The cross roads of genetics and genealogy is a exciting new frontier right now. Individuals everywhere are quick to provide a DNA sample to one of the various testing companies. Then they sit back and wait. Anticipation builds waiting for the grand revelations that the sample will show.
Then the results come back.
When an overwhelming amount of matches and information is suddenly dumped into their laps after weeks of waiting a lot of people are chased off.
For those who actually dig into the matches and start to work out the various connections it can either be a fascinating new addiction or a confusing new version of trigonometry that will make your brain hurt. Often it can be both.
Puzzling it all out.
I went down the rabbit hole of genetic genealogy and quickly found myself hooked. Where traditional genealogy can often be questioned because people can provide incorrect information or people can be confused during records research, DNA doesn’t lie.
I have been lucky in the aspect that many of my known relatives have tested with one of the various DNA testing services. It has provided me the opportunity to evaluate various connections and how genetics have passed down through different lines. There have been several revelations have have been interesting to me.
By the numbers.
I share more DNA with my maternal uncle than I do with my paternal half-sister. Both relationships match up for the correct range of shared centimorgans but I found it interesting that I share 300 more cm’s of DNA with an uncle than I do with my half-sibling.
By the chance of recombination in DNA my half-sibling and I both inherited vastly different portions of DNA from our shared parent. I share a heavy dose of DNA with relatives of our shared grandfather, she shares a heavy dose of DNA with our shared grandmother. Our shared DNA is approximately 1500 cm’s.
In fact I share so little DNA with some of the relatives that she matches up to that I would be left to question the validity of those relationships to me if not for her test results.
Don’t use just one test when coming to final conclusions. Just like with traditional genealogy research, it is important to build a case based on various pieces of information and not just one tiny snippet that fits a theory.
Have you had any interesting match math in DNA results?
Like many other long-time genealogists, I find myself captivated
by the powerful tool created with the marriage of genetics and traditional genealogy.
There are so many implications both positive and negative that have come from
this meeting of science and history.
While the discussion of the merits and risks of genetic testing is one that will probably never be easily settled debate, for this moment I would like to touch on one interesting positive aspect of this exciting new research frontier, the DNA Doe Project.
The DNA Doe Project was one of the first organizations that drew
my interest to genetic genealogy.
While the tales of cases such as the capture of the Golden
State Killer dominate headlines when they are finally cracked with the sleuthing
capabilities of talented genetic genealogists such as CeCe Moore, quietly
behind the scenes thousands of equally talented researchers toil on cases that
will never make headlines.
The DNA Doe Project is one such organization full of
dedicated and talented researchers. The people at DDP work to fundraise for
extensive DNA testing of the remains of unidentified persons in the United
States. Thousands of volunteers work to give the names back to these “Does”
using both DNA analysis and traditional genealogy research methods to correctly
identify family connections. In some of these cases the families have waited
decades for closure, wondering what happened to their loved one who suddenly vanished.
Belle in the Well
The “Belle in the Well” was an unidentified person found in
a well in 1981. Recently, through the work of the DDP the family of the belle
in the well was identified and she was finally given back her name after nearly
In April 1981 2 girls playing found an unidentifiable object
in a well. Authorities were contacted and the severely decomposed remains of a
female were pulled from the well. The
adult woman was fully clothed, except for missing shoes. She had a key for a
bus locker on her body. There was not much to reveal the identity of this woman
who had been so callously strangled and discarded in a well. The “Belle in the Well”
would be her name until July 29, 2019.
” The woman was found wearing a pair of grey flannel pants, and a lightweight shirt under a gray pullover. She also wore a red cable-knit cardigan sweater, with rubber bands around her wrists. The only items found on her body were the key to a locker at a Greyhound terminal in Huntington, WV, a bus ticket, a pay stub, and a Jerry Falwall commemorative coin. “
DNA Doe Project via original case info
Louise Peterson Flesher
Fourteen months after a DNA profile was extracted from the
remains in the belle in the well, and with the efforts of thousands of
volunteers, the living daughter of Louise Peterson Flesher was located and with
DNA testing was performed to confirm the two were mother and daughter. The belle
in the well finally had her name returned to her and a woman who had wondered
for decades what happened to her mother finally had information and some
The murder of Louise Peterson Flesher remains an open case.
I found myself wondering how someone goes missing for
decades with no one realizing that their loved one is on an unidentified
persons list. Didn’t someone wonder where Louise disappeared to for 4 decades?
I looked up what I could find on Louise Peterson Flesher and the circumstances
of her life before she vanished.
She had been married at one time; she had a family at one
time. Her husband was a police officer. How did she wind up forgotten in that
From what I could find in quick research on Louise Peterson
Flesher her life was at one point at least on the surface a nice life until
1959. With a little deeper digging I discovered that the Flesher’s had two
daughters, the one who eventually helped identify her mother’s remains, and
another daughter, Helen. Helen was born about 1939 in Wyoming. In 1940 the family
is all living together. Two years later the household of Louise and her husband
is back in their home state of West Virginia which is not odd. At this point I
realize there was something amiss in the Flesher household. I found a death
record for Helen Flesher dated 1959 in Wyoming. She died at a place called the
Wyoming State Training School. Closer inspection reveals this to have been a
home for the “mentally retarded and feeble minded”.
