The UP’s and Down’s of Research


I have two major quests of late.  One is my totally awesome newly found nephew, Charles Montgomery Cook.  Charles is the son of my late sister who was placed for adoption at birth. This search is one that is several blog posts in itself, and will be addressed more thoroughly later. We found each other through Ancestry DNA and have been looking for his birth father’s family since February of this year.  We are now awaiting the results of his Big Y test on FTDNA. In the meantime I have resumed my search for my great-grandmother Lydia Jane (Jennie) Canniff’s family.  This is another adoption story.

Jennie’s parents apparently died (or at least the mother), when she was 8 years old and she is found living with the Isaac Fox family in Hastings, Ontario.  She was still living with them ten years later in the same location.  She married my great-grandfather, William Henry Maxwell at the age of 19 and moved to Daisy, Washington.  I have been totally unable to get any information on her before the age of 8.  No birth records, no death records for her parents, nothing!  In the same years census her brother Jonas Canniff was living with the Abner Stratton family very near the Fox’s residence.  He was with them for 10 years.

The Canniff family was very large in Hastings and there is even a town named after them, Canniffton.  I found a book on the area that had a large section devoted to the family.  Still no hints of the illusive Jonas or James and Lillie, her parents.  There are many, many Jonas’s, but nothing that matches the approximate dates.  So, I decided to start a tree based on the original Canniff family in Canada to see if I could connect any Jonas and Lillie that could have been my 2nd great grandparents.  In building my trees, I do not use any member trees, unless I am connected by DNA and have had a chance to talk to the person and know that they have other sources for their information.  Even then, at times I have found errors in their trees.  But there were many dignitaries in the Canniff family so it was pretty easy to trace.  But still no luck.

I am always looking for the Canniff name in surname lists and one day I was in FTDNA and did a quick search of my DNA matches and found a Canniff!  I can’t tell you how elated I was to find this!  The first solid hit on my Canniff family!  Ok, so now to send an email off to this person… will they actually respond to me, or will this be another aggravating non-response?  Yes!  Just a couple of days later I received a reply.  It is from Robert Caverly, the administrator of his 1/2 first cousin Paul’s account.  Their great-grandmother is Caroline Canniff! She married Joseph Caverly.  With the measure of our DNA connection and the birth dates of their Caroline and my Jenny, they are most likely first cousins!  Hooray!  Who could ask for any better of a clue?  I started another tree with Caroline, researching every male born to see whom Jenny may have inherited that name and genes. So far, nothing.

Mr. Cavarly, the administrator, has been very helpful, going back in his data bases trying to find any connection with my Great Grandma Jenny.  He has found the information on her brother Jonas also, and believes that he may be the same as a Thomas Jonas that immigrated to Michigan.  This Thomas Jonas and my Jonas of Hastings have the same mysterious background, and I believe they are the same person.  The Maxwell family (Jenny’s husband) also has a history in Michigan, the same county which Thomas Jonas immigrated.  Many of my great grandfather’s siblings were born in Michigan.  I am thinking that we (the family that has been searching for Jenny) have all been limiting ourselves by searching for her family in Canada or Ireland.  What else would make this young man suddenly immigrate to another country, by himself to a county and state where he had never been?

Now my search continues in Michigan with Thomas Jonas Canniff.  If I can confirm that Thomas Jonas is actually the brother of my great-grandmother this will be a huge leap!  Unfortunately he had only girls so the Canniff name will not be perpetuated in Michigan, but I am follow  his girls trying to find another DNA connection.  One of the girls married a Houle.  It doesn’t seem to me to be a very common name.  I did a surname search and have found three DNA Houle connections in Ancestry!  I have sent messages to all three, but have yet to hear back from any of them.  As each day passes with no response, my hope is waning.  This really is an emotional roller coaster.  One day a solid hint appears, and the next it dead ends.  But, just the fact that I now have at least one genetic connection to our Canniff family, and have been able to verify four generations that are related to me,  it will keep me going and searching, even though I can’t find just exactly how Caroline and Jenny are related.

