Thursday, July 17, 2014

23andMe Results (and comparisons with AncestryDNA and FTDNA)

So, given the varying results between AncestryDNA and FTDNA, I decided to test with 23andMe as well. I talked before about how AncestryDNA said my genetic make up was 55% British, 5% Western European (German, for me), and 2% Scandinavian (Norwegian, for me) while FTDNA said it was 0% British, 26% Western/Central European (German), and 34% Scandinavian (Norwegian). The only thing they could agree on was roughly the same amount Italian. What I determined from this was that some of my DNA was nearly indistinguishable between British, German, and Scandinavian.

Hoping to get a third opinion, I tested with 23andMe, also because their results show which portions of my chromosomes are categorized in which regions. I'm hoping this will help me determine how I'm related to my DNA matches (if I match someone on a portion of a chromosome that says Italian, theoretically I should be related to them by my Italian branch), but I haven't determined if this is the case or not.

In any case, these are my 23andMe results:

  • 99.7% European
    • 17.4% French & German
    • 16.7% British & Irish
    • 4.6% Scandinavian
    • 24.3% Broadly Northern European
    • 18.9% Italian
    • 0.1% Iberian
    • 9.3% Broadly Southern European
    • 8.5% Broadly European
  • 0.1% Middle Eastern & North African
    • 0.1% North African
  • 0.1% Unassigned
23andMe seem to be more honest about the fact that some of my DNA is just too similar to multiple regions to be able to place it and this may why my results include 24.3% Broadly Northern European, 9.3% Broadly Southern European, and 8.5% Broadly European. The category Broadly Northern European includes the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Western Europe so about a good quarter of my DNA is indistinguishable among these regions. Other companies seems reluctant to admit that some DNA is just not distinct enough to narrow it down to a specific region, I guess because they think it devalues the product. I know some people really hate the "Broadly" results from 23andMe because they are frustrated by the vagueness of it but I'd rather see a company be honest about the fact that some DNA just can't be placed more specifically than try to incorrectly place it in a specific region. That in itself still tells you something, it tells you that a portion of your DNA might be such a mix of Viking and/or Germanic tribes that it can't be distinguished as British, Scandinavian, or Western Europe. It means that portion of your DNA isn't Celtic or Roman.

Similarly, while Italian comes back only 18.9%, it also says 9.3% Broadly Southern European which I'm sure is just more of my Italian genes because I have no other known Southern European heritage. So it's telling me I'm about 28% Italian, which is not hugely dissimilar to the 31% AncestryDNA estimates it at.

I originally tested with AncestryDNA because I already had my tree there and so it seemed to make the most sense. But without a chromosomal/genome browser, I quickly realized how useless the matches are and turned to GEDmatch as a free replacement - but of course not all AncestryDNA users are on GEDmatch. So I transferred my data to FTDNA for $69 because people say they have a bigger database of potential matches. Unfortunately, this was incorrect in my case. While they did have a chromosomal browser which was a step up from AncestryDNA, I had significantly fewer matches at FTDNA (only 245 compared to the 4,530 at AncestryDNA) and most of them don't seem to have uploaded a gedcom. Your mileage may vary. I have 988 matches at 23andMe, but the difference may also have to do with the criteria each company sets for how much DNA you must share with someone in order to be considered a match, not just how many people are in their database. 

The downside to 23andMe, as far as I can see, is that even with a "public match" you have to individually request and share your genomes in order to use the chromosomal browser, unlike at FTDNA where you can view any of your matches genomes without having to ask permission. I will say though that 23andMe at least make it easy to send an invite to share genomes, with just a couple clicks. People who are very concerned with privacy might be more inclined to test with 23andMe (or AncestryDNA) but for those trying to do some hard research, the lack of instant access to compare chromosomal matches on 23andMe is frustrating (though less frustrating than AncestryDNA where viewing genomes is simply not possible at all). And like FTDNA, most 23andMe users don't have a gedcom uploaded, also very frustrating when trying to make a link between DNA and family tree. One thing I will say for AncestryDNA is that most users testing there have done so because they already have a tree there. Some users moan and whine about the testers who don't have a tree or a public tree but they are in the minority in comparison to FTDNA and 23andMe users where the norm is to not have a tree (and where you can't request to see a private tree).

