Episode 338 - Dr. Blaine Bettinger on Ancestry’s Centimorgan Change and How DNA from Heirlooms Could Lead to Great Breakthroughs

podcast episode Aug 16, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David begins by explaining a case of serendipity from which he was the recent beneficiary. Hear what happened! David then shares a great project opportunity for all of us… transcribing anti-slavery manuscripts at the Boston Public Library. It’s something you can do from home! A tribe in California has regained possession of some of their ancestral land. Hear about the tribe and how it came to pass. Then, a 52-year-old cold case has been solved by an amateur genealogist. He had the needed clue to identify a Jane Doe murder victim from 1968! David then talks about a photographer who has taken photos of descendants of famous ancestors in the look of their ancestors’ times. The results are remarkable.

Fisher then visits with Dr. Blaine Bettinger about Ancestry.com’s recent announcement that they are raising the threshold for a “match” from six centimorgans to eight. How can we best preserve the six to seven centimorgan matches we already have and how might this change affect our genetic genealogy research? Dr. Bettinger has some thoughts.

Fisher and Blaine Bettinger then talk about Keepsake DNA, the new lab that just opened in Salt Lake City that allows genealogists to submit old envelopes, false teeth, hats, glasses and countless other items that may lead to DNA profiles of ancestors long since dead. How useful might these profiles from long ago be in breaking through brick walls? Dr. Bettinger explains his hopeful forecast.

David then returns for Ask Us Anything. The guys begin by answering a question about cattle marks and family history. Then, what is the story with British censuses? How come the US has already released its 1940 census and Britain has only released through 1911? When might we get another census from across the pond? David explains the reasons and issues, and what is to come. Eventually.

That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript for Episode 338

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 338

Fisher: Hello genies everywhere! It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, on America’s Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com, the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, today we’re going to kind of continue where we’ve been the last couple of weeks. As you recall, I shared some envelopes, licked presumably, by my ancestors and relatives, and sent them on to a new lab called Keepsake DNA. And we just got the results this past week, and I thought this week we ought to talk to Blaine Bettinger. Dr. Bettinger has a lot to say about getting DNA from heirlooms and what that can mean to us as researchers in trying to break through brick walls. And we’re also going to talk to him about those pesky little two centimorgans that are going away from the bottom end of matches on Ancestry.com. Dr. Bettinger has a lot to say about that. Hey, if you haven’t signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” yet, you know you’ve got to do it. Just get on our website ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page, and get signed up for free. You can check out my blog each week along with a couple of podcasts, current and past, and stories that you’ll enjoy as a genealogist. Right now, it’s time to check in with David Allen Lambert, the chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. How are things in Stoughton, Massachusetts Mr. Lambert?

David: Muggy.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Very, very muggy.

Fisher: Muggy. Yes.

David: Yes.

Fisher: By the way, you know, we were just talking about this DNA thing and everything going on with Keepsake DNA David.

David: Hmm.

Fisher: I’ve got my half second cousin that I tracked down fourteen years ago

David: Okay.

Fisher: And he’s been sharing stuff with me that could be of mutual interest to us both and trying to see how this lab might work. [Laughs] And he texted me the other day and said, “Hey, how would you like your half great aunt’s teeth?” He found a bridge with two teeth on it. They were in her mouth while she was on her death bed. And apparently, he never was able to throw it out, and never knew what he could do with it. And now, we’re going to run it through Keepsake and see if we can get her DNA off of that. He sent me a picture and they’re not pretty, let me tell you.

David: [Laughs] Oh goodness. Well, you just never know what people are going to find.

Fisher: Exactly.

David: Sure. Well, you know, it’s funny with relatives. I had to give a talk to a group in Denver two week ago, and I talked about finding your family that your ancestors left behind. In this case it was England. Four days to the day I gave that lecture I get a DNA match, 18 centimorgans. An ancestor writing to me says, “I remember the story my grandmother told me about her brother named Wallace, and I searched and I found her tree.” This is so important to put trees beyond your own ancestors online. I don’t care what you use. I have now found a family and photos and we haven’t really been in touch since 1910.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Serendipity.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

David: Well, I’ll tell you, we’re guided in the most mysterious, but practical ways. [Laughs]

Fisher: Indeed, we are.

