Bad Segments – Good Segments

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

There are two ways of looking at small segments. But first please remember that ALL of your own DNA is  true, even the very smallest part of your DNA came from a parent as a true segment. What we are talking about when we discuss “small segments” are small shared DNA segments with a Match – segments which are determined by a computer algorithm comparing your (true) DNA with a Match’s (true) DNA. Below about 15cM some of those comparisons report a false shared DNA segment. The smaller the segment, the more likely that it is false. The distribution curve starts at about 0% false reporting at about 15cM and drops down to about 50% false reporting at 6-7cM and drops down fairly dramatically below that.

In this post “segment” means a computer generated shared DNA segment.

1. Bad Segments: Small segments have a high probability of being false, and there is no easy way to tell if it’s a valid shared segment or not. And, perhaps, even if it’s a true segment, it’s probably from a very distant Ancestor – probably beyond your genealogy. These small segments are called names and referred to as POISON – DO NOT USE! However, in this derogatory sense we are talking about NOT using these small segments as evidence; NOT the basis of a hypothesis; NOT part of a “proof”. However, these segments are may not be worthless…

2. Good Segments. Shared segments are used by each company to identify DNA Matches, and report them to us. As noted above the small segments may be true or false. But what if they lead us to a person who is really related to us = a cousin? If the “Match” has a Tree we can check it out. We can look at the information presented. Finding a Common Ancestor is only part of the possibilities. Maybe this Match-cousin has more information about our Common Ancestor than we do. Maybe they’ve found records we don’t have, written an interesting story, uploaded pictures we didn’t have. Maybe we can establish a dialog (message, email, phone, in person…) I have made lasting friendships with some of my Matches – some of whom we still don’t know how we are related. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.

At AncestryDNA, ThruLines finds cousins with a Common Ancestor, down to 8cM (they used to go down to 6cM). I checked every one of them, and often found new information. With each DNA Match, keep your genealogy cap on. A small segment may in fact be false, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a true relationship. Remember, about half of your true 4th cousins won’t share any DNA with you. My advice: don’t ignore a true cousin just because you share a small segment. Genetic Genealogists, myself included, have long stated that a Match with a Common Ancestor and a shared DNA segment does not necessarily mean the shared DNA segment came from the Common Ancestor. By the same logic, a relative with a Common Ancestor to you, may or may not have a true shared DNA segment from that Common Ancestor.  

If you are trying to prove a bio-ancestor, or a brick wall Ancestor, or some other relationship using DNA, don’t use small segments. If they cannot be proved to be true segments, they must be ignored as part of a proof. But, on the other hand, don’t ignore a paper-trail relationship just because you share a small segment. Learn what you can from a genealogy perspective and ignore the DNA.

Just my perspective as a long-time genealogist…

[22BD] Segment-ology: Bad Segments – Good Segments TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210930

What Do You Get from a DNA Test?

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

You get a LOT with a DNA test at 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, AncestryDNA and/or MyHeritage. Each of these companies is different, and has its own tools and programs, but some of the features are fairly common among all of them. It’s actually quite amazing how much you get, no matter where you test.

1. Genetic testing of over 500,000 Markers (SNPs – pronounced: snips). Your DNA has two of each marker so actually you are getting over a million data points.

2. This is your data – you may download and save/use this file (about 10MB), but by itself it’s not much use to you (exceptions noted later).

3. A password protected/secured web site for your profile and information about your test results. This is your hub, or base, for your interactions with your results. Each company is different and has different tools and configurations for your personal page. See #16 below.

4. Ethnicity (aka admixture, deep ancestry, origins, geographic makeup, etc.) report. This is interesting in it’s own right (and many take a DNA test solely for this report). It’s important to remember that these are estimates! But there are many other features of your DNA test that are much more valuable – read on.

5. A list of people who share DNA with you – called Matches. These Matches are usually related to you – both of you sharing some DNA that you got from the same Common Ancestor.

