Showing posts with label Leeds Method. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leeds Method. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The DNA Problem We Aren't Talking About

Everybody in the gene pool! You're all my ancestors.

Are you chasing a pair of magic ancestors who don't exist? You find a strong DNA match. You expect to find a shared set of 4th great grandparents or so. But is there a common set of great grandparents at all?

If you and your DNA match come from an endogamous culture, the answer may be "Sorry. No."

Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific group, over and over again. Let's say a small town has 200 families. When each child comes of age, they marry someone from one of the other 199 families in the town.

In some cultures and some geographies, intermarriage was the only choice.
In some cultures and some geographies, intermarriage was the only choice.
Imagine keeping up that practice for centuries. The 200 families' DNA would be so blended together that they may be hard to tell apart.

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) Wiki says endogamous populations include:
  • Jews
  • Polynesians
  • Low German Mennonites
  • the Amish
  • Acadians
  • French Canadians
  • the people of Newfoundland
  • many Arab countries
  • people from many islands.
None of those groups include my ethnicity. But I've seen firsthand that endogamy was a necessity when you lived in a rural, isolated town in the 1700s or 1800s. In my ancestors' towns, intermarriage of families was the only choice. Sometimes a man married a woman from the next town. But most of the time, he married a woman from his own little neighborhood.

Think about their DNA segments getting all twisted together in knots. It's like that tangled-up ball of Christmas lights. You'd rather throw it out and get a new set than wrestle with it all day.

The ISOGG says that people "from endogamous populations … will typically have large numbers of matches in the DNA databases. … [Their] relationships will often be more distant than predicted."

More distant than predicted. Let that sink in. If your people practiced endogamy, their relationships may be more distant than predicted.

My parents' ancestors came from a few neighboring endogamous towns. My parents share 37 centimorgans across 4 DNA segments. That can make them many things. According to Ancestry DNA, my parents could be:

Got shared DNA? There are so many ways you may be related.
Got shared DNA? There are so many ways you may be related.

And here I've been trying to find that one magic couple. That one set of my 4th or 5th great grandparents that belong to each of my parents.

What if that couple doesn't exist? What if my parents share DNA because their entire region of Italy shares DNA?

LegacyTree tells us that people from endogamous groups often "share multiple ancestors in common with each other. They also may descend from the same ancestral couple multiple times."

DNAeXplained adds that if you match someone from an endogamous population, "it's because you share so much of the same DNA…not because a particular segment comes from one specific ancestor."

How does this change your genealogy research? If you have ancestors who married within their small town or tribe for centuries, what should you do?

I've been researching my ancestral hometowns since 2005. I saw right away that there was a ton of intermarriage. The only way to sort out my ancestors was to document the entire town. I did that for my maternal grandfather's town. Now I'm piecing together every extended family relationship from my paternal grandfather's town. The 2 towns are so close that you can see one from the other. But traveling from one to the other is hard. Even to this day.

It's official. I no longer expect to find one magic couple shared by my parents.

The Leeds Method and DNA Painter showed me that the last names of Pozzuto and Zeolla from my paternal grandfather's town have the closest DNA ties to my mother. So I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing.

These 4 shared segments can mean a long list of possible relationships.
These 4 shared segments can mean a long list of possible relationships.
I'm adding every Pozzuto baby to my family tree one at a time. I'm piecing together their ancestors until I can tie them to someone already in my tree. Now that random, unrelated baby is my distant relative.

I'm paying special attention to families that:
  • have both the Pozzuto and Zeolla names through marriage.
  • have one spouse from one of my father's towns and the other spouse from one of my mother's towns.
When that rando-baby becomes a relative, their descendants may tie me to one of my DNA matches. If that DNA match has a connection to both my parents, I've got something special.

It won't be that one magic couple. But it may be a highly condensed bucketful of the shared gene pool. The pool that has my entire Italian region as card-carrying members.

Are you seeing a lot of the same last names marrying one another in your extended family tree? Keep endogamy in mind when your search for one magic couple is feeling like anything but magic.

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Friday, May 3, 2019

2 Reasons to Add Unrelated People to Your Family Tree

When you can't go from point A to point B, you can use "bridge" relatives.

I didn't used to do this. I didn't used to add anyone to my family tree until I knew their connection to me.

But there are at least 2 good reasons to add people, and build their families inside your tree—disconnected from you or anyone else.

