DNA testing tips: getting the most out of your genetic genealogy

photograph of tree in early spring

DNA Day is here and many have been snapping up DNA test kits on sale this week at FamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry.

Most probably test because they want to learn what the test will tell about their ethnic makeup. But for serious genealogists and family historians, testing opens the doors to exciting yet often bewildering territory.

Here are my top three tips for getting the most out of testing your autosomal DNA:

  • Tip 1  Once your results are in, upload your raw data to Gedmatch.
    Gedmatch is a site that provides free DNA analysis tools and allows one
    to match with others across four major testing companies.
  • Tip 2  Test others in your family, starting with the oldest members.
  • Tip 3 Make concrete goals rather than end goals for exploring your genetic genealogy.

When I first took the DNA plunge and entered the confusing new realm of genetic genealogical research, I felt a bit had.

But I’ve learned a lot over the past year. And I’m beginning to reap something of value from a bit of swabbed saliva and inner cheek tissue.

I quickly realized that in order to reap more reward from my foray into genetic genealogy, I needed to do two things:  revise my goals and test others in my family.

My original goals consisted of vague hopes to connect with matches in the second to third cousin range on my Jewish and Irish lines. However, I soon discovered that endogamy makes this a Herculean task.

Instead, I decided to focus my efforts on my one of my nearest brick wall ancestors. By doing this I not only had a concrete goal, but was also able to formulate a genetic genealogy plan o’ action.

My brick wall ancestor, Sarah E. Brown, is my third great-grandmother on my paternal grandmother’s branch of my family tree, through her mother’s side. Her maiden name is unknown, as are her origins. As many researchers well know, locating 19th century records in central Pennsylvania is often impossible. For Sarah, the paper trail has been cold for two decades.

So, I am turning to DNA testing in hopes of locating other descendants of her family line.

Experts strongly recommend testing the oldest generation of one’s family for good reason. We inherit exactly half our autosomal DNA from each parent, but each successive generation passes on just half of that half.  Simply put, the oldest generation carries significantly more of one’s ancestors’ DNA. (For a more in-depth explanation, please read Roberta Estes’ excellent article on the subject.)

Unfortunately, my Dad and Grandmom died years ago. This meant I needed to find other older family members who would be willing to test.

Right away, I was able to recruit my Aunt Lisa (my Dad’s only sibling and the oldest living member of his side of the family).  That helped me figure out better which matches came from my paternal line.

A few months later, my Grandmom’s first cousin through her maternal side, Shirley, also agreed to test. Her DNA test has proved to be of enormous value.

Testing two other family members has enabled me to triangulate the matches we have in common. In a short time, this has led to a few connections with more distant (second and third) cousins that have been further verified through good old-fashioned paper trail genealogical research. It also led to one heck of a discovery.

Through those matches, I am slowly figuring out which triangulated segments relate to particular branches of our family.

My great-grandmother, Lulu (née Reuter) Bender, just happened to be the eldest daughter in a tight-knit family of 14 children. I am very fortunate that some of my Grandmom’s youngest cousins are still living.

This week, two more of her maternal first cousins – Patti and Lowell – have decided to test.

We all share some DNA passed down from my grandmother’s maternal grandparents: her grandfather was of 100 percent German ancestry from mid-19th century Catholic immigrants. Her grandmother was half Pennsylvania-Dutch (so again, German… only Protestant and dating back to colonial America).

The other half is the mystery we are all trying to solve.

Initially, I thought Patti’s mother was of 100 percent Italian ancestry and got excited thinking that if she tested and had any matches that were not of German or Italian ancestry, then it would be easy to identify which matches connect to our brick wall ancestor.

However, her mother turned out to be half Irish descent… so it turns out each cousin’s non-Reuter parent and my own great-grandfather all have British Isles ancestry.

