Monday, December 29, 2014

More Thoughts on DNA

As some people may know from my previous posts, My results regarding my Northern European make up have been all over the place. AncestryDNA says 55% British while FTDNA says it's 0% and 23andMe say 16.7%. Results for Scandinavian (Norwegian, in my case) and "German" (called Europe West, Western & Central Europe, or French & German depending on the company but knowing my tree the way I do, I know for me this is my German heritage) are just as varied. I have made some speculation on this before, that I think the reasons for the discrepancies had partly to do with differences in the way the companies were defining categories and regions, and partly to do with the fact that for some people, their British and Scandinavian/German DNA are simply too similar to tell apart.

23andMe results showing 63% Northern European

Recently though, I had an epiphany which just solidified that there are consistencies across all the companies. It still doesn't tell me a more definite break down of my Northern European DNA, but it occurred to me that if I added up all my Northern European results, every company said the exact same thing: 63% Northern European (shown in images). And since I know that the rest of my ancestry is Italian, that means I'm 37% Italian, which is very close to what they all said as well (the range across the companies was 28-37% so it's at the higher end of that). All this reassured me that these companies aren't just plucking numbers out of the air, or that it's not that the science isn't precise enough to get any kind of reliable or consistent results. In fact, there is a huge amount of consistency among all three companies, we just can't always expect there to be a more specific break down beyond "Northern European" or other more broad regions that testers might be struggling to narrow down further. That might be a disappointing answer to some people but at least what I can take away from it is knowing there is a distinct difference between my Northern and Southern European DNA and that because of this, I can get a very precise percentage on my Italian DNA.

AncestryDNA results, circled percentages add up to 63% 
Something else to consider is the estimated percentage range that AncestryDNA provide. I really wish other companies would do something like this. 23andMe take a different approach by having categories for "Broadly" regions, which is basically admitting they can't narrow it down any further. FTDNA don't offer either option, which can be misleading for those who don't understand how complex this can be.

But if I consider my AncestryDNA percentage ranges in comparison to the other companies, I might see some more consistencies.

AncestryDNA results:
  • British: 55% - range 36-76%
  • German: 5% - range 0-20%
  • Scandinavian (incl. 1% Finland/NW Russia): 3% - range 0-11%

  • British: 0%
  • German: 26%
  • Scandinavian (incl. 3% Finland & Northern Siberia): 37%

  • British: 16.7%
  • German: 17.4%
  • Scandinavian: 4.6%
  • Broadly Northern European: 24.3%
FTDNA results, circled percentages add up to 63%

So let's assume that because my British results are so much lower with FTDNA and 23andMe, that it's actually the lowest percentage which AncestryDNA gives me: 36%. The highest results for German with AncestryDNA is not far off of what the other two companies estimate so we'll go with 20%. To make 63%, that leaves Scandinavian with 7%, which makes sense because it's within the small range AncestryDNA estimated for Scandinavian and not far off the percentage 23andMe gave.

So, all things considered, I may be:
  • British: 36%
  • German: 20%
  • Scandinavian: 7%
  • Italian: 37%

It also all makes sense regarding my family tree as well. I have one grandparent who was Italian so on paper I would be 25% Italian. Since we actually inherit ethnicities randomly, 37% is realistically not far from that. I also had one great grandparent who was Norwegian, making me 12.5% Scandinavian and 7% is not too dissimilar. As for British and German, it would have been impossible to calculate since I have so many branches of both of them (it's safe to say most of my branches are British or German), many dating back to colonial times. But knowing that of the most recent immigrants, I had one German 3rd great grandparent and two British 3rd great grandparents, it makes perfect sense that my British results (36%) would be a little higher than German (20%), but not by too much.

It's probably not a very scientific way to determine your percentage break down! But there's some sense to it and it's better than just saying 63% Northern European.

Saturday, December 27, 2014 Myths: No Free Account Without Trial

I see a lot of people criticizing for a lot of things. I will readily admit when they are doing something wrong or when there is a problem they have not fixed (see my posts about things actually wrong with ACOM). But there are equally times when people seem to have inaccurate ideas of so I thought it might be beneficial to dis-spell some of these myths.

