A picture containing company name

Description automatically generated

Newsletter – 4th July 2023



Girls in Kindertransport photo identified after 84 years

Crucifix returned to French church after 107 years

Last chance to save 50% at Ancestry.com ENDS WEDNESDAY

It’s not cheating!

Save 30% on Ancestry DNA NEW

Masterclass: How to make the most of your DNA test UPDATED

A penny for your thoughts?

Roman roads

Stop Press


The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month. To access the previous issue (dated 30th June) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):



To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!



Girls in Kindertransport photo identified after 84 years

I used to pass through Liverpool Street Station, on the eastern edge of the City of London, twice a day when I was commuting up to London in the ‘60s and ‘70s – I can still remember watching the rats under the opposite platform!


Things have changed now, but when I frequented the station it was not so very different from the way it was on 5th July 1939, when a train arrived from Harwich bringing Jewish child refugees, and a photographer ‘snapped’ three of them.


This wonderful article on the BBC News site describes how the girls in the photo were eventually all identified.



Crucifix returned to French church after 107 years

When the church of Doingt-Flamicourt was destroyed during the Battle of the Somme, a British Army chaplain saved the crucifix and brought it back to England, where it found a temporary home at All Saints' Church in Tinwell, Rutland.


107 years later the crucifix was returned to the rebuilt French church – you can read the story here.


Ancestry US


Last chance to save 50% at Ancestry.com ENDS WEDNESDAY

At Ancestry.com, the US site, you can save 50% on 6 month memberships – but only until tomorrow, 5th July.


Please use the link below so that LostCousins can benefit from your purchase, and note that if you already have an Ancestry account, you may need to log-out and click the link a second time.


Save 50% on an Ancestry® 6-month membership. Hurry, sale ends July 5.


It’s not cheating!

As a firm believer in the power of genealogical DNA tests to solve mysteries I often wonder why a significant minority of family historians are so reluctant to make use of such a valuable tool – and I’ve come to the conclusion that some of them consider it to be cheating.


It’s certainly true that some problems can be solved more easily using DNA – indeed, there are plenty of mysteries that can only be solved with DNA, the most common being the identity of the father of an illegitimate child. But surely it’s not cheating to use the best tool for the job?


Conventional, records-based research is still crucially important – there are no names and no dates in our DNA, so ultimately the evidence from DNA testing has to be viewed in the context of the available records. Indeed, it is only by comparing our own DNA with the DNA of others that we can learn anything at all of genealogical interest.


Those of us whose ancestors are mainly British are fortunate that we have many 19th century records that we can draw upon, including censuses from 1841-1921, and BMD records from 1837 (1855 in Scotland). Nevertheless some births were unregistered, and some people are missing from the census (or appear under different names); there’s still the problem of identifying the father of an illegitimate child – occasionally Poor Law records will oblige, but they’re unlikely to help after 1834, when the law changed.


Most Church of England parish registers have survived, at least from the 17th century onwards, but the registers of other churches are less likely to be available. And even if the registers have survived, there’s no guarantee that the entries in them are correct, or that every baptism has been recorded – this is a particular problem in the 1783-94 period when Stamp Duty was charged on register entries (except in the case of paupers).


There are sufficient obvious errors and omissions in parish registers that there clearly must be many other errors and omissions which are not so easy to spot. Clergymen may well have been better-educated than their flocks, but it’s clear that for some of them the upkeeping of registers was an unwelcome chore.


So no, making use of DNA isn’t cheating – it’s merely a way of checking that the surviving records are accurate, and of filling in some of the gaps. In this issue you’ll find an updated version of my DNA Masterclass – follow the advice there if you want to make the most of your DNA test.


Save 25% on AncestryDNA®


Save over 30% on Ancestry DNA NEW

If you live in the British Isles you can save over 30% on DNA tests from Ancestry.co.uk – the price is slashed from £79 to £54 until 17th July (prices exclude shipping).


