Archive | August 2018

Figuring Out An Ancestor’s Actual Birth Year

Records that include your ancestor’s birth year are not necessarily accurate. Most records before the modern computerized era have self-reported ages, from censuses to marriage records, so often show incorrect information.

I remember being asked by a census taker about my neighbors. I really did not know the answers and said so, but in many cases I think people do answer for their neighbors. Also no census taker has ever asked me for an id. This made me realize how inaccurate census records could be for birth years as well as for the spelling of names, which I already knew about.

Dada’s gravestone shows a year of 1853

A fine demonstration of these inaccuracies are the many records for my great grandfather Henry H Lee (born H. Halvorsen Skjold in Norway) known to his family as Dada. I found that he kept getting younger in each document and census. A letter from his daughter written in the early 1900s states he was born in 1849 but most documents in America have 1852. His gravestone, shown above, has a birth year of 1853! Please remember that the birth year reported on your ancestor’s death certificate and gravestone came from the surviving family members, so can easily be incorrect.

So is the birth record reliable? Back then births happened at home so they were reported by the family or midwife. Several of Dada’s children had a mother of Mary Walters listed by the midwife in Brooklyn when her name was actually Maren Wold (proven many times over with DNA!). So birth records can have errors too, especially when your ancestors may have had thick accents while speaking English.

People in the 1800s baptized their children as soon as possible. Thus the baptism date, entered by a churchman, is one date that is surely accurate.

The Norwegians have put many of their country’s church books online. To solve the question of Dada’s birth year, I looked through all the pages of births for Dada’s original home town, Etne, Hordaland from 1849 until nine months after his father died in 1852.

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Eliminating the DNA Matches from One Side

UPDATE 26-Oct-2018: Click here for this tool  –  Extract Desired Lines

Unless you get lucky with a first cousin or closer match, searching for an unknown parent or grandparent involves building lots of trees for your DNA relatives and looking for common ancestors among them. Then you build down from those ancestors looking for someone in the right place at the right time. It is best to have two pairs of common ancestors because then you are looking for where their descendants meet in a marriage.

Sample ancestor list from GWorks – linked to slide in my GWorks presentation – using-dna-for-adoption-searches

It is wonderful to have automation to compare trees for you. The GWorks tool suite from does just that and, no surprise, I have written many blog posts about how to use those tools. They can collect all your Ancestry matches and then all the ancestors in their DNA connected trees and give you a list of the most frequently seen ancestors. You can also upload GEDcoms collected elsewhere or created by your own research to use in the comparison.

There are many times I would like to automatically exclude half the ancestors collected from Ancestry. For example when I am helping a person who knows only one parent but has a half sibling or the known parent tested. Specifically when they look at the results from a GWorks run, how do they eliminate the matches from the other side?

View Trees with an example for deleting

One way is to go to the “View Trees” on the GWorks menu at DNAgedcom and delete all the trees from the known side by clicking the red X to the far right of each tree. Then rerun the “Match GEDcom files” in the Manage Tree Files function. This could take forever in a half sibling case.

However, it is very useful to delete trees when one person has tested multiple family members and they are all in the same tree. In that case I keep the tree for the person who is further up the line. Very conveniently you can click on the tree name to go to that match at Ancestry, as long as you are logged in there, so you can easily figure out which one to keep. But again, this is too lengthy a process for a half sibling case.

DNAgedcom client home window

I have long used the Match-O-Matic (M-O-M) feature in the DNAgedcom client (DGC) to get the lists of matches for just one side (the m_ file) in a spreadsheet for use to keep track of my research. However M-O-M does not work for the tree files (aka the a_ file – actually it has a list of ancestors and which trees they are from).

Sometimes it is good to be a programmer. I have put together a new tool that you can use with a list of matches, for example the match file from M-O-M, to create a new tree file with only those trees that are for the matches in the match file. Then you can upload that match file and the new tree file to DNAgedcom for use in GWorks.

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New Compact Chromosome Browser on GEDmatch’s GENESIS

Today GEDmatch launched a version of my segment mapper which is integrated with their database. It can be used as a way to easily visualize multiple matches on GENESIS. This first version shows how everyone compares to the first person on the list, like the current 2D chromosome browser but more compact. Also each color is a person.

My Munson cousins in my new compact segment mapper at Genesis

Above is the screenshot of my Munson cousins which even shows one of the boxes that appears when the cursor is placed on a segment. Click on this image to see a copy of the html version (edited for privacy) where you can put your cursor on any segment to see the details. (N.B. when you put your cursor on a segment and the information pops up via javascript that is called a mouse over in geek speak. )

One way to get a display like this at Genesis is to check the boxes (tier 1 only) next to your best matches in the one-to-many (up to 40 of them) and then click the button “Visualization” at the top of the page. Another way to get there is to use the Tier 1 tool “MultiKit Analysis” and select the kits you want to look at. Remember the first kit listed is the one that all the others will be compared to.

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