So each company has it's advantages and disadvantages. Keep in mind that only FTDNA allows data transfers (for $69) from 23andMe or AncestryDNA so if you test with another company, you can transfer the data to FTDNA for less than it would cost to buy another test with another company. But given that FTDNA has a public chromosomal browser, if you plan to only test with one company, I would recommend FTDNA, even though they have fewer matches in my experience. If you think you might want more than one opinion, I recommend testing with 23andMe and transferring your data to FTDNA. And of course no matter which company you test with, I highly recommend uploading your data to GEDmatch because it's entirely free, though there is an option to donate however much you want.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

AncestryDNA vs FTDNA & What the Results Tell Me

My FTDNA myOrigins results
Earlier, I talked about the new myOrigins results at FTDNA and how I had zero results for my British heritage even though I have several known British branches in my tree and AncestryDNA puts my British results around 55%, a massive difference - which one do I put more weight in? On one hand, FTDNA's zero British results seems hugely inaccurate but equally, AncestryDNA's estimate of only 5% West Europe (German, for me) when I know I have several German branches and only a 2% "trace amount" of Scandinavian when one of my great grandfathers was Norwegian always felt a little off too.

My results from AncestryDNA, trace amounts are in outline
In my other post, I talked about how FTDNA was probably placing my British DNA into it's Scandinavian and German categories, because the British do have Viking and Germanic tribe influences and my results for those categories are much higher with FTDNA than they are with I've realized that what this may mean is that my British DNA is entirely Viking and Germanic, with little to no Celtic or Roman influence. This idea is supported by the fact that AncestryDNA give me only trace amounts of Irish results (less than 1%). At first, I though this was just because I have no real Irish ancestry - all my "Irish" ancestors were actually from what is now Northern Ireland, which means they are more than likely genetically Scottish or English (shhh, don't tell my half Irish husband). And this may still be the case. But it's also come to my attention that what AncestryDNA mean by "Ireland" is actually more like "Celtic". Additionally, FTDNA seems to suggest that their "European Coastal Islands" category (shown on their map as basically Britain and Ireland), may be their idea of "Celtic" too, because their description of this category says: "This group is typical to the British Isles, especially Ireland." So, I'm getting little to no Irish/Celtic results from AncestryDNA and I'm also showing no results for "especially Ireland" from FTDNA. Maybe the different results from the two companies aren't so different after all, if what they are both trying to tell me is "you're not Irish or Celtic."

What it's also probably telling me is that because my British DNA is so influenced by Viking and Germanic DNA, it is almost indistinguishable from those categories. Depending on the control group samples each company used, my British, Scandinavian, and German DNA will therefore naturally have different percentages and it doesn't mean one is more accurate than the other. When you have two or more groups of peoples who are genetically too similar to one another to tell them apart, it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to accurately place their DNA. It's probably never going to be accurate to say I'm "this much British and that much Scandinavian" - it will be more accurate to say that apart from my Italian heritage, I mostly come from Viking and Germanic blood, regardless of whether that DNA has more recently come from Britain or Norway or Germany.

At least both companies seem to agree that I am about 1/3 Italian - although with FTDNA, I am getting similar influences from the Middle East. According to them, I am 17% Middle Eastern but of course, I know there is no one in my tree from the Middle East. What's happening here is very similar to what is happening with my British DNA - that the Italians, particular southern Italians and Sicilians (which are a known part of my ancestry), have had genetic influences from the Middle East and therefore some of their DNA can be very similar. Even AncestryDNA identified trace amounts from the exact same regions of the Middle East - just one example of why you shouldn't always dismiss those trace amounts as statistical noise.

