Secrets of Finding Family Through DNA

You’ve gotten your DNA results, but something’s missing. Where is your family tree? Where is the list of your famous relatives, proven by science?

That’s gonna take some work.

Yes, my friend, genealogical research is the first secret of finding family through DNA.

When I tested in 2013, I wasn’t sure what to expect. DNA testing was still somewhat new for the home market. I won my kit from a blog sweepstakes, when 23andMe was doing a marketing push online. The main thing I was curious about – as with so many people – was whether I really had any Native American blood, as the family lore suggests.

White box with a colorful 23andMe logo and the tagline "Welcome to You."

23andMe Test Kit

And there it was. 0.7%.

Okay, that’s cool. What’s next? Oh, here’s a list of DNA matches. Surely I’ll recognize a few surnames. I think I had around 700 matches back then.

Nope, I didn’t recognize a single name.

Who are these people?

Granted, I knew just a few family stories, most going back one or two generations. I knew these names: Hahn, Silcox, Cook, Allison, Stevens, Pittman.

Now, we all have 16 great-great-grandparents. That’s 16 surnames. (Unless your family is from the South. I have 15 surnames at that generation, because my paternal grandparents were second cousins.)  Anyway, lots of potential surnames for third cousins.

But wait, there’s more. Let’s say, in addition to your ancestors each pair of great-great-grandparents produced two other children, one boy and one girl. Those girls got married and changed their names. They each had a daughter, who got a new name. I’m not good with math, but that’s at least 20-something more surnames to get through. And in the 1800s and even early 1900s it was common for people to have 6, 8, 12 children. Then they’d get remarried and have some more.

If you know six surnames, and your third cousin knows six surnames, you’re both scratching your heads wondering how on Earth you’re related.

(By the way, if you’re still figuring out how you’re related to your second, third, and fourth cousins, several websites have a handy chart. I like the one at Flowing Data. It also explains that whole “once removed” thing.)

So, the second secret of finding family through DNA is: you have to build your family tree backwards, forwards, and to the side. That way, you can look at your third (or fourth or fifth) cousin’s list of surnames or their much-smaller-than-yours family tree and more easily find the connection.

The third secret is knowing where all these ancestors lived. I know my maternal grandfather’s family lived for three generations in Marian County, Georgia. When my DNA match has connections to Georgia, I check that branch of the family first.

Here’s a story: I had a DNA match to a man, surname Lawrence. I sent him some of my surnames, and he wrote back that he was only researching the Lawrence family. I was told he was the grandson of Cager Britt Lawrence, whose past was unknown prior to his arrival in Buena Vista, Georgia. Google Maps showed me that Buena Vista is in – you guessed it – Marian County. A thorough look through my Cook family tree showed that Cager Lawrence married Lou Della Cook, my great-great grandfather’s sister.

There is no fast easy way to make sense of your DNA results. It takes time and some detective skills, but consider this: as long as you share your findings with other members of your family (siblings, children, and even a few fifth cousins once removed), you are helping create a legacy for your entire extended family.

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The Science of DNA Heritage

You’ve sent in your spit or your swab, and now you’re waiting on the DNA company to send you your results, to tell you who your family is and where you came from.

When the results come in, you’ll get a list, and perhaps a map, of your ethnic makeup.

MyOrigens map generated by Family Tree DNA from my test results.

MyOrigens map generated by Family Tree DNA from my test results.

I’m 97% European, with traces of Native American, Asian, and African.

The DNA companies will all give you slightly different results. That’s because they’re comparing you to different people.

Here’s now the DNA ethnicity results are generated. The companies each collected DNA samples from hundreds or thousands of people who knew their ancestry. I don’t know how they found these people, and I don’t know how accurate their family trees are. They convinced the company that their people had been in the area of Frankfurt, Germany, or the Loire Valley in France, or Manchester, England for at least a couple of generations. Then the company compares my DNA to theirs and determines where I’m from based on where they get the strongest matches.

So, your ethnicity is reliant on the accuracy and size of the company’s database. They’re at least somewhat accurate.  I know my great-great grandfather came over from Germany when he was a teenager. It’s not just family lore; I’ve found documents supporting it.

Based on my family tree, I’m 1/16 German. Here are the results from three companies:

  • 23andMe: 17.4% French and German
  • My Heritage: 30.4% North and West European
  • Family Tree DNA: 48% West and Central European

I didn’t test at all three places. I sent my spit to 23andMe, then I downloaded my raw data and uploaded it to the other two companies, who analyzed it using their databases.

As the companies build their databases, the results will become more accurate, and more focused. For now, it’s a good tool for general information on your ethnic background.

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A Woman’s Will to Learn

Group photo in front of a house in Gainesville.

That’s Mam-ma, front left holding my mom. They were in Gainesville to attend UF.

I spent this afternoon scanning documents from my grandmother’s photo albums. I didn’t get through everything, but I did process a whole bunch of her report cards from the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women.

She did not do well.

