Thursday, 28 December 2017

Family Tree DNA - Sale Coupons Expiring 31 December 2017

Here are the last set of one-time discount coupons for Family Tree DNA for this year.  I hope that somebody can use them.

R34U06GQ2RXJ       $20 off any purchase of $175 or more

R348H26IX364          $5 off any purchase of $39 or more

R34HCY4QHWR7    $5 off any purchase of $39 or more

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Family Tree DNA - Sale Coupons expiring 24 December 2017

Here are this week's one-time use discount coupons from Family Tree DNA.

R335QFBVWIBZ      $50 off any purchase of $300 or more
R3323G6DT6CH       $30 off any purchase of $225 or more

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Family Tree DNA - Sale Coupons Expiring 17 December 2017

Here are this week's single-use discount coupons from Family Tree DNA, which expire 17 December 2017.  Use them on a first come first served basis.

R3201V3R945M        $20 off Y37, Y67, or Y111

R320FCAEWH8S      $10 off Family Finder

R32Y3W25QOWH    $30 off Y-DNA111

Monday, 4 December 2017

Family Tree DNA - Coupons Expiring 10 December 2017

Feel free to use these single-use coupons from Family Tree DNA, which expire 10 December 2017, on a first come first served basis.

R30VRD7XHXNH    $40 off mtFull Sequence

R30E3XCWP9QO     $20 off any purchase of $150 or more

R307GFCILNWL      $30 off Y-DNA111

These coupons can only be used for new tests, not upgrades.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Cyber Monday DNA Sales

$49 DNA tests are being offered by several of the major DNA testing companies, but on a very limited time basis - the offers expire at midnight tonight.  At which point things revert back to the holiday sale prices.

This is the lowest price that I have ever seen on autosomal DNA tests, and it is unlikely that we will see this price again until US Thanksgiving 2018.  So if you are considering testing, order your kit today.

I have the following Family Tree DNA discount coupons available on a first come - first served basis.  All are one-time use and expire on 3 December 2017.
R29QNU1GOF0J       $25 off big-Y

R29I43NL6BYP        $20 off Y37, Y67, or Y111

R29UY246IF7E         $30 off Y-DNA111

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Family Tree DNA - Sale Coupons expiring 26 November 2017

Feel free to use these single-use coupons from Family Tree DNA, which expire 26 November 2017, on a first come first served basis.

R24P3N2R9B37       $50 off big-Y
R24Y7I54LD2H       $40 off DNA111

R24HSRAMTVKC   $40 off DNA111

Monday, 13 November 2017

DNA Test Holiday Sales Have Begun

With American Thanksgiving & Black Friday a little over a week away, the major DNA testing companies have started their annual holiday sales on autosomal DNA testing.  But don't buy solely on price!  Read my previous post about the various testing companies' products before making a purchase decision.

The chart below shows the pricing today on each testing company's US website.  There is no guarantee that there will be a sale today in every geographic area.  e.g. does not show a DNA sale at this time, and is selling their DNA test for $129 Cdn.

Pricing varies between $US 49 and $US 79 per kit, with the best price being from 23andMe - $US 49 per kit, if you purchase 2 kits.  What better holiday gift for a couple!

My Heritage DNA and Living DNA are relative newcomers to DNA testing, so their databases are not yet very large, but both are currently accepting free transfers of DNA test results from other testing companies, so this is another opportunity to fish in more ponds, ponds that I expect will become much larger as time goes on.

My recommendation for this year - If you are buying one kit, buy from Family Tree DNA;  but if you are buying two kits, buy from 23andMe and pay the $US19 to then transfer the result to Family Tree DNA - two tests on two sites for $US 136 (effectively $US 34 per test).

Family Tree DNA is also offering sale pricing on various Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.  Click here for details.  In addition to their sale pricing, Family Tree DNA emails weekly specials to existing customers, discounting some products even further, through promo codes.  You are welcome to use the following promo codes, which have an expiry date of 19 November 2017, and can only be used once, so it is first come first served.  Good luck!
  • mtDNA Plus or mtFull Sequence        $10 off     promo code R23QEQJ1VQ6B  
  • mtDNA Plus or mtFull Sequence        $10 off     promo code R23RK3CA2I6I
  • Big Y                                                    $25 off     promo code R23A8ILV8Q3D
I will post other promo codes (from all of the above companies) as I receive them.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

DNA Matches by Testing Company

Ancestry has recently announced that their DNA database now includes over 6 million individuals.  As Ancestry has the largest autosomal DNA database they are happy to announce these milestones, but accurate information on the database size of the other DNA testing companies is more difficult to obtain.

To provide some idea of how many matches you can expect if you test with the various DNA testing companies, I have compiled the data for my own DNA and my wife's DNA into a chart to show how many matches the major DNA testing companies have identified for each of us, and within that list of matches, how many matches I have been able to confirm match my paper research.

As Ancestry has the largest database, you would expect that it would generate the largest quantity of matches.  This is confirmed for both Marlene's sample and my sample.

