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My favorite capabilities at 23andme are: finding new relatives with DNA and comparing them in the chromosome browser, looking at my ancestry composition in depth, and having the ability to look up specific genes. Most of the recent changes at 23andme are to the ancestry composition tools, specifically there is more granularity in the areas it shows for your ancestors’ origins.

With three generations of Munsons on 23andme, thanks to my niece’s recent test, I can finally evaluate the GrandTree. This tool, found on the Family & Friends menu, lets you look at what you inherited from each grandparent. Not surprisingly my niece LM got way more from my mother, whose mother she strongly resembles, than from my Dad. There is no guarantee that you will get exactly 25% from each grandparent. In my case, I got more from my maternal grandfather which I deduce from my 28% jewish ethnicity.

This tool will look at the traits and health items tracked through the generations even if you did not buy the health reports. This will be discussed in more detail later in this article. Meanwhile, I will do a quick review of the current 23andme basics as a guide for my niece and any other new testers reading this.

Finding DNA relatives and comparing them in the chromosome browser

Click on DNA relatives on either the Ancestry menu or the Family & Friends menu to look at your cousin list. Here are my previous posts on this topic, still fairly accurate:

Looking up a specific gene

You can look up a specific gene or marker in the Browse Raw Data function which is found on the menu under your name. Click here for my blog post about the AIDS resistant gene which details how to  do that type of look up.

Ancestry Composition

The great thing about the ancestry composition display at 23andme is that it shows you the details by chromosome. None of the other testing companies do that. What’s more if you put your cursor on a specific ethnicity, it will highlight just those segments on the diagram. Click on Ancestry Composition on the Ancestry menu to get to the page with the most details, including the chromosome by chromosome display.

One caveat is that the default display is at the 50% confidence level which is clearly more fun. Only when I changed it to 90% could I get rid of that impossible Native American …

My first 12 chromosomes at the 80% confidence setting

I find it interesting to see how little has changed in this image from my 2012 post on 23andme display by chromosome (click here for that). The improvement is that I am now 44.6% Scandinavian instead of 24%, apparently the non-specific Northern Europe is now correctly assigned to Scandinavia. I expected closer to 50% since my father is a Norwegian American with all Norwegian ancestry except one German 4th grandfather and one Swedish 5th grandad.

A very nice feature is being able to see what you got from each parent if you have at least one parent tested. Since my ancestors are recent immigrants from Europe, I am puzzled by the Native American & East Asian from my mother. Further investigation shows that my maternal aunt Trudi has the same East Asian section on chromosome 6 that I do. My brother and niece have it on a bit of chromosome 17. However anything less than 1% always seems dubious to me.

Click here for my blog post explaining how to get the segment by segment breakdown of your ancestry in a spreadsheet.

On the display at the top of the Ancestry Composition page or on the Ancestry Overview page it shows you your various ethnicities often broken down into more specific locations. This is the improved granularity that I had mentioned. You can click on any right arrow to get to the report for that ethnicity. Here is my amazingly accurate Scandinavian report.

The ancestor timeline feature is interesting but I am not sure how accurate or useful it is. Click here to read my discussion of that towards the end of a 2017 article.

Your motherline and fatherline haplogroups are shown on the All Ancestry Reports page. The fatherline, paternal haplogroup, only shows if you are male, unless you are a female with a tested father. You can get to the details by clicking on the haplogroup there or from the Ancestry Overview page. These pages are on the Ancestry drop down menu. If your ancestors are mainly European, I recommend reading more about your haplogroups on the Eupedia site at this page:

The GrandTree

This tool will show you how much DNA you have inherited from a grandparent, both the tested one and an untested spouse. Plus you can look at a number of specific traits like eye color, widows peak, curly hair, and so on. Additionally you can look at a specific gene or marker by entering it in the search box under the list of traits. My only complaint is that I have to put my niece’s dad and grandad in each time I come back to this page; it would be better if 23andme remembered that information. On the other hand, an advantage is that I can change the people viewed so I can actually use this tool from my own account for the three of them, since they are all shared connections with me.

I looked at the trait called “bald spot.” The good news is most of the male bald spot genes my niece got are from my father who had a full head of hair when he died at 96. This surprised me since I learned in school that the primary gene for going bald is carried on the X, so it is a sex-linked gene and her dad only got X from our mom, not our dad. This inheritance pattern means that far more men go bald than women because we have the protective effect of two X chromosomes and usually one does not include the baldness gene. Men are stuck with whatever they get from their mother. I have often noticed that my brother has my maternal grandfather’s balding pattern.

However I have now discovered that baldness is more complicated than a single gene on the X. I found this article that explains that: https://blog.helix.com/male-pattern-baldness-genetics/ and the technical details are laid out in the NIH article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5308812/

Thank you again my wonderful niece so very much for testing. I have whiled away hours playing with these tools and your results! Now get your maternal grandmother to test please …

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Kitty Cooper's Blog by Kitty - 1M ago

Father’s day is always an occasion for the DNA testing companies to offer discounts on their kits and this year is no different. Give Dad a DNA kit is the message. Why should you? Well his autosomal DNA might find cousins you had lost track of, discover ethnicity you were curious about, or solve an unknown parent mystery. After all, he is one generation closer to your ancestors. I tested my late father long ago and am grateful to have that information. Click here for my evaluations of the different autosomal testing companies.