6. A profile for each Match – some info about themselves that they may post.

7. Access to any genealogy Tree that your Matches may post

8. The ability for you to post/upload your own Tree and build on it – highly recommended.

9. Tools – these vary by company and include DNA tools and genealogy tools. See #16 below for some of them.

10. A list of Shared Matches (aka InCommonWith or Relatives in Common) that both you and each Match share – these lists are very important, particularly in grouping Matches.

11. Notes – each company offers a way to enter and save notes on each Match Profile – you type these in, and they are available to you when you return to that Match.

12. Communicate – each company has a way for you to contact your Matches. Yes, probably only 10% of the Matches will reply, but it’s often worth a try.

13. Updates – each company adds new Matches frequently as new people test; they also update/improve their ethnicity program every few years; they add new tools; etc.

14. Bargain prices – all of this for an up-front, one-time, $50-100 price. (Try to get any genetic test for under $100). Yes, each company will try to get you to buy more/other tests and reports, and some offer subscriptions to use their tools.  You decide – in any case, you get an ethnicity report and list of DNA Matches which are updated… forever!

15. NB: If you want, you can upload your DNA data file to other companies – lets you compare tests between companies; other companies offer analysis and services for health or wellness, based on your DNA, etc. Research carefully before you upload your DNA data file anywhere.

16. The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) has a page that compares the features of the major DNA testing sites: This table covers a lot, including links to various blog posts about each company.

Readers are invited to post comments on other insights that all/most of the major companies offer. Please do NOT tout your opinions about each company and/or their extra features – that is not the objective of this post. The target audience for this post is someone deciding to take a DNA test, or not. Feel free to pass this blog-post to others.

[22BC] Segment-ology: What Do You Get from a DNA Test TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210929

Do You Have a Suspicious Branch in Your Tree?

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

Although this Segment-ology blog is focused mainly on understanding and using DNA segments, I’ve also tried to look at the genealogy part of the genetic genealogy equation. We need both genealogy and DNA tools. AncestryDNA has some good genealogy tools that help us with our DNA Matches.

One of the powerful tools is ThruLines. Ancestry uses this tool to analyze your Tree, each Match’s Tree, and every other Tree in its inventory to try to build links to a Common Ancestor (CA) for you and each Match. This includes finding CAs with private, but searchable Trees, and with small Trees that may have only a Match’s parent or grandparent. In all cases Ancestry will try to fill in any gaps between the CA and you and/or your Match. The result is a diagram showing how you and the Match are related through a CA, along with reference material to indicate how they determined any generations they used to fill in a gap. This is a powerful tool, which can be used in a variety of ways.

I’ve written about:

  • How ThruLines Works, here.
  • Helping ThruLines help you, here.
  • ThruLines Xray vision (into private Trees), here.
  • Adding ThruLines info into Match Notes, here.
  • Using ThruLines and Shared Matches to form Clusters, here.
  • Using ThruLines to Extend the MRCA of a group, here

All of these posts use Matches who share DNA segments with you, and ThruLines adds the added dimension of genealogy – using the power of Ancestry’s huge database of Trees. ThruLines usually uses multiple Trees which are in agreement. This is a good, easy, place to start – a good hint – but like all such “hints” you should validate the result. Yes, some of the Trees are flawed, but most are not. Based on my 45 years of genealogy research, I’ve found ThruLines to be correct about 95% of the time.

This post is about another way to use the power of ThruLines – checking on a suspicious branch of your Tree.  Suppose you have a Tree and have been documenting Matches who have Common Ancestors with you. And you notice that one branch of your Tree isn’t getting as many Matches as you expected. It may be because the branch is one that recently immigrated to the US; or because the Ancestors in the branch had relatively few children. Both reasons would tend to reduce the number of Matches from that branch. But if you’ve ruled those reasons out, what’s left? Well, the elephants in the room are a non-biological parental relationship in your Tree (an NPE or MPE) or faulty genealogy research.

