Monday, February 27, 2012

DNA update: Results arrived at FamilyTreeDNA

A few weeks ago I uploaded data on five accounts from 23andMe to FamilyTreeDNA during an introductory sale.  The results arrived a few days ago.  I am still learning to navigate the site and manipulate the findings.  As anticipated, I have fewer matches at FamilyTreeDNA (231) versus 23andMe (1300+).  The advantage to this smaller number, though, is that the names of my matches are not hidden.  I can contact them whenever I wish.  At 23andMe, I had to request contact from my matches and most never responded.  (Until a few weeks ago at 23andMe, you could only send out five requests to correspond per day.  That limit has been lifted.)

The other feature that strikes me at FamilyTreeDNA is that immediate (parents) and close (uncle and third cousin) relatives are immediately viewable.  They are not hidden until both parties consent to be revealed, as is the process at 23andMe.  I found no surprise relatives at FamilyTreeDNA, but if you are nervous about finding a close relative you did not know of, 23andMe seems to provide more protection.  You can use an alias if this is a concern.

FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder.
These three people and their names popped up as close relatives.
You can imagine someone's dismay if this was not welcome news,
or delight if someone had been searching for their birth family.

Perhaps the biggest time-saving features are the filtering options.  You can compare matches in common with other relatives or find matches with surnames that match yours through the drop-down menu.  At 23andMe, I have been spending considerable time requesting people to accept contact, keeping a log of who and where they match, and then comparing them to my other close relatives in the system to try to figure out which branch may hold the common ancestor.  At FamilyTreeDNA, this is a filter in their Family Finder (similar to Relative Finder at 23andMe).  In five seconds I can get a list of people who match both my mother and her half-brother, thereby narrowing down those matches to my maternal grandmother's side of the family.  Or I can compare my father and his third cousin and get a list of those genetic cousins who match both of them and are likely related through the surnames of Cook or Neil.

Filtering options in Family Finder at FamilyTreeDNA.
The "In Common With" function should be very useful in narrowing down branches.

At FamilyTreeDNA, as was the case at 23andMe, my mother's results are influenced by her Jewish ancestry.
At this point, I do not know how much this inheritance pattern dominates her matches at FamilyTreeDNA.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Locating your immigrant in the census

After locating the Alien File for my immigrant of concern, Joseph Regenye, I next turned to locate him in the United States Federal Census.  He stated that he arrived in the United States in 1901, so I sought him with renewed vigor in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census.  Using his own last name, Regenye, turns up no good matches.  Immigrant ancestors can be very difficult to locate in a census.  We can imagine that his accent was too thick to be understood fully or that he changed the spelling of his name to reflect his neighborhood influences or many other reasons.  His first child was born around 1908 in New Jersey, so I was really looking for a family.  I managed to locate the growing family for three consecutive census years by searching for a child and a birth year.  The reported age of an adult can vary in the census.  A child's age should be more accurate.  A five year old would not be reported as 17, but a 50 year old man could be listed as 35 or 65.  A precise year of birth for "William" with no last name will limit the number of matches to a more manageable number.  If Joseph is in the 1900 census, it will be difficult to determine an exact match because he would be without his wife and children.
The most recent addresses I had were from the 1940s in Union County, New Jersey, so that is where I started for the 1930 census.  I found the family at the same address that Joseph used on his 1940 Alien Registration Form.  I did not have success locating the family in Union County in 1920 or 1910.  A shaking leaf in my Family Tree Maker alerted me to a christening record for one of the children in Newark in 1909.  So I transferred my census search from Union County over to Essex County and found the family in Newark in 1910 and 1920.

Here is the Regenye family in 1910, 1920, and 1930.

1910 Federal Census
26 Aleya [Alyea] Street, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
Indexed as Reganr, Regane, and Regans at

1920 Federal Census
94 Barbara Street, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
Indexed as Rigner, Rizner, and Bigner at

1930 Federal Census
2024 Ostwood Terrace, Union, Union County, New Jersey
Indexed as Regney and Regnery at

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Obtaining an Alien File

Last week I wrote of my visit to the National Archives in New York City and the instruction I received on Alien Files.  I located an individual of interest in the online index and requested a copy of the file last Tuesday evening.  On Wednesday, the NARA office in Kansas City, Missouri contacted me with additional information from the file, including a place of birth and date and port of entry to the United States, to verify that they had the correct file.  (This information did not actually verify anything; rather, it was such facts that I was hoping to discover.  This verification would be useful, though, for common names.)  For just $15, one week later I had in my mailbox the copies of the file.  The contents of this particular file were the two pages comprising the Alien Registration Form filed in 1940.  Other files may contain a lot more documents and information, but I still received a wealth of information from these two pages, including:

-Date and place of birth
-Entry date into the United States
-Ship name
-Physical description and marital status
-Current address
-Occupation and name and address of employer

Alien Registration Form filed 1940 for Joseph Regenye.
Part of his Alien File available through the National Archives.

