How do my ancestors keep moving around? They’re dead, right?

OK, this is getting ridiculous.

I found my last “ethnicity estimate” from Ancestry pretty befuddling. But that’s nothing compared to the new one they just gave me.

Last time, here’s what they came up with. And while the changes they had made from before were pretty confusing, it mostly made sense, from what I’ve seen doing my family tree:

new estimate

Now, they’ve sent me a whole new ballgame, and I don’t understand it at all:

now scottish

Oh, come on!

Before, I was 29 percent “Ireland & Scotland,” total. Now, I’m 40 percent “Scotland,” alone. I used to be 65 percent England and Wales (yes, it said “England, Wales & Northwestern Europe,” but the “Northwestern Europe” part consisted of a pitiful few acres on the coast of France), and now I’m 17 percent English and 8 percent Welsh.

If you look at my tree, I’m mostly English. I have an occasional Scottish ancestor, but probably just as many Welsh ones. The 8 percent seems about right for Wales, but only 17 percent England? (Of course, some of my lines don’t reach back to the Old Country. And a small minority of lines go back more than a few centuries. Maybe I seem English because the English have more intact records. Maybe all my missing ancestors were Scots.)

I don’t get it…

When Ancestry does this — and I think this is my third “update” or so — they always say something like this:

Don’t worry, your DNA hasn’t changed. What has changed is how much we know about DNA, the amount of data we have available, and the ways we can look at it for clues to your past. You’re still you.

Oh, that makes me all warm and fuzzy.

But how did all my ancestors move to Scotland when I wasnae lookin’?








31 thoughts on “How do my ancestors keep moving around? They’re dead, right?

  1. Barry

    Great marketing and sales tool to keep people spending $$$$

    Maybe it’s like Donald trump continually lying about his dad being born in Germany.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Except that it ISN’T. I paid for my DNA thing years ago now. They’re not charging me for it when they do these stupid updates. They’re just kind of making me want to ask for my money back.

      Yes, I pay a membership fee for Ancestry, but not for this. I pay to have access to other people’s trees, which helps in building mine. Sending me garbage like this, relating to a separate fee I paid long ago, tends to make me think, “What’s the point? They keep sending me stuff that portrays genealogy as totally random…”

      Of course, I’ve learned that lots of people do the DNA and don’t build trees. Which is EXTREMELY irritating. Ancestry puts them on my list of “DNA matches,” but if they don’t bring a tree with them, they don’t do me any good. They’re not helping with the research effort. They’re just random people who happen to be approximately a sixth cousin — which probably describes a large portion of the population of South Carolina. If I can’t add them to my tree, there’s no point.

      My brother finally had his DNA tested just recently, after I had bugged him about it repeatedly. And yeah, it turns out he’s… wait for it… my brother. He probably got this same complete redo of his ethnicity, and is wondering right now what the point was, if they’re going to keep changing it…

      And it’s not like they change it to anything interesting. They don’t ever tell me that one of my ancestors was black, or Jewish, or Asian, or American Indian. They just keep saying, “You’re still really, really white…. and it turns out everything we’ve told you about where your forebears came from was wrong. Again…”

      “So any time you spent looking at the LAST estimate we sent you was completely wasted…”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Sorry. I know most of you don’t care.

        It’s just that I’ve never had a hobby before, and I kind of enjoy it, except it bugs me when Ancestry keeps sending me contradictory crapola…”

      2. clark surratt

        I’ve spent many hours on Ancestry for 10 years. When it comes to my tree, I only add direct ancestors I can document Taking them from other trees without documentation is risky. My wife and I together have only 500 family names together. I don’t trust other family trees, because I’ve found too many errors of theirs in what I can document. Some -people post blind and/or hopeful copies from other trees.

        Also, it only makes sense to update your origins, because thousands of other DNA tests are coming in to modify what they have. But, in the same sense as above, scholarly geneologists say DNA (especially the kind used by is only reliable to about 300 years in guessing at your origins. You might have a direct English ancestor born in England in 1700 and have no DNA genes passed down to you.
        On top of that, if you go back about 1,000 years, most of the people in England and western Europe are related, further watering down traceable DNA to any country of origin.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, my hat’s off to you for being a scholar and taking care.

          You’re like Lynn Teague — also a very serious and careful person. She doesn’t share her tree on Ancestry because she doesn’t want other people following her mistakes.

          But I just have fun with it. Sure, I leave somebody off when I see obvious discrepancies or inconsistencies. But I LOVE following lines that just keep going and going, back hundreds of years. I only have a few of those, but they’re a lot of fun. We know that everyone of European heritage is descended from Charlemagne. But I get a kick of figuring out HOW.