Of course the goal is to work on their families until you find that connection. Then they're your family. Here are 2 disconnected families I'm working on right now, and why.

1. To Find a Missing Link

I recently used the Ahnentafel numbering system to create my grandparent chart. The first missing ancestor was Ahnentafel #59. That's the mother of my 2nd great grandmother, Maria Luigia Muollo. I know Maria Luigia's father was Antonio, but I don't know anything else.

The family comes from a little hamlet in Italy that has no available records before 1861. That really limits what I can discover.

But I have a lead. A Muollo family from the same Italian hamlet came to America. They settled in a tiny Pennsylvania borough with my great grandfather's nephew.

I began building the Pennsylvania branch of the Muollo family in my family tree. I labelled them in Family Tree Maker and my document tracker as having no relationship established to me. Yet.

After adding all the United States documents I could find for them, I turned to the Italian documents. I found birth records for the Italian emigrants. Those documents gave me each person's parents' names.

With these new names, I can fit together more members of the Muollo family from my ancestral hometown. I haven't found a connection to my 2nd great grandmother yet, but I'm getting closer. I'm looking forward to that moment when "No direct relationship found" turns into something else. Anything else!

Keep track of your unattached people with an image or obvious notation.
Keep track of your unattached people with an image or obvious notation.
2. To Tie into Your DNA Connections

I've tried both the Leeds Method and DNA Painter to work on my biggest DNA puzzle. My parents share DNA. And we'd like to know how.

These tools showed me that 2 specific last names are key. They're both common in my paternal grandfather's hometown. These two last names, Pozzuto and Zeolla, have the highest concentration of DNA shared by both my parents.

There are a ton of people with those names in my collection of Italian documents. By putting together several of their families within my family tree, I can see how they all fit together. I can see how they connect to my DNA matches' family trees.

For example, I chose an 1858 birth record for an Angelo Pozzuto. That gave me his parents' names, Giuseppe and Maria. I put them in my tree. Then I found Giuseppe and Maria's 1851 marriage records. That where I found Maria's parents' names, and her father's parents' names.

It's well worth the effort when the disconnected branch gets connected.
It's well worth the effort when the disconnected branch gets connected.
Giuseppe's side of the family was better. I learned his parents' names, and all his grandparents' names. And that's where it happened. His maternal grandparents, Giorgio and Serafina, were already in my tree. They were all related to me.

Mark your unrelated people clearly.
Mark your unrelated people clearly.
This new branch of 11 people went from "no relationship established" to my distant cousins. I've had this kind of luck with other random Pozzuto and Zeolla babies. I'm building stronger connections to my DNA matches, and getting closer to solving the puzzle of my parents.

If you decide to build unrelated branches inside your family tree, follow these 2 tips:
  • Make it clear this family is not connected to you. I give them a special profile picture in Family Tree Maker that makes it unmistakable. In my document tracker spreadsheet, I highlight their name in yellow and follow it with the words NO RELATION.
  • Don't skip the sources. When you connect these people to yourself, you'll need to go back and grab the documents you found.
It's a fantastic feeling when you make that connection. Then you can remove that special profile picture and erase that yellow highlighting. And best of all, you've expanded your growing family.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Use Every Tool to Solve a Family History Mystery

The clock is ticking for me to solve a DNA match. Let's open the toolbox.

I want to show them their connection.
I want to show them their connection.
It's been about 2 years since I discovered my parents share some DNA. I want to figure out their connection while they're still able to get a laugh out of it.

Here's what I do know.
  • Every branch of my family tree came from one region in Southern Italy.
  • Each family came from a small town of no more than 2,000 people.
  • All their towns were pretty close to one another.
  • Endogamy was the name of the game. That means nearly everyone in town married someone else from their little town. Or maybe the next town.
Those intermarriages are the main reason this puzzle is still a puzzle.

Hoping for a Needle in a Haystack

My family tree has more than 20,000 people. At least 17,000 are 17th–19th century Italian countrymen and women. I hoped to find a marriage between someone from one of my dad's hometowns and someone from one of my mom's hometowns.

But there are too many people. And my parents aren't getting any younger. I needed to use some tools.

DNA Matches

My parents have both tested. I've got their results on AncestryDNA and GEDmatch.

