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Saturday, April 1, 2023

The search for Clara's roots

 The view from the balcony of the Gasthaus in the quaint German village of Neulautern was pastoral.  The rolling green hillsides could have been a view in upstate Pennsylvania but were dotted with whitewashed half-timbered homes with terracotta tiled roofs separated by tall evergreens that created a traditional German village scene. It was this tiny rural town that spawned the Neumeister family line.  40 miles northeast of Stuttgart the village was famous for glass manufacturing during the eighteenth century.  By the time the glassworks closed in 1821, the area became impoverished.  Johann Friedrich Neumeister struggled to raise his family in the village during the early nineteenth century.  

He lost several of his children and his first three wives to early death. One of his sons, Christian Gotlieb Neumeister was only 13 when his mother died and he found life in Neulautern difficult.  He married in the village and had a son Karl, but twin sons born in August of 1849 lived only a few months.  Shortly after this tragedy Christian Gotlieb packed up his wife and remaining son emigrating to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. 

Neulautern, Germany 2006 - C. B. Kehler

It was a long modern journey to find the Neumeister ancestral home as the family stories had been lost over time. Recent generations of Neumeisters did not pass on photos or stories of the previous generations so the family history was quilted together bit by bit over time.  The family history notebooks on our library shelves are color coded.  The documents for each of the four branches of our children’s heritage are organized in blue or red or green notebooks.  The yellow-colored books for the paternal mother’s line was the smallest section on the shelves.  It was bothersome that an important branch of our family tree was atrophied.  In an effort to honor the memory of Clara Kehler, all the documents left by her mother and husband were organized and research began.  Lines of ancestors traced back to small towns throughout South West Germany who emigrated to Pennsylvania and intertwined to create a saga of struggle and triumph culminating in the beauty of Clara Elsie nee Miller, Kripplebauer by adoption, and Kehler by marriage. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Travel to the ancestral homeland

Traveling with family to the land of ancestors is a profound experience. The efforts to get there pale by comparison to what our forefathers suffered, but the fatigue and stresses give us inklings into their plight. Cultural shock arriving at the destination, with unfamiliar cuisine and language mixed with the thrill of feet planted on our homelands. 

I gathered the names of small German villages, discovered the names of the parish churches, and booked a trip to take the children using up all our credit card Airmiles. We flew into Paris and took a commuter flight to Strasbourg where my high school French did not help quickly communicate my need for sustenance after the long days of travel. We were lucky to have booked accommodations for a family of five and passed out. Walking through the old city the next day we saw jaw-dropping artists and the cathedral, but the boat trip through the city was my favorite. A train ride into Germany took us through beautiful scenery to Pforzheim and then a rented car took us into the rural countryside to stay in a series of ancestral villages.

After checking into a hotel and buying a bag of snacks for a walk through the village, we approached the old town wall and as I reached out to touch the old brick with threatening tears, my teenager said, "where's the McDonalds?" The message of balance between ancient family history and adventures for the rest of the family was received and we planned some fun days throughout the rest of the trip with a family fun park, visits to gift shops, firework displays, and another boat ride down the Neckar River through the vineyards that was breathtaking. We experienced conversations with local merchants and the waitress at a restaurant in a mix of German and English maternally scolded us that we needed to finish dinner before dessert. We made memories in the towns of our ancestors and the remembrances held most dear are the adventures we all shared together.

Black Forest Cuckoo Clock purchased in Triberg

Research for travel and accommodations gets the plan started, but communication with local businesses or the town hall can help avoid loss of access on a holiday or limited hours. Many historical societies or genealogy groups can help with church history or the location of cemeteries that may be sites of ancestral interest. Sometimes there are living descendants of our ancestors in the area who can give a personal touch to the visit. Traveling with family could be an immersion into the culture and getting a flavor of the village saving the research days for personal genealogy trips. Sometimes families will go in different directions one day so the family historian can dig in with the local archives. Taking notes as you photograph the village keeps you organized, but taking time to label all the various points of interest once back home allows researchers to use the photos and antidotes gathered later when they want to illustrate the family history.