You would also expect that Ancestry would generate the largest number of matches confirmable by paper research.  This is true for my sample, and would also be true for Marlene's sample, if she did not have a group of 5 matches on 23andMe that are all siblings / children of those siblings, which skews her data.

But the percentage of Ancestry matches that have been confirmed against paper research is certainly not as great as the percentage that have been confirmed for our samples on 23andMe and Family Tree DNA.  There are a number of reasons why this could be -

  • With such a large number of matches on Ancestry, I simply have not investigated enough of them to confirm the match.
  • Ancestry uses a lower threshold of the amount of shared DNA that constitutes a match, than the other testing companies do, but those more distant matches are more difficult to confirm against paper research.
  • For those Ancestry users who have public family trees, I cannot view their family tree, as I do not have a paid monthly subscription to Ancestry's historical records service, making it more difficult to identify a common surname or even a region where our common ancestor may have lived.
  • Ancestry does not identify which segments are shared on which chromosomes (23andMe and Family Tree DNA do), making it more difficult to see which ancestral line we may connect on.
My advise continues to be to test with as many DNA testing companies as you can afford, as they all will generate matches not found on the other testing companies' sites, but regardless, upload your DNA result to

GEDmatch facilitates comparison of DNA samples from multiple DNA testing companies on one site, but requires those who have taken a DNA test to upload their raw DNA data file to the site (a free service).  GEDmatch limits the number of matches that are displayed to 2000, so you may not see a distant relative in your list of matches, if the amount of shared DNA puts them below number 2000 in your list of matches.

I complied the chart below to show the percentage of our GEDmatch matches that come from each DNA testing company.  More than half of our matches on GEDmatch are from Ancestry, but not the 90% that you might expect given the number of matches in each company's database.  

My best guess is that a lot of people take an Ancestry DNA test to obtain their ethnicity breakdown, but do not pursue searching for DNA relatives.

I will update these charts at some point in the future, perhaps when Ancestry hits 7 million DNA samples, but meanwhile I will continue trying to confirm the ancestral connection for our DNA matches from all testing platforms.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Ryan Herd

The parents of my grandfather, William Sherlock (John Sherlock and Mary Ryan), both had Ryan ancestry.  John and Mary were granted a special dispensation to marry as they were blood relations in the second degree, meaning they were first cousins, and after much investigation I determined that Mary's father (Michael Ryan) & John's mother (Bridget Ryan) were siblings.  So began my involvement with the surname Ryan.

In 1891 Sir Robert Matheson issued a special report on surnames, which identified Ryan as the 8th most common surname in Ireland, and in North Tipperary it is extremely common, making it very difficult to identify one Ryan family from another, with so many Michaels, Patricks, Marys and Bridgets.  So much so that the Irish invented a system of nicknames to help identify the different families.

Chart of Ryan Nicknames (see at North Tipperary Heritage Centre)
My Ryan ancestors had the nickname "Herd", so the great grandparents mentioned above were known as Michael Ryan (Herd) and Bridget Ryan (Herd).  To make the situation more complex, Michael Ryan (Herd)'s daughter, Bridget Ryan (Herd) married Patrick Ryan (Honesty).  Needless to say, Ryans have not been a focus of much further research, as I get cross-eyed trying to keep track of the families.

So I was surprised a few weeks ago to see a new close DNA match on 23andMe, with a Thomas Ryan whose profile identified that he had both Ryan (Herd) and Ryan (Honesty) ancestry.  We corresponded, and confirmed that Tom is a grandson of Patrick Ryan (Honesty) and Bridget Ryan (Herd), making us 2nd cousins once removed.  Tom and I share 44 cM of DMA across 5 segments.

The following week, I noticed a new DNA relative on Ancestry, who turned out to be Tom's niece, Paula Crooks, who is my 3rd cousin.  Paula and I share 96 cM of DNA across 6 segments, which is more than I share with her uncle (one of the vagaries of DNA inheritance patterns).

It is amazing that DNA testing has allowed us to confirm our relationship, when just a few weeks ago we were not even aware of each others existence.

Friday, 1 September 2017

England GRO Website for BMD Certificates

The 1841-1911 decennial census returns for England and Wales are a wonderful tool for tracing a family back through time, but for married women the census returns do not provide a maiden name.

The FreeBMD online index to births marriages and deaths is another great tool, which can be useful for finding a marriage entry for these women, and thus a maiden name, but often there are several possible marriage entries, especially if the given name is Ann, Elizabeth, Mary or Sarah.  So after many years of researching, my database has accumulated a lot of women without surnames.

But the website of the General Record Office certificate ordering service is hugely helpful in finding these women's maiden names.  The search capability is intended to help you find the correct entry, when ordering birth or death certificates, but in the case of births, the search capability and the search results include the mother's maiden name, which on the FreeBMD website is only available from 1911.

If you know the mother's maiden name, it is easy to find all children born to a couple with surname x and mother's maiden name y over a 5 year period, which is useful for finding children who may have been born and died between census years, as long as the surname and maiden name are not too common.

