Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mirror Trees for Genetic Genealogy

In September, my fellow genealogist, Monique Bunch, made a wonderful presentation to our DNA Special Interest Group on the use of Mirror Trees at  The mirror tree technique has grown out of the need to get more clues and even a little clarity about those pages and pages of DNA matches at AncestryDNA. We were all looking forward to her presentation as she had made a real breakthrough with the technique on the afternoon of a lecture series presented by Blaine Bettinger. She was positively glowing with excitement and her enthusiasm was infectious. She is definitely a genealogy girl after my own heart.

Without further ado, and at Monique's request, I am posting her notes from that presentation here to share with our fellow SIG members and other curious tree builders.


Mirror Trees – Why create them?  What does my DNA test have to do with it?

By Monique Bunch, NC

There are many reasons to create a Mirror Tree and attach your DNA test to that tree.  First to understand is a Mirror Tree recreates the tree of another person.  This allows their tree to essentially become yours and you now have administrative rights.  If there is a mistake, you can correct it.  It's like having a pencil and paper tree with an eraser at the ready.

Here is a list of reasons I found for creating a Mirror Tree:


Figuring out how a DNA match connects on the paper trail
Find how several DNA matches who seem to all be known to each other are connected
Connect several DNA matches to a common surname and particular line to narrow the search
Surnames are in common but locations are different
No common surnames
Different ethnicity AND the locations are different
DNA match has a small tree
DNA match has a private tree
Research a particular line
Keeps any mistakes I make out of my own tree
Place to keep all kinds of notes

Here is a list of reasons I found for attaching my DNA test to a Mirror Tree:


Any DNA matches in my many pages of them that have the same ancestors already in their own tree will be counted in the Shared Ancestor Hints
I will have a group of persons to look at instead of just one or two
I may force a DNA circle
I can climb back generations to the potential common ancestor quickly
I can essentially become any person in the tree which allows me to look at it from different angles
A larger surname list to work
Undiscovered clues in records you may have already looked at (ie, your ancestor on page 5 of a census and your DNA matches ancestor on page 7 of the same census record)
New questions that didn't occur to you before

Here is what will not happen:


You will not lose any of your DNA matches from your many pages of them
Your relationship to a DNA match that you have figured out doesn't change (ie, your parent is still your parent, your sibling is still your sibling, your known 1st cousin is still your 1st cousin)  All that was known before you started and your DNA test just confirmed it.  Remember you still need a document trail to back up the connection theory or belief.

Here is what will happen:


You will temporarily move your DNA test to another tree
You will temporarily lose your Shared Ancestor Hints because they were created as a result of your true working tree
You will hopefully get a new list of Shared Ancestor Hints*
You will hopefully force a DNA circle*
You will begin to see relationships that were otherwise unknown
You will gain a sense of direction (ie, follow the paternal line on one DNA match and the maternal line on another DNA match)
If you have a parent or parent's sibling who tested and share one of these DNA matches, you know which side of your family to work your DNA match
You can use “DNA” in the name of your match when you place them in the tree

Personal Experience:


I learned about creating a Mirror Tree to force Shared Ancestor Hints within my DNA match list at a DNA workshop presented by Blaine Bettinger.  I already had created a Mirror Tree for a DNA match but hadn't known to attach my DNA test to that Mirror Tree.  Also I wasn't aware that I could attach any test I administered to a Mirror Tree.  I have four tests total I can use to generate more information using this technique.  It won't work with adopted persons unless they have biological information.

My DNA match was K.T. who was adopted but had discovered her biological parentage years before.  K.T. had her DNA attached to her biological tree.  When K.T. contacted me, she was very excited.  I matched she and her son.  My mother also matched them.  I knew the connection was maternal for me.  K.T. was inquiring about her biological mother and whether we were connected there.  An exchange of information and review of her tree caused me to see a familiar surname – Fike.  K.T. had definite connections to the Fike family but I did not.  I only had a listing of DNA matches with that surname as did my mother and my brother.  So that was the first clue for where we should begin.

I started a Fike family tree and began it with the most distant Fike based on our suggested generation distance.  The Fike I started with is her great-great-great-grandfather.  I determined to look through all of my matches with the surname Fike to see if I could connect them to this person as well.  My theory was if they all connected here, then that was most likely our common ancestor.  I could only connect so many of my matches though.  That is until Blaine Bettinger provided me with the next level, attach my DNA test to the Fike family tree.

