Growing my roots:

Interlocked and Interwoven by common ancestry & DNA

Ancestry DNA: Thoughts on being an Ally

I am posting an undeliverable email to AncestryDNA’s customer service department about its decision to increase its matching threshold among participants to 8 centimorgans (cM). It seems that they are no longer accepting them. So, I decided to cross-publish it on my many “abandoned” blogs. This decision, I believe, will have a negative impact on those who research African-American genealogies and African-American family histories, as well as those who research genealogies and histories of other underrepresented populations in Ancestry’s database. I understand there are more pressing issues going on currently in the United States that African Americans are facing than what I have written about here. But our history is important to many of us too, and all the tools we need to access that history should be available to us.

As I said, this was an email with the intent of being delivered to AncestryDNA and will read as such.

I write while being fully aware that AncestryDNA will ignore this, as many of my concerns that I expressed to the company have after being a loyal customer for more than a decade.

 Recently, AncestryDNA made a statement saying it believes that black lives matter too, but, with its new policy of reinforcing the 8 cM match stipulation, its actions are proving that green lives matter more because it is the dollar amount needed to curate a large DNA matching lists that is driving this decision to reduce the size of customers’ match lists. Of course, the company says the matching will be more refined to support its decision. I am African American and more representative of the American “salad bowl” expression than most Americans (those mainly of New World white European descent) who have purchased this DNA product. I say that because most African Americans who have ancestors that can be traced back to enslavement have European and African DNA and some even have the much sought after Native American DNA. For people who are not of long-standing American western European Ancestry, our match lists are significantly smaller. Scientifically and historically the story that our (African American) DNA can tell you is what should be valued as historians, geneticists, general scientists, citizen scientists, storytellers, and allies of the Black Lives Matters movement, because of its rich complexity of how America is a salad bowl. But, at the end, middle, and beginning of the day AncestryDNA is a profiter, a business, and a pretender.

 I am well aware that African Americans are not unique when it comes to New World populations with a complex DNA makeup (though, overall, in the world as a whole, our DNA is more complex than most as far as having a multi-racial and multi-ethnic composition) or that we are the demographic who may have the fewest matches collectively in AncestryDNA’s database—it is close though. This plea to reconsider this mandatory 8 cM minimum is for those groups too. But I am American, and AncestryDNA is an American company. Furthermore, the company is not only perpetrating that it believes black lives matter too, but also insinuating that it is custodians and storytellers of, particularly, American family history and how Americans from all corners of the world can be traced back to somewhere else but “somehow” landed here as though that should be considered something significant.

Well, African Americans have begun to definitively trace our Ancestry beyond where the paper trail drops off. I am not saying that every African American needs DNA testing to get past this brick wall. I am saying DNA testing makes the journey easier regardless whether we can without it or not. And yes, those smaller segments may be false. There are genetic genealogists who are constantly reminding the community of that. Those who know me would never call me an optimist, when it comes to DNA matching for common ancestor purposes I am. I am of the thought—and I think science supports this—that it only makes sense that the further you and a DNA match are away from a common ancestor the less DNA you will share, but that does not mean that it is untraceable. You figure out if it is real the same way you figure out where exactly in your matches’ and your own family trees (or lines of descent) you each fit: through research. Small sharing segments have helped many African Americans connect definitively with continental African, pre-Antebellum African-American, European, and some Native American distant relatives. I say this through experience that involved research that I would not have done without a 6 cM match to me that varied between 6 cM and 22 cM to many known family members.

 I honestly do not believe I said anything above that AncestryDNA did not already know. Most people who work diligently in the genetic genealogy world see right to the real reason for this new implementation. Financially it is better for AncestryDNA to curate smaller matching lists, and this change has nothing to do with the reason on its website that suggests it is for an altruistic greater good of its customers. I suspect even those genealogists who welcome this change due to large matching lists or those who are quick to jump to the false-positive narrative would agree that is the main reason. I would like to suggest that the company try a different approach by choosing one of the following instead: (1) integrate a sliding scale by allowing customers to choose their own matching cut-off limit down to 6 cM; (2) have an opt-in to the 8 cM proposed threshold; or (3) some other choice all together that gives customers agency to choose whether they would like to research distant and possibly false (or not) matches. I will also use this soapbox that I have created for myself to suggest instead of taking features away from customers offer some truly new and innovative ones that speak directly to the company’s brand and encourage genetic research into African American DNA connections (or original 13 colony settlement DNA connections, or founding father DNA connections, or Enslaved Deep South Connections, etc.). I mean take an active part in this research where AncestryDNA can discover something along with its customers and actually contribute to this field. This is a positive change that shows the company supports the community that is keeping it in business, it supports research, and that ancestry really does matter to it.