If you know the names, district and approximate year of birth of a couple's children (obtained from the census), you can search for the birth reference of each child, and the search results will provide the mother's maiden name.  By searching for multiple children of the same couple, you can confirm that the mother's maiden name is the same for all children, pick up alternate spelling possibilities, and identify which children belong to which mother in cases where the father married more than once.

Once you have the woman's maiden surname, it is much easier to find her marriage entry in the FreeBMD online index.

I have just been through this exercise for all women without maiden names in my database, and have found the maiden name of at least 50% of them, which is a great improvement, considering that some were not in England or Wales and others did not have children born after 1837.

The GRO website has a similar helpful trick for early death entries.  The FreeBMD website identifies age at death from 1866, which is useful for isolating a death entry when there are multiple entries for the same name, but the GRO website provides age at death starting in 1837, so is helpful for earlier deaths.

Kudos to the GRO for providing this useful search functionality.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Coffin Stainer or Stainer Coffin?

Jane Hemblen, half-sister of my great great grandmother, Elizabeth Hemblen, married William Stainer Coffin, on 7 June 1867 at Bath, Somerset.  William's father is named as Thomas Coffin, a baker.  Their relationship produced 7 children, whose births were registered in Bath registration district as follows -
1862 William Stainer Coffin Hemblen
1864 Thomas Stainer Coffin Hemblen (died 1865)
1866 Thomas Stainer
1869 Elizabeth Stainer Coffin (died 1870)
1871 Elizabeth Coffin
1873 Emily Coffin
1875 Samuel Stainer Coffin
1877 Charles Stainer Coffin

I have not found William Stainer / William Coffin in the 1841 or 1851 census of England and Wales, but in the 1861 census he is listed as William Stainer, a knife grinder, born at Wimborne, Dorset; and Jane Hemblen is listed as his servant.  In the 1871 and later censuses he is listed as William C. Stainer or William Coffin Stainer.  His death is registered under the surname Stainer and also under the hyphenated surname Coffin-Stainer.  When his wife Jane, died in 1892, her death registration identified her as Jane Coffin Stainer.

When their children married and had children of their own, the events were registered under the surname Stainer, but Coffin was often used as a second given name, resulting in many "Coffin Stainer" registrations.

In researching the extended family, I found several related family trees on the websites.  Many of these trees did not identify the parents of William Stainer Coffin, while others suggested that he was descended from a line of Stainers, not Coffins.

I believe it more likely that William Stainer Coffin was a son of Thomas Coffin and Ann Beale Stainer, who married in Wimborne, Dorset in 1819.  Thomas Coffin is listed in the 1841 census of Wimborne, as a 40 year old baker with 4 children, and appears to be a widower, as no wife is listed.  Thomas Coffin's listed occupation of baker, matches the information from William's marriage certificate.  Two of Thomas Coffin's children listed in the 1841 census are Samuel and Emily, names also given to two of the children of William and Jane Coffin / Stainer.

Why William Stainer Coffin changed his surname we will likely never know, but my guess is that it relates to William's life prior to meeting Jane Hemblen.  In the 1861 census Jane is listed as his servant, but there is also a 6 month old daughter, Mary Stainer, living with them.  It is unclear from the census entry whether Mary is Jane's daughter, or William's daughter from a previous relationship. William and Jane had 3 additional children together before they married in 1867, so perhaps William was still married, and not a widower as suggested by the 1861 census record?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The New 23andMe

Finally, after 18 months of waiting, my account was transitioned to the "new 23andMe" experience last week.  I had read a lot of negative comments about the new experience, so I was somewhat apprehensive about the transition.

The new experience certainly presents the information in a different way, and I wouldn't give the site any prizes for being user-friendly, but overall, I find the new experience is more useful to a genealogist than the old site was.

The new experience splits information into 4 broad categories, two of which are health related (Traits and Wellness) and two of which are ancestry related (Ancestry and DNA Relatives)

The New 23andMe Home Screen
The health-related reports are of some interest, but it's the ancestral stuff that is important to me, and this can be accessed by clicking on Ancestry Reports.  From here you can looking at your paternal and maternal haplogroup (to gain some insight into your ancient origins), see how much Neanderthal DNA you have, look at your genetic composition by region (I am 99.9% European, which is not unexpected), and view your DNA family.  These are all screens that you will likely ignore after your initial curiosity, if you want to use the site to find relatives with whom you share significant DNA.

Ancestry Reports Screen
The easiest way to access your DNA matches (those people with whom you share DNA), is by clicking on Tools on the top horizontal menu and then selecting DNA Relatives.

Tools Menu

The DNA Relatives screen is similar to the DNA Relatives screen on the old site, but with less visible information - you see only the name, predicted relationship, and amount of shared DNA.  Additional information can be viewed by clicking on an individual's name.  Two enhancements are the ability to mark matches as favourites (I use this to mark people with whom I have determined how we are related), and the use of coloured dots to indicate the sharing status of the individual (sharing, request pending, etc.).

