The Archaeology Of Me

I’m an archaeologist. As you’d probably expect, I’m fascinated by the past and the myriad events and decisions that led to the world we know today. Excavating sites and finding clues to our history may be hard, physical work, but it’s also invigorating and thought-provoking.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m also interested in family history. I’ve done extensive genealogical research on both my family and my husband’s, pouring over microfilmed birth, marriage, death, tax, and land records. I’ve spent more hours in a Family History Center than I can possibly remember looking at documents like this:

Take a look at the legal marriage ages just under “Acte De Mariage”

This is a breeze to read compared to some. Whatever you think of the French Revolution, it led to some excellent bureaucratic forms in both France and nearby countries such as Belgium. Really, compare that document above to this earlier Belgian record below:

See what I mean?

Anyway, as one of our Christmas presents, my husband and I purchased DNA testing kits from to see what kind of results we would get.

The historic records show remarkable uniformity in his mother’s and father’s lines. At least in the last few hundred years, the only admixture looked to be their marriage. And that’s exactly what his DNA test showed.

“Great Britain” threw us at first, since there’s no evidence of that in the records. But when you look at the map, you see it extends into France and Belgium. Now that makes sense. See those red dots? In the areas of overlap between Great Britain/Europe West and Europe West/Europe East? That’s where you find Belgium and the Czech Republic, and likely most (if not all) of his relatives in the last thousand years or more. Fully 79 percent of his DNA markers are from these areas.

Those other areas that aren’t shaded in? He shows traces of similarities with people currently living in those regions. These could reflect older ancestors. Think about those Roman soldiers ending up among the Celts in western Europe. Or Viking raiders making their way through Europe. It’s easy to see where they might have added their genes to the local mix.

As I waited for my results, I knew they would be different. I grew up knowing I was Irish, Serbian, Greek, and Czech. In fact, I thought I was half-Irish, although one great-great grandmother’s surname was Thomas, which hinted that there might be more to the mix than we knew.

As I did the research, my dad’s side showed some surprises. That “Thomas” surname came from Welsh immigrants. I also found English, Scots, Dutch, German, and French ancestry. My “Irish” grandfather wasn’t so Irish, after all. It turns out the McDowells were “Scots-Irish,” which basically comes down to Scots living in Ireland but not marrying into the local population. Right now, my paternal grandmother—who insisted her husband was Irish—is probably doing her best to keep me out of her corner of the Afterlife.

So what did I expect from the DNA results? A mix dominated by Eastern Europe and Italy/Greece with a healthy dollop of Irish and dashes of various other ethnic groups, including Scandinavian. Remember, a lot of Vikings left their DNA behind in Ireland and Great Britain.

Was I right? Sort of.

The black and red dots represent historically documented areas for my family. assigns percentages to each ethnic group identified. We need to remember, though, the results show a statistical range, and Ancestry uses various methods to arrive at that percentage. But they will tell you the amounts could be more or less than that percentage. Also, we don’t necessarily inherit DNA equally from each ancestor. Things get mixed around in those chromosomes. That’s why we may look nothing like a sibling yet bear a striking resemblance to a great-great grandparent. Even knowing all of this, I was surprised to see the numbers they gave me.

So who leads the pack in my DNA?

Ireland at 41 percent. But I’m only a quarter Irish! (That paternal grandmother might just be gloating.) Italy/Greece is next closest at 20 percent. That sort of makes sense, although Serbia and Montenegro are included in that group, so I expected to see more. And rounding out “the big three” in me is East Europe at 18 percent. That also extends into Serbia/Montenegro and the Czech Republic. If you add those last two together, you get 38 percent, which is pretty close to 41 percent and maybe represents a decent breakdown of DNA from both sides of my family tree.

The high Irish percentage and low percentage for Great Britain and West Europe still seemed off. So I looked at the ranges and saw that Ireland’s range was from 27–55 percent. The lower end sounds more reasonable to me. Italy/Greece was from 12–29 percent. That’s a much tighter range, and maybe the higher end would be more accurate. The same might be true of East Europe, with a range of 9–27 percent. Even with ranges, Europe West and Great Britain wouldn’t seem to be a big part of my history at 0–22 percent. and 0–21 percent, respectively.