David: Well, you know, starting our Family Histoire News, I’d love to recruit some of our people who have a very rare talent…handwriting. There is actually a collection at the Boston Public Library on Anti-Slavery Manuscripts. They’re asking the general public to start reading and transcribing. You can sign up and do it right online. You’ll find the story on ExtremeGenes.com and the website is anti-slaverymanuscripts.org. Find out about it and get your hand at preserving history and helping future generations learn about this important part of American history.

Fisher: Yeah, great project.

David: A Native American tribe has now gotten back ancestral lands in California’s Big Sur coast. They were lost 250 years ago when the Spanish first settled there.

Fisher: Wow! And I read this story and at first, when I heard about it, I thought, “Did it really happen?” And it has. And there’s a lot behind it involving a conservation group that took care of the funding for this. And now, these people have been restored to their native land right there in California. It’s fantastic.

David: The only 1200 acres of five miles of land. It’s worth about $4.5 million, but I think they deserve it.

Fisher: And they’re going to conserve it. That’s part of the deal. It’s incredible.

David: That’s really great. You know, we’re talking about volunteers to help out with the anti-slavery manuscripts at the Boston Public Library, but it does take a village. I mean, an Edgewater man who identified a Jane Doe in a 52-year-old cold case file that was amazing. Another great story on ExtremeGenes.com and this one happened back in the ‘60s. 

Fisher: Yeah, this guy Steve Sabo, he was contacted by the DA’s office, and asked him for some help and he’s an amateur genie, like most of us are, and he found an obituary in his collection and it mentioned a daughter of this one couple that went to California and was never heard from again. And that was the clue that the authorities needed and they were able to identify this Jane Doe murder victim and return her remains to the family, which is a great story. So, congratulations to Steve. I’m sure it’s something he’ll never forget.

David: You know, we like to look back at history and look at the photos of those who came before us, maybe in our own family or famous photos in history. But I was doing a double take with that story on ExtremeGenes.com with that Smithsonian Magazine with Frederick Douglass’ descendant. Wow!

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah, this photographer has been taking famous photographs of historic figures, tracking down their descendants, dressing them up like their ancestors and putting the pictures side by side, and the Frederick Douglass one is, they’re almost indistinguishable one from the other. The ancestor and the descendant, it’s unbelievable.

David: Wow. I mean, there’s one of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s descendants which they said is hard to find some of the living descendants of some of the early influential women from history because of the high infant mortality rate of it didn’t have kids at all. And then there’s a portrait of one of the African American descendants through Sally Hemings from Thomas Jefferson.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Do give a click to all the stories on ExtremeGenes.com but that one is one that is going to blow your mind away.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes it will.

David: [Laughs] Hey listen, if you are not a member of American Ancestors, 175 years we’ve been waiting for you. So, you can go to AmericanAncestors.org for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and we’re going to even toss a little present for you. You can save $20 when you join, if you mention “Extreme” in the coupon code before you check out. Talk to you soon my friend.

Fisher: All right David, back end of the show, back for Ask Us Anything, we’ll talk to you then. And coming up next, I’m going to talk to Dr. Blaine Bettinger. He’s quite known in our field in the DNA area. We’re going to talk about the change in centimorgans from matches coming upon and talk about DNA from heirlooms and the practical side of that as far as he sees it, all coming up in two segments when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 338

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Blaine Bettinger

Fisher: Well, there are a lot of changes happening in the world of DNA and family history right now, and the biggest one at the moment happens to be with Ancestry.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth on Extreme Genes and I have my friend Dr. Blaine Bettinger on the line right now. And Blaine, it’s great to have you back on the show. This is a big change going at Ancestry right now and I think a lot of people are going, “Well, what’s two little centimorgans at the bottom end of things?” Let’s first of all explain exactly what this means as far as your matching goes.