When you click on an individual match, you see much more detail about the person (haplogroups, matching segments, ancestral surnames, geographic origins, and relatives in common).  It is this last feature that is most useful in determining which ancestral line someone may be connected through.

Some positive changes with the new experience -
  • You can now contact anonymous users (a feature that was removed 18 months ago, when this transition began).
  • The Relatives in Common feature is great for isolating which ancestral line someone may be connected through.
  • Open Sharing - If you opt in to Open Sharing, all matches can see your Ancestral Composition and your matching DNA segments, without having to send you a sharing request and waiting for you to accept it.
  • Favourites - Allows you to mark individual DNA matches with a star.  I use this to identify those with whom I have established how we are related.
  • Sharing Status - The use of coloured dots on the DNA Relatives screen to show the sharing status of your matches is very useful, but the colours are not different enough to work well for colour blind people like myself.  The use of different shaped indicators (e.g. circle, square, triangle, and diamond) in addition to the colour, would be an even bigger improvement.
My only real dislike of the new experience is the lack of user-friendliness when using DNA Relatives and Share and Compare.  But each time I use the new site, I get more comfortable with it.

Overall, the new 23andMe is my second favourite DNA testing site, but FamilyTreeDNA remains my first choice.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Using Ancestry's Surname Filter

I decided to utilise the surname filter tool on my Ancestry DNA matches to try and determine which ancestral lines some of the 2500 matches might be on.  It should be noted that the filters will only identify other DNA test subjects, where the person tested has also created a family tree on Ancestry - if a person has not created an ancestral family tree on Ancestry, then they will not show up when you filter by surname.  When you enter a surname into the filter field, the quantity of matches will be limited to show only the DNA test subjects who have that surname in their ancestral family tree.
My Great Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Hemblen was transported to Tasmania in the 1850s for stealing a frying pan, and although we have strong circumstantial evidence that "our" Elizabeth was the daughter of a Stonemason in Bath, Somerset, named Isaac Hemblen, we don't have any firm evidence, so a DNA match with other descendants of Isaac Hemblen, would add more credibility to the paper research to date.
When I filtered my 2500 Ancestry DNA matches with the surname Hemblen, I had only one match - Diane R.  So far so good!
Hemblen Filtered Matches
 Investigating further, I found that Diane and I are predicted to be 5th - 8th cousins, and that we share 6.4 cM (centiMorgans) of DNA on a single segment of one chromosome. 
Shared DNA Details
This is the point, when looking at DNA matches on other DNA testing websites, that I would look at the details of how many cM we shared, on which chromosomes, and compare the matching segments to other known matches, to try and isolate which ancestral line the match is likely on.  Unfortunately, with Ancestry, this is as good as it gets.
But, again using the Ancestry surname filter, I tried various surnames, to see which other surnames also appear in Diane's ancestry.  The first surname that I tried was Meale, the surname of Elizabeth Hemblen's husband (my great great grandfather) - Diane R. was not in the list of matches.  Next I tried surnames associated with spouses of Elizabeth Hemblen's siblings and half siblings.  Diane R. appeared as a match when I filtered with the surname Stainer, suggesting that Diane is a descendant of Elizabeth's half-sister, Jane Hemblen, who married William Stainer.  By filtering with the surname Enefer, I was able to narrow down the potential match to Thomas Coffin Stainer, son of Jane Hemblen, who married Mary Ann Enefer, suggesting that Diane is a descendant of Thomas Stainer and Mary Ann Enefer.
I contacted Diane, and outlined how I believed we are connected, and within 24 hours she confirmed that Thomas Stainer and Mary Ann Enefer were her great grandparents.  Diane and I are actually 4th cousins, a little closer than Ancestry suggested.
So despite the limited information provided by Ancestry on which segments of which chromosomes I share with Diane, the Ancestry surname filtering tool provided a high level of confidence in identifying how we connected, and I now have much greater confidence that Elizabeth Hemblen, daughter of Isaac Hemblen is my great great grandmother.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Pet Peeves with DNA Matching

With the exception of those who test with 23andMe for health related information, the vast majority of people take autosomal DNA tests to identify familial connections.   But many people severely limit their opportunities to identify connections with others by not maximising the functionality of the testing service. 