What Does “The Archaeology of Me” Show?

Just as in real archaeology, uncovering the past often raises more questions than it answers.

  • Where is the Scandinavian DNA that I anticipated?

You see, I had another reason for expecting those Vikings to be in the mix. McDowell is simply a variant of MacDougall, which usually translates as “son of the dark foreigner.” More specifically, though, the reference is to dark-haired foreigners. It was a term used to distinguish dark-haired Danish Vikings from their fair-haired Norse associates. In essence, the name means “son of the Dane.” Hmm, I’ll bet you can imagine a few scenarios that led to the first appearances of the name.

So why does Scandinavian only appear as an “other area tested,” with a range of 0–2 percent? Maybe I simply didn’t inherit those particular genes. If my siblings or cousins did DNA testing, we might find higher traces in them. Or maybe they aren’t there, and one of my “McDowell” ancestors wasn’t really a McDowell. I think we all know how that can happen.

  • Why does my husband, whose Belgian and Czech sides didn’t intermingle with other groups until his parents got together, show more ethnic areas than I do? Me, who knows her family comes from all over Europe and has been mixing up the gene pool for centuries?

I have higher percentages of some of those trace groups, but he has more of them. Maybe all that continuous mixing in my lines led to some of the older areas falling out of future generations. Whereas, in his lines, the early mixing may have stuck around as later generations stayed in one place and didn’t add more “outside” DNA to their gene pools.

  • Do I really have Finnish/NW Russian or South Asian ancestors?

I’m not surprised by Caucasus because that’s where you find Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire spent a lot of time in my mother’s part of the world. Likewise, European Jew sounds plausible when you consider the Diaspora. It’s easy to imagine how genetic exchanges could occur. But the others? Well, it’s possible they aren’t part of my genetic past. The numbers are so low, they could be statistical anomalies. But there’s also a chance they’re hinting at even deeper levels of my ancestry. Just as some of us still carry known Neandertal genes, so too we can carry genes from early populations of Homo sapiens. Maybe ghosts of those ancestors still inhabit my genetic code.

Whatever the “correct” answers to my questions are, the DNA results fascinate me. They can help me connect with other researchers and help verify (or possibly disprove) the documentary evidence. Or they may suggest news lines of research for my brick walls. (I’m talking to you, great-great-great-great grandfather McDowell.) But the results also speak to me at a deeper level.

No matter the real percentages, or even the real meaning of “ethnicity,” I carry an inheritance from all of those ancestors who came before me. They don’t define me, but I owe my existence to them. Some of their acts, beliefs, and words might appall me while others might inspire me. I might have respected some of those men and women and run for my life from others.

But their hopes, fears, and desires and the events of their lives resulted, ultimately, in me. I wouldn’t be me without them.

Me, without the shades

78 thoughts on “The Archaeology Of Me

  1. What a lovely photo, JM and such an interesting and exciting post! 😀

    One of my favourite shows on TV is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I would absolutely love to do something like that. My ancestry is Scottish/Welsh and that’s all I know from listening to relatives. I heard the other day that one of my second-cousins has done my father’s side of the family tree and it’s somewhere online – I’ll have to search for it 😉


    • Thank you, Diane. 🙂 It was so interesting to see what the DNA results looked like. They confirmed much of what I knew but still held some surprises! I’m amazed at how much I learned about my father’s ancestry when I started serious genealogy research in the ’90s. Once I started identifying ancestors, I found some amazing stories in the published county and family histories. How had they been lost to my family? I’m still not sure, but I’m glad to have them back!

      There are a lot of genealogical sites out there, but a simple Googling of some ancestor names can probably lead you to them. And you might just find some inspiration or fodder for your next story. 🙂


  2. Amazing. I’m meant to be essentially three quarters English and a quarter Norwegian, with, although we are now moving beyond the boundaries of mathematical possibility, a smidgeon of German and a few drops of other European nationalities, but I’m sure there would be a more complex truth if I did this test too. A really great and interesting read


    • It’s all so fascinating to me. While I didn’t encounter any huge surprises, some people do. And that can be a shock. But I think most of us find much that’s “what it should be” with some not-too-overwhelming hints of things we never knew. Great Britain shows quite a bit of admixture, which isn’t surprising when you think of its history. Celts, Roman legions, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans (really, Viking descendants) all sweeping through, and toss in Irish who emigrated, and you’ve got a well-mixed DNA base. I think fellow writers could find a wealth of potential story ideas from their personal results.