Ancestry DNA tests aren’t the cheapest, but they’re by far the best – because only when you test with Ancestry can you benefit from their enormous database of existing tests, and the clever way that they integrate DNA with family trees (which means you get better results for far less effort than at other sites).


Please use the link below so that LostCousins can benefit from your purchase (note that you may need to log-out from Ancestry and click the link again).


Save 30% on AncestryDNA®! Offer ends 17 Jul 2023



Masterclass: How to make the most of your DNA test UPDATED

Note: I've updated this Masterclass since it was last published in March 2022



Introduction to DNA – why to test and which test to choose

We all have 'brick walls' in our trees - in some cases because our ancestors were illegitimate, in others because of deficiencies in the records. Fortunately, because our DNA is inherited from our ancestors it's also a record of our ancestry – one that can not only overcome gaps in the archives but also provide us with a way of checking that our research is correct.


Tip: DNA doesn't replace conventional research, it provides a second layer of connections. It's a bit like overlaying a map onto a satellite image – they are different ways of looking at the same thing, and in most cases each will corroborate the other.


You probably don’t have samples of your ancestors' DNA to compare yours against - though it's technically possible to extract DNA from hair or the gum on the back of a used postage stamp, it's not a service that mainstream companies offer. But there are lots of other people who do have samples for comparison – your cousins. They inherited their DNA from their ancestors, and whilst most of their ancestors will be different from yours, any segments of DNA that you share were almost certainly inherited from your common ancestor(s).


Note: anyone who shares some of your ancestors is a cousin of yours, no matter how distant the relationship; in fact, distant cousins are particularly useful when it comes to knocking down 'brick walls', though close cousins can also play a part.


We can’t all be DNA experts – and the good news is that provided you follow the advice in this Masterclass, you'll be able to get amazing results even if you don’t understand the first thing about the science behind DNA. Indeed there are plenty of people who do know quite a lot about DNA who would probably achieve more if only they stuck to the simple strategies in this Masterclass!


Here's all you really need to know:


·        Most of the DNA tests on offer to family historians, and the only ones you should be seriously considering, are autosomal DNA tests; they can taken by both males and females, and they have the potential to solve puzzles anywhere in your family tree within the last 6 or 7 generations (around 250 years), but can sometimes reach back even further.

·        All of your DNA comes from your ancestors, but you inherit only half of your parents' autosomal DNA, they only inherited half of their parents' DNA, and so on. So always test the earliest generations.

·        Unlike personal traits and some hereditary diseases, DNA doesn’t skip a generation - you can't possibly inherit a segment of DNA from a grandparent unless your parent inherited it first

·        Just because you and your cousins share ancestors this doesn't necessarily mean that you'll share DNA - you could have inherited different bits of DNA from the ancestors you share; the closer the cousin, the more DNA you're likely to share, but despite this distant cousins are often more useful (partly because there are so many more of them!)


Which test should you choose?

Don’t make your decision based on price; although all of the main DNA tests on offer are technically similar, what you're looking for is to get as many matches with genetic cousins as possible. Ancestry have by far the biggest database, with around 23 million users, and the only way to get access to that database is to buy the Ancestry test.


Note: you might think that 23 million is a small number compared to the population of the world, and it is – but it's a large number compared to the number of people in the world who subscribe to Ancestry, which is closer to 3 million.


Most other test providers allow transfers – but Ancestry don't, and that's why it’s crucial to test with them. You can always upload your data to other sites later, but you can't go the other way. Another reason to choose the Ancestry test is the way they integrate DNA with family trees – it works really, really well (as you would expect from a company that has been in the genealogy business far longer than any of their competitors).


The rewards of DNA

The reason I tested my DNA, and persuaded some of my cousins to join in, was to knock down 'brick walls' that conventional research couldn't breach. The sad reality is that if our 'brick walls' have resisted our efforts for years (or even decades), it’s unlikely that they're ever going to come crashing down if all we have to go on are the records that have survived down the centuries.