**** Pictured above: William Henry Maxwell 1862-1937, Lydia Jane Canniff 1862-1928 and their children Wilbert W. 1888-1912, Aden 1891-1960, Jonas Canniff (J.C.) Maxwell 1891-1976, Estella Arvilla 1897, Susie Alice 1898-1984.  There were four other children born in between these five, why they are not pictured I do not know, but this is how they have been identified to me.  My grandmother Cora Myrtle was the last to be born in 1903 and not pictured here.



23andMe DNA Kit

My introduction to genetic genealogy was with I ordered my kit, spit into a little tube, mailed it off and waited impatiently.  It takes several weeks for the autosomal results to be complete.  I anxiously sign in to start this fantastic journey! Setting up your profile is an integral part of being able to locate other relatives in your relative database.  23andme will automatically enter your ancestral locations, then you can edit this to add where you know your ancestors came from more specifically.  If you know where your grandfather was born, enter that in your profile, etc.  What I see as the most important part of your profile is the surname list.  The larger your list, the more cousins are going to be able to find you when they search.  For the surnames you are most seeking, put them in all caps, I’ll tell you why later.

You need to decide whether you are going to allow others to send you “share” requests, or if they must send you a message first and introduce themselves.  A share must be accepted before you can compare inherited segments of a chromosome, it does not happen automatically.  When I first started I chose the second option, but soon learned that it was not really threatening my privacy at all, and was actually much easier and quicker to get to what I wanted… to identify relatives.

23andme will not share your email address with other users.  If you wish to contact a DNA match, you must send a message through the 23andme message option, then if you choose to share your email with them you can do so.

On the home page you will see your Ancestry Composition, options for viewing your DNA Relatives list, Message Boards, how to download your Raw Data, Video tutorials, Surveys and optional Family Tree.

Ancestry Composition tells you where your ancestors came from. It tells me that I am 58.4% British/Irish.  Not a big surprise to me as I knew that my grandfather was born in England, and 3rd great grandfather in Ireland.  But then it breaks down all the rest of the little segments down to <0.1% East Asian and Native American.  Ending up with 99.6% Broadly European.  Knowing what I know about my family, I think that of the three companies that I have tested with, 23andme is far more accurate than the others.


You can download your Raw Data for future use on other websites.  I have used mine for health reports on,, Genome Mate data base, even transfer data to at a reduced cost.  I am sure there is more, but this has been my experience so far.

The Video Tutorials are good and will give you a basic introduction to understanding DNA and chromosome analysis.  Personally, I think there could be a lot more added to it, and they may do so in the future.

Survey’s really don’t really seem to benefit us much in our search, but I am sure that they help in the long run, and they are kind of interesting.

When I first started with 23andme you could start a family tree here for others to view.  I never did plan on doing much with it, since I already had an extensive tree on Ancestry.  Before I could get to far with it they changed the format to “My Heritage” and there is an additional fee, comparable to a membership with Ancestry.  Since I don’t use it, I can’t really give it a review.

What I would consider the heart of 23andme is the DNA Relative list and chromosome browsers.  The list will give you the basic profile of each of your DNA matches.  If you have set your profile to private, it will not give the name, otherwise you will see the name, the amount of chromosomes shared, projected relationship, and all the information you put in your profile plus your maternal haplogroup and paternal haplogroup if you are a male.  It will give you the option to “Send an invitation” or “send a message.”

To search surnames you can enter them into the search box at the top of the Relatives list, or you can go to Ancestry Tools at the bottom of each page and select Profile Smart Search.  This is why you want to put your most desired surnames in caps, because this search engine will zero in on those names and show you everybody in your list that also has those surnames (and others) in their profiles.

Once your invitation has been accepted you can start trying to locate your most recent common ancestor(MRCA).  The first of course was comparing surnames, but now you get to dig a little deeper.  Go to Family and Friends>Family Traits and it will take you to your first chromosome browser.  The is a drop down list and you select yourself, then whoever you are comparing with.  This can be turned around if you want to compare two of your DNA matches to each other instead of yourself. This one does only a one to one match and cannot be run on iPad as it needs flash player.

The other browser is found in the Ancestry Tools > Family Inheritance.  It allows you to match yourself, or someone else to 5 different people.  This is the best way to form family groups, by matching chromosomes overlaps.

To protect the privacy of my matches, I left the spaces open, but these are drop down menus.


