Tag Archive for: DNA

How are we related? An explanation of 2nd Cousins once removed.

How are we related?
As we gather for the holidays, we will be spending time with family: parents, siblings, grandparents, and “cousins”. One of the questions I am asked most is about cousins? What is a 1st or 2nd cousin and what’s with the whole “removed thing”?
The first thing you need to know is your common ancestor.
If you share parents…you are siblings
If you share grandparents…you are 1st cousins
If you share great-grandparents…you are 2nd cousins
If you share great-great-grandparents….you are 3rd cousins
and so on…
The whole “removed thing” is to denote different generations. How is my 1st cousins’ son related to me? Our common ancestors are my grandparents but his great-grandparents. You start with the closer relationship, in this case, grandparent, making him my first cousin, and then you “remove” the relationship one generation, first cousin once removed. His child would be my first cousin twice removed.Here is another example. The picture below is my grandmother, Janice, and her “cousin” Steph at the old farm which has been in our family for generations. It was owned by Steph’s great-grandparents and its where my grandmother’s grandparents meet. It’s very cool that it is still in our family and I believe part of the reason we are still connected. Their common ancestors are Nelson and Mary. They are my grandmother’s great-grandparents and Steph’s great-great-grandparents.
So how are they related?
Great-grandparents, the closer relationship, means 2nd cousins, the extra generation makes them once removed.
Can you figure out how I am related to Steph?
Still a bit confused? Here is an example of how to map out the generations to figure out the answer.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family and friends. And that you get to impress them with your new knowledge of cousins.

My Grandma Janice and Cousin Steph at “The Old Farm”

Am I German?

When I took the ancestry.com DNA test a few years back, I was expecting to be quite a bit German. All of my paternal grandmother’s grandparents were born in Germany. I also have many other lines where Germans appear. When I opened my results, German wasn’t even an option, it was lumped in with all of Western Europe, and I was only 5%. I was instead over 60% British. This shocked me a little, what was I going to do when someone called me stubborn, could I no longer blame my German ancestry? 

A lot of people get results they find confusing. The first thing you need to understand is reference samples. The companies are comparing your DNA to reference samples of people today who can show they have been in the area for generations. That is not the same as comparing your DNA to all Germans. In fact, in 2018 Ancestry updated and expanded their reference samples and my ethnicity results now show 10% Germanic Europe. No, my DNA did not change; the interpretation of it did. The other thing to note is migration. We tend to think of our ancestors as being from one place, but human beings have been migrating for centuries. If you read about the region of Great Britain on ancestry.com, you will notice that the Germanic tribes of Angles and Saxons are part of the genetic makeup of the area. 
It is also essential to understand how DNA is passed down. You inherited 50% of each of your parent’s DNA, meaning that 50% of their DNA you did not inherit. This is why siblings can have very different ethnicity results. Confused?  Here is a video from ancestry that explains it. 

While DNA is never wrong, our interpretations and understanding of it can be. So it is important to use DNA as a tool along with traditional paper research. And why the cousin matches are a much more critical part of your results than ethnicity. A cousin match helped me to find an Irish ancestor with a common name. And all the cousins I expect to have on the German side are matches and getting the same low percentage I am, so I know that the Germans in the paper trail are my ancestors. 

Never Lost Again

Not surprisingly one of my favorite shows is Finding Your Roots on PBS. On a recent episode, Henry Lewis Gates Jr handed Marisa Tomei a family tree filled with relatives she never knew she had and declared,  “They will never be lost again”. It was a meaningful moment, but is it true? Will the future generations of her family know all she found? How do we “lose” our history in the first place? 

We must preserve and pass it down!

Winston Churchill said, “history is written by the victors.” This is part of the reason I love watching genealogy shows, you get to learn about a time in history from the everyday people who lived it. It is also a great way to hear from all sides. What was it like being a loyalist during the Revolutionary War and what were their reasons for wanting to stay part of Britain. I never learned that in history class. But because of family stories, journals, letters, and vital records, we can get a glimpse into this all-important piece of what it means to be an American.

By discovering our own history and making sure it is preserved for future generations we can be an all-important piece of what it means to be us, part of our family, and human. 

DNA testing has become very popular, and people love finding out if they’re German or British (though this is not the best use of these tests, stay tuned for a future article on this). But we gain so much more from our ancestors than green eyes or a receding hairline.  


We are here because they were.

They were survivors who persevered throughout history. Our customs, mannerisms, likes, and dislikes have been influenced by them and passed down through how we were raised, our parents were raised, and our grandparents were raised. There is also new research that experiences can affect our genes and can be passed down in our DNA.  Adding a fun twist to the age-old question nature vs nurture. So whether we know them or not, we carry with us the lives of all those who came before us. But wouldn’t it be more fun to know?

How will you discover your past and make sure it is Never Lost Again?