Sunday, January 18, 2015

Many Family Trees Are Wrong as Two Left Shoes


Not surprising to many researchers, many online public family trees on and other sites are wrong! Several days ago, my new-found cousin Janice found an interesting death certificate on that contained family names. Turns out, after further investigation, it was of our 4th-great-aunt, Brittianna Bass Early; she remained in North Carolina because our ancestors' prior enslaver, Council Bass on Northampton County, N.C., willed her in 1830 to one of his three daughters who remained in North Carolina. This daughter was Mrs. Charlotte Holloman of Hertford County, N.C. My third-great-grandmother, Beady Bass, and her children, along with her elderly mother Rose and her brothers, Harry, Jackson, and Seneca Jr., were taken to Hinds County, Mississippi by 1849 because Council Bass had bequeathed them to his daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth (Bass) Bass, who settled in Mississippi. Cousin Janice’s third-great-grandmother, Jemima Bass Mayo, and her children were taken to Madison County, Tennessee by 1835 because Council Bass had bequeathed them to his daughter, Mrs. Martha Bass Mayo, who settled in Tennessee. Grandma Beady and Aunt Jemima were Brittianna's sisters.

Item 5th: I give and bequeath unto Charlotte Holloman my daughter two negroe girls named Barsilla and Brittania to her and her heirs forever. (Will dated Sept. 2, 1830, Northampton County, NC.) (Source)

Well, prior to the discovery of Aunt Brittianna’s death certificate, I had researched Charlotte Bass Holloman, with hopes of locating Barsilla and Brittianna. Google searches, searches, and other searches yielded nothing about Charlotte Bass. Not even a marriage record on was found. All of the public Bass family trees that I saw online had no information regarding her husband, whose name was simply noted as “Holloman” in many family trees. When I searched only using the wildcards "Charlotte Holloman," nearly all of the online family trees had her listed as a wife of James Holloman of Hertford County, North Carolina. However, those family trees had her maiden name as Charlotte Everett or Charlotte Holloman. Here are two examples: Example 1, Example 2. Even on, a researcher asked in 2000 if Charlotte Bass’ husband was James Holloman of Hertford County. A responder refuted her claim in this post.

Therefore, I felt it would be a waste of my time to look for Barsilla and Brittianna in Hertford County in 1870. I was wrong! When Cousin Janice alerted me to Aunt Brittianna’s death certificate, I soon found her and her husband, Langley "Lang" Early, and their children in the 1870 Hertford County, North Carolina census! Check out who their next-door neighbors were!

 1870 Hertford County, North Carolina Census: Aunt Brittianna Bass Early and her family lived adjacent to Charlotte Holloman (age 73) in 1870. (Source: 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.).

James & Charlotte Holloman were also found in the 1850 census. Why did researchers conclude that Charlotte was not the daughter of Council Bass but the daughter of Cornelius & Judith Everett Holloman? Were there two couples named James & Charlotte Holloman in Hertford County? If these public online family trees are inaccurate, how many more out there are just wrong as two left shoes? Also, this scenario could be a research tip that many researchers of white families should consider tracing the formerly enslaved African-American families that lived nearby in 1870 to find clues about their own ancestors. Would not Aunt Brittianna Early’s reported maiden name (Bass) on her death certificate have been evidence for a descendant/researcher of Charlotte Holloman that she was the daughter of Council Bass….if that researcher had suspected it beforehand? To add, if AncestryDNA’s DNA Circles are based on submitted family trees, and if many of them are inaccurate, then…. You get the picture?

The death certificate of Aunt Brittianna Bass Early who died in 1914 in Hertford County, North Carolina. Age was reported as 100. This certificate verified my 4th-great-grandparents’ names, Seneca & Rose Bass(Source: North Carolina, Deaths, 1906-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.)