The first instance I can find of Louise and her husband not
residing in the same household is the same year that their daughter Helen died,
1959, in Wyoming. The family was living in West Virginia and had been there since
they left Wyoming in 1942.
Did this death of Helen cause the crumbling of the Flesher
household? I can only speculate.
Louise’s and her husband divorced, and he remarried. I wish
I had a crystal ball to see what happened to Louise in the years between her daughter’s
death and what brought her to that well in 1981. How did she disappear, and no
one wondered where she was?
While hope of solving this case is dim I am thankful that
through the dedicated efforts of individuals like the volunteers at the DNA Doe
Project are working tirelessly to return the names to these unidentified persons
and to give closure to families who have sometimes waited decades to learn what
happened to their loved ones.
The “Belle in the Well” is just one of the many cases that
have been solved by the DNA Doe Project.
Using DNA with genealogy can be both a powerful and an intimidating prospect. When I first did my testing, I looked at my results and felt very overwhelmed. You get this list of tens of thousands of matches and it’s hard to fathom how to even approach organizing them or if you even want to bother. I thought it might be helpful for others if I shared some of the things I found useful in my journey into genetic genealogy.
I did my testing on ancestry. Ancestry has the biggest database of people who have taken the DNA test. Ancestry also has some serious limitations to their DNA side of the site. The estimated relationships on ancestry are very vague compared to other sites. They also lack a chromosome browser using instead what can be misleading “shared matches” only.
Despite the limitations of ancestry’s DNA tools, there is a lot of great information that can be pulled from ancestry. To get the most out of the matches on ancestry without going through each tree all at once I use a Leed’s Spreadsheet. I create a list of all matches down to about 50 cm’s. For simplicity, I start at the first match that is below 500cm’s. I start with the first match and color all the shared matches with that match the same color. I then move onto the next match that I didn’t assign to the first group, choose a new color, and mark all the shared matches creating a second group. I go on to the next match not in groups 1 or 2 and create group 3. I continue until I have created groups of all my matches. This will usually sort the matches out into several family lines.
Smaller groups are much easier to compare to see who the shared family lines are between the various matches.
Here is a helpful and more in-depth guide to using the Leeds Method.
It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with the limitations of ancestry’s DNA site. I started looking for more ways to get the most out of my information. Enter DNA Painter.
DNA Painter is a site with most of the features free. DNA painter has several tools that are amazing for helping process DNA data. I’ll start with the “What are the Odds?” tool. This tool allows you to take matches from ancestry and input the shared cm’s creating a basic tree for how you think a match connects. This allows you to test a hypothesis and tell you if you are on the right track. It is very useful for ruling out wrong relationships and narrowing down possible connections.
Another tool on DNA painter is the “Shared CM Tool.” This tool can take vague relationships of ancestry and refine them into more detailed explanations. It provides an odds breakdown of each of the possible relationships. This can be useful for trying to determine where to put shared matches on the “What are the Odds?” tree.
The last tool that I find useful on DNA Painter is useless with ancestry due to the lack of a chromosome browser but there is a work around to obtain your chromosome information if you do testing on ancestry. This last tool is the ability to create a genetic profile. Using a site that gives you the shared chromosomes of DNA matches DNA painter gives you the ability to “paint” your matches. This tool is powerful for grouping up matches based on actual shared genetics.
To obtain chromosome information using ancestry test results I recommend downloading your raw DNA data from ancestry and uploading it to Gedmatch Genesis.
This site is free but there is a pay option for some of the more technical tools.
This blog by the DNA Geek will help you transfer your data from ancestry to Gedmatch Genesis.
When it comes to ancestors things have a way of accelerating quickly from one generation one the next. What starts as one person with two parents, becomes four grandparents, eight great grandparents, 16 great- great grandparents, and so on and so forth. At ten generations, a person has 2,046 ancestors. Each generation is twice the number of the generation that came before.
We have four basic types of blood relations: ancestors, siblings, aunts/uncles, and cousins.
Most of a person’s blood relatives are cousins. At any given time, most people will have thousands if not millions of cousins of varying degrees. First cousins, those who share the same set of grandparents will be the closest and share 12.5% of DNA. The more distant the connection, less shared DNA. Third cousins, who share a set of great-great grandparents, can expect to share less than 1% of DNA.
One thing I constantly struggle with when it comes to genealogy is determining how people are related. Even after decades of genealogy, I still use a cousin calculator for most extended relationships. The article below has a great explanation of how to calculate distant relationships.
How, exactly, are you related to the child of your great-great-grandmother’s sister’s son? We’ll explain the steps to calculating cousinhood.