Sunday, 9 December 2018

Living DNA's Family Networks feature is finally here (for me anyway)

Two weeks ago I posted my DNA Test Christmas Wish List, and already wish number 9 has been granted - my 3 DNA kits have finally been included in the Family Networks feature on Living DNA.  But I was somewhat underwhelmed at my first login.

I understand that the Family Networks feature is still in beta test, but there are currently only three aspects of Family Networks that are functional -

  • Who do I share DNA with
  • How much DNA do I share with each match
  • I can contact other users who share DNA with me
But I will take any feature that identifies more DNA matches for me and is free!

The first thing that I noticed is that as I had uploaded my DNA test result from another testing company, rather than testing with Living DNA, I am not shown my ethnicity results.  This is not a big deal to me.

When I checked the quantity of matches for each kit, I had none, and my wife and mother in law (my other two kits) matched only each other.  A disappointing beginning, but it can only get better going forward.

With LivingDNA entering the competition, it is a good time to compare the features available from the 5 top DNA testing websites, and the GEDmatch site which facilitates matching between test results from various sources.  The chart below, lists the DNA test result features that I find most useful, in diminishing order of usefulness, with the testing companies in decreasing order of database size, plus a caution when using GEDmatch - 

Most notably, Ancestry, which has the largest database of autosomal test results, has a feature set that more closely resembles that of Living DNA, which is a new entrant to the market.  23andMe, with half the database size of Ancestry has a much broader range of useful features.  FamilyTreeDNA remains my personal favourite, but I anticipate that MyHeritage will outclass them within 12 months, and over time will become the testing company of choice.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

My DNA Testing Christmas Wish List

It is that time of year when children write letters to Santa Claus, identifying the gifts that they would like for Christmas.  If the DNA testing companies were Santa Claus, my top ten gift requests this Christmas would be as follows -

10.  I would like to see MyHeritage buy FamilyTreeDNA.  In my opinion, FamilyTreeDNA has the best analysis tools of any of the big 5 DNA testing companies, yet despite low prices and the added benefit of offering Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, they have one of the smallest autosomal DNA databases.  This must create a value opportunity for one of the other players in the industry.  MyHeritage already works closely with FamilyTreeDNA and is the company that I believe will become the industry leader, so it would be a natural fit.

9. I would like to see LivingDNA finally make their Family Networks feature available.  More than a year ago LivingDNA enticed people who had tested at other companies to upload their test results, with the promise of being able to use Family Networks, LivingDNA's DNA matching feature, when it became available in the summer of 2018.  The company provides little to no information on progress of the current beta test of Family Networks and keeps postponing the general release date.  Either bring the feature to market or exit the family history DNA test Business. 

8.  I would like all the DNA testing companies to show when my DNA matches last logged in.  When you have a DNA match it is nice to know if they did a DNA test, got the result, viewed their ethnicity results, and then never logged into the site again, or if they are a keen genealogist and login frequently.  Currently, Ancestry is the only company that shows when your DNA matches last logged in.

7.  I would like Ancestry to allow a search for a particular DNA match by username.  I have over 20,000 DNA matches on Ancestry, and people will ask if a particular person is in my match list.  Without a search capability or the ability to export your entire match list (to search in another program), it is impossible to know if a particular person is in your DNA match list.

6.  I would like Ancestry to provide triangulation of DNA matches.  Ancestry is the only major DNA testing company to not offer a triangulation feature.  They show you "shared matches" (those who share DNA with you and with a particular match), but they don't tell you if all three of you share any DNA in common.  Without this triangulation, a shared match may be due to two individuals each sharing DNA with a third person, but not being related to each other.

5.  I would like to know if my DNA matches have read my message to them.  None of the major DNA testing companies tells you whether or not a contact has read your message, so you don't know if the person is ignoring you or has not received the message.

4.  I would like MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA to provide at least one tag per match.  Ancestry and 23andMe both give you the option to tag DNA matches (starred matches on Ancestry / favourites on 23andMe), but MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA do not offer this feature.  I use the tag to identify which DNA matches I have confirmed the relationship with.  If two tags were provided, I would use the second tag to identify DNA matches with whom I had corresponded, but not confirmed the relationship with.  More tags would offer even more flexibility, but I don't want to seem greedy.