DNA can help by bridging gaps in the records and compensating for errors, but it means adopting new and unfamiliar strategies, and utilising somewhat different techniques to the ones that we're used to. But if you follow the steps in this Masterclass you won’t have to go through the steep learning curve that I did, nor will you make the mistakes that I did in the early days, before Ancestry started selling their test in the UK.


What to do while you’re waiting for your results – the importance of documented cousins

DNA isn't a substitute for researching the records – you need both. So make sure that you do all the conventional, records-based, research you reasonably can while you’re waiting for your DNA results, so that when they come through you're ready to go. Don’t leave it until the last moment, because in my experience the results invariably arrive well ahead of schedule, typically 4 weeks or less rather than the 6-8 weeks that Ancestry quote.


There are two types of cousins

Genetic cousins are the cousins you find by testing your DNA – but usually you won't know exactly how you're related to them, indeed you might not have a clue what the connection is! And that's where documented cousins come in – they're the cousins you can fit onto your family tree because you know precisely how they're related to you.


The most valuable cousins are both genetic and documented, and there are several ways to come up with them:


You can't do the first two until you get your DNA results through, and it might be hard to persuade your cousins to test if you're still waiting for your own results, even if you offer to pay. But the fourth option is open to you right now, because there is a great source of documented cousins who have already tested – amongst the LostCousins membership!


Connect with documented cousins

Complete your My Ancestors page at the LostCousins site, ensuring that you have entered ALL of the cousins that you can find on the 1881 Census. Because your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree it's the relatives from the branches who are most likely to connect you to them. For example:



3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins are ideal when you’re working with DNA. If you’re younger than me and your grandparents weren't born until after 1881 you could look at it this way:



Completing your My Ancestors page might take you an hour or two, but it's easy to do and could save you money – if you don't find some 'lost cousins' who have already tested you're likely to end up persuading known cousins to test, and unless they’re as keen on family history as you are, you’re likely to be the one who pays for the test.


But it’s not just about money – connecting with documented cousins who have already tested could save you hundreds of hours you might otherwise spend fruitlessly analysing your DNA matches. DNA is like a jigsaw puzzle – the more pieces you can fit in place the easier it is to figure out how everything else fits in. DNA matches with documented cousins are the edge pieces of the jigsaw.


Tip: a good way to maximise the number of relatives you can enter from the 1881 Census, and thereby maximise the number of 'lost cousins’ that you find, is to start with all the relatives you can identify in 1841, whether or not you can actually find them on that census, then trace each of your branches (sometimes referred to as collateral lines) through to 1881. Remember that ALL of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree, so every branch and every twig is a potential link to a 'lost cousin'.


On my own My Cousins page there are 17 cousins who have tested (indicated by 'Y' in the DNA column), and 2 who are considering it (shown by an 'M'). If there is no entry in the column it's worth checking with your cousin in case they forgot to update their My Details page when they tested.


Tip: DNA status is only shown for cousins who you have connected with – it isn't shown for New Contacts, or relatives who have not been identified as cousins (and may only be related by marriage).


How your cousins can best help

Shared matches are the key – if you and a documented cousin match the same genetic cousin then it’s overwhelmingly likely that the genetic cousin is descended from one of the ancestral lines that you and your documented cousin share. When you view a DNA match with any cousin at Ancestry you can click Shared Matches to find out which other cousins you both match.


Note: Ancestry only show shared matches where both matches exceed 20cM.


If your cousins also tested with Ancestry ask if they would be prepared to make you a Viewer of their DNA results – this enables you to see ALL of their matches, whether they share them with you or not, and allows you to check for shared matches where the 20cM threshold has not been reached.


Note: as a Viewer or Collaborator you can see another user's matches and their ethnicity results, but you don’t have access to their raw DNA results.


Being able to see ALL of a documented cousin's matches enables you to benefit from the matches they've made with genetic cousins who share your ancestors but who don’t appear in your own list. Remember what I said earlier: just because you and a cousin share ancestors doesn’t mean that you'll share DNA. For example, the chance of two 5th cousins sharing detectable DNA is about 1 in 3, so most of your 5th cousins who have tested won't appear in your list of matches – but they might appear in your cousins' lists, so the more documented cousins you collaborate with, the greater your chances of knocking down your 'brick walls'.