Identifying matches descended from our shared mystery ancestor will be more challenging than I hoped. But through triangulating all three cousins, plus my aunt and myself AND then seeing if those matches triangulate (or not) with the verified distant cousins on the Pennsylvania-Dutch and German branches – maybe we can figure out the probable connections to Sarah.

Because even if she is of British ancestry, as I suspect, my thinking is that it is unlikely that any of us will share matches in the second to fifth cousin range who are of British Isles descent (unless endogamy again comes into play, which I suppose is possible).

What might prove quite useful is a comparison of X chromosome matches. Since Lowell is male, he only inherited an X chromosome from his mother, who was my great-grandmother’s youngest sister. Being female, Patti will have inherited her X chromosomes from both parents. However, Patti ‘s father was my great-grandmother’s brother – so if her X chromosome matches triangulate with Lowell’s (and the rest of us), those matches will assuredly be from our Brown line as her father would have only inherited the X chromosome from his mother.

I can hardly wait for the test results to come in…

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The Three Sarahs, part 3

photograph of downed tree limb blocking roadIllegitimacy often poses serious challenges to tracing one’s roots. This is the roadblock I face with the third of The Three Sarahs.

Sara Rebold/Sarah Raybold, wife of Godfrey a Bender, was born 6 Sept. 1765 in Germantown township, Philadelphia.

Her death date is listed in the church registers of St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germantown. From the exact age in years, months and days recorded at her burial, I could easily calculate her birth date.

But finding a baptism record proved tricky.

I initially presumed that Sarah’s father was a Rebold/Raybold.

She shared a close relationship with her mother, Mary, who I learned was a young widow. It was only after finally figuring out to whom Mary had been wed did I realize that Sarah and her brother, George, were illegitimate children, born several years after Mary’s husband had died.

Still, I had a birth date to go by and the knowledge that the family was Lutheran and resided in Germantown at that time. That narrowed down the church to St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran.

I had hoped to find a baptism with perhaps a notation of who the father was or at least a sponsor or two to further investigate for a possible connection.

No such luck in locating a baptism. What I found instead was a 1780 confirmation record which gave Sarah’s age, further proving the 1765 year correct. Her father was noted as being Jacob Rehbold.

Since that was the name of her mother’s late husband deceased some five years prior to Sarah’s birth, I dismissed the notation as an erroneous recording by a new pastor who was unfamiliar with the timeline. The new pastor probably only knew that Mary was a widow of Jacob Rebold who never remarried and made the assumption that he was the father.

No additional clues could be obtained from George’s 1774 baptism, which occurred 13 years after his birth. No parents nor sponsors are noted and there is also no mention of his illegitimate status. He was, however, listed as being age 15, which is incorrect and can be proven by the baptismal registers for Jacob and Mary Rebold’s two sons, who were born in 1758 and 1760 and died in infancy.

Then I came across some crazy scandal that played out in the newspapers of the time, involving Sarah’s mother and brother-in-law, Anthony Hubbard. The man with whom they had a public dispute accused Mary Rebold of having bore two illegitimate children by her stepson.

What the… what?!?

Jacob Rebold was indeed a widower with five  children when he married Mary. One of those children was his eldest son, Jacob.

Was this son Sarah’s (and George’s) father?

The elder Jacob Rebold left a will written in 1760, just two weeks before he died, which clearly states his son Jacob was not yet 21 years-old. Since he also wills his eldest (and already married) daughter to receive her share four years after his death, it would seem that the junior Jacob turned 21 in 1764.

Intriguingly, it also states a desire for his son and widow to keep the estate intact and raise the younger children together until the junior Jacob attains full age.

A recipe for illicit love?

The Rebold homestead was put up for sale in 1764, further indicating that is indeed the year the younger Jacob arrived at full age.

That would make him 21 when Sarah would have been conceived and 17 or 18 when George was. Their mother was 18 years older than her stepson. Kind of creepy, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

The junior Jacob Rebold later moved to the Southwark neighborhood, close to his full siblings and away from his step-family and half-sister.