3.  I would like 23andMe to allow me to filter out X-chromosome matches.  I have a group of DNA matches near the top of my 23andMe match list, with whom I only share X-chromosome DNA, or with whom most of the shared DNA is on the X-chromosome.  X-chromosome DNA is not passed down in the same manner as the other 22 autosomal DNA chromosomes, resulting in 23andMe identifying as close matches, people who are actually much more distant cousins.

2.  I would like Ancestry to show me my matches' family tree without a paid subscription.  In order to view the family tree of my DNA matches on Ancestry, I require a paid subscription to Ancestry.  I can identify the names of my DNA matches' family trees, I can filter my matches by ancestral surname, but I cannot view the matches' tree.  My workaround, after identifying shared ancestral surnames and the name of the tree, is to go to my local library, and find the tree on Ancestry Library Edition, free of charge.

1.  I would really like Ancestry to provide shared segment data.  Ancestry knows exactly which segments of which chromosomes we have in common with each of our DNA matches, but they choose to not make that information available.  FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe all provide the segment detail, but Ancestry claims that they are protecting our privacy but not providing this information.  I have been really good this year, and if I could only have one gift, it would be that Ancestry capitulate on this issue.  The workaround is to request your DNA matches to upload their Ancestry DNA result to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage or, so that you can see which segments are shared.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Revised Rationale for Choosing an Autosomal DNA Test

In a blog post in January of this year, I suggested that deciding which company to use for an autosomal DNA test should involve evaluating various criteria.  Ten months later, my views on this topic have changed drastically.

To continue with the fishing analogy that I posted in June, if your goal was to catch fish you would not choose where to fish based on how pretty the location, whether of not there is a fish-cleaning station, the ease of moving around the lake, catch and release policy, or the type of fish.  You would choose the location that had the most fish.

Similarly, in autosomal DNA testing, the goal is to "catch" relatives.  So, unless your ancestors are from a geographic area that had very little migration to North America, the first choice for an autosomal DNA test has to be (or its regional variations), simply due to the size of its autosomal DNA database.

I am not in any way suggesting that Ancestry is the best DNA testing website.  It certainly does not have the best features for analysis of your DNA matches, but it has 10 million test results in its DNA database, which is about twice as many as 23andMe, its closest competitor, and far more than MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.  So Ancestry has to be the first choice for an autosomal DNA test.

Once you have tested at Ancestry, you can then copy that test result to other websites, providing more exposure.  My suggested testing sequence is as follows -

Additional comments -
  1. Uploading of your Ancestry test result to MyHeritageDNA is currently free, but the company has announced that for samples uploaded after December 1st 2018, they will be charging a fee to utilize some features of the site.
  2. LivingDNA has been accepting DNA test result uploads for more than a year, but they have not yet provided a DNA matching service to people who have utilized this opportunity.  This was originally to be available in the summer of 2018 and is currently expected to be available by the end of 2018.
  3. GEDmatch is a wonderful site as it allows comparison of autosomal DNA test results between tests taken on different sites.  This is particularly useful for people who have tested at Ancestry, as Ancestry does not identify which segments of DNA you share with your DNA matches.  The downside is that anyone (law enforcement included) can upload a DNA sample to the site, and utilize the matching capabilities of the site for purposes other than genealogy - The Golden State killer in the USA was recently identified through DNA matches to a sample of the killer's DNA uploaded to the site.  So be aware!!!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Is Living DNA a Viable Company?

I was initially excited  by Living DNA's entry into the autosomal DNA testing market - As I have UK / Irish ancestry, I was hoping to see more DNA matches, from a UK company.

When Living DNA announced the opportunity to upload autosomal DNA test results from other testing companies, I immediately uploaded our results, but that was 11 months ago, and still I wait.

