Like mother, like daughter

I had plans to do ‘stuff’ on the day my mother’s DNA results came through. Up at 6:30 am, I made myself a coffee, then fired up the laptop to read the news and check emails before getting started.  Staring at me from my inbox was an email from AncestryDNA; ‘It’s ready, Leanne!! Cancel your plans and absorb yourself in DNA-land for the next few hours instead!’

OK, so the email didn’t actually say that. Nevertheless, absorb myself is exactly what I started to do.

I felt bad, then guilty. But right on the verge of getting up and seizing the day, team-weather came to the rescue with an absolute downpour of rain and gusty winds.  Taking this as an absolute sign to abandon all plans, my Sunday morning suddenly turned around.

Thanks, team-weather!  Great to know you’re on my side.

So, what did the ethnicity results show?

Mother-daughter comparison. My mother's results are on the left.
Mother-daughter comparison. My mother’s results are on the left. % breakdown by region included.

1. We both have a bunch of Great Britain, and similar amounts of Ireland.

Our family tree already tells us this, but it’s pretty neat seeing it visually as well.  Plus, as we all inherit 50% of our DNA from each parent, the totals support that my father also has ancestors from Great Britain (which includes Scotland) and Ireland. No surprises there – it’s in his family tree, too.

Even though Dad hasn’t been tested, the fact that I show 80% for Great Britain + Ireland (combined) means that this must be in his ethnicity as well.  I couldn’t have inherited all of this from just my mother’s side – the numbers (for Great Britain in particular) are too large for that to be the case.

2. Her Scandinavian is slightly higher than mine.

The other thing about DNA inheritance is that it ‘dilutes’ with each new generation.  My mother has more of our ancestors’ DNA than I do.  As Mum’s great-great grandparents were from Denmark, and – as far as I am aware – there are no Scandinavian ancestors on my father’s side, it makes sense that I have less in this area.

3. I have higher amounts for Europe West and Iberian Peninsula.

This one is a bit exciting.  Even though ethnicity sampling is not an exact science, what this might tell me is that I inherited more DNA in these regions from my father’s side (especially given that Mum’s is < 1%, which is too small to count, really). We’re not aware of any German, French or Spanish ancestry, but having small amounts from these areas is interesting (and intriguing). I would love to get Dad tested to see how much he has!


The other interesting thing about all of this is that if I were to ask my brother or sister to take a test, their ethnicity results would be slightly different again.  While we receive 50% from each parent, their results may show (for example) more Scandinavia, more Europe West…or in fact no amounts from these regions at all! It’s all a bit random in terms of which DNA ‘bits’ (segments) we inherit from our ancestors, but I’d expect them to also have Great Britain given that it’s so high for both my mother and I. They may just show different percentages.

Having my mother’s DNA results has already been fantastic in narrowing down which line a match may come from.  In my list of ‘4th cousin or closer’ matches, I currently have 53 people.  Until recently, I could filter my matches and view only those with:

  • Hints (meaning that the match and I have a common ancestor in our family trees),
  • New (those I haven’t viewed yet) or
  • Starred (you can ‘star’ matches to make them easier to come back to later).

But with her results now processed, I have an extra filter!


Using the Mother filter reduces the list to include only those who share DNA with both of us. Doing so brings my ‘4th cousin or closer’ matches from 53 down to 28. Which also means that the remaining 25 are from my father’s side.  When you’re looking at family trees to try and figure who a common relative may be, this is a huge help.

And remember the Bannister cousins?  Mum also shares DNA with all of them too. So, while I already had my results to help verify a family connection, the fact that she also matches them makes it that much stronger.

But perhaps the best bit so far, is that because Mum has more of our ancestors’ DNA than I do, she has matched with people in the AncestryDNA database that I don’t.  Which has opened a heap of new leads to follow, and potential cousins to connect with.

Can you see now why my Sunday morning got awesome really quickly?!

I may not have made any a lot of progress on my plans for ‘stuff’ that day, but there’s always tomorrow, right?

I wonder if there’s such a thing as a procrastination gene…

Well hello there, cousins!

When I sent off my Ancestry DNA sample a few months ago, my main hope was to break through a few stumps.  Well…just one would have been lovely, actually.  After years of researching my elusive convict ancestors, I was ready to give anything a try.

I knew that the process would involve connecting with distant cousins, and that our shared DNA would provide hints and clues as to where to search next.  I was up for the challenge, and had my ‘detective hat’ well and truly polished and ready. Let’s do this!