  3. This has to be the coolest thing I’ve read this week, hands down. What a fascinating research project, especially considering so many white Americans are “Euro-mutts.” 🙂 Who really knows where we originated? I had no idea one could research ancestry to this extent, and your post comes at a really coincidental time. Over the weekend, my younger daughter asked if we could explore She’s really intrigued by history (this thrills me, as she’s only 10), and she has thoroughly enjoyed the 5th grade social sciences curriculum this year, which is US History (also thrills me, since most 5th graders are bored to death with this curriculum).

    A nugget of family folklore is that we are descendents of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania; my maiden name is Pennell), but I’ve never done any research to confirm it. I’ve also pondered the mysteries of DNA and which traits get passed on to whom, especially since having children of my own. My 10-yr-old takes after me – she’s fair haired and skinned, while my 13-yr-old is darker and looks more like my husband’s side. In the summertime, her skin becomes a lovely dark brown, so dark, in fact, that it calls into question whether she carries some non-Caucasian DNA (we also see this trait in 2 nephews on husband’s side). Since his ancestors are from the South, we’ve often wondered if at some point, somebody procreated with a slave. Knowing this DNA option is available, I just may look into it. Thanks so much for sharing your fascinating history!


    • Wow, thanks, Gwen! has some great resources—most of which require a subscription. But it’s not terribly expensive, and at times during the year they have a few days of free access to various original records so folks can see if they’d be interested in a full subscription. A free site that I’ve always enjoyed is They’re now owned by Ancestry, but they’re still free and have a lot of family trees and transcribed records from volunteers. It’s a good place to type in some ancestor names and see what pops up. Always take the trees with a grain of salt—not everyone does a careful job of research, and there are lots of wrong connections. But you never know who might already have done some good research on branches of your family!

      Family folklore is fascinating. (And that’s enough alliteration for the day!) Sometimes there’s not a shred of truth to it. Other times, you find a kernel of truth and sometimes it’s really as you heard. Some folks give in to the temptation to start their research in the past with those stories. But good research starts at the present and works back, always checking multiple lines of evidence and checking for discrepancies (and there are a lot of those).

      It’s a great way to make history interesting, and I bet you and your daughter would have a great time uncovering your family stories. From what you shared, there could be some amazing tales and events in your families’ pasts. Wouldn’t it be an adventure to uncover them?!


      • Knowing your line of work, I appreciate your knowledgeable take on how to go about researching ancestry. Thanks for sharing the info on the different sites, too. If we end up pursuing it, I’ll be sure to let you know what we turn up. xo


    • Skin that pales in winter and turns very dark with sun? Sounds very familiar. It could also be French or Spanish ancestors who traveled the “South” very early and claimed parts of it. We have a Spanish explorer who came and decided to stay – documented by ship’s records. Could be that. And then there’s possibility of Native American blood, too. It is all very interesting.


  4. I am glad you shared this, I have always wondered about the DNA tests but never heard what the results were like once you did it.
    With a name like McDowell, I would have expected a high degree of Scott/Irish in you and in my head, I had given you more of those features. But, clearly in person you hold more of the Serbian, Greek, and Czech characteristics…fascinating!

    Just as equally interesting is my mother’s surname is very Italian. In fact, when I was doing my family history research, I made the error of trying to locate her in an Italian family, though I had heard she was Irish. Having not known her or any of her family members, I could not consult her for clarification. After continued research, I did eventually find her “Irish” family under the predominantly Italian surname. I would love to continue this search to see if I can find out if it was originally of Italian descent.