While it's easy to lump those Middle Eastern results into my Italian ancestry because I have no Middle Eastern ancestors, it's more difficult to distinguish my British, Scandinavian, and German DNA because I do have ancestors from all of those places. But if you take a look at the two maps above and ignore the percentages for a moment, it's interesting to see how almost all the circled regions are the same from both companies. They've both identified "West Europe" or in this case, my German heritage. They've both identified my Scandinavian - or Norwegian heritage. They both identified some small amounts from Finland/NW Russia which I think is coming from an influence on my Norwegian ancestors. And they've both identified my Italian DNA with it's Middle Eastern influences. The only thing missing from FTDNA is a circle around the British Isles, which I think I've been able to explain, and the fact that AncestryDNA's results has less than 1% from Asia South, which is essentially India, but I'm pretty sure this is just statistical noise or somehow again related to my Italian ancestry.

Still, FTDNA results like this can be very misleading for people who don't take the time to consider these possibilities. Equally,'s "trace" amounts of my Scandinavian DNA might be misleading too, when it may be higher than that. There is so much to consider and my varying percentages from these two companies just goes to show that DNA is not such an exact science yet after all.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Today's Genealogy Lesson

First German Church on Juniata St.,
Pittsburgh; my ancestor's place
of worship but not burial
An ancestor's place of worship and burial location are not necessarily one in the same. Many places of worship in dense urban areas did not have room for large cemeteries, or any at all, so just because your ancestors worshiped there doesn't mean they are buried there. They may have even had a funeral service there but been buried at a different church cemetery. 

I was fooled by this recently when I found an obituary for my ancestor saying his funeral service was at First German Church on Juniata Street in Pittsburgh (a.k.a. First German United Evangelical Protestant Church and now known as Victory Baptist Church). I wrongly assumed that meant he was buried there, even though I know that today it's very common to have a funeral service in one location and the burial location in another, in my experience, this is usually done at a non-denominational funeral home, not two different churches. So when I got the ancestor's death certificate saying he was buried at "Spring Hill", I was kind of confused. For starters, I couldn't find any Spring Hill church or cemetery in Pittsburgh but then I recalled that the ancestor's in-laws were buried somewhere with "Spring Hill" in it. It was called Saint Johns Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery (now called Brighton Heights Lutheran Church Cemetery) in an area of Pittsburgh called Spring Hill, North Side (and to make matters more complicated, Brighton Heights Lutheran Church is not in the same location as the cemetery).

So the lesson learned is to not assume the place of worship and burial location are the same, even if the funeral service was held there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

myOrigins at FamilyTreeDNA

Family Tree DNA users might have noticed their new and hopefully improved myOrigins which replaces the old and less detailed Population Finder. Most notably, we now have more of a break down of our ethnic background into sub regions. Whereas before I was simply 72% Western European and 28% "Middle Eastern" (this was my Italian heritage), now it's telling me more specific regions such as 34% European Northlands (Norwegian, for me) and 26% European Coastal Plain (my Swiss/German heritage). Additionally, it seems to have regrouped 20% of that so-called Middle East into the more accurate European subgroup North Mediterranean Basin, but it's still telling me 17% Middle Eastern with subgroups 12% Anatolia and Causcasus (mostly Turkey) and 5% Eastern Afroasiatic (Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and part of Saudi Arabia).

It's very interesting but very different results than tells me (I transferred my test to FTDNA for $69 - worth it, if you ask me). estimates my ethnicity as around 55% British, 31% Italian, 5% German, and 2% Norwegian. FTDNA thinks my Norwegian and German ancestry is much stronger (34% and 26% respectively), my Italian is about the same at 37% if you combine Mediterranean and Middle East, but my British ancestry doesn't even seem to register on their radar. They also say I'm 3% North Circumpolar which looks similar to's 1% Finland/NW Russia, which I suspect is part of my Norwegian heritage.