Uploading a tree and attaching it to your DNA results

It’s crucially important to attach a tree to your DNA results, even if you decide to keep it private – otherwise the Common Ancestors and ThruLines features that make Ancestry DNA so simple can’t work.


The tree I’ve attached to my own DNA results includes only my direct ancestors – this allows me to make it public without any risk of infringing the privacy of my extended family, but at the same time it provides my genetic cousins (ie my DNA matches) with all the information they need.


To upload a tree to Ancestry click Trees in the main menu, then choose Create & Manage Trees from the dropdown menu. Choose Upload a GEDCOM file to upload a tree exported from your family tree program. You don’t need to wait for your DNA results to upload your tree, but do remember to attach your tree to your DNA test.


Everything I've written about so far can be done before you get your DNA results, so that you can be ready to "hit the ground running" when they arrive. But if you've already had your DNA results it's not too late to go back and fill in the gaps – indeed, it would be foolish not to.




Ignore your ethnicity estimates!

That’s right – ignore them! Either the estimates will match what you know, in which case you’ll believe them, or they won’t in which case you’ll think they’re a load of rubbish.


Whichever it is, the chances of them helping you knock down any of your ‘brick walls’ is slim – so don’t waste your time puzzling over them.


What not to do with your DNA matches!

At Ancestry you'll typically have over 10000 matches with genetic cousins, and of those about 97% will be with 'distant' cousins, ie where the estimated relationship is 5th cousin or more distant. So you might think that the best strategy might be to focus on the top 3%, on the basis that if you can't make head or tail of those matches, your chance of resolving the more distant matches is negligible.


But you couldn't be more wrong – in practice your 'brick walls' are most likely to be solved by matches that Ancestry regards as distant matches. This is partly because nobody, not even Ancestry, can accurately determine precisely how close a DNA match is once you get beyond 1st cousins – for example, one of my 3rd cousins and closest collaborators is shown by Ancestry as a 5th to 8th cousin because the amount of DNA we share is much lower than average for 3rd cousins (but still within the normal range).


This means that simply working your way through the list from the top isn’t a great strategy. Whilst you’re bound to be curious about names that you don’t recognise, trying to pinpoint them all on your family tree simply isn’t necessary – and it will inevitably lead to wasted time and frustration, not least because many of your cousins won't have trees, and some of them won't reply to your messages.


Fortunately 6 years of using Ancestry DNA (and another 5 years before that trying to use DNA at other sites) have taught me a few things. Here's how to get the best results and avoid all the wasted time and frustration…..


Common Ancestors (no subscription needed)

The Common Ancestors feature utilises online trees to figure out how you and some of your matches are connected. It's something you could do yourself if you had an Ancestry subscription, unlimited time, and a brain like a computer, but having Ancestry do it for you will provide a real boost.


About 1.5% of my DNA matches are flagged as having common ancestors, but what really stands out is that more than half of them are distant matches, and some of them have very small trees, some with under 10 relatives.


You might be wondering how Ancestry can identify one of my distant matches as having Common ancestors when she has only 4 people in her tree – it’s because they're looking at ALL the tens of millions of online trees in their database, not just the ones that belong to my DNA matches. That's why you'd need unlimited time and a brain the size of a planet to do it yourself!


In this case clicking reveals that the common ancestors are our great-great grandparents William Pepperell and Mary Ann Burns – making her my 3rd cousin, though once again the amount of shared DNA is below average for a 3rd cousin, which is why she's shown as 4th to 6th cousin.


When the common ancestor(s) are shown click the name of the ancestor to see how the two of you are descended from that person (the information in the first column will be based on the tree you've connected to your DNA results).