My pet peeves related to DNA testing for family history are -
  1. People who do not reply to messages related to a DNA match - Communication with others who share portions of your DNA is the best way to establish how you may be related, or to get help with achieving your objectives of taking a DNA test.  If someone contacts you, have the courtesy to reply.
  2. No associated family tree - All of the major testing companies (and GEDmatch) provide a facility for publicising your ancestral family tree, and all provide protections for hiding information on living people.  Publish the information that you know, to make it easier for DNA matches to see how you might be related.
  3. Associated family tree is not public - Why hide your research from others?  You may have identified an ancestor that others have not, or you may have made a mistake in identifying an ancestor.  If your online tree is private, you will miss the opportunity to help others and correct errors.
  4. Anonymous people on 23andMe - I am still on "the old experience" so I get to see that I have a DNA match, and how much DNA we share, but I cannot contact people who have chosen to be anonymous.  Why did they bother taking the test?
  5. DNA result not uploaded to GEDmatch - If you have tested with one of the major DNA testing companies, you can avoid a lot of the drawbacks of the individual companies' capabilities by uploading your DNA test result to GEDmatch, which facilitates matching between people who tested with different companies.
  6. Not accepting genome sharing requests on 23andMe - 23andMe (the old experience) does not automatically show you which segments of which chromosome you share with another customer, so you have to send a genome sharing request to each potential match, to identify which segments you have in common.  If you do not accept genome sharing requests you can only identify that you share DNA with a person, but have no idea of which line you may be related on.
  7. Ancestry and MyHeritage do not provide information on which segments of which chromosomes are shared - These two testing companies know exactly which segments of which chromosomes you share with every other person in their database, but they choose to not provide you with the information.  At least 23andMe lets the user decide to share or not share, but Ancestry and MyHeritage severely limit their DNA test capability by not allowing users to ever see this information.
Please, take a few minutes to -
  1. Check the privacy settings on your DNA test account
  2. Upload a GEDCOM file of your ancestors or manually add your ancestors to the family tree associated with your DNA test account, and make sure that viewing the tree is not restricted
  3. Upload your DNA test results to GEDmatch, and include a GEDCOM file
  4. Check for new matches every week or two
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Friday, 31 March 2017

One New Date - 3 New Generations of Ancestors

Some time ago I had hit a brickwall with researching Marlene's maternal Great Great Grandmother, Julie LeBlanc, and despite collaborating with other LeBlanc descendants, I could not confirm her parentage, mainly because I did not have a birth date for her.
As I identified in a previous post, the Alberta Archives has recently put historical death indexes online, and the death index entry for Julie LeBlanc identified that she was born in Quebec on 13 March 1857.
This one date was all that I needed to find her baptism entry (14 March 1857) in the Drouin Collection on, and to very quickly take her family back an additional 3 generations, all verified through baptism and marriage records - the French Canadians kept excellent records. 
Ancestry of Julie Bergeron
One of Julie's descendants, Bonnie Konkal, had told me that Julie was adopted by an aunt and uncle, and I was able to identify the likely family that adopted her - Julie was living with Egesippe Bergeron and his wife Ludmille Croteau in the 1871 census, and I determined that Egesippe Bergeron, was Julie's father's brother.
An added bonus was finding that Julie had a sister, Alphonsine Bergeron, who married in Massachusetts and had several children.
All of this from just one birth date!

AncestryDNA's DNA Communities

AncestryDNA provides you with a breakdown of your ethnicity, based on your DNA.  They identify that I am 80% Irish, 13% Great Britain, 2% Iberian Peninsular, with smaller amounts of Italy / Greece and Europe West, but these are very broad categories.
Recently, Ancestry added another layer of depth to the ethnicity calculation, by identifying specific genetic communities that you likely belong to.  For me, they only identified one genetic community, which not surprisingly, is Munster Irish.  This was an easy call by Ancestry, as both of my maternal grandparents were born in Tipperary, and their families lived there for generations before. 
The feature also allows you to see which of your DNA matches are also in these communities, but just because you both appear in the same genetic community does mean that your common ancestor is from that genetic community.  Out of my 8,750 DNA matches on Ancestry, only 48 are identified as being members of the Munster Irish, so Ancestry is certainly erring on the side of caution. 
I was disappointed that they did not identify me as being part of Ulster Irish or Scottish genetic communities, which would help to identify whether my Cosgrave ancestors were long-time Irish or Scottish plantation settlers.  Hopefully over time, as Ancestry refines this new Genetic Communities feature, I will be identified as being part of some other communities.
Jim's Genetic Communities
Marlene was a little bit luckier, in that she is identified as being part of three genetic communities, but despite being 52% Irish, she was not identified as being part of any of the Irish genetic communities.  I was not surprised that she was part of the three identified communities, and of her 11,350  DNA matches on Ancestry, 114 are in the French Settlers in Quebec community, 39 are in the Southern English community, and 20 in the Scots in Northeast and Central Scotland community.
Marlene's Genetic Communities
I was most interested in Marlene's Southern English community, as this is the area where I have had the least success in confirming ancestral matches through DNA.  I was happy to see that Geraldine Hayes was at the top of the list of Marlene's matches in this community, and she was suggested to be a 4th cousin, which is in line with the paper match that Geraldine and I had identified some time back.
So I will not be rushing to promote this new feature on AncestryDNA as being a "must have", but it is interesting and may become more useful as a larger proportion of our DNA matches are identified as being part of specific ancestral communities.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Alberta Historic BMD Indexes Online