There was supposedly a beta test of their Family Networks feature (DNA matching) earlier this year, but there has been no communication from Living DNA on whether that was successful, a dismal failure, or if it has been extended.

The company's blog had 4 posts in June, 4 posts in July, 2 in August, and none in September.  It is like Living DNA has ceased to operate, although their website is still active.

Although I don't have a Facebook account, I have checked the Living DNA Facebook page, but it too contains no feedback on the Family Networks feature.

I appreciate that new features take time to develop, and companies do not have endless resources, but when a company stops communicating to their customers, it is usually a sign of trouble.

I hope that I am wrong.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Still waiting for Living DNA Family Networks

Living DNA has not been very forthcoming about when their Family Networks feature will be available for general viewing, but it did move a little closer this week - I was able to opt in to the Family Networks feature.

Family Networks promises to be a very useful,and unique, feature - by providing only your DNA sample, sex and birth date (which does not have to be exact), Living DNA plans to show your DNA matches in an ancestral tree.  The date of birth is required to help separate first cousins from aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  The key seems to be having as many close relatives as possible, on both sides of your ancestry, provide DNA samples.  Details of Family Networks in action, can be found by clicking here.

Living DNA offers autosomal DNA testing, but they also (at least until 31 October 2018) accept raw DNA samples from people who have tested at Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA.  If a lot of people take advantage of this upload opportunity, Living DNA could quickly become a "go to" site for determining how you relate to other DNA testers.  Perhaps the hardest thing to figure out is how to upload your raw DNA sample to Living DNA, so I have provided a link to get to the right page quickly.

Once you have created an account and uploaded your DNA sample, you need to opt-in to Family Networks.  To do this, click on "View Test" from the "My Tests" option on the home page.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Coming Soon - Living DNA User Matching

Back in November 2017 I uploaded our DNA test results to Living DNA.  The upload was free and came with a promise that by summer 2018, Living DNA would offer matching to other users on their site.

This was exciting, because Living DNA is based in the United Kingdom, and so so will hopefully have more users with UK ancestry.

I checked my Living DNA account yesterday and the message now reads -

Welcome to Living DNA.
Thank you for uploading your DNA file; we’re excited to process your results and provide insights into your DNA.
By uploading your DNA file to Living DNA, you will have the option to participate in our One Family, One World project, as well as Family Networks and your unique ethnicity results.
To say thank you for your support, each uploader from now until October 31st, 2018 will soon be able to choose to see how they match and connect to other Living DNA participants. This feature is rolling out to small groups of users at a time, starting August 8th, 2018.
We hope you enjoy finding, connecting with people all over the world.
David Nicholson & Hannah Morden

Co Founders - Living DNA
I hope that we will be in one of the first groups to participate in this new service, but regardless, I will report back once I have tried it.

The other date to note in this announcement is that the opportunity for free upload of your DNA test result from another company could expire on 31 October 2018.  So if you have tested at another DNA testing company and have UK ancestry, time is running out to take advantage of this offer.  To participate in this offer -

  • Download your raw DNA data from your account on your DNA testing company's website, and save it to your computer.
  • Join the One Family, One World project on Living DNA, and follow the instructions to upload your raw DNA data.
Good luck!

Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Myriad of New Cousins

It has been a busy few months trying to keep up with all of our new DNA matches at the various DNA testing companies.  My 20 confirmed matches have jumped to 35 since the beginning of the year, and Marlene’s 26 matches have jumped to 51 in the same period.  Admittedly some of these are the same people testing with more than one company, but still, a remarkable increase in new cousins found.

Some of the new matches have been quite straight forward, whereby we compared ancestral trees and the relationship was obvious, but for others the relationships were more complex –
  •          Another previously unknown half-sibling for Marlene’s 3 LeBlanc 2nd cousins once removed, who were all adopted at birth.
  •         Two previously unknown illegitimate 2nd cousins on different lines.
  •          A new first cousin once removed on Marlene’s LeBlanc / Wood lines, who is unaware of any LeBlancs or Woods in her ancestry.
  •          A new third cousin once removed on my Brady line, who appears to have an unknown Brady great great grandfather – his great grandmother was illegitimate and raised by her mother, so this is the most likely source of his Brady DNA, and the geography fits.

