Revisiting Ancestry dot com

I recently ran in to this video from Ancestry and was surprised to see an improvement that they have made in their reports.  It has always bugged me that they are the only company that doesn’t report the actual genetic match, but just the family tree.  While it is very helpful to have the family trees available for comparison, it is discouraging not to have the actual genetic information. But now with the press of a button you can find out how large your match is with your cousins and see how they make the determination of what distance that cousin presents. It does not tell you where the match is, but it is a huge improvement.

This video should explain it pretty well. It also brought to my mind the reason why I have so many Reynolds matches in all of my DNA matches.  A large number of the Reynolds/DeMoss family were Quakers.  Quakers had to marry within their faith, and have their marriage approved by the church.  After several generations it became more difficult to find unrelated Quakers, so they started marrying 1st cousins.  This would also explain the high infant mortality.

We inherit 50% of each parent’s genetic make-up, decreasing in half for each generation.  No two siblings, except identical twins will inherit the same 50% from each parent.  But, if our ancestors marry a first cousin that has inherited 25% of anonymous DNA from the same grandparent, they will have a stronger DNA match than normal, allowing for more 4-6 cousin matches in our reports. A cousin may be reported as a 4th-5th in say, FTDNA or 23andme, because of the larger match, but when you compare your trees as in Ancestry you may find that they are actually a 5th or 6th cousin. The inner-marriage philosophy is mine alone, not backed up by any scientific research, but it sure makes sense to me.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have two cousin with the same shared great grandparents.  One of them measures as a 2nd  cousin in 23andme and the other, a known 3rd cousin, does not show a genetic match at all to me. They both have a strong 2nd cousin match to each other.  Apparently, cousin #1 inherited one set of matching  segments with me and cousin #2 inherited different genes from the same grandparents that I don’t share.  She still has that family’s dna, but just different ones than I do.  I’ve always had a strong interest in inheritance, without knowing anything about DNA.  This really brings it all in to focus.




Canniff Quest

After my huge disappointment from my visit to Family History Library, I have struggled to get back in to my research.  It seems like everything leads to dead ends.  Every time I decide to go back and search another branch of the tree, I end up going back to my great grandmother trying to find some hint that will connect her to the many, many Ontario Canniff’s .

I am fairly certain that the Thomas Canniff of Michigan that immigrated from Hastings, Ontario is either not the same as the Jonas Canniff in the 1881 and 1871 census, or if it is, he is likely not related to my great grandmother.  He list Jonas Canniff and Jane Lucas as his parents in his marriage license.  I had thought that Phoebe Canniff may have been another sister.  and was buoyed when I found her with her parents Jonas Canniff and Jane Lucas.  But alas, her parents lived much past 1868, thus eliminating them as parents of my Lydia Jane.

So, now back to DNA.  I was in high hopes that my 87 year old aunt would agree to testing, but when I visited her with test in hand she declined, feeling it was “creepy.”  But, all hope is not dead.  I was checking my nephew’s matches in ancestry the other day, and found one that not only has Canniff in his surname list, but he is a Canniff!  He is a 5th to 8th cousin to my nephew, even though he does not match me.  Ancestry has a new feature called “Shared Matches.” When I clicked on this new Canniff there were two more DNA matches.  Now we have a total of four, (6 with my nephew and I) certified CANNIFF matches!  All of us have Abraham T. Canniff b. 1770 d. 1843, m. Mariejte Tietsoort.  Three  have the next generation Jonas Weeks Canniff 1797 and the others have Isaac Canniff 1806.  It is ever so slowly chipping away.

