Who is my great great grandfather’s daddy? A ThruLines experiment

My great great grandfather Jørgen Oleson Wold, 1816-1892, from Skougar near Drammen, Norway, was born 9 years before his parents tied the knot. Although his father is listed as the man his mother eventually married, DNA testing has stirred up my doubts.

Having a child out of wedlock was not uncommon in rural Norway of the 1800s. It was not considered shameful in many areas. Often the couple would marry later on; you had to be able to support a wife in order to have one. Another reason is that people wanted to be sure they could have children before marrying, since many hands were needed on the farm. The data shows that quite often women were pregnant at the altar. Click here for an article showing that having a sexual relationship and getting pregnant was the normal way to start a marriage in at least one area of Norway at that time. Night visiting, fully clothed, was a customary way for young people to get to know each other.

According to the 19th century clerygyman and sociologist Eilert Sundt (my 10th cousin 3R), who looked carefully at many population statistics, 43% of all Norwegian children were conceived before their parents got married back in the mid 1800s. Click here for the article that cites this.

The problem for Jørgen’s parentage is that there are no DNA matches on just his father of record’s line. It is always possible to get less DNA from one 3rd grandparent but it seemed that all my family’s matches to the descendants of other children of that marriage were smaller than expected. We also have many matches quite far back on Jørgen’s wife’s line, suggesting it was possible we just had more DNA from her side but also demonstrating that when there are many generations of large families, DNA matches to 5th and 6th cousins will be found. This is also true on our other Norwegian lines.

Could Jørgen have a different father? If so, I would expect to see a group of 4th cousin matches who match each other but are not assigned to any of our known lines. Since Norwegian records are good, our ancestors are well documented back into the 1700s or even earlier.

There is a large group of matches that fits that scenario, all descended from one Torkild Westby b 1810, Drammen, Norway. It so happens that Westby/Vestby is a farm in Skoger just outside of Drammen where Jørgen may have lived as a youth. Norwegians did not have surnames back then, they used their father’s name plus their farm of residence which could change. Also W was pronounced as V in Norway so they are interchangable in the spelling. When Torkild’s children came to America they used the surname Westbye. I found the birth record for Torkild in the Norwegian archives and sure enough, he was born on farm Westby in Skoger..

Torkild’s birth and baptism record in the Skoger Churchbook for 1810 – (3rd from bottom on right)

I decided to try a ThruLines experiment by changing Jørgen’s father to Torkild’s father, Jahn Jahnsen Westbye, in my Ancestry tree and see what happened. For Jørgen’s father and grandfather of record, Thrulines listed no DNA matches that were not also listed for his son.

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Super Large Numbers Do Not Work in my Ahnentafel to GEDCOM Tool

Alert, there is a bug in my tool to convert text files to GEDCOMs: very large Ahnentafel numbers like “46406041600” will cause it to hang.

I will add code to ignore large numbers by May (end of this week). If you are a regular user of this tool, check this post for the update when the new feature is released.

Something must have changed on the collection of trees because I had three emails in the last week complaining that my tool hung and did not complete the conversion. In all cases, the Ahnentafel went up to extremely large numbers, so eliminating those last few lines fixed the problem

Here is an example of the last several lines of a file that did not work:

Here are the last few lines of the same file after removing the lines with very high numbers. This version worked.

Do you really need these people born in the 1200s? What is the probability that they even are actually your ancestors?

This appears to be some sort of limitation in either the storage space for the program or the number sizes. Thus I propose to modify the code to ignore ahnentafel numbers with more than seven digits and to have it tell you that it did that.

Any other ideas out there? Remember I make almost no money on this, just the occasional small thank you donation, so I am not looking for a solution that will take lots of my time.

Rootstech 2020 is Happening Now

Rootstech is a huge, amazing genealogy conference organized by that is going on now through Saturday in Salt Lake City. This is the 10th anniversary of the conference that should be on every genealogist’s bucket list. Sadly I am missing it again this year. If you go to one, be sure to leave some time to do research in the best family history library in this country, and perhaps anywhere, just one block from the conference.

