A new tool at Ancestry DNA is blowing my genealogy mysteries wide open!
I have been up since 5:30 with plenty of goals and ambitions for today. But I got distracted. Distracted by a new tool at AncestryDNA that is blowing my genealogy mysteries wide open.
The new tool AncestryDNA Common Matches tool is hiding between the “Pedigrees and Surnames” filter and the “Map and Locations” filter on your matches’ main match page. The Common Matches tool pulls out the shared 4th cousin or higher matches between two people.
Let’s take a look at how this might work for you.
Let’s say you have a second cousin, Denise, that you have already identified in the Ancestry database and you know your common ancestral couple is Joseph and Louise Mitchell. You want to gather others who share DNA with both you and Denise. Those individuals then have a high likelihood of being related to Joseph and Louise in some way.
So we click on the “Shared Matches” button on Denise’s page and find that Mike, Spencer, and Wendy all have DNA in common with you and Denise. After reviewing pedigree charts, you are able to determine that Mike is related through Louise’s sister and Wendy is related through Joseph’s brother. Note that Wendy’s actual relationship to you is not 4th cousin, as it is shown, but she is actually your 3rd cousin once removed. Remember that the relationship given is not always the exact relationship of two people who have been tested.
But what about Spencer? Spencer, unfortunately has not yet linked his family tree to his Ancestry account or answered any of your queries about his family tree. I am sure he has just been busy. Or he doesn’t know his family tree. Or his computer was captured by aliens or smashed by his two-year-old grandson just as he was about to click “send” and reveal how the two of you were connected. Whatever the case may be, up until this point you haven’t heard a peep from Spencer and therefore had absolutely no way to figure out how Spencer was related to you.
But now you know that he is somehow associated with the Joseph and Louise Mitchell family because he came up as In Common With (ICW) you and Denise.
We can take this one step further and ask Ancestry to show us who has DNA ICW you and Spencer. You can see here that while Mike still remains, Wendy has dropped off the list. Now there are two possible explanations for this: The first is that Spencer is related through Louise’s parents, John and Sarah, and that is why he is not sharing DNA with Wendy.
The other, less likely, possibility is that Spencer is related through Joseph’s parents Louis and Mary, but doesn’t share enough DNA with Wendy to be detected on this test.
While this information is helpful, it still hasn’t completely solved the case. The first thing you should do with your new-found knowledge is start sending more pointed questions to your matches. Here is an example message you might send to Spencer:
I was just playing around with the new AncestryDNA Common Matches tool and I see that you are related to a few of my other matches that connect through Joseph and Louise Mitchell. Louise’s parents, John and Sarah Marsh, were both born in Mississippi in the 1840’s and Joseph’s parents Joseph and Mary Mitchell, were born in Tennessee in 1856 and 1863 respectively.
Do any of these names or places sound familiar to you?
I am looking forward to working with you on this connection.
Your DNA Cousin, Diahan”
Assuming this garners a response, you can then work together to find your connection. If his budget is not allowing for a new computer at this time and you never hear from Spencer, the key to figuring out how he is related to you may be in the new match, Beth, who is ICW you and Spencer. If you can figure out how Beth is related to you, you will know Spencer is related in a similar way.
For a little more guidance, I suggest you purchase my laminated quick guides, “Understanding AncestryDNA and “Understanding Family Tree DNA.” These are also available as a part of a complete bundle of DNA guides specifically designed to help you navigate your results at the leading genetic genealogy testing companies. Click here to see all our DNA quick guides.
When the recent press release from the Unclaimed Persons project crossed my desk, it jumped out at me in a very personal way. I majored in Forensic Anthropology (the study of human remains) in college, and was no stranger to coroner’s offices. I’ve witnessed first-hand what happens when a decedent enters a morgue, and it’s a very cold (literally!) and lonely experience. My passion for forensics stemmed from a desire to ensure that families wouldn’t be left wondering what happened to their loved ones. The Unclaimed Persons project focuses on the other side of that mission: ensuring that the loved one is reunited with their family and laid to rest with dignity.
From an Unclaimed Persons project press release:
Alone in death and tucked away on dark shelves or cold gurneys in morgues across the country, thousands of deceased individuals whose names are known to coroners, medical examiners, and a handful of friends have no known family members to claim their remains. Homelessness, mental illness, long-term estrangement, deaths of all apparent next of kin, and other circumstances have severed familial connections. Ever-increasing caseloads and shrinking budgets make it nearly impossible for medical examiners, coroners, and investigators who cannot quickly identify family to find deceased individuals’ relatives without help.