I tried to join the Quinte Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, but will wait until November when I can get a full year.  In the meantime I found the main branch Facebook page, and some very nice and helpful people.  They lead me to the Directory of Hastings County 1860.  This is two years before my great grandmother was born, so hoping to find her father here.  So far I have found a Jonas Canniff, Phillip Flagler Canniff, James Canniff and a few others.  Jonas owned a “flouring mill”, and was a trustee of the Weslyan Methodist Church.  Does this give me any hints?  Not really.  But it was fun to find.  It also listed the by laws of the county. The early homesteaders were given 100 of which they had to build a house and plant crops in at least 20 acres of the land within the first year.  Building the house done by the neighbors all pitching in and building a log house that was complete in 4-5 days.  They also had regulations for all the men and young boys, should a fire break out.  Everything from who would haul water to ringing the bell to warn and gather people together.  I felt like even though I didn’t learn any specifics as to who is the father of my great grandmother, it was fun to put myself in their lives for a few minutes.

canniff 1 canniff2 IMG_0908

I have ordered a book on the history of Belleville, Ontario.  It should be here in a couple days.  Can’t wait to start weeding through that one!

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!

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.

Genetic Geneology and Fantastic Finds


A determining factor in delving back into genealogy was the advent of reasonably priced DNA testing.  I tossed it around in my head for a couple of years…. no need to rush in to anything, right?  Well, it was something that was well worth waiting for, and by the time I got around to it they had a lot of the bugs works out.  I had a lot of unanswered questions and thought I might find the answers here.  The first company I tested with was 23andme.  It is a great site for beginners, as I could not have been any less knowledgeable about how this all works together.  They not only do the testing and provide you with a very long list of matches, but they also have video tutorials and tools to help you understand the whole genetic research process.  I really can’t say enough good stuff about this site.  The one drawback to it is that in order to compare genome’s with someone you have to get their permission.  And while you would think that we are all seeking, there are some that just really aren’t ready to go public with what couldn’t possibly be any more personal than your genetic make-up.  After 6 months, I still have some 2nd cousins that have chosen not to share their information with me.  But, that is their option and I respect their right to remain silent.  You can share only what information you are comfortable with.  In the beginning I was a little shy and didn’t add much at all.  Eventually I opened up enough to add surnames to my profile so that others could seek common families, then I set it so that others could send an invitation to share genomes without having to send an introductory letter first.  I am now sharing genome information with over 70 second to distant cousins.  They give you two different options for actually comparing  matches on each gene.  There is a one to one comparison, and another advanced tool to help you compare any of your sharing cousins with up to 5 other people.  This is how you determine which ones to put together in family groups.  If you match two different people on over-lapping segments on one gene, then they likely share common ancestor.  It is a long time-consuming process, but sometimes it comes together very fast.  The key is to get people to accept your sharing request.  My first discoveries were from the Maxwell side of my family.  I have to say though, it wasn’t a real surprise because I already knew that they had tested there.  The big surprise was from two of my 3rd cousins whose great-grandmother is a sister to my great-grandfather. One of them I have a very high match enough that she is identified as a 2nd cousin and not a 3rd, and the other I have NO match to!  We’ve both tested with other companies now, but still no match, so it wasn’t a mistake.  It just happens that the one I have no match with inherited more of her mother’s Italian genes than of the Irish Maxwell genes that I have.  And the other just happened to inherited more of the Maxwell genes than normal to show such a high much for the two of us.  This is where all of the great video tutorials come in handy, to help you understand it all.

In the beginning of my association with 23andme they had a tree that you could fill in so that others could compare.  Now they have partnered with for their trees and it is an extra expense, so I have not chosen to use that option.  Even if it was free, I would not have used it that extensively since I have put all my work into my tree and don’t feel like doing that all over again.

Below are the great-grandparents that I share with the two cousins I found on 23andme.  William J. Maxwell b. 1835 in Ontario, Canada and Arvilla Dibble b. 1844 in New York.  The young girl pictured is Sara Maxwell, the last born of their 12 children. William J.’s parents were William Maxwell b. 1797 and Elizabeth Toner b. 1797, who immigrated from Ireland in 1831.  Arvilla is the brick wall of this particular generation.  Some seeker cousins have been looking for her family for more than 30 years.  But (the infamous connecting word), that was before DNA testing and I suspect that we will have a break-through one day soon.


I continue to research on 23andme and have made some small discoveries, but even the small ones are another step towards filling in all the blanks in my life profile.  I have made some great new friends of distant cousins, and each one offers more individuals to my growing tree.  In the next couple posts I will share information on the other two companies I have tested with and some very surprising and exciting finds!