Today's myth I came across was someone claiming that you can't sign up for a free account at without doing the 14 day free trial, which makes you jump through hoops to unsubscribe and not get charged at the end of the trial. I won't deny ACOM gets a lot of complaints from people who signed up for the free trial and cancelled on the day the trial ended but wound up getting charged anyway. This does happen and it's recommended you cancel a few days before the trial ends to avoid this.

However, it's NOT true that you can't sign up for a free account at without doing the free trial. Here's how.

Step 1: On the home page, click on "Search", NOT the "Start Free Trial" button (shown above).

Step 2: Type a name into the search fields, John Smith will do fine. No need to put dates or places into the fields (shown above).

Step 3: The search results will be listed and if you click on any of the 1940 Census results (or hover over any of them and click on "Register for a Free Account" in the pop up window - shown above), it will prompt you to create a new account (shown below).

Step 4: Fill out your name, email, and a password to get instant access to free collections at, no free trial, no credit card necessary, no strings attached. Below is a screen shot of the example record I can now view with my new free account, created without any credit card.

Granted, keep in mind that the free collections are few compared to their total database, but frequently provide all or certain collections available for free for a limited time. At the moment, they are making their entire database available for free from December 26-29, which is what prompted the complaint that you can't make use of it without going through the free trial, but now you know that isn't true, you can take advantage of all their free offers from time to time.

48 Search Tips

Hope everyone had a great holiday! Here's a free gift from Family Tree University Magazine: PDF ebook of 48 Search Tips.

It's basically a beginners guide though, so probably won't benefit the more seasoned of users but you never know, it's worth a look.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ancestris

Continuing in alphabetical order of free tree software reviews, this one is about Ancestris.

Upon opening Ancestris, there are options to take a tour of the software or use other learning tools. I decided to skip this and clicked on My Ancestris which then gave me the options to create a new genealogy or open an existing one. Creating a new one takes you through the first steps of setting up a new tree. Right off the bat, I didn't like this process, since under "modifications of properties" it had a section for making "jurisdictions" (locations) fields required and organizing the sort order (shown right). For new comers, this might be confusing as you may not yet be sure how to best set this up, and I found it totally unnecessary.

The fourth step is finally useful and has you enter the name and birth data for the first person in your tree, normally yourself. You also have the option to enter death data (leave blank for yourself, obviously) and occupation and residence. The last step has you enter the parents, spouse, and children details (and other relatives, oddly), but clicking on "Add his/her father/mother" first generates a popup box that basically tells you what you already know, that you're about to add the father of this person (shown left). It gives you the option of changing the person's ID number, which again is unnecessary. Just click proceed, and then you'll finally have the same options to enter the details as you did with the original person.

Another annoying feature is that when adding a mother, the married name is automatically put into the surname field (shown right). This is bad form because the standard in genealogy is to name women by their maiden names. A newcomer who doesn't know this might assume it's better to enter the married name since that is the default here so this could be very misleading and really screw things up for people who don't know better. I also noticed that surnames are automatically formatted to be in all caps (shown right). This is a format some people use but not all and there doesn't seem to be a way to change it if you prefer it without all caps. If there is a way to change this setting, like everything in this software, it's not obvious how to do so.

So far, the only positive thing about this software is that the place fields (and the name fields, though I don't know how useful this would be in practice) offer a drop down menu of previously used locations so if you have a lot of events in one place, you don't need to type them all out every time. That said, you wouldn't be typing out too many locations anyway because another let down to Ancestris is that the only facts/events that seem available are name, BMD, occupation, and residence (only one residence so you can not enter more than one location a person lived in). You can also enter a nickname and name prefix/suffix but no alternate names or any other alternate facts. All very limiting to detailing anything more than the bare, vital facts.

When you are finished with these steps, you can now view your tree, either as a pedigree (what they call a "Dynamic tree") or a family group sheet which they call a "Browser" (shown left and below). They don't make the tabs very clear what they are, they just have the title of your tree on every tab. I only figured out what they called the different views/tabs by looking at the "View" menu and matching the icons, which might be too small to make out quickly or easily for some.

