The cross roads of genetics and genealogy is a exciting new frontier right now. Individuals everywhere are quick to provide a DNA sample to one of the various testing companies. Then they sit back and wait. Anticipation builds waiting for the grand revelations that the sample will show.
Then the results come back.
When an overwhelming amount of matches and information is suddenly dumped into their laps after weeks of waiting a lot of people are chased off.
For those who actually dig into the matches and start to work out the various connections it can either be a fascinating new addiction or a confusing new version of trigonometry that will make your brain hurt. Often it can be both.
Puzzling it all out.
I went down the rabbit hole of genetic genealogy and quickly found myself hooked. Where traditional genealogy can often be questioned because people can provide incorrect information or people can be confused during records research, DNA doesn’t lie.
I have been lucky in the aspect that many of my known relatives have tested with one of the various DNA testing services. It has provided me the opportunity to evaluate various connections and how genetics have passed down through different lines. There have been several revelations have have been interesting to me.
By the numbers.
I share more DNA with my maternal uncle than I do with my paternal half-sister. Both relationships match up for the correct range of shared centimorgans but I found it interesting that I share 300 more cm’s of DNA with an uncle than I do with my half-sibling.
By the chance of recombination in DNA my half-sibling and I both inherited vastly different portions of DNA from our shared parent. I share a heavy dose of DNA with relatives of our shared grandfather, she shares a heavy dose of DNA with our shared grandmother. Our shared DNA is approximately 1500 cm’s.
In fact I share so little DNA with some of the relatives that she matches up to that I would be left to question the validity of those relationships to me if not for her test results.
Don’t use just one test when coming to final conclusions. Just like with traditional genealogy research, it is important to build a case based on various pieces of information and not just one tiny snippet that fits a theory.
Have you had any interesting match math in DNA results?
Not sure where to begin with your DNA results? DNA Painter is one site that every genetic genealogist should have in their tool box. This site offers amazing tools which allow the user to take DNA results to the next level.
This free webinar from Legacy Family Tree is a great introduction to DNA Painter.
Legacy Family Tree Webinars : An Introduction to DNA Painter
Most adoptees have questions. Few have questions like those who began life in the Hicks Community Clinic. The case of the Hicks Clinic babies is a powerful example of the information that can be discovered with the use of genetic genealogy technology.
Taken at birth – words to strike fear into the
heart of any mother. That is the title of a 3-part series on TLC that aired on Oct
9 -11, 2019. The series is about a small community that straddles the
Georgia-Tennessee state line and the dark history that gave the community
The town of McCaysville, Georgia was the scene of a secret black-market baby ring that operated for decades out of the clinic of a doctor named, Thomas Hicks, Sr. The town seems like any other quaint small town however, nothing about the small town is quite what it seems on the surface.
Dr. Thomas Hicks, Sr. was a respected family man and
community doctor, he was a fine upstanding citizen in his community. Under the
polished surface many layers of deceit festered.
It was a poorly kept secret in the region that the doctor
ran an illegal abortion clinic, drawing desperate women from all over the local
region for his services. It was a poorly kept secret in town that the “good”
doc was having affairs and fathering illegitimate children. A better kept
secret was the fact that the doctor was running a black-market baby adoption ring,
trading babies for cash in shady back door deals.
More than 200 individuals have been identified that passed through the back door of the Hicks Clinic.
No records have ever been found in the quest to learn the
truth behind the Hicks Clinic adoptions. If any were kept, they have been either
destroyed or have yet to be found. Extraordinary measures have been gone to in the
search to locate any of Dr. Hicks records only to turn up nothing. It seems as
if from beyond the grave, decades later, some of the townspeople of
McCaysville, Georgia are more interested in the cover up than the truth. Even
today Dr. Thomas Hicks Sr. is locally regarded as a man who did bad things with
The Hicks babies are all grown now and most of the
biological parents who have been identified have died taking their secrets with
them. Of some of the adoptees who have been reunited with their biological
families, the reactions have been mixed. At least one adoptee was intended to
be aborted and Dr. Hicks convinced the young woman to carry her child and put
it up for adoption. Even with those truths revealed it still feels like there
is more left unsaid to that story than has been revealed. Dr. Hicks plays the
complicated part of both villain and hero in many of the babies of the Hicks
Nothing about the case is cut and dry even decades after
the Hicks clinic closed.