One way to check a suspicious branch is to use ThruLines, as follows:

1. Determine the Ancestor who is the base of the suspicious branch – use your judgment.

2. Click on the child who is your Ancestor

3. Open that (child) Ancestor’s profile page

4. Open the Edit tab (top right)

5. Select Edit relationships

6. Click on the X next to the suspicious parent(s) – one or both

This will remove the suspicious branch from your Tree. It will also preserve all the work you’ve done on that branch, and at any time you can easily go back to the child (#2 above) and add the parents back in using the Select someone in your tree option (just type in the names you had before and select them).

After you’ve removed the suspicious branch,  just wait a few days. ThruLines will try to find Matches who are cousins from this line and will identify Potential Ancestors the fill in any gaps. This works out to the 6th cousin (6C) level – your 5xGreat grandparents. If ThruLines identifies Potential Ancestors who were the Ancestors you originally had – well nothing lost (but be sure to use the Select someone in your tree option to get back the branch as you originally had it). If ThruLines identifies alternative Ancestors – well then, you’ve got some work to do to understand more about those Ancestors and decide which Ancestors to use. Remember the ThruLines version is just a “hint” – it’s still up to you…

What I would do is accept the ThruLines Potential Ancestors (later, they can always be deleted or removed from the Tree with Steps 1-6 above) and see if I got a more ThruLines Matches than I had before. If so, these ThruLines Matches would have Trees that should be reviewed for additional evidence. My go-to evidence is the census records if they are available for these new Ancestors – are the times and locations appropriate? At this point, this is mainly a genealogy exercise, although a review of relationships and Shared cMs should also be done.

This is yet another way to use the power of ThruLines. It’s not guaranteed to work, but it does give you a quick and easy look into the huge Ancestry inventory of Trees for potential alternatives.

[22BB] Segment-ology: Do You Have a Suspicious Branch in Your Tree? TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210928

Two Tricks

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

1. Email GEDmatch Matches with Ancestry kits to identify their AncestryDNA Profile.

2. Use Ancestry tools to extend the Ancestry of DNA Matches at other companies.

As mentioned before, genetic genealogy is a combination of genealogy and DNA. Another way to look at it is: genealogy with a DNA tool. The foundation is our genealogy – we want to build it out and we want to get it right. That’s were the DNA comes in. Each segment of our DNA comes down to us from a specific line of our Ancestors to our mother or our father, and then to us. People who share the same DNA segment (called segment Triangulation), are related to us somewhere on the Ancestral line we got it from.

In the practice of genetic genealogy, we look for Common Ancestors (CAs) with our DNA Matches; and we look for DNA Matches who share the same DNA segment. Finding the same DNA segment can be done through DNA Painting, and/or by segment Triangulation (forming Triangulated Groups (TGs)), and/or, roughly, by Clustering. Because it is a precise process, segment Triangulation is generally considered to be the gold standard. 

Our search is for DNA Matches with Common Ancestors AND specific segments.

The problem is that AncestryDNA does not reveal the needed DNA segment information. They have the largest database of DNA Matches, and, by far, the best Trees. Yes, many Matches have Private, or no, or skimpy Trees, but still: AncestryDNA has a much higher percentage of Matches with decent Trees than any other company. On the other hand, the other companies (23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch all provide the detailed shared DNA segment information, and tools to determine if these shared segments Triangulate. But the genealogy side of these companies pales in comparison to AncestryDNA – in numbers, quality and useful tools. For example I have identified over 4,400 CA-Matches at Ancestry, and only 575 CA-Matches at the other 3 companies (a few are Matches with multiple CAs). However, at each of the other 3 companies, I’ve grouped all my DNA Matches (with IBD (true) DNA segments) into my 372 Triangulated Groups. In other words, I have Common Ancestors for all 84 of my known 128 5xG grandparents (roughly 3/4 of my Tree at that generation); and 372 TGs that cover all of my DNA – if I could only link them together…

The effort now is to: 1) find segment data for Matches at AncestryDNA; and 2) find CAs for Matches in TGs at the other companies.  The following two “tricks” have helped me a lot.