Dad and I in about 1953 (he was in the Air Force)

Only men have a Y chromosome and there are tests for just the Y. Those tests can give you information about your surname and your deep father line ancestry. Family Tree DNA is the place to test just the Y although both LivingDNA and 23andme will give you a high level Y haplogroup, plus there are tools to determine the haplogroup from an AncestryDNA or MyHeritage test (discussed at the end of this post).

If you know what a Y haplogroup is you can skip this paragraph … The 23rd pair of chromosomes is an XX for a woman and an XY for a man. The problem or benefit is that there is no second Y for that Y to recombine with. Thus unlike the other 22 chromosomes a man’s parents give him, the Y is unchanged from his Dad’s and his Dad’s and his Dad’s and so on, except for mutations. Those little changes accumulate over thousands of years and allow scientists to catalog the Y and trace the migration of mankind around the globe. Each set of Y mutations is assigned to a haplogroup, and subgroup, which can tell you where your ancestors came from thousands of years back. Here is the latest diagram from the
wikipedia article on Y

Y haplogroup world expansion – start at the big Y in Africa (A was the first haplogroup) -image from wikipedia by Maulucioni [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

If you are of European origin then click here for the Eupedia articles on each haplogroup.

My Norwegian Munson family is R1b rather than being the Viking I haplogroup. The R1b haplogroup is associated with the Indo-Euopean invasion of Europe. Since we have done some deeper SNP testing we know that we are from the Swedish branch of R-L238. Note that the current naming conventions are the umbrella group (so R) followed by the endmost SNP tested (L238). However my other Norwegian lines, my Wold and Skjold cousins are both the viking I haplogroups.

Jewish men may be interested in their haplogroup in case they are Cohanim (two lineages, one a subset of J1, the other of J2) or Levite (a subset of haplogroup R1a) – Click here for that wikipedia discussion. There are projects for both these groups at Family Tree DNA. An advantage of joining a project is that the administrator can often help you with your quest. On my Jewish side, my Steinhardts are T1 (Phoenician origin) but I have not yet found any male Engel, Langermann or Thannhauser descendants.  So many daughters!

However finding your Y haplogroup will not give you a surname. It may help disprove a patrilineal lineage if you have a different haplogroup from others with your surname. This often happens within a family when a man was adopted in or a daughter’s male child took her surname.

SNP tests are what are used to determine your haplogroup while STR tests give you more recent ancestry. Click here for more about the differences, although the above graphic may give you the idea.

To find your surname or others with your surname, you would take the STR 37, 67, or 111 marker test at Family Tree DNA and they also include your top level haplogroup with that test. I recommend the 67 marker test to start with. Then you can later choose to test more STR markers or test a package of SNPs suited to your haplogroup, as I did. Or you can go whole hog and get both the SNPs and STRs in one enormous package this father’s day, namely the Big Y-700.

There are also projects at Family Tree DNA for specific surnames. Click here for an example of a well done surname project

Warning, if you are from a population that did not have surnames until recently (for example Scandinavians and Ashkenazi jews) then an STR test will not find one for you. Also if no one from your Y lineage has tested, you will have no matches, a common complaint.

You can, however, use a Y STR marker test to prove a common male line ancestor between two possible cousins, perhaps even with the same surname. For example, my 4th grandfather was named Lars Monsen from the Bergen area of Norway. This is a very common name there, so we had not been able to figure out which family was his from the records. We developed a theory and did a Y test on a male line descendant of Lars’ possible grandfather. It was a match! Click here for that story.

Back when we did this, there was a common database for people who had tested their Y markers at different companies, like a GEDmatch for the Y. This was taken down due to GDPR concerns. I am pleased to announce that there is a now a new common database for Y and mtDNA in Beta test at https://www.mitoydna.org/ so please add your Y and mtDNA test results there.

Personally, I find the deep ancestry information contained in the Y haplogroups fascinating. I knew that the current Ancestry DNA test had a lot of Y data in it so I tried out the Morley Tool to see if it would predict my brother correctly. Sure enough it found that he was R-L238 which we know since he is my father’s son!

To try this yourself go to this page and follow the instructions. This should work for MyHeritage as well.

Morley result for my brother

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Janice was searching for her biological father. Her Ancestry DNA test had found what looked to be an aunt or half aunt, “ Sally,” and also a half uncle, “Trevor,” who did not match each other, both about 20 years older than Janice. So likely each of them was related to one parent of the unknown father. This could be easy! But wait…

Display from Ancestry Beta match view: Note that the common ancestor with Sally came after adding her tree

Notice the difference in matching DNA and that they are both listed as 1st-2nd cousins. Yet both are in the range for half aunt/uncle (500-1446 cM). Although other relationships, like first cousin were possible, they did not fit the known facts or the matching to common relatives. Trevor’s second cousins shared with Janice were all third or fourth cousins to her, suggesting one generation of difference. The same was true for Sally’s closer cousins: her firsts were coming up as Janice’s seconds.

