25.41%
Paleo_Mediterranean 24.75%
Volga_Finnic 3.27%

My question with the above results is: Where has the Eastern European from the other results gone? It disappears from this point onwards.

MDLP K=9 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=9-Admixture-Proportions

Population
Paleo_Balkanic 0.39%
Caucasian 25.06%
East_European
Volga_Finnic 3.32%
South_Central_Asian 11.62%
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.54%
Altaic_Turkic 22.72%
West_European 9.97%
Paleo_Scandinavian 1.38%

 

MDLP K=10 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=10-Admixture-Proportions

Population
Altaic_Turkic 22.62%
South_Central_Asian 11.56%
Paleo_North_European 1.28%
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.44%
Iberian 5.23%
Caucasian 23.00%
East_European
Paleo_Balkanic 0.40%
British 7.42%
Volga_Finnic 3.05%

 

MDLP K=11 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=11-Admixture-Proportions

Population
Paleo_Balkanic 0.39%
Celto_Germanic 7.37%
Caucasian 22.80%
Volga_Uralic 1.22%
Iberian 5.04%
Altaic_Turkic 22.56%
Paleo_North_European 1.27%
South_Central_Asian 11.47%
East_European
Uralic_Permic 2.55%
Mediterranean 25.34%

 

 MDLP K=12 Admixture Proportions

MDLP-K=12-Admixture-Proportions

Population
East_European
Paleo_Mediterranean 25.19%
Iberian 5.08%
Caucasian 22.52%
Uralic_Permic 2.63%
Balto_Finnic 1.21%
Paleo_Balkanic 0.37%
Celto_Germanic 7.23%
Paleo_North_European 0.25%
South_Central_Asian 11.48%
Volga_Uralic 1.27%
Altaic_Turkic 22.77%

So, while not particularly insightful for my African DNA associations, it has been very insightful for others. The Paleo Mediterranean results are largely in line with my Genebase results and incorporate my results associated with Sicily, Smyrna (Greece), and what we would think of as the Phoenicians (Malta, Cyprus and present day Lebanon).

The other Paleo findings are new. So I’m definitely looking to finding out more about them.

I remain absolutely fascinated by my Altaic and Caucasus results…a probable legacy from the ancient Silk Road trade route.

If you’re African American and your Ancestry.com or 23andme results are showing European and/or Eurasian results, this DNA analysis tool is worth investigating.

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George Henry Roane: Ancestry.com DNA test throws me a curve ball

While Ancestry.com’s DNA test answered a fundamental question about which second generation German-American Sheffey was the father of my Sheffey family line…it threw me one heck of a curve ball regarding the Roane side of the family tree.

The Usual Suspects: The English Descended Roanes in Virginia

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how my  enslaved 3 x paternal great-grandfather George Henry Roane was acknowledged as a member of the Virginian Roane’s ‘colored family’. Ah yes, that family bible that I’m still trying to contact the current owner about!  Well, I have had a few English-descended Roanes in the frame (I’ll call them the English Roanes). For various reasons too long to go into, I focused my attention on  the English-descended Roanes associated with King & Queen, Essex and Westmoreland Counties in Virginia.

This shortlist of paternal candidates was based on simple math: the men’s year of birth along with when he would have realistically produced children.

Building A Paternity Shortlist for George Henry Roane

George Henry Roane was born around 1800. I narrowed the list of potential Roane fathers down to a handful of English Roanes born between 1750 to 1780. The thinking behind this was George’s father’s age would have ranged from 50 at the top end of the viable paternity scale to around 20 years of age at the younger age range. It was – and I think it still is – a good, solid, ball-park estimate for an age range. Thankfully, it narrowed the list of possible candidates quite successfully. The English descended Roanes were a, how can I say it, prolific family. So I needed a means to whittle the candidates list down. I had a list of 8 men. I had researched their respective descendants and I was completely familiar with the surnames associated with each of their lines. There were some names each line shared in common. Thankfully, this was the exception rather than the rule.

The method above was how I learned the name of the Sheffey who sired my ancestral line. The name Susong was the breakthrough moment – a name that is associated with only one Sheffey line. I was hoping that one unusual name would pop out at me when looking at these Roane cousin DNA matches.