Trick 1. Email Matches at GEDmatch who have a DNA test from Ancestry. My standard email:

Hello – we share a DNA segment at GEDmatch (I am kit M200…), and I’d like to determine our Common Ancestor. I will do the research and report back to you on what I find. All I need from you is a link to your Profile at AncestryDNA – this could be your AncestryDNA user name and/or the URL of your Tree. My Ancestry user name is jimbartlett1; and my Tree URL is

Hope to hear from you… Jim Bartlett email: jim4bartletts…

Please be sure to follow up and report back to each Match who cooperates.

Trick 2. Use Ancestry tools to extend the Ancestry of DNA Matches at other companies (where we already have segment data). Some of our Matches at these companies provide some information about their Ancestry – even a little bit may be enough. However, I cannot sugar coat this – it’s work! But Matches who share larger segments should be closer cousins – the Common Ancestors should not be very far back. For Matches in key TGs, I actually work on a quick and dirty list of their Ancestry – an Ahnentafel list – 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8, 16… usually by this time I’ve picked up a probable thread, if not the actual CA. Sometimes the Match has true dead-ends and a CA cannot be found – but often a CA can be determined. More on this process in a recent blogpost here.

Neither of these two Tricks will guarantee success, but they may be helpful if you are Painting or Clustering or Triangulating or just researching your genealogy. I use them regularly. NB: To link a CA to a TG segment (mapping), we need corroborating evidence – certainly genealogy Triangulation with close cousins, and Walking the Ancestor Back for more distant ones.

[22BA] Two Tricks TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210709

Search on a Surname – Using It Part II

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

In Search on a Surname, I proposed a little experiment for my Matches to see if they, too, had an Ancestor I thought they had.

Here is another way to use the same search-on-a-surname/location process. A Match and I found a Common Ancestor, but on looking at his Tree, I thought one of the links in his ancestry was incorrect. So I proposed that he search his Matches for the link’s spouse’s surname/location in one case and search for my version of his link’s spouse’s surname/location in the other case. He reported “many, many Matches” in one case and none in the other. Case closed.

This often works because the Matches to an MRCA couple, should usually also match on the spouse. And Matches with a specific line of descent from an MRCA couple, should also descend from the spouses along that line of descent. From all of their Matches at Ancestry, some of them should be from those spouses who are also their Ancestors. If they list an Ancestor who is not a bio-Ancestor, they should have few if any Matches on that Ancestor. Actually, the same goes for your own Ancestry…

This is a process that may, or may not, always work. There is no guarantee. It’s something to try that might add evidence one way or the other.

[22AZ] Search on a Surname – Using It Part II TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210625

Extending a Match’s Ancestry

Don’t you just hate it when you get a Match sharing 30 or 40 or 50cM, only to find they only have 7 people in their Tree? I know many Matches have no Tree, but I’m focused on the positive here. I’m focused on what may be possible with Matches with small Trees. How can I tease out more from the information I’m given?

Think about all those probable 4C Matches – they share a Common Ancestor only 5 generations back. If they list their grandparents in a Tree, we have 2 of the generations already – only 3 more to determine.

This process works with Matches at any of the companies (FTDNA and MyHeritage primarily, but also GEDcoms at GEDmatch). And any Match you can communicate with who can tell you their parents or grandparents. Of course, it also works well with AncestryDNA Matches (but you won’t have segment data in that case). You may need to extend all 4 grandparents out to the 3xGreat grandparents (4C level). However, a quick look at them might reveal a surname or location to start with.  