Blaine: Sure. And thank you very much for having me. It’s always a pleasure. So, these small segments, what is going to happen is that soon the date is currently unclear, we believe it’s going to be around the end of August. Ancestry DNA will be removing all of our matches where the total is 6 or 7 centimorgans. Now, that’s all the way at the end of the match list because the current threshold is 6 centimorgans. If you don’t share a total of 6 centimorgans with someone you will won’t see them as a match.

Fisher: Yes. But they’ve got a way for us to preserve those.

Blaine: That’s correct. So, if you want to save those matches, then you can do a couple of different things. So, if you add them to a color dot group, so if you’re familiar with Ancestry you know you have the option of adding people to custom groups and it gives it a little circle, a little dot with a color on it. If you add those matches to a color dot group, it will be retained. If you message a match, it will be retained. If you star it, it will be retained. And so those are some of the ways that you can preserve those matches.

Fisher: But nonetheless, we’re not going to get any new ones after this, so this is just to preserve the ones that we have. And I guess the question a lot of people might have is how significant are 6 and 7 centimorgan matches. I know that Ancestry’s saying this will eliminate maybe two thirds of our false matches that might come up. What are your thoughts on this?

Blaine: Well, there are different opinions on this, and my opinion is that there’s two issues with small segments, and you have to overcome both if you ever hope to actually use it as DNA evidence. So, if you want to use a small segment as DNA evidence, first you have to show it’s a valid segment. And unfortunately, we know as potentially as much as 50% of those 6 to 7 centimorgans segments are false, so the validity is the first issue. The other issue is age. Even if you could somehow show that a small segment was valid, you would still have to deal with the issue that small segments could be 10 or 20 generations old. And our trees, my tree isn’t very complete, 10 to 20 generations out. So, when I compare to another person and we’re trying to find common ancestry, if we have to go that far back in time, we’re going to have a very, very difficult time trying to find common ancestry.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah. Sure. And then I would imagine also that you just want to make sure that it’s not coming from somewhere else other than where you think it is. And that’s a lot harder that far back, right?

Blaine: That’s exactly the problem. We may find a common ancestor, which notably does not mean that the segment is valid. We may find a common ancestor but we could share on a completely different line five generations previously that we don’t even know we share.

Fisher: Yeah. That nobody has ever discovered. So, by knocking this off, we are, I would assume, everybody kind of agrees we’re knocking out an awful lot of potential false matches. I would imagine this means identical by state as opposed to identical by descent?

Blaine: Yeah. Those terminologies are definitely complicated ones, but yes. So, I call them pseudo segments. It’s an artifact of the way testing is done rather than sequencing every single base on our DNA. We’re sort of spot-checking it using these chips that are used. And so because there are gaps and other things in this sequencing it’s not a perfect comparison when you’re looking at small segments. It allows for false segments or pseudo segments to be created. And that’s a problem in these small segments because they don’t have an identifier. They don’t raise their hand and say hey, I’m a valid segment, or hey, I’m an invalid segment, and that’s the problem.

Fisher: Um hmm. And it’s just difficult for the common researcher to figure out how to determine if it is legit.

Blaine: Right. So, things like even triangulation, sharing shared matches, finding a common ancestor, none of those have been shown to actually prove that a small segment is valid.

Fisher: Oh wow. So, this is probably a good move then on the part of Ancestry in your assessment?

Blaine: Well, that definitely depends on who you ask because there are very, very strong opinions about this. Personally, I don’t have time to worry about my small matches. I have lots and lots and lots of matches. I am very lucky that way. Some other populations don’t have as many larger matches and so they spend more time down in the small distant matches. That doesn’t mean that their conclusions are safe from the issue of validity and age, but that’s one reason people spend more time in their small matches is because they don’t have the luxury, they don’t have the privilege that we have with all of these larger matches.

Fisher: Well, it’s interesting because I did ask the question about potentially then lowering the threshold for shared matches from 20 centimorgans to something maybe 15 or 16 or something like that. And their response was, “Well, we’d actually think about raising it to increase the quality of the shared matches.” Although they said that this is not something that’s on their radar so it’s just going to stay right where it is. What are your thoughts on that?