Questions far outreach the answers and the web seems to grow ever larger. Powerful men in the town, the doctor, the mayor, and the chief of police all had knowledge of what was going on and indeed were involved in using the clinic to cover up their own private misdeeds in some cases.
How did the doctor eventually get shut down after decades
running his abortion clinic? What led to him getting caught after so long in
business? How did he manage to escape jail time for his illegal abortion ring? Have
any of the Hicks babies DNA matched each other?
I have so many questions about this case. I cannot fathom
the depths of frustration that is felt by the individuals who are trying to
navigate this in their own lives.
There is no documentation about what happened behind the doors of the clinic.
Few living individuals who know what was going on at the
time and of those…fewer are willing to speak. Even from the grave the “good”
doc manages to keep a town quiet about some of its darker secrets
To really understand the case in perspective requires a broader
view. Abortion was illegal. Women died in unsafe back alley abortions. Dr. Hicks
at least as far as anyone can tell took good care of the women in his charge if
not making the best medical decisions regarding the children they birthed. There
were not safety net programs to support unwed mothers. Society held a negative
view of unwed females. These were often desperate young women.
Was Dr. Hicks a villain or a hero? On some level perhaps he was both.
The doctor lost his medical license after his illegal abortion
clinic was closed by the authorities in the 1960’s. At that time the black-market
baby ring in McCaysville, Georgia ceased to operate. It would be decades more
before anyone even realized what was going on at the back door of the clinic.
I consider myself an addicted genealogist. There is a joke in the genealogy community. We are all self proclaimed addicts but you will never see a genealogist anonymous meeting. Why? Genealogists never want to quit. Perhaps we’re not a funny lot but the point is valid.
Everyday I dedicate time to researching or improving my research skills. I have been at this a long time and I consider myself a good researcher. In this field no one is ever truly an “expert”. People have specializations, but the subject is just so wide that it is is impossible to know it all at an expert level. It is a constant effort to acquire more information and skills.
If I ever strike it rich I might allow myself to spend endless amounts of money on this passion that I love so much but that is not this reality. Each of my precious genealogy budget dollars has to be used in the best way possible. I have discovered a few hacks to stretch my budget while still utilizing the vast resources at ancestry.com.
Being a member of ancestry.com can be a budget buster. The vast resources on the site, and the ease of use makes it worth the effort to subscribe to the paid site at least for short periods of time occasionally. However those monthly subscription fees can be hard to choke down.
4 Money Saving Ancestry Hacks
My first ancestry hack is to only subscribe when you are able to dedicate a considerable amount of time to research. If you are pressed for time and don’t know when you might have time to research then cancel that membership. It seems simple enough but I don’t know how many times I see people with a paid subscription to the site on auto renewal that haven’t touched the site in months. Your tree will remain there waiting for you to return at a free membership level unless YOU delete it. Don’t be afraid to save a few bucks if you can’t find the time to research.
My second ancestry hack is that even if you are researching on a regular basis cancel from time to time to get the company to offer a discount rate to stay. Often they will give 2 months for the twice of one if you have been a subscriber for awhile. It is no secret that most companies put more effort into attracting new customers than they do to ones who are loyal. I have no problem reminding companies that my research dollars are hard earned and I expect them to work for them just as they would a new customer. Ancestry is definitely one of the biggest and easiest to use sites but it is not the only place to research. I like to walk away from time to time just to remind myself that there are so many wonderful records repositories other than ancestry.
My third ancestry hack is to watch for sales. Ancestry is big on running regular sales. They typically run sales around holidays. The sales will typically offer DNA tests at $59 plus shipping and 50% off subscription services. I like to take advantage of sales around Black Friday and Mother’s Day to get my subscription services 50% off for the 6 month package.
My fourth ancestry hack is to use rakuten. It sounds too simple to be true but I always make sure I use a rakuten link when I purchase DNA tests or my regular subscription memberships. Typically, ancestry offers 7.5% cash back through rakuten. That’s right, just for buying your normal subscription you can earn 7.5% each and every time if you open a ticket through rakuten. I actually LOVE this site. They also offer 4% on DNA tests through ancestry. On a rare occasion I have even found ancestry on the double cash back list and received 15% cash back on my purchase.
Disclaimer: I will receive a small compensation from rakuten through this link however I recommend using rakuten for many of your shopping needs if you like to save money and receive cash back. I recommend this product because I think it is valuable and I have earned hundreds of dollars back in this method not because I have a referral link.