Unclaimed Persons project uses genealogy skills
Many people are aware that it can be a real challenge when a coroner obtains a John or Jane Doe, an unidentified person. It presents the difficult task of identifying the person. But few people know that in fact the even bigger problem consuming morgues today is unclaimed persons, rather than unidentified ones: individuals who have passed but with no trace of living relatives to come and claim them. Thus, the Unclaimed Persons project was born! In 2008, genealogy author, speaker, consultant, and on-air expert Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak started this organization online. She shares how she got started working with these cases in this video:
“My first time that I worked with a coroner’s office was actually sort of an accident. I was just reading the newspaper and I tripped across this article about the situation of these people who are essentially unclaimed people, people whose next-of-kin just can’t be found. And I was reading about a couple of the actual examples they gave, and one of them made a fleeting reference to a particular case where they actually had the fellow’s family bible. And that’s what made the connection for me that ‘Aha! Maybe I can use the genealogical sleuthing skills to find these families as well.” -Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak
After assisting two coroners with unclaimed persons cases, Megan founded a Facebook group with the goal of solving even more unclaimed persons cases. The online community of volunteer researchers joined forces with medical examiners, forensic investigators, and coroners to help reunite families and bring closure so that the dead can finally be laid to rest.
Unclaimed Persons is now celebrating their 9th anniversary with the launch of their new website, and to date have solved 471 cases with a 70% solve rate! But the unclaimed epidemic in morgues persists, and Unclaimed Persons is always recruiting more volunteers. As it turns out, family history enthusiasts make some of the best detectives in these cases! Genealogists combine classic sleuthing skills with their knowledge of family record keeping to track down even the most elusive relatives. This is a wonderful opportunity for genealogists to use their specialized training for an even greater good.
500+ veterans escorted the unclaimed remains of seven Iowa veterans to their final resting place at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery, Van Meter, Iowa, in 2009. U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Gary Ward
How you can help the Unclaimed Person project
You don’t have to be a seasoned genealogist to be a volunteer! Anyone with an interest is welcome to join. Visit https://unclaimed-persons.org/ to register as a member. You will need to complete a member profile with your basic information, and agree to Unclaimed Persons Forum Rules. Unclaimed Persons encourages researchers to have access to tools such as Ancestry.com, GenealogyBank.com, historical newspaper archives, and other online subscriptions related to genealogical research. However, there are many publicly available online databases that can also help with your research.
As an Unclaimed Persons volunteer, one of the most important things to know and adhere to is that researchers should not contact identified family members, nor should they contact coroners directly. Each case is assigned a case manager, and all discoveries should be sent directly to them. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but in fact it ensures that coroners, medical examiners, and investigators are not inundated or hindered with duplicate information and can continue to manage their daily workloads.
And Unclaimed Persons feels very strongly that contacting even one family in error would jeopardize the high standards and reputation of the organization. While the ultimate goal is bring closure for family members, the primary focus of Unclaimed Persons is to assist these agencies with the difficult task of locating them, rather than to be the ones delivering the news directly. But for your own sense of closure, Unclaimed Persons will announce on their Facebook group page and their online forum when a case has been solved so you and the other volunteers can celebrate together!
If you don’t have time or resources to help with research, you can still help Unclaimed Persons by ‘Liking’ their Facebook page and sharing the cases among the genealogy community. You can also follow Unclaimed Persons on social media for announcements of new cases where you may have information or experience that can help (specific locations, surnames, etc.).
Click here to learn more about how to become a volunteer member.
with Lisa Louise Cooke Recorded May 2020
Please enjoy free access to this Premium podcast episode. Learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium member by clicking here.
This episode is really about getting a fresh new view of our research and our ancestors’ world. To expand our view we’re going to dig into that word “view” in one of my favorite free tools, Google books which contains some wonderful gems, and I’ll tell you how to find them. But first I chat with a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how her eyes were opened to a new view of her research, and 3 very important things she learned from it.
GEM: Interview with Pat Dalpiaz
In Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #238 I shared two tales of mystery. The first was a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman shared how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises. And the second story was the mystery of a lost family scrapbook that was chock full of twists, turns and even murder! At the end of that episode I invited you to share your stories of discovery and the lessons you learned along the way. Long time listener and Genealogy Gems premium member Pat Dalpiaz did just that, and she joins me on this episode to tell us about it.
How did you first learn of the story of John Handran? “John Handran of Newfoundland and Essex County Massachusetts was lost at sea in December of 1885 while aboard the Schooner Cleopatra. The story of that sea disaster is pretty amazing in itself. A brief version is told in the blog post I will reference and share. He left behind a wife and 3 young children.
He also left behind the story of his sea rescue of a fellow Navy shipmate who was swept overboard in Lisbon Portugal from the US Steamer Franklin in 1876, for which he was awarded a Medal of Honor by President U. S. Grant.
This story of his Medal of Honor had been a family story, accepted in full as given by another cousin researcher (expert level). So, I shared it on my blog Gathering the Cousins.”
What stirred the story back up? “One day about 4 years ago, I was contacted by members of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States as well as by a Canadian who specializes in honoring Canadians who have been awarded the US Medal of Honor. This came about directly as a result of publishing his story on my blog, a point made by others that I can help verify.
I was asked to determine if the John Handran in my family tree was THE John Handran who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1876. Dope slap. I had never made that direct connection using documents and proof. I just accepted the story. So, the work began to collect the “smoking gun” documentation to prove “my” John Handran and the Medal of Honor John Handran.”
What approach did you take to try and verify this story? “In 2017, I was finally able to locate a newspaper article regarding John’s death that stated he had been in the US Navy connecting him as needed. I found a copy of the 1885 local paper and shared it with the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States.”