Page 2 of the Alien Registration Form.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

DNA: WEIRD need not apply

OpenSNP is offering free DNA testing kits from 23andMe to increase the genetic database beyond people who are WEIRD.  This is an acronym that stands for White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.  I did not know that this was the name for what I have been noticing.  Most of my genetic relatives are just like me, and I did not suspect this was because we are all related.  I probably have genetic relatives all over the world in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Yet they do not show up in the database at 23andMe.  I suspected that their absence was not evidence that they were not related, but rather that they did not have the means or interest to undertake DNA testing, and this article provides me with a more formal name for this situation.  The limited subject range also permeates areas beyond genetic testing.

I am working on the results of a lady who submitted her kit to 23andMe through their Roots into the Future project, designed to gather data on African Americans.  She currently has 46 relations, while I have over 1300.  She should also have thousands of detectable distant genetic relatives, but they are not in the genetic database (yet).

Monday, February 20, 2012

DNA: Uncovering hidden matches

I am still analyzing and comparing the genetic matches of my mother and her brother at 23andMe.  At this site, you find people related to you in the "Relative Finder."  My mother has over 1300 matches.  Her brother has around 500.  My mother has few Irish matches.  Her brother has lots of Irish matches that also match her, but were previously not known, because she reached her limit of matches.  It is great that I now have access to these Irish cousins and have some good leads to follow.  The site does not produce such matches for my mother because the number of revealed matches is capped at an undisclosed number.  Her slots were taken by matches with multiple segments.  Most of these Irish matches are identical on only one segment; therefore, their percentage of matching was less than her 1300 multiple-segment cousins and they did not make the cut.

This genetic cousin matches both my mother and her brother.  This match is revealed in his account, but not hers.

The first hint I had about missing matches in the system was with my father's third cousin.  I compared my mother to my father's third cousin by chance and was surprised that they matched.  Neither appears in the other's Relative Finder.  As explained above, my mother is maxed out on matches, but this cousin only has about 600 matches, no where near the limit.  Yet because my mother was maxed out in her account, this cousin was prevented from seeing her in his account.  I wonder how many more cousins she has in the database that are not discoverable.

23andMe comparison of known third cousins, matching on chromosomes 13 and 21.
Also matches my mother through unknown connections.

To take this a step further, at 23andMe this third cousin and I share no genetic material.  If you compare us at GEDmatch, we do match, but strangely, not on the large areas on 13 and 21 that my father shares with this third cousin and not on the smaller segment on 18 that he shares with my mother.  He and I share a 5.8 cM match on chromosome 1, which is another area where he matches my mother.  This segment is large enough that 23andMe should have picked it up.  (Their minimum threshold is 5 cM.  Matches smaller than this may be coincidental.)

GEDmatch comparison between R.S. and me.
Of the nine identical segments, two can be identified as from my father and one from my mother.
Note that I did not inherit any part of the three large segments that R.S. shares with my parents.

GEDmatch comparison between R.S. and my uncle.
The two tiny segments may be coincidental and not suggestive of shared ancestry.

GEDmatch comparison between R.S. and my father.
They are third cousins and this analysis is consistent with that documented relationship.
The two larger segments on 13 and 21 are also reported in 23andMe.

GEDmatch comparison between R.S. and my mother.
The largest match on chromosome 18 is the one match identified by 23andMe.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Visit to the National Archives

Yesterday I visited the National Archives in New York City at 201 Varick Street.  (They plan to relocate this year.)  The tour was sponsored by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.  The National Archives' main genealogical holdings include federal census records, naturalization records, and military records.  You can view census records at home now, so you may find the repository more useful for the naturalization records and military records.  The presentation focused on Alien Files, or A-Files.  Such a file was created for an immigrant, or alien, who was not naturalized as of April 1, 1944.  Individuals who were born before 1909 and who have A-Files are indexed online.  I have few recent immigrants in my family trees, but I managed to find a match in their online index to show you an example.  After locating someone in the index, you can then order the Alien File from the Kansas City office.  Locating an individual in the online index can provide you with a date of birth and location, as well as other names used.  The file itself may contain information such as parentage and copies of original documents, perhaps birth certificates and marriage records.

