Groundbreaking Study Tracing Back DNA 210,000 Years!

The Scotsman newspaper recently reported that the company ScotlandsDNA “has completed the first stage of…research tracing the beginnings of a family tree for ‘all men on Earth.’”

masthead for the newspaper "The Scotsman"

Source: The Scotsman

Read the full article from The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), 7 August 2015, here:

This important new DNA study shows that the branching of the DNA tree evolved slowly over time – but then that evolution abruptly changed. According to the article:

About 4,500 years ago, many new branches suddenly appear over a very short period.

illustration of a section of DNA

Illustration: a section of DNA. Source: Wikipedia.

According to Alistair Moffat who ran this study:

DNA research showed this was highly likely to indicate an invasion by a warrior elite, small bands of highly aggressive and sexually predatory men sailing by small boats to Britain and Ireland over a short space of time around 2,500 BC from Spain, Portugal and southern France.

He went on to say:

This is noticeable across the whole Tree but particularly clear under the very British and European Y chromosome haplogroup, R1b S145, where a staggering 25 new branches are found.

map showing the spread of European Y chromosome haplogroup, R1b S145

Source: Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia the R1b line “is believed to have originated in Asia” and “had been in Europe before the end of the Ice Age.”

Enter Last Name

ScotlandsDNA’s study of the “Y” chromosome DNA concludes that all “men” descend from a common ancestor.

chart showing the evolutionary tree of human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups

Source: Wikipedia

Have you taken a DNA test?
What did you learn from your test results?

Related DNA Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

DNA Testing Confirms President Harding’s ‘Love Child’

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how DNA testing has been used recently to prove that the old rumor about President Warren G. Harding’s “love child” was true.

DNA testing is growing in popularity, with more and more genealogists using it to break through brick walls in their family history research. Historians, too, are using DNA testing to unlock mysteries from the past – most recently, to prove that the old rumor about President Warren G. Harding’s “love child” was true.

photo of Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing, c. 1920

Photo: Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing, c. 1920. Credit: Library of Congress.

Long before Monica Lewinsky, Mimi Alford and rumors of other adulterous affairs carried on at the White House by Presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, President Warren Harding was embroiled in multiple controversies – some of which came to light after his death. Government bribery via the Teapot Dome Scandal, an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips (Mrs. James Phillips, a woman who successfully blackmailed him), and the later-discredited whispers that Mrs. Harding may have had a part in her husband’s mysterious death, all continue to blacken Harding’s legacy. And then there was the case of Nan Britton, who claimed to have had a nearly seven-year affair with Harding while he was married – and that he fathered her daughter Elizabeth.

DNA Testing Reveals Secrets from the Past

In an age before mobile devices that record and track your every move, lying about where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with was much easier. Without any way to “prove” a claim of an affair or resulting paternity, it was a matter of “he said” v. “she said.” Today, DNA testing is the ultimate game-changer. As far as familial relationships are concerned, DNA keeps no secrets.

In today’s world, it comes as no surprise to most of us to hear that a president had an affair (or multiple affairs) but in an earlier era, the truth was often easily covered up.

In the early 1910s, Nan Britton, a Marion, Ohio, teenager, was infatuated with local newspaper owner – and later U.S. senator – Warren G. Harding, who also happened to be her father’s friend. Harding, 31 years Britton’s senior, was carrying on an affair with local woman Carrie Fulton Phillips when the teenaged Britton began her obsession. When she was 20, Harding began his affair with Britton, which led to the birth of their daughter Elizabeth in 1919 – shortly before Harding was elected president. Britton would later claim that Harding provided financial support for their child but failed to mention her in his will, leaving Britton fighting unsuccessfully for her daughter’s inheritance when President Harding died suddenly during a trip to California in 1923.

