Tag Archives: DNA

Lumbersexual ancestors update

Beard experiment

Five weeks untouched

It’s been about five weeks since I officially declared a ban on shaving, and I have to say that I’m pretty happy with the results. I haven’t shaved or trimmed at all since then. I hadn’t really trimmed it for three or four weeks before that, except for a slight trimming before going to the New York State Family History Conference. I was on the fence about it then, but the barber said she liked it as it was, and just did a light trim on it.

So it’s really been about two months of practically no trimming or grooming, and it’s filling out nicely. I’m not quite sure which ancestor wins yet, though. I think it’s really a combination, which makes sense since we’re all really a combination of our ancestors. I think I can say that I’m not going to get one of those ZZ Top beards, though. It just doesn’t seem to be growing in a way that would hang nicely. It’s more of a “wrap-around” sort of beard. If it were white, it would probably make a fairly decent Santa Claus beard after a while.

But next week I need to go into the office, so yesterday I went to the barber for a trim. I was trying to decide if this experiment was coming to an end, or if it was just time to start shaping and grooming. Fortunately, again, a good barber told me that he liked my beard, and gave some good advice on how he could groom it without losing it. So the experiment is still on! I’ll post another update in about a month.

After first grooming

After first grooming


New York Family History Conference–Day 2: DNA recap

I have to be honest. I was on the fence about coming to the New York State Family History Conference. My own family history doesn’t have much in the way of New York, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby at times with all the subscription sites, society memberships, record copy and microfilm orders, and DNA tests. There’s only so much in the way of vacation time I can take from the job that pays for all this as well, so I kind of have to prioritize where to spend the money and time.

But this conference had a full day of seminars scheduled on genetic genealogy. That’s something that I’ve been interested in since I first started hearing about it several years ago, and a full day of learning from the best was tugging at my heartstrings. So I decided to go for it. As I posted earlier, definitely no regrets with the non-genetic genealogy sessions, and genetic sessions were just as inspiring for me.

Five sessions, all about using DNA as a tool for genealogy, presented by Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., JD, and Judy Russell, JD, CG, CGL. Blaine is arguably the leading expert in genetic genealogy—he is The Genetic Genealogist, after all. And I’ll admit that he was a key factor that drew me to this conference. DNA was the lure, but Blaine got me hook, line and sinker! If you’re going to learn something, learn from the best.

Blaine did three sessions: an general introduction to using DNA in genealogy, a session devoted to mitochondrial DNA and y-chromosome DNA testing and their applications in genealogy, and one devoted to autosomal DNA tests.

Judy did two sessions: one about the ethics of DNA testing, and the final course showing how DNA results are used in genealogical research.

I’m not even going to pretend to be able to summarize the vast amount of information they presented, let alone act like I fully understood it all. I came into it with a  basic understanding of DNA, what it is, how it works. And I think I can say that I didn’t learn anything new about DNA itself, but then this wasn’t a science class. That wasn’t the point of these sessions.

The point is that DNA is no longer a curiosity or the latest trend in genealogy. DNA tests are an important tool in tracing family history, and the results are vital evidence. More and more, genealogical publications and associations are saying that DNA evidence is almost required as part of a solid proof argument, and a reasonably exhaustive search must include a DNA test.

And many times, one DNA match is not enough. I asked both Blaine, as a DNA expert, and Judy, as a board-certified genealogist, about the brick wall with my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Compton. Both said that the one mtDNA result is good evidence, but not enough to support the claim that Mary Compton is the daughter of Elias Compton and Sarah Long. They both suggested testing more people: Blaine recommended trying to find a descendant of Sarah Long’s mother and grandmother (through separate lines) to compare mtDNA with, and Judy recommended doing autosomal DNA tests for more of my cousins, aunts and uncles descended from Mary and comparing results with descendants of Elias Compton through his other children. Matching results would be a much clearer indication that I’m on the right track.

As a result of all this, I urgently made my way to the Family Tree DNA booth in the exhibit hall, and did a new mtDNA test on myself. My original test was with AncestryDNA, which doesn’t support it anymore. Also, the technology has advanced so much in the last six years that it was worth doing it over.