On the left, you have your tree views, on the right you have the details of the individual selected, which you can view either as editable fields ("Ancestris Editor") or as an outline list ("Data Publisher") - again, the tabs for these different views aren't obvious what they are. On the "Data Publisher" view, there is another box below it titled "Individual" but it gets cut off and there is no scroll bar, you can only adjust the divider in between the two boxes to see more (shown below right).

The pedigree view (Dynamic Tree) is not much better, it's clunky looking and it took me a minute to realize the blank box below the two parents is meant to be for their marriage data. Another thing they don't exactly make very clear (shown right).

At the bottom, there's a list of immediate family members and their details. Again, the tab for it just lists the tree name instead of a description of the view type (shown right). Apparently this is called the "Entities Table", as listed under "View" in the top menu above the toolbar.

Adding more people to your tree is also not very intuitive. If I want to add the parents of an individual, that's easy enough because in the family group (Browser) view there are fields to click to add them. But let's say I want to add another child. I first looked around for an "Add" button but when I couldn't find one, I right clicked the individual while in pedigree (Dynamic tree) view and then hovered over "Individual (ID number)" in the menu that appeared. Another menu appeared from that, giving me the option to add various types of family members (shown left). This seems to be the only way to add someone who is not a parent, it's only available in pedigree view and only by right clicking and selecting an option that doesn't even describe the function it runs.

So what are the positives to this software?! Well, they do have a lot of charts and reports. If you already have a tree you build online and you're looking for some free software just to import your gedcom and generate charts and reports, this might work for you. But in terms of actual data management, especially for beginners to genealogy, this is NOT intuitive. Again, even just bringing up the charts and reports is not straight forward. It's easy enough to click on "View" and select "Lists and reports" but then it opens a blank new tab and you have to know to click on the correct icon that has a green triangle on it. That opens up a lists of reports you can choose from. Also be aware that a lot of the charts have to be output to a file like SVG and then displayed in a web browser instead of being displayed within Ancestris.

The only other positive is that it does support sources and even repositories. I know that seems like it should be standard on every tree software rather than a noted bonus, but as we've seen before, that's not always the case. However, this alone is not enough to make it worthwhile because yet again, adding a source is not intuitive. You can not add a source in the "Ancestris Editor" like you might think (isn't that what an editor is for?), even though there's a tab for it. Instead, you have to go to the pedigree view (Dynamic tree) and right click the individual, highlight "Individual (ID number)" and then choose "Add Source". But bizarrely, this won't add a source to the individual, it adds it to the whole tree! Despite the fact that each fact for each individual has a "Source" tab, I can't figure out a way to actually use these. I'm not saying it's impossible but I'm fairly computer literate so if I can't figure out how to do it, it's not intuitive in the slightest.

  • Locations have drop down select of previously used places
  • Supports sources and repositories (limited though)
  • Lots of charts and reports

  • Not intuitive or easy to use at all
  • Only basic, vital facts/events available to add
  • Not able to customize much (ie, no option to turn off surnames in all caps)
  • Woman's surnames default with married name (you can change it but it's bad form for the default to be married)

Conclusion: If you're willing to wrestle with the functionality of this software, the reports and charts might be worth it, for a free option, but there are probably better ones out there. I can see nothing else redeeming about this software, it's very hard to use even for a seasoned genealogist and computer user.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ancestral Quest Basics

Ancestry Quest has a free "basics" version and a full $29.95 version. They have a detailed comparison on their website but I am only going to review the free version and compare it against other free family tree software.

When you download Ancestral Quest Basics, there is a form to fill out your details but note that it is no required. You can just click the download button. One annoying feature of this software right off the bat is that once installed, you have to reboot your computer before using it. Many years ago that used to be the norm but not anymore so already this software feel outdated. Before the software opens, it asks you to set a few preferences.

One of the benefits to this software is that it has a built in option to search for records. If you have an subscription, this might be beneficial. But then, if you have an subscription, I would highly recommend using their own software, Family Tree Maker, since it has the ability to sync your online and offline tree, which isn't possible with Ancestral Quest.