Steps to Extend a Match’s Ancestry:

1. Select an Ancestor of a Match. It’s best if the Ancestor has birth and death dates and places. The key is enough information to find this Ancestor in the Ancestry database.

2. Find this Ancestor – at the Ancestry toolbar use Search > Public Member Trees, and type in the known info – then click the orange Search:

Note 1: Usually not much info is needed; just be sure the results posted by Ancestry are the Ancestor you want – sometimes Ancestry proposes a wild tangent…

Note 2: if Ancestry offers a standard for the location, accept it. I had just typed “virginia” in the above, and accepted their standard of “Virginia, USA”

3. The resulting list often has many links. Usually the one you want is at the top. Click on “See more like this” and then Click “View all”

4. Usually just click on the Tree hyperlink at the top of the list – that Tree usually has the most records and sources, but feel free to scroll down the list to see what other Trees are available.

5. This brings up a profile page for this Ancestor. You probably already knew the basics for this Ancestor, but this may present a lot more. But this Ancestor is NOT the one you are looking for – you started with this Ancestor because you wanted to extend the Ancestry for your Match. So, focus on the parents of this Match. Actually, just click on Tools > View in Tree (see red arrow below):

6. This brings up the pedigree view of the Ancestor’s ancestors (see below). If your Common Ancestor is listed here – you’re done – you’ve found the CA of your DNA Match. If not, the CA may be on the maternal side below which is not in this Tree – delete this page and try another public tree.

7. You can also click on any Ancestor in this pedigree – to get their profile page – and then click on Search (on top right of the profile page). This takes you back to Steps 2 and 3 above with a new Ancestor. In this manner, you can “chain” together these pedigree searches in your quest to find a Common Ancestor. And you can always start the process anew, with a different Ancestor of your original DNA Match. Remember – the truth is out there.

BOTTOM LINE: This process allows you to extend the Ancestry of a DNA Match, and, hopefully, find your Common Ancestor. This is an important method of finding Common Ancestors with Matches at companies which don’t have many good Trees.

[22AY] Extending a Match’s Ancestry TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210613

Search on a Surname

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

Here is a process to help me and my Matches. I have a number of my Triangulated Groups (TGs) for which I believe I know the Ancestor back to the 4C to 8C level (3x to 7xGreat grandparent couple). I blogged about CUMMINGS here, and wrote about HIGGINBOTHAM in Chapter 1 of the “Advanced Genetic Genealogy” book (here) – in both cases over 50 Matches in a TG share that ancestry.

So I invite Matches in a TG or a Cluster to try this little expertiment:

1. Open your full list of DNA Matches.

2. On right side of top row, click on Search:

3. This brings up a new row of three search boxes:

4. Type in the surname I give you (e.g. CUMMINGS) in the Surname box; and the Birth location I give you (e.g. Virginia; or Loudoun County Virginia – accept any standardized option offered by Ancestry)

5. Click on the green Search button (under the red arrow above)

6. Hopefully, you’ll get a list of Matches – everyone of them will: share a DNA segment with you, have a Tree, and have an ancestor with the surname and born in the location you specified. This is a huge time saver when looking for Common Ancestors.

This list could have mostly Matches from the same family – in which case your Match probably shares that same line with you. As a further test of this result, most of the Matches should have many of the other Matches in their Shared Match List (they form a Cluster) – it’s easy to check this. I’d call this a BINGO. This list could also be a small random group which doesn’t appear to be from the same family, nor do the Matches Cluster much – in which case it was probably not helpful. But the whole process is not very labor intensive. And in my experience, particularly when the searches are based on strong evidence, the group usually turns out good (and help you and your Match).


1. Very easy to do – a few clicks, type in surname and/or location => get a list of DNA Matches.

2. Efficient – virtually all of the Matches are very likely to yield positive results.

3. Targeted – you establish a fairly narrow target search, and all the Matches meet your criteria. Try it on all the Matches in one TG or Cluster or Shared Match (ICW) list.