Mapping out a planned itinerary was important, but so was the flexibility to pivot on the ground when changing weather or interesting side trips suddenly begged for a different route. The trips I over-planned were always best so we had lots of options, but be willing to cross off items to save for another time so your family has time to absorb the ambiance. Making memories together by walking in the steps of our ancestors was momentous, and doing so together was unforgettable.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The evidence is within us! Autosomal DNA analysis: methodology suggestions Part 2

DNA match lists are not for the faint-hearted researcher. They are overwhelming. If your research question is important enough to you, whether you are adopted or missing a branch of your family pedigree chart, the end results of the analysis of those match lists are worth the many hours of work. Sometimes it comes quickly, suddenly you see a very close match that leads to the missing ancestor, but more often it takes a great deal of time and effort.

The list below makes the path look simple and easy, but the first step to working with autosomal DNA (AtDNA) matches is learning the language and how to use available tools. Watch webinars, take classes, attend lectures at genealogy conferences, read books by experts, and follow blogs. This is a new field, but there are already some genealogists who have become experts at the methods and teaching the rest of us:  Blaine Bettinger,[1] Diahan Southard,[2] and many others.  Read through the website of ISOGG.[3]

My Strategy:

Although absolutely not a genetic genealogy expert, through the kind guidance of mentors I have learned to start by creating a robust and well-sourced family tree for known branches including collateral lines if possible to help pinpoint how unknown matches relate to me.

1.     Test DNA. Strategies differ for individuals depending on the research question. Develop a testing plan if possible.[4] Many testers start with AncestryDNA which has the largest database of testers. It is possible to transfer the results to other sites that expand the match pool and increase the chances of finding close relatives.

1.     AncestryDNA test, then download RAW results file,[5] then upload to FTDna and My Heritage.[6]

2.     Upload to GEDmatch if comfortable, always read who sees results and privatize if you have concerns.[7] 

2.     Test family members. Especially helpful are 2nd cousins and half-siblings to know which DNA comes from various branches as you compare results. Get written consent that clearly states unexpected results may come to light and instructions on handling those concerns if necessary. Since testing can be expensive, I find many genealogists pay for their relatives' testing and then manage the match lists and analysis. Always include those generous relatives in the analysis of results if they are interested.

3.     Look at match lists. Begin the process of clustering or grouping matches and use-

1.     shared match tool for matches at any of the companies

2.     Genetic Affairs cluster tool,[8] or My Heritage cluster tool

3.     spreadsheets to organize

4.     Find the cluster that cannot be linked to known relationships (members of the cluster match each other, but do not match any of my known cousins).

5.     Research each member of that cluster by looking at their posted tree or building one for them using-

1.     clues in their profile

2.     a public records search company such as BeenVerified.com

3.     “US Public records Index” on Ancestry.com if you have access

4.     Google.com

5.     Newspapers.com for articles or obituaries

6.     Find overlap in the created trees to find a common ancestral couple or the most recent common ancestor (MRCA)

7.     Build a robust and well-sourced family tree for the MRCA couple with every generation as complete as possible including spouse information.

1.     Analyze the members of each branch to see if they were in the right location/time

2.     Use census, directories, and other sources to track all the members of each line

3.     Rule out any candidates for an ancestor who were too young, had died before the time frame of study or were in a remote location.

8.     Study that MRCA tree and get to know locations, surnames, and dates. 

9.     Place any matches from that unknown cluster into the created MRCA tree.

10.  Use What Are The Odds and Shared cM Project tools to form a hypothesis of how I fit into that MRCA tree.[9]  I share matches with members of that cluster and therefore DNA with them, how am I related?  Usually, the higher number of shared cMs, the closer the relationship so concentrate on the branches of the MRCA tree that I have matched with the highest number of shared cMs.

11.  Check the ethnicity of the matches to rule in/out possible candidates.

12.  Step back and look at other clusters of unknown matches and try to see if any of them overlap with a spouse from your MRCA tree. Looking at the ancestry of the spouses will narrow the list or find the candidate you seek

 Tools used in DNA analysis for genetic genealogy change over time and the best practices for using DNA results to break down brick walls in a family tree are evolving within the genealogy community, so it is best to continue learning what methods are recommended by the genetic genealogy experts. The power of knowing we carry evidence of our past in every cell within us is awe-inspiring.