Who's right and who's wrong? Well, it's not necessarily a case of right or wrong. The way this is all determined is by taking a control group of people who say all 4 of their grandparents were born in the same region and comparing their DNA to mine. Similarities to the control group for European Northlands, for example, will place a portion of my DNA into that category. Naturally, there can be problems with this. Who knows where the ancestry of the grandparents of the control group were from or how they migrated around Europe (which they will inevitably have done at some point)? Each company will be "correct" based on the control groups they used but different control groups will mean different results. But this is a good thing and reminds us that there is still so much to explore regarding our DNA, so much more it has to tell us. As control groups get bigger and better, we will get more accurate results which both companies continue to update.

I'm thinking that FTDNA might be lumping my British DNA in with European Northlands and European Costal Plain since Britain does, after all, have a history of Viking and Germanic tribe settlers. That would explain why my European Northlands and European Coastal Plain percentages are so much higher than's equivelants.

At least they both seem agree on my Italian makeup being around 31-37%. In addition, some of GEDmatch's admixture proportions agree my Mediterranean or Italian DNA is about 34%. So I can say with some certainty I am about one third Italian. Considering I have only one Italian grandparent so statistically should only be a quarter Italian, it's safe to say my Italian genes are stronger than I had considered. My Nan would be so pleased.

GEDmatch is a great way to get another perspective on your percentages when and FTDNA don't agree but unfortunately they don't have maps or definitions for the regional categories so it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which groups on GEDmatch compare to those in the other companies. My next step is to figure all those out to see whether they agree more with's percentages or FTDNA's regarding my German, Norwegian, and British ancestry.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Of Unknown Origin

Probably all American have branches in their tree which dead end in the US. How do you determine what their origins might have been when you can't find the immigrant ancestor for that line? There's a few things that will give you clues.

With a high percentage of British DNA, do I maybe have
more British branches than I thought?
One of them is DNA. Of course, a DNA test won't tell you "this branch came from here" and I wouldn't recommend getting a test done just for this purpose but an autosomal DNA test will help you determine your ethnic makeup. It's important to keep in mind though that it's possible to have an ancestor you happened to not inherit any DNA from, especially the more distantly you are related. But sometimes, you might come across an unexpected ethnicity, or perhaps have a higher percentage of something than expected. This could give you an idea of what those unknown branches could be. For example, my British heritage came back with a higher percentage than expected so I'm wondering if maybe a number of my unknown branches are of British origin. Of course, we need something more to go on than this but it's something to consider if you have already done a DNA test.

Another thing that will help you determine the origins of a branch is where they lived in the US and when. Almost all the branches of unknown origin in my tree dated within the US to at least the early 19th century, which means I'm looking for their immigrant ancestors from probably the 18th or maybe even 17th century. That pre-dates the Scandinavian immigration period of the mid 19th century to the Midwest, as well as the Italian wave of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, so that rules them out despite them being a part of my DNA makeup (I already have these documented in my tree but now I know I have no others). Plus most of my branches with unknown origins were from Pennsylvania and 18th century Pennsylvania was mostly English or Welsh Quakers and Germans or Swiss Germans, with smaller portions of Scots-Irish and Dutch. Again, this is looking good for British. Additionally, sometimes more specific locations, especially early settlements, can give you an idea of the origins of the community. For example, in early Franconia Township, Montgomery County, PA the community was almost entirely of German or Swiss German origin so I know all my ancestors there were likely German. This is why it's so important to learn about the history of the locations in your tree and about immigration and migration patterns.

Similarly, sometimes an ancestor's church or burial place can be a dead giveaway of their origins. Mennonites were normally German or Swiss German, Quakers were English or sometimes Welsh, although in early PA, these two groups were known to convert to one or the other. Presbyterian was often British but it was not unusual for German Reformed churches to become Presbyterian later so it's important to learn what the church's denomination was at the time your ancestors attended. Something like a "First German Church" is a dead giveaway.