Seeing quite a few Cs and even a couple of Ds really surprised me. Mam-ma was a teacher and believed strongly in education. My mother, who was here going through the documents with me, muttered, “She always expected us to make good grades.”

I don’t remember Mam-ma giving any lectures about doing well in school. She provided incentive — $1 for every A on a grandchild’s report card, 50 cents for a B. The price went up in high school. I think if we made a D or an F we were supposed to pay her, but I generally made A-C in every class, so that wasn’t an issue.

Mam-ma almost always taught 4th grade, and she still had many of those books on her shelves. She and Pap-pa (who was also a teacher) talked with us kids about a lot of different things, and I’m sure I learned many things when I had the chance to stay at her house.  Mam-ma (like my mom) also read in front of us, leading by example. She valued education.

Willie Aline Stevens was born January 13, 1909. Her mother went to school through third grade. I’m not sure what her dad’s education was, but I remember her or my mom saying that he didn’t want Willie to go to high school. He thought 8th grade was plenty of education for a girl. Willie, however, had ambitions. Tate High School had a teacher prep program. If she finished the course, she could earn a lifetime teaching certificate in the state of Florida, and she wanted that badly. She cried and pleaded and made promises, and he let her finish high school. She graduated in 1927 and went to work that fall, at Walnut Hill School in Escambia County.

Now, I haven’t come across her high school report cards, but I do have a booklet from when she finished 8th grade at Muscogee School in 1923. There, she’s listed on the honor roll. So, I know she was studying hard.

Muscogee School, Escambia County, 1923

Mam-ma – Willie Stevens – made the honor roll in 8th grade.

The year after she graduated high school, with her first year of teaching behind her, she attended summer school at the Florida State College for Women.

Willie Stevens' report card from Florida State College for Women, 1928 summer school

Yikes! I never knew Mam-ma made a “D”!!

Now, I have to point out that she made a lot of Bs and Cs, too. And the occasional A. After 1933, she was married. After 1937, she had a child. I don’t know what other stresses she may have had in her life during each class. And I’ll have to do some research to find out what these classes were. Maybe the teachers were jerks, even.

But she persisted. She never gave up. She didn’t quit when her dad pressured her to drop out. She earned her teaching certificate, so she could have a good professional job, but that still wasn’t enough. She wanted to keep learning and earn a college degree. She married a hard-working man who at times was a farmer and a building contractor, and he removed stumps from a field for 50 cents a day, and, by the way, he was also a teacher. And they attended summer school together. (Mom says Mam-ma would grumble that Pap-pa could sleep through a class and still make a better grade than her.) So she had support at home to keep bettering herself. And in 1956, they both received their Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Florida.

Report card showing graduation in 1956.

Final report card from UF, and look at those Bs!

I’m proud of my Mam-ma. She was always quiet, while Pap-pa was more the showman, but she was strong, and she persevered, more than I ever knew, so she could have control of her own life, and contribute to her family and community.

I like to think those qualities run in the family.

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Troublesome German on Passenger List

I’m researching my husband’s grandmother, who emigrated from Germany around 1908. I think I’ve found her on a passenger list for a ship called the Pretoria. I could, of course, read the typed words easily enough to type them into the Google translator. The place of last residence looks like München, which is where our Helen Schiesl was from.

Then I come to the “occupation” column. The word looks like Prisat. Or Prinat. Or Prisal. I tried typing all those words into the Google translator, and it didn’t recognize any of them as words. She was a domestic servant in her first U.S. Census (1910), so I tried translating that to German, and Google gave me a completely different word.

Samples of word that I cannot quite make out on the document.

What is this German word?

I found one other passenger who looks like he had the same occupation. Another line looks like the same word, but starting with Kinder — child.

The full page is below. I know sometimes it helps to look at other words to see how various letters are formed.  I highlighted Helen’s line in yellow.

List of passengers who arrived in the U.S. aboard the Pretoria circa 1907-1908.

List of passengers who arrived in the U.S. aboard the Pretoria circa 1907-1908.

If you speak and read German (Deutsch) and can make out what this is, I would appreciate your help. Please comment below.


Here’s another passenger list which I was lead to believe was from the same voyage of the Pretoria, but as most of the names are different — and the only two passengers that match the other list have different ages, I’m back to the research on this one.

Passenger list from the Pretoria.

Passenger list from the Pretoria.

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Sneaking Streaming Time

I don’t have a Netflix account, but I’m trying to win a 6-month membership by sharing how I sneak a little time to watch my favorite shows.

For now, I use streaming services with free options like Vudu and Crackle, as well as watching some videos (like “Last Week Tonight”) on YouTube. The way I do this is, I wait for my husband to leave the room, then quickly search for and start watching the show I want. This can be tricky. I can’t start too late because I need to sleep sometime, and if I try to start when hubby’s just out of the room for a minute, he’ll come in and try to talk to me. LOL Not that I don’t enjoy conversation at the right moment, but sometimes, you do want to pay attention to the TV. I can get in an hour when he calls his mom on Wednesday. If he’s going out to work on a project or going into the office to check his email, I know I’ll have a few minutes in the clear to start watching my shows.