On Ancestry I can see that my parents share a few DNA matches, not counting me. Two of those matches have family trees with a couple of familiar last names. I know these names come from my paternal grandparents' hometown in Italy.

I spent a few days working on both of the DNA match's trees until I connected them to my tree. The key last names are:
  • Zeolla
  • Pozzuto
  • Zerrillo
  • Piacquadio
They're in my tree now, but there's no known connection to my mom.

The Leeds Method

I used Dana Leeds' color-clustering method last November. I bent the rules a bit and added color blocks for the matches of my matches.

Doing this, I found 3 DNA matches who seemed to have a link to each of my parents. The key last names from this experiment are:
  • Zeolla (again)
  • Pozzuto (again)
  • Basile
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter

The first time I used DNA Painter, I hadn't done my homework. I painted 92% of my chromosomes, but I didn't have anything there to answer my key question. Where do my parents intersect?

Then I realized I should be painting my dad's DNA, not mine. Most of the DNA matches I see are from his side of the family. So what if I paint my mom's DNA onto my dad's chromosomes and see what that looks like.

Instead of painting every DNA match, I chose 3 people with the last name Zeolla. Two of them are almost a dead-on match for my mom! The 2 Zeollas and my mom share the same segment of my dad's 6th chromosome.

That can't be a coincidence. Now I've got 3 methods hitting me over the head with one last name:
  • Zeolla
There is one other fascinating match on my dad's 9th chromosome. There's an overlap between my mom and the brother-in-law of my dad's aunt. He's my cousins' uncle. It's too funny.

That match adds 2 more key last names to the list, but probably on a different branch of the family tree than the other names:
  • Paolucci
  • Polcini
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
The Zeolla Factor

I haven't found my parents' shared ancestors yet. But I didn't have to go too far to find the intersection of the names Zeolla and Pozzuto. My 4th great grandparents on my dad's side are Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto.

My mom is actually a pretty decent DNA match for my dad. They share 37 cM (centiMorgans) across 4 segments. AncestryDNA estimates they are 4th–6th cousins.

DNA Painter also has a tool to show me what type of relationship 2 people sharing 37 cM may have. Some of the higher probabilities are:
  • 3rd cousins once removed
  • 3rd cousins twice removed
  • Half 3rd cousins once removed
  • Half 3rd cousins twice removed
Third cousins share 2nd great grandparents. So my dad's 2nd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla, may be the key. He had 2 wives. What if he had a child with his 2nd wife who somehow connects to my mom?

Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
After trying all these tools, I've got my big assignment. I have to find all Teofilo's children. Then I have to find out who they married and who their kids were.

Please, please, please let one of the kids marry someone from one of my mom's hometowns!

If you've got an important DNA puzzle to solve, use every tool you can. They can steer you in the right direction.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Genealogy Jigsaw Puzzle: DNA Matches and Vital Records

Like any big puzzle, it helps to start with the edges and find pieces that fit one another.

Last time, I told you about a DNA color-clustering method. It shows you visually how you're connected to your DNA matches. This method, and the online tree of a crucial DNA match, showed me where I need to focus. Right down to a specific last name.

You see, my parents share DNA. This was a surprise to them, and I'm eager to be able to show them exactly which set of ancestors they share.

I'm focusing on the last name Pozzuto in the town of Colle Sannita, Italy. There were a lot of people in town with that name. And they must have been distinct families, because a high number of men married women with the same name.

I began by looking at the parents of one key DNA match, both named Pozzuto. The tree is not well sourced, and much of the information comes from my 97-year-old DNA match herself.

I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I have 77 people in my tree with this last name, but that's not enough pieces for this puzzle.
I turned to the massive collection of Italian vital records that I have on my computer. When you've got all your ancestral town's documents on a local drive, research is fast and easy. (Find out how you can download a collection like mine.)

I've been trying to confirm the names and birth dates of the people on both sides of the Pozzuto-Pozzuto tree. I find a person's birth record, then try to find their father's birth record and their grandfather's birth record. The goal is to identify someone who is already in my tree with a blood relationship.

After adding several people to my tree this way, I realized something. I have a cousin in Italy who's about my age and is named Pozzuto. His mother's side of the family is related to my father's side of my family. So his being a Pozzuto is a coincidence.

But…I've always thought he looks like my cousin on my mother's side of my family. What if this cousin, related to my dad but with a resemblance to my mom, is the key?