Blaine: Yeah, I certainly wouldn’t want to raise it. I’ve always said I’d be willing to lower it to 15 if it came with a skull and crossbones warning.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Blaine: Because the more distant those shared matches get, the greater the likelihood that it’s not a result of common ancestry among the group but because of lots of different interrelated lines coming in. And it’s just sort of polluting the shared match group with people that don’t really belong there. In fact, several times over the past few years Ancestry has inadvertently relaxed the threshold and so we got more shared matches than the 20 centimorgan threshold would normally allow. And interestingly, every time that’s happened, it’s been twice I believe, every time that’s happened we’ve been getting reports in the Facebook groups of something wrong with shared matching because the groupings no longer make sense. It’s full of both maternal and paternal matches. So, that actually makes perfect sense when you talk about lowering that threshold. You’re going to start bringing in matches that no longer are a result of common ancestry among the group.

Fisher: Interesting. So, if you were to do that, then you almost have to make it a separate category, like you say with a big warning on it. But then could it mess up what happens above 20 centimorgans if they did that?

Blaine: If they lowered the threshold?

Fisher: Yeah.

Blaine: No. I think it would still be okay up there. I always tell people anyway, when it comes to a shared match list, always, always, always start working with the closes matches first. They’re going to be the closes to you and the easiest to work with.

Fisher: Sure.

Blaine: I realize that some shared match groups don’t work out that well, and sometimes all we have are more distant ones. But yeah, I don’t think lowering the threshold would be too bad for those closer matches. 

Fisher: So, what would be your advice about how to manage the 6 and 7 centimorgan matches that we have right now if we wish to preserve them? I started playing with it just a little bit to get an idea because, like you, I don’t spend a lot of time down there. I’ve run across a few where they had a common ancestor and I knew for instance from my own research that they were in fact legitimate descendants. But when you start getting down there, I mean, there are thousands of them down in that range.   

Blaine: Yeah. I mean, we’re talking potentially tens of thousands. So, my recommendation would be this, first of all, if you have large numbers of close matches, I really wouldn’t worry too much about those 6 and 7 centimorgans. It’s going to turn out years from now we’re all going to forget this happened. The databases are going to continue to grow.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Blaine: But if you’re that concerned about it, what I would recommend is then save all of the matches that have common ancestors.

Fisher: Yeah.

Blaine: Because what you’re doing then is, you’re preserving not the DNA evidence because as I just said, you really can’t use the DNA evidence, but you’re preserving the genealogical connection. And that may turn out to be important down the road. So, you can add Ancestry for example, using the filters, you can filter out and get all of your 6 to 7 centimorgan matches, then you can click the common ancestors button and just add those people that show up to a new custom group. For example, I did that. I had about 95 people in that range. I just added them to a new group. There are people that would show up in True Lines for example, so I have those saved for the genealogical connection only.

Fisher: That’s what I wound up doing exactly. And it wasn’t that many. I had only 20 or 30 in that range. But sometimes, that might be your only hint that you’ve at least got something right. One of your lines where you’re not quite sure, but you’re looking at this and going, “Ha! Look at here, somebody who came from that match.” I mean, it’s still some kind of helpful evidence, especially if you can track down and see that at least genealogically it makes sense. But maybe like you say, the DNA evidence just can’t be validated with a 100% certainty.

Blaine: Right. Not today anyway. So, yeah, I would say they’re great as genealogical clues. Just don’t rely on that as proving anything or being DNA evidence.

Fisher: Well, I had somebody in one of my groups saying they were just spending all of their nights marking off all these connections. I just put them in a group and I started looking at what mine was and it’s like wow, that is one big massive project to take on and I don’t know what the return on investment of time is there. Not too much. But it’s coming up very soon, like you say, sometime in August. They haven’t set the date. But it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens as a result. And I think you’re right, when we get through this a little ways down the line, we’ll realize we haven’t really lost much. And if anything else, we have a lot fewer distracting among the matches in that group. By the way, what are the thresholds of the other sites? I’m not as familiar.