Trevor, born 1945, had just discovered via his Ancestry test that the father who had raised him was not his biological dad. His dad was actually his stepfather; he had adopted him when marrying Trevor’s mother. Sadly she was no longer available to tell Trevor who his birth father really was and the father of record did not fit the DNA evidence.

Sally knew that her mother had given birth to a boy in 1945 that had been adopted out. This child was not the son of the man she later married; his father was unknown. Sally had tested her DNA hoping to find her half brother and was excited to have found his daughter!

How Sally and Trevor are related to Janice

The problem here is that since Janice’s father is that adopted half brother, there may be no way to track him down. The best I could do for Janice was to find Trevor’s dad and Janice’s paternal grandfather via DNA. Since he had deep American roots it took less than four hours!

Here is how it was done.

First, taking a look at the matches Trevor and Janice shared, there were seven third cousin matches, only one with a good tree (thank you Paula). Of the 275 common fourth cousins, the highest one had enough of a tree for Sally to have already found a common ancestral couple, surname Collins (all names in this article are fake for privacy). Note that the large number of fourth cousins made colonial ancestry very likely.

I went through all those common cousins and starred them while watching TV. Actually, once I got down to 30cM I started starring only the ones with trees. My fingers were tired … The reason to star the common relatives was to make it easier to use various tools on just the shared matches. I had Janice run a cluster report from Genetic Affairs for just the starred matches. Cluster One was clearly the Collins group but the next few clusters had no good trees nor surnames that stood out.

Next I used GWorks to make a database at DNAgedcom of the trees of Janice’s and Tom’s common 3rd and 4th cousin matches. (click here for my blog post on how to use just the shared matches). Sadly most of these matches had either no trees or tiny trees, which meant that no other clear cut ancestral couples turned up. There were no ancestors in the database more than twice.

GWorks database of common ancestors born after 1800 (surnames obscured)

One possible next step would be to use pedigree thief and my DNA2ged tool to get more trees from the Ancestry unlinked trees to add to GWorks (click here for that post). For some cases I go to the MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA trees to get even more trees for the database.

However in this case, I noticed one unusual surname, Siberling, high up in the common surnames list, so I decided to build down from the common ancestral couple Sally had found, keeping an eye out for that name. I did this tree building as unconnected branches in Janice’s tree so that it would be easy to connect this information back in later, if a good candidate was found (and again while watching TV –  PBS newshour). By the way, DNA2tree, the new tool for iPads and iPhones, can also work with just the starred, aka the favorites list, so might have been a faster way to build those trees.

The technique I use when building down from just one common couple is to check the surname of each child’s spouse against the GWorks frequent surname list. There were six Collins children, a few of whom had spouses with surnames in the list. I built those trees down but soon the surnames petered out. Finally at the fourth son of the sixth child, I found a Collins who had married a Siberling and had even died in the right state. He had only one son who was the right age and in the right place at the right time! Eureka! Not surprisingly this WWII vet was no longer living. Lets call him Roy.

Next I built Roy’s pedigree tree back to about 1800. Then I gave him a fake brother with the same parents and made this fake brother Janice’s dad in her tree (her DNA was already attached to her tree which had her mother’s family).

By the next day, the ThruLines common ancestor hints on Ancestry had come in. As had Trevor’s share of his DNA with me. Now I checked the numbers for Janice and Trevor on the newly found common ancestor relationships. It all fit. Plus there were good matches on Roy’s mother’s line and his paternal grandmother’s line. This is as proven as it gets without testing one of Roy’s children.

On a side note, Janice and Sally had been crossing paths all their lives as they moved to different areas of the country. They are now 10 minutes from each other. Sally shared this with me “I own a dog who snaps at or bites everyone. EVERYONE. Janice? He leaped up and hugged tightly around the waist, tail wagging, looking into her eyes the second time he met her. The first time? I looked down to see Janice was petting him and he was loving it! THAT never happened before and he is 10. … Perfectly comfortable with her. Old friends.”

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Another wonderful Jamboree, the 50th birthday celebration, is over. This is my favorite conference not just because of the great weather and outdoor bar but also for the manageable size and a day for just DNA, not to mention the high quality of the presenters. So I was very sad to hear that it will not happen next year; they are reinventing themselves for 2020 – click here for the announcement on their blog.

Ask the DNA Experts: Brad Larkin, Kitty Cooper, Tim Janzen, Angie Bush, Dave Dowell, moderator Alice Fairhurst photo credit: Ann Schumacher

The DNA Experts Panel this year went particularly well. However when looking at one attendee’s evaluation form I saw that they had taken notes on their form (including my “read my blog!” refrain); so I include that image without the ratings (all good, yes we read what you say!) at the end of this post in case they did not make another copy.

My plan at a genealogy conference is always to attend a maximum of 2-3 talks a day (more is information overload for me) and otherwise hang out in the exhibit hall looking at what’s new from my favorite vendors. Plus spend time with friends over lunch and in the bar when the day is done. Thank you all for the glasses of wine!

When I get home after the conference, I like to watch some of the presentations that were streamed, particularly the early morning ones that I was not awake yet for. The genealogy ones are free online, thanks to Ancestry‘s sponsorship, until July 31. Go to https://webcastandbeyond.com/streaming/jamboree/ to get a login id.