You can also get an idea of their origins by their surnames, using tools like's Name Meaning Look Up. Of course, names could be subject to change but in combination with the above knowledge, it may help narrow down the options. And sometimes, names which weren't anglicized can be a dead giveaway. I have a few names in my tree which are clearly German, even though I haven't found the immigrant ancestor yet, I know that branch is German. Likewise with a few Scottish names. Sometimes, even a first name can be the indicator. I have a "Willem" in my tree which is the Dutch spelling of William so they must be Dutch even if I haven't found their immigrant ancestor yet.

Lastly, you may also be able to get an idea of their origins by looking at the families they married into. While it was not unusual for people of early, small communities to be forced to marry outside their faith or culture, it was more common for people to marry within their faith and culture so who they married might be a good indicator of their cultural background, especially when comparing who their siblings married too.

Combine all of this together and with some branches, you may be able to say with reasonable certainty where they probably originated from. Here's a quick checklist:

  • DNA
  • Where/when they lived in the US
  • Religious orientation
  • Names (surnames or even given names)
  • Background of families they married into
Discuss this further at GeneaBoards.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More Adventures in DNA: The X Chromosome

The sources of X chromosome DNA for women, from
The Genetic Genealogist
Thanks to, every once and a while I will come across someone who I share a lot of DNA with, but only or mostly in the X chromosome. What does that mean? It means we can rule out several branches of our tree as the source of our shared ancestry. For men, it means ruling out their entire paternal side because men, who have an X and a Y chromosome, get their X chromosome from their mother and their Y chromosome from their father. Women, on the other hand, get one X chromosome from their mother and one from their father, but we can still rule out several branches because it does not come through two males in a row. In other words, men can pass on DNA from their X chromosome but it's from their mother's side, not their father's. So as a woman, the shared ancestry could be on my father's side but it would have to come from my father's mother's side, which conveniently is entirely Italian so if the person I share X chromosome DNA with has no Italian in their tree, I can probably rule out my dad's whole side of my tree; my mother's side will be the source.

If that doesn't make any sense, this article from The Genetic Genealogist, complete with charts, probably explains it a lot better. Being a very visual person myself, the charts made it much easier for me to understand the sources of DNA in the X chromosome.

Monday, April 21, 2014

PA Death Certificates 1906-1924 are on!

It's finally here! Pennsylvania Death Certificates from 1906 to 1924 are now available on Actually, they became available on April 17th but I was on vacation so I'm only just now getting around to searching the collection. They are adding to the collection in batches so the later years, I think up to about 1962, will be added later in the year.

I stayed up late last night searching the records and one thing I noticed is that the scans of the documents are much better quality and easier to read than the photocopies I had previously ordered. I can finally confirm that one of my ancestor's mother's name was Kate or Catherine, which was illegible on the photocopy.

What have you discovered from this new collection so far?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Call for Resources

I've started a new genealogy forum called GeneaBoards because there isn't really one with a good interface/layout and good moderation. Ideally, I want every regional section to have a pretty comprehensive resources list, so people researching in different areas know where to look for local (or national and even international) sources. I am slowly compiling PA resources right now. I'd really appreciate people joining and contributing to the resources list, since I don't have a huge amount of knowledge of resources outside Pennsylvania and a few other select areas.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Further Ventures into DNA

I still feel like I have only just scratched the surface of the potential of DNA analysis for genealogy purposes. Thanks to GEDmatch, a free, third party DNA analysis company, I have some other perspectives on my ethnicity admixture. Previously, I shared my results from, which basically said I'm mostly British and Italian, with some German and Norwegian. GEDmatch provides a variety of admixture proportions which show some differing results (below) that I'm still trying to understand. Despite how overwhelming it is, I highly recommend GEDmatch. It's free, and it provides a wealth of tools that doesn't.