 I am asking this as a long-standing customer of Ancestry’s (the company that sells the AncestryDNA kits) original product, as a 15-AncestryDNA kit purchaser, as a descendant of the African enslaved and European enslavers, as a Black Lives Matters sympathizer, as a genetic genealogist, as a family and general historian, as a storyteller, and as an American who wants to know about all the salad ingredients that made her.

July 27, 2020 Posted by | ancestrydna, DNA results, Reconnecting, The journey | | Leave a comment

DNA genealogy should not be a parlor trick. This is real and serious stuff.

It has been a while since my last post. Well I have graduated, and a new chapter begins. I don’t have any new discoveries—only thoughts.

I notice that many newer people who have gotten into DNA genealogy are only interested in the most uncertain and ever-changing aspect of it, the ethnicity mix. (Heck, I even initially was swept up in it and posted my and my sibling’s results in a post.) These are the same people who refuse to believe the more concrete and never-changing part of the science, the matches. After a certain percentage of centimorgans of DNA shared, the odds of it being a false positive is null.

There are not many African Americans into genealogy, and this is a shame. We could really help each other piece things together. (Genealogists helping fellow genealogists is also a problem that I will bring back up later.) Many African Americans who cross over to DNA genealogy and not part of the people in the above paragraph usually have a one-tracked mind. They see a population that their DNA shows an affinity with and make an assumption that they are part that population. An example is that AncestryDNA shows I have a small percentage of Finno-Russian. I may very well have Finno-Russian. It is also may be Native American. The area that is now made up of the countries of Finland and Russia has been proven by peer reviewed science papers to be an area where some Native American tribes actually came from. (Believe me; I am not chasing that Indian princess relative that so many who take these tests are interested in. I am just looking for the real ancestors that made me.) Basically, I am saying a little knowledge of history should be accompanied when interpreting your results. That was just one example of hitching on to one aspect of one’s results and not investigating further.

Many people, not just African Americans, get hung up on a surname not showing or a place not appearing among their matches. I have said it before and will say it until I lose my ability to speak: DNA trumps oral history and recorded documents. (I have not much more to add to that. You either believe it or you don’t.)

A huge dose of genetic science by all should be attempted to be understood when interpreting your results. This is mainly the companies’ fault though. They advertise in such a way that leads consumers to believe that once you receive your results all your genealogical and ancestral questions will be answered. This is not the case. You have to work very hard to figure out what the DNA is telling you. I always provide my matches with a link to Kelly Wheaton’s Beginners Guide to Genetic Genealogy.

I visit many DNA-genealogy based groups, forums, communities, and message boards, and the snobbery among those who feel like someone else has nothing to offer them (because of lack of family knowledge, small pedigrees, or not coming from the “right” branch) is disheartening. I get that people want to give just as much as they can get, but many people lack family knowledge for legitimate reasons. Simply not being told, being adopted, not having funds to spend on documents, and or not having the luxury to travel to ancestral homes or genealogical databases are all valid reasons. These people are still as much related to those ancestors as the “hoarding” genealogists are. I, myself, do this in hopes that I can freely share what I discover with anyone who will listen.

The last thing that I really think genealogy, specifically genetic genealogy can benefit from is a standard that all companies, geneticists, and casual dabblers should adhere by—an internationally recognized board, if you will. And this is where I may turn those who deem themselves “citizen genetic scientists” off. This board needs to be filled with equal parts citizen genetic scientists and actual degree-holding geneticists. How can you discuss genealogy without a genealogist? On the same hand, how can you discuss genetics without a geneticist? On these aforementioned forums, I see a lot of well-respected folks saying opposite things or with agenda and company loyalty. That is not a standard.

In other news, I bought a better Web site that I was going to migrate to. It is much more complicated than I had anticipated.

June 7, 2014 Posted by | DNA results, The journey | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genealogy musings

I find it hard to write or talk about my parents. The funny thing is that I did not really know my father. My half siblings, no relation to him, knew him better.  After his death in 2001 I came to know him better, although I had not seen him since 1980. And my mom…well, she was a difficult person to show love to because she was a difficult person to show love. Even through all the anger, there has always been an overwhelming feeling of love for her.