Getting started options
It's also highly compatible with PAF - Personal Ancestry File which was created by They have since abandoned their PAF software but it is still supported by Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, and RootsMagic, and will link to your online FamilySearch Family Tree, just like Family Tree Maker links with your online tree. So the real benefit of Ancestral Quest is if is your favored online source.

Once you get passed all these options to enable or not, you finally have the option to create a new tree or open an existing one. There are several options, including things like importing from a gedcom or from your FamilySearch tree. I always start a new tree because I'm assuming most people interested in free software are newcomers to genealogy who may not have a tree built yet. It will ask you to name your tree and where to save it, and then again asks if you want to register (and buy) the full software.

Add/edit individual with pedigree view in background
Finally, you get a blank pedigree in which you can start filling in names. It shows you where to click to add the first person in your tree, usually yourself. This is beneficial for first time users who may never have built a tree before and don't know where to start. Clicking this brings up a popup box that allows you to input your details. I notice right away that Ancestral Quest allows you to add source citations for each fact by clicking on the "S" next to the fact. This is a definite plus over the previously reviewed Ahnenblatt software. The other benefit over Ahnenblatt is the ability to add more than just vital data and basic facts. As you can see in the screenshot to the left, you can click "add" under "other events" and get a huge list of different types of facts/events you can add to an individual. Clicking the "more" tab allows you to enter things like an AKA name, physical description, and cause of death. Some of these options are not always available with other free software. Ancestral Quest also has a tab in the individual's details for contact information, which is really only beneficial for living people in your tree. In pedigree view, when you hover over an individual's name, it displays a quick view of their BMD data (birth, marriage, death). To view more of their details, just double click their name and the window shown in the screenshot above left will appear again.

Family view tab showing immediate family of individual
Once you've created the first person in your tree, it jumps from pedigree view to the "family" tab, which basically shows the individual's immediate family. You can enter your parents from here or by going back to the pedigree view. When you click on "add father" and type in a name and click okay, a window to input his marriage details pops up, which is a little confusing because you haven't even entered the mother/wife's name yet! If you then enter the mother's name, the details of the father's marriage do seem to get added but I did not find this process intuitive at all.

The design of the software uses some largish fonts and buttons, which may be beneficial for those with poor eyesight but personally, I found that made it difficult to visually pull all the details together.

Along with the Pedigree and Family view tabs, there is a tab for "Name list" which lists all the people in your tree. The "Individual" and "Timeline" tabs are only available with the $29.95 version.

In the toolbar along the top of the screen, there are more options to play with your data. Some are restricted to the $29.95 version, such as "publish a family book" and the to-do list. The option to "edit individual" just brings up a person's details to edit, you can accomplish the same thing by double clicking their name in pedigree or family view. In addition to the list of all people in your tree, there are tools for search your tree by name, number, or relationship. There is also the option to merge two duplicate individuals, a more advanced feature you may not often see in free software.

The Basics version does allow you to create some reports and charts, though they are limited. You'll find them by clicking the printer icon in the toolbar, which may not be very intuitive. From here, there appears to be many options but once again, clicking print or preview on many of them brings up the option to upgrade to the full version. That can get annoying. Their website I linked to before details which reports and charts are available for which versions so I won't get into all that.

Exporting your tree only gives you options for various Ancestral Quest versions, Heritage Family Tree Deluxe, Family Tree Maker, PAF, and "Other", which apparently is code for gedcom. Why they couldn't call it gedcom is beyond me.

  • Overall easy to use, with only a couple exceptions
  • Links to your FamilySearch family tree
  • Will search records on
  • Has some features other free software may not, such as citations for facts and many event types
  • Offers some reports and charts

  • Has many features which are only available in paid version but doesn't indicate that you can't access them until clicking on them (they could be greyed out to indicate no access but aren't) - the constant clicking on items not available gets annoying (though they make clear on their website what features aren't available with the free version, it's not like I have an eidetic memory)
  • Upon opening the first time, it asks you to set a lot of preferences that newbies may not know much about
  • One or two features are not hugely intuitive

Conclusion: An easy to use option for beginners but also allows some growth, not only with the free version but also offering more features with the full $29.95 version, which is affordable. Biggest benefit is being able to link your Ancestral Quest tree with your FamilySearch tree. If FamilySearch (which is free) is where much of your research is going to be, and you can put up with many features not available with the free version, this software is a good option to start with.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 31, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ahnenblatt

Many newcomers to genealogy don't yet want to spend money on a family tree program, which is understandable, so they want to know which free software is the best. I thought it might be beneficial if I were to review them each. I will work in alphabetical order and include lesser known software. If you're not interested in reading my full review, scroll down the bottom where I list the pros and cons, give a conclusion summary, and a rating.

