The Search For Helen’s Roots – Part II

In the last post (“The Search for Helen’s Roots“) we learned that my adopted great-grandmother, Helen Johnson, has a cluster of shared close autosomal DNA matches in the 3rd and 4th cousin range. These matches are all genealogically members of a Snell family which lived in the same small county in Upstate New York where my great-grandmother was born.

We also learned that my grandmother married Walter A. Snell, who also appears to be a member of the same Snell family.

Did Helen knowingly marry someone who was her cousin or possibly her half-brother? Did she always know who she was biologically?

Is My Surname Actually SNELL?

On February 17, 1932, Helen’s first husband Frank Bettinger passed away unexpectedly at the age of 59:

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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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AncestryDNA Announces New IN COMMON WITH Tool

With genetic genealogy the name of the game is collaboration, whether it is collaboration with other people or collaboration among the trees and records of our genealogical and genetic matches. Only when we collaborate can we generate the clues and information necessary to break through walls and recover the names of those missing ancestors.

We have multiple tools for collaboration of genetic matches. At GEDmatch and DNAGedcom, for example, we have many third-party tools that assist our efforts. The companies also offer tools that allow us to sift through our matches to find the clues we need. Family Tree DNA, for example, has an In Common With (“ICW”) tool and a Matrix tool that allow users to see what matches they share in common with another person.

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How Much of Your Family Tree Do You Know? And Why Does That Matter?

Today, I saw an interesting table posted to Facebook, summarizing a genealogist’s family tree. It listed a handful of generations along with the number of possible ancestors in each generation, and the individual’s known ancestors for that generation.

Out of curiosity, I generated a similar table with my own data:

Bettinger Genealogy


There are many interesting data points in the table. For instance, between the 7th and 8th generations, I drop from knowing 71% of all of my ancestors to knowing just 51% of my ancestors. At 10 generations, with 2046 total ancestors in all generations, I only know a quarter of them. And while I feel very confident for the first 6 or 7 generations; after that I’m much less confident with my family tree.

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A Review of TribeCode by Centrillion Biosciences

aSN0QmAV_400x400TribeCode (www.TribeCode.com) is a relatively new direct-to-consumer genetic genealogy testing company, officially launching in the fall of 2014. The company is owned by Centrillion Biosciences, headquartered in Palo Alto, California. The TribeCode test, currently offered for $99, offers Y-DNA, mtDNA, and atDNA analysis.

The ISOGG wiki page about TribeCode offers some information about the test, gleaned mostly from Facebook postings by the company. For example, the test apparently uses an Illumina low-coverage sequencing technology and tests at least 12 million markers throughout the genome. More exact details of the sequencing aren’t yet found on the TribeCode website.

Around Thanksgiving of 2014 I ordered the test on sale from approximately $79, and received my results a couple of months later.

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Creating DNA Circles – Exploring the Use of “Genetic Networks” in Genetic Genealogy

I recently forced the creation of a DNA Circle at AncestryDNA by target testing a descendant of a common ancestor. This blog post offers some information about how I did it, and some of my reasoning for doing so.

AncestryDNA’s DNA Circles

AncestryDNA offers a tool called DNA Circles, which is a group of at least three individuals that share a common ancestor in their public family tree at Ancestry, and each member shares DNA identical-by-descent with at least one other person in the circle.

According to AncestryDNA, a DNA Circle “open[s] the possibility for AncestryDNA members to identify distant relatives with whom they do not share DNA IBD directly, but with whom they still have genetic evidence supporting their relationship.” Instead of relying on just triangulation, DNA Circles rely on the concept of a Genetic Network.

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The Shared cM Project – An Update

As you might recall, a few months ago I sent out a call (“Collecting Sharing Information for Known Relationships“) for information about the amount of DNA shared by people having a known genealogical relationship. I was hoping to get a better picture of the ranges of the amount of DNA shared by people in these relationships (through about the third cousin range). The incredibly generous genetic genealogy community responded by submitting data bout more than 6,000 relationships!

I posted information a few weeks ago (“Collecting Sharing Information for Known Relationships – Part II“), but today I have an update.

This data is shared under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC license. You are free to share and use the information for non-commercial purposes, as long as you give proper attribution and release anything you create under the same license.

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