James “Jerry” Vernon Louie was born December 24, 1947 in Lexington, Mississippi to Edna Mohead/Moorehead and John Louie. He was a Vietnam veteran. From my half siblings, on both sides, he liked to make people laugh. He also wrestled with his own depression. The latter played a part in his alcoholism. Still, I heard he was gentle and reflective.

Irene “Punch” Virginia Roberson was born March 8, 1931 in Greenville, Mississippi, although she was raised in Shelby. Her parents were Fannie Mae Pearl and Willie Roberson. She was superstitious, ambitious, and strong. She liked to laugh and spoke her mind. And she fiercely protected her children.

I honestly am not sure how important genealogy would have been to them. I get the feeling that my dad would find recent ancestors more interesting than those beyong three generations, and my mom would be more interested in romanticizing certain parts. I sense they would be more interested in the “now” and not the “then.” I respect that and understand where that comes from.

Our past, this includes our ancestors’ pasts, shapes what comes from our DNA tomorrow. No, I do not believe that we have no control over our destiny, but I do believe we are influenced by what came before us whether we realize it or not. I do not only do genealogy for my ancestors. I also do it for myself, my current relatives, and my descendants.

We came from someone, not something. We are going somewhere.

I am still trying to place the puzzle together. My main genealogy goals of 2014 are as follows.

1. Where does our Louie line lead/ Where was the first Louie who stepped into the New World from?

2. Who were Ben Moorehead’s (Mohead/Morehead) parents?

3. Who was Webb Roberson’s (Robinson) father?

4. Was great grandpa John Louie’s wife (my great grandma) Lenora Howard or Elnora Davis?

5. How do I fit into the Turner/Ivey/Sledge clan?

6. Do I belong in the Yancey/Bartlett/Thornton/Graves clan?

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Dad, Mom, Reconnecting, The journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Was Effie’s Delta blue?


Effie Wilson was my great grandmother. She was born in about 1875 and spent most of her life in the counties of Claiborne and Jefferson, MS, in the Delta.  In 1920, she had 10 living children. They were Nancy, Willie, Lillie, Rachel, RT, Ibby/Abby, and Esther (later in life she would go by Estelle). They were all fathered by Willie Shorter. Her other children, Mariah, Frankie, and Fannie (my grandmother) were all fathered by Howard Pearl. Effie’s mother  was Abby/Ibby Tilgman and Whylie Wilson, and her siblings were Wiley, Thomas, Robert, Whylie, Bettie,  Jane, Henry, Lucy, Ibbie, Ida, Ollie, and  Charley.

Effie, born a Wilson, became a Shorter, then a Pearl, a Shorter again, and a Smith (via Robert Smith). There may have been some other name changes along the way. Following Effie through the decades on the census was interesting. I always knew when I had found her because she was always with her kids. She had enough of them with her for me to know that I had the right person. In a few censuses, her mom was with her.

I have not heard any oral stories about Effie. In fact I did not know her name until I was 26. I have one picture of her, which I also saw when I was 26.  Effie, you have not been forgotten. I hope your life was filled with joy and laughter.

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Reconnecting, The journey, Wilson | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Genealogy is truly a cutthroat business. I mean some people feel as if they are sole owners of those that came before. I find the notion quite ridiculous because it is the descendants who belong to those who came preceded us, and by our mere existence, they own us. I begin this with the mind to discuss the types of genealogist that I have come across and have issue with.

As stated above, I have a real problem with “ancestor hogs.” Those are people who don’t want to share information but will drain you dry of any information that you may have. I am not advocating that genealogist become like me, but I share freely. I want my ancestors to be remembered. In fact, the lack of research that others are not doing on some of my lines makes me sad.

There are those who want you to do things in the manner in which they would. I am me. One thing I like about me is that I walk to the beat of a different drummer so well that I am actually following the surging riff of an electric guitar. That will not change. So the jazz hands that keep trying to tend to my tree and place all this manure that this gardener is not ready, willing, or able to tend to at the moment should tend to their own. There are good reasons that I don’t need to justify and will not explain as to why I am taking the road that I am taking on my journey.