Thomas MacEntee of Abundant Genealogy starting his streamed talk – screenshot from that archive

I really loved listening to Thomas MacEntee explaining how to you can do genealogy in 15 minute chunks. Like you, I said to myself, “No way!” But his presentation taught me a great deal about keeping track of my research, staying organized, and how not to chase those bright shiny objects (BSOs – this latter is my biggest failing!) by adding them to my to do list.

There is always news at these conferences.

The big one for us genetic genealogists is that as of June 1, GENESIS has become the main GEDmatch site. No you do not need to upload again, your kit and id are migrated over. The details on that may be my next post.

Other important news is the retirement of Ancestry circles in favor of ThruLines this summer. MyHeritage has added health testing; but you need to be tested with one of their kits to get that; it’s not available for transferred data. Also the world tree at GENI has improved their HTML tree display; now you get a nice side panel display for an ancestor when you click on them.

Talks that were streamed from DNA day are not free; they can be purchased at this URL: https://webcastandbeyond.com/streaming/scgs/They include my updated unknown parentage presentation on all the latest tools for those searches – clustering, DNA2Tree, DNApainter, and GWorks. Plus I tried to make my slides somewhat understandable stand-alone. As always I used slides.com – click here for those slides.

Other presentations from the 2019 Jamboree are available for purchase either as videos or just audio at this URL: http://www.myconferenceresource.com/products/3048-0011-scgs-genetic-genealogy-jamboree-conference-2019.aspx including the audio of my genealogy talk on finding your Norwegian ancestor across the Atlantic. It’s probably best if you view the slides that go with that while listening – https://slides.com/kittycooper/norwayresearch-41#/

If you do any work with adoptees, I really recommend the talk from Richard Weiss of DNAadoption.com – TH 023 – DNA and Uncovered Secrets: Help and Support – I was very moved by it. It made me realize that I need to be careful not to get in the middle once we have identified the birth family. It is up to the adoptee to make that contact.

Every presentation I went to was worthwhile; Angie Bush, Tim Janzen, and more, but I missed Blaine’s talks this year. I also missed Rob Warthen’s talk about all the new stuff coming from him –mitoydna.org/ and genetic.family (more future blog posts to write!).

DNA Programmers dinner in the bar: Jamie Nelson (WIKItree), Rob Warthen (DNAgedcom), Dave (DNA2Tree), me, Margaret Press and Joan (Jane Doe project),  Kevin Borland (Borland Genetics), and John Collins (DNAgedcom). photo credit: unknown waiter

However it is spending time with people with similar interests that makes these live conferences so great. Some of the stories I tell about my work make my husband’s eyes glaze over, but my genealogy cohorts love them! I particularly enjoyed our DNA programmers dinner in the outdoor bar. I had not met Kevin Borland before, so now I will experiment with his programs and report back in a future blog post. Click here for the ISOGG wiki write up of Borland Genetics.

If only I could get up earlier, I missed Crista Cowan (aka the Barefoot Genealogist) on Ancestry DNA tools but heard it was great. I also missed a few other early talks like Lisa Alzo on Eastern European records.

The elephant in the room is that some presenters pulled out of the conference over the current controversy in the DNA community:  law enforcement’s  usage of our databases for identifying violent criminals and unidentified bodies. We were specifically asked as presenters not to bring this up. Click here to read my Opt In blog post on that topic.

An unidentified attendee’s notes on the DNA expert panel evaluation form

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The Southern California Genealogical Society puts together my favorite conference every year in Burbank. This year is their 50th anniversary! In my next post I hope to share some of what I have learned here.

However since all the screens on the DNAgedcom client have changed I am too busy updating my presentation on Using DNA for Unknown Parentage Cases,  which will be live streamed tomorrow afternoon, to write a more complete article. Click the image to get to the Jamboree web site and learn more.

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In these modern divisive times, even the genetic genealogy community has been torn into two camps. Is it modern nature to react with emotion rather than thought? With the “are you with us or them”? Is this what overuse of social media has done to us? I can see both sides of the issue. Some of you may wonder what I am even talking about ….

Cece Moore on Dr Phil explaining how she uses DNA to find criminals (click image to go to that site for the article and video)

The problem has arisen because Law Enforcement (LE) has been using DNA and genealogy databases to help find violent criminals and to resolve many old and cold cases like the Golden State Killer (GSK) case. They are using the techniques and tools that were developed for breaking genealogical brick walls and helping adoptees find their biological families. Personally, I applaud this usage and the closure it brings to the families of the victims. A dear 4th cousin of mine lived in fear during her adolescent years in Sacramento because of the GSK.

However the issues of concern for many genealogists are privacy and consent. Frankly, I think you should not test your DNA if privacy is a worry of yours. So many people have tested now that you can be easily identified if you do it too. My son and two nephews have chosen not test for that reason.

How about consent? Consider the site GEDmatch.com, which was developed to let people compare their DNA tests with testers from other companies, as well as provide many helpful additional tools. If you uploaded your DNA there in the past, had you given your consent for this usage? After the GSK case. I marked all the kits I control as research until each person had responded with permission to open it up. Most were happy with the thought that their DNA might out a distant cousin who was a criminal. Polls show that 90% of Americans are OK with this too.