These are my 4 brilliant ancestry hacks. I use these methods to stretch my research budget and get the most out of each dollar I spend. Do you have any budget stretching ancestry hacks?
Like many other long-time genealogists, I find myself captivated
by the powerful tool created with the marriage of genetics and traditional genealogy.
There are so many implications both positive and negative that have come from
this meeting of science and history.
While the discussion of the merits and risks of genetic testing is one that will probably never be easily settled debate, for this moment I would like to touch on one interesting positive aspect of this exciting new research frontier, the DNA Doe Project.
The DNA Doe Project was one of the first organizations that drew
my interest to genetic genealogy.
While the tales of cases such as the capture of the Golden
State Killer dominate headlines when they are finally cracked with the sleuthing
capabilities of talented genetic genealogists such as CeCe Moore, quietly
behind the scenes thousands of equally talented researchers toil on cases that
will never make headlines.
The DNA Doe Project is one such organization full of
dedicated and talented researchers. The people at DDP work to fundraise for
extensive DNA testing of the remains of unidentified persons in the United
States. Thousands of volunteers work to give the names back to these “Does”
using both DNA analysis and traditional genealogy research methods to correctly
identify family connections. In some of these cases the families have waited
decades for closure, wondering what happened to their loved one who suddenly vanished.
Belle in the Well
The “Belle in the Well” was an unidentified person found in
a well in 1981. Recently, through the work of the DDP the family of the belle
in the well was identified and she was finally given back her name after nearly
In April 1981 2 girls playing found an unidentifiable object
in a well. Authorities were contacted and the severely decomposed remains of a
female were pulled from the well. The
adult woman was fully clothed, except for missing shoes. She had a key for a
bus locker on her body. There was not much to reveal the identity of this woman
who had been so callously strangled and discarded in a well. The “Belle in the Well”
would be her name until July 29, 2019.
” The woman was found wearing a pair of grey flannel pants, and a lightweight shirt under a gray pullover. She also wore a red cable-knit cardigan sweater, with rubber bands around her wrists. The only items found on her body were the key to a locker at a Greyhound terminal in Huntington, WV, a bus ticket, a pay stub, and a Jerry Falwall commemorative coin. “
DNA Doe Project via original case info
Louise Peterson Flesher
Fourteen months after a DNA profile was extracted from the
remains in the belle in the well, and with the efforts of thousands of
volunteers, the living daughter of Louise Peterson Flesher was located and with
DNA testing was performed to confirm the two were mother and daughter. The belle
in the well finally had her name returned to her and a woman who had wondered
for decades what happened to her mother finally had information and some
The murder of Louise Peterson Flesher remains an open case.
I found myself wondering how someone goes missing for
decades with no one realizing that their loved one is on an unidentified
persons list. Didn’t someone wonder where Louise disappeared to for 4 decades?
I looked up what I could find on Louise Peterson Flesher and the circumstances
of her life before she vanished.
She had been married at one time; she had a family at one
time. Her husband was a police officer. How did she wind up forgotten in that
From what I could find in quick research on Louise Peterson
Flesher her life was at one point at least on the surface a nice life until
1959. With a little deeper digging I discovered that the Flesher’s had two
daughters, the one who eventually helped identify her mother’s remains, and
another daughter, Helen. Helen was born about 1939 in Wyoming. In 1940 the family
is all living together. Two years later the household of Louise and her husband
is back in their home state of West Virginia which is not odd. At this point I
realize there was something amiss in the Flesher household. I found a death
record for Helen Flesher dated 1959 in Wyoming. She died at a place called the
Wyoming State Training School. Closer inspection reveals this to have been a
home for the “mentally retarded and feeble minded”.
The first instance I can find of Louise and her husband not
residing in the same household is the same year that their daughter Helen died,
1959, in Wyoming. The family was living in West Virginia and had been there since
they left Wyoming in 1942.
Did this death of Helen cause the crumbling of the Flesher
household? I can only speculate.
Louise’s and her husband divorced, and he remarried. I wish
I had a crystal ball to see what happened to Louise in the years between her daughter’s
death and what brought her to that well in 1981. How did she disappear, and no
one wondered where she was?