None of these new cousins would have been found through researching in paper records, and probably would not have been revealed in conversations with older relatives.  So kudos to DNA testing!

DNA testing has now also confirmed the paper research back to the parents of 13 of our 16 great grandparents – i.e. we share significant amounts of DNA with identified descendants of siblings of 13 of our great grandparents, which proves that we have a common ancestor, but does not prove who that ancestor is.

Overall we have seen more than a 60% increase in DNA matches since the beginning of 2018, so if this trend continues we will more than double the number of matches by the end of the year.  Unfortunately we are still only able to confirm on paper the relationship with just over 0.1% of our DNA matches, but with each new match that we confirm, that percentage creeps slower higher.

I am looking forward to August, when Living DNAs matching service is scheduled to be unveiled.  Hopefully their database will contain more people from the United Kingdom and Ireland, providing more opportunity to find new cousins.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Why Family History is Like Fishing

I enjoy a day of fishing every so often.  Even if I don't catch any fish, I can have a little peace and quiet, alone with my thoughts, in the beauty of nature.

Family history is very similar.  Genealogists all enjoy "catching" that vital piece of information that has eluded them for years, but even if we don't make a major breakthrough, we still enjoy exploring the various tangents, blind alleys and other diversions that we encounter in our searches.  Exploring a cemetery is still fun (in the beauty of nature) even if we don't find the headstone of that elusive ancestor.

But the similarity doesn't end there....  A fisherman has to choose a likely spot to catch fish, and most importantly, he needs the best bait and to use as many hooks as possible (or allowed by law).  In the early days of my family history search, the best bait available was to publish your research interests in a genealogical directory, in the hope that someone else researching the same family would buy the directory & make contact - the more directories you were listed in, covering the appropriate area of the world, the more likely you were to find that distant cousin.  Today, we can post our family tree online, either on our own website, on free public websites such as Wikitree or Family Search, or the subscription services such as Ancestry or MyHeritage.  The more of these options that we embrace, the more "hooks" we are putting out there, and the more likely that our "bait" will be seen and will be attractive to a distant cousin.

In the past few years a new type of fishing has become popular with genealogists - autosomal DNA testing.  But many of those who take an autosomal DNA test, don't bother baiting their hooks, so are cluttering up the pool for other fishermen, and only catching the "hungriest" of relatives.  The following steps will greatly increase your chance of hearing from your DNA matches and determining the relationship -
  1. Put more hooks in the water - My Heritage, Living DNA, Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch all accept uploads of autosomal DNA results from other testing companies, which increases your likelihood of finding a DNA match, at little or no cost.
  2. Improve the bait - If you have details of any of your direct line ancestors, create a tree or upload a GEDCOM file containing your known ancestors (not your entire family history database) to each site that you have uploaded your autosomal DNA result to.  Some sites allow filtering of DNA matches by the surnames in your associated tree / GEDCOM, which helps your DNA matches to narrow down which line you might connect on (especially on Ancestry which only allows you to view a match's tree if you have a paid subscription to their site).
  3. Once hooked, don't let them get away - If a DNA match makes contact with you, respond!  Even if only to say that you are crazy busy and will not be able to investigate the match for some time.  Your response sets the hook, telling your new relative that you are interested in determining how you are related.
Good fishing!

Saturday, 28 April 2018

DNA Testing is Changing Face of Family History

One of the first forays of family history into an electronic world was the introduction of computer software which allowed the user to enter details of their ancestry and produce charts and reports. 

Over time the GEDCOM format was introduced to facilitate the export / import of family tree data between computers, and more recently several companies began offering the ability to create a family tree online and share it with others.

Genealogists have an unquenchable thirst for data (names, dates, places), and Ancestry was quick to capitalize on this, providing access to historical records and the ability to link those records to a family tree.  They have certainly been the market leaders, especially in the North American market.