This one is called Ahnenblatt. The prefix "Ahnen" comes from the German word "Ahnentafel" which basically means "Ancestor chart". Though this software is created by a German, it is available in English (as well as many other languages too) and "Ahnentafel" is the word used even in English genealogy for a report which lists one's ancestors (the opposite of a descendant report which lists one's descendants).

The creator of Ahnenblatt continues to update it, with the lately version 2.83 being last updated October 16, 2014. When you open it, it will have a blank work space with options along the toolbar at the top. You can select "Open" to open an existing gedcom, or you can click on "New" and start a new tree.

Starting a new tree
It is initially pretty straight forward and intuitive. Clicking on "New" opens a pop up window where you can fill in the details of the person you wish to start your tree with - probably yourself. The upper part of the pop up window has two tabs, one for "Person" and one for "Name". The person tab is where you type in vital data like birth, death, and gender - and you can also enter an occupation here. The name tab allows you to add a title, suffix, or nick name. There doesn't seem to be an option for an alternate name fact.

The lower part of the window has the option to add your parent's names. Strangely, when clicked the text field to enter their names, instead of just being able to type them straight in there, another window pops up saying "No father registered! Register father now?" Click "yes" and then another window pops up allowing you to type the names there. You can untick "show again" so the alert doesn't come up again but it still creates a new window for you to enter or edit parents' names, which is strange and unnecessary in my opinion. After entering both father and mother names, it asks you if they are married to each other. There are further tabs for inputting siblings, partner, children, etc. Under the partner tab it allows you to enter details of when and where they were married.

Pedigree view
Once you've input some initial names, clicking the check mark then creates a tree in a pedigree view. Clicking on any name in the tree will move the pedigree view to center on that individual and from there, clicking on the pencil icon above their name will open their profile where you can add or edit details. So initially, we only input the parents' names, now we can click on each one and input their vital data. Above the pedigree, it displays the individual's details in a white box, which is rather sloppy. It displays as a text box with a blinking text cursor if you click on it but you can not actually edit the details here, you must click on the pencil icon. Additionally, the white box displays all the info with only commas separating the different details.

Adding media. Yes, that's a picture of me from my wedding.
To the left of the pedigree is where the list of children for that individual is displayed. Clicking on a blank one allows you to add a child (in addition to being able to add a child from someone's profile). In the upper right corner it lists the last person you view so you can easily jump back, useful if you have a big tree. In the top left corner is a spot for an image of the individual. Clicking it will let you add an image to that individual (you can also open the individual's profile and click the "pictures/files" tab) but don't try to add more than one file at the same time or an error will occur. You can add more then one image but do it one at a time. You can select from the list which image you want to be the default on display.

Sources, a bit of a letdown
In an individual's profile, you can see there are also tabs for church, notes, and sources. This is where there's a bit of a let down for serious researchers, since there is no formatting of sources as citations, you just type whatever you want into the text box. There is also no way to attach a certain source or citation to a specific fact, all you can do is just list your sources like a bibliography. As such, I recommend manually formatting your sources in a standard APA or MLA style. If you need a refresher on them, I suggest using EasyBib where you can even just type in the details of your source and it will format it for you. If you join EasyBib (free) it will even save your citations.

Those are the basic functions of the software, and I found it mostly user friendly, even if not very aesthetically pleasing. The software's biggest downfall is the lack of many "event" facts aside from vital data - such as residence, military, immigration, etc. The "church" tab does allow you to input data for a baptism, confirmation, and funeral but there is no option, for example, to list where someone was living in 1940 or when they enlisted in the army. But is it a free program and the lack of the full features found on a program for sale is to be expected.