I put that to the test at his workshop and found many connections as well as moved up a level in my generation connection.  I linked my DNA test to the Fike family tree and chose to be K.T.  When I did so, I learned her relationship to several other matches and placed them in my tree.  Because I had administered my mother's test and my brother's, I repeated the process with each of them.  Now I have a list of DNA matches to use to solve the puzzle instead of just K.T. and her son.  I know that the connection is maternal for me and paternal for her.  I know that the surnames include Fike, Crownover and Jasper.  I have connected DNA matches to the children of Crownover/Jasper.  I have found a similar sounding surname in my maternal line living two doors down from a Fike.  That is an avenue to explore.

I have created a few other trees.  I have taken one of them a step further.  I shared the tree with a DNA match where we are both editors.  S.A.C. can add and delete as she comes up with information.  I began identifying the DNA matches in my list by using (DNA) in their first name.  If it is a shared match, now S.A.C. and I both know how that person is connected to the tree.  Either of us may already know how they are connected to us and that is another piece of the puzzle that we have.  We are collaborating with one other DNA match that we share, J.H.S.  S.A.C. and J.H.S. believe they know their connection and working this tree has given them another look at that theory.  There is more work to do but more people working on the puzzle makes the task much more manageable.

I have screen shots of the Shared Ancestor Hint connections, notes in the Notes section both in the tree and a brief relationship direction in the notes section of the DNA match as well as written communication between my shared matches. 


If there are questions, Monique's contact information is available at the end of the file here or you can contact me through the blog and I can get the message to her.

Thank you, Monique, for sharing your success with mirror trees with us and for allowing me to share your thoughts here on my blog.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Preparing your gedcom to upload to Gedmatch and your DNA testing sites

This is a really bare bones post that I am putting up for the DNA sig to reference tonight. I will add more as the need arises.

You really need your family tree attached to your test kit wherever you post it. A gedcom is a pretty universally accepted format to accomplish this.

I have successfully created gedcom files by exporting my direct line data from my Legacy program. I believe you can also do this from Ancestry (I don't know the process there.)

Once you have created the gedcom, you need a way to view to be sure you are not publishing a lot of information that you don't really want to give public access to. I like to restrict mine down to names, date and location of birth, date and location of death. I also like to restrict the details of my immediate family and my parents generation.

Once my gedcom is created, I scan it for problems using a free program called GenviewerLite.

Here are some screenshots of the program.

Family view:

Here is the individual view:
The view allows me to see if I have removed enough detail from the immediate family members that I am comfortable displaying them online.

GenviewerLite and the full featured Genviewer are available from

Friday, December 4, 2015

Finding Frederick: Who and where were you before 1841?

Frederick Courtney was my 2great grandfather on my mother's side. He is one of my brick wall ancestors. What I know of him is what I have gleaned from records and documents and a few family lore type clues. After years of searching I know how he lived as an adult in the sleepy little community of Bayou Chicot, Louisiana, but not the full story of his origins. The sum total of what I know of his origins is presented this obituary that we were fortunate to find on a recent research trip to Louisiana.

In an attempt to get some answers, some very gracious male descendants of his male children volunteered for the ydna test through the Courtney surname project. Finally, we would get some answers....or so I thought.

Here in lies my overdue attempt to account for the results we have so far to those who graciously volunteered and those interested cousins standing on the sidelines waiting to hear "the rest of the story."

(click the pic to view a readable version)

The data in the picture above shows our test group on the ynda project managed by Stan Courtney. These are the ydna test results for the 2 kits that I manage, both male descendants of Frederick. One is descended from Henry Davis Courtney, Sr. The other is a descendant of the oldest son, Dr. Franklin W. Courtney.

Think of the series of number like the edges of a set of keys.* Some match up really closely, some don't match up at all. The two in our group match each other really well. If  you review the number sequence carefully you will see that they are only off by one digit at two points along the sequence.

Silhouette vector designed by Freepik

These "keys" clearly are from the same bunch. This analogy will become more clear as you look at these two and compare to the two larger test groups that I share with you below.

Back when we first started to pursue this testing, Stan expected us to fit into the descendant line of Jacob Courtney based on where he settled. His group shows as: 
Group 13 - R1b: U106 > L48 - Descendants of Jacob Courtney b 1761 Germany d 1835 Morgan County, WV

Notice that he was in the vicinity of Shepherdstown in his later years and at his death. Also he was old enough to be Frederick's father. That sounded nice to me and would make a tidy conclusion to our mystery. The results were negative for this conclusion.