Always bear in mind that online trees often include errors – just because you have a DNA match with someone doesn't mean that their tree is correct, although it certainly improves the odds! However the information for each generation will usually be supported by multiple trees uploaded by different users, which is another encouraging factor.


When I've verified the connection I add a brief note against the DNA match at Ancestry, then add the cousin to the tree on my own computer, which often entails adding a new branch. At this point it may be apparent that there are relatives I can add to the My Ancestors page at the LostCousins site (to find further cousins), and doing it there and then makes it sure that it isn’t forgotten.


ThruLines(no subscription needed)

Ancestry's ThruLines feature uses Ancestry trees in an attempt to knock down 'brick walls'. It was introduced before Common Ancestors, which it overlaps to an extent, but it's still worth checking out.


When you access ThruLines it displays the direct ancestors on your tree, generation by generation, and as you move the mouse over each box it indicates matches with genetic cousins who share that ancestor. Even if you don’t have an Ancestry subscription you can see how you’re connected to those cousins, and as with Common Ancestors the algorithm utilises all Ancestry trees, public and private searchable, not just those that belong to your DNA matches.


However, if you don’t have an Ancestry subscription you can't view the trees of people who aren't DNA matches, and even for those who are matches, you can only see 4 generations of their direct ancestors (ie back to their great-great grandparents). Nevertheless, ThruLines is a useful feature that will provide many clues.


Tip: you don’t need an Ancestry subscription to view a tree if you have been invited by the tree owner, but without a subscription you can only contact other members who are DNA matches of yours.


Where ThruLines really pays off is when it knocks down 'brick walls', by suggesting possible ancestors who don't appear on your tree. These are usually highlighted in green (rather than pink or blue) - the screenshot below shows an example:



Tip: any clues you get from ThruLines™ should be carefully checked, just as you would any other hints – don't assume that just because the other person is a DNA match their tree must be correct.


Even if ThruLines doesn't break down any of your 'brick walls' immediately, bear in mind that it will be updated as other users test, and as those who have already tested add to their trees.


As you've worked your way through your Common Ancestors matches, and your ThruLines you'll have been able to make notes against many of your matches to indicate how you're connected to them. But still the vast majority of your matches, even your close matches, will have nothing against them. The next step is to fill in some of the gaps by making use of Shared Matches.


Shared Matches (no subscription necessary)

There are two distinct ways to use Ancestry's Shared Matches feature, and they won't necessarily produce the same results – this is because Ancestry only shows shared matches of 20cM or more.


The first way is to work through your close matches (the ones who share 20cM or more with you); this will reveal which of your other close matches they also share, even if they don’t have trees of their own, or have minimal trees. Don’t jump to unjustified conclusions – for example, just because cousin A is a shared match with cousin B, who shares your Smith and Jones lines, doesn't mean that cousin A also shares those lines, because the connection could be further back.


The second way to make use of Shared Matches is to start with the cousins whose connection you already know, thanks to Common Ancestors and ThruLines. Many of them will be distant cousins of yours, ie they share less than 20cM with you, but that doesn’t stop them sharing more than 20cM with some of your close cousins. For example, I have 8 shared matches with the 3rd cousin I referred to previously, even though Ancestry tell me that we only share 10cM of DNA.


The latter approach has the potential to pick up more shared matches, so it’s well worth doing.


Groups (no subscription needed)

Ancestry allow you to allocate matches to one of 24 groups, each identified by a coloured circle of a different colour. Precisely how you use the groups is up to you, but note that you can display all the matches in a group and search within that group.


I use blues and greens for my father's side of the tree and reds and yellows for my mother's side, but how you make use of the groups is entirely up to you. A match can be in more than one group so if, for example, you allocated a colour to each of your 16 pairs of great-great-great grandparents there would be just one dot against your 4th cousins, two against each of your 3rd cousins, and so on.


Even if you don't know precisely how you are related to one of your matches you might be able to allocate them to a group based on shared matches. This is a very useful technique for adoptees or others who have an unknown parent – typically the matches to focus on will be the ones that aren't in any groups.