All 22 chromosomes are listed in this graph, but not shown here.  Each person that you have chosen above will be assigned a color.  The green in this graph represents a close relative and the bar indicates how many segments he matches me. If you notice on chromosome 13, there is a long green line with a red line under it.  This indicates an overlap in chromosome match, so most likely, green and red are also related.  Take a look now at chromosome 8, I have a large match with green, and the small purple line on the left side of the chromosome shows a  match to me, but since it does not overlap the green, it is not related to green.  There is an area in between these two graphs not shown here because it has identifying information of my matches, but it also lists how many centimorgans (cM), or the size of the match.


There are other fun things in the Ancestry Tools list mentioned earlier.  These tools are things that are in the process of development and could be improved or eliminated at any time, so take advantage of them when you can.  I have had fun with the DNA medley.  They look at your genotype and create a unique melody.  Just a fun thing to do in between serious searches.

All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned the message boards.  There is  just about every topic that you could imagine available for your scientific quest for roots. I hope that this has helped you or sparked your interest in genetic genealogy.  23andme has become the largest DNA testing company with over one million people tested already!  All the tools in the world are only as good the amount of people available for comparison, and this one has it!

Ancestry dot com

According to Wikipedia  as of December 2013, the company provided access to approximately 12.7 billion records and had 2.14 million paying subscribers. User-generated content included 191 million uploaded photos and more than 16 million uploaded stories. With the advent of the TV program, “Who do you think you are?” and Ancestry DNA not mentioned here,  I think that these numbers are quite outdated.  In addition to its flagship site, operates,, ProGenealogists,,,,, and 

Family Tree Maker is a software developed by the company.  When you purchase the program you generally get a limited free subscription to Ancestry dot com.  This allows you to start developing your family tree.  The subscription you get with it provides only U.S. records which doesn’t allow you to go very far back in your family history.  I chose to upgrade my subscription to the World Explorer Plus on a month to month plan.  With this I am able to access and  When I have been able to access what I need from these two sources I will downgrade to World.  So far, I haven’t found that helpful, but I did find muster roles and ships diary from my Dad’s ship during World War II that were priceless to me.  My Mom had told me that Dad piloted one of the landing craft on Iwo Jima, and I found the diary that gave a detailed description of what was happening that day, including that there was heavy fire over head and they were using smoke screens from other ships to hide them.  It was fascinating knowing that my Dad was there and had a big part in the landing.

The actual program that you get with the Family Tree Maker will sync with your online tree every time you open or close it.  But one thing you have to be very careful about is that you shut down the application before powering down your computer.  I know that this sounds like a given, but there have been 3 times that I have either had my computer lock up while working on it or have otherwise lost power.  In that case, when you go back on, it will not sync up with your online tree and you must call the support number for Ancestry and have you walk you through the steps to sync it again.

ftm prtsc

There are several features that I really like about this application over entering information in the online tree.  When you want to search for a certain person, you click the “person” button and it gives you a list on the left side of the page of every person in your tree alphabetically by surname.  It also tells you how many people are in your tree on the top of this list, without having to go to tree pages and tree overview in the online tree.  It is right at your fingertips.  It gives you a view of your tree in the center, and you can list each family member below and to the right with all the pertinent data at once.  No having to enter each child separately, and then all data like marriage separately, it’s all on one page.  It is kind of pricey initially, but in my opinion it is worth the money.  One BIG drawback – it can only be run on one device.  I originally installed it on my desktop, then purchased a new laptop and installed it there, but it won’t sync to two devices.  It has to be one or the other.  A real bummer!  So I have chosen to use it on the laptop, that way I can take it with me when I travel, and I still have the option of using the online tree as well. Hopefully at some day in the future they may make it so you can use it on both.

The other app available through Ancestry dot com is the mobile app.  I really love this one.  It is free from the Apple store for iPad, you just have to have an ancestry subscription.  The tree view is standard and when you tap an individual in the tree it brings up their story view on the right. If you lightly touch the person in tree view it gives you little icons for editing, viewing that individuals tree, or adding family. The story view window can be hidden, but you can also access hints, edit, show relationship or delete the person. If you delete, it will take you back to the home person, not the family you were working on.  In this window you can also go to the family view (similar to the profile in the online tree), or the gallery and it will show all documents or media that have been added to this person.