But recently the big game changer has been the introduction of autosomal DNA testing, introduced by 23andMe in 2007.  But 23andMe is not run by genealogists, focussing instead on ethnicity and health indicators, while providing some family history assistance.

Family Tree DNA is run by a genealogist and in 2010 added autosomal DNA testing to their existing suite of Y-DNA and Mitochondrial-DNA tests, providing the opportunity to have additional testing undertaken without having to submit a new DNA sample.

Ancestry saw the opportunity to add DNA to their product offering in 2012, and in 2016 they were joined by My Heritage and Living DNA.

The current offerings of the major players in the Family History / DNA testing arena is shown in the chart below -

Comparison of DNA / Family History Companies
It boggles my mind that Family Tree DNA offers the best tools for use with family history DNA tests, offers the greatest variety of tests, is often the cheapest test available, and yet after 8 years has the smallest database of autosomal tests of the 4 largest DNA test companies. 

On the other hand, Ancestry has the least useful tools (without an ongoing subscription to other Ancestry services), is one of the more expensive tests, yet after only 6 years has the largest database of autosomal DNA tests.

As indicated in a previous post, I think that My Heritage is the company to watch going forward.  My Heritage is led by a genealogist, they are the only major player to still offer family tree software for the home computer, and their database of autosomal DNA tests has gone from 0 to 1.2 million in just 2 years.  They are also not resting on their laurels, but rapidly introducing features that genealogists want, something lacking from the other leading DNA testing companies over the past 12 months.

There is perhaps some opportunity for consolidation in the industry.  One obvious alignment would be Living DNA and Brightsolid - both are UK companies, they have complementary product offerings, but over time will not able to compete, unless they each broaden their product offering.

Perhaps My Heritage will absorb Family Tree DNA, adding FTDNA's tools to their autosomal offering, but also bringing Y-DNA and Mt-DNA into the mainstream.

By 2020 I see a very different family history / DNA industry than we have in 2018, and as I have pointed out, the early entrants will not necessarily be the survivors.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

MyHeritage DNA is Showing Promise

In past posts I have been somewhat critical of MyHeritage DNA, but by the end of 2018 they could well become the supplier of choice for autosomal DNA tests.

My Heritage was a late entrant into the world of autosomal DNA testing, and their initial offering was very basic - they did not identify which segments of DNA were shared by matches, there were no tools to filter or analyse your DNA matches, and being new, the database of testers was very small.  Their big draw card was that you could upload a DNA test result from other testing companies to My Heritage for free.

Over the past 12 months MyHeritage has greatly increased the size of their database (their database is already larger than the FamilyTreeDNA autosomal database), they have added a chromosome browser, improved their matching algorithm, and generally made the process of reviewing DNA matches a more user-friendly experience.  So what is next?

I watched a presentation by MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet, given at Roots Tech 2018, describing new features they have planned for 2018, and a general outlook on the future of family history and DNA testing, and I was left with the impression that this guy really get it.

Later in 2018, MyHeritage plans to release the first tool utilizing their Big Tree.  The Big Tree is a huge graph with billions of data points taken from family trees, historical records and DNA results on MyHeritage.  The first feature, which is referred to as The Theory of Family Relativity, will analyze your DNA matches, and within milliseconds will create a theoretical paper trail between two DNA testers, to explain how they are related - assuming of course that there are datapoints in the Big Tree to explain the connection.

All I can say is Wow! 

My only question is whether this tool will be available to those of us who took advantage of the free upload of our DNA result from another testing company, or will it be limited to those who have tested with MyHeritage directly, or perhaps limited to only those who have a paid subscription to MyHeritage?

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

DNA Matches by Testing Company (updated)

The Black Friday to New Year sales on autosomal DNA testing kits certainly resulted in a large increase in the sale of DNA tests and a corresponding increase in the number of DNA matches reported, but at least in my case, this did not result in the hoped for increase in the number of matches which can be confirmed by paper research.

The two charts below show the quantity of matches for my wife and I by testing company in November 2017 and then in March 2018 - approximately 4 months.