Special Note: If you know a descendant of James & Charlotte Holloman, please share this post with him or her.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

20 Do's and Don'ts of DNA


I have a prediction! 2015 is going to be a phenomenal year for everyone who partakes in genetic genealogy. The interest in genealogy has really catapulted over the past five years, and many people are turning to DNA technology to try to find the answers to lingering family questions and mysteries. Since I anticipate that many more people will take an autosomal DNA test from either 23andMe, AncestryDNA, FTDNA, or other companies, I want to start 2015 off with a post of what I feel are 20 do’s and don’ts of DNA, based on my experiences to date. If you know of others, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

1.    Please do not take any DNA test without first trying to put together your family tree. DNA test-takers need to have started working on their family tree or pedigree chart before jumping to DNA. DNA alone will not magically generate your family tree for you. Genealogy research + DNA technology = A Great Happy Marriage.

2.    After you get your DNA results, please respond to your messages. Also, please accept invitations to share genomes from other DNA matches in 23andMe. To ignore someone's message is just plain rude and disrespectful, in my opinion. The “I Don’t Have Time” excuse will likely fall on deaf ears. Utilizing DNA to uncover family histories is a serious business for many. If you are not interested in communicating with DNA matches, please opt out of making yourself visible. We don’t need to see your name and be reminded how rude you are being by not responding, especially if we share a lot of DNA and are not distantly related.

3.    If you haven chosen to make your family tree private in AncestryDNA or anywhere, at least have one and be willing to send other DNA matches an invitation to view it upon request. Or if you have an electronic copy of your pedigree chart, be willing to share it via e-mail upon request. How can anyone expect to make the connection if DNA matches cannot view a family tree? Comparing family trees or pedigree charts is key to figuring out family relationships.

4.    DNA and genetics are not easy to understand, but the basics of genetic genealogy are relatively understandable. You will be doing a disservice to yourself and your DNA matches if you don’t try to understand some of the basics. Here’s a good online guide called “Beginner’s Guide to Genetic Genealogy.” Here’s another one from 23andMe called “Genetics 101.”

5.    This tip reiterates no. 3. I get this a lot à “Let me know how we may be related.” And that DNA match has not provided a family tree, but maybe a few surnames with only the states where their ancestors resided. Don’t have in your profile that your surnames are Jones, Anderson, and Ragsdale from Mississippi and Tennessee and expect me to magically know how we are related. Give me and your DNA matches something to work with. Show me a family tree!

6.    If you have built a family tree, please include exact locations (county and state…..or city/town and state) and not just the state of birth or death. I have seen so many family trees with just a state listed. Narrow it down for us by giving us a little more information, like the county and/or city or town. I won’t magically know where in South Carolina your paternal grandmother lived and died.

7.    Please don’t just list only two surnames in your profiles. Surely, you have knowledge of more than two surnames in your family tree? Adoptees are exempt from this.

8.    Please don’t leave your profile in 23andMe (and others) blank. I understand that people are nervous about providing the public with too much information about themselves. I get that. However, if you have chosen to take a DNA test and would like to learn how some of your DNA matches are related, and perhaps learn more about your ancestry, include surnames and family locations in your profile. Again, give us more to work with!

9.    If you decide to take the AncestryDNA test, please consider uploading your raw data file to GEDmatch. AncestryDNA has no analysis tools, and those analysis tools are essential in trying to figure out how DNA matches are related. Even if you take 23andMe or FTDNA’s Family Finder tests, which have valuable analysis tools, please consider uploading to GEDmatch. To make things a little easier, include your GEDmatch number(s) on your 23andMe profile.

10. If a DNA match asks you to please upload to GEDmatch so he or she can try to determine the family connection, ignoring that request is just plain rude! See no. 9.

11. Please have patience with GEDmatch. It’s a free, online DNA utility program that experiences high traffic. Therefore, their servers are often over capacity. I know that’s irritating, but it is still our best bet for being able to analyze DNA results and to triangulate DNA matches, especially if you have only taken the AncestryDNA test. Just check back often, and you will get in the site.