Blaine: Well, yeah. So, they’re vary. None of the other companies have a threshold as low as this. So, for example, at MyHeritage, you have to share at least 8 centimorgans for example, total, in order to be shown as a match. So, they’re kind of already at the threshold that Ancestry is moving to.

Fisher: Okay.

Blaine: Family Tree DNA has a little bit of a complicated threshold that can be either based on the total or it can be based on a larger segment, but it’s also in the realm of 8 to 9 centimorgans.

Fisher: Okay. And 23andMe?

Blaine: 23andMe I think is around 8 as well, although they have kind of that funky matching algorithm where they’re only going to show you your closes 2000 matches anyway. So, people aren’t usually reaching the minimum threshold at 23andMe.

Fisher: I know it’s kind of exciting to hear that Ancestry just passed 18 million matches, which I don’t think anybody can come close to, you know?

Blaine: No. Their databases show they’re not going as fast as they used to, but you know what, they’re growing, and I’ll take that any day.

Fisher: All right Blaine, I want to hold you on here and let’s talk about what’s going on with Keepsake DNA. You and I spent a lot of time at their booth at RootsTech this past year and we were both pretty excited about what’s going on there. And I want to hear your take on the significance of what they are doing right now, and the practicality of kits that could be developed from DNA found from family heirlooms. So, stick around. We’ll get back with Dr. Blaine Bettinger in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.                             

Segment 3 Episode 338

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Dr. Blaine Bettinger

Fisher: Well, it was just last week that I talked to Karra Porter from Keepsake DNA, and she did the big reveal on the four envelopes I had sent her that had been presumably licked by ancestors and relatives, one of them going back to 1912. And she found evidence of enough DNA on these envelopes that the potential is there from which they can make a DNA kit and post it on GEDmatch and possibly find new DNA matches down the various lines of these ancestors. One of the people, by the way, that I’m going to be submitting for another test was born in 1878. The sister of my grandmother who died in the 1930s, so finding this one envelope could be a real game changer. And Dr. Blaine Bettinger is with me right now. Blaine, I’m thinking about this and I did a little research the other day, tell me if I’m really thinking straight. So, I was using your shared centimorgan project and I was looking at what a fourth cousin would be to me, for instance, and then if I had this great aunt as a match, say in GEDmatch. She would be like a second cousin twice removed to this fourth cousin matched to me and as I looked at your shared centimorgan chart, I’m realizing it’s like double the DNA that she would have shared with this person than I would have with that person, is that correct?

Blaine: Yes. Yep, that’s absolutely right which is pretty amazing.

Fisher: Well, yeah, we’re talking something like 70-35 somewhere in that range, that’s a big change. So, I’m assuming that if we’re able to create these kits and that hasn’t come about yet. We’ve just had the analysis of what these envelopes show and the potential. And we don’t always know who licked them. For instance, in one case we had an envelope that was licked by my great aunt on another side, we thought. She had written the letter, the envelope was in her hand, but the DNA was male. So you know, that’s kind of the risk that you have in going to the expense and trouble of having an envelope or another heirloom analyzed. But, nonetheless, I’m thinking that the potential would be that we could get more distant matches through some of these earlier people than we ourselves would be able to draw.

Blaine: That’s correct. Yeah, absolutely correct because we always say, test the oldest generations first.

Fisher: Right.

Blaine: Previously, we’ve meant test the oldest living generation first.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Blaine: Because they are closer to your ancestors. They have more DNA from your ancestors. They have more DNA from different ancestors that you don’t have. So, testing even one generation is more valuable, but testing two generations ago or three generations ago, you’re going to be getting so much more information about more distant ancestry.

Fisher: And not only that though, the matches can help you breakthrough those brick walls a little more easily I would think.

Blaine: Absolutely. I mean, at least theoretically. It all depends on what matches you get, right? But because you’re increasing the size of the net affectively by having more DNA, you may catch more fish in that net because it is larger.

