My German Second Cousin’s DNA Results are In!

Second cousin DNA tests are my favorites. You share enough DNA with a second cousin to be really useful for genetic genealogy. When someone matches your second cousin, you know which of your four pairs of great-grandparents they are related to, so it identifies the family line they are on.


Benedict Reiner in the 1880s

Of course not all second cousins are created equal. Due to the vagaries of DNA inheritance some may have inherited more from the mutual great-grandparents and some less. For example, my Dad shares 608 cMs with my second cousin John from his mom’s side and only 389 cMs with my second cousin Dick from his Dad’s side. I discussed this variability in a recent post about how to tell the relationship from the shared DNA.

I thought I had no chance of a second cousin on my maternal side because my German-born mother’s parents were both only children, or so I thought. When I started researching my family history back in the 1990s, by asking questions of my aunts, I found a family secret or at least a story I had not known before. My great-grandfather Benedict Reiner had gotten the innkeeper’s daughter pregnant and then left town; he moved to Munich and a few years later married my great-grandmother. Further discussions had revealed that the child’s name was Xavier and he had visited occasionally so the families had been in touch. This was not enough information to find him or his family, since he had his mother’s surname, but thanks to, I found them by accident. That story was a blog post earlier this year –

Now for even more good luck, my brother had a trip to Germany scheduled for a few months later so he was able to take a day off and actually meet our newly found cousins. Here is the picture.

Our German Second Cousins

Katharina, Brigitte, Shipley (my brother), Edeltraut

Even more exciting for me, we convinced them to test autosomal DNA at Family Tree DNA. We tested the oldest, my half second cousin Edeltraud, the grandmother of my correspondent Katharina. Today the results came in and I am so very happy!

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An elusive 2nd cousin match at Ancestry DNA

When you are a genealogist with an extensive family tree and you get a 2nd cousin match at Ancestry DNA, you expect to be able to find the relationship fairly easily. Never mind that this is my 2nd cousin’s once removed MM’s kit and that the new match has no tree, surely such a close match will want be in touch and know more?


The second cousin match (red arrow is mine showing where to click)

So I clicked on the View Match button. Sometimes there is is tree or two listed on the full match page that is just not connected to the DNA kit. No luck. Next I clicked on Shared Matches tab to see the matches MM had in common with this new cousin named A. The more relatives you have identified at AncestryDNA, the more useful this feature is.


Red arrow added by me to show where Shared Matches is

MM has my brother and a number of known Goodsell relatives in her match list at ancestry. MM’s paternal grandfather, Charley Wold, is the brother of my Wold great-grandmother Maren. He married MM’s grandmother Martha Goodsell, among a number of other wives. We have lots of Wold relatives who have tested their DNA, but all at other companies.

The shared matches showed that the new 2nd cousin A was in common with several Goodsell relatives but not a match to my brother’s kit. Now I lost interest since A was most probably not my relative. A second cousin on the Goodsell side would be descended from the parents of Martha, so I put this match aside for another day. However it is best to contact treeless folk as soon as possible after their data comes in, while they are still logging in and looking at their results.

There are a few reasons people don’t have trees. The main two are that they are adopted or that they did the test just to see their ancestry composition. So I always craft a careful message that lets an adoptee know that I am willing to help, but hopefully does not scare off those less interested in genealogy.

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My Perfect Cousin

This is the first time I have had a cousin’s DNA test come out showing an ancestry composition that was 100% a single ethnicity. My cousin J.M. was not in the least bit surprised as she expected to be all Scandinavian. Five of her eight great-grandparents were born in Norway and the other three were born in the U.S.A. to Norwegian immigrants. But I was quite surprised because there is usually at least a trace of something else.

jmethnicitysmllShe shares my Norwegian born Munson (Monsen) great-grandparents as her great-great-grandparents making us 2nd cousins once removed. She tested at AncestryDNA to help me figure out where a related adoptee might fit in (no luck on that). The fact that she has a genetic genealogist for a cousin who would tell her what it all meant helped convince her as well.

I usually send cousins to my page comparing all the autosomal tests and let them choose. However I prefer DNA testing for the interested, but non-genealogically serious, relatives who are online because it is so easy to see the relationships and use the green leaf hinting system. Also I was tired of having only one circle and her test would give me a second one. Those with colonial ancestry have plenty of circles and NADs (New Ancestor Discoveries) but we recent immigrants (1870s and 1880s) are lucky to have any. Last but not least, it was the cheapest test at the time she ordered it.

Now why is she perfect? It is not just the 100% Scandinavian but amazingly her top four matches are all second cousins from different pairs of great-grandparents! I have never seen that before either. Of course most of my tested relatives being from relatively recent immigrants, have no second cousins and almost no thirds showing at Ancestry .

Here are J.M.’s matches:

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How many cousins share my 5th grandparents?

Matching DNA has put me in touch with an extremely large number of Norwegian cousins who share my fifth grandparents from Fatland farm on Halsnøy Island in Hordaland, Norway. What’s more, perhaps due to the large number of them, I am seeing some triangulation of segments among their results.


Halsnøy Island in Hordaland, Norway from the ferry

This started me thinking about the effect of many generations of big family sizes on the number of sixth cousins I might have from a specific set of 5th grandparents. It would seem to me that the larger the number of cousins, the more likely it is that there are some who share good sized segments with me and Dad.

So I did a little simulation in a spreadsheet. It’s very simple, it assumes that the number of children reproducing in every generation is the same so that you can see the differences for different family sizes. I also did a line or two with the real/estimated numbers from the Fatland couple.

If your family consistently had two children who had two children reproducing for six generations you would only have 64 fifth cousins, but if everyone in your family had six children who had six children then you have almost 50,000 fifth cousins. Quite a difference!


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New Ancestry kit in from my Wold cousin

You know you have an obsessive personality when a cousin’s DNA results come in and you put off as many plans as you can for the next 3 days in order to explore them. At least I have some observations to report on the new Ancestry chip as well as more data for my study of the Wold family.

Wold line cousins Kitty, Ed, MM

Wold line cousins Kitty, Ed, MM

According to Ancestry, this new chip has dropped some less interesting SNPs and replaced them with medically relevant ones as well as ones more useful for determining ancestry composition. The details are at

GEDmatch only tokenized 455K of the 700K SNPs from that new chip. However when I imported the raw data into a spreadsheet I saw that there were 668,961 lines of data as opposed to the previous 701,495 (then subtract 20 for the header), so not that different a number. New is chromosome 26 which is for the mitochondrial DNA.

My Wold cousin MM is the cousin whose doorstep I arrived on, Ancestry kit in hand, because I really really wanted her results. Those of you who have been to my Triangulation talk or read the article here may have noticed that I had no other cousins tested who are descended from my great-grandmother’s brother Charlie, the one presumed to be Kristine’s great-great-grandad. MM’s test has rectified that although she is descended from a different wife of Charlie’s than Kristine.

Since MM is the half first cousin of Kristine’s grandfather, she and Kristine are half first cousins twice removed. Do they match at the expected level?

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