Ancestry’s DNA Test & Cousin Matches

Ancestry’s DNA test gave me two cousin match hits on the Roane name, specifically. The two individuals were ranked as 5th – 8th cousins. Yes, yes, I hear you shouting from the gallery like Staedler & Waldorf from the Muppets: What the heck does that mean?

A 5th cousin and I would share two 4x great grandparents. In other words, we would share George’s father in common.

A 6th cousin takes it back one generation. We would share a pair of 5 x great grandparents..and so on and so forth. Each level of cousin takes the identity of a shared ancestor back one further generation.

The Curveball

So I was pretty happy to see a likely match on a 5th cousin, give or take a generation or two. What I didn’t expect was the name of the Roane ancestor the match was returned for: The Honorable Archibald Roane. Yes, that one – the second Governor of Tennessee.  Archibald, the uncle of Arkansas governor, John Seldon Roane. The one who comes from a Scotts-Irish Roane family line.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Archibald Roane was George’s father. All I can say, at this point, is that I share a DNA connection with Archibald and his descendants. One of Archibald’s cousins could also easily be the father of George.

Now dear old Archibald’s side of the Roane family presents some formidable challenges. I have never researched their lineage – either their ancestors or their descendants. All of my efforts in researching the Roane family has been focused on the English Roane lineage. Family anecdotes strongly suggested it was the English Roanes who held the answers to our Roane paternity. That’s the sole Roane line I’ve ever focused on. In doing so, I completely ignored the Scotts-Irish Roanes.

I’ve previously written about what a mess most of the English Roane family trees  are…and my herculean efforts to get my own English Roane family tree absolutely correct and accurate.

I’m faced once again with the same herculean task. The family trees for Archibald’s Roane ancestry are just as incorrect as those for Charles Roane.

Getting Things Straight With These Two Different Roane Lineages

To kick things off, most Roane family researchers – and their family trees illustrate this – insist that Archibald Roane is a descendant of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. He is not. Archibald descends from a Scottish-Irish family of Roanes, who may or may not be related to the English Roane family.

Let me start with the basics. Have a look at the basic family lines I’ve given in the image below:

image of An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

 So time to debunk some myths:

  • There is a myth that Robert Roane (Charles Roane’s father) was the father of Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr. Robert was dead for a few years before Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr was born.
  • Archibald Roane, Jr was not the son of Charles Roane. Charles had been dead for decades before Archibald, Jr was born.
  • Neither Andrew Roane (Archibald, Jr’s father) nor Andrew’s brother William (the father of Spencer Roane), were the sons of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. The marriage records for both William and Andrew clearly indicate that their parents were Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr and his wife, Jeannet.

All I can say about Charles Roane and Archibald Gilbert Roane, with any certainty, is:

  • Both men bore the same surname;
  • Both men used a similar Roane family crest;
  • Both men were alive at the same time for a period of almost two decades; and
  • They were both resident in the UK before arriving in the American colonies – although they resided in two completely different parts of the United Kingdom before they did so.

Now the Scots-Irish Roanes and the English Roanes very well may have a shared ancestor somewhere in the mist of medieval English history. The English Roane’s ancestral heartlands appear to be Yorkshire and Northumberland – two quite northerly parts of England. In other words, spitting distance from the Scottish borderlands. It’s not unfathomable that one branch of the family went south (to London and Surrey) while another went north to Scotland, and then on to Ireland.

So The Research on Archibald Roane Begins…

So the joys of researching Archibald Roane’s line has now begun. This means researching every single descendant line stemming from Archibald Gilbert Roane. It’s the only way I can discover the unique surname matches within one specific descendant line that will indicate who, exactly, the shared common ancestor is between me and the Scots-Irish side of the family. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack – but the payoff is always worth it. I like to think of it as CSI Genealogy. It just takes a lot of diligence, time and patience.

I am ignoring all family trees in the process. I’ve learned from painful experience when it comes to researching the Roanes. This time, I’m tracing the family lines solely through the official records.

While I’m on the topic of his descendants, it’s worth noting that the celebrated Virginian judge, Spencer Roane, belongs to the Scots-Irish Roane family…and not the English descended Roane family. Spencer and Archibald were first cousins.

I get the confusion between the English Roanes and the Scots-Irish Roanes. It doesn’t help that some of the Scots-Irish Roanes not only settled in Virginia – they settled in the same counties as the English Roanes. Essex County is a primary example.