Fisher: Well, you think about it, any parent you’ve got has got double the DNA from both sides of their family, right? From my paternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother, my dad would have twice the DNA that I have and his aunt, the one I’m looking at on this other line should have four times the DNA that I have which brings a lot of possibilities up.

Blaine: That’s right, and not only more from the ancestors that you share there’s no question, that she has had in her DNA, contributions from ancestors that you don’t have. So, we lose not only DNA at every generation but we lose ancestors represented in our DNA at every generation. So, my parents have DNA from ancestors that they didn’t give to me which means that I don’t carry any DNA from those ancestors. So, you’re going to get matches on lines that potentially you couldn’t get with your own DNA.

Fisher: Wow. So, I know you were pretty impressed at the booth as to what you were seeing and our conversations we were having with Karra at the time, and now it’s off and running. Have you submitted anything yet yourself?

Blaine: I haven’t, but I definitely will be in the near future for sure because I have lots of samples that I would love to process.

Fisher: Yeah, I’d like to find more things like the hats and the dentures and the hearing aids, I don’t have anything like that. But the letters themselves, I mean, there have been attempts at this in the past, and I don’t recall that it ever really came out particularly successfully.

Blaine: No. No. The success rate has been traditionally pretty low. And we know as pioneers we’re kind of taking that risk. Pioneers always take that risk.  But I think part of the fun of doing is being a pioneer and you know, not knowing exactly what is going to happen, but by having hopes.

Fisher: Yeah. Yeah absolutely. So, what else should we be aware of in these results? So, if we put a kit on GEDmatch, is there anything out of that that might come that might leave us scratching our heads? I mean, you mentioned that we could find DNA from ancestors further back than we ourselves carry. Might that reveal something new that might be an eyebrow raiser?

Blaine: Yeah, for sure. I mean, you could discover, for example, “How come I’ve never matched that line even though I’ve taken all these DNA tests?” And then you may discover, oh, you know what? She does not match that line either. Maybe that’s actually not our line. Maybe it’s a misinterpreted parentage event or something like that. Some of the other issues that could occur and everyone always seems to be so worried about getting DNA from another person. Like for example, if you got a viable DNA kit from the analysis of your great aunt and you loaded it to GEDmatch and it doesn’t match you then you know it’s somebody else’s DNA.

Fisher: Right.

Blaine: So, we’re going to know whether or not it’s the DNA of the person we suspected. So I’m never concerned about it. My biggest concern is you will have wasted the money on that analysis. But that’s again part of the risk. So I’m never concerned about that. The question however, becomes at that point, what do you do with that DNA, right?

Fisher: [Laughs]

Blaine: Theoretically, you could actually use the process everybody is using these days for investigative genetic genealogy or adoptees. You could determine the source of that DNA. And there might be some potential ethical questions associated with that. Although, the dead have no rights, it’s interesting to see how that might impact people.

Fisher: Wow. You just made my head explode. You’re absolutely right. The question, yeah, they don’t have any rights to privacy, but that’s the same question we have right now anyway, isn’t it, when it comes to police work and tracking down other people?

Blaine: I think so. And you know, as long as we’re all acting in the best ethical way possible by being aware of these issues and then asking the questions when it occurs, we’re all kind of blazing a path here, and so these things are going to happen. There’s no question. But as long as we act responsibly, I’m not too concerned about there being too much of a negative side to this.

Fisher: Is there anything right now going on in DNA... obviously, we just had the big breech with GEDmatch. Are there any sites that you have withdrawn from for any particular reason we should be aware of?

Blaine: No, I don’t think so. I think, for the most part, especially all the big DNA testing companies, most of them now have a track record of at least ten years and some of them even twenty years without a breech like that. I’m not overly concerned at the current time.

Fisher: Blaine, what kind of other artifacts might you have that you might want to run? I talked about the envelopes and I think we all can come up with a few of those. Do you have anything else in your bag of tricks that you think might be tested positively?

Blaine: Well, you know, what impresses me so much about Keepsake DNA is their eagerness to sort of veer from the traditional envelope route.