Only result for "Regenye" from the online Archival Research Catalog of the National Archives.
You can use the "Scope & Content" tab to possibly identify if the entry matches your person of interest.
If you think there is a match, go ahead and order the A-File.
Over at, a check for Joseph Regenye provides us with his draft registration card for World War II.
The date of birth on the draft registration matches the date in the A-File, so we know we have the same person.

NARA will also offer the 1940 federal census on April 2, 2012.  There is no name index yet.  You can search the digitized images for a place name for guidance.  If your subject of interest was at the same address in 1930 as 1940, you should not have too many enumeration districts to view.  If you have no address for your subject, then you may have to wait for a name index.  You can also identify enumeration districts at

Archival Research Catalog result for digitized image of "Verona" to identify enumeration district
in the (unreleased) 1940 federal census.

In the 1930 federal census, the Newark City Home for Boys in Verona, Essex County, New Jersey
was in enumeration district 7-615.  In the 1940 census, the Home was in district 7-366.
Note the decreasing population of the institution from 252 in 1930 to 71 in 1940.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

DNA transfer: Results pending

I am still awaiting results of the five accounts I created at FamilyTreeDNA.  Following the introductory offer of this transfer service, the price has risen from $50 to $89.  Looks like I purchased just in time.

Current pricing at FamilyTreeDNA.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

DNA results uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA

In December I wrote about contemplating using FamilyTreeDNA instead of 23andMe for future testing.  This is mostly because of the changing pricing schemes and lack of response from matches at 23andMe.  FamilyTreeDNA is now accepting uploads of 23andMe data (Relative Finder or autosomal results) for $50 per account through February 10th as an introductory offer.  I thought about it and yesterday uploaded five accounts for a total of $250.  I will be able to evaluate the services of both companies.  If additional family members do test, I will be able to choose from either website.  The problem with having family members test at different companies is that I cannot compare results to better narrow down branches of the tree that may hold the common ancestor.

I will let you know when the results become available.

FamilyTreeDNA pricing plans for transfers of data from third party DNA testing companies as of 8 February 2012.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Autosomal DNA Tutorial

Several people have told me or written to me that they are not understanding this DNA and genealogy.  Here is some of what I have learned since testing my DNA at  I continue to learn by reading about genetics and by manipulating the data at 23andMe as well as Gedmatch.  I hope this is understandable without sounding like a biology lecture.

DNA is your genetic material.  Parents pass about half their DNA to each child.  Scientifically tracing a person’s DNA can assist a genealogist in identifying ancestors and descendants of those ancestors.  Submitting your DNA will not produce a family tree.  You still need to continue researching paper records (or digitized images) and visiting cemeteries.  The DNA results that I am presenting from 23andMe are autosomal tests.  This means that the genetic material was inherited from both parents, which in turn was inherited from both of their parents (your grandparents), and so forth.  You likely carry at least a little bit of DNA of all of your ancestors who lived centuries ago.  Some of their descendants, your distant cousins, also carry the same little bit of DNA.  Autosomal DNA testing looks for identical areas of DNA between two people.  When identical pieces are found, the two of you are matched up as genetic cousins.  You then can work together, analyzing your family trees, to discover which ancestor or ancestors you have in common.  Below is the best diagram I have uncovered that illustrates how an individual alive today has DNA comprised of ancestors from a few generations ago.

Based on how much DNA you share with another cousin, a prediction can be made on how close a relationship the two of you have.

Keeping in mind the above factors, take a look at a typical match of my father.

My father shares 0.10% (that is a tenth of a percent, not ten percent) of his DNA with A. J.  The identical area is on chromosome 15 on one segment covering 7.0 centimorgans (cM).  Using the percentages above, 0.10% puts them between fourth and fifth cousins.  A fourth cousin or more distant would share 5-50 cM.  A third cousin once removed or more distant would share just one segment.  How is A.J. related?  We have no idea.  But that is a typical match for my father.  If they are fourth cousins, they share a pair of great great great grandparents.  To evaluated how possible it could be to identify how A. J. is related, I see how many of my father's 32 great great great grandparents I can identify.  19.  I can name 19 of the 32.  A. J. sees nothing in common with her tree, though she cannot identify all of her 32 either.  That leaves a lot of room for missing the common ancestor.  [I can identify all 16 of my father's great great grandparents.  Four were born in Germany; eight were born in New Jersey; and four were born in New York.  Knowing locations is also very important for noticing links.]

My father’s known third cousin also submitted his DNA.  Here is what their comparison looks like.