In my previous post, I talked about how I had some trace results from West Asia (mostly Middle Eastern) and South Asia. I attributed the West Asia results as possibly associated with my Italian roots, since both are Mediterranean. The less than 1% South Asia (mostly India) results I didn't put much stock in because there is such thing as "noise" results which may not even mean anything. But the admixture proportions on GEDmatch are coming back with higher percentages of West or Southwest Asian or Middle Eastern. They are mostly under 15% but more than "trace" amounts which suggests something significant. I do have to keep in mind that it may just be different terminology or categorization being used, for example, the Dodecad Africa9 admixture says I'm 31.14% SW Asian but those results don't seem to have a category for Mediterranean results and therefore I have a feel all my Italian DNA is being lumped into that group. It does appear to be an admixture for African heritage, which I don't really have to my knowledge, but many of the other admixture results have high-ish proportions of West or Southwest Asia too. Anyone able to weigh in on this or anything else, please leave your comments below! Above should be a spreadsheet with all the results which you can browse or you can view them in another tab.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Availability of PA Vital Records

I thought it might be useful, particularly for some beginners but also for those like me who always forget, to list when and where vital records from Pennsylvania tend to be available. So here's a quick reference list.

Births and Deaths

  • 1852 - 1854. This was a failed attempt of PA counties to record births and deaths statewide and they are usually available from the county Register of Wills (go to the county's government website) or archives. Sometimes, they may be available online, or an index of them will be.
  • 1873/1893 - 1905. This was a more successful attempt of counties to record births and deaths, most began in 1893 but a few (including Philadelphia, Chester, Cumberland, and Fulton) began in 1873. Some collections may go beyond 1905, for example, Philadelphia goes to 1915. These are also usually available at county level, from either the county Register of Wills (go to the county's government website) or archives. Sometimes, they may be available online (check with but also, sometimes counties will make the index available online, for example Berks County Register of Wills Index).
  • 1906 - 1963 Deaths and 1906 - 1908 Births. This was when the state took over the recording of births and deaths and actually began issuing official certificates. Up to this point, birth and death collections are merely registers or recordings, not certificates. Non-certified copies of certificates are available to order for a small fee from the PA State Archives by mail but will soon be available on (with a subscription).
  • For births or deaths preceding 1852 or between 1854 and 1873/1893, check at county or especially city level. Big cities were more likely to start recording sooner. For example, the Philadelphia City Archives has Philadelphia deaths from 1803, a collection from various city sources (hospital records, cemetery returns, etc) - the index for it is available at And Pittsburgh started recording births and deaths in 1870. But mostly, you will be looking for baptism/christening or death/burial records from churches, obituaries, cemetery records/gravestones, and probate records (such as wills) instead. Some births which occurred before 1906 were issued a delayed registration certificate beginning in 1941 and are usually found at the county seat.
  • Death certificates after 1963 and births certificates after 1908 have not been released to the public. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, who issues the birth and death certificates, releases death certificates 50 years after they were issued and birth certificates 105 years after they were issued (so the most recent years will increase as time goes on, if I forget to update this, be aware that more recent years might be available). To order a certified copy of a birth or death certificate which has not yet been released to the public from the Department of Health, you must be able to provide identification proving you are ordering your own birth certificate, or that you are immediate family, legal representative, or power of attorney. Certified copies of death certificates can also be ordered by extended family members but only those who have a "direct relationship with the decedent". Alternatively, the Social Security Death Index is available on from 1935 to present (though keep in mind not all deaths are listed here, only those with social security numbers whose deaths were reported, usually for benefits) and other options include obituaries, church records, or cemetery records/gravestones.

  • 1885 - present. Counties statewide began recording marriages/issuing marriage certificates in 1885 and continue to do so today so government recordings of marriages from this period will be found at county level, usually from the county clerk of orphans' court (see the county's government website). Some may be available online - has Pennsylvania County Marriages from 1885 - 1950, however, not all counties in this collection cover this entire period.
  • Marriage recordings prior to 1885 can sometimes be found from the county or city so check on a more local level to see what might be available - either the county or city government website. But usually, you will have to look for church records or newspaper announcements. 

For more details about this topic, see's wiki page of Pennsylvania Vital Records. This is just a quick reference guide.

Also check out's Pennsylvania BMD records in their card catalog (you can narrow it down to county level too) and's Pennsylvania collections.