What are you doing to restore this historical story to your community? “As a result, they have been able to coordinate the placement of a “In Memory Of” marker at his widow’s grave in Gloucester Massachusetts. It took almost 3 years to accomplish that feat and then the virus interrupted plans to hold a service to mark John’s bravery and service to country.
In addition, I used some of your recommended Google techniques to locate a granddaughter nearby so she can be part of the service when it is held and visit the memorial when she’s ready.”
Where can listeners read more about this and your family history adventures? “I also contribute to a blog called Good Morning Gloucester and have shared some of this information in that manner as well. Here’s a link to one of those posts.”
3 Lessons Learned:
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Pat did not know there was a group out there specializing in something as specific as Canadians awarded the US Medal of Honor. Writing about the story on her family history blog brought them to her!
The importance of validating those family stories.
The extra work you do to confirm your family stories might require close-reading very old newspapers or other similar documents. Pat says, “It might take a long time but stick with it.”
Finding family members CAN be accomplished with Google!
Pat said she used the techniques that I talk about in the podcast and my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox on a regular basis, with ongoing success. She wrote: “Thank you as always for your efforts to share your expertise with us. I just renewed my Premium membership. It’s the most worthwhile genealogy money I spend each year!”
John Handran In Memory Of plaque at Calvary Cemetery in Gloucester MA. An official ceremony will be planned as the pandemic allows.
The “smoking gun” part of the newspaper article Jan 1, 1886 in the Cape Ann Advertiser which accompanied a longer article about the Schooner Cleopatra sinking.
Google Books is a goldmine of genealogical resources including over 25 million books. Many of the books are fully digitized and available for free. In this episode we are focusing on getting a view of our ancestors’ world. Simply focusing on the word view can help us find old book that include photographs, illustrations, maps and more.
Try searches such as:
A view of Australia
An illustrated view of California
Once you identify a book of interest, use the thumbnail view button in the toolbar at the top of the screen (it looks like a checkerboard) to view many pages at one time. This will help make maps, photos, and other images easy to spot.
Thumbnail view of King’s View of New York City, 1903
Search Operators are symbols or words that narrow or broaden a search. Quotation Marks can be used when you want to search for an exact word or phrase.
Example: “illustrated view”
How to narrow your search results only to fully digitized books:
Wednesday, May 27th. The difficulty of neatly painting cars two different colors led to the patenting of a universally practical product on this date in 1930. Five years earlier, Richard Drew, while working for the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, had developed an easy-to-peel, glue-backed masking tape. It considerably eased the task of separating two-tone paint jobs on new cars, which until then involved moistened plaster tape. Then, he expanded its use by introducing a clear backing. The result, an immediate hit, became known as Scotch Tape.
Now, 90 years on, 3M is joined by about 560 manufacturers of various adhesive products nationwide. This specialty generates sales of more than $13 billion a year and provides jobs for about 24,000 people.
As you’ll remember I launched this show after the first week of the stay at home recommendation in March, and back then my first recommendation was that you resist the temptation to cut your own bangs. Well it turns out that Scotch tape has had a wide variety of uses throughout the last 90 years.
Here’s the latest DNA update quoted from Ancestry®:
Ancestry® Expands Reference Panel to Deliver More Precise Results and New Regions
“Today, Ancestry® announced their latest update to AncestryDNA® ethnicity estimates.
This update was made possible thanks to an increase in the AncestryDNA reference panel.
The reference panel is now more than double its previous size with samples from more places around the world, allowing Ancestry to determine ethnic breakdowns with a higher degree of precision.
New ethnicity estimates will roll out to new and existing customers over several months, resulting in these potential developments for customers.”
New Ethnicity Regions
From their blog post:
“For example, previously we had North and South America as two large regions: Native American–Andean and Native American–North, Central, South.
With this new update, we are able to refine the areas into 11 smaller ones.
If you received one of the older regions before, your new report will most likely have one of the newer, more precise regions instead like Indigenous Eastern South America, Indigenous Cuba, and Indigenous Americas–Mexico, among others.”
More Global Regions
“This advancement will enable AncestryDNA to deliver even more regions globally to enhance the experience across diverse populations including improvements and region realignment in West Africa, northwestern Europe, the Americas, Oceania, and South Asia.”
When You Will See the Update
“It’s important to note that we are phasing the update over time to ensure individual attention is given to delivering each result; therefore, some may see results earlier or later than others.”
“More than 1,000 global regions make up the ethnicities displayed in our DNA test. As DNA science improves, the number of regions we test for (and the countries covered in each region) may change.
This article lists each region, butto see which areas of the globe are included in the regions, you’ll need to view the list from your DNA Story page (which will highlight an area of the map when you click a region).
To see all the regions, click See other regions tested at the bottom of your ethnicity estimate and click on a region on the next page.
If you’ve taken a DNA test, you may have received different ethnicity results than you expected and different from your family members. DNA expert Diahan Southard explains why this happens in the Genealogy Gems article “Results May Vary:” One Family’s DNA Ethnicity Percentages. Click here to start reading now.