I’m also creating a list of family members I need to make sure to test. Judy really emphasized the need to preserve your DNA while you can, so older family members are in my target. My maternal grandparents both died before genetic genealogy was a thing, and I didn’t think to get my paternal grandparents tested before they passed away. But I have several aunts and uncles on both sides, as well as a couple siblings of some grandparents. Surely there are second and third cousins as well. I’ve met a few recently, so I know they’re out there.

Now I just have to add a DNA test line to my budget!

Our “lumbersexual” ancestors

I was looking through pictures of my ancestors and noticed, particularly with my great-great grandfathers, that they tended to sport pretty amazing beards.

Henry William Miller

Great-great-great grandfather Henry William Miller

Joseph Edouard Clausse

Great-great grandfather Joseph Edouard Clausse

This got me thinking about genetics, and wondering what I would have looked like in a day when beards like this were in fashion.

Fortunately for me, the “lumbersexual” is the new thing now. The beard, plaid shirts, scruffy hair. Ok, so they weren’t true “lumbersexuals”. No plaid (at least not in these pictures). And the hair is what it is. But most were farmers of some sort, so I’m sure they weren’t all cleaned-up like this on a daily basis.

Great-great grandfather Hyrum Rands

Great-great grandfather Hyrum Rands

Great-great grandfather William van Orden Carbine

Great-great grandfather William van Orden Carbine

So, I’m doing a little experiment in genetics. It’s an easy experiment. Doesn’t take much work–in fact, less work than normal. I’m just going to stop shaving for a while and see which ancestor I resemble the most beard-wise.

And, since I live in Buffalo and winter is ALWAYS just around the corner, it’ll make for some good insulation. Here’s too facial hair!

And The Winner Is….


The DNA results came back surprisingly fast, and they were a perfect match to mine. So, I know have several more generations to add to my family tree. My brick wall suddenly goes back to the late 1500s!

Who’s your Daddy, Mary?

mary-compton-cropped2I recently tracked down a living descendant of Elias Compton, the best candidate for father of Mary Compton, my 3rd-great-grandmother. (Read about her here and here.) My potentially newfound cousin is a descendant through Elias’ daughter, Elizabeth, and is descended through a line of daughters. I am descended from Mary Compton through a line of daughters also, which means we may have matching mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). She agreed to be tested, so I ordered a DNA test kit and am having it sent to her. If her results match mine, that would be a good indication that Mary Compton is Elias Compton’s daughter.

I have been searching for YEARS trying to find some sort of written documentation of Mary Compton’s parents. Her marriage record lists a David Compton, but doesn’t indicate what relation he is, if any. Circumstantial evidence suggests that she is Elias’ daughter, though. For example:

  • Elias Compton (and family) were among the very first settlers in Polk County, Iowa, settling there in 1845, specifically in Keokuk Prairie. Mary Compton was married at Keokuk Prairie in 1846 (at the home of David Compton), and later census records say that she had been living in Iowa since 1845.
  • No other Comptons are listed in the 1846 Iowa state census, other than Elias and his sons.
  • Elias Compton’s family moved to Iowa from Indiana, which is where Mary was born.
  • The 1880 US census says that Mary’s parents were born in New York and Ohio. Elias was born in New Jersey, and his wife, Sarah, was born in Pennsylvania–not exactly correct, but close which works for me considering that some of their other documented children got their birthplaces wrong in the same census!

So, hopefully I’ll have some good and definite news in a month or two. The nice thing is that this will push my family tree back SEVERAL generations. My newly-found cousins have the Compton family tree extending back to England in the late 1500’s.

Adoptees use DNA to find surname

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

DNA molecule (SPL)

The tests read a number of genetic markers on the Y chromosome

Male adoptees are using consumer DNA tests to predict the surnames carried by their biological fathers, the BBC has learned.

They are using the fact that men who share a surname sometimes have genetic likenesses too.

By searching DNA databases for other males with genetic markers matching their own, adoptees can check if these men also share a last name.

This can provide the likely surname of an adoptee’s biological father.

The genetic similarities between men who share surnames occur on the Y chromosome, a package of genetic material passed on, more or less unchanged, from father to son – just like a last name.

Because of this pattern of inheritance, men with the same surname may also share a similar complement of genetic markers on the Y chromosome.