Places - lists individuals associated with location but not
facts/events associated with it
There are also other options in the toolbar to play with the data you've input. "Plausibility" checks to make sure you don't have any conflicting data - such as a child born after the mother's death. This is a great tool to have which you don't always find on a free software. The "Adjust" button allows you to format a few display options though not nearly enough, I would have liked to see a way to display first name first, then surname instead of the vice versa default which you can't seem to change.

"Places" allows you to see a list of the locations in your tree and the individuals associated with those locations, but not the specific fact for that individual the place is associated with. You can also add notes, sources, media, and even a zip/postal code and exact coordinates to a location.

Another feature this software provides that some freebies don't is the ability to create lists/reports and charts from your tree. It offers an ahnentafel report (ancestor list), a descendant list/report, a family list (a list of all people in your tree), a birthday list which is self explanatory, and a person sheet, which is a person report that lists the individual's vital data. It also creates charts including an "ancestor tree" or chart, which is like a pedigree - this is available in both poster and book format. The "family tree" chart is a descendants chart, and the "hourglass" includes both ancestors and descendants of an individual. These are only available in poster format but all include a few options to format fonts, style, etc. There are many other types of reports and charts which are not included but the presence of any at all is a bonus.

The "Search" tool allows you to search for anything within your tree - be it a name, a location, or a date. It's pretty useful in finding an individual in your tree but one thing this software is really lacking is a designated "home person". This is a standard feature in most family tree software that allows you to jump back to the home person at any time and view the tree from a set starting point. Normally, the home person is yourself.

You can save your tree in Ahnenblatt as a unique Ahnenblatt file but also as the standard gedcom, an HTML page/site, CSV, and others.

  • Easy to use
  • Includes "plausibility" check
  • Includes some reports and charts
  • Ability to export to gedcom, HTML, CSV, and others

  • Only basic facts/events available to add (no options for residence, military, immigration, etc)
  • No option to attach source citations to specific facts
  • Viewing places lists people associated with location but not facts
  • Preview of individual's data/events is sloppily listed in white text box above pedigree
  • No home person

Conclusion: Very basic starter software which is easy to use and has some good features but if you become more serious about your research, you will quickly outgrow it, particularly the way sources are handled and the lack of non-vital facts/events. The layout of the pedigree may also be cumbersome when dealing with a very large tree, especially with the lack of a home person.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pennsylvania Digital Repository is now POWER Library

For anyone using the Pennsylvania Digital Repository, note that they have changed their name to "POWER Library: Pennsylvania's Electronic Library" and the homepage URL has changed to while the photo and documents collections can be found at

While it is a better web design, this means updating all your citations if they contained a URL to the PA Digital Repository. The old URL still works but the content isn't there.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What's Actually Wrong with Hundreds of Incorrect Hints

Really, ACOM? Is Laudel, Vest-Agder, Norway
really in Denmark?
Excuse me while I rant for a moment about how once again ACOM's nonsensical system makes for inefficient genealogy work.

I just got literally hundreds of hints for my Norwegian branch and so far not a single one is accurate. The hints system seems to go off of name and dates only, not locations. I get that people move around and shouldn't be defined by one location... but when I have a birth/baptism location for someone in my tree, why is it giving me hints for births/baptisms in a completely different county or sometimes even nation?! The system doesn't understand how repetitive Scandinavian names are, because they used patronymic names, there will be thousands of Lars Gundersens, for example, and dozens of them born in or around 1833. That doesn't mean someone who was clearly born in Norway matches a birth/baptism record from Denmark! Why are locations not included in the criteria for hints?

It would be fair enough if I was getting a Denmark hint for a marriage when the individual was born in Norway - it's not impossible an individual moved from Norway to Denmark in between their birth and marriage. It also wouldn't be unreasonable if I had no location entered for a birth. But I'm talking about Denmark birth/baptism records popping up for people who have a birth/baptism location as Norway. Likewise, a lot of Norway records are popping up too but they are all in the wrong county!

If it were just a handful of hints, it would not be a big deal. But I now have to go through literally hundreds of hints and make sure they are truly bogus before I delete them. If I could just hit "ignore" it might not be so bad but on half the Norway hints, the location isn't listed until you view the record, which means I can't just look at the hint overview and click ignore, I have to open up the record, compare the locations, then hit ignore.

