The Search For Helen’s Roots

My great-grandmother, Helen Johnson, was adopted.Copyright Blaine T. Bettinger

She was born on March 2, 1889 in Mexico, Oswego County, New York, the unnamed daughter of a “Minerva D. Johnson” (age 20 and born in nearby New Haven, Oswego County, NY) and an unknown father. (New York State Department of Health, birth certificate 8040 (1889), no name; Office of Vital Statistics, Albany).

She died at the age of 93 in 1983 in Watertown, New York. Visiting the elderly Helen (by then known as Marley) is one of my earliest childhood memories.

In an attempt to find Helen’s ancestors, I’m using DNA that I graciously obtained from four of Helen’s grandchildren (my father, two of his sisters, and their first cousin). Last week, I uncovered some possible clues that have raised more questions than I could have ever thought possible. And when DNA is involved, that’s really saying something!

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An mtDNA Journey – Discovering My mtDNA in a Research Paper

I’ve always known that I have weird mtDNA. This morning, I learned that it is so weird that it has helped identify a new branch of the mtDNA Haplogroup A family tree.

Haplogroup A

When I first received the results of an mtDNA test ten years ago, I was shocked to learn that my mtDNA belonged to Haplogroup A, one of the well-known Native American haplogroups. I knew that my ancestors on my maternal line were British missionaries to Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras, traceable back to about the 1820’s, and so I was expecting haplgroup H or another traditionally European mtDNA haplogroup.


My mtDNA Line – 5 Generations in Photographs

Not surprisingly, I had no close matches in the Family Tree DNA database. And when I tried to research my haplogroup, I had a handful of control region mutations that no one else in the database or the academic literature seems to have.

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Applying Autosomal DNA to Complex Genealogical Questions

800px-DNA_sequenceA new must-read piece of genealogical scholarship using autosomal DNA as evidence was published this week in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, a publication of the National Genealogical Society. The article, authored by Thomas Jones, Ph.D. and entitled “Too Few Sources to Solve a Family Mystery? Some Greenfields in Central and Western New York” is one of a tiny handful that use DNA as one of several different pieces of evidence to answer a genealogical question.

While issues of the NGSQ are available only to members, gaining access to the benefits of NGS – including the NGSQ and the increasing number of articles incorporating DNA – is well worth the $65 membership fee.

Where is the DNA Scholarship?

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GUEST POST – What a Difference a Phase Makes

The following is a guest post by Ann Turner, founder of the of the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list at RootsWeb and co-author (with Megan Smolenyak) of “Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree.” Thank you Ann for this terrific post!

Genetic genealogists use autosomal DNA testing to locate people who share some DNA, enough to point to a relationship in a genealogical time frame. We’re not impressed by accidental matches that occur simply because all humans share 99.9% of their DNA. We want to be confident that the shared DNA segment is Identical by Descent (IBD) from a particular common ancestor, one who lived some number of generations in the past.

Two practical difficulties stand in the way of definitive confirmation. One is that our pedigrees are not complete, and we cannot test every link in the chain to prove that the segment traveled down the pathway we’ve identified through the paper trail. Indeed, as more data accumulates we frequently discover that a match we attributed to one ancestor must have come through an entirely different line.

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Recreating a Grandmother’s Genome – Part 2

In my last post (see “Recreating a Grandmother’s Genome – Part 1”), I introduced my grandmother Jane, who died when I was just 8 years old. Although I have only a few memories of my grandmother, I have 25% of her DNA. To explore this rich genetic legacy, I’m trying to recreate as much of my grandmother’s genome as possible using the GEDmatch Tier 1 tool called “Lazarus.”

In the last post we also learned about the new Lazarus tool. In today’s post, we’ll choose what kits to use for my grandmother’s Lazarus kit.

Finding DNA Kits for Lazarus


So GROUP 1 must be descendants of the target Lazarus kit. My grandmother has six children, twelve grandchildren, and eleven great-granchildren. Any of these 29 people are candidates for GROUP 1. Of those 29 people, I’ve tested four of the six children and one of the grandchildren (myself). Yeah, I know, I have more testing to do!

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Small Matching Segments – Examining Hypotheses

Last week I published “Small Matching Segments – Friend or Foe?” to join in the community’s conversation about the use of “small” segments of DNA, referring to segments 5 cM and smaller (although keep in mind that the term “small,” without a more specific definition, will mean different things to different people).

The question that the community has been struggling with is whether small segments of DNA can be used as genealogical evidence, and if so, how they can be used.