Nan Britton’s Infamous Book

After Harding’s death stopped his financial support, Britton tried unsuccessfully to get Harding family members to provide ongoing compensation for his child. Britton then chose a route that modern-day readers are well-acquainted with: writing a tell-all book. The President’s Daughter (1927) told the story of her affair with Harding and their child. While Britton may have believed she was doing the right thing by her child, she probably didn’t anticipate the fallout she would experience from this decision to write a book about the affair.

article about Nan Britton and her daughter Elizabeth, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 6 November 1927

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 6 November 1927, page 2

Britton’s book met with controversy prior to its publication, including the printing plates being seized and attempts to block its release. In response, she started her own organization, The Elizabeth Ann Guild, which published her book. The Elizabeth Ann Guild’s purpose was to spotlight an important issue: the plight of “illegitimate” children.

ad for Nan Britton's book "The President's Daughter," Evansville Courier and Press newspaper advertisement 28 February 1928

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 28 February 1928, page 7

Embroiled in Lawsuits

Those who write tell-all books often suffer the side effects of revealing very personal details. Imagine the Roaring ’20s and a woman, a self-proclaimed mistress at that, writing a book about “lurid” details that seek to tarnish the reputation of a U.S. president. Aside from being ridiculed for her paternity claims, Britton was involved in subsequent lawsuits having to do with her best-selling book.

Enter Last Name

One such suit involved her mentor (and what some believe to be the primary author of her book), Richard Wightman. In the following 1928 newspaper article, Patricia Wightman claimed her husband Richard – not Britton – wrote The President’s Daughter, which led to the demise of their marriage. Mrs. Wightman claimed:

…that her husband took Miss Britton into their home at Saybrook while he wrote the book from information supplied by Miss Britton, who acted as typist and secretary for him.

The book, and her husband’s involvement with Miss Britton, caused Patricia to leave and “live in a shack” before moving on to live in an exclusive hotel. She proclaimed that she:

…asked my husband not to have anything to do with the book…because it was scandalous and was an attack on the memory of a dead President.

article about Richard Wightman ghost-writing Nan Britton's book "The President's Daughter," Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 3 March 1928

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 3 March 1928, page 1

According to a news report a few weeks later, Britton was named as a co-respondent in the Wightman divorce.

article about Nan Britton being involved in the Wightman divorce, Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 26 March 1928

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 26 March 1928, page 3

That was not the only lawsuit Britton was a party to. A book that claimed her allegations of an affair with Harding were false was published. Titled The Answer to the President’s Daughter, this work led to a lawsuit brought by Britton for libel. Another book that also aimed to discredit Britton was written by Harding’s campaign manager and attorney general, Harry M. Daugherty. Titled The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy, it claimed to “refute Nan Britton’s claim that President Harding was the father of her daughter” as well as exonerate Mrs. Harding against claims that she murdered her husband.

article about Harry M. Daugherty writing a book to defend President Harding, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 29 December 1931

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 29 December 1931, page 1

Later Years

In the 1960s, the discovery of love letters from Harding’s affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips led to renewed interest in Britton’s story, resulting in follow-up newspaper articles. Britton knew the Phillips family and had gone to school with their daughter.

article about Nan Britton's affair with President Harding, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 24 February 1965

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 24 February 1965, page 8

In this old news article, Britton lays out her life in the years after the president’s death that included living under assumed names and working hard to support her daughter. She also revisits her relationship with Harding and the subsequent financial need to write a tell-all book after his death:

…her motive for publishing the story of her love-life with Harding was grounded on the need for legal and social recognition and protection of all children born out of wedlock. She stated that in her opinion “there should be no so called ‘illegitimates’ in this country.”

While love letters from President Harding to Britton do not survive, those he wrote to Phillips do and have recently been released to the public, digitized and available on the Library of Congress website.

Nan Britton spent her life standing by her presidential love story and faced much ridicule for it. In this case the final “proof” endures in the genetic genealogy of a family. Britton died in 1991 in Oregon, still viewed with contempt by some who believed she told lies that tarnished Harding’s reputation. Her daughter Elizabeth died in 2005, ten years before the 2015 DNA test that proved the story that her mother consistently told all those years was the truth.