4. Maiden names – once you have established an MRCA couple, try the wife’s maiden surname to see if the DNA segment (TG or Cluster) continues back on her side) – BINGO.

5. Which spouse? (usually wife) – try both surnames – hopefully one is a BINGO, the other is not.

6. Given names – if a child of an MRCA couple has an unusual given name, try it – a BINGO means the DNA probably came from that surname. [A non-BINGO doesn’t rule that surname]

7. Bolster evidence – this process may well add to your evidence of a Common Ancestor for a TG. In that sense it is an expansion of a previous post, so there is some overlap.

8.  Brickwall buster – this process looks beyond your end-of-the-line/brickwall. If you have a clue from genealogy records (deed, witness, neighbor, etc.) or even a family story, use this process to check it out. Either a BINGO or not a BINDO is another piece of evidence – explore the surname in more depth, or move on to other research.

Bottom line: Ancestry’s Search is a powerful tool. You are invited to post in the comments about your experience – pro or con – about using this tool.

[22AX] Search on a Surname TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210609

Percent DNA vs Percent Matches

In a perfect world, our DNA would be 1/2 from each parent,1/4 from each grandparent, 1/8 from each Great grandparent, etc. Also in a perfect world, 1/2 of our DNA Matches would come through a parent, 1/4 through a grandparent, 1/8 through a Great grandparent, etc. But, as we all know, the world is not perfect.

The only constant in the above is that 1/2 of our atDNA (44 Chromosomes) comes from each parent.

Percent DNA

So, let’s look at the DNA side of this issue first, addressing only the 44 atDNA Chromosomes – 50% from each parent. Because of the random DNA recombination from our grandparents, the grandparents don’t have to divide in equal proportions – and in fact they almost never will, exactly. Often, we will get one whole Chromosome from a grandparent (and none of that Chromosome from the other grandparent.)

However, over all of our 22 Chromosomes from each side, the amount per grandparent tends to roughly even out. But – a big BUT – the total of two paternal or two paternal grandparents must add up to 50% of our DNA that each parent gave us. For example, our four grandparents (reading across a Tree from paternal to maternal Ancestors) may have percentages like: 24%, 26%, 27%, 23%. Note that the first two percentages (on the paternal side) total 50% and the second two percentages total 50% (on the maternal side). This process will hold exactly for each succeeding generation: The two percentages for a male/female couple will have to total to the percentage for their child. So the percentages from the Great grandparent level may look like: 13%, 11%, 12%, 14%, 13%, 14%, 10%, 13%. The total is 100%; the total for each couple equals the amount for their child. This continues at each generation, and eventually some ancestors drop out; but the totals for each couple must add up to the child’s % (even if one of Ancestors in a couple is 0%).

If you do segment Triangulation and/or chromosome mapping, you can actually calculate these percentages – in cM or SNPs or Mbp. The sum of the parts must equal the whole at each generation.

Percent Matches

Now we’ll look at the percent (or number) of Matches for each Ancestor in a generation. All other things being equal, we would expect the percentage of our Matches to mirror the percentage of DNA. But many things are not equal…  First on my list is size of the ancestral branch. Some of my Ancestors had 10-15 children; some had 1-2 children. Clearly, we can say the more living descendants from an Ancestor, the more Matches we’ll see from that Ancestor. Large families result in more Matches. A close second on my list is: who tests? For a variety of reasons (interest, geography, income, etc.), some lines tend to have more descendants testing than others.

It’s interesting to note (at least for me) that as we move back with each generation, each Ancestor will have more descendants, but the size of a Shared DNA Segment will decrease. On the one hand, we have more cousins, on the other hand, they tend to share less DNA. In fact, at the 4th cousin level, about half of them will not show up as a DNA Match; and the percentage of cousins who do match, falls off quickly with each additional generation. This is partially offset by the increasing number of cousins. Roughly 10% of my Matches at Ancestry are 4C, the rest are 5C-8C or more (I cannot believe the valid cousins just stop at the 5C or 6C level – they are all on some kind of distribution curve). If our genealogy is deep enough, and if we are willing to build out our Matches’ Trees, I think we can find and document many more of our cousins among our DNA Matches.