Thanks for making a whole bunch of tedious busy work for me, ACOM!

Monday, September 15, 2014

What's Actually Wrong With Adding Non-Indexed Images

I often come to the defense of because frankly, they get accused of a lot of things which simply aren't true. When this happens, I get accused of believing can do no wrong. But this is far from the truth, I have a lot of criticism for and since I have already taken my complaints to them via their feedback and customer support many times and nothing ever gets resolved, I am instead going to use my blog as my outlet. So I certainly will not deny that customer service is terrible.

Otherwise, some of my complaints may seem minor, and indeed they are not worth cancelling my subscription over. The fact of the matter remains that has the biggest genealogy record database on the internet and therefore is a valuable resource. But when you're trying to do time consuming work on your tree, it's the little things like this which can really inhibit your work flow and when you're paying about $300 a year for a service, I think it's fair to expect basic problems like this to get resolved quickly.

Note the blank events the system creates instead of
attaching the citation to existing events. I leave them
blank so I know which ones to delete but the system
gives you the option to fill them in during attachment.
Today, I'm going to talk about the feature that allows you to add a non-indexed image to your tree. While this feature in itself was a great idea, it's got some major bugs in it that make it almost not even worth using.

For starters, it won't allow you to attach the image to an existing fact (shown right) and instead creates a new one. This means if you're trying to add it as a citation for an existing birth event, for example, it will create a new preferred fact for the birth and your original fact will be made the alternate fact. Annoying, right? You then have to edit the citation to switch it over to the correct, original birth fact but this is not easy since, for some reason, the citation did not save the title of the source! If it's the first time you're saving this source, you have to create a new source with the title but at least once you've added it, from then on you can just select it from the drop down menu when adding this source again in the future. Of course, in order to save the citation you also have to enter something into the "Detail" field. This is a problem with many sources, even those indexed - if they do not have a "detail" entered by's system, you have to enter it yourself when editing the citation.

Once you've finally edited the citation so it has a title, detail, and is attached to the correct facts, you then have to delete the new facts that the system incorrectly created. Because it didn't just create a new birth fact, it also created an alternate name fact.

There are three Tobias Leechs in my tree but two don't have
birth or death dates yet, how do I tell them apart? Suffix of
I, II, or III don't appear.
If all this weren't enough of a pain in the ass, pray you never have to attach the image to an individual who shares a name with someone else in your tree unless you already have a birth or death date entered for at least one of them. The screenshot to the left should show how, in the drop down list of people in your tree to select from, there is no way to distinguish two people with the same name unless they have a birth and death date. Despite the fact that these individuals have been entered with a "suffix" title like Sr. or Jr. or I, II, and III, these suffixes do not appear on the list, making them rather useless in these circumstances. Even when there is a birth or death date entered, be sure to remember which one it is you're attaching it to. I believe this is a problem when attaching any record to an individual selected from the drop down list, even an indexed record. Allowing the suffix to appear on the drop down list should be a quick, simple fix in the system yet the problem has remained for as long as I've been a member since 2008.

So, if you're going to criticize, here is something that is honestly wrong with it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Probate Records Are So Important.

Today, I made a remarkable discovery. Well, it's remarkable to me. It was accomplished almost entirely with the Pennsylvania Probate Records found at and is a testament to how important these records are and how much you can learn from them if you take the time to find and study them. It also proves research before the almighty 1850 US Census can be done.

Ann Sutch Will 1827 mentioning brother Richard
I had been searching for the parents of my ancestor, Ann Shoemaker, for a while. All I knew of Ann was that she married Daniel Sutch, had 4 daughters, and then died in 1827 in Gwynedd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. I did not even know when she was born but I approximated it around 1760. But I did also know she had a brother named Richard. I discovered this from her will in the Montgomery County Probate Records, proved in 1827, which specifically named her "brother Richard Shoemaker" as executor of her will (shown above right). This not only gave me her maiden name but also a brother's name to research. It was difficult though, because all I knew of Richard was that he was probably alive (and an adult) in 1827, and likely lived in Montgomery County. But Shoemaker was a common name in that area and Richard was not uncommon either. Without knowing anything else about him, how could I confirm records to be the Richard I was looking for?