Related DNA Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

DNA Shows That Jews Came from the Middle East

This might sound obvious, but this new DNA-driven conclusion is loaded with political impact that will reverberate around the world.

article about DNA tests proving Jews came from the Middle East, Algemeiner, 13 November 2014

Algemeiner, 13 November 2014

FamilyTree DNA’s finding is a clear indicator of the growing sophistication of current DNA technology to predict the ancestral origins and geographic spread of our ancestors. For example, some of this testing showed that one of the largest Jewish ancestral groups—Ashkenazi Jews—“descend from a small group of about 350 individuals who lived between 600 and 800 years ago.” It’s amazing that DNA can be this precise. It will work this way for you too—do it. Sign your family up for DNA testing today.

Enter Last Name

Read the full story about the DNA test findings on Algemeiner, 13 November 2014, here:

Related Articles about Jewish Ancestry & DNA:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

DNA Needed to Solve One of the Oldest Missing Persons Cases

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this guest blog post, Duncan describes how DNA research may help solve a missing person case from 1926.

One of the oldest missing person cases may be solved.

Recently in the news, there was a report saying that one of the oldest missing persons cases may be solved using DNA. The details of the story were somewhat disjointed, but this is the basic story.

photo of Marvin A. Clark and an unidentified woman (probably his wife Mary)

Marvin A. Clark and an unidentified woman (probably his wife Mary), undated photo (1) [see notes at end of article]

In 1920, Marvin and Mary Clark were living in Tigard, Oregon. Marvin had been born in Iowa, but his parents were from New York. At 68 years old, he was a farmer with a mortgage. (2) They had lived in Oregon for quite some time, but they had previously lived in Nebraska where he had been a city marshal. (3) According to his granddaughter, Dorothy Willoughby, he had also worked as a marshal in the Portland area. (4)

Marvin was destined to become a “missing person” case.

Marvin and Mary Clark, 1920 Census, Tigard, Oregon

Marvin and Mary Clark, 1920 Census, Tigard, Oregon. Source: FamilySearch.

Marvin’s Family Background

Marvin’s mother Mary had at least two husbands following Marvin’s father George. She becomes a crucial part of this mystery. (See the footnote at the end of this article for further details.)

Enter Last Name

Marvin and Mary Clark had many children, but two factor into our story. (6) Their daughter Sidney McDougal had been living 180+ miles away in Seattle, Washington. (7) By 1926, she had moved to Portland, not far from her brother Grover, where she was a hotel manager.  Grover C. Clark was already living in Portland, just 10 miles away from his parents Marvin and Mary. (8)

Sidney McDougal, 1920 Census, Seattle, Washington

Sidney McDougal, 1920 Census, Seattle, Washington. Source: FamilySearch.

Grover C. Clark, 1920 Census, Portland, Oregon

Grover C. Clark, 1920 Census, Portland, Oregon. Source: FamilySearch.

Disappearance the Night before Halloween

The details of the story are a little confusing, but it appears that Marvin left his home in Tigard to visit his daughter Sidney in Portland the night before Halloween in 1926. This was a ten-mile trip, but he did not inform his daughter that he would be visiting. Nor did he take a coat with him on what would likely have been a chilly fall day in the Northwest.

Marvin never made it to his daughter’s home that day—he simply disappeared.

This newspaper article reported his disappearance.

article about missing person Marvin Clark, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 9 November 1926

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 9 November 1926, page 5

This 1900s newspaper article reported that Grover’s wife had received a letter from his 75-year-old father postmarked Bellingham, Washington. The letter disturbed the family because it was “disconnected.” According to the article:

The letter indicated that the aged man’s mind is wandering as it was badly jumbled despite the fact that Clark is highly educated, being a graduate of two universities.

The old newspaper article also reported that “so far as known Clark was practically without funds,” and that “he had stopped at hotels here [Bellingham] on November 2 and 3.”

The article provided a brief description of Marvin:

The missing man is described as weighing about 175 pounds and is about five feet seven inches tall. His right side is paralyzed and he drags his right foot when he walks.

photo of Marvin A. Clark

Marvin A. Clark, undated photo (9)

Searching for Marvin Clark

His family frantically searched for him. The police did their best to locate the man. The family even offered a reward of $100, which would be about $1,300 in today’s dollars. Because of Marvin’s previous profession as a marshal, the family feared the worst—knowing he had made enemies in his law enforcement career.

article about reward being offered for missing person Marvin Clark, Oregonian newspaper article 11 November 1926

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 November 1926, page 9

And so a generation passed away with no sight or sound of Marvin. His wife and children never knew what happened to him. But, in fact, Marvin was never far away.