    • The chance to see into my genetic past was so tempting. In the early days (not so many years ago), DNA tests were limited to those done on the X and Y chromosomes. So half of the family “ancestry” was missing. Now, with the human genome mapped and computer modeling, autosomal tests (like this one) look at markers on the other chromosomes. So both men and women can see what they inherited from both parents. We still can’t say exactly which markers came from which parent, and if both are from the same regions, we may never get that capability. But if your parents come from two different areas like mine did, you’ll probably get a good idea of who’s responsible for some of them. I know those Irish markers aren’t from my mother!

      When we don’t have much information from close relatives, such as you describe, the DNA testing can be a window into areas to research that we never had before. People who lost parents early, or were estranged from one side of the family, or were adopted are using tests like this in their searches for biologically related family. And some are having success. A DNA test could give you clues where those ancestors could have come from and might help you find cousins of varying degrees who could have family information to share. The research possibilities that didn’t even exist 20 years ago are mind-boggling.


      • Even today, as a very experienced research of family history, I am continuously gaining new information as more and more states and countries start adding to their online data bases.

        I have found more family members by searching through the family trees section and this in turn leads to photos and documents that they have collected in their research. The exchange of information is just amazing.


        • The exchange really is amazing. And with adding more of the LDS microfilmed records to the website, the research gets even easier. They’ve uploaded a number of the civil Belgian records, which is nice, but I have my husband’s line far enough back to need the earlier church records. I hope those (and some for my family) will come up some day sooner rather than later. Of course, then when would I find time to write?


  5. Very interesting! And it’s nice to see a proper photo of you where we can actually see what you look like! You’ve made me want to do my DNA too! My mother was born to a French Egyptian mother, and an Italian father, and I only know about English blood in my father’s line (but I haven’t checked back). My own children would be even more interesting I think because as well as those parts from me, their father came from a Swedish father and an American mother (and I don’t know her ancestry).


    • Wow, I’d bet your mix—and your children’s—would be even more diverse than mine! Especially when you consider that “English” likely includes some combination of “Irish” (Celtic), Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse. And the American grandmother for your children could be descended from so many places. I knew you had an interesting background from reading your posts about your childhood, but it’s even more complex and character-laden than I knew. You really should consider a novel that draws from your rich heritage!

      I thought this was a good post to include a real photo of me. But you have no idea how hard it was to find one that I could tolerate!


  6. I admire your tenacity. This must have taken so much research as well as the work writing this post. It’s nice to know a bit more about our fellow bloggers. It makes it more personal. Thanks for sharing this, Miss Lovely without shades:)


    • Thanks, Carol. I’ve been tracing the families since the mid-90s. Not every day, of course, but I have logged countless hours of research before doing the DNA test. But I love puzzles and mysteries, so it’s never felt like “work.” Getting this glimpse into the countless ancestors who went into making “me” has been so interesting.

      Maybe I should change my gravatar photo now….? 😉


  7. Nice to see you without the shades! This goes along with what I’ve been reading lately – London by Edward Rutherfurd – it’s been interesting because it really shows what a mixture we all are. I’ve always heard I’m all Irish but even that’s a mixture because of the Vikings and Normans and all the adventurers before and after them. I’m not so sure I’d have the stamina to look into it all, especially after looking at those documents you’ve gone through. How far back have you been able to research?


    • Thanks, Sheila! My luck, of course, is that I can take much of my husband’s Belgian side back to the 1600s. The Catholic church kept great records, the French Revolution made them better, and the LDS church has microfilmed many of them. So I could order the microfilms at my local Family History Center and take that side back more than 300 years without leaving town. For my family, some lines only go back a few generations before I hit a brick wall (or no easily accessible records), but others go back to the 1700s. And while I haven’t verified the research done by others, my Dutch lines should go back to the early 1600s in New Netherland (New York/New Jersey).

      All Irish? Oh, my dad’s mother could only have wished that my dad had married such a girl. But he didn’t. 😉 I wish I could test that grandmother’s DNA to see what else might have sneaked in there in the past. 😀


  8. I love that you blogged about this. It really is fascinating. I think if I ever had a moment in my life to undertake this, I’d love to do it. Now that you’re an expert on it, you could work it into your fiction, too. Some interesting stories could come from the process!

    “Right now, my paternal grandmother—who insisted her husband was Irish—is probably doing her best to keep me out of her corner of the Afterlife.”—–Great line!!