So, I’m trying to figure out how to determine if this centuries old rumor is true and, if not, who then is Sarah’s father.

Her mother was fairly well-to-do and so she may not have been subject to any kind of bastardy trial, if such records exist.

George’s only son died young, so even if he and Sarah shared the same father there is no chance to trace the Y-DNA.

My next step will probably be to head to the Philadelphia City Archives to check the Court of Common Pleas appearance dockets and execution dockets to see if there is any record of case/action against Mary Rebold for having two children born out of wedlock.

It may be awhile before I can get an opportunity to do so.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

The Three Sarahs, part 2

Sarah (Tuttle) Bender death certificate

Sarah (Tuttle) Bender’s death certificate contains erroneous information.

Continuing on about my brick walls, The Three Sarahs, let me introduce the next Sarah.

She has eluded me for years.

Sarah Tuttle, the wife of Philip Hess Bender, Sr., was born 7 Apr. 1831 in Pennsylvania, according to her death certificate and this date roughly matches her age given in census records.

She died in 1914, nearly a decade after Pennsylvania began requiring civil registration. So finding out the names of her folks should have been no problem, since parents’ names, if known, were recorded.

But, of course, it wasn’t as simple as that.

I already knew her maiden name was Tuttle from being listed as such on her children’s death certificates.

On her own death certificate, Sarah’s parents are listed as Chas. Bender and Sara Tutle, names provided by the undertaker, who acted as the informant.

Obviously, he got the information wrong.

My guess is that the undertaker handled the informant duties for the grieving family. Maybe they were asked for their grandfather’s name and confusedly gave the name of the paternal grandfather, Charles Bender. Perhaps the next question asked was, “Mother’s name?”, meaning Sarah’s mother but they confusedly thought he was asking for Sarah’s maiden name.

She and Philip H. Bender were married in late 1850 or early 1851, but exhaustive searches in Philadelphia church marriage registers of all denominations at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have not yielded any record of their union.

This is likely because they married in the defunct First Presbyterian Church of Northern Liberties, whose records have been lost.

That might also explain why I’ve found little record of the few Tuttle families in Philadelphia – who primarily lived in the Northern Liberties and lower Kensington neighborhoods (Fishtown).

The only records I’ve found for those Tuttle households are city directories, early census records and early Philadelphia physician death returns.

As for early record of Sarah, it appears as though she was a domestic in the Joseph and Ann (née Hoffman) Armbruster family just prior to marrying Philip, according to the 1850 census.

Tuttle as a surname could be from a number of origins.

There is a fairly well documented Tuttle family line from New England, but I have not found a connection to any of those lines.

Tuttle, could be an Irish or even German surname – perhaps indicating that Sarah’s family were immigrants?

The Tuttle families in Philly have really left me with little to go on – lack of wills, deeds, church records – it’s so very frustrating.

The only other clue I have is that a 63 year-old Eliza Perkins was enumerated with Philip and Sarah’s family in the 1860 census. Was she a relative, boarder or a domestic?  Interestingly, 10 years earlier an Elizabeth Tuttle, born around the same time, was enumerated with 24-year old John Perkins. Is this the same woman? And, if so, how is she related to Sarah?  I have not been able to locate her death record, so she, too, remains a mystery.

Le sigh…

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

 

The Three Sarahs, part 1

square photograph of three tall evergreen treesLike every genealogist, I have my share of so-called brick wall ancestors. Ones for whom a paper trail is scant or missing.

On my paternal grandmother’s side there are three such ancestors, each with the given name Sarah.

The origins for two of “The Three Sarahs” have long been a mystery with very few clues and even fewer records to assist in figuring out their background. The third Sarah was an illegitimate birth, with no record of  who her father may have been.

This post concerns the Sarah for whom I have the least amount of information.