12. If you are white, please don’t respond with, “I just don’t see how we can be related because I am white.” Here’s one word for you to study: MISCEGENATION. Please know that the following scenarios occurred: (1) Many slave-owners fathered children with enslaved women via rape or consensual sex; (2) Yes, there were consensual interracial relationships since America was founded, even on plantations; and (3) Many people “passed” as white because they could.

13. I know that many times, surnames are often our basis for determining how DNA matches are related. Please know that it is very possible for many people to share a common surname and not be related through that surname. With African Americans, relying solely on surname matching can lead many to travel down the wrong path. That’s why it is vitally important to include family locations in your family trees or pedigree charts and on your profiles.

14. Please take time to read the profiles of your DNA matches in 23andMe. That alone may answer some initial questions you may have. For example, if you read my profile, you will immediately learn that Collier is my adoptive family via my father’s adoptive parents, who I loved dearly. Sending me a message with a speculation that we are biologically related via your Collier ancestors will say to me, “You did not even read my profile.”

15. Please be cordial when responding to messages from your DNA relatives. Sharp, condescending tongues have no place in DNA communications, unless the person deserves to be “chewed out”. If someone provides you with information about your family, show your home training by saying, “THANK YOU.”

16. If you encounter someone who is not a DNA match to you, but they can show via a paper trail that you two are distantly related, please don’t assume that a NPE probably took place. (NPE = Non-Paternity Event, when someone’s father was really not the biological father, unknowingly.) DNA transmission is quite random. Family members may inherit different chromosomes from the same ancestors. Also, the probability that 23andMe (and others) will find a match between two relatives is the following:

First cousins or closer:  ~ 100%
Second cousins:           > 99%
Third cousins:             ~ 90%
Fourth cousins:           ~ 45%
Fifth cousins:              ~ 15%
Sixth cousins & beyond: < 5%
(Source: 23andMe)

17. DNA companies give predictions about relationships. If 23andMe predicts that someone is a third cousin, or if GEDmatch gives the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) as 4.0 generations, that doesn’t always mean that your great-great-grandparent(s) is that DNA match’s great-great-grandparent(s), too. Those are just estimations based on the amount of DNA you two share. For example, my cousin Alisa from Arkansas shares enough DNA with my mother to have a prediction of third cousins. However, after I was finally able to determine the connection, she is really my mother’s fourth cousin once removed.

18. If both of your parents are living, test both of them, if you have their permission and can afford to do so. Having one or both parents tested greatly helps to determine if a DNA match is a paternal relative or a maternal relative. Great substitutes are aunts, uncles, and grandparents, if you are blessed to have grandparent(s) living.

19. In most cases, haplogroups should not be used to try to figure out family connections. Not all people who share the same haplogroup are relatives. In fact, most of your relatives will actually have a different haplogroup because your haplogroup only tells you about your direct maternal or direct paternal lineage. Direct maternal lineage means your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and so on lineage. Direct paternal lineage means your father’s father’s father’s father’s father and so on lineage. However, in a case where you suspect that a DNA match is a direct maternal or paternal relative, then the haplogroup may confirm it with further testing and analysis. For example, my third cousin’s maternal grandmother’s mother, Laura Danner Reid, and my maternal grandmother’s mother, Mary Danner Davis, were sisters. Therefore, our maternal or mitochondrial haplogroup should be the same, since it is passed down unchanged from mother to child. Indeed, when she received her 23andMe results, we had the same maternal haplogroup L2a1a, which came from our great-great-grandmother, Louisa Bobo Danner (1842-1921), and her mother Clarissa Bobo and so on.

20. Read, read, read! Once you have taken the DNA test, please continue to educate yourself about DNA. Many informative articles and blog posts can be read online. This will certainly help to understand how DNA is passed down and how certain matches are related, especially if you share DNA on the X chromosome with a DNA match. 

DNA is a wonderful, groundbreaking technology that is growing. It has enabled many people and me to break down a number of brick walls in our family trees. Again, if you know of other DNA tips, feel free to share them in the comments section below.