Fisher: Yes.

Blaine: It appears, they’re actually saying that if you think it has DNA then let’s give it a shot which I think is pretty interesting. So, things like, as mentioned earlier, hats, right? Hats were on our ancestors’ foreheads, rubbing up against their skin and picking up DNA. Of course, contamination is always the issue. But things like dentures and hair brushes and so on and hair is another really interesting category of DNA testing, preferably rootless hair.

Fisher: Rootless hair they’re talking about.

Blaine: Yes, exactly.

Fisher: And nobody’s ever found any success with that but they say they can do it.

Blaine: That’s right. So, preferably, your ancestor’s hair was ripped out of their head. That’s the best way, okay?

Fisher: [Laughs]

Blaine: You’re going to have lots of DNA. But unfortunately, our family members were nice to each other and often clipped the hair.

Fisher: Yeah.

Blaine: So, they don’t have a root. But traditional wisdom was always there’s no autosomal DNA. Now, it appears there is, it’s highly degraded. So, I think the technology is going to take a while to be able to create something useful out of those profiles, but yeah, I think rootless hair even has potential down the road as well, so it’s really encouraging.

Fisher: He’s Dr. Blaine Bettinger. He is one of America’s foremost DNA specialists. Hey, Dr. Blaine great having you on again. Thanks so much for the input on this. Fascinating conversation as always and we look forward to hearing what you’re up to next.

Blaine: All right, thank you so much.

Fisher: And coming up next, it’s another round of Ask Us Anything with David Allen Lambert in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 338

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, it is time once again for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And David Allen Lambert is back, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, we have an email here from Margo Jansen from Albuquerque, New Mexico and she says, "Guys, I've run into books about cattle marks in family history libraries and I'm wondering, what gives? How can they help me?"

David: [Laughs] Well, you don't have to travel too far afield to figure out cattle marks here in New England or anywhere in colonial America, because they're everywhere. Generally speaking, if you find town records, you're going to find this sort of inventory if you will. I mean, let's think about this in a modern sense. You have a dog?

Fisher: Yeah.

David: You've got to license it, right?

Fisher: Right, got a license.

David: So you’ve got a golden number on the license.

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: Well, we're not out there cropping the dog's ears if you will.

Fisher: Ooh.

David: But your cattle, if you went out to the local common, like Boston Common or a central part of a town, they would have commons where your animals would graze. Well, if Bessie was out there in the field and got away and into the woods, she's a nice, fat cow, Farmer Brown might say, "That's mine." You could say, "No, that's mine." How would you tell? The cattle mark you have registered with the town. It could be a slit, a crop, a circle, a half moon, diamond cut into one of the ears or both ears of the animal. So, essentially this is what we would learn to develop in south west later, brands. So, out in Albuquerque, I'm sure there are ranches that still tattoo or brand their animals. This is exactly the history of cattle marks. These are even found in Atlanta, Canada, for instance, Nova Scotia was settled by New Englanders. Township books out in Nova Scotia which are like town records, I find my wife's ancestor, Patrick Nowlin arriving first in 1792 on the scene on the town records. How? His cattle mark. I also find in 1829, Patrick Nowlin Jr. getting the transfer of that cattle mark. Why is it a transfer? There's no death record for his father, no probate, but there is the mention of the son getting this cattle mark transferred, because the father had died.

Fisher: Oh wow!

David: So you can find it when somebody comes into town, could be their arrival in the community, they have to mark their cattle, and when somebody died or they perhaps even moved, you might find it. So it’s transferred to somebody else. But they are really genealogically important. Sometimes they're drawn out. Sometimes they're just described geometrically what they look like.

Fisher: Huh! So could they actually sell a cattle mark to somebody else if they were leaving the area?

David: Well, they would sell the cattle that had that mark and then transfer it again.

Fisher: Hmm! So that's why all the records and I've seen a lot of books of that myself and always wondered, boy what could I do with that? I've often seen also newspaper ads where people found a cow somewhere or something and they set it in as the mark and they describe the mark, trying to get it back to the proper owner. Have you seen those?