For those of us who cannot go in person, the organizers generously live stream one session in each time slot at (scroll down for the schedule) and for those of us who can’t watch live, they then make those presentations available at

Wednesdays live stream sessions online

If you want more, you can purchase a virtual pass and see the 30 classes that are videotaped at your leisure for a very reasonable price at

Rootstech wrote a blog post celebrating the history of the conference at, but they failed to mention my wonderful brother Shipley Munson who shepherded it from a large conference to the gigantic must-go-to conference it is today. So I will celebrate him here. Thanks for everything Ship!

Shipley Munson and A.J.Jacobs on screen at Rootstech 2016

UPDATE 27 Feb 2020: Another way to follow along is to read some of the blog posts Randy Seaver lists here:

I4GG 2020 round up

My favorite yearly conference is the two days of talks that i4GG puts together for us serious genetic genealogists. Thank you CeCe and Lennart for doing this and for making the very professional videos, which are free to conference attendees and available for purchase by everyone else.

One of the highlights of the conference was hearing from Paul Fronczak and his daughter. Paul was the child returned to his parents after the famous Chicago baby-napping case in 1964. In 2012 a DNA test showed that he was not their child. His book The Foundling, about his search for his roots, his missing twin sister, and the real Paul Fronczak, is a terrific read. (click here for the BBC summary of the case)

I have just started using a great tool called Scapple, that I learned about from Michelle Trostler‘s talk. So far I love it! It is an inexpensive mind mapping package that makes it super easy to quickly put together possible family charts for clients. It is always pleasurable to hear about actual cases and how they were solved. Both Michelle and Carol Rolnick obliged.

Chaos ensued when Katherine Borges, the director of ISOGG (whose Wiki is my go to resource), told us about the FamilySearch app with “Relatives Around Me” on its menu towards the end of her epigenetics talk. Everyone was downloading it to their smartphones and running around finding their cousins. I discovered many 12th cousins, including Tim Janzen, from a dubious connection that needs more research, a Thomas Gray who went to Norway and became Graa. Sadly I never did find my real 8th cousin Dixie Hansen in the room!

I presented on What’s New at GEDmatch and also about Automated Tree Building Tools, focusing on DNA2tree, as Dana Leeds was covering Genetic Affairs (GA) which she did quite well. I do have a blog post on GA in progress, it now includes GEDCOMs with the tree building! As always my slides can be found at

The biggest take away from the conference for me was that we all need to be more diligent in getting our relatives to opt in to law enforcement (LE) usage on GEDmatch
. Many of the cases that have been solved with genetic genealogy could not be done today now that the usable database for LE investigations is down to about 200K from over a million before the opt in requirement.

Also perhaps we need a team to identify kits of people who are deceased. GEDmatch will opt them in if presented with an obituary.

I am also putting together a new email message to send to reluctant cousins appealing to their desire to be good citizens.

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Clicking Over from DNA Ancestor Hints

The great new features just keep coming for Ancestry‘s DNA product. Now we can click new people into our tree from a DNA match with an Ancestor hint. This can be done from the page where it shows the pathway for each of you to the common ancestor, explained in detail on the next page of this post. Hopefully you will all be careful about this, checking sources and so forth …

One thing I love about Ancestry‘s common ancestor feature is that it always uses my tree first before extrapolating from other trees and records. Yes that’s right, it uses records!

When I look at a DNA match with a common ancestor I always note the relationship in the notepad and then color code by great grandparent line. This means that when I look through my DNA matches with common ancestors, the ones not yet categorized are easy to see since they have nothing added in the right hand column, for example Susan in the diagram above.

The other approach would be to filter by “Matches you haven’t viewed” and visually scan for common ancestors since you cannot combine those filters. [UPDATE 22-Apr-2020: they can now be combined, Ancestry now has a better menu bar than the one shown above with more ways to view your matches] Personally I have too many distant cousins that I have not looked at yet, but I often use the group filter of “Close matches – 4th cousin or closer” and combine it with the sort by date. People who have just gotten their test results are more likely to be on the site and thus may respond to your message.

The problem with the latter approach is that some matches you have already viewed may have recently added some tree information and Ancestry has found a common ancestor that was not there before. Therefore it is best to add notes and/or color codes and periodically check the list of people with common ancestors for new finds.

The other day I saw a very fanciful looking match with distant cousin “A” to my VE line from Hordaland. Her ancestry was almost entirely Norwegian with a bit of Swedish so that fit. Curious about an ancestor called just “J” in her line I had to investigate.
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