They match 0.93%, which is consistent for third cousins.  The cM total is 69.5 and within the 43-150 cM range for third cousins.  The match is on two segments, which is consistent with a third or more distant cousin.  Their DNA comparison is exactly on target for their relationship as supported by documentation.  They share a pair of great great parents.  We do not know, though, if the DNA shown above matches great great grandpa Calvin Cook or great great grandma Mary Neal.

Next compare a typical match for my mother.

A. L. and my mother share 0.34% of their DNA.  This would make them between third and fourth cousins.  They match on four segments, which is consistent with a second cousin once removed through a third cousin once removed.  Yet A. L. is predicted to be a DISTANT cousin.  Why?  Because of the total cM, which is 24.5 and more consistent with a fourth or more distant cousin.  Matching on several tiny segments is indicative of ancestors who intermarried.  A. L. was born in the United States, but wrote us that both sides of his family lived in the same little towns in Latvia and Ukraine for many generations and were Ashkenazi Jewish.  How is A. L. related?  We have no idea.  My mother currently has over 1300 genetic cousins in the system.  1100 of them match on two segments or more.  My father, for comparison, has 670 matches.  27 of them match on two segments; one matches on three segments; and I match him on 24 segments.

I hope that this tutorial helps you better understand my DNA presentations here.  Other than my father’s known third cousin and my mother’s brother, I have not discovered the connections to any of my genetic matches, but I am getting closer every day.  The more ancestors that you have identified, the greater your chances of success.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

DNA matching: Half siblings

My DNA quests continue.  My mother's half brother was kind enough to submit his DNA specimen to  I am busy analyzing the results.  They share 26.6% of their DNA.  Full siblings share about 50%.  To interpret, each of them has about 75% of unshared DNA.  25% is from their mother, and 50% from their respective fathers.  If a genetic distant cousin matches one half sibling and not the other, we still do not know which parent holds the relation.  But if a genetic distant cousin matches both half siblings, then the relation is through their common parent.  Here is what my mother's comparison to her brother looks like.
Autosomal DNA comparison of half-siblings (sister and brother sharing mother)

My uncle matches me 14.2%.  This is roughly half of the match between him and my mother.  This is because approximately half the DNA is lost from one generation to the next.
Comparison between my mother, her half brother, and me.

This information is very valuable because anyone who matches both my mother and her brother matches on my maternal grandmother's side of the family.  The dark blue areas in the above graph are areas of my DNA that are identical to my maternal grandmother.  You can see how some segments break into tiny pieces quickly, while other stayed intact through a few generations.  The blank areas contain some more of my maternal grandmother's DNA along with my paternal grandfather's DNA.

The difficulty with identifying the common ancestor of genetic distant cousins is that you have two possible paths to follow at each generation as you travel back.  I know which parent to credit my matches to because both of them are in the database.  But beyond them, I do not know which of their parents share the relation, and so on.  At least now I have a better chance of identifying common ancestors by determining which ones match my maternal grandmother.  I will be explaining more and sharing examples in upcoming posts.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Roots into the Future, part two

Last year I received a free autosomal DNA testing kit from through their Roots into the Future program.  According to their website, the purpose of the program is to increase understanding of the link between DNA and disease in African Americans.

The person who ended up using the kit was someone whose background I had researched in the past with little success.  She was raised in an orphanage in Genesee County, New York and had only the name of her mother.  The name was common, of course, and I was not lacking in finding thousands of women with the same exact name.  She submitted the kit in December and the results took about six weeks.

She was matched up with 44 other genetic relations.  This does not provide much to work with.  (For perspective, the other accounts that I manage have far more matches.  My mother and I have about 1300 each, while my father and his third cousin have around 600 each.)  The closest relation shares 0.50% over four segments.  This is outside the parameters for an accurate prediction of the closeness of the relation, but it can be characterized as distant.  The "Show Close Relatives" icon appeared and pressed it.  No other matches appeared.  I am not sure if this means that there are close relatives lurking in the database.  I initiated contact with all relations and just a few have responded.  They are related beyond a third cousin level, so we cannot map out this elusive family tree yet.

Autosomal DNA testing will reveal relatives and can be very useful in cases such as this when parentage is unknown.  But unless a very close relation surfaces and agrees to communicate, we will only have vague notions of possible ancestors.

Your identity is concealed from "close" relatives- first cousins and nearer.  Both parties must consent to be revealed. provides an additional warning before you consent to view close relatives.
It is possible to discover that your parents were not biologically related to you,
or that a parent or aunt/uncle had children you were not aware of.