    • Think Christmas present for the family. 😉 And to be honest, some of my known family history had already made it into the manuscripts. Alas, some of my favorite bits won’t make the rebuilds. A few still will, though, at least in the form of using ancestor’s names for a few characters.

      “Grandma M” would hate that I said that! And yet I don’t doubt it for a minute. She wasn’t terribly happy that my dad didn’t marry “a good Irish girl.” Of course, from what I saw, she wasn’t terribly happy about anything…. 😉


    • Thanks, Gemma! If you’re not into family history research or a field like anthropology or evolutionary science, you might only think of DNA testing as something to do at a crime scene or to establish paternity. But genealogists have embraced it to help break down brick walls in research and to connect with “more distant” relatives. For us, it’s really cool. 😉


  9. Weird, I was just thinking of you – they say you’ve had another snow storm and are likely snowed in! And that turns out to be perfect weather for a Dark Danish Viking – which is how I’d always imagined you … dark and little, anyway 🙂 How lovely to ‘meet’ you for real! 🙂


    • It’s interesting how we build an image of someone in our mind that may look nothing like them. 🙂 I’m actually fair-skinned with auburn hair, and those must have come from the Irish side. And at just under 5’7″ I don’t consider myself too little. 😉

      We did have another nasty bout of snow Sunday night—8 inches. It’s melting some, but we’re supposed to get some freezing drizzle or rain later tonight and into the early morning. And then we might get more snow next week. This is really late winter weather for us—I hope your late summer/early autumn is much nicer!


  10. That was really interesting. I can’t make out much of the content of that Belgian document at all.
    I’ve dabbled at tracing the family tree back a few generations and the changes in handwriting and abbreviations in the official records is almost as fascinating in its own way as the actual results.


    • That particular record dates to 1773, but I’ve dealt with others back into the 1600s. And boy is that handwriting hard to decipher. 😉 It doesn’t help when it’s a language I don’t speak, either, like the Latin in this birth record! I’ve dealt with a few early 1700s records from what were then the American colonies, and you can still see the old Middle English influence in the handwriting. I agree with you about how fascinating it is to see that bit of history!


  11. This was an great post. I am getting back into the research. I just received an email 2 days ago from a relative that got Dad started on the genealogy trek. She saw some pics I posted to the Find A Grave website of our mutual family. I had called her years ago to discuss and hope to meet and get more info, but at that time she said she had been out of it for a few years and was busy with kids etc. I was please she reached out again as I have found so much in my research, I may be able to give her something she does not have.

    I am still planning to do the DNA. Just waiting for my retired pay to start coming in. No, the government doesn’t do anything quickly and that includes paying it’s former employees who retired almost 2 months ago…ugghhh 😦

    But thanks again for the ancestry info and your explanation of the map. I will let you know what results I get, when I get them.


    • Boy, those retirement checks better get started soon—I would be going crazy, thinking some paperwork had gotten messed up somewhere.

      You’ve got the freedom now to visit all those ancestral places and check out the courthouses while you’re there. And you could always make the genealogical dream trip to Salt Lake City and go through all those records at the Family History Library. That would be amazing and could easily fill a few months of free time. 😉

      Definitely let me know when you do the test and get your results—it’ll be so interesting to see how you compare to your cousin. 🙂


  12. What a fun project! It sounds so fascinating. All of my great-grandparents came to America around the turn of the 20th century from Italy. I’m Italian and American, period. But, I’ve often wondered when my ancestors got to Italy and from where. This is a very exciting prospect to test your DNA. Thank you for sharing your results.


    • It was really interesting to do! You never know what might show up—you might show a huge dominance of Italy/Greece or something else might be there that you never knew about from a few hundred years ago. The potential fodder for stories or characters is a great perk, too. 🙂


      • It sounds so fun. I didn’t know you could do this. I knew you could find dog breeds on a mixed breed through DNA, but not for us human mutts. I do think that in some century someone had to have immigrated to Italy, at least on one of my family’s sides.