Do genealogy records and documentation play a role? I’ll go out on a limb and say no! Our DNA doesn’t depend on any records – each Ancestor (and their descendants) is just as valid with or without records. At each generation, every box on our Ancestral Tree is essentially equivalent. We needed every one of them for us to be here. The records make it easier to determine how we are related to our Matches, but the amount of records wouldn’t change the number of Matches.


DNA is roughly evenly divided among our closer Ancestors at each generation, but the DNA may drift into “unevenness” in later generations. Our results will vary. Eventually some Ancestors fall out as contributors to our DNA.

We should get DNA Matches from almost all of our Ancestors (in a genealogical timeframe). The number of Matches will depend a lot on the number of descendants of each Ancestor.

An Outcome

An outcome when looking beyond brick walls and/or for bio-Ancestors:

We should find a number of Matches that tie back to every box (Ancestor) in our Tree, generally commensurate with the number of descendants from that box. If we are testing a surname for brickwall/bio-Ancestor, we should get Match-Trees that build a family, with the largest concentration of Matches being close to Ancestor we are looking for. We should get roughly the same experience with this “prospective” Ancestor, that we would get with a proven Ancestor, at the same generational level and number of descendants. In other words: the Goldilocks result. Clearly this is not a hard rule, or formula – it’s an overall feeling of what is reasonable. It’s also an expectation that we have Matches for our Brickwall and bio-Ancestors (and their Ancestors), and that those Matches should combine to build a Tree for us.

[22AW] Segment-ology: Percent DNA vs Percent Matches – A TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210504

Bio-Ancestors – Testing a Line

I am working on the bio-mother of a Target’s grandfather. The grandfather was an orphan or foster child – we have a few family stories but cannot find any of the names in any records (with over 20 years of searching).  In his 1937 Social Security Application the grandfather lists his mother as a RIDENOUR, but she has not been found.

So, a search of the Target’s Matches on the surname RIDENOUR results in over 40 hits which appear to come from one family in the right geography – Western Maryland. But the on-line RIDENOUR families are tangled up [I’ll do a different blogpost on them later], However, there was one Daniel RIDENOUR and Elizabeth BROWN family that had the highest concentration of Matches with the highest shared DNA cMs. But I didn’t want to slog through all of the potential BROWN Matches. So I saw that Elizabeth BROWN’s parents were William BROWN and Anna Elizabeth BUHRMAN. Now BUHRMAN was a unique surname, so I tried that.  For reference here is the a Quick & Dirty Tree:

And here is a Quick & Dirty Outline of the Matches I found:

Note several things.

All the Matches’ Trees fell under John BUHRMAN 1743-1826 & Catharina MARTIN (Outline #1) – this is a very positive sign that these surnames are Ancestral.

Of the 14 Matches, four were from the BROWN/RIDENOUR line (Outline #1C2), and the other ten were spread over different children and grandchildren of John BUHRMAN & Catharina MARTIN – this is also strong information. Ten Matches descend from BUHRMAN/MARTIN, independently, without going through the RINENOUR line. This indicates BUHRMAN and MARTIN are Ancestral surnames of the Target – in their own right.

Matches back to John BURMAN & Catharina MARTIN are at the 5th cousin level. It was nice to find them in such a simple search. And more will be found using other tricks [another blogpost].

The TAKEAWAY: Search on a likely Surname, build a Q&D Tree from the Matches’ Trees. Then test the validity of this Surname as an Ancestor, by also searching on surnames of the spouses. There should be additional, independent Matches on these other surname lines.