Marlene's Great Great Grandmother, on her maternal line, Julie Bergeron, has been a brick wall for a year or more.  Her 1881 marriage certificate identifies that the 24 year old Julie was born in Quebec, and married Louis Philippe LeBlanc in Douglas, Massachusetts, but her parents names are not recorded.  Julie and Philippe LeBlanc appear in the Canadian census records through to 1921 (last available census), and her year (1857/1858) and place of birth (Quebec) are consistent throughout the census records.  But I could not positively identify her in any records prior to her marriage, as I did not know her parents' names nor her date of birth.
Various researchers have provided conflicting information, but no evidence, including suggestions that she died in Legal, Alberta in 1945, and that she was raised by an Aunt and Uncle. 
This week I learned from the Global Genealogy newsletter that the Provincial Archives of Alberta has recently published historical birth, marriage and death indexes online, so off I went in search of Julie's death entry in the indexes. 
The Provincial Archives website does not provide a search box where you can enter a surname and given names and be presented with all matches.  The indexes are in a series of pdf files for a range of years / portions of the alphabet, based on surnames.
I scrolled down the list of files, to "L (1945-1949)", clicked on the file name, and within a few seconds the pdf file was open on my computer.  My heart sank when I found no entry in 1945, but I skipped down a few pages to get to 1946, and there was Julie's death entry, which identified that she died in St. Albert (district) on 17 May 1946, and that she was born in Quebec (province number 04) on 13 May 1857. 
Wow, I finally have a definite date of birth for Julie, so now I should be able to find her baptism record in the Drouin Collection on Ancestry, and identify the names of her parents.
LEBLANC, Julie - 1946 Death Entry
 I checked similarly for the death of Julie's husband, Philippe LeBlanc, and also found his death entry, which provided his date and place of death - St. Albert (district) on 28 February 1944, and confirmed his known date of birth.
LEBLANC, Philippe - 1944 Death Entry
It seems realistic that Philippe and Julie LeBlanc did both die in Legal, Alberta, as Legal is only 40 Km North of St. Albert, so is likely within the St. Albert registration district.  I sense a road trip coming up!
A big thank you to the Alberta Provincial Archives for making these indexes available online, and to Global Genealogy for sharing the knowledge. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

A Surprise Cousin in Tasmania

While on vacation, I received an email from a FamilyTreeDNA contact, Tammy, identifying a DNA match between her husband, Tom, and my wife, Marlene.  As we were travelling with my sisters and on a tight schedule, I wrote back and told Tammy that I was in Tasmania, and that it may be a while before I could look at the match in detail.

Tammy replied that she lives in Tasmania, and asked if we would like to get together.  How could a genealogist refuse an opportunity to meet with an unexpected cousin?  We agreed to meet in Launceston the following week, leaving a little time to try and figure out the connection.

Tom's surname is Polley, which is the only ancestral surname that he shares with Marlene - Ann Polley is Marlene's 5th Great Grandmother (Spriggs - Preston - Warne - Polley). So they have a common ancestral surname but not an identified common ancestor.

By the time we met, Tammy had used the triangulation tool on to find other people who matched both Tom and Marlene, and had identified a kit named "DJB" as a shared connection. DJB does not have an associated GEDCOM file on GEDmatch, so we could not see surnames that may be shared with either Tom or Marlene.

Tammy contacted the administrator of DJB's kit, who provided a list of DJB's ancestral surnames, but indicated that he was pressed for time at the moment.  One of the ancestral surnames is Preston, so it seems that we are on the right track.   Now we must patiently wait, until this new contact has the time to get back to us, something that us genealogists find difficult.

This situation provides several learnings -
  1. Reply to all genealogical correspondence promptly, even if you are on vacation, as otherwise you might miss an opportunity to meet with new cousins
  2. Do upload your DNA sample to GEDmatch, to improve the chances of finding relatives
  3. Do include a GEDCOM file (containing at least your direct ancestors) with your GEDmatch upload, to quickly identify shared ancestral surnames
Hopefully, we will soon have more information on the connection between Tom, Marlene and DJB.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Which Autosomal DNA Test Should I Take?