  13. As you might have assumed, I have a ZILLION questions about this subject, mostly related to which text kit is the best to purchase.
    You bought yours through and I’m curious how you made the decision to use theirs vs Nat Geo’s of one of the others. Did you research the differences/similarities among companies? Are all these tests basically the same? I’ve been wanting to do this for some time but it’s expensive and I’m afraid of making the wrong choice! I’d love to hear more of your professional expertise if you have time to get into it!


    • There were two main reasons for going with Ancestry. First, I have a subscription already and do a lot of work with the site. Second, this test not only provides the ethnicity estimates but also compares your results against others who have taken the Ancestry test and searches for related matches. Right from the start they found two very close matches that would likely be 3rd or 4th cousins to me. Comparing our family trees showed they are indeed 3rd cousins. Beyond that, there were another 20 high-confidence matches at the 4th to 6th cousin level. Searching those trees, I found some folks where I could see the related lines, but there are others where I can’t yet find the match. But there’s a good possibility we’re related through lines we haven’t yet identified for ourselves. So there are great clues for where else I might need to look. Then there are pages and pages of possible matches at the level of 5th cousins or further back. While those are statistically less probable, a number of the “moderate” confidence level matches showed related lines in there trees. All told, when you look at all the possible matches they found on that first day, I had 4,500 over 89 pages. Just a week later, there are 92 pages as more people are tested and more comparisons are run.

      There are a number of good tests out there, and choosing one depends in part on your goals. The mitochondrial and Y-based tests give a deeper look in time for your ancestral areas, but you’re limited to one-half of the family. Only men can take the Y-based tests, and they’ll only get information about the direct male line from some of those tests. Mitochondrial DNA will only show the female line through time. The autosomal tests look at markers on the other 44 chromosomes. Both men and women can take these tests, and the results will reflect both sides of the family. These are better for getting an idea of your ancestors of the last few hundred years.

      At some point, I’ll probably look into some of the other tests to learn more about my deeper past, and I’ll do more research then. So I would start by asking yourself what you’re most interested in and then choosing the tests based on those goals. A friend used DNA Tribes a few years ago and was happy with her results. And I believe National Geographic does good work, too, although men will get deeper time results than women.

      I suspect Ancestry’s tests are less expensive than others because they’re aimed mainly at people with Ancestry subscriptions. In a sense, we might already be covering part of the cost of the tests.

      I hope this helps!


  14. Very interesting, JM. I think I may have mentioned before that my mom is hot to trot over earning a membership to the Colonial Dames of America. This is in addition to being a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. For the Dames, she has to prove she is descended from anyone who worked as either a politician, lawyer, judge, officer in the military, etc. prior to 1800. (I might have the year wrong — I have become numb with all of the information we are responsible for providing to the genealogist. Suffice it to say, it had to be in the colonial times.) I could do without the hoity-toity membership, and just enjoy researching the lines to see who my ancestors were.

    I don’t know if she’d be keen on doing the test you describe. I think it’s an absolutely fun idea, and a great hobby for anyone. I will pass on this information to her and see if she’d be interested. I bet she’d love it. She likes to say that we are related to Thomas Jefferson, to which my brother likes to quip, “So is everyone.”


    • You had mentioned her interest in genealogy and lineage societies, and so she might find the DNA tests to be an interesting glimpse at her past. Or, maybe not. 🙂 Some of my family members think this is really cool, and others probably couldn’t care less. But I enjoy it, and that’s the important thing, right?

      I’ve never had any interest in joining a lineage society myself—I just love learning about my past and those who came before me. How did they live? What were they like? I’ll never know too much about them, but even a little is so intriguing. And I know it influences my writing and characters.

      I love your brother’s quip. 😉 For ages, the Jefferson heirs denied that the Hemings family could have descended from him. When DNA became available, this was an early area of research. And the DNA supported the Hemings family history. Taking a test like this can open the door to an undiscovered country! (Or two, or three…)


  15. This is so fascinating and it makes me want to find out more about what makes me me. I’m sure I’d be surprised with the results as you were. I’ve not played around with though hubby has attempted to find out more about our families years ago before became so popular.

    Thanks for sharing this discovery, J and while you’re at it, share your skin care because your skin looks gorgeous. Great pic!