Note: you can also 'star' matches – it’s like an extra group. I use this feature to highlight matches which are worth taking another look at.  



The enormous size of Ancestry’s DNA database allows them to deduce which side of your tree a match belongs to. It’s not a perfect science – there will be mistakes – but it will help prevent you wasting time trying to find connections where none exist.


Note that rather than refer to paternal and maternal, Ancestry refer to Parent 1 and Parent 2 – it’s up to you to figure out which is which, based on known relationships.


What to do next….. key strategies

Making use of the simple tools that Ancestry provides is a great way to make some headway, but you're really only scratching the surface – the real discoveries will come when you follow the tried-and-tested strategies below. In most cases you’ll benefit from having an Ancestry subscription – without a subscription you can only see 5 generations of your matches’ trees.


The key thing is that these simple, straightforward strategies will lead you to the matches most likely to help you knock down your 'brick walls':


Strategy 1: search by surname


Ancestry allow you to search the trees of your matches by surname, so that you can identify cousins who have the same ancestral surname in their tree as one of your ancestors.


There are two factors that make this a particularly useful strategy: one is that the search only looks at ancestral surnames, so ignores names that only appear in branches of your match's tree; the other is that the search looks at private trees as well as public trees (provided those private trees are designated as searchable, which almost all are).


Here's how to go about it:




Strategy 2: search by birthplace


As you will have discovered when working through your list of surnames, most of the time the surname of the ancestors you share with a DNA cousin doesn't appear in both trees - indeed, it's quite possible that the surname of your common ancestor doesn't appear in either tree!


The problem is, when your female ancestors married they generally took their husband's surname. This makes it more difficult to research female ancestors whose children were born before the commencement of civil registration, since baptism registers don't usually give the mother's maiden surname - usually the only solution is to find the marriage. By contrast you can continue researching your male ancestors even if you can't find their marriage.


Of course, this problem doesn't simply affect you and your research - it affects your cousins too; most researchers' trees become increasingly sparse with each generation. If you've only identified 10% of your 256 6G grandparents and your cousins have only identified 10% of theirs, the odds of finding out how you're related to a 7th cousin simply by comparing the names in your trees are pretty remote (a little more than 1% in this example, not great odds).


Another way to figure out the connections to your DNA cousins is to look for geographical overlaps - and here's how to go about it:




Strategy 3: look for overlaps with the more unusual components of your ethnicity

Most readers of this newsletter have mostly British, Irish, or western European ancestry. But some of you will have Jewish ancestors, ancestors from eastern Europe, or ancestors from outside Europe, and whilst ethnicity estimates can be quite misleading, they do provide another way of analysing your matches.


Here's what Ancestry show for one of my DNA cousins:



If Ancestry had detected a Jewish component of my own ethnicity this would be one of the matches I'd be looking at very closely.



Strategy 4: look for the 'elephant in the room'


Because we all have 'brick walls' in our trees there are parts of our ancestry that are a closed book - yet there will inevitably be clues amongst our matches, if only we look for them. For example, if you don't know of any Irish ancestors, but have lots of matches with cousins who do, you might begin to wonder whether one of your 'brick walls' is concealing a connection to Ireland – it certainly was in my case. I can't provide you with a step-by-step guide - it's all about awareness (as Louis Pasteur said, "chance favours the prepared mind").


But beware of the common situation in which you share a single DNA segment with lots of people who all match each other. This suggests that the people you’re matched with come from an endogamous population, one in which people generally marry within the same community - in this case you would probably do well to ignore the matches altogether as any connection is likely to be a long way back.