Sarah E. (maiden name unknown) was first wife of Samuel S. Brown, a lumberman and, later, proprietor of the Duncan House in Milroy, Mifflin Co., PA. She died at a young age, after bearing three children.

According to her grave marker in Milroy’s Woodlawn Cemetery, Sarah was born 12 Aug. 1852 and died 26 Aug. 1877.[1]

This closely matches an all too brief death notice found in the Lewistown Gazette newspaper which gives the death date as 27 Aug. 1877 and Sarah’s age as 25 years and 16 days.[2]

Her maiden name was missing from the death certificates of her two daughters and erroneously listed as Studer on that of her son.[3]

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 11.35.18

My GGG-Grandmother, Sarah E. Brown’s maiden name is unknown.

I say erroneously because Studer was the maiden name of Samuel S. Brown’s second wife, Rebecca.

The error is understandable considering that the children were quite young when Sarah died. Rebecca was probably the maternal figure they best remembered, especially since she was also the mother of their two half-siblings and Studer was likely a name heard while growing up as being connected to the family.

Still, it is a clue regarding a potential maiden name… so I had to check out whether there was connection. After all, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a widower remarried to his deceased wife’s sister.

However, my research thus far has disproven connection to the Jacob and Theresa (Miller) Studer family, parents of Rebecca. Census records of 1860 and 1870 show no daughter named Sarah, though there is an intriguing gap of several years between Rebecca and the next oldest child – a gap that would be a perfect fit for Sarah’s age.

So… what else is known about the mysterious Sarah E. besides her birth and death dates?

It is highly probable that Sarah was of Pennsylvanian Dutch ancestry like her husband. That’s not a given though. Based on some of his siblings’ marriages, it would appear theirs was the first generation to wed spouses from different ethnic backgrounds.

She was also likely from Huntingdon Co., PA, but possibly from a neighboring county, like Mifflin, where she and Samuel moved after marriage.

Unfortunately, records from the 19th century are hard to come by in this region.

The LDS Family History Library catalog has very few church records for Huntingdon Co., and none for Lutheran or Brethren denominations, which would be the first place to check for a marriage register.

The wedding would have occurred circa 1870.

First-born child, son Jefferson William Brown was born in Aug. 1869, according to his death certificate – which would indicate a marriage likely in late 1868. But Sarah would have only been 16 in 1868, which seems a bit young. And I’m inclined to believe Jefferson was born a year or so later, as he is listed as being born in 1871 in most census records.

The only substantial clue found thus far is a marriage notation for a Sarah Martin and Samuel Brown in a compilation of Mifflin County marriages. Originally published in the Lewistown Gazette, the marriage occurred 24 March 1870. Sarah Martin was noted as being from Lewistown and Samuel Brown from Huntingdon County.[4]

It sure seems like a good fit, but whether this couple is indeed my Sarah and Samuel remains to be proven.

I cannot find this couple anywhere in the 1870 or subsequent census records. My Samuel Brown was enumerated in his parents’ household (Huntingdon County) in July 1870, a few months after when this wedding would have taken place. It’s possible Sarah was also residing there but omitted in error…

There is also no Sarah Martin in Lewistown in 1870, nor in 1860.

My paternal aunt is the only direct-line maternal descendent of Sarah among my close relatives. I’ve been contemplating whether a mtDNA study would be of any help in tracking Sarah’s origins…

Or would an autosomal DNA test be more helpful?


Footnotes

1.”Grave marker for Sarah E. Brown“, jpeg image, Find A Grave (Online: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012)

2.”Death notice for Sarah E. Brown“, jpeg image, Lewistown Gazette, Lewistown, Pennsylvania, USA, 5 September 1877.

3.”Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-19440“, jpeg image, Ancestry.com (Online: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2014)

4. McClenahen, Dan, “Marriages of Mifflin County, 1822-1885”, (Reedsville, PA: Dan McClenahen,1981), p. 56.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.