    • For anyone who’s really curious about where they came from, this is an amazing opportunity that people didn’t have before. Genealogists were quick to jump on it as a way to find connections with other relatives and to see if it could supplement the documentary record—especially where there are gaps in those records. A number of families with the same surname have used it to see if they might share a common ancestor. I’m hoping it might someday help me break down my brick wall great-great-great-great grandfather McDowell and to find out which line of McDowells he came from. There are tons of records on Ancestry these days and other sites, too. (affiliated with the Family History Library in Salt Lake City) is making more of their microfilmed records available on their website—for free.

      My skin care routine has always been simple really. Only gentle cleansers, moisturizers since my late 20s, not too much sun, and drinking lots of water. These days, I do indulge in a facial now and again. They are so relaxing. 🙂


  16. It is fascinating. The more who provide DNA and “play” the more connections will be found – and the more accurate/the more specific the information will be. This is still pretty new ground. Able to point directions and make educated guesses which can be explored/confirmed with actual documents. My librarian/historian/writer grandmother always insisted “it doesn’t count if you can find it recorded in a document.” Old documents are pretty interesting..the writing/spelling a real adventure.
    If kids today aren’t learning to read much less write script, will they find information out of reach, I wonder?
    Geography also becomes important in the analysis as country borders/wars/immigration-migration patterns moved people in certain directions at various times. Like the Vikings – they covered lots of ground and wandered everywhere it seems. Belgium was a big trade center with ships and people coming from all directions.People hopped off and on ships.
    There’s Scot-Irish clan MacDougall link with my dad’s family – with ties to England before jumping across the pond.
    One big mystery story. Welcome mutts! (English, Irish, Scots, French, Spanish, couple of Native Americans tribes….)
    Very cool stuff indeed.


    • I’ve always said I may not be a walking UN, but I’ve got NATO and the old Eastern Bloc pretty well covered. I think my DNA supports that statement. 😉 One of the main reasons for doing the Ancestry test was to be able to connect with fellow researchers and previously unidentified relatives. That happened right away when my results came in. If you included even the very low confidence matches they found, there were 4,500 for me. But even limiting it to the high confidence matches, there were several hundred. In some of those trees, I can see the shared lines. But in others, I can’t. And we’re likely related through lines none of us have identified yet. I’d love to find out!

      Those old records can be tough, even for those of us familiar with cursive and older forms of handwriting. But you’re so right—how much of them will younger generations be able to read? It’s one thing to not read a foreign language. But to not learn a form of writing within one’s own? That’s just not right. And the spelling is such fun, too. Going back to the 1700s records in Virginia, I’ve found my family name with spellings like McDuell, McDewell, and McDoul. They really suggest the pronunciation has shifted from an “oo” as in “coo” to the “ow” as in “cow.”

      You never know—we might be related on that MacDougall side! And I’d like to think that our healthy mixes of ancestry make us a bit more aware of the interconnectedness and commonalities between all humans.


  17. JM, I’m also fascinated by lineage and from whenst I came, or however that goes. We share a lot of the same links, German, English, Irish, Welsh are our common ones I believe. Some believe we “recognize” our ancestral kin somehow even though we might not be aware of the link. It’s all so interesting our world. How we connect, how we’re connected, where we came from, and who will follow us. I love to find out new things. How fun for you.


    • I just think it’s so cool to see this glimpse into the history that went into making me. Any single test that’s currently available doesn’t tell the whole story. But it’s a first peek that we may be able to refine in time. It’s very likely that we’ve all crossed paths with distant cousins and never knew it. And wouldn’t it be fun to learn that some of our good friends, who might seem closer than family, really are family? That we’re 4th or 7th cousins? I’ll bet it happens more often than we know!


    • You’re very welcome. 🙂 I hope some clicks come through that widget for you and all my published blogs buddies! I love learning about my family’s past, and DNA testing offers insights I never would have dreamed possible not so many years ago. Maybe one of my characters will do something like this in a future story. 😉


  18. This was fascinating! When my father’s aunt was still alive, she was determined that I (and my daughter, when she was old enough) would join the DAR. The proof of lineage is a Big Deal, and she worked with several specialists (this lady did not do anything half way). While it traced and documented our family line back to England’s short-reign of Queen Anne and then documented everything after that, in the final analysis, I still did not want to be a member of the DAR. But it was fascinating, and the final product of paperwork was 2 1/2 inches high!