If you look at group 13 and compare our data above with the data for Jacob's descendants, you can see there is not a match there at all. In fact, if you take that little strip of data above and compare it to the results of all the Courtney ydna tests, you can see that there is no clear or strong match to any of the groups. We are a little cluster of 2 off by ourselves.

What I did get with the results of the kits that I manage is a jaw-droppingly strong match to the Trout/Traut surname ydna study. On both kits, at least 2/3 of the kits reported to match our 2 "y's" claim a connection to an ancestor with the surname Trout, with Johann Wendel Georg TRAUT (1689-1760) being the most common ancestor stated. He was born in Germany and quick research has hinted that some of his children were in the right area of Va/WV at the time. Those male children would have been around the right age to be Frederick's father.

If you take the data strip above and look at the results on the Trout page, esp those of B group, you can see there is no more "square peg, round hole" problem, but a nice smooth fit like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place. There is definitely a link there. 

There is some esoteric connection between Frederick, his mysterious Shepherd ancestor, JWG Traut (and or his sons) and maybe even Jacob Courtney (an adoption or just taking in an orphan boy or an out of wedlock baby somewhere). It all centers around that fairly remote part of Va/WV. I don't know if it will ever be revealed and I am beginning to think maybe Frederick wanted it that way...

It is sad that all we have of his beginnings is what he told his children that they managed to remember. Too bad he didn't leave any written records of his origins - a family bible, letters from home, an ancestor's will, something, anything that would give us a concrete clue to work from.

If these clues exist, I have not found them and I have been researching this puzzle since at least 2003. If you know of some existing clue to the early part of his life (1815-1840 in Virginia/West Virginia) or someone who is searching for Frederick, please, contact me so we can collaborate. It is anybody's guess at this point.

Flimsy clues are all we have right now. This is a mystery that will probably take years or lifetimes to solve. Hopefully as more people test, more will be revealed. 

*The learning curve for understanding genetic genealogy study is very steep. The key concept is a drastic oversimplification to help with first time exposure to these concepts. I am still learning...and this stuff is hard, y'all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My family tree feels more like family spaghetti!! I need some goals.

Well, I have been soaking up genealogy facts for more than 10 years now. I have stuff in my Legacy file, on Ancestry, in paper folders and photo boxes and albums. Whew!

I have hit the point that I need to know what I have and know where it is. I can't really share my stories right now. There is so much stray data in my head that I can't talk about most of my ancestors without my large file open in front of me. Right now, I don't really feel like I have a family tree - it is more like family spaghetti!!  I know I remember that bit from somewhere......but where??

My goal for now is a complete genealogy reorganization of what I have and how I use it. I must get a better handle on it for several reasons.
1) I want to make more of this blog - it will help me with my other ultimate goals.
2) I have to get all I have learned into small comprehensible nuggets to share with family - otherwise, what is the point of all the time I have spent. I doubt my kids will wade thru all the files that I have accumulated. I need to make sense of it so they will see it is important.
3) I hope to take a genealogy trip in the fall and better organization now will result in better use of time while on the trip.

I have been following along the process of the Genealogy Do Over. It is an organized approach to a massive undertaking and I respect all their efforts. I have learned a tremendous amount about process and organization from the discussion group, but I have also learned that to accomplish my desires above, my process has to take a different path.

So my starting goals are as follows:
  • Rename, and relocate genealogy files already on my computer and attach to the appropriate person in my Legacy file.
  • Save the documents and images I have found on Ancestry as digital files on my computer and attach to Legacy appropriately.
  • Clean up sourcing notations as I work thru the new features of Legacy 8.
  • Get my non digital materials scanned, digitized and linked appropriately.
  • Create more blog post from the organized files that I create.
  • Prepare for the upcoming trip in the fall.
  • Find some apps/tools to make it all portable.
That sounds doable, right?

Friday, April 6, 2012

I might be a 1940 census ninja!

Well, all my best intentions to get this blog off the ground went astray right after my first post. Some family illness issues and the not so happy outcome of all that left me very distracted and little time to post.

Things are settling down now and starting to be sorted out so I hope to develop a good blogging routine here.

In the meantime, I have been stealing some moments to browse the new 1940 census images that have just become available on this week. I have been waiting impatiently for these to come out and just couldn't be bothered to wait for an indexed version to be published.