That’s the real miracle of the DNA test. [The Y chromosome] can act in a sense like a silver bullet
Bennett Greenspan, Family Tree DNA

At least 30 men registered with US consumer genetic testing firm Family Tree DNA have found their “biological surname” in this way, the company’s chief executive told BBC News. The company has an online database called Ysearch containing genetic information from 125,000 men, along with surnames and other genealogical data.

Bennett Greenspan explained: “We now have a growing number of people who are adopted, who have tested with us and have matched several individuals with a particular surname, and maybe they haven’t matched anyone else with a different surname.

“From that, they can get the idea that they have at least found the surname they need to start looking for in the town in which they were born.”

The tests can “read” up to 67 genetic markers on the Y chromosome. Mr Greenspan said that, for some adoptees, discovering the surname of their birth father in any other way might be extremely difficult, or even impossible.

“That’s the real miracle of the DNA test. [The Y chromosome] can act in a sense like a silver bullet.” he said.

A little light

Mark Jobling, professor of genetics at the University of Leicester, UK, who is unconnected with Family Tree DNA said: “If you have a surname which is reasonably rare, but not so rare that the chances of another person being typed and going into that database are infinitesimal, then you could be in luck.

“There’s a big gamble in doing it, but people sometimes say that if you’re in a dark room then even a little light can be useful.

Y search screenshot (BBC)

Ysearch is one database allowing users to search for genetic matches

Chandler Barber, a 37-year-old advertising copywriter from Dallas, who was adopted at birth, said he had learned about the possibility of discovering his surname from a magazine article about consumer DNA testing.

Of six people in the Ysearch database who were close genetic matches, all had variants of the surname Ritchie, including one US-based Ruetschi who was a very close match.

“It was pretty concrete evidence,” Mr Barber told me.

“It’s a quick and effortless way to at least find some nugget about your history. I am sure there are people who have been searching for their birth parents on foot, with pen and paper, for years – and have got nowhere.

“You start to wonder to yourself – if I do this, am I letting my family down? I told my mother: I really don’t want to find my birth family. I just want to know where I’m from. But she told me that she had expected me to do this a long time ago.”

Common names

Edward Cerullo, 48, a computer programmer from Norway, knew his birth father’s surname – Page – before testing his DNA.

“When the results came back, of the 22 names they sent back who matched my DNA 11 were Page or Paige. That’s statistically pretty hard to argue against,” he explained.

The database allowed him to see how his own line of descent fits into the wider family tree for this surname.

The link between last name and likeness on the Y chromosome gets stronger, the rarer the surname is. But, said Mark Jobling: “Even in reasonably common surnames you see ‘descent clusters’.

“In a name like Jefferson, for example, which is quite a common name, you find lots of these little descent clusters. There is identity within those clusters but there are many of them.

“In a name like Attenborough, there is just one great descent cluster, and a few people who don’t fit into it. There’s a spectacular common ancestry for that name.”

But he cautioned that these general patterns might differ from country to country. Also, some rare markers ran across two or more surnames, which might cause false matches.

Such false matches might also arise from technical issues with DNA databases. For instance, genetic testing companies sometimes used different naming methods for genetic markers. Confusion might arise when customers whose DNA had been tested by different companies uploaded their own genetic information into the same database.

Future developments

Mark Jobling said tests offering better resolution on the whole genome should be able to solve other familial puzzles. In the first half of the 20th Century, when a child was born out of wedlock, grandparents would sometimes raise the child as their own.

Professor Jobling said he knew of one man who suspected this had been the situation with his own immediate family. An “older sister”, this individual believed, had actually been his mother. Unfortunately, the putative sister and parents were now deceased.

“If there is another relative, such as an acknowledged grandchild of this grandparental/parental couple, you can set up a hypothesis whereby you say: ‘if they were his parents, how much of his DNA should he share with this cousin’,” the University of Leicester geneticist explained.

“If they were his grandparents, he should share a certain lesser proportion of his DNA with his cousin. You can distinguish the two scenarios.”

Professor Jobling said that falling costs of sequencing entire genomes offered the promise of finding genetic variants that were specific to one surname – with no room for ambiguity.