Of course there is more work to do… There are other close family to the Target who also have this same Ancestry – a very quick search from their AncestryDNA accounts should show some same and some new Matches under Outline #1. Also, this was a Q&D effort, now I’ll go back and add in census and marriage and Find-A-Grave and etc., etc. I’ve also done this with other surnames and came up with little to nothing – indicating it’s time to try a different surname. Ruling out possibilities is also on the path forward.

[30A] Segment-ology: Bio-Ancestors – Testing a Line by Jim Bartlett 20210420

Breaking Down Brick Walls

There are several methods to break down brick walls, including the bio-parents of an Ancestor. I think of two groups of methods:

1. Blind Luck

2. Use a process

I don’t mean to be flippant when I say “Blind Luck”, but luck plays a large part in some cases. Your list of Matches may include one who shares 2600cM of DNA – that would be a full sibling. Or even a 1750cM share – which would indicate a grandparent, grandchild, half sibling, Aunt/Uncle or Niece/Nephew. Wow. That could get you into your bio family pretty quickly. So always look at your closest Matches – maybe you’ll be lucky and find some really close relatives to work with.

But most of the time we are not that lucky. And sometimes the brick wall is somewhat further back.

I wrote a blogpost: Let the Matches Tell Us the Cluster Common Ancestor. You can review it here.

In this blogpost I want to review a more generic process. Depending on how many of the DNA testing companies we use, we can get from tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand DNA Matches. That’s a lot of data to sift through, so let’s see if we can narrow it down. Here is a handy chart I often use:

The first three columns are almost trivial – they are easy to produce and can be extended upward, if need be. Say you have 10,000 DNA Matches to work with – the 4th column shows you, roughly, what percent of those Matches will come to you through each one of your Ancestors. You already know that each parent gave you half of your DNA – except for special situations, we would expect roughly half of all your DNA Matches to come from each side. And by extrapolation about 1/4 to come from each grandparent, etc.  That’s still a lot of data to work with.

So the next part of this generic process is to look at the cousins you’d expect from each generation – such as 2nd cousins from a Great Grandparent. And from the 5th column we see that 2nd cousin share an average of 229cM – or a range of 41 to 592cM. This means if we set a threshold of 200 or 300cM, and used only Matches over that threshold, they’d mostly be 2nd cousins. At AncestryDNA I only have 4 Matches over 200cM. That’s a start – to look carefully at those 4. At a threshold of 100cM, I have only 28 Matches at AncestryDNA.

My point here is that we need to start with the Brick Wall generation, and go one generation back – to the parents of the brick wall. This is based on the premise that if a lot of folks had identified my Brick Wall Ancestor (BWA), I’d probably have found him or her by now. So there is something about my BWA that has blocked me for many years. I need to find the parents and work down. Very similar to finding a bio-parent.

So I look at my chart, above, and select one generation above my BWA, and note a range of cMs that should include appropriate cousins.

The next step is to group those DNA Matches – by segment Triangulation at most companies and by clustering at AncestryDNA. Depending on the threshold you choose this grouping can be done by hand or through programs at Genetic Affairs, DNAGedcom Client or Shared Clusters (see my review of these programs, here).

It really helps to have a known close cousin in a Cluster or TG – to act as a pointer toward your BWA.  Otherwise, we need to analyze each one of the groups. As a Segmentologist, I’m all for analyzing each of my TGs, but I also pay particular attention to those that point in the direction of my BWAs.

The idea is to find enough Trees in a group to find a Common Ancestor (CA) for that group. This CA is then, very likely, to be an Ancestor of the BWA. The final step is to find the descendants of the CA, keeping mindful of probable birth year and place of the BWA.

This kind of process is often not easy or straightforward. But with enough Matches (test at all four companies and upload to GEDmatch), there should be enough data to significantly narrow down the search.

[19K] Segment-ology: Breaking Down Brick Walls by Jim Bartlett 20210203