2017-11-07 DNA Matches by Testing Company

2018-03-10 DNA Matches by Testing Company
 My matches on AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA increased by 34% and 18% respectively, while Marlene's matches increased by only 21% and 12% respectively.  As my ancestry in non-North American and Marlene's ancestry is initially North American, this may indicate that the North American market for DNA tests is maturing while the foreign market continues to grow.

23andMe only shows the top 1200 or so matches for each kit, so their quantity of identified matches has not increased (it actually decreased) despite an increase in the number of people tested.

MyHeritageDNA shows a phenomenal increase in the quantity of matches, but this has more to do with changes in how MyHeritage identifies matches and a reduced threshold in the amount of shared DNA required to become a match, rather than a huge increase in the number of people tested.

Despite the large increase in the number of matches, the quantity of matches verifiable through paper research has only increased by 13% for me and 4% for Marlene - a disappointing result!  The  primary reasons for this are -

  • Lack of response to messages to new matches
  • Absence of online family trees by new matches

AncestryDNA identifies a suggested relationship for each match, and overall I have only been able to confirm (through paper research) less than 0.1% of our identified matches. 

2018-03-10 AncestryDNA Matches by Relationship
I have had no problem confirming 100% of my 2nd and 3rd cousin matches, but beyond 3rd cousins it is much more difficult to confirm the matches.  For me, this is likely due to our common ancestor being born prior to 1800 which is beyond the timeframe of Irish parish records, making it more difficult to confirm. 

Marlene has only been 50% successful in confirming her 2nd and 3rd cousin matches.  Perhaps this indicates an adoption, or perhaps a non-paternal event.  Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I will continue my weekly ritual of checking new matches on all of the testing company sites, and continue trying to get unconfirmed matches to respond to my messages.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Beware of "fake news" re Best Autosomal DNA Test

When I Googled “best autosomal DNA test” recently, I was disturbed by the heavy bias in some of the leading search results.  Many of the reviewers receive a fee when you purchase a particular test through their website, while others seem to place higher importance on features that are probably not very important to the serious family historian (e.g. how long it took to receive the kit). 

The most obvious bogus evaluation was Top 10 Best DNA Testing Sites.  This site rates My Heritage as the number one choice for an autosomal DNA test, with an overall ranking of 9.8 out of 10.  How can this be when My Heritage has the smallest database of test subjects, no analysis tools and requires a paid monthly subscription to get full value out of your DNA test.

No one test is best for everyone, as we all have different preferences, objectives and reasons for taking a DNA test, so any evaluation needs to take your individual needs into consideration.  In an attempt to provide a less-biased evaluation, I have created a DNA test evaluator, where you define the importance of each feature.

If you do not have a good understanding of DNA test features and the use of DNA in family history, you may want to read Roberta Estes’ analysis of the big 3 DNA test offerings, before using the DNA test evaluator.  Roberta is a scientist, but does receive a fee if you order a Family Tree DNA test through her website.

Note – This DNA test evaluator was created using Microsoft Excel, so you will need an app / program on your computer capable of reading .xlsx files, in order to use the evaluator.

The evaluator is simple to use – provide yes / no answers to 6 questions, and identify the importance to you of each of 21 features by assigning each with a number from 0 to 10.  The evaluator will identify the relative rating of each testing company, based on your identified preferences.

Click here to go to my website and access the evaluator.

If you have any comments regarding this tool (good or bad), please email them to me, and I will attempt to improve it.

Disclaimer – I have taken autosomal DNA tests with 23andMe & Ancestry, and have transferred one of these results to Family Tree DNA and My Heritage.  I do not have a paid subscription to Ancestry or My Heritage, and am not affiliated with any of these testing companies in any other way.  I am an amateur family historian with no formal education in genetics.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Some Amazing Family Records

I hope that you enjoy the article below, which I found on the New Zealand "Papers Past" website, and just had to share.  Happy New Year!

Tracing the family history of the people mentioned in the article would no doubt have been challenging & exhausting, and I wonder whether all of the "facts" mentioned would have stood up to today's autosomal DNA testing.

