Saturday, May 25, 2013

DNA Studies: Siblings

Full siblings (same mother and father) will share about 50% of their autosomal DNA.

My sister and I thought that we look and act so much alike that we would test within the higher range for siblings.

We were surprised to discover that we share less than 50% of our DNA.

23andMe DNA Relatives function
You inherit half your DNA from each parent.  Full siblings will match within the 50% range.
The blue P indicates a relation through my father.
The purple M indicates a relation through my mother.
Hence, my sister has both designations.
(You can only use this function if you have a parent in the database.)

My father's siblings also submitted their DNA.  They match one another from a low of 43.6% to a high of 55.9%

And my paternal grandmother's cousins submitted their DNA.  They are brothers.  Their match is exactly 50%.

23andMe DNA Relatives function
This sibling duo shares exactly the predicted amount of identical DNA.

Remember that you have two sides to your chromosomes: one from your father, the other from your mother.  Current DNA testing does not tell us which side of the chromosome holds the match to a DNA relative.  (One of the reasons why you need to test cousins from different branches of your tree.)  When you compare full siblings, you can see the areas where they inherited the same DNA from both parents.

The sky blue areas represent where my sister and I inherited identical DNA from one parent, but not the other.
The dark blue areas represent points where both of us inherited the same DNA from both parents.

Half siblings will match on only one side of the chromosome- the one from the parent in common.

Half sibling comparison
The sky blue areas represent shared DNA from one parent.
No dark blue/completely identical areas because they are related on one side only.

Next up:  I will show you the cousin to cousin comparisons and demonstrate how quickly and randomly our ancestors' DNA breaks into smaller, indistinguishable segments.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Grandparents were Cousins?

John Hickman shares a larger than usual segment of identical DNA with my father, David.  The comparison at 23andMe looks like this:

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison

John caught my interest because the segment is three times larger than most of the segments that are shared with the hundreds of other DNA cousins.  In addition, he resembles my father and he is a lawyer who teaches politics- some of my (other) interests.

John Hickman is exploring whether his Hale line is related to Nathan Hale (1755-1776).  Nathan Hale is believed to not have had issue before dying at age 21, so if John's Hale is related to Nathan, it is through one of Nathan's ancestors.

My paternal grandmother, Beulah Cook, was descended from Solomon Brewer (1746-1824).  Nathan Hale was the second cousin, twice removed of Solomon Brewer.  Their common ancestors were John Strong (1610-1699) and Abigail Ford (1619-1688):  Great grandparents of Solomon Brewer and 3X great grandparents of Nathan Hale.

We need a paper trail connecting John Hickman's Hale line to Nathan Hale's line.

In the meantime, I tested my some more relatives.  Surprise!!!  A first cousin of my paternal grandfather shares a segment of DNA with a first cousin of my paternal grandmother.

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison
between my father's paternal cousin and his maternal cousin.
They match.  The question is HOW.

This is the same segment of DNA where John Hickman matches my father, so we compare John against my father and my father's maternal and paternal cousins.  John matches all of them.  The comparison at 23andMe looks like this:

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison.
John shares an ancestral line with David, David's paternal cousin, and David's maternal cousin.
The question:  which line?

This gives us some options: 
---The connection is still the Strong/Ford/Hale/Brewer ancestors- and unknown to us at this time, both of my father's parents are descended from these lines; OR
---The connection is through a different line- but still indicates that my grandparents were their own cousins; OR
---The connection is through lines of the maternal lines of the first cousins, which are not related to my father.

The common ancestor is someone I have not uncovered- someone waiting behind a brick wall.  Many of these ancestral lines lived in the same geographical area, so it is entirely possible and perhaps likely that the lines linked up in the past, split, and then rejoined when my grandparents married.

This is why I say that DNA testing gives us the answer first; we have to figure out the equation.

And it is John Hickman's DNA- a cousin of unknown relation- that provides us with the link between the families.

John is also a published author with his recent book, Selling Guantanamo: Exploding the Propaganda Surrounding America's Most Notorious Military Prison.  I find it fascinating how so many relatives are also researchers and authors.  John is especially fascinating because our potential common ancestors were deeply involved in the politics of their day.  Their actions created the records we use today to document our genealogies.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mystery Third Cousin of a Third Cousin

Inevitable at the DNA testing companies are those close matches who won't answer your requests/pleads for contact and information.  Here is one such match for my Known Third Cousin.

Nestled among my Third Cousin's highest matches (my father and his siblings) is this mystery cousin.  You can see that she lines up beautifully as a third cousin match.  I'm not saying that she matches my father or his siblings.  The match is to my Known Third Cousin- one of his sixteen great great grandparents is one of hers, or a sibling to hers.  Finding someone as close as a third cousin in the genetic database is a great boon to your research and helps you assign distant genetic cousins to a branch of your family tree.