On the bottom of the screen are icons to access a page with all your hints listed, with the option of newest or oldest. There is a comments icon that you can see all the comments that have been made on your trees.  There is an icon for the tree view, or to view your DNA page if you have one.  The DNA page is identical to the online one.  In the settings icon you can access all trees that you have online.  I have had this app for months and didn’t know that I could access the other trees until recently.  This includes trees that other Ancestry members have shared with you.

I hope that this has been helpful to anyone that is thinking about purchasing or using any of these items.  While there are many applications out there to build your family tree, I have found these invaluable.

The Ancestors

This sweet poem reflects my feelings so perfectly, I just had to re-post it here.

The Ancestors

The ancestors call me,
they whisper in my ear
Tell my story for all to hear.

I had a family, I had a home.
I walked this earth
but not alone.

We’ve been silent for all these years.
Speak our dreams
and share our tears.

The ancestors call me,
They whisper their name,
Tell my story so we may live again.

– Ellen Thompson-Jennings

Ellen Thompson-Jennings is a fellow genealogy blogist with some great stuff to share at Hound on the Hunt.

Every time I make a new entry into my tree I tend to get very involved in their lives.  I always wonder, why did they have 15 children?  Did they love each of their children the same?  Why did this one, in a time of large families, only have two children?  Were they suffering the effects of infertility?  And what of those that had no children at all?  How many of us just skip over them because there were no heirs of their genes?  They were just as much a part of humanity as someone with 10 children.  I am sure that they made huge contributions to society of their era.    Every time I see a child that died within the first few years of life, I grieve with the family, especially the mother at the loss of her child.  I think of myself and my dear mother as she lost her beloved son that was born a year before me and died of a heart defect.  Even though I wasn’t born then, I grieved his loss and always wondered what it would have been like to have a sibling near my age. Or the mother that gave her life giving birth to her child? And what of the women who never married?  They are nearly forgotten in the field of genealogy, and it makes me sad.

Recently I visited the Machias Community Cemetery  in Snohomish, Washington.  I don’t know any of these people, but


I lived across the street from this cemetery for 18 years, so I almost feel related to them all.  In photographing and sharing these headstones and many more that day, I feel like I have done something to perpetuate their memories.  There is nothing like being a genealogy addict that makes you understand your mortality more.  Each time I enter a death date in my tree, It makes me realize even more that death is just as much a part of our lives as birth. Some people, and myself included  believe in an eternity, so I don’t fear dying.  To go to a cemetery and photograph headstones is to me like honoring them and passing on something of their life to this generation. We as genealogy hobbyists or professionals are an odd bunch I guess, because we get excited to go visit the graveyard.


When it All Comes Together…..Or Not

Have you ever had a brick wall, and no matter what you do you cannot get any information on that person.  I have two, and they are both on the Maxwell side of my family.  My great-grandmother Lydia Jane (Jennie) Canniff Maxwell, and Arvilla Dibble Maxwell my 2nd Great-Grandmother.  My 3rd cousin Chris has been looking for Arvilla for 30 years and the only thing we can come up with is a possible father in New York.  It’s crazy, but she just seems to be dropped out of the sky in to our world.


My Great Grandmother Jennie, pictured above, was born in 1862 in Hastings Ontario.  Apparently her parents died when she and her brother were 7 and 8 years old and they were both raised by different people.  Jennie by the Fox family, and brother Jonas, or Thomas Jonas was raised by the Stratons. In the 1871 Census of Hastings Ontario, Canada they are listed with the respective families in the same area, possibly close neighbors.  There is no other record of Jennie until her marriage to my great-grandfather William Henry Maxwell.  She bore 10 children between 1880 and 1903, with my grandmother Cora Myrtle being the last child.  According to my aunt who was born in 1928, they lived with my grandparents and other family members when they were elderly and Jennie “lost her mind.”  The way it was described to me and for the lack a diagnosis in those years, I believe she may have had Alzheimer’s disease.  I so much want to learn more about her, but that is the sum of everything I know about her.  The Canniff’s were a large family in Ontario, large enough that there is a town named for them, Cannifton, Ontario.  But do you think that I can connect even one of them to my Jennie?  I found an e-book about the Canniff’s online, so I have started a separate  tree for them, hoping to find her.  There also happens to be a Flagler connection, so I have been following that also.  In one document it lists her parents as Jonas and Lillie, but this has not been actually proven.  One of her children was also named Jonas Canniff Maxwell.

