Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Monday, June 27, 2016

Case Studies Demonstrating the Use of Mitochondrial DNA in Genealogical Research

This past weekend a researcher using a Facebook group asked a question about which DNA test to take. One person quickly chimed in that Ancestry DNA was the best. I came back and qualified it by asking for what goal the person hoped to achieve through testing. I explained that if it was a patrilineal question, a Y-DNA test might work better and that FamilyTreeDNA was the only American company currently offering such a test. I said Ancestry DNA and FamilyTreeDNA both provide good results, but suggested taking the Ancestry DNA test and then transferring the results to FamilyTreeDNA for $39. I also mentioned GEDmatch's usefulness.

Then I made a comment that in some very specific situations a mitochondrial DNA test might be useful. The other commenter thought mitochondrial DNA tests were a total waste of time. I reiterated that it is quite useful under very specific circumstance. I did, of course, mention my own reason for doing a mitochondrial test. Initially I wanted to learn the mitochondrial haplogroup to put to rest one of those full-blooded Indian rumors in my line. The haplogroup came back Western European so my goal was achieved. I also hoped it would help identify my 3g-grandmother's mother. That result is currently on hold as I need to work much more with the results to achieve it.

However, the discussion made me realize I needed some good examples of how mitochondrial DNA solved genealogical problems. My mind immediately went to Elizabeth Shown Mills' great article, "Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi," which first appeared in National Genealogical Society Quarterly in June 2014 and is now available on the author's Historic Pathways site. This case used all types of DNA, providing genealogists a great model for DNA research. I am sure I saw another published case study demonstrating mitochondrial DNA as a genealogical tool, but I could not remember it.

However, I did find a blog post by Roberta Estes, "Mitochondrial -- the Maligned DNA," which shows how mitochondrial DNA was used to resolve of which wife of a male ancestor the tester was a descendant.

I also found a somewhat technical but useful post by Blaine Bettinger, "An mtDNA Journey -- Discovering My mtDNA in a Research Paper," describing some of the surprises discovered in his own mitochondrial DNA and how he discovered his mtDNA in a research study defining his haplogroup.

I thought I'd toss the question out for others. Do you know of another example of a published case study involving mitochondrial DNA in DNA research? Has mitochondrial DNA been useful in your own line?


Bettinger, Blaine. "An mtDNA Journey -- Discovering My mtDNA in a Research Paper," The Genetic Genealogist, 30 July 2015 ( : accessed 25 June 2016).

Estes, Roberta. "Mitochondrial -- the Maligned DNA," DNAeXplained - Genetic Genealogy, 29 March 2014 ( : accessed 25 June 2016).

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 129-152; image copy, Historic Pathways ( : accessed 25 June 2016).

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Friday, June 24, 2016


Yesterday, one of my friends from high school posted on Facebook that she had the song "Rhinestone Cowboy" stuck in her head. Most of us from that era know how difficult it is to remove that one from "auto-play."

I replied back that now it was stuck in the heads of all her friends except that I was singing a slightly different variation.

My brother's wife died, leaving behind an 18-month old son. For several years, I picked up my nephew from the babysitter's house after school let out and kept him until my brother returned home from work at Walmart, which was often late since he received a promotion to assistant manager and transferred to a store about 45 miles away. I would often play the radio, and sometimes it would be on as we were eating. I can still picture my nephew, sitting in his booster seat singing along with that song. He really only sang one phrase -- the phrase that was repeated often throughout the song and bore the title words. The problem was his vocabulary did not include the word "rhinestone" so he sang what he thought he heard. Yes, that song will forever be etched in my brain as "Macaroni on a Cowboy."

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One More Quick Post - Mount Rainier

I'll try to resume my regular blogging schedule later in the week, but for now, I leave you with a photo of Mount Rainier that I took while in Seattle.

I leave for home tonight, arriving in the morning. I suspect the kittens (10 months old so almost officially cats) intend to keep me occupied tomorrow, but I should have time to think through a blog post the following day and get back to my blogging schedule.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Having Too Much Fun to Remember to Post

I should have scheduled a post for this morning, but I'm having too much fun on my trip to Oregon and Washington to remember to do so.

Because I don't have lots of time at the moment for a long post, I'll leave you with a photo I took last Sunday afternoon at the Portland Japanese Gardens showing Mount Hood.

Mount Hood as seen from Portland Japanese Garden. Photograph by Lori Thornton, 12 Jun 2016.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Civil War Weapons

Springfield Model 1842. Photograph provided by "Older Firearms." Flickr Creative Commons ( : accessed 9 Jun 2016). Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Last week my nephew asked a question on my Facebook page about my second great grandfather's military service in the Union Army during the Civil War. A third cousin once removed from the line private messaged me about the post. Her father left her the muzzle loader that was said to belong to James M. Thornton. She knew the gun was manufactured in 1850, but she knew little else about it.