          Sure, if you go back that far, you almost certainly have inaccuracies — even on things you THINK you’ve found documentation on, much less the more flimsy ones. But the trip is fun. It makes me read up on people, and places, and periods of time, and historical movements. I learn a lot.

          Maybe some of these people aren’t actual ancestors. But I have fun learning about them. And frankly — this may sound weird for someone so into building his tree — what difference on earth does it make to me or anyone else, now or in the future, whether I have every connection right? We’re all related somehow; for me it’s fun to try to make the connections, whether I’m successful or not.

          If I were a member of some “Sons of” organization, I’d worry about the particulars more. But that’s not me. I don’t think being descended from X makes me a better or worse person. I just love learning about history.

          I guess I sound totally careless. I’m not. I have standards, and will remove connections when I think new info shows me to be wrong. But, that said, I have a theory that if I go ahead and put someone on the tree — say, the siblings of some great-great-great-great grandmother — that will lead to more information (the “hints” that Ancestry offers, within minutes of someone appearing on the tree) that will help me see more clearly whether the other stuff I have around that person on the tree is accurate or not. That is, it can lead me to documentation that I didn’t know existed previously.

          I worry that being too careful about which people I add will shut me off from valuable evidence that I didn’t know was out there…

          Does that make any sense?

          I’m just trying to say I THINK I have some defensible excuses for being less careful than you and Lynn. But maybe I don’t. Maybe the only excuse is that I’m self-indulgent. I admire y’all for your discipline. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that if I kept my tree to 500 people, I’d have less fun with it than I do with more than 8,000…

          But hey, there are some people out there with 25,000 and more. THOSE people are just being irresponsible, of course… 🙂

          1. clark surratt

            Brad, you make a whole lot of sense. I have had great fun with this, too. I’ve learned of cousins I never met, including one through the DNA test who was born out of wedlock. Doing this has been great for me also. .

            Also, I just finished looking at your tree. It is one of the best I’ve seen. Good work.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Thanks, Clark!

              Yeah, sometimes things get awkward if you don’t want some random stranger reaching out to you and claiming kinship, legitimate or not — but I find such things interesting. And it’s kind of hard to deny the DNA evidence even if you wanted to.

              Of course, some people have experienced hurtful shocks — finding out their parents aren’t who they thought they were, that sort of thing.

              But it’s fascinating.

              One of the great contradictions is that it’s easier to connect to dead people than live ones. The live ones are “private,” which is a barrier. Meanwhile, with dead people you have obits, and the Findagrave database. Do you use Findagrave? I love it, and most of the info is fairly good, although errors do appear there. Here’s the page for my maternal grandfather. The picture at the top of it comes from my own tree — I cropped it from a really good group photo of him and his siblings with their mother. I didn’t put it there — Robin Pellici Moore (who appears in the credit line) apparently found it on my tree and grabbed it. Robin is a distant cousin I’ve made contact with through all this. She’s a big contributor to Findagrave, and I’ve learned a lot from her… If you’ve got kin buried up in or near Marion County, Robin’s likely to have shot a picture of his or her gravestone…

              1. clark surratt

                Findagrave is great, but one of the best things Jan and I enjoyed 8 to 10 years ago was finding old church cemeteries with direct ancestors. That was before we discovered Findagrave. (Once we were pushing back brush on headstone at Calvary Baptist Church near Summerton when former Ag commissioner Les Tindall drove up and quizzed us on what we were doing at his church. He lived just down the road.)

                I’ve never been bothered one bit about who sees my relatives and the personal information.. My tree is open and public, and I have occasionally chastised others for copying items from my tree while keeping theirs private.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I’m with you. Hey, I might have something wrong on my tree, but if you can see it, maybe you can reach out and tell me!

                  I figure the more transparency, the better for all…

                  I stopped by a cemetery last year and took a bunch of pictures of graves of people I could tell I was related to. I was proud, feeling like a real genealogy detective…

                  Of course, then I got home and saw that someone, probably Robin (can’t remember now) had been there ahead of me, and I already had some of the pictures on the tree, from what she’d posted on Findagrave!

      3. Barry

        “Except that it ISN’T. I paid for my DNA thing years ago now. They’re not charging me for it when they do these stupid updates.”

        You misunderstood.

        My sister took one of these stupid tests. I told her not to because all of these folks sell your data (and don’t make much of a secret about it). No one, not even the companies, knows how that can be used in the future.