23andMe Relative Finder/DNA Relatives
Top genetic matches for my Known Third Cousin

Monday, May 20, 2013

DNA Matching with a Third Cousin Revisited

DNA results are arriving for multiple family members who recently tested at 23andMe.  Processing and analyzing them is time-consuming.  Challenge Accepted.

First up for discussion is one of the first people to submit his DNA, my father's third cousin.  (Happy Birthday!)  Third cousins share a pair of great great grandparents; in this situation, Calvin Cook and Mary Neal, both born around 1830 in Morris County, New Jersey.  Once we reach the third cousin level of relation, the chances of sharing any identical DNA begin to decrease.  If third cousins do match, the percentage will be around 0.78% (watch the decimal) over two to six segments.

International Society of Genetic Genealogy

We lucked out and my father and his third cousin match within the predicted range:  0.93% over two segments.

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison between third cousins.
They share identical DNA on chromosomes 13 and 21.

The value in this information is uncovering which segments in the genome of my father and our third cousin could be attributed to Calvin Cook or Mary Neal.  As more people submit their DNA and compare their genome to ours, we can find matches.

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison
of two known third cousins
against two others who match both of them on the same identical area

These distant cousins match both my father and his third cousin on the same segment of their DNA.  This predicts that if we travel backwards in all of our family trees, we will find an identical branch, or the Most Recent Common Ancestor.

Finding the elusive Most Recent Common Ancestor is not easy.  Most distant cousins in the database do not have extensive family trees.

My father's three siblings tested their DNA.  Fortunately, all three also match their third cousin- with more DNA.  The amount of matching varies, but is still within a third cousin range.

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison
Relative Finder/DNA Relatives function
Four sets of known third cousins

23andMe autosomal comparison
Three siblings versus known third cousin.
The segments circled in red are segments newly identified as Cook/Neal genetic material.
All three siblings provide more matching DNA than the original comparison with my father.

My father's siblings share the two segments shared between my father and their third cousin, in addition to several other segments (marked in red in the screenshot above).  I can now identify these additional segments as Cook/Neal DNA in my father's siblings and their third cousin.  This enables me to identify more people in the database who share ancestry within our specific Cook/Neal branches.  This is especially important because Mary Neal is a "brick wall" in our family tree:  We do not have her parentage.  I suspect she is of Irish ancestry and am not surprised to find that most matches in common among my father, his siblings, and their third cousin are in Ireland.

Next, we consider the DNA shared between this third cousin and the next generation:  My sister and me.  Our relationship is called Third Cousins, Once Removed.

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison
between two siblings and known third cousin, once removed

I share no DNA with my third cousin, once removed, while my sister shares one small segment.  This is entirely possible and demonstrates how little DNA, if at all, you share with distant relatives.

Now here is where you can and will run into trouble with your DNA comparisons.
Let's say that my parents and their siblings were not available to test.  This is a very real situation for most of you reading this.  After finding no shared DNA between me and this third cousin, once removed, we might question our records and wonder if we had a non-paternal event in our lines.  Next my sister tests and are relieved and thrilled to find some shared DNA.  Looking at my sister's small segment shared with this third cousin, once removed, we would incorrectly conclude that this little segment is Cook and/or Neal DNA.  The segment shared between my sister and our third cousin is not from our father, but rather from our mother and is likely not Cook or Neal DNA.  (Leave open the possibility that our mother is related to Mary Neal, our father's great great grandmother.)

23andMe autosomal DNA comparison
Known paternal third cousin versus father/mother/child trio.
The green segments represent third cousin matching.
The blue segments represent a match to a distant cousin, passed on to the next generation.

Fascinating, isn't it?  Our father's cousin is also our mother's cousin!  Our father shares two large segments of DNA with his third cousin and we inherited none of it.  The small segment shared between my mother and my father's third cousin is inherited by my sister only.

Testing more cousins on our mother's side should help assign this double cousin to a maternal branch as well.  (Hint hint.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Family Bible for Sale

Another great eBay find:  Duryee family bible.  Reminds me of the Duryee pictures for sale a few years back with the same price tag:  $1200.  The hefty fee has to do more with the edition of the bible and not the invaluable genealogical information etched inside.

This appears to be from the John T Duryee and Nancy Mumford branch.  They were married around 1797 in New London, Connecticut.  [You can find different dates online, but don't get me started.]
Listing for Duryee family bible

Friday, May 10, 2013

Woodland Cemetery: Damage and Neglect Prevents Safe Day 2013

Woodland Cemetery in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey suffered damage last October during Hurricane Sandy.  Every year, a group visits Woodland in June to document headstones, called "Safe Day."  There is no caretaker on site and no physical barrier (other than overgrown vegetation, fallen trees, and garbage) to preclude entry into the Cemetery day or night.  The surrounding area is marked with violence.  Over the years, headstones have been stolen, moved, and damaged.  Litter is strewn about.  In spite of some conservation efforts, the Cemetery remains in disrepair.