My first autosomal DNA Test was with 23andMe in 2015.  Since then I have taken advantage of the free import of 23andMe raw DNA data to MyHeritage, have done a test with AncestryDNA, and most recently have used the FamilyHistoryDNA autosomal transfer program.  So which test would I recommend?  Below are my personal opinions of each testing company, and my recommended testing sequence.
Ancestry DNA
+  The largest autosomal DNA database
+  Identification of others who match you and someone else
-  Does not identify which segments are shared with others, and there are no DNA tools to work with
-  If you do not have a paid subscription to Ancestry, then DNA matching functionality is somewhat limited
+  The second largest autosomal DNA database
+  Identification of Y and Mt-DNA haplogroup (at a broad level)
+  Shows the percentage of DNA shared with others, which segments are shared with others, and has basic tools to work with, including a chromosome viewer (up to 5 people at once)
+  If a parent has also tested, matches can be split between paternal and maternal lines
+  You can update the predicted relationship to the actual known relationship, without a family tree
+  Predicted relationships can be confirmed by linking matching individuals to your family tree
+  Once a few matches from both sides are confirmed, the system predicts paternal and maternal line matches, without having a parent tested (gets better as you confirm more matches)
+  Shows the amount of shared DNA, and allows viewing of the matching segments of up to 5 people
+  Good filtering and sorting of matches
+ A FamilyTreeDNA test sample can also be used for Y and Mt-DNA testing
+  Low cost (US $19.00) transfer of raw autosomal DNA data from Ancestry and 23andMe (cannot be used for subsequent Y or Mt-DNA tests)
-  Third largest autosomal DNA database 
My Heritage DNA
+  Free transfer of raw DNA data (limited time offer) from other testing companies
+  Shows the percentage of shared DNA and the number of shared segments
-  The smallest autosomal database, of the 4 major DNA testing companies (but should increase rapidly if people take advantage of the free transfer from other companies)
-  Does not show which segments are shared with other users
-  If you do not have a paid subscription to MyHeritage, then DNA matching functionality is somewhat limited
If I had the money, I would take every available test with every testing company, to maximise the chance of finding new DNA matches, which help to confirm the researched family tree.  But recognising that very few of us have unlimited funds, I would recommend the following sequence -
  1. Test with either 23andMe or Ancestry (largest databases provide the most exposure)
  2. Upload your raw DNA data to GEDmatch, to utilise their tools and to facilitate matching with users across different testing companies
  3. Purchase the low-cost autosomal DNA transfer to FamilyTreeDNA
  4. Create a family tree on FamilyTreeDNA, either by manual entry or by GEDCOM import from an existing family tree
  5. Take advantage of any other free or low-cost DNA data transfers from other testing companies
  6. Once you are totally hooked on genetic genealogy, take a Y-DNA (paternal line) and / or a Mt-DNA (maternal line) DNA test, to learn about these two lines in more detail
 The number of people taking autosomal DNA tests seems to be growing exponentially, so you can expect more and more DNA matches  as time goes on.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The British Newspaper Archive

This week I signed up to use the British Newspaper Archive, as it is available free at the local library in the city that I am visiting, and I found it to be amazingly useful.
The collection includes national and local newspapers from all over Britain and Ireland, over varying date ranges, and search results can be filtered by region, by date range and by newspaper, to prevent being overwhelmed by irrelevant results.
Even if you are using the database free at a library, you still need to set up an account, but this required minimal information (name and email address), and took only a few minutes.
I learned that my 3G Grandfather, Isaac Hemblin, suffered a broken leg, in an accident in November 1858, which required amputation of the leg.  This accident very likely led directly to his death, which occurred on 3 December 1858.
But the motherlode of information came from 5 separate articles in the Belfast newspapers, regarding an 1854 law suit launched by my 2G Grandfather, James Steele Cosgrave, against the executors of his grandfather's (James Steele) estate, and when he lost the case, his subsequent bankruptcy.  This answered many questions, but also identified a myriad of other family connections that were previously unknown.
I can recommend this valuable resource, based on first-hand knowledge, and I will certainly be doing additional searches, once I have finished processing all of the information obtained so far.

Monday, 20 February 2017

FamilyTreeDNA Autosomal Transfers

The most exciting item to hit my genealogical inbox this week, was the news that FamilyTreeDNA is now accepting the transfer of autosomal DNA tests into their Family Finder database, from Ancestry and 23andMe, for only US $19.00.
This was much more exciting than the news that my Ancestry DNA test results were in, which, although anxiously awaited, totally underwhelmed me.  I will write more on this subject later.
I had already tested with 23andMe and Ancestry, had uploaded my raw DNA to and taken advantage of the free transfer to MyHeritage, so I was not expecting FamilyTreeDNA to offer anything new, other than being another hook in the genealogical pool, which might snag some results in the future.
Within an hour of uploading the raw DNA file from 23andMe, my matches were displayed, all 290 of them.  I immediately found a 2nd cousin, a 2nd cousin once removed and a 3rd cousin, whom I had found on other DNA testing sites.  Plus, I found a known 2nd cousin and a 2nd cousin once removed, whom I recognised from my paper research.  Not a bad start.
The matches all showed up under the "All" category, with none under the "Paternal", "Maternal" or "Both" categories, which was understandable as neither of my parents DNA were in the database.
I uploaded a GEDCOM file of my ancestry, which only took a few minutes, despite being over 6000 people, and began to link my 5 known matches to my family tree.  The report screen now showed 22 of my matches as Paternal and 7 as Maternal.  As I identify my connection to other matches, this feature will become increasingly useful in predicting which side of the family other matches are on.
The relationship range of 2nd to 3rd cousin and 2nd to 4th cousin predicted for all 5 of my known matches was correct, so another plus.
The results report can be filtered in 12 different ways, including "In Common With" and "Not in Common With", which allows you to easily find other matches that may be on the same line, or suggest which lines they are less likely to be on.
I also like the Chromosome Browser, as you can view which segments match on up to 5 people, and you can download the matching segments, if like me, you maintain a spreadsheet of matches that have been obtained from a variety of sources.
If you have tested with either Ancestry or 23andMe, I suggest that you take advantage of the FamilyTreeDNA autosomal transfer, as it will be the best $19 that you have spent on genealogy in a while.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