[1] Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., website:  https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/13-2/

[2] Diahan Southard website: https://www.yourdnaguide.com/about

[3] International Society of Genetic Genealogy website: https://isogg.org/.

[4] Diahan Southard, “Create a DNA testing Plan,” blog post, Your DNA Guide (https://www.yourdnaguide.com/ydgblog/dna-testing-plan : accessed 13 July 2022).

[5] AncestryDNA (https://support.ancestry.com/s/ancestrydna : accessed 13 July 2022).

“Downloading DNA Data,” Ancestry (https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Downloading-DNA-Data : accessed 13 July 2022).

[6] FamilyTreeDNA website uploads: https://www.familytreedna.com/autosomal-transfer

MyHeritage website uploads: https://www.myheritage.com/dna/upload

[7] “GEDmatch.com Terms of Service and Privacy Policy,” GEDmatch (https://www.gedmatch.com/terms-of-service-privacy-policy : accessed 13 July 2022).

[8] Genetic Affairs website: https://geneticaffairs.com/features-autocluster.html

My Heritage Cluster tool: https://blog.myheritage.com/2019/02/introducing-autoclusters-for-dna-matches/

[9] Jonny Perl, “Frequently Asked Questions About WATO,” DNA Painter (https://dnapainter.com/help/wato-faq : accessed 13 July 2022).

Blaine T Bettinger, “The Shared cM Project 4.0 tool v4 beta,” DNA Painter (https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4-beta : accessed 13 July 2022).


Sunday, January 1, 2023

The evidence is within us! Autosomal DNA analysis: Part 1


Test results from the genetic company arrive in your email inbox and the journey begins. Sometimes unexpected and unnerving results turn our world upside down, but more often we are amazed that a lab was able to link us to locations and living relatives who share segments of ancestral DNA. It is a profound moment. Genealogists currently use consumer DNA testing companies to confirm their documented family tree or use the new methods of genetic genealogy to break down brick walls and push back their pedigree charts.  

There are currently three tests consumers can take that measure different parts of the cells.   


Test #1: Autosomal (AtDNA) is the test advertised on TV.  That type of DNA is a mix in every individual with 50% from each parent.  Siblings have similar, but unique combinations of the parent DNA.  Half of the genes are inherited from the mother and half from the father.  That does not mean the tester received copies of all maternal genes representing all her ancestry, it means that randomly upon conception the tester received half of what maternal genes were available.  Siblings inherited half of their maternal genes, but a different selection.  The other half of maternal genetics was lost to the tester but may appear in sections of his siblings or in smaller amounts in cousins who got DNA from grandparents.  Because of the inheritance pattern and the loss over generations of DNA from ancestors, this test is best used to find or confirm ancestors for the past 4-5 generations. Submitted samples from the oldest relatives are therefore most helpful in the analysis of results as they were closest to the ancestors further back in time.


The AtDNA results can be used in several ways.


  1.  Lab results can predict your ethnicity and ancient origins. Interesting, but not always 100% accurate.  Their analysis is based on each company’s test group in countries around the world which are compared by the computer to your results.  Every company has different analyses and various sizes of sample populations for comparison.

  2.  Matching test results with others who test can help solve lineage questions.  Most of the match lists with other testers sharing some of your DNA will be unknown relatives, but some may have family photos, documents, or other information that will help illustrate or push back family lines.  

Test #2: Mitochondrial (MtDNA) testing is for men or women to show what we inherit from our mothers.  Women pass it on to all their children, so men have their mom’s MtDNA, but do not pass it to children. This might help with maternal ancestry.                     



Test #3: Y-DNA is tested only done with male subjects as females received two X chromosomes, but males received XY. Follows the male line for many generations.  This information could possibly help with paternal ancestry.

Once the results arrive from the test company there are steps for best practices suggested by professional genealogists, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the International Society of Genetic Genealogy who are all concerned with privacy issues, professional and ethical use of results and teaches genealogists how to use results in effective analysis.