So…while I don’t have a definitive name for the man who fathered my 3x great-grandfather George Henry Roane – I at least know I’m now looking within the right Roane lineage. I’m on the right path. Time, as they say, will indeed tell.

Yet again, I’m glad to say that a simple DNA test was worth every single penny.

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Ancestry.com DNA test answers one fundamental question

In my previous post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/using-the-right-dna-testing-tool-to-answer-the-right-ancestry-question/ ) I cover the importance of being clear about what you want to achieve through DNA testing.

For me, I have persistent gaps in my genealogy. Ancestry.com’s DNA test is the second DNA I’ve taken. I did it in the hopes that it would help solve some of these persistent gaps in my family’s genealogy.

Well…my Ancestry.com DNA test results came in the other day! And to say it answered one fundamental question is a bit of an understatement. That question was whether or not my family were Sheffeys by blood or by close ties with their former slave masters. I am going to put my hand up and say that over the past three years I had my doubts that we were Sheffeys by blood. It wouldn’t change my outlook on being a Sheffey if we weren’t. It’s just a thing that would be nice to know.

Jemimah Sheffey, born around 1770 in Virginia, is my earliest discovered African-descended ancestor on the Sheffey side of the family. I knew she wasn’t a Sheffey by blood. It all came down to the identity of the father of her children. It’s still not 100% clear which German-descended Sheffey owned her. The German-American Sheffey family history in Virginia made it very easy to narrow down the possible candidate for the potential father of her children – born between 1800 and 1815 – if indeed any of them were. It could only be one of three second generation German-American Sheffey brothers: Daniel Henry Sheffey, Major Henry Lawrence Sheffey and John Sheffey.

image of Johann Adam Sheffey family group

Johann Adam Sheffey family group

Daniel Henry Sheffey seemed the most likely candidate at first. He was a slave-owner. And, after all, my 2 x great grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, was named for him by his father, Jacob Sheffey (Jemimah’s son). He was also a slave owner. Daniel was my strongest contender. His brother Henry, also a slave-owner, was just as viable a candidate. I always discounted Henry, however. I can’t explain it. For whatever reason, in my mind and in my gut, he was out of the frame.

Last up was their younger brother John. I always discounted John. While he’d been (and remains) difficult to track through digitized records, he never owned slaves. That much I did know. Other than that, I knew that John just up and left either Frederick, Maryland (the home of his) or Virginia (the home of his brothers) for Greene County, Tennessee. I can’t even tell you when, exactly, he left for TN. All I can say with any certainty is that he left MD or VA for TN sometime between 1820 and 1828, the year he married Margaret O. Thompson in Greene County, TN.

There was another problem with John…his date of birth. In innumerable family trees, his marriage certificate and on his tombstone, his year of birth is given as 1804. Jacob Sheffey, my 3xgreat-grandfather, was born in 1800. So you can see the problem. However, I always knew John’s attributed year of birth was incorrect.

imageof John Sheffey's resting place in Greene County, TN

I’d already found him in the 1790 census as a minor living with his parents and two of his sisters.

image of ohann Adam Sheffey household in Frederick, Maryland in 1790

Johann Adam Sheffey household in Frederick, Maryland in 1790

His father, Johann Adam Sheffey, died in 1793. His mother, Maria Magdalena Loehr Sheffey, would have been 65 years old in 1804. Basic math and the laws of time and biology makes the year of 1804 impossible as the year of his birth. Yep, another mystery on how that year became his ‘official’ year of birth!

I don’t know how close John was to his brothers. The deep, brotherly affection shared between Daniel and Henry is well-documented. The letters, public accounts and biographies I’ve read for both men never mention John. Never. Their three sisters – Catherina Sheffey Brengle, Elisabeth Sheffey Geyer and Mary Sheffey Guyton – also have easily discoverable profiles online. They were written about and their family histories and genealogies are covered in great detail. John? It’s as though he simply didn’t exist from the family’s perspective.

So, I always discounted John. Well, I shouldn’t have. As it turns out, he is my 4 x great-grandfather.