More tips



Technical information

Most of the matches we make with DNA cousins will be many generations back, since we have many more distant cousins than we do close cousins. The final column of the table below indicates roughly how many cousins you might expect to find if you and they all took the Ancestry DNA test:




Based on Table 2 from: Henn BM, Hon L, Macpherson JM, Eriksson N, Saxonov S, Pe'er I, et al. (2012) Cryptic Distant Relatives Are Common in Both Isolated and Cosmopolitan Genetic Samples. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34267. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034267

Revised using Ancestry DNA estimates for the chances of detecting cousins and the expected number of 1st to 6th cousins for those of British ancestry; the numbers for 7th to 10th cousins are my own guesstimates


Of course, in practice only a small fraction of your cousins will have tested - even Ancestry, by far the biggest providers of autosomal tests, have sold fewer than 25 million tests - but you can nevertheless reckon that the cousins you're matched with will be distributed roughly in proportion to the figures shown above. In other words, over 98% of your matches will be with relatives who are at best 5th cousins, and could well be 8th cousins or even more distant. This won't necessarily be apparent when you look at your list of matches because there's a tendency for matches to appear closer or more distant than they really are.


Tip: Ancestry won't show any of your DNA matches as more distant than '5th to 8th cousin', but it's very likely that amongst them there are many who are more distant. Once you get beyond 3rd cousins the length of the shared segment(s) is only a very rough guide to how closely you are related - you could share a 20cM segment with a 10th cousin, but no detectable DNA with a 3rd cousin. The same limitations apply at other sites too, of course.


This amazing chart from Blaine Bettinger's blog shows how variable the amounts can be, and how this affects the amount of DNA shared by more distant relatives. (See the blog for full details of how it was compiled.)



In each box there are three figures: the lowest and highest amounts shared between relatives of each order, together with the average. However the average only takes into account matches - if there was no detectable shared DNA it isn’t taken into account in the averages (but does show in the range).


What you will notice is that the average stabilises at around 12 or 13cM even for the most distant relationships in the chart. For example, you can see from the first table that the average DNA shared between 8th cousins is just 0.055cM, but the average in this chart is over 200 times greater. How can this happen? It's because unless there's a matching segment of at least 6 to 10cM most companies won't report a match at all - and because the chart only includes matches which were actually detected, it bumps up the average quite considerably.


Very interesting, you might think - but what does it actually mean in practice? What it tells us is that neither you, nor I, nor any of the DNA companies can reliably predict how closely we are related to our more distant cousins. So don’t rely on any estimates of how closely you’re related to a cousin: look at the chart and figure out what's possible, then consider what's likely (this means, for example, taking into account your age and that of your cousin).


Even if your DNA match is with a 5th cousin, someone who shares your great-great-great-great grandparents, it probably won’t be obvious how the two of you are related. I don't know about you, but I certainly can't say who all of my 4G grandparents were - indeed, I don't even know for sure who all my 3G grandparents were. I've got several ‘brick walls’ in the last 6 generations (though fewer than before I tested my DNA) - and most researchers, including my DNA cousins, are probably in the same situation. Go back another generation and there are even more gaps - and it just gets worse from then on.


In practice most of the ancestors that link us to our DNA cousins are on the other side of a ‘brick wall’ - and this could be a ‘brick wall’ in your own tree, in your cousin's tree, or both trees. What a fascinating challenge!



A penny for your thoughts?

I recently stumbled across this Wikipedia article about the history of the humble penny coin, and I thought you might find it as interesting as I did.



Roman roads

When we were on holiday in England recently my wife and I avoided motorways as much as we could, and frequently found ourselves travelling along Watling Street, or other roads that had been laid by the Romans 2000 years before. Looking for information online I came across this page with an unusual map of the Roman Roads of Britain – it’s in the style of the classic Londinium Underground Map!



Stop Press

This is where any major updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error first reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check again before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......



Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2023 Peter Calver


Please do NOT copy or republish any part of this newsletter without permission - which is only granted in the most exceptional circumstances. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or any article in it without asking for permission - though why not invite other family historians to join LostCousins instead, since standard membership (which includes the newsletter), is FREE?


Many of the links in this newsletter and elsewhere on the website are affiliate links – if you make a purchase after clicking a link you may be supporting LostCousins (though this depends on your choice of browser, the settings in your browser, and any browser extensions that are installed). Thanks for your support!