I have already found 4 of my families just browsing the printed images. That's 1 in Rowan county, North Carolina and 3 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I found my grandmother and my father and uncle as little boys right where I knew they would be on Caldwell St in Salisbury.

And I didn't just get lucky.

I had a plan.

Using my wide screen monitor to its best advantage, I used the split screen mode. On the left half I had a window open with to Ancestry. com 1940 census search. On the right side I opened a Google map and entered the address for my father's childhood home.

With the Salisbury census data, it was easy to parse out which enumeration district I needed to look at because they were really thourough in describing the N, S, E, W boundries of each district. I was able to narrow it down by looking at about 3 that fit the part of town I knew they were living in. I was paging backwards and forwards through the district, comparing addresses listed on the current page as I went.

I was able to locate them with only a little detailed page searching. The map allowed me to zero in on them quickly and rule out the wrong eds by watching the addresses on my target pages as they got farther or closer. Like that old kids game, I was getting hotter or colder.

I frankly surprised myself when I had found my dad and his family. I never dreamed that I would be successful without having an index to rely on. I was thrilled and it was quite a lot of fun being the detective.

My dad, Bobby B,  age 12, with his brother, my grandmother and great-grandmother in the 1940 census

I wanted to find my Little Rock relatives right away, but I was forced to wait until the Arkansas pages were uploaded. I checked back today and was able to locate 3 of my LR relatives using the same technique.

I never expected to have 4 hits with in 4 days of the census being released.

I declare myself the 1940 Census Ninja!

Feel free to try this strategy if you have a few spare minutes and love noodling around with maps as much as I do.

When you find your family member, be sure to save the census image link to a person or persons in your tree at or make a note of the url so you can go back to it. I saved the first record to my Grandmother Cleaver in Salisbury this way and it was easy to get back to it.

Happy ancestor hunting!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Accidental Genealogist

Welcome to my new family history blog. This is something I have been meaning to do for a long time.

I never set out to study genealogy. I was mildly interested in history and logged more that my share of hours as a kid sitting around the round oak dining table listening to the litany of family members and stories, but I never gave it more than a passing thought as I went about my business and raised a family of my own. It just never occurred to me to dig and ferret out bits of history and musty old documents, not my thing.


One Day.

My sister-in-law presented my husband with a thick packet of papers that traced parts of his family all the way back to the 1500s. I was curious. I was intrigued. I read casually flipping back and forth through the document following the different lines. As I read, I started to recognize places and stories that I had heard around this newer family dining room table.

I started to wonder if there were any long branches like this in my own tree. I had only ever heard talk of family back two or three generations. No one in my immediate family had ever done any formal research, just the usual bits of paper stuffed into the family bible and a couple of old photos here and there. I did have in my possession a couple of memoirs from extended family members and one really good detailed account of my forebears in Louisiana. So I started reading, and charting, and googling, and discovered online genealogy. The more I did this, the more the events that I remember reading about in dusty old books in school became stories about my people. It all came alive and much more important than ever before. The rest is, as they say, history!

So here I am 10 years later, with a database of 3012 relations and stories that must be told to anyone who cares to listen. I have brickwalls and lines that "go back to God" as my cousin exaggerates. I have kings and commoners, colonials and confederates, lawyers, farmers, doctors, and Indians. There are a few tinkers, tailors and tax collectors too.

People say I should write a book and I suppose that if this was 25 or 50 years ago that would be the way to go. Now though, every time I sit down to make some sense out of all this accumulated history I just get overwhelmed and sucked back into the vortex of stories and names and dates.

We are fortunate to live in this age of internet and blogs and hyperlinks. It occurs to me that I should approach this just like the old saying "How do you eat an elephant?"

Of course, the answer is one bite at at time and that is what this blog will allow me to do. Present one story, one family at a time, yet they can still be all linked together in orderly ways by family line or chronology. It will be very much a study in how best to do this and a work in progress so please bear with me.

I will start off with my mother's Courtney line. I have just seen my cousins and tried to explain all that is so fascinating to them but is is just too much to absorb in a hasty long weekend when there is catching up to do and catfish and barbeque to eat. As a favor and labor of love for them, I will try to present all those fantastical claims that I made with the attendant facts so they can see what the crazy ancestor lady was talking about.

Next post will be near and dear to our hearts. It's all about Aubrey and Lucie and their little house on the hill that we all think of as home.
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