One day I was on 23andme and I did a random search for the surname Canniff in my DNA matches, and lo and behold, there it was!  Someone who has a great-grandmother with the surname of Canniff.  Caroline Canniff!  In this particular tree there is also a Jonas Canniff married to Letty Flagler!  Then just the other day I came across another DNA match with the surname Flagler!  I still have not been able to connect them, but I feel like that wall is being chipped away, a little at a time.  And I actually have two DNA matches that I can connect to her!

One of the things I have learned from my search in to Caroline Canniff and Thomas Jonas Canniff, is that I think one of the ways we have all gone wrong, is by limiting myself to Canada for the search.  Many family members of Caroline’s immigrated to Michigan, as did Thomas Jonas.  It just so happens, that my 2nd Great Grandfather William Maxwell hung out in Michigan also, and many of his children were born there.  Could Jennie’s parents have lived in Michigan and immigrated to Ontario?  The mystery is waiting to be solved!

Nature or Nurture

The age-old question…  Are we what we are because of the way we were raised, or because of our genetic make-up.  If it was all nurture then why would two siblings have totally different personalities?  Have  you ever contacted family members to get information and come up with two totally different perceptions of the same event?  Why does one person see the cup as half full and the other see it as half empty?  Well, guess what?  It is in the genes, at least a good portion of it.  My sister and I had two totally different perception of our childhood.  Granted, your placement in the family has a lot to do with it, but I don’t believe you can fight the genetic profile.  My family was relatively poor growing up. I was the youngest in a family of three children.  Yes, there were times when I felt picked on because I was the youngest, but generally speaking,  I have always seen this as part of what made me what I am, that it helped to build my character.  My sister, the middle child, on the other hand had a hard time seeing the good times, and seemed to dwell more on the negatives of growing up with little.  Recently I spoke to a family member, the youngest in her family.  There were three children in her family also, she was the youngest.  If it were family placement you would think that she would have a similar life philosophy as myself.  But the exact opposite was true.  The oldest child was full of optimism, seeing their childhood as full of adventure and love. I have questioned both about family members and would get two totally different perceptions of the same event.  It wasn’t that one was lying and the other telling the truth, it was the perception of the event that made the difference.

While the three major testing companies do not give medical data now, due to current FDA restrictions, there are several sites where you can upload your raw data and get your complete medical profile.  The one I chose was Promethease.  For a nominal fee you can download your entire profile.  One of the things that I noticed was in  rs53576(G:G).  This particular allele (genetic variant) is what makes me more optimistic and allows me to see the cup half full instead of half empty.  I also carry the warrior gene, rs4680(G:G).  At first glance I would think that was a bad thing, but it is listed as “good.”  Why would that be?  Am I ready to fight at the drop of a hat?  Well, maybe sometimes :).  But, it says that it makes me better able to adapt under stress. I am sure that there are some negatives to having the warrior genes, but since I am genetically inclined to be optimistic, I won’t go looking for the negatives, haha.  These reports will also show you detailed information on how different drugs react on you, how you handle anger, how quickly you might age, how you metabolize caffeine, your risk of lower HDL and much much more.

The whole study of genetics is very new to me, and there is so much to learn.  Ever since I had my first child I marveled how she would inherit my brown eye color, but the fair haired complexion of her father.  Now with the advent of DNA testing and the internet it is available to study and ponder.

In the FTDNA Learning center there is a wealth of information to help you understand what you are looking at in your DNA.  There is a glossary of terms, which has helped me to understand more of what I am reading, and charts to help “diagnose” a relationship.  Below is just one of the charts available for determining a particular relationship of a match, from the  ebook “I have the results of my genetic testing, now what?” by Blaine T. Bettinger, PHD J.D.  .  Genes are measured by CentiMorgans (cM).  Here you will see  the actual range of the match on a particular gene, what size it is, and the average size of the longest segment.