        But that’s not the point. My sister’s results were so off the wall- 3 other members of my immediately family just had to get a test themselves. They had to find out if my sister’s test was legit or not so to do so they got out their visa card and paid for a test. Not surprisingly, all of their tests showed different results. Then after hearing from my mom about this “very interesting DNA test we tried” my mom’s sisters wanted to do the tests…….. (no idea if they followed through or not)

        As I correctly said earlier, great marketing and sales gimmick.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, I admit I don’t fully understand the business model. Except that they want you to get other people in your family to get tested.

          And like I said, I bugged my brother to do it, but my bugging him didn’t cost him money. Someone (his wife, I think) had given him the test way back — like Christmas before last — and I just kept bugging him to DO it. Finally, when he was at home recovering from surgery recently, I think he got bored enough to take the time.

          I learned something interesting. I thought HE would be the closest person to me on the planet, genetically. But while we show up as full brothers, we both actually have more DNA commonality with my mother, who did it a couple of years back.

          The way my matches rank is, there’s my Mom, then my brother, then an uncle — my mother’s brother — and then we get to first cousins and so on. Just as you would expect, except I thought my brother would come first.

          Anyway, I find it interesting enough to be worth the money, but then this is just something that interests me.

          Other people, not so much. My wife, although she takes an interest in the tree — I’ve found a lot of cool stuff on her side of the family, and she’s learned some interesting things — has NO interest in doing the DNA thing…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Hmmm, my writing isn’t great today, is it? How many times did I use forms of the word “interest” in that comment? I count six — three in the last sentence, and two in the sentence before.

            I suppose if I’d kept going, I’d have had four in the sentence after that.

            Maybe I’m developing the problem that afflicts Trump. The small-vocabulary thing. Just using the same words over and over…

  2. Doug T

    You think your changes were head scratching….I have taken 3 DNA tests for different reasons. First 2 were similar….Irish/English etc European.

    3rd tells tells me I’m Puerto Rican, Colombian and Peruvian….and German. C’mon man.

    Clark’s correct. I was copying from other trees…then I saw one tree where the parents died in the 1200’s but the children died in the 1400’s.

    C’mon man.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Hey, people used to live a long time, I guess. 🙂

      Seriously, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say even I have standards — people with shaky data like that don’t make it into my tree. Or if they do and I catch it, they don’t stay. (Or at least, I don’t keep them as ancestors — I might just leave them floating unconnected on the database, in case better info about them comes in later.)

      Several years back, I wrote about “The problem of Betty Crowley.” She was someone I had on my tree as a 7th-great grandmother, and I hated to remove her because her father — who I could tell was real; he’s quite well documented — had LOTS of really interesting ancestors. Which meant I did, too. But the story of Betty was a mess, and there was reason to doubt she even existed. Here was the worst bit:

      WikiTree shows both Betty and her husband John Benton dying in Reno County, Kansas, in 1718. This is the kind of error that just makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I don’t see how anyone could have in seriousness entered such a bogus “fact” without realizing it had to be wrong. This is almost a century before the Louisiana Purchase. There were to my knowledge basically no white people in Kansas in 1718, much less a married couple from New England. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado had passed through in 1541, but he hadn’t stuck around.

      So, Betty Crowley presents a problem. But there’s always a problem like Betty, when you try to go back so far…

      There were other problems, such as the fact that Ambrose Crowley had another, better-documented daughter named Elizabeth, which made it doubtful he’d also have one named “Betty.”

      Anyway, I ended up leaving her on the tree (just in case better info comes in someday), but removing her as direct ancestor. (Although if real, she’s still an extremely distant cousin because I’m related to the Crowleys through OTHER people).

      That was years ago, and I still shake my head to think anyone put information like that on Wikitree (it’s still there, by the way) and didn’t go, “Hey, wait a minute…”

      1. Doug T

        I’ve taken 3 DNA tests. A couple of years ago my sister gave me 23 & Me for Christmas. Same Christmas my son gave me an Ancestry kit. Better that a couple of ugly sweaters I guess.

        Since then I became really interested in genealogy. So…there’s this outfit that promised more detail and would identify famous people I am related to. I had followed other people’s trees I was kin to Robert the Bruce. How neat is that.

        That last test showed things that did not appear on the first 2 tests….that I was among other things Puerto Rican, Colombian and Peruvian…and was not kin to Robert de Bruce. Oh well.

        Ancestry and Family Search are really good at finding facts for family trees. I found out my Great Granddad was killed in a Philly train accident in 1876 and my Great Grandmother died of the flu during “The last great pandemic of the 19th century”.

        I’m running into several dead ends now and am contemplating getting some outside help. I suppose this will be one of my hobbies when I retire soon if it doesn’t get too expensive.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well hey, cousin.