From the Woodville Examiner, Volume XXXVII, Issue 5621, 2 July 1920, Page 3 (Supplement):


Whatever may be the greatest age at which a woman has become a mother, there is no lack of evidence that a man need not despair of graduating as a father even after he has entered the last lap of a century of years. Such a robust veteran was Sir William Nicholson, of Glenbervy, of whom we read in the “Edinburgh Courant” of May 3rd, 1766, “On Wednesday last the lady of Sir William Nicholson was safely delivered of a daughter. What is very singular, Sir William is at present ninety-two years of age, and has a daughter alive of his first marriage, aged sixty-six. He married his present lady when he was eighty-two, by whom he has now had six children. Nor was this grand old Scotsman by any means the only man who has dandled his child on his knees in his tenth decade. Sir Stephen Fox, grandfather of the famous Georgian statesman and gambler, Charles James Fox, was born in 1627, married his first wife twenty-seven years later, and at twenty-eight was father of a daughter who died in infancy. Marrying again in his old age, his last child, a daughter, was cradled in 1727, when her father was within a few months of his 100th birthday. This child survived to the year 1828, and was able to say in her last year, “I had a sister who died 173 years ago.”

A more remarkable story still is told of Thomas Beatty, of Drumcondra, near Dublin, whose 102nd birthday was celebrated by the arrival of his youngest born, while his eldest surviving son had been cradled seventy-three years earlier. And when William Priest, of Ripon, died in April, 1789, at the age of 108, he was followed to his grave by his youngest boy, aged sixteen, who had made his belated appearance when his father had seen his 92nd birthday, and his eldest brother would never see 72 again.


Nor among these ancient stalwarts must we forget the patriarchal Thomas Parr, who at 80 is said to have made his first trip to the altar—with Jane Taylor, by whom, we are told, he had two children. A quarter of a century later, when Parr had reached what should have been the discreet ago of a hundred and five, he was condemned to do penance in a white sheet in Alderbury Church for a love intrigue with one Catherine Milton; and in 1605 when he had passed his 122nd birthday, he had the courage to take to himself a second wife. But, although it is naturally given to few men to qualify as parents at such advanced ages, there have been many family records almost more astonishing. In the Harleian Manuscripts you may see the story, which is almost as incredible as it is well authenticated, of a Scottish weaver, who was father of no fewer than sixty-two children, by one wife all of whom came into the world alive, and of whom forty-six lived to reach maturity. This remarkable record was vouched for by John Delaval, Esquire, of Northumberland, who, in 1630, visited the parents of this prodigious family and thoroughly examined and certified the records of births and deaths.


From a history of Cumberland we learn that, at Kirton-le-moor, in 1797, “a man and his wife, accompanied by their thirty children, might have been seen proceeding to church to the christening of the thirty-first”; while a petition presented to the Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshal, in the year 1698, by one Thomas Greenhill, surgeon, shows, "That, in consideration of your petitioner being the seventh son and thirty-ninth child of one father and mother, your Grace would be pleased to signalise it by some particular motto or augmentation to his coat-of-arms, to transmit to posterity so uncommon a thing.”

"The Gentleman's Magazine” records, in 1743, the death at the age of 106, of Mrs Agnes Melbourne, "who was the mother of thirty children”; and James Huish, a grocer of Soper Lane, who was buried in St. Pancras’ Paris Church, is said to have left twenty-nine children to mourn his loss. The second Viscount St. Vincent was the twenty-third of a family of twenty-seven; Alderman Ralph Woodcock, who died in 1586, was father of twenty-four children by four wives; and Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord mayor of London, had eleven boys and as many girls to call him father though only one of the twenty-two—John Colet, the famous Dean of St. Paul’s —survived to wear mourning for him.

But there is no need to go back to these olden days for such examples of well-filled quivers. Canada can point with pride to Levi Braskaw who, while still in the sixties, could count his offspring to forty- one, all with one exception, very much alive. His first wife was responsible for six of them; his second added a round two dozen more; and his third spouse completed the list with a contribution of eleven. At 69 Mr Braskaw had 20 married sons and daughters, and his living descendants numbered just under two hundred.