Ancestry.com breaks down your cousin matches by generation. As it turns out, I have 30 or so 4th to 6th cousins who have also taken the same DNA test. Out of that number, 18 or so have made their family trees publicly accessible. After the first dozen or so glimpses at these distantly-related cousins and their family trees, I came across a small group of people who had ancestors from the Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany. This is the same region where Johann Adam Sheffey (Scheffe) – the father of John, Henry and Daniel – left to come to America. However, I didn’t recognize any of the surnames in these cousins’ trees (I’ll have to work that out later!)

Nonetheless, I started to get excited. That specific region of Germany was indicating that there was indeed a blood-link to the German-American Sheffeys. However, I needed more proof to seal the deal.

That proof I needed came with cousin matches 23, 24 and 25. I saw the names Cochran, Susong and Thompson in these family trees. And there’s only one Sheffey lineage where those names appear: John Sheffey’s. These were his descendants. Indeed, among all of my many branches on both sides of my family, there is only one place where these names converge – in association with John.

The combination of factors that led to this discovery are mind-blowing to me. For one, it relied on John’s descendants joining Ancestry.com and building comprehensive family trees. Secondly, that they made those family trees public (too many people don’t!). Lastly, that a handful of these descendants went on to take the ancestry.com DNA test. The combination of these three random factors was so perfect that they easily could have never happened.

It was a jaw-hitting-the-floor moment.

It figures that my 4x great-grandfather would be the one son of Johann Adam Sheffey that I knew the least about. His public profile was on a different scale from his brothers. His life isn’t that well document. I also haven’t met many of his descendants online…although I hope that will change. I’d love to know more about his life. And hopefully answer the question of why he so abruptly departed for TN. Although I now have a pretty strong suspicion. 😉

Interestingly, James Frank Sheffey Sr, an African American Sheffey born in Virginia around 1840, was resident in District 1 of Greene County in 1880 with his family. A coincidence? Or did he know? Of all the counties in Tennessee, why Greene County? James stubbornly refuses to find his place in the Sheffey family tree. I can’t find his parents’ names for love nor money. It does raise the interesting prospect that my Sheffey ancestors had full knowledge of their Sheffey roots. Knowledge that somehow got lost over time.

I’d love to know if there are any images of John. The African-descended Sheffey men tend to all bear a remarkable similarity with one another. I mean it’s uncanny how much we look alike. No matter which branch of the family that descends from Jacob Sheffey…there is an instant recognition and we and our families end up saying the same thing: “Yep, you’re a Sheffey”. Will we see ourselves in John?

For now, I’m basking in the afterglow of discovery and confirmation. And I am SO grateful that the year’s I’ve spent researching the Scheffe family in Germany wasn’t for nowt!

 

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, ancestry, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Sheffey family, virginia

Clash of the titans: Ancestry.com vs FamilySearch.org. And the winner is…?

Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are both great online family history services. The main difference, of course, is that FamilySearch.org is free with (largely) free access to records (records from Fold3.com being the notable exception). Ancestry.com is a paid membership service – although it provides a good level of free access to information to get budding family historians and genealogists going.  There, I got that distinction between the two out of the way.

I’ve found another, and more subtle, difference between the two which I’m about to share. It all about performance. But one boring bit first before I get to that. Understanding this first bit will enable you to get the overall performance point I’m making about these two services.

The power and the value of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org aren’t solely based on the sheer volume of records each possesses. The same records and digitized archives can pretty much be found on both.

It’s the behind the scenes stuff that seems, in my regular experience of using both, to be the difference. What behind the scenes stuff? Algorithms and databases. The websites of both services are driven by databases – think of these as ginormous warehouses that contain all of the records and data you access when you do a search on either Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. The databases have to be exponentially huge to hold all of that data.

OK, so I know what an algorithm is. But I was finding it challenging to explain this in an engaging and meaningful way. You know, the kind of way that anyone would be able to understand. So I did my usual Google search to see if there was a far simpler explanation. Blimey, the one’s I read reminded me of every boring and dry math and statistics class I ever took. So I’m going to simplify things and boil it all down to its essence. Purists, forgive me! Calling an algorithm ‘computer code’ or thinking of an algorithm as just ‘some sort of computer language’ would be simplifying things far too much. Think of an algorithm as the lovechild produced by a mathematical equation and a written language. Think of it as looking something like:  x+y=a-b+Italian. This lovechild acts like your own person courier. Basically, you’re telling an algorithm to go and fetch something on your behalf. In this case, you’re asking it to fetch you data and records about your ancestors.Each service has its own unique algorithm. Just like Google has its own search algorithm – which is unique to Goolge and completely different from the algorithm used by Yahoo or Bing.