          Robert the Bruce is my 2nd cousin, 23 times removed. His paternal grandmother was a de Clare. That’s the Strongbow family, although he came along about 150 years after Strongbow. That’s one of the things about when you get back that far. The de Clares were Normans, and the Bruce was this great Scottish hero. Nobles married nobles, rather than the people immediately around them.

          Robert’s (and I suppose our — I haven’t bothered to figure it out yet) cousin William Wallace fits that mold. He wasn’t some wild-haired Pict with blue-painted face and wearing a kilt. He was about a thousand years late for the blue paint, and several centuries early for a belted plaid kilt. Mel Gibson’s film was a nationalistic fantasy. It makes all the lists of most inaccurate historical films. Which I suppose accounts for right-wing South Carolinians forming the “William Wallace Caucus.

          I know this stuff because this morning I idly thought, Maybe I should give Braveheart another chance, now that I’m Scottish and all? Maybe I won’t hate it


          as much as when I saw it before.

          But as both a student of history and a hypothetical Scot, I think I’d probably just laugh at it. Even the gory bits, which turned my stomach when I was a wee Englishman because we Scots are tough…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          But seriously, Doug — let me know if I can help you with your tree.

          But no promises. Sometimes a dead end is just a dead end. I find that is particularly the case with my ancestors who came from Ireland. I’ll get back to there, and the trail disappears. My theory is that’s because the English destroyed all their records or something…

  3. Bryan Caskey

    The Congresswoman you liked as VP choice, Karen Bass was on tv yesterday to talk about the election. Rather than talking up Biden or talking down Trump, she did something…interesting.

    She called for “international observers” to be brought in to oversee the election and avoid any sort of skullduggery by the Republicans. Of course, the Democrats are as pure as the driven snow.

    So who is fomenting doubt over the validity of the election, here? Of course, maybe we can have the international observers watch the post office if the states begin mailing millions of ballots to addresses where voters no longer live. I’m sure nothing could go wrong with that plan.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      So you’re really not concerned about things like, for instance, the fact that the POTUS says he’d sure like it if people didn’t vote by mail, and his postmaster general has working mail sorters turned off, and people start complaining about it taking a really long time to get their mail?

      Just before, you know, the ELECTION?

      I like this headline in USA Today, “‘Like somebody turned off a switch’: Small businesses say USPS delays are hitting them hard.

      Yeah, it kinda IS just like that…

      Maybe you can tell me what it is that Democrats are doing that’s like that…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        It’s a huge problem.

        I agree that voting by mail in an unprecedented volume is a huge problem. I agree the mail is problematic. In my law practice, when I have a document that needs to get somewhere and it’s an important original deed, settlement agreement, or a check for more than a couple hundred dollars, it goes via UPS. I have had too many issues with the mail just not delivering these things, and I can’t afford to lose an original settlement agreement in the mail. It’s just not an option.

        I think people who are concerned about in-person voting should vote absentee, in the normal method. People who are going shopping, going places, doing things, they can vote in-person. I think doing a mass mailing of ballots is a terrible, terrible idea.

        And that’s to say nothing of the huge security risk of just mailing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of ballots out in the world.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          All of which is interesting, but I think we were talking culpability. I think we were talking about which individuals or parties might, at this moment in history, be doing more to cause us to suspect that maybe they’re trying to screw with the election — you know, make it come out different from what it would if they just didn’t interfere.

          Anyway, if we want to talk about the other thing, I’m going to do what I always do — go vote in person on Election Day.

          But my wife isn’t. And my parents aren’t. And my daughter down on the island of Dominica isn’t. I haven’t polled the rest of the kids…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            “Anyway, if we want to talk about the other thing, I’m going to do what I always do — go vote in person on Election Day.

            But my wife isn’t. And my parents aren’t. And my daughter down on the island of Dominica isn’t. I haven’t polled the rest of the kids…”

            And that’s fine. But I really hope they are planning ahead to vote absentee (the normal way) rather than relying on the mass-mailing of hundreds of thousands of ballots in a mail system that is already really problematic without even the first nefarious thing being done to it.

  4. bud

    Speaking of the dead. RBG just died. If Republicans fill that vacancy this year the Dems are well within their rights to expand the court.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, I really don’t care what this party or that party has a “right” to do in reaction to what some other party has done.

      I care that this is a very, very bad moment. It’s awful to be thinking of such things right now, but this is a terrible fight to have.

      We have GOT to save this country. The only way forward toward doing this is electing Joe Biden.

      And this is the last thing he needs right now — a full-scale battle over the court, which brings all the most divisive issues we have to the fore.

      Remember, division is what Trump thrives on. It’s his entire goal, his entire strategy.

      And this helps him enormously…

Comments are closed.