In recent years, too, we have heard of Anthony Clark, a book-canvasser, who acknowledged in the Clerkenwell County Court the paternity of thirty-two children; of Mrs Mary Jonas, of Chester, who increased the census of England by thirty-three; and of a Mrs Emma Hare who confided to a neighbour that, so far she had nursed her twenty-seventh child. In one day, not long ago, three parents called upon the Registrar of Births for Whittlesey, Isle of Ely, to register the births —one, of his twenty-first child; the second, of his nineteenth; and the third, of number seventeen - the three families thus aggregating fifty-seven children. And even this joint record is eclipsed by three sisters in Kingston, Jamaica, who count sixty children among them, the numbers being respectively, nineteen, twenty, and twenty-one.

Still more astonishing is the rapidity with which in some cases nurseries have been replenished. Thus we learn from a French scientific work that the wife of a Paris baker presented her husband with twenty-one children, in batches of three at a birth and in the short space of seven years. From Antwerp a few years ago, came the story of a woman who had actually given birth to six sons in one year—the first set of triplets, in January; and the second, in the following December. And in a divorce case in Chicago it came out in evidence that the plaintiff, Mrs Josephine Ormsby, though she had only been married seven years, had in that time been the mother of one set of triplets, two pairs of twins, three single children; and one set of quadruplets—an average of two children a year.

But it is not necessary for a family to grow at such an alarming rate in order to reach large proportions even during the lifetime of its founder. Thus we read of a Mrs Honeywood, of Charing, in Kent, who died three centuries ago at the age of 93, that she had 16 children, 114 grandchildren, 288 great-grand-children, and 9 great-great-grand-children —a family of 367, all of whom she lived to see. Even this record was thrown completely into eclipse by Lady Temple, of Stow, who is said to have survived to see no fewer than seven hundred descendants.


Not long ago we read of the death of Mrs Ursula Lightfoot, of Ayton, in Yorkshire, who, when she died in her ninety-fourth year, left 9 children, 79 grandchildren, 73 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren to wear mourning for her. In Southern Georgia Mrs Shiver spent her last years in visiting, one after another, the homes of her descendants, who numbered 310 in four generations: and Mrs Sarah Ann Woolf, of Utah, when she died at the age of ninety-one, left 303 living descendants, including 189 great-grandchildren, and 23 great-great-grandchildren.

But all these records have been thrown into the shade by six brothers and sisters, children of a settler (named Webb) in the Cumberland district of Kentucky, who, among them, have lived to see 1651 of their progeny. The palm of fecundity goes to the eldest brother, Jason, with a record of 444 descendants; Miles takes second place, with 402; then follow three sisters, with contributions of 230, 208, and 201 respectively; and the roll ends with the youngest brother, whose total is a modest 166. It is by no means an uncommon thing for five generations of the same family to be living at the same time. Before the writer is a photograph of a Mrs Rosier, a lady of 93, taken in company with her daughter, grand-daughter, great-granddaughter, and great-great-grandson, Stuart Leo Bruce, an infant of three weeks who was christened at Cheveley not long ago. And by the birth of a daughter to Mr and Mrs Llewellyn V. Adams, a fifth generation was added to a Reading family, of which the child’s great-great-grandparents, Mr and Mrs Betteridge, were the senior members. But these records were surpassed by a case recorded by the author of “The Natural History of Staffordshire.” who tells us of “Old Mary Cooper, of King’s Bromley in this county, not long since dead, who lived to be a beldame, that is, to see the sixth generation; and even to say, the same I have heard repeated of another, viz:—‘Rise up, daughter. and go to thy daughter, for thy daughter’s daughter had a daughter.’ ”

Of a Lady Child, of Shropshire, who was a mother at thirteen and a grandmother at twenty-seven, it is said, ‘‘at the same rate she might easily have been a beldame at sixty-six, and had she reached 120, as has been done by others, it was possible that nine generations might have existed together.”