While hope of solving this case is dim I am thankful that
through the dedicated efforts of individuals like the volunteers at the DNA Doe
Project are working tirelessly to return the names to these unidentified persons
and to give closure to families who have sometimes waited decades to learn what
happened to their loved ones.
The “Belle in the Well” is just one of the many cases that
have been solved by the DNA Doe Project.
I have been dedicating a great deal of my time on working on genealogy cases
for others and less on my own. I discovered genetic genealogy and I fell down a
wonderful rabbit hole of exciting new tools and uses for my love of genealogy
by happenstance I discovered the power of genetic genealogy while assisting an
individual who showed up on ancestryDNA matches. Through messaging with a
mutual cousin, I discovered this cousin was an adoptee in search of his
I love a good puzzle so I couldn’t resist jumping headlong into this challenge
took me a couple weeks to crack the mystery. It was a long and winding road
that involved not just this cousin’s adoption but also the fact that his father
was the child of an adoption like process also. Once I put together the scientific
puzzle, I discovered a newspaper article that helped fill in further pieces and
finally one of the older generation relatives revealed information that had
been a poorly kept family secret for decades.
The cousin was happy to have someone finally tell him the truth about his parentage and I was overjoyed to have assisted in bringing him that information. I had a mission.
Shortly after the conclusion of this case I sent off an inquiry to join a non-profit organization called Search Angels and have now been spending my spare time assisting adoptees or estranged individuals use DNA and genealogical research to reunite them with their ancestral heritage.
Are you the product of an adoption confused by the process of figuring out who your biological family is? Consider search angels or a similar organization to help navigate the complex analysis of genetic information. You might even get me working on your case!
Using DNA with genealogy can be both a powerful and an intimidating prospect. When I first did my testing, I looked at my results and felt very overwhelmed. You get this list of tens of thousands of matches and it’s hard to fathom how to even approach organizing them or if you even want to bother. I thought it might be helpful for others if I shared some of the things I found useful in my journey into genetic genealogy.
I did my testing on ancestry. Ancestry has the biggest database of people who have taken the DNA test. Ancestry also has some serious limitations to their DNA side of the site. The estimated relationships on ancestry are very vague compared to other sites. They also lack a chromosome browser using instead what can be misleading “shared matches” only.
Despite the limitations of ancestry’s DNA tools, there is a lot of great information that can be pulled from ancestry. To get the most out of the matches on ancestry without going through each tree all at once I use a Leed’s Spreadsheet. I create a list of all matches down to about 50 cm’s. For simplicity, I start at the first match that is below 500cm’s. I start with the first match and color all the shared matches with that match the same color. I then move onto the next match that I didn’t assign to the first group, choose a new color, and mark all the shared matches creating a second group. I go on to the next match not in groups 1 or 2 and create group 3. I continue until I have created groups of all my matches. This will usually sort the matches out into several family lines.
Smaller groups are much easier to compare to see who the shared family lines are between the various matches.
Here is a helpful and more in-depth guide to using the Leeds Method.
It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with the limitations of ancestry’s DNA site. I started looking for more ways to get the most out of my information. Enter DNA Painter.
DNA Painter is a site with most of the features free. DNA painter has several tools that are amazing for helping process DNA data. I’ll start with the “What are the Odds?” tool. This tool allows you to take matches from ancestry and input the shared cm’s creating a basic tree for how you think a match connects. This allows you to test a hypothesis and tell you if you are on the right track. It is very useful for ruling out wrong relationships and narrowing down possible connections.
Another tool on DNA painter is the “Shared CM Tool.” This tool can take vague relationships of ancestry and refine them into more detailed explanations. It provides an odds breakdown of each of the possible relationships. This can be useful for trying to determine where to put shared matches on the “What are the Odds?” tree.
The last tool that I find useful on DNA Painter is useless with ancestry due to the lack of a chromosome browser but there is a work around to obtain your chromosome information if you do testing on ancestry. This last tool is the ability to create a genetic profile. Using a site that gives you the shared chromosomes of DNA matches DNA painter gives you the ability to “paint” your matches. This tool is powerful for grouping up matches based on actual shared genetics.
To obtain chromosome information using ancestry test results I recommend downloading your raw DNA data from ancestry and uploading it to Gedmatch Genesis.
This site is free but there is a pay option for some of the more technical tools.
This blog by the DNA Geek will help you transfer your data from ancestry to Gedmatch Genesis.