My Patrilineal Haplogroup

One aspect of the 23andMe DNA test that I did not mention in my last posting, is that they identify your matrilineal (mitochondrial) DNA haplogroup and, for males only, your patrilineal (Y) DNA haplogroup. 
The Y haplogroup is useful in identifying your ancestry on the male line, which, theoretically at least, should follow your surname.  i.e. all of my male line ancestors, since surnames were introduced, should have the surname "Cosgrave" or some variant of this.
My primary interest in my male line DNA is to try and determine if my Cosgrave ancestors, from the Belfast area of Antrim, Ireland, were long time Irish or if they were Plantation Scottish settlers.  They were Presbyterians / Unitarians, suggesting a possible Scottish connection, but I have been unable to verify this from paper records to date.
23andMe identifies that my Y haplogroup is R1b1b2a1a2f*, so what does that tell me?
Exploring further on 23andMe, I learn that "R1b1b2 is the most common haplogroup in western Europe, where its branches are clustered in various national populations. R1b1b2a1a2b is characteristic of the Basque, while R1b1b2a1a2f2 reaches its peak in Ireland and R1b1b2a1a1 is most commonly found on the fringes of the North Sea".  So, I am not really any further ahead.
I did a number of online searches and found that although R1b1b2a1a2f* sounds very detailed, it is a very broad category, and I will need to do further testing to narrow down my result any further.
23andMe focusses on autosomal DNA testing, so I searched for other possible Y-DNA testing companies, and decided to test with FamilyTreeDNA.  When the kit arrived, I swabbed my cheek, submitted the test kit, and sat back to wait for the result....

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

My First DNA Test with 23andMe

Back in 2015, my cousin Jim Sherlock suggested that I should take an autosomal DNA test.  His son had purchased a test for him through 23andMe and Jim thought that it was a great genealogical research tool.
An autosomal DNA test does not identify the paternal or maternal ancestral lines, but identifies any segments on all 23 chromosomes of your DNA that match with segments of other people who have tested.  In general, the higher the percentage of shared DNA, the closer the relationship, but the amount shared is not a straight mathematical calculation, as which segments you get from your father versus mother are random, so the possible range of shared DNA increases with each generation.
Blaine Bettinger provides a very handy chart on his The Genetic Genealogist blog, that shows the anticipated amount of shared autosomal DNA with each successive generation;  In general terms siblings share on average about 50%; 1st cousins about 12.5%; 2nd cousins about 3.125%; etc.  This represents roughly 3400 centiMorgans (cM), 850 cM, and 212 cM respectively.  But at the 2nd cousin level, the amount shared may vary from 43-504 cM, so quite a wide range.
I did my own research, comparing the big 3 North American testing companies (23andMe, Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA), and decided that 23andMe would give us the best overall value on health and ancestral information.  So I promptly ordered kits for myself and Marlene, submitted the saliva samples and waited for the results.
The health information did not identify any real concerns, and Marlene was somewhat amused to learn that I have 2.6% Neanderthal DNA, but she has only 2.5%.  She thinks that she is therefore more evolved than I am.
But my real interest was in the ancestral information, of which there was an abundance.  A speculative view tells me that I am 99.8% European, with the most significant portion being  British / Irish at 92.5%.  This was not too surprising, considering that I have not identified any non-European ancestors to date, going back at least 6 generations.  The 2.6% Scandinavian and 0.1% Ashkenazi Jewish were news to me, and I hope at some point that I can determine which ancestral lines include these populations.
My cousin, Jim Sherlock, is identified as sharing 12% DNA with me in total, which is a good reference point, as we already know that we are 1st cousins.  But beyond Jim, the next closest match shared about 0.5% of my DNA, and is suggested to be a 3rd to 4th cousin.   Of course none of my closest matches had pedigrees that took them back far enough to establish a relationship to my ancestors, so I was somewhat disappointed.
Marlene's matches were somewhat more fruitful, and we were very quickly able to break through a brick wall on her LeBlanc line and can now take it back fairly reliably to the 1600s in Acadia (present day Nova Scotia).
Over the following 12 months, many more people took the test and appeared in our list of matches, and I now have a first cousin once removed with 6.84% shared and a second cousin once removed with whom I share 1% DNA.
We have been introduced (electronically) to many new cousins, some with very interesting family stories, but I was afraid that we were missing out, not being able to compare our DNA with people who had tested with other companies, so we uploaded our DNA results to, which I will discuss in a subsequent post.

Sunday, 8 January 2017


Welcome to my Trees and Genes blog, new for 2017, where I plan to share success stories from my family history research, and will also talk about my use of DNA testing to assist with my family history research.
There will be no regularity to the posts, which will be totally dependant on there being newsworthy events to report.
At the top of the page I have included a link to my Family History website, which recently moved to a new domain and a new hosting service, due to my previous provider shutting down.  In time, and with some help from my web designer daughter, I will make it prettier and add more information, but I had a deadline to get it moved, so for now it is what it is.
Comments are always welcome.