I have been asking everyone again since GEDmatch now has an specific opt in on each kit for LE usage of those test results in comparisons. There is also an opt in for whether the link to your WIKItree compact tree should show. Both are important. Until many more people have opted in, the benefit of the database for LE is very limited.

Why the opt in now? Why is the genetic genealogy community so divided? What happened?

For the past many months if you uploaded to GEDmatch you saw terms and conditions that stated that law enforcement could use the site for murderers, rapists, and victim identification. Then a 79 year-old woman was assaulted in a church and left for dead. This did not fit the Ts+Cs, but it was very close and the criminal was still out there; so Curtis at GEDmatch gave permission for LE to use the database on this case. Uproar ensued.

Click here for an excellent article from the Salt Lake City Tribune explaining what happened in that case.

At the end of this article I list a number of posts from genetic genealogists that I respect who discuss the issues that resulted in the new opt in requirement.

This is the email and/or PM I recently sent to friends and family:

There is a new “opt in” at Gedmatch, the site where you can compare your DNA to people who tested at other companies.

You gave me your DNA data to upload there and it has been most useful to me.

Now the question is are you willing to allow law enforcement to use it for comparisons to catch violent criminals. Put simply, the DNA of people like us with good trees can be used to solve crimes which I think is great. If this ever starts to be abused we can remove it.

Now for my friends and family who are willing, here is how to give your permission if you have uploaded your kit to GEDmatch yourself:

  1. Click here to Log into GEDmatch GENESIS
  2. Scroll down – in the left hand column under the words “Your DNA Resources” you will see a list of all the kits you manage.
  3. Kits are not opted in for LE usage look like this, a Police icon with a red X across it
  4. Kits that are opted in, have the Police icon without the red X over them
  5. Click the icon or the pencil next to it to edit your profile and change the permission
  6. On the edit page at the bottom you will see this
  7. Please check the circle next to “Public with Law Enforcement access” in if you are comfortable with this usage. Remember no one can actually see you DNA test results. What they get with this permission is the ability to compare the kit of a violent offender or victim with your kit to see if you are related to them. In practice they will do a “one to many” on the kit in question and your kit will only show in the results if you are some kind of match and you have opted in.
  8. As to WIKItree, you have to have a tree there and add your kit number to your profile there.
  9. Check back at Gedmatch in the next day or two for the opt into WIKItree options (currently I am not seeing them on my profiles for some reason)

Further reading:

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Try to imagine starting over in a different county whose language you barely speak at the age of 50 when at the height of a successful career. That is what my grandfather, my “Opa,” had to do. He was a distinguished German medical doctor and scientist, a university professor and famed diagnostician. The University at Frieburg had constructed a clinic for him to entice him to head up their medical department. But only a few years after his move to Frieburg came the dismissal of all jewish professors as part of Hitler’s new policies.

Opa teaching during rounds in the clinic in Frieburg, he is all the way to the left

My Catholic grandmother “Oma” urged him to leave Germany and accept one of the offers he had from various universities in America and Turkey. My Opa thought the anti-semitism would pass as it had in the past, after all he had an iron cross for his bravery in World War I and a flourishing private practice. She eventually convinced him it would be better for their three daughters if they left until it blew over. They never returned.

Oma and Opa on the boat to America

I had not realized how difficult this move must have been for him nor understood why he never went back to Germany even for a visit. However recently I read a translation of a letter he wrote in 1946 to his former colleagues when he was invited to return to his old position. This is thanks to my cousin’s son Sam Sherman, an artist living in New York City, who has been travelling in Germany doing research as part of his MFA graduate studies at CUNY Hunter College. When in Frieburg he found much of interest in the University archives, including this letter.

These words my Opa wrote really struck me: “ I cannot return, the wound is too deep, it will never heal. The disappointment of my trust in the good in German people, in the honesty of my friends was too great. The years that I can still work productively belong to the country that took me in during my deepest anguish and supported me.”

The letter includes poignant descriptions of leaving Germany and of learning new ways of teaching and approaching medical research in America.

Leaving Germany

“ The train that my family and I would take to the ship gasped in the Freiburg train station. Hundreds of schoolchildren surrounded my three girls, and women, including wives of my former faculty colleagues, brought my wife to the car compartment. Few men were present. They had avoided seeing and greeting me for months. I was alone. “Must I leave, must I then leave the city,” the schoolchildren sang. I believed the world was sinking under my feet. Everything I did, what I loved, my wonderful clinic that I was allowed to build, my friends – everything was lost.”

Medical Research in America

All the following is from his letter of 1946:

The scientific person in the USA is evaluated only on the basis of his performance here in the country. European work belongs to the museum. It is admired, but not counted for the new life, which everyone has to justify and acquire with work “MADE IN USA.” Anyone who does not do this, or who is too conceited to prove himself anew, will end up in the museum, or, if he has no “historical value,” in the dustbin. He will not starve to death, for in this land of abundance there is plenty of food in the bin too.

and later on:

It has been and still is a lot for me to learn and to revise old deadlocked views. I have to read a lot of new literature to keep pace with the vibrant, ambitious youth and to answer questions. There is no authority in this relatively new country of medical science, only positive knowledge counts. Very often, however, the written word is more valid than experience. Unfortunately, the “worship of numbers” often triumphs over natural intuition, seeing with trained eyes and the fingertip feeling of experience. But, all in all, it is wonderful to work in this atmosphere of medical evolution.