1C represents 1st cousin, 1C1R represents 1st cousin once removed and so on, including half (step) family members.  On the reports you get from 23andme and FTDNA, and the apps GenomeMate and GedMatch (which I will talk about later) it will give you these figures.  This is a general classification and by no means proof positive of the exact relationship, but in most cases is pretty close.  These two testing companies will give you an estimated relationship, and this is how they figure it out.  GenomeMate and Gedmatch do not give you suggested relationship, but they give you the numbers and you can use this chart to make your best estimate. does not give you a break down of each chromosome, but does use the information and your family tree to compare to your other matches and make a prediction.

It is my intention to talk about GenomeMate on the next blog, so be sure and check back if you would like to know about this great free data base app.

Back to Basics


Before I go much further I would like to take a little space here to talk about what Genetic Genealogy is and how it has taken Genealogy to a new level.

Genetic genealogy or genetic ancestry testing is the use of DNA to study ancient origins and relatedness between individuals.  When combined with traditional paper genealogy, it is a powerful tool for the genealogist’s toolbox.  There are four types of genetic ancestry testing: Y-chromosome (male), X-chromosome, mtDNA, and autosomal DNA test.

We all have 22 pairs of autosomal chromosomes of which each parent contributes half of each. This is the most commonly used testing used by genetic genealogy companies. It currently is the only one used by 23andme and   Autosomal DNA tests examine SNPs, or alleles to identify our ethnic origins. Autosomal DNA can also identify a majority of what “makes me me.”  Such as our hair and eye color, our preferences for sweet or salty foods, our height, the tendency to be overweight or underweight.  Mutations in these chromosomes can tell you what diseases you may be susceptible to, such as the brca1 breast cancer gene.  There is one thing it does not determine and that is your sex.  Only the male carries the Y chromosome, but he also carries the X or female chromosome.  Females carry two X chromosomes.

The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son without significant change. Over long periods of time the chromosome begins to accumulate mutations that are typically silent and have no impact on the carrier. These mutations, however, are useful for genealogical purposes – they can be used to analyze the relationships between populations and individuals.  FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) offers three different Y DNA tests each measuring a different amount of genetic markers, varying in price related to the amount of markers tested.  There are other companies that offer this service but I am not familiar with them and don’t want to mis-state what is offered.

A male’s X chromosome is inherited from his mother and is a mixture of her two X chromosomes, one from her mother and one from her father. It is therefore a mixture of the maternal grandparent’s X chromosomes.

A female inherits one X chromosome from each of her two parents. The X chromosome from her father is passed on from his mother is a mixture of her parent’s (the paternal great-grandparent’s) DNA, while the X chromosome from the female’s mother is a mixture of her parent’s (the maternal grandparent’s) DNA.

Testing of the X chromosome is relatively new and FTDNA is a leader in this technology.  The problem with studying X is that the entire X chromosome undergoes recombination. In other words, in females the two X chromosomes randomly swap information and genes.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down almost unchanged from a mother to her children. That lets you trace your maternal ancestry using the world’s largest mtDNA database. FTDNA offers two levels of testing mtDNA. If you are an adoptee that is searching for your birth mother, this would be the way to go.  Or of course, it helps you to determine which side of the family a match is on.

All this being said about individual X and Y testing, if you do an autosomal test from anyone other than they will identify your maternal and paternal haplogroup.  This will make it easier to identify which side of the family a certain match comes from, it is less specific, thus less trustworthy than the more detailed testing.  For instance, I have an H Mt haplogroup.  By comparing my H to other people with H they can make an assumption of where my mother and her mother etc. come from.  There are variations of the H such as H1, H1a and so on, which will change that assumption completely.  But if I am trying to identify if a cousin is from my maternal side or paternal side this is helpful.  Since I am not a male, I do not have a Y haplogroup.  If you can get a male family member to test, you could say that you are within that Y haplogroup, but it has to be someone with the same male paternal pattern, such as a male brother or son of your brother.

This is a very basic explanation of the different types of tests that are available.  Much of the information provide here is from the  ebook “I have the results of my genetic testing, now what?” by Blaine T. Bettinger, PHD J.D.  When combining genetic testing with paper (or electronic in most of our cases) you have a very dynamic tool.