I started digging into the little bit of information he'd given me about his father. I quickly found his father's parents' 1932 marriage documents. I learned my cousin's grandparents' names and kept going until I had some of his great grandparents' names.

But I couldn't tie this Pozzuto family to that of my DNA match. Time for a new strategy.

Last summer I read about a genealogist's massive effort to build out family trees for everyone in his DNA match list. I think the Pozzuto family is my key. Why not put together every Pozzuto family sitting in my collection of vital records?

That's how I built a tree of 15,000 people from my maternal grandfather's hometown. I took the information from each vital record and entered people into a Family Tree Maker file. I placed babies with their parents. I found the parents' marriage records and gave them their parents. After a while, all the families fit together.

These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
These are some of the files I've identified with this name so far. Lots more work to do!
I'm going to pick a year, like 1860, and find each Pozzuto baby born in the town. I'll put them in my tree and give them my "no relationship established" marker (find out why that's important). As I go from year to year, I'll find babies that are siblings to the babies I found earlier. I'll build each family.

This will take lots of hours, but I'll wind up grouping together Pozzuto families. Some of them will be people I have in my tree already. Eventually I will find a direct line to my DNA match.

Still, that's not the goal. I need to find someone in that gene pool who married someone with a last name from my mother's side of the family.

All my ancestors came from neighboring towns. The prospect of marrying someone from the next town is very real. I've seen it. I'm eager to find a girl from Colle Sannita who married a guy from either Baselice or Pastene (most likely).

It's exciting to have all those documents waiting for me to read them. The answers are there! I simply need to dig and dig until I find them.

Can you do this with your ancestors' towns and your DNA matches?

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Friday, November 16, 2018

The Leeds Method May Have Solved a Big Family Puzzle

This method makes cousin connections clearer than black and white.

Earlier this week I gave up hope of meeting one of my 2018 Genealogy Goals because it was too broad and may never happen.

That goal: To find out why my parents share DNA. There's a set of ancestors in my tree that ties my father's and my mother's families together.

But now I have a fighting chance of meeting that goal this year.

A friend pointed me to The Leeds Method created by Dana Leeds. To read all about it:
I jumped right in and used Dana Leeds' color clustering method with my DNA match list from In the first column I added my parents' names with a 0 in front of them. I added my one 1st cousin who took the test, with a 1 in front of his name. And I added 3rd cousins with a 3 and 4th cousins (the first page's worth) with a 4.

The numbers allowed me to sort the names by relationship and then alphabetically. In the end, I used this method on 104 people.

Assigning colors to your DNA matches reveals hidden treasures.
Assigning colors to your DNA matches reveals hidden treasures.
What you'll do is pick one of your matches and see which matches they share with you. In one column, give that person and all their shared matches a unique color. Find the next person in your list without a color and view their shared matches. This time, in a new column, give this person and their shared matches another unique color.

I was seeing a lot of blue (my dad) and green (my mom). But it wasn't until my 10th round of adding colors to shared matches that I saw something amazing.

Three people out of 104 had both green and blue. They were a match to both my mom and my dad.

This is a breakthrough!

Of those 3 people, only 1 has a tree online. I saw lots of familiar last names from my paternal grandfather's hometown. So I wrote to the person who owned the tree. She administers the DNA test for 1 of the 3 important matches.

She told me that the DNA test was for her paternal grandmother, and that I must be a match to her father, too. Yes, I am! Her father is also 1 of the 3 matches. From what she told me, the 2 most important last names tying us together are Zeolla and Pozzuto.

As I explored her tree, I saw that facts weren't sourced, but I have all the vital records from that town on my computer. So I can look up people's birth, marriage and death facts.

After a while, climbing up and across this tree, I found this one couple. Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto were the parents of someone in this tree. Nicolangelo and Giovannangela are my 4th great grandparents!

The Leeds Method helped me identify a potential shared branch for my parents.
The Leeds Method helped me identify a potential shared branch for my parents.
If I hadn't tried plotting the colors as suggested by The Leeds Method, I might never have found the right branch to research.

So where do I take this lead? I'm scouring the town's vital records for births and marriages of children in this family. I'll keep building out the individual families.

I hope I'm going to find a marriage of someone from this gene pool to someone with a last name from my mom's side of the family.

I'm more motivated than ever to find that cousin connection between my parents. And now, it really looks like a goal I can reach.

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