What I hadn’t really considered though, was how DNA could also help to further verify research.  I’d never thought about it in that way (rookie mistake), but after matching with quite a few different people who share the same ancestors as me, I quickly realised just how valuable it could be.

Take the Bannisters for example.  I know George and Ann are my ancestors; both former convicts who married in 1850 and had six children.  Early on in DNA-land, I matched with a descendant of one of these children (which was pretty exciting).  But recently, two more matches came along – from descendants of two other children. And all four of us share DNA with each other!

DNA Matches Bannister

Sure, I have paper trails and records, but I kinda like having the extra connections, and the extra little piece to the puzzle. There’s something just a bit…nice about it all.

Along with helping to verify our research, the other huge bonus of all of this is that we have a great chance of one day breaking through the stump of our mutual convict ancestors.  With my DNA alone, it’s a tough gig. But with my lovely Bannister cousins sharing their lovely DNA, we can start to narrow down connections – weeding out those that don’t have DNA in common with all (or some) of us, and looking further into the ones that do.

It’s bound to happen, right?


When that day comes, the beers are on me.

My convict DNA

I’ve mentioned previously that I have a bunch of convict ancestors. It makes for interesting research to say the least!

Descendants of convicts have been fairly lucky in being able to piece together an ancestor’s time after arrival. Not only did convict records in Van Diemen’s Land capture details including physical appearance, age and religion, their time while under sentence was also pretty well documented. For many of ‘my’ convicts, I know who they were assigned to (and where), and can track their movements up until they received their ticket of leave or were deemed ‘free’.

The downside, however, comes in tracing them back any further than their crimes. For my 15 known convicts, I have only found the baptism of one – and that’s largely due to this convict’s trial report being pretty specific, ie ‘father Peter Finlay, Moulder, of Old Wynd’. Her brother was also transported, with his record providing a mother’s name and siblings. Eureka!

In most cases though, I only have either a father’s name, or mother’s first name – never both. For the rest, no names were recorded at all.

Combine this with ‘Native Place’ sometimes referring to where they were living at the time of their crime (not necessarily where they were born), along with variances in age from record to record, and you have quite a sizeable amount of stumps!

As an example, my Ancestor Scorecard shows that I have 142 unknown (I love this tool as a great snap shot of where you may need to focus your efforts, but also a reminder of how far you’ve come).

Ancestor score card

Of these ‘unknowns’, 70 relate to my convicts; either their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. Of the total number, quite a few were Irish as well (presenting their own challenges).

Convict Ancestors


So after years of digging and prodding my stumps, it’s time to try something new.

Enter DNA testing.

There are different types of tests, and different companies that do this, but I chose Ancestry’s Autosomal DNA testing.

DNA Testing


This test looks at the DNA I have inherited from both of my parents (and all of their ancestral lines), and is often referred to as atDNA – or what I like to refer to as,

ALL the DNA!”

The percentage of All the atDNA inherited from the more distant ancestors decreases with each new generation – it basically dilutes over time (which makes sense when you think about it). It also means that I may or may not have ‘bits’ of DNA from a particular ancestor, depending on how many generations back they are. But the beauty of DNA testing in genealogy is that you’re actually looking for matches with living people. Cousins!

Once my DNA is processed, magic technical sciencey stuff happens, and it will be compared to others in the AncestryDNA database looking for matching ‘segments’.

The higher the match, the more likely it is that we share a common ancestor. Then it’s just a case of us collaborating to work out who that common ancestor may be.

Simple, right?

Well – it’s more involved than that (involving other acronyms and DNA terms and wot-not), but in my rose-coloured glasses approach, I’m hoping I can crack at least one convict mystery. Just one would be lovely please.

At the moment, my convict-DNA-laden saliva is in a test tube somewhere in the US waiting to be processed.

The wait begins.

DNA Processing

In an ideal world, in 6-8 weeks’ time a fourth cousin in Ireland will be sitting at their computer, refreshing their screen hoping for a match. They have been searching for years for their great-great grandfather’s sister to no avail. But suddenly – what’s that? A match for Mahony! Could it be?

*cue excited people running toward each other in slow motion with uplifting music playing in the background*

It’s bound to happen, right?

But if not, I have a back-up plan.

DNA in Genealogy
Comic by Cartoonist & Freelance Illustrator, Jonathan Brown.



Thanks to Tangled Roots and Trees for the idea of an Ancestor Scorecard!

If you’re interested in DNA testing, or for more information on the process (other than my very simplistic attempt), I highly recommend Louise Coakley’s blog. Click here for an Introduction to using DNA for genealogy.