I'm not exactly an expert on firearms, but my nephew knows much more about them. He served with the Army National Guard for two tours of duty in Iraq and is much more interested in them than I am. I put the "fourth cousins" in touch with one another in such a manner that I was copied on the messages.

After what seemed like a live Internet version of Antiques Roadshow, it was concluded that the gun was a Springfield Model 1842 and that it was one of the guns used in the war and issued with a modification that was present on the one in the family. When Union soldiers mustered out, they were given an option of purchasing their weapon. While we cannot guarantee this was the rifle issued to James M. Thornton, it seems likely that it was.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Just the Facts, Please

Michael John Neill started a "rant" on Facebook the other day about Find A Grave. His basic wish is that Find A Grave would return to being a place to transcribe what is on the marker and provide a photograph without all the extra data provided.

It wasn't long before other genealogists were chiming in. Concern was voiced about the undocumented nature of much of the information being supplied. Many also knew of incorrect family connections. (I know someone had my maternal great-grandmother attached to the wrong man once even though they were in cemeteries in completely different parts of the state. Fortunately I was able to get this corrected.)

In the past I found instances where someone provided a citation for a grave recorded when the WPA inventories were made which is no longer marked. I appreciated the information.

However, I agree that much information being added is not useful. Some is completely erroneous. The contributors think they are being helpful, but they are likely being harmful. I know cousins who contact me about a person in my tree who "jumped" at the first match they found, making an incorrect conclusion concerning a person's identity based on a same name. The "reasonably exhaustive search" requirement was not met. This information gets propagated and sometimes creates situations where more incorrect information is available than correct. I spent a great amount of time trying to track down the source of erroneous information in one case so I could really address the error in a proof statement providing the correct analysis.

For the most part, I use the grave marker photograph as my source with Find A Grave. I make a note in my citation as to whether or not an accompanying photograph documents the evidence or not. In some cases, the accompanying photograph provides alternate information than the transcription. In those cases, I go with the photograph.

One person commenting on Neill's post said she likes to add death certificates, where available.

Of course, many persons are violating copyright when posting obituaries at Find A Grave. That has been a source of discussion among genealogists for a long time. That problem was around even before Find A Grave when persons would post every obituary in the local paper to Rootsweb Mailing Lists. At one time I was administrator for some of the boards. I contacted the papers involved to see if they claimed copyright on the obituaries or not. In one case, they did and wanted them removed. In another, the paper said they were created from form sheets filled in by the families so they did not. The question then became whether the family owned the copyright or if it was just "facts." After consultation with others, the decision was to remove those as requested by families only. Generally speaking, newspapers do claim the copyright to obituaries so they should not be posted.

One person said he did not mind the extra information. It placed it in one place, and he could evaluate it himself, much the same as he does with trees.

One person suggested Find A Grave needs to provide a section for the extra information that is separate from the main memorial.

I tend to agree Find A Grave is becoming too cluttered with all the extras. I do like the suggestion of a separate section for the additional information. I would also support requiring additional information to be cited. When an edit to that section is made, a box for a free-form citation could appear and not be accepted unless the citation was entered. Am I dreaming?

What are your thoughts?


Thursday, June 09, 2016

Cumberland Gap Genealogy Jamboree

The Cumberland Gap Genealogy Jamboree begins today in the area through which so many people had ancestors travel. This is a more relaxed genealogy event than many. Outside are crafts, re-enactments, and a few other events. Inside the National Park Visitor Center's auditorium are presentations by known regional and national speakers. The event runs through Saturday.

I won't be attending today's festivities as I'm using the time to do laundry and pack. I have a work-related conference for which I'm leaving as soon as I finish speaking Saturday. Because I plan to attend most of Friday and Saturday, I needed today to get ready (and to spend a little time with my kittens who are quickly becoming full-grown cats).

I'm looking forward to visiting with many friends at the event, but this year's event will be a little sad as Connie won't be there. Connie was from the Evansville, Indiana area and always came. I always enjoyed visiting with her and Lyn at the booth they set up to sell "extra copies" of genealogy books to benefit the Willard Library. A distant "cousin" Mary also usually came and visited. [I say she's a "cousin" even though the connection is not proven. We know it will be there once we discover from which line my ancestor descends. Regardless of the line, we'll end up being related.]

Things will be different, but are things ever "the same" again?