Teaching in America

The way of teaching is different from teaching at German faculties. It’s more of a medical school with lessons in small classes than academic lecturing in front of a large auditorium. It would go too far to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both education systems. In our hospital, we teach the students at Tuft’s University Medical School. They are nice, interested boys from all walks of life. Some have to earn tuition as liftboys, clerks or workers in a technical shop to work through college. This applies to all medical schools in this country. It involves a great idealism and a hard nature to persevere as a student with little means, and there are relatively many of them.

In Conclusion

Opa and me, Wolfboro, summer 1955

Click here to read more about my Opa on my family history site. That page also has links to the original letter and the full translation.

My Opa never went back to Germany. This letter gave me much more understanding of what he went through and the depth of his feelings. To me he was just my Opa who I adored and who adored me. My main memory is that when I scratched his little bald spot on the back of his head after lunch (“growlie growlie” we called it), he gave me a quarter to go spend at the five and dime.

Thank you for coming here Opa, so that we all would be born in this land of opportunity and religious freedom.

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There are many new ways to make those beautiful cluster diagrams of how your DNA relatives are related to each other. Both MyHeritage and Gedmatch GENESIS (tier 1) now have clustering tools (Thank you Evert-Jan Blom). These charts give you an easy way to see your family groupings and can help you figure out a new match since each cluster typically represents a common ancestral couple. Click here for my previous posts on clustering which is based on the Leeds method.

My Dads Clusters at Gedmatch GENESIS

The GENESIS cluster diagram shown above includes the total cM each match shares with you as well as their name and kit number. Click on the “i” in a circle for a pop up box with the user information which includes an email address and whether a GEDmatch tree is linked to this kit. Any of the colored boxes on the graph can be clicked to open a window for a one to one comparison between those two people. Plus you can check the boxes in the select column for any number of matches and then submit them to the multi kit analysis using the orange “Submit to Multi Kit Analysis” button above the name column on the left. To get this clustering tool all you need is a Tier 1 membership and a kit number. It is listed at the bottom of the Tier 1 tools. Personally I like to raise the thresholds to a top 200 and a minimum of 20, but try the defaults first and see what is best for you.

One of the nice things about the cluster output from Genetic Affairs is that it lists all the cluster members in groups below the graph with the number of people in each tree (clickable) and any notes you made on the Ancestry profile. The MyHeritage version also has those cluster lists with your notes and the tree sizes; and of course they are clickable to the match (which may even have a theory of family relativity for you!) and the match’s tree. The down side is that you cannot select the parameters for the clustering yourself, they are preset. Possibly only power users care about that!

Extract from my list of matches in each cluster at MyHeritage

An exciting new feature for those looking for one unknown parent or grandparent is the ability to cluster just your starred Ancestry matches when using the clustering tool at Genetic Affairs.  Click here for my previous post about that tool. There now is a checkbox on the page where you select your parameters for getting a cluster analysis.

Newat Genetic Affairs is the checkbox for only starred matches when starting a cluster analysis

It is a common practice to star (mark as favorites) the matches that seem to be from the family of an unknown parent or grandparent at Ancestry. Usually these are determined by looking at who matches or doesn’t match a close relative like a half sibling or else by eliminating matches from the known side. Sometimes you can use ethnicity. I am currently helping someone where the known side is Jewish and the unknown side is Italian and those are easy to separate.

My previous technique was to use GWorks from DNAgedcom and I still do that when clustering does not give me a fast solution. Of course their client tool now has clustering as well; click here for that post.

The DNAgedcom client program creates a match list CSV file which has a column for whether a match is starred or not so it is easy to separate the starred matches out by using a spreadsheet sort on that column. Then cut and paste those matches into their own spreadsheet. Next use my slicer tool to put the ancestry tree data for just those matches into a CSV in order to use GWorks – click here for that blog post.

However clustering is often a quicker approach when you can find the common surname and ancestor for the clusters of interest. Since you can click to the trees of the matches in a cluster; you can often spot the common ancestor easily.

A word of caution, clustering is not much help in endogamous communities. Here is an extract from a cluster graph from Genetic Affairs for a Lebanese American:

Clustering does not help when your ancestors were endogamous!

And here is my half jewish aunt at Genesis which is not very useful even with a lower limit of 50! There are no clusters on her non Jewish side as the only tester is a cousin we asked to test. Testing is just not popular in Germany yet.

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Since I do not have an iPad, iPhone or any other Apple device, I could not evaluate this product. It sounds like a real game changer for adoptee searches! Like the DNAgedcom.com client, it finds common ancestors and can make cluster charts. However it goes a step further and shows you the common ancestors for each cluster and can build those ancestor’s trees for you! Here is a guest post from a beta tester. – Kitty

DNA2Tree: New Adoptee Search Software by Jason Schneir

There are approximately 120,000 adoptions each year. When these adoptees become adults a substantial percentage want to find out more about their biological parents. Unfortunately, state privacy laws often stand in the way of identifying and learning about their biological relatives.