David: I have. That is where you kind of have the strays that are mentioned in the newspapers and they would decide like a red heifer with this mark, and that's how they did it. Sometimes people have gone to the point of trying to draw them. They're pretty common descriptions, so it’s square, a slit, a half moon or a circle. You can find cattle marks as late as the early 20th century being recorded in town records, especially in rural areas where farming is more prevalent. Later on you'll see that certain animals will have tattoos in their ears verses something that is hard to believe that they would be cutting their animal's ear with a pair of shears, but that's what they did, because that's how it was done.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Back in the old days.

Fisher: Well, that's a great question. Thank you so much for it, Margo. And coming up here in just a little bit, we will be back with yet another question for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 5 Episode 338

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, we've got another question coming up here in moments on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Ask Us Anything. David Allen Lambert is with us. And David, this question comes from Len Markham in San Diego. And Len asks, "What's going on with British census records?" He said, "The last one that's come out was from 1911. We've seen the 1939 record. What about 1921?"

David: Well, I know there's a little confusion about the British practice of census release when we're so used to having the 1940 census for the US already available. And a lot of people think of the 1939 register as quasi census. Essentially, it is a census substitute. The 1939 register was set up as an emergency way of knowing how to evacuate people during the height of the blitz in World War II. They wanted to be able to get people out of areas if they had to, and it was also part of the national healthcare system later. You may even notice if you look at the 1939 census that certain lines are blacked out, because these are people that are still alive or presumed to be alive, children essentially the time of the 1939. Now the reason there is no 1931 census is because in 1942, there was a fire at a warehouse, the office of the Works and Hayes, England had stored the '31 census.

Fisher: Oh boy.

David: And it wasn't from the Germans bombing. There was just a fire in this warehouse, so that's gone. The 1941 census, which would be a couple of years after the '39 register that was never taken, because England was embroiled in World War II so heavily. But the next one that you can look forward to is the 1921 census. Has a batch of really good questions in it and that will be released in 2022, just pretty much a year and a half from now and that will be on FindMyPast.co.uk, which is already contracted to have it released to genealogists. And then the next one will be the 1951, but that's not going to probably be released until 2052.

Fisher: Oh, man!

David: I'll see everybody in 32 years.

Fisher: Yeah, see you in 32 years from that, yeah, absolutely. So, the blacking out in 1939, I've seen that. Is that done by people requesting it or the government just going through and saying, "Oh, we've got to eliminate the children, because they may still be living?

David: It’s actually the government. So the archives had to go and reexamine each one of the lines and say if someone was a certain age, I forget what it is, I think if they were under 18 I believe, which of course that could be anyone from 1921 to ‘39. The age range could be a little different, I'm not 100% sure, but I can tell you this much, I have a cousin of my grandfathers that I had just found that died a couple of months ago, and he would have been 17 at the time of that census. He's dead now. I can send proof of his death to the national archives and then they will go and redact that blacked out mark and remove it. It’s only a digital strikethrough if you will. So there is an existing copy that has them all available and then they just peel it back kind of like a scratch ticket I think.

Fisher: Okay. And then the other question is, "If Find My Past has the rights to the 1921 census coming up, do they have the right to actually go through and index it so that its available for release on the very first day or do they get it on the first day, have to work on it and release it piecemeal? Do you know how that's going to work? "

David: That's an interesting question. It’s possible that these are already being done in the background with a nondisclosure agreements, so maybe starting in 2021 they may start indexing, I'm not 100% sure.

Fisher: All right, great stuff. Thank you, David. And thank you also to Len for the great question. If you have a question for Ask Us Anything, email us at [email protected]. Thanks Dave. Talk to you next week.

David: Talk to you soon.

Fisher: All right, and that's out show for this week. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks once again to Dr. Blaine Bettinger for coming on and talking heirlooms and DNA, the two centimorgan change that's going on over at Ancestry.com. If you missed any of the show, of course catch the podcast on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio and Spotify. Talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!


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