Well, in the Proceedings Index for Ann (Shoemaker) Sutch, there were some listings for Orphan Court Dockets. These are often records that have something to do with the will of a deceased person after it was proved. There were two dated 1838 which turned out to be a petition and answer for the replacement of trustee Richard Shoemaker, deceased, with someone else. The petitioners were E. Jones and Job Roberts (I promise this will be important later on). This suggested that Richard Shoemaker, brother of Ann (Shoemaker) Sutch, died sometime in or soon before 1838. So I went looking for a Richard Shoemaker who may have had probate records dated around 1838. There was only one in Montgomery County who fit with this and although there was no will listed, there was an Admin Bond date for Aug 5, 1837 in Horsham and the Admins listed were Job Roberts and Evan Jones. So I knew I had the correct Richard Shoemaker because Jones and Roberts were listed in the Orphan's Court record for Ann Sutch, sister of Richard Shoemaker.

But that's not all. Once I entered Richard's death year as about 1837 in Horsham, a Quaker record on popped up for a Richard Shoemaker who died July 10, 1837 in Montgomery County (subscription required to view this record). I looked at it and although it didn't say he died in Horsham (there was no death location at all), it did say his father was Ezekiel Shoemaker who had died 1816 in Horsham. I already had a hunch this was my Richard Shoemaker because in the Estate/Proceeding Indices, there was only one Richard Shoemaker who died in or around 1837 in Montgomery County (and if he died in July, a probate record in August made perfect sense). But just in case there was another one who perhaps didn't have any probate listings at all, I decided to research Ezekiel.

Firstly, I noticed on the Proceedings Index right above my Richard Shoemaker there was another entry for a Richard Shoemaker who died around 1790 in Horsham and his executor was named Ezekiel Shoemaker. I looked at his will first and sure enough, Ezekiel was his son. Best of all, two of his daughters married into the Roberts family, which linked this elder Richard and son Ezekiel back to my Richard, because if you recall Job Roberts was listed in my Richard's probate records (who would have been this elder Richard's grandson). Granted, Roberts is a common name too but there's starting to be too many coincidences to ignore. Additionally, according to other family trees, my Richard also married a Roberts.

Ezekiel Shoemaker 1816 Will naming his daughter,
Ann "Such" (Sutch).
I looked up Ezekiel in the probate records and fortunately, he had a will and sure enough, in his will he names "my daughter Ann Such" (shown left). So not only do I now have proof that Ann was the daughter of Ezekiel, I also already have Ezekiel's father's name as Richard, and Ezekiel's siblings names as mentioned in Richard's will! A wealth of information, with the exception of one record, came entirely from these probate records.

To top everything else off, I then found a Quaker death record for Ann Sutch who died 1827 naming her father as Ezekiel Shoemaker of Horsham (subscription required to view this record). These must be new records added to since I'm sure I scourged the internet looking for another death record for Ann once I found her will and knew she died in or before 1827. My search would have been a hell of a lot easier if I had just found this record first! Regardless, I still would have gone in search of Ezekiel's will to find out more about their family (like his wife's name) so the point still stands that probate records are important.

For some reason, there is a secondary record with no indication of the source or repository attached to some member trees that claims Ezekiel's daughter Ann "died young". I hope I have been able to conclusively prove that this is not true with all these primary records I've mentioned and provided links to. Family trees put Ann's birth year as 1764, not far off the estimated birth I made around 1760, so if this is true she would have been 63 years old when she died in 1827. She married Daniel Sutch and had four daughters named Jane (b. abt. 1788, m. Charles Gilbert), Sarah (b. abt. 1791, m. William Davis), Ann (b. abt. 1792, m. Homer Dubree), and Hannah (b. abt. 1805, m. Joseph Amber). Some information on their family can be found in the Ambler Gazette.

So don't overlook probate records as an important method for finding that elusive previous generation. It may take a lot of digging and it may not always lead back to what you're looking for but you will likely discover something you didn't know before.

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.