Mary Lish and John Sass lead the effort to record the remaining headstones and establish a more reliable map for Woodland.  They visited Woodland on May 5th and shared photographs.  The landscaping has not been cleared since my visit in April.

Mary wrote, "With regret, after 15 years, we are forced to cancel this year’s Safe Day due to the condition of the cemetery.   The grass has not been cut since Safe Day last year, June 2, 2012.  To make matters even more difficult, Hurricane Sandy brought down multiple trees and tree limbs all over the cemetery.  Some of the trees have been cut down, but the wood has not been removed.  We do not feel it is safe to walk in the cemetery – you cannot even tell where some of the roads are since everything is so overgrown."

It is a shame that some people have desecrated the final resting place of my ancestors and that the deterioration is allowed to compound.

Woodland Cemetery, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
May 2013

Woodland Cemetery, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
May 2013

Woodland Cemetery, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
May 2013

Woodland Cemetery, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
May 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

War of 1812 Pension Application for a Widow

Fold3 is making available for free digitized pension claims for the War of 1812.  The digitization project is proceeding in alphabetical order and Cook files for New Jersey have recently become available.

My 3x great grandmother, Elizabeth Vanderhoof, applied for a widow's pension for service of her deceased husband, Stephen H Cook.  For quite some time, I have been holding out for this file after locating an index card.

Index Card War of 1812
From the collection United States, War of 1812 Index to Pension Application Files, 1812-1910
This collection is free to search and view.

Elizabeth Vanderhoof was born in 1799 and died in 1878, according to her gravestone.  I do not know her parents.  As you can see from the marriage record below, her parents are not listed.  I cannot find a record of her death with any parentage.  She might be characterized as a "brick wall," meaning that I cannot get to the generation behind her.

Elizabeth is more like a glass wall than a brick wall.  She likely comes from one of the nearby Vanderhoof families.

Stephen Cook was born in 1797 and died in 1853, according to his gravestone, making him just old enough to have participated in the War of 1812.  He and Elizabeth were married in 1819 and was recorded at the county level.

A nod to the DNA studies:  The first couple at the top of the page of marriages, Peter Vandroof and Rachel Peer, are ancestors of a man who shares a segment of DNA with my third cousin from the Stephen Cook/Elizabeth Vanderhoof line.  Could the common ancestor be a Vanderhoof?

New Jersey, County Marriages, 1682-1956
Stephen Cook to Eliza Vandroof, 7 April 1819 in Morris County
Free index and images at

In order to claim a pension as a widow of a veteran, the marriage must be proved.  I was hoping that the pension application would provide me with Elizabeth's family of origin.  No such luck.  Elizabeth claimed to be unable to provide documentation of her marriage to Stephen Cook.

Elizabeth applied for a widow's pension under an 1871 act that entitled a widow to a pension if married to the soldier before the end of the War in 1815.  Note that Elizabeth wrote the day and month of her marriage but not the year.  Had she written the actual year of marriage, 1819, and included proof, her pension would have been denied.  She was denied anyway.

The 1878 Act, however, entitled Elizabeth to a widow's pension.  She died on May 4, just two months after the passage of this Act.  Viewing the actual application shows us that she filed under the 1871 Act and not the 1878 Act as I originally speculated.  See the The Legal Genealogist's article for a concise summary of entitlements for pensions for the War of 1812.

Elizabeth attempted to bootstrap her application for a widow's pension by mentioning the Land Warrant.  Her reliance upon this bounty is misplaced.  (You can search and view land patents for free at the non-genealogy site of the United States Bureau of Land Management.)  Under the 1850 Scrip Warrant Act, Stephen Cook was granted 40 acres in Wisconsin for his service in the War of 1812.  Stephen was alive at this time, so when he married Elizabeth is not relevant for receiving the land bounty.  The number of acres, forty, tells us that Stephen was able to prove at least one month of service, but not more than four months.

Transfer of 40 acres in Wisconsin from Elizabeth, widow of Stephen Cook,
back to the Land Office and then to William Bach.
Accession # MW-0901-319

The only possible Vanderhoof family tie I can garner from Elizabeth's pension application is in her selection of witnesses to her signature:  Chilion Cook and Charlotte Cook.

Chilion Cook was a first cousin of Stephen H Cook.  Chilion married Charlotte Vanderhoof in 1828.

New Jersey, County Marriages, 1682-1956
Chilion Cook to Charlotte Vanderhoof in 1828 in Morris County
Free index and images at

Charlotte died in 1886.  Her death certificate lists parents as Jacob Vanderhoof and Ann.  We need more documentation to connect these two woman to the larger Vanderhoof family in Morris County, New Jersey, but I think we are on the right trail.

New Jersey certificates of death 1886-1887
Place 75 (Morris County), Certificate number C138
Copied from microfilm at New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, New Jersey by J Lutter