    • Lineage societies are important to some people, and that’s perfectly fine, but like you, that hasn’t been my interest. I’m just curious to know something about those ancestors who came before me. And I think it makes history more relevant for people when they can feel a connection to the times and events through an ancestor. Of course, I’m already interested in history, but even for me, the family connections really bring it closer to home. 🙂


  19. This is so interesting JM. Many years ago I tried to do a family tree, especially for my mom’s side as my uncle (my dad’s brother) had gotten a lot written down about their side of the tree.

    I wrote down everything I knew, names of aunts and uncles and their spouses and as many of my cousins as I could remember. But aside from my mom’s parents names (I was an infant when they passed), I didn’t know their parent’s names or siblings or anything about where they were from.

    I wrote up several questions for my mom who is the youngest of 11 and 8 of her siblings have passed away. I kept asking her to look at the questions, to tell me about her family and her past, but she kept putting it off. Eventually I realized she just didn’t want to think about her past and her family. She couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any more information from her. That was probably 10 years ago and I still can’t get her to talk about it, so I’ve kind of given up. This post makes me want to try again. 🙂


    • Sometimes, an older relative just isn’t interested in the past. And sometimes there’s a reason they don’t want to be reminded of it. Have you tried talking with the surviving siblings? Maybe they would know more or be willing to share? A good place to start is with the federal census records from 1940 (the most recent one made public) and then work back through each census from there. In genealogy, the best method is to start with what you know from the present and then work backward. If your family has been in the US since at least 1940, that’s where I would start if you can’t get any help from your mom or her siblings. If you’d like any pointers, feel free to ask me!

      You can also check the big genealogy sites to see if any cousins or even 2nd cousins have done the research and posted their findings on line. That’s another good resource, although you always want to verify the work yourself. There’s a lot of sloppy research out there. hosts a number of free-to-access family trees. Don’t tell (which purchased RootsWeb some years ago), but I find the RootsWeb trees easier to use. 😉


      • Thanks for the tips JM. No, haven’t spoken with the siblings because we’ve never really been in touch. My mom was only in touch with a few sisters and when they passed she was very disconnected from them. I’ve tried to help her reach the surviving ones but we’ve had little success. Sad! I can understand it is painful for her.

        Maybe I’ll check out those sites and get lucky!!


  20. I’ve heard about the DNA testing and found it fascinating. I’d love to do this. I do subscribe to Ancestry so have done some research into my ancestors, but they appear to have been a bit of a boring lot in terms of moving around – most seem to have been in the location around where I live for generations, other than on my paternal grandfather’s side, who came from Scotland (although, to be fair, Scotland isn’t very far from where we live either!) I hadn’t noticed the DNA option on Ancestry before you mentioned it, but it does seem to direct me to the US version when I click it, so may need to investigate further. But your thoughts about your results were even more interesting because of the background knowledge you have. Thanks for sharing it with us.


    • Right now, the Ancestry test is only available in the US although they’re working on extending it to other countries. I suspect there’s a lot of work involved in making sure all the legal and privacy requirements are met for each country. They will sell it to people who live outside the US but with the caveat that the terms and conditions are subject to US laws. I would bet Great Britain would be one of the first countries Ancestry would like to bring in because there’s such a long history between us.

      One of the reasons I went with Ancestry is because I have a subscription, too, and they compare your results to everyone who has taken the test and provide you with the matches—not the actual results of those others’ tests, but the estimated degree of relationship between you. (You also have the right to keep your results private, and then you wouldn’t be included in that information to others.) They include everyone from high confidence to low confidence matches and from relatively close relationships (such as 3rd cousins) to less close (4th to 6th cousins) to distant ones (5th to 8th cousins). Even on some of the low confidence matches I’ve found evidence of shared lines in our family trees. Plus, as more people take the test, they continue to update your results to show any new matches. Really intriguing for those of us who love delving into our family past! My initial 89 pages of results is already up to 93. 🙂


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