Skeleton Tied to Old Missing Persons Case

In 1986 a body was found in the woods, as this newspaper article reported:

…loggers were clearing an isolated section of Portland when they discovered the remains of a mystery man who had been dead for at least half a century.

Skeleton Opens Old 'Missing Person' Case, Oregonian newspaper article 20 May 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 May 1986, page 12

The skeleton had a single bullet hole through the temples and the gun was nearby. Police deemed the death a suicide from around the 1920s based on the clothing and personal items.

Enter Last Name

At the time of Marvin’s disappearance, the family had not considered suicide a possibility. Because of Marvin’s previous profession as a marshal, the family had feared an attack. Alternatively, they feared he had become disoriented and lost due to his seemingly diminished mental capacity as portrayed in the letter Grover’s wife received.

The skeleton was in such good shape that the medical examiner initially guessed the age as between 35 and 55. This cast doubt on Marvin’s granddaughter’s claim a few days later that the body might belong to her long-missing grandfather. Nothing was able to verify or disprove her claim, and she died in 1991 without closure and without leaving a DNA sample.

And so the case remained unsolved until 2011 when, according to the recent article in the Daily Mail by Dan Bloom (10):

Dr. Nici Vance, from the Oregon state medical examiner’s office, found the file on the suicide and began investigating.

Amazingly, 90 years after Marvin went missing, the remains were still in storage and DNA may yet solve the case. Several great grandchildren on Marvin’s paternal side have been found and DNA samples have been procured. Now they are looking for a maternal link in order to get a clearer profile. Perhaps you will be the one to find living descendants whose DNA will definitively solve the case of the missing Marvin A. Clark! Please let us know if you can help resolve this unsolved missing person mystery.


(1) Dan Bloom, “Could One of America’s Oldest Missing Person Cases Finally Be Solved? Investigators Hope DNA Will Unravel Mystery of Man Who Vanished in 1926,” Daily Mail, published 30 April 2014.
(2) “United States Census, 1920,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed 11 June 2014. Marvin A. Clark, Tigard, Oregon, United States; citing sheet 4B, family 92, NARA microfilm publication T625, FHL microfilm 1821505.
(3) “United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Marvin Clark, Pender Precinct, Thurston, Nebraska, United States; citing sheet 13A, family 253, NARA microfilm publication T623, FHL microfilm 1240941.
(4) Associated Press, “Investigators Seek DNA to Close 1926 Oregon Missing Person Case,” Fox News. Accessed June 2014.
(5) Possible census returns for Marvin Clark and his mother Mary/Miranda.
“United States Census, 1880,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Marvin Clark in household of Nickolus Fritz, St. Marys, Mills, Iowa, United States; citing sheet 267D, NARA microfilm publication T9.
“United States Census, 1870,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Marvin Clark in household of William Fiedler, Iowa, United States; citing page 3, family 18, NARA microfilm publication M593, FHL microfilm 000545910.
“United States Census, 1860,” index, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Marvin Clark in household of Geo Clark, Girard Tp, Erie, Pennsylvania, United States; citing “1860 U.S. Federal Census-Population,”; page 31, household ID 228, NARA microfilm publication M653; FHL microfilm 805107.
(6) “United States Census, 1910,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Marvin A. Clark, Holbrook, Multnomah, Oregon, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 121, sheet 4A, family 80, NARA microfilm publication T624, FHL microfilm 1375301.
(7) “United States Census, 1920,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Sidney McDougal, Seattle, Washington, United States; citing sheet 4A, family 59, NARA microfilm publication T625, FHL microfilm 1821928.
(8) “United States Census, 1920,” index and images, FamilySearch. Accessed June 2014, Grover C. Clark, Portland, Oregon, United States; citing sheet 14A, family 359, NARA microfilm publication T625, FHL microfilm 1821501.
(9) Bloom.
(10) Bloom.

