Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Grandmother's DNA

I have often heard that when it comes to DNA testing, older relatives should be the first priority.  Unfortunately for me, by the time autosomal testing came around three of my grandparents were long gone.  Fortunately for me, the one grandparent still around was also my link to my most frustrating to research families.  Obviously, I should have tested her sooner than 2015 but regardless of when, the spit has officially been collected and processed.

My grandmother was a bit bewildered when I presented the test to her on Christmas morning, but she was quite willing and I will be eternally grateful to her for it.  After five of the longest weeks on record, her results were posted at the end of January.

Before testing my grandmother, I was feeling pretty good about myself having around thirty-five matches in the "4th cousin or closer range."  She has nearly 160 (and more all the time), including second and third cousin matches that didn't come up for me at all.  Obviously my grandmother's percentage of relatedness accounts for her much larger pool of matches.  Case in point, my grandmother's great-grandparents, all people she shares about 12.5% of her DNA with, as opposed to my roughly 3%:
  • BERGER, Henrich Michael (1788-1871) and MATZ, Fredricka (Elisabetha) (ca. 1793-1868).  Born in the Rinnthal area of the German Rhineland-Palatinate, they eventually settled in Marshall County, Indiana.  Their son, John W. Berger, was born there in 1841 and died in Oakland, Alameda, California in 1891.  MATCHES: I was really glad to see that my grandmother has a close match who was also a descendant of Michael and Fredricka.  While the paper trail has always supported them being John's parents, the fact that Fredricka was nearly 48 when he was born has always given me pause.  I feel like I can finally put my doubts to rest on this one.
  • vonALLMEN, Christian (1814-1887) and STEINER, Barbara (1822-1886).  Born in Switzerland, they came to the US in the early 1840s.  Their daughter, Susanna vonAllmen, was born in Olney, Richland, Illinois in 1849.  The family relocated to Evansville, Vanderburgh, Indiana about five years later.  Susanna died in Stockton, San Joaquin, California in 1932.  MATCHES: My grandmother actually got several vonAllmen matches and matches with people from the same community in Switzerland as the vonAllmens.  The early information I have on the vonAllmens, I received from another researcher.  I'm glad to know that research appears to be pretty on point.
  • WELLONS, John Chapple (1805-1896) and HUDSON, Sarah Elizabeth (1816-1861).  Born in Pulaski County, Kentucky, both of their parents were originally from Virginia.  Their son, George Washington Wellons, was born in 1849.  Not long after this the family moved, eventually ending up in Warren County, Iowa.  George moved around a lot, finally settling with his family in Siskiyou County, California, where he died in 1932.  MATCHES: The Hudson matches are many.  She also has quite a few Wellons matches.  Matches further back are a bit of a mystery still.
  • WEBB, Andrew J. (1820-1902) and MASON, Priscilla (1822-1863).  Born in Indiana, I know very little about their parents (they all might have been in Kentucky prior to Indiana).  Andrew and Priscilla's daughter, Mary Anna, was born in Lawrence County in 1862.  A year later, Priscilla died.  Andrew had a hard time settling anywhere for long, but eventually ended up in Siskiyou County, California where he died.  Mary Anna died there also in 1926.  MATCHES:  Of all my grandmother's matches, the Masons are the most prevalent.  I'm very glad of this because Priscilla is especially important to me, considering she is my mother's mother's mother's mother's mother.  I would really like to make some headway with this line.  Unfortunately, the matches' lines seem to be as mysterious as mine (and dead-end in roughly the same timeframe).  My grandmother does seem to be closely related to the Masons who were early settlers in Sullivan Co., Indiana though.  The Webbs are going to be a bit of work.  I thought I had found the right family before testing my grandmother.  However, her matches don't seem to be corresponding with that candidate family at all.  Back to the drawing board!
I tested my grandmother through AncestryDNA.  I know of the big three (along with FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe) tests, AncestryDNA isn't regarded very highly.  While I completely agree with the criticism AncestryDNA gets, I chose it because of the huge pool of possible matches it offers as well as the great track record I have there when it comes to contacting matches.  I have also uploaded her data to FamilyTreeDNA and GEDMatch (her kit number is A171694 for anyone who thinks they might be connected).

A nice bonus to testing my grandmother is that I am also able to learn more about my late grandfather's DNA.  I was able to use GEDMatch's phasing program to create a profile for him.  While it isn't a full profile (only what my mother inherited from him), it is a might more than I ever thought I'd have for someone who has been gone nearly fifteen years.


  1. Leah, I was kind of surprised to hear the number of matches you had--and your grandmother, too. I think, as time goes on, you will get more matches. Of course, in a way, it's the luck of the draw: if anyone else happens to test from your extended families, then you will see matches. If others aren't into DNA testing...well, you just can't extrapolate anything, just based on how many matches you were notified about. There are likely many many more out there--but they haven't tested...yet.

    I also wonder whether there is a sort of geographical bias showing up in the crowd that's interested in DNA testing. I was surprised to see so many of my matches coming from the South--when I was raised a northerner, through and through. Did those descendants just not test? If testing is more popular among those living in the South, then maybe your Indiana families will be under-represented in your matches. Of course, this is a very unscientific hunch, but I noticed it and was surprised by it.

    Bottom line: all this to say, it really matters who else decides to try out this DNA testing option. No test, no matches. Simple as that.

    1. Regarding all the Southern matches, I think you are quite right. Even my father, who has absolutely no ancestral connection to the South, has many matches with ancestry from there (I think it is due to the Scots-Irish ancestry he has).

      Overall my grandmother actually has a huge number of matches, that 160 are just the people Ancestry thinks are especially close matches. I've also found a few dozen matches in the "distant cousin" category who are actually much more closely related (on paper at least). I'm guessing most of the people who are testing are Baby Boomers, a good one or two generations younger than my grandmother. I have a feeling this is really messing with her estimated relatedness to her matches. I have a similar problem in that I'm a good one or two generations younger than most testers - hence my low match count. Anyway, it certainly is fun to theorize about all this!

  2. I lowered the thresholds on gedmatch...and your grandmother is a genetic match to my dad. (Mason- M335700)
    This line is a puzzle...that is for sure! I've been trying for years. 😊 Good luck to you!


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