DNA testing has proved a boon to adoptees wishing to find their biological family. In the best case an adoptee is tested and the adoptee’s biological family is also tested. For those lucky individuals, finding their biological relative is just a matter of looking at their match list and seeing a close match. No skill is needed.

For the majority of adoptees, close biological family is not DNA tested. Fortunately, there are DNA search techniques that can find biological parents from other tested relatives. Unfortunately, this methodology takes considerable skill and practice. For that reason, many adoptees find a geeky friend, search angel, or paid genetic genealogist to help them.

In December 2018, my wife Beth and I joined SearchAngels.org and watched every video we could find on using DNA search techniques to find an adoptee’s parents. We were excited to have the opportunity to help adoptees, but were very nervous about whether we could be successful. To our great joy, we solved over ten adoptee search angel cases in our first four months. Beth worked with me on most of my cases – especially the successful ones! A key element contributing to our success was a new IOS app, DNA2Tree, which runs on an Apple iPhone.

Screeen Shot from SearchAngels.org – the Adoptee Searches page on the Services menu

We chose our first case carefully in the hope it would be easy. There was a first cousin match and the mother was already found – we just needed to find the father. Almost immediately our simple case fell apart and the complexities began to mount.

The first step in a DNA search is to find a Most Recent Common Ancestor/Ancestral couple (MRCA) which is shared by a number of the adoptee’s matches. When there is a shared ancestor or ancestral couple a few generations back, then one of the adoptee’s parents (father or mother) is descended from them. Sometimes you can just eyeball the trees of some good matches (e.g. first cousin) and find the MRCA. This time I couldn’t and, on our very first case, we were stuck!

The SearchAngels.org organization made available to us a video showing how to exhaustively search for the MRCA using spreadsheets and excel functions. After five hours of concentrated effort Beth and I finally found an MRCA. By the end we were praying for one!

Unfortunately, the MRCA did not incorporate the first cousin match that had motivated us to choose this case in the first place. We put out a request for help from a more experienced search angel. In about thirty minutes this angel had noticed that the first cousin tree had the wrong father in it. Once we fixed this, we saw that the MRCA we had labored so hard on now incorporated the first cousin match and we were on our way to solving our first case!

This first experience made us realize that sometimes finding the MRCA can take multiple hours of exhausting unpleasant work with spreadsheets and excel. Thus when I got an email about being a Beta tester for DNA2Tree, Beth and I jumped at the opportunity.

Home Screen for DNA2Tree

DNA2Tree runs as an app on any recent model iPhone or iPad (iOS 11.4 or greater). At the push of a button DNA2Tree logs into your Ancestry account and downloads ten or more pages of matches. Then you push another button and you now have 5, 10, or even 20 MRCAs. Suddenly finding the MRCA was a complete non-issue and we could concentrate on finding the adoptees parents and not the boring, exhausting, and time-consuming process of finding MRCAs.

Example of MRCA listing, note the match names are shown on the right

One of the nice things about being a member of Search Angels is learning from more experienced Angels. One important lesson we learned was to use graphics in our trees to indicate what was going on. A special graphic for the MRCA, for the direct path (lineage) to the DNA, for individuals that have been tested (DNA matches), for people with no children, and so on, are a great aide in looking at a tree. This is particularly important after several months have passed to show you what you did. The graphics are also helpful to explain to the adoptee what was done to find their parent.

With DNA2Tree you just choose an MRCA from a list, press a button, and a tree complete with beautiful graphics suddenly appears in your Ancestry account.

Extract from a screenshot of an Ancestry Tree created by DNA2tree

Usually, we meet with the adoptee on the phone before beginning the project. It is not unusual for the adoptee to already have made herculean efforts to find their parents using instructions on the Internet but finally, in frustration, contact SearchAngels.org. Often the adoptees tell me that the brick wall for them was the MRCA – they couldn’t find one.

After we get off the phone with the adoptee I pull out my iPhone and in fifteen minutes I have multiple MRCAs and three to five trees that I can use to find the adoptee’s parents. It’s like magic. Finding that many MRCAs and creating the associated trees would take ten hours or more to do by hand.

We try to choose MRCAs with certain characteristics. Trees with a common ancestor in the mid-1800s go back far enough so you can build up a sufficient number of generations to reach the father’s or mother’s age but not so far back that you have a lot more generations of offspring than is necessary. Also, with a common ancestor in the mid-1800s you can make use of the last released census – 1940. The bottom line is that with DNA2Tree you not only get an MRCA easily, but you have the luxury of choosing from among multiple MRCAs the one that will be easiest to solve.

Screenshot of DNA2Tree Searching through your matches for the MRCA

In theory I should only need two trees – one for the adoptees father and one for the adoptees mother. However, I find that some trees either don’t work or are very hard to solve. Sometimes we can figure out why a particular MRCA tree is hard to solve and sometimes we can’t. The causes include errors in the family trees provided by cousins and lack of available information about offspring. In any case, we usually try three to five trees at the same time and give up on any that run into problems.