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Recent DNA Breakthrough: Oldest Genome in New World Recovered

DNA is unlocking the distant past of our family history. Researchers have looked again at previously found prehistoric skeletons and remains to see if they could harvest DNA. They were successful with the skeleton of an18-month-old boy from the Clovis period who died more than 12,000 years ago. His remains were found in 1968 in Montana.

According to a recent CBS News report, the DNA test results showed that: “The boy’s genome also showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today’s native peoples in the Americas, researchers said. He was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada. The reason for that difference isn’t clear, scientists said.” The genome is the oldest ever successfully recovered from the New World.

Clearly this was no random burial. The boy was found buried with over 125 artifacts, with the objects and the skeleton “covered with powdered red ochre, a natural pigment, indicating a burial ceremony.”

a CBS News report of 12,000-year-old DNA being uncoded

Credit: CBS News

Read the entire story here:

Dr. Spencer Wells is a leading population geneticist and Director of the Genographic Project sponsored by National Geographic and IBM.

a photo of Dr. Spencer Wells, a leading population geneticist and Director of the Genographic Project sponsored by National Geographic and IBM

Photo: Dr. Spencer Wells. Credit: National Geographic.

Watch this quick clip of his remarks at RootsTech 2014:

Watch his complete presentation from the Friday morning session of RootsTech 2014. Speed forward to the 33 minute mark to begin watching his remarks:

DNA Testing & Genealogy: Is It Working for You?

Clearly DNA testing is revolutionizing 21st Century family history research.

DNA Testing Helps Orphan Find His Family

There are heartwarming stories about successful DNA tests—like that of 80-year-old Patrick J. Holland, who was raised in an orphanage and through DNA testing finally found his family.

Here is the full report on this touching family story, from CNN:

photo of a CNN report of 80-year-old Patrick J. Holland, who was raised in an orphanage and through DNA testing finally found his family

Credit: CNN

DAR Accepts DNA Test Results

Lynn Young, national president of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), has announced that the DAR is now accepting DNA test results as proof for women wanting to apply for membership.

For more details about the new DAR membership acceptance policy, see:

photo of Lynn Young, president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Credit: DAR

The new acceptance program starts with a DAR member with a proven (well-documented), accepted membership. Next you need to get DNA test results from a male descendant in that line. Then, if someone is applying for DAR membership but cannot produce the paper trail documentation back to the Revolutionary War period, there is now a way for that person to still gain membership—if that person has a DNA match between male relatives in both lines. The DAR says that the DNA evidence from both lines demonstrates that the applicant is related to the already-accepted member, and the applicant can use that DNA evidence of the male relative in support of her application.

DNA Study of Spanish Jews

A new DNA study of the descendants of Spanish (Sephardic) Jews has shown that statistically all Jews alive today have at least one Sephardic Jewish ancestor. Read the new genealogical study on Spanish Jewish ancestry from Cornell University here:

map showing migrations and settlements of the Spanish Jews

Credit: Wikipedia

European Jewish DNA Study

Another just-released Jewish DNA study shows that: “…the women who founded the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Europe were not from the Near East, as previously supposed, and reinforces the idea that many Jewish communities outside Israel were founded by single men who married and converted local women.” Read the complete New York Times (New York, New York), 8 October 2013, genealogy report here:

Genes Suggest European Women at Root of Ashkenazi Family Tree, New York Times newspaper article 8 October 2013

Credit: New York Times

Kemp Genealogy DNA Study

I am participating in a Kemp DNA study and it has changed our conclusions of our ancestral connections. The DNA test we’ve been participating in has shown that our County Cavan, Ireland, Kemp line is completely separate from the County Kent, England, Kemp line—which is the largest recorded Kemp family.

See the current Kemp DNA test results here:

test results from a Kemp DNA study

Credit: FamilyTree DNA

Our Cavan Kemp descendants are all coded to R1a1. The English Kemp lines are all coded to R1b1, which appears similar but—the experts tell me—actually proves that the two Kemp lines are not related at all.

Interestingly, the German Kemp lines are coded to E, and the Scandinavian Kemp lines are coded to I.

The R1a1 marker has remained consistent with the Cavan Kemp descendants in the Canadian line: Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and here in the United States.