As I wrote in my post, a significant percentage of small segments are false positives, with the number at least 33% and likely much higher. In my examination and in the Durand paper I discuss, a false positive is defined as a small segment that is not shared between a child and at least one of the parents.

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Small Matching Segments – Friend or Foe?

There has been a great deal of conversation in the genetic genealogy community over the past couple of weeks about the use of “small” segments of matching DNA. Typically, the term “small” refers to segments of 5 cM and smaller, although some people include segments of 7 cM or even 10 cM and smaller in the definition.

The question, essentially, is whether small segments of DNA can be used as genealogical evidence, and if so, how they can be used.

While it may seem at first that all shared segments of DNA could constitute genealogical evidence, unfortunately some small segments are IBS, creating “false positive” matches for reasons other than recent ancestry. These segments sometimes match because of lack of phasing, phasing errors, or a variety of other reasons. One thing, however, is clear: there is no debate in the genetic genealogy community that many small segments are false positive matches. There IS debate, however, regarding the rate of false positive matches, and what that means for the use of small segments as genealogical evidence.

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DNA Standards and Certification – A Response to an NGS Quarterly Editorial

EDIT 2/8/2014 – I am happy to report that the group originally organized by CeCe Moore is still planning to work on standards, guidelines, and certification for Genetic Genealogists, and thus I will continue to work with that group. Thank you to everyone that expressed support, and I will try to contact you soon.

Original Post:

Below, I’m taking the unenviable position of disagreeing, at least in part, with an editorial by Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones in National Genealogical Society Quarterly entitled “DNA Standards.” (1)  I’m writing to share my viewpoint and my thoughts about moving forward, and to provide a venue for continued discussion on the subject.

This is also the first post in a series of posts about “DNA and the Genealogical Proof Standard,” culminating with a presentation with the same title at SCGS Jamboree 2014 (on Friday June 7, 2014 at 2:30 PM).

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DNA Presentations at Jamboree (Other than on DNA Day)

DNA_JamboreeAs I wrote previously, the Southern California Genealogical Society has officially announced the 45th Annual Southern California Genealogy Jamboree (June 6-8, 2014), which will again be preceded by Family History and DNA: Genetic Genealogy in 2014.

In addition to many presentations on DNA Day (Thursday), there are DNA-related presentations planned throughout Jamboree (Friday through Saturday).

Browsing through the schedule (links at top of page here), these are the presentations I found either directed to DNA or explicitly utilizing DNA:

  • Blaine Bettinger (FR018) – “DNA and the Genealogical Proof Standard”
  • CeCe Moore (FR019) – “Why Should I Take a DNA Test?”
  • Nicka Smith, Angela Walton-Raji, Bernice Bennett and Shelly Murphy (FR024) – “The Future of African American Genealogy”
  • Bennett Greenspan (SA037) – “The Future of Genetic Genealogy”
  • ISOGG (SA049) – “Ask the Experts about DNA and Genealogy”
  • Maurice Gleeson (SU020) – “Ireland and the Slave Trade”
  • Drew Smith (SU024) – “DNA 102: Understanding and Using Test Results”
  • Blaine Bettinger (SU029) – “Begging for Spit”

My Other Presentations

I’m especially excited about presenting “DNA and the Genealogical Proof Standard.”  This topic has not received nearly enough coverage by the genealogy community, and I think it’s very important. I will absolutely be asking for input from others, so feel free to share your thoughts below (or on a future post I’m planning). Here’s the short summary of the presentation:

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Identifying Ötzi the Iceman’s Relatives

In 1991, German tourists in the Alps discovered the mummified remains of a man who died approximately 5,000 years ago. Named Ötzi, the remains have been studied extensively and have revealed a wealth of information about life in this region.

Ötzi’s DNA

Of note to genetic genealogists, Ötzi’s DNA has also been the subject of extensive analysis.  In February 2012, sequencing of Ötzi’s full genome was announced (see here and here) which revealed, among other things, that the Iceman probably had brown eyes, belonged to blood group O, and was lactose intolerant.  He may also have had Lyme disease, as the genome of the infectious agent  Borrelia burgdorferi was also identified in the sequencing effort.

Ötzi’s Y-DNA belongs to a subclade of Haplogroup G defined by the SNPs M201, P287, P15, L223 and L91 (G-L91).  As far as I know, he has not yet been typed for any of the subclades downstreaming from G-L91. More information can be found at the G-L91 page of the Haplogroup G Project, and elsewhere online.

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