So with the advent of DNA2Tree are the 100 volunteer search angels, who solved over 250 cases last year, sitting in the sun drinking Pina Coladas while DNA2Tree does all the work? No.

Most of our time solving a case is now spent finding descendants, especially living descendants. Finding descendants encompasses finding obituaries and news articles, searching ancestry, interviewing cousins, studying adoption documents, finding living descendant’s phone numbers and addresses.

The difficulty of finding descendants can vary from time consuming to impossible. It’s tough. We don’t even have a blender or Pina Colada mix. Nevertheless, if you have basic genealogy skills, are a logical thinker, like solving puzzles, and enjoy helping people you too could be a Search Angel. In the last four months Beth and I have solved ten cases and the gratitude and happiness expressed by some of our adoptees has moved us literally to tears … well Beth cried, being a man I of course did not, but it was really moving.

Click here for the link to install it on an Apple device. Plus here is a how to video from the creator of DNA2tree:

DNA2Tree Demo - YouTube

Editor’s note, I may have to rush out and buy a used Ipad so I can use this tool! Thank you Jason for this post.

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A heartbreaking moment for any family historian is when you discover that your late genealogist cousin’s wife has shredded all his papers. This actually happened in my family. I can only hope that all the genealogical information was passed on to his children first. I think he had long since given me copies of most of it.

Please don’t let this happen to your work. A good preservation solution is to contribute your research to at least one of the online collaborative world trees.

Several years ago I did a blog post on the advantages of using these world trees (click here) and created a comparison sheet of the big three world trees (updated version at the end of this article): FamilySearch.org, GENI.com and WIKItree.com

I also did a Rootstech talk on this topic (click here for those slides). There have been a few changes since then, mainly around DNA and whether or not you can upload a GEDcom.

DNA connections

DNA features abound at WIKItree.com – you can connect your WIKItree profiles to GEDmatch by putting their kit numbers in. This causes the GEDmatch one-to-many tool to display the blue word Wiki which links to your compact tree. So even though it is the smallest of the three world trees, it may be best for genetic genealogists. Another WIKItree feature is that you do not need to login to see trees and profiles so it is great for sending tree links to new cousins. Plus it shows X and Y descendancy pathways.

GENI can link to DNA profiles at family tree DNA and will even display haplogroups on the person’s page. When you and your DNA matches have your family trees on GENI, you can quickly see how you are related. Click here for the blog post I did on how to link your ftDNA reults to GENI.

example of DNA display at GENI

FamilySearch does not have any DNA features yet but surely they will eventually incorporate something.

Adding GEDCOMs

The big news is that GENI now has a GEDcom uploading capability again. Whereas WIKItree has dialed back on the GEDcom uploads but still has good functionality.

Click here for GENI‘s detailed blog on their new GEDcom import feature.

FamilySearch allows gedcom uploads but like WIKItree they have to be checked line by line and clicked over one by one from a list. The reason these collaborative world trees make you do this is to force you to make sure that you are not creating any duplicates while still saving you from retyping all that data.

FamilySearch has somewhat hidden this feature. you can find the upload a GEDcom on the bottom of the search genealogies page – Click here for my posts that explain this feature. Only the initial graphics have changed.

Now for the details on the WIKItree GEDcom imports.

WIKItree lets you upload a GEDcom for comparison to its tree and selectively add information and people from it once it has been processed. It is best for adding a new branch or new descendants as you need to start processing your GEDcom from someone already in the tree.

After you upload your GEDcom, you will receive an email once it has been processed. Click on the link to go to the GEDcompare report which will have a long list of people like this:

When you click on a COMPARE button it will bring up the whole family group for that person. When you click on the SEARCH it will bring up a page of possible matches that have COMPARE buttons next to each one. If you click on one of those buttons, it will bring up the match to people page, like below, but back on the original GEDcompare report page.

Next you work through each person in the family group. Click on the MATCH TO button when it is a good match and see it change to an EDIT button. Click the edit button and you can copy over information from your GEDCOM via a page with the same form as when merging two profiles.

You can also add people once the parents in the family group are all matched. You will get ADD buttons next to the people who can be added.

Click here for the documentation on GEDcom uploads at WIKItree.


Here is the latest chart comparing the important features of each world tree:

Feature FamilySearch Geni WikiTree
Upload GEDCOM Yes, checking each person Yes, a new branch Yes, line by line
Download GEDCOM With software From profile you manage Yes with limitations
Tool to copy profile from another site No Yes, a family group – SmartCopy Yes – a profile – WikiTree-X
Finds Duplicates Automatically When adding new person Yes When adding new person
Finds Record Matches Automatically Yes,listed on person page Yes No
Displays relationship paths Yes but not relationship Yes, prettiest Yes and mutiple pathways!
Shows DNA relationships No Yes with ftDNA Yes
Easy to add sources Yes Best Yes
Free? Yes Yes but more features for paid members Yes
Special Projects?
No Yes Yes
Google finds ancestors No Yes Yes

Once again, don’t let your research end up here. Instead please share it with the world on one of these trees. I confess I use all three.

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