These DNA test findings changed our entire view of how “all” Kemp lines are or are not related.

Is DNA Testing Working for You?

Has a DNA study impacted your family history research? Has it changed your view of your family tree?

What are you finding?

What breakthroughs have you found from DNA testing?

Please share your experiences with DNA testing in the comments section.

Remembering ‘Roots’ Author Alexander Murray Palmer Haley

Alex Haley (1921-1992) was a famous African American author who had more impact on genealogy than any other person in the past 50 years. He was born 11 August 1921. Haley would be almost 92 years old if he were alive today.

After the release of his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (New York City, New York: Doubleday) 37 years ago—on 17 August 1976—and the launch of the eight-part television mini-series on ABC-TV in January 1977, the genealogy world was forever changed.

He was 55 years old when Roots was published.

Alex Haley Roots Book Cover

Image credit:

From that point on the number of genealogical societies in the U.S. skyrocketed from 400 societies to over 4,000. Public libraries and state archives across the country were flooded with family history researchers using their book and microfilm collections.

Some major milestones to keep in mind: the first laptop wasn’t invented until 1981 (Osborne); Google was launched in 1995; and GenealogyBank was born 19 October 2006.

One man can make a big difference.

Recently Alex Haley’s nephew Christopher Haley participated in a DNA study and was surprised to learn about his Scottish roots. Hosted by Megan Smolenyak, this episode of Roots Television shows the family reunion of the Haley and Baff families:

How to Spot and Avoid 9 Common Genealogy Mistakes & Errors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses 9 common mistakes made when doing family history research, and suggests ways to avoid them.

Family history researchers are often frustrated by the mistakes of others—particularly when there is an obvious error in identity, such as the mistake explained in this 1914 Virginia newspaper article. It points out that a member of the Gwathmey family was incorrectly identified as having been a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Rchmond Times Dispatch Newspaper Gwathmey Family Genealogy

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 17 May 1914, page 41.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, and one that could have been corrected with simple subtraction. Unfortunately, once a mistake is written in a book or newspaper article, the mistake is often carried into other research—forever frustrating the more serious genealogists.

Genealogical mistakes are not often easy to sort out, so let’s discuss some strategies.

1. Abbreviations Are Not Always What They Seem

Two of my favorites are “NA” and “NMI.”

In the case of the first abbreviation, “NA” might indicate non applicable, naturalized, Native American or even Navy, demonstrating the importance of finding the “key” explaining what an abbreviation actually means.

Another abbreviation that sometimes causes confusion is the use of “NMI” in place of a middle name. It is not an actual moniker, but rather used to indicate that a person has no middle initial—no middle name.

2. Age-Related Mistakes

  • Women who are too old to be mothers.

Although Mrs. Steve Pace, of Rose Hill, Virginia, reportedly gave birth to her 17th child in 1939 at the age of 73 (see the Wikipedia article “Pregnancy Over Age 50”), it is rare for women to give birth over the age of 50.

If a woman continued to give birth through her 40s, then it is possible that a report of her having a child as an older woman may be correct.

However, whenever you see such an older mother-child relationship claim, examine the possibility that the family may have been raising an orphan or a grandchild.

  • Persons who were born too young or old to have served during a military event.

If you are researching an ancestor for a lineage society, such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, start by figuring out the beginning and ending dates of the event.

For example, the American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865.

Although there are examples of very young veterans, most of the younger set did not serve in a military capacity—unless they were older. One exception was Civil War Missouri veteran George Huffman, who enrolled as a volunteer in the 13th Missouri Infantry on 4 November 1861 at the age of 14. He re-enlisted on 8 February 1864, and was considered to have been the youngest veteran to have re-enlisted that year—as explained in this 1864 Massachusetts newspaper article.

Lowell Daily Citizen & News Newspaper George Huffman Civil War

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 2 September 1864, page 2.

For the most part, however, it is safe to assume that someone—other than a drummer or bugler—must have been at least 15 when he enlisted for combat service. Therefore, it is unlikely that a combat veteran actually served in the Civil War if he was born after the year 1850.