I am mainly black (yes, I use this term more easily than African American), but have some white ancestors. I am just as connected and proud of both groups that I descend from. I want to know all of who made me.  Along my path, I have come across three types of researchers. The first are those who couldn’t care less about race and just want to figure out our connection. I like these people a lot. The last two make me want cut myself, make a salt and vinegar solution, and use the edge of a knife to rub it in my wound. I am thinking of those of you who feel as if I should not research my European ancestors and only focus on my African ancestors and those European cousins who, even the nice ones, have a sense that our European ancestor is really just your ancestor who raped, had sex with, made a mistake with, or had some fun with (pick your theme) my ancestor and created something that is really not connected to your ancestor at all. I call both of these types of genealogist the “deniers.”

Now, people can create a myth or choose to research in whatever manner they deem fit. I only have an issue when it impedes on me finding out who I am. The former does not slow down my progress but irritates me, because they feel a need to email me and tell me where I need to focus. The latter can be split even further. A good majority give information but still refer to our common ancestor as their ancestor, make apologies for their ancestor, and express anger at their ancestor. Well, I can do all of that for our ancestor on my own.

The latter in that category, if they do accept contact, offer very little information or say there is no way we can be related. Well, I have taken DNA tests to supplement what little oral history that I have. In fact, I am a science gal and believe the science way more than any oral history. The stories usually speak of familial connections, whereas DNA speaks of a genetic connection. There is a difference. Surnames, family stories, pictures, and such are more indicative of familial connections. I am interested in sorting out the genetic connection; although, I am not saying familial connections are not as important. I am not trying to figure out my bloodline because I want something such as money, a phone call, an invite to the next family reunion–things that my genetic relatives may feel like I am not entitled to. I want only what is owed to me, and I can prove ownership with my and my known families DNA. That is giving my ancestor a seat at my pedigree table. Therefore, with the ways that names changed, the manner in which census takers and transcribers recorded it, and the sordid history in which blacks took names, the fact is that not even a good amount of my third cousins will share many of the surnames that I know.

The last type of genealogist that irks me is the genealogist who tries to create a fact out of a fallacy. These are the people who will never admit their tree is wrong. They can have a mother in the tree giving birth to a child after her recorded death, see that their supposed grandfather Ryan Bennett married their supposed grandmother Louise Jones but still leave “grandpa” Jack Avery in their tree, etc. And those of us who consider ourselves DNA genealogist are no better. People will swear up and down that the science is wrong if we cannot place our matches, if we don’t see the Cherokee princess’s DNA (insert whatever ethnicity some people consider exotic), do see some signs of DNA we don’t want to see, or “close” paper trail cousins aren’t matching.

No, my tree is not ready for primetime either, but I state that and look into it when others suggest that I may have gotten it wrong. I welcome that. And there are times when I don’t change things right away. I do acknowledge erroneous information as erroneous information though.

My rant is up and time for a drink now.

September 28, 2013 Posted by | The journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Broken branches

I started my genealogy journey barely with grandparents’ names on one side.  My mom was from Shelby, Mississippi. She had come here in the late 60s, estranged from her then husband and already with 9 kids. (She would in the end have 12; I am the youngest.)  She never talked much about her family. A few times, I would remember her talking with my grandmother, who still lived in Shelby. My grandfather used to visit quite a bit as well. She would mention colorful names, when speaking with my grandmother, like Sonny Boy, Pumpkin, Sidda Baby, Sug (as in Sugar), and Red. Later, I would learn that she was known as Punch and not many called her by her given name.

My grandfather went missing when traveling from Mississippi to Chicago to visit my mom when  I was four. He may have been in the first stages of Alzheimer’s. My grandmother died when I was 12. The last time that I saw her I was a lot younger than that. When I was ten or so, we discovered that we had been living just a block away from my mother’s nephew and his family.

The assumption among my siblings and I was that my mom had lost contact with her family in Mississippi, especially after the loss of her parents. Even after discovering her nephew lived so close, we still thought that she was not in contact with them. I discovered that she was always in contact with someone from her hometown or some who came from her hometown when I placed an ad in the Shelby, Mississippi newspaper. It was my attempt to claim information that my mother said she did not have. It was information on her grandparents. Well, within less the week, my email box was flooded with not-so-distant relatives. I was told that my mother spoke with someone at least once a week and that she often visited. They gave me loads of information. My mother later corroborated this information and had a few pictures.

I have my suspicions on why my mother was so secretive. I will address those assumptions in another post.

September 7, 2013 Posted by | The journey | , , , , | Leave a comment