When you type in the name of an ancestor in either service’s online search form, the different algorithms used by each service go off to their respective, huge data warehouses. Each has a look around in its own warehouse, determines what data best fits what you’re looking for, and trots back to you with that data in tow. You know, the data and records  (census records, birth records, marriages, etc)  it thinks is best suited to your search. An algorithm tries its best to determine what records are the most relevant to your search.

Ancestry.com and familySearch.org pretty much have the same kind of warehouses that hold all those records and data. Their algorithms, however, are very different. Looking at it in another way…

I’m going to use the horrors of high school algebra and/or trigonometry to illustrate this concept. You’ll find some illustrative examples of what I mean below to better visualise what I mean:

Think of Ancestry.com’s algorithm as something like: 2+3, [ 0 ]=0, [ 1 ] =m, [ 2 ] =n

Think of FamilySearch.com’s algorithm as something like: 2+2, [ 0 ]=0, [ 1 ] =m, [ 3 ] =n

On the surface, at first glance, they look pretty similar. And they are. But those subtle differences determine what records turn up after you click the  ‘search’ button on either service. The quality of the search results is largely due to the algorithm each company uses and the language and coding used to produce that algorithm.

The more I research my non-European ancestors and relations, the more I find that Familysearch.org produces far more accurate and better results. And it’s all down to the whatever algorithm it uses to fetch records back from its data warehouse.

I’ll show you what I mean below. I’ll start with Ancestry.com and then move on to FamilySearch.org.

So….I want to find records for Johann Peter Mattil, born on 16 Mar 1725 in Höheinöd, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany and died on 20 Jun 1787 in Thaleischweiler, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. He married Anna Elisabetha Scheffe.

ANCESTRY.COM RESULTS

Search criteria for Johann Peter Mattil on Ancestry.com. The above shows the various filters used.

Search criteria for Johann Peter Mattil on Ancestry.com. The above shows the various filters used. Click for larger image

As you can see from the above, I tend to use the ‘restrict to exact matches’ option. I tend to do this with all of the variables where this option is available. And last, but not least…

Applying the German country filter on Ancestry.com

Applying the country filter – in this case Germany – on Ancestry.com. Click for larger image

I selected his gender. I also applied the country filter – in this case Germany since I really only want to see German records.

And these are the results I receive from Ancestry.com’s algorithm:

Ancestry.com results for Johann Peter Mattil

Ancestry.com results for Johann Peter Mattil. Click for larger image.

On the positive side, I did get German records (This hasn’t always been the case. I received US-centric results for a number of other 17th and 18th Century German-domiciled Mattils I was researching). However, none of the nine records Ancestry.com suggested  were relevant to my search. All nine were 19th Century records. There are no records suggested for a man who clearly lived and died in Germany in the 18th Century.

In my experience, Ancestry tends to work best within national search parameters. Ancestry.com is robust and accurate for American records. Ancestry.co.uk is brilliant for British records. Do an international search…and the results become less accurate.

FAMILYSEARCH.ORG RESULTS

And now for the same search on FamilySearch.

Search criteria for Johann Peter Mattil on FamilySearch.org. The above shows the various filters used.

Search criteria for Johann Peter Mattil on FamilySearch.org. The above shows the various filters used. Click for larger image

As you’ll see from the above, there are fewer search options and filters on Familysearch.org. However, the results its algorithm produces looks like:

FamilySearch.org results for Johann Peter Mattil

FamilySearch.org results for Johann Peter Mattil. Click for larger image

Not only did I get results for the Johann Peter Mattil I was seeking…I also received a string of results for other 18th Century Mattils. There wasn’t a single 19th century record suggestion.

The result of all this?  Well, for the time being, I’ll be using Familysearch a LOT more for my international record searches. For whatever reason, its algorithm is better suited for the job I need it to do researching non-American ancestors.

Has anyone else noticed any subtle –or not so subtle – performance differences between these two services? Feel free to share via a comment below.

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Throwing the gates open: marriages between the Roane & Holmes families

Following on from the previous post, here’s an example of the frequency of marriages between the Roane and Holmes families in Virginia and their descendants in Maryland, Delaware, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

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