Now, if a child served in a non-military capacity, then you might find evidence of children as young as seven involved in a war—such as Nathan Futrell, a young boy who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Greensboro Daily News Newspaper Nathan Futrell Revolutionary War

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 3 January 1971, page 24.

You can also apply an age factor to determine the likelihood of an older person serving in the military.

3. All Applicable Genealogy Records Have Not Been Found

Just because you can’t find a genealogical proof doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. For example, many military records were burned, so look to other types of records for evidence.

In other words, if an original record is missing you might be able to find alternate records. In the case of a missing military record, look for a petition for a pension, or a list of enlistments, reprinted in an old newspaper article. Other possible genealogical sources: a family diary or letter, or church bulletin, that references military service.

4. Children Listed without Parents May Not Be Orphans

Just because a child is not recorded with a parent on a census record doesn’t necessarily indicate that both parents are deceased.

On one of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census records, I noted that the children of my ancestor Permelia Ann (Davis) Drake were living in different households.

Not finding their mother, I at first assumed that she had died. It turned out that she was very much alive, and recorded in the census with her second husband, Samuel Bassett. It’s not clear why the children were with the neighbors in 1850, but perhaps they were mother’s helpers or farm helpers working to support the family.

5. Informants Are Not Always Correct

A primary record is one that was recorded at the time of the event. A secondary record is one that is recorded later, generally from an informant. In the case of a death certificate, the date and place of death is primary evidence, but the birth date of the decedent, along with the stated parents, is not necessarily correct.

In my family, my great-grandfather’s parents were recorded on his death certificate as his natural parents, when in fact court records and other records establish that he had been adopted.

6. Just Because Two People with the Same Name Reside in the Same Area Does Not Necessarily Mean They Are Related (Coincidences Happen)

In the case of my ancestor William Harrell of Virginia (and Indiana) of the late 1700s and early 1800s, it turns out there are three men by the same name. Now that descendants have submitted results from DNA studies, it is clear that they were not closely related.

7. Spelling Errors

Alternate spellings are the norm, rather than the exception.

For example, my Ebling ancestors can be found with the surname spelling Ebeling, Hebling and even Heblinger. As a result, I always browse a book’s index to see if there are similar spellings. When searching online or in a search box, such as at GenealogyBank, I frequently use a wildcard such as a question mark (?) or asterisk (*) when searching for ancestor names.

  • The ? is used to take the place of one letter
  • The * is used to take the place of several letters

For example:

  • Eb*ing* would find Ebling, Ebeling and Eblinger
  • ?Eb*ing* would find all of the above, and include Hebling or Heblinger
  • Cath?rine would find both Catherine and Catharine

8. Transpositions (Reversing or Mixing Up Letters and Numbers)

Many people, including myself, are prone to transpositions. The year 1787, for example, might be unintentionally entered as 1778, or even 1877.

To overcome this tendency, be sure to closely examine recorded figures, such as the reported age at death. Several genealogy programs calculate this figure, and may even note it during an error check.

9. Widows and Widowers May Not Necessarily Be Widowed

In the event of a divorce, separation or bigamy, a spouse might be recorded as widowed on an official record. This may be to handle a delicate issue, or simply to accommodate a census form that didn’t have other options.

These are just a few common genealogical errors. If you have some that you have observed, please share them with us on Facebook or our blog page in the comments section!

The Past Tells the Future of Genealogy: Is Anything Really New?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspaper articles to discover that what was new in genealogy 100 or more years ago is still new today.

There is nothing new except that which has been forgotten.

~ Marie Antoinette

This is certainly true in genealogy in a variety of ways. Naturally, we as genealogists spend a great deal of time and effort looking for that which has been forgotten or almost forgotten. We strive to discover, or rediscover actually, family history information every day.

On the other hand, I find it interesting when I hear some of the genealogy “pundits” trumpet all the newest “discoveries” in genealogy, often claiming that they are a harbinger of the end of genealogy as we know it. Some of these latest proclamations had me wondering, so I decided to see what was new (and old, which might have been forgotten) in genealogy through the historical newspapers in the database of

After a few quick searches, I encountered some terrific genealogy headlines and articles. Every one of them brought home the point that not all that much has changed in the world of genealogy! See if you can place the date of each of the following newspaper articles. Were these historical stories from yesteryear or news articles from today’s newspapers?