Thanks to #MomSneak for the opportunity to enter for the free membership. I will really have to put my foot down to catch up on all my favorite shows if I win a free Netflix membership for just a few months.

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Navigating a Person Page on FamilySearch

I have been using FamilySearch for about a year and I find it pretty easy to navigate. Plus, it has the added benefit of being free. If you’re just getting started with the site, here’s a look at how the Person Page — details on an individual — is laid out. Sorry the image is so small; the width is pretty limited in the WordPress template.

Be aware, if you click on the word “Tree” along the top menu (right under the FamilySearch logo) or on “View Tree” under the person’s name, it shows you their family tree. It puts them at center with their immediate ancestors and descendants on either side. This is great if you’re working on a side branch or part of your tree that’s way in the past, so you’re not scrolling forever.

The "Person Page" for Rev. Matthew Floyd.The banner includes name date & photo. Click watch to be notified of any changes.

Memories may include photos, documents, and stories (written or recorded).

The life sketch is a place for a bio.

Vital Info includes birth, christening, death, and burial details.

Other Info is where you add nicknames, work history, and other random links to the past.

Click on any blue name and a pop up will show you basic vitals. Click on the blue name within the pop-up to go to their person page.  To see the children from a different marriage, click on the down arrow next to the word “children” by that marriage.

The person you’re looking at is on the left, and his/her parents are in the right column. You can see that Matthew appears under his parents, in the list of children. The person you’re looking at is the only name that’s not a link.

Sources are documents. The ones with the FamilySearch logo next to it are stored on FamilySearch. Click to see an index, and if there’s an image, you can click through again to see the original.

If there’s a little planet next to the link, that’s taking you to a website; often someone has linked to a record on or some other paid site when that happens.

Discussion is a place to list conflicting information or questions. In this case, someone thinks that Jordan and James Floyd are not Matthew’s sons but are really part of a different Floyd family.  I’ll take a closer look at the documents sometime and see if I can figure it out.

Notes provides a place for descriptions of where you found certain information, or explanations of apparent conflicts.

I’m by no means an expert, but if you have any questions, post them below, and I’ll certainly be glad to try to answer them.

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FedEx Incompetence

Last week, I ordered cat food from, an excellent site that offers fair pricing on good products, quick order processing, and the owners even sent a personally signed Christmas card. Way to go, guys!

I expected the order to arrive on Monday, December 5, and I was surprised when I clicked the tracking button over to the FedEx site and saw an estimated Friday delivery.

The package didn’t arrive. I checked the tracking number Friday night, and it said to expect delivery on Tuesday. I didn’t understand why they skipped Monday, but okay.

On Monday afternoon, the tracking information showed that they attempted delivery on Saturday. “Why?” I wondered. It’s my husband’s work address, business name included on the label, and their office is never open on Saturday. It also said delivery would not be attempted on Monday because of bad weather. Yes, it was raining buckets and parts of the area were under tornado advisories. I accepted that.

Tuesday, the weather was clear. It was a day previously promised for delivery. And yet, no package.

I tweeted FedEx on Tuesday, and their agents responded that it was another weather delay. What? The weather was fine, the roads had drained, and Fort Walton Beach (between Pensacola and the FedEx warehouse in DeFuniak Springs) even held their Christmas parade Tuesday evening because the weather was so fine.

Certainly the package would arrive on Wednesday, right? Weather is still clear. The driver has already had one make-up day for the storm day.

Wrong. Mid-afternoon, the package still hadn’t arrived. I called FedEx and asked when my package would be delivered? They couldn’t say. “It’s on the truck,” they said. Well, yes, I can see that by looking at my computer screen.

By 5:00 pm, when the office was closing, the truck still had not arrived, and my husband called. “It’s on the truck. It will be delivered by 8:00 p.m.” Imagine this in a thick foreign accent. Could he wait on the sidewalk and accept the package if the truck appeared? No. Which is a good policy to prevent fraud, but not at all helpful in this case.

I mean, the driver (or “a” driver) tried to deliver this package on Saturday. He (or she) knows it’s a business. The business name is part of the mailing address on the label. Why would you attempt delivery after business hours?

We got home, and lo, and behold, delivery was attempted at 6:06 p.m. I called again. The (again foreign) agent tells me that ground deliveries are not time sensitive. Then what is the point? They can carry this package around on their truck for six weeks and if they arrive after 5:00 p.m. or on a weekend, the office is going to be closed. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and resources. Work smart, people!

I demanded to speak to someone who could actually take some action, and I was transfered to “Escalations” — an American-sounding person who assured me that the driver should have noted the business name on the package and prioritized delivery during business hours, and she promises we’ll get our package on Thursday.

In the meantime, I tweeted again and tagged — they are also taking action from their end and providing some compensation, which shouldn’t even be their responsibility. Did I mention how awesome they are? If you need pet products, definitely check their website.

And if you have an issue with FedEx, don’t wait around like I did, ask immediately for “Escalations” and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

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