  • “Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing.” How often have we heard this? I especially appreciated this newspaper article’s subheadings: “In Recent Years Americans Have Been Making Great Study of the Family Tree” and “Genealogists Working Along New Lines and Startling Results Follow.” Sounds just like something I’d read in the news today.
Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 16 March 1912

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 16 March 1912, page 2

This newspaper article was published in 1912!

  • “Forum on computers, genealogy scheduled.” This one really could be from today, the type of article found in just about every genealogy society newsletter and newspaper column on “local happenings.” It is interesting to see the name of Genealogical Computing magazine in this article, and it is fun to see how far we have come in such a short time.
Forum on Computers, Genealogy Scheduled, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 September 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 September 1984, page 20C

While this sounds like today’s genealogy news, this newspaper article was published in 1984!

  • “Of the New Genealogy, Its Enlarged Field of Study. How Genealogy as a Science May Help Us to Help Ourselves.” I wondered if this article might be discussing the role of DNA testing in genealogy today, but not quite… I enjoyed this article especially since it was on a topic near-and-dear to me: that of the needed link between genealogy and the academic world. Plus, this article is about an address given at the 60th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogist Society by Charles K. Bolton.
Of the New Genealogy, Springfield Republican newspaper article 3 November 1909

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 November 1909, page 15

This newspaper article was published in 1909!

  • “Genealogy business booming national one.” With the business of genealogy booming, it seems to offer good career opportunities. This article was from an advice column and the author seemed to have a pretty decent grasp of genealogy, which was fun to see.
Genealogy Business Booming National One, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 July 1981

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 July 1981, page 33

While this would be good career advice for genealogists today, this newspaper article was actually published in 1981!

  • “Who Was Your Grandfather?” I thought perhaps this was an article for the newest television spinoff of Who Do You Think You Are?
Who Was Your Grandfather? New-Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 27 August 1851

New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 27 August 1851, page 3

While this headline seems right out of today’s news, it’s actually about finding an heir for the deceased Jennings—and the newspaper article was published in 1851!

  • “Old Tombstone Wanted.” Once again, this headline could be from practically any newspaper today; as I read the article I can almost feel the angst of the writer as he pleaded for anyone in the local community who may have known anything at all about the tombstone he was searching for.
Old Tombstone Wanted, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 23 October 1900

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 23 October 1900, page 2

While this newspaper article refers to “a genealogical chain” and “the genealogist and all his vagaries,” it was actually published in 1900!

  • “Cousin George’s Decision” The subtitle of this article “He Thought His New Found Relatives Were a Very Shoddy Lot” made me think that this story’s moral is as valid today as when the article was written.
Cousin George's Decision, Daily Alaska Dispatch newspaper article 24 January 1900

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska), 24 January 1900, page 2

However, this newspaper article was published in 1900!

  • “Genealogy of Slang.” This article earned its way to being copied and placed on my bulletin board. After all who knows when it might come in handy for me to use the word “Gellibagger”?
Genealogy of Slang, Repository newspaper article 15 March 1890

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 15 March 1890, page 5

While using slang in genealogy might seem like a modern topic, this newspaper article was published in 1890!

Thanks to this trip through the past using historical newspapers, we can see that: 1) genealogy has been in the news a long time; and 2) what was new then is sometimes new today. Truly, “Nothing in Genealogy is as new as that which has been forgotten.” The past is often one of the best places to look for clues to the future.

Baylor University Anthropologists Use DNA to ID Missing Ancestors

Hat’s off to Baylor University anthropologists who are undertaking an unusual project: identifying unknown persons buried along the Texas border.

photo of Baylor University anthropologists investigating unmarked graves along Texas border

Credit: Dlcia Lopez, The Monitor (McAllen, Texas)

Using their forensic and DNA skills, the Baylor anthropologists are determining everything they can about each corpse they recover. The information generated by this effort is going into the Missing Migrant DNA Database to assist relatives in finding what became of their family members.

To learn more about this effort to ID the bodies of these missing migrant ancestors, watch this video:

Unmarked Graves along Texas Border