Kiss Me, I’m Irish

Or just shake my hand, because today marks the second St. Patrick’s Day spent in isolation. I am lucky, of course, because two years ago I spent the holiday in Dublin. One of those bucket list kind of things. There I ran into a(n American) friend who was coincidentally in town. Then the next day I took the train to Cork to visit another friend. If you don’t count weddings, I think that was the last big trip I took.

Two years hence, I am here in my flat alone on a holiday meant to be spent with family and friends. But in the last year, I made significant progress on my Irish genealogy. For part of that progress I took two additional DNA tests. So this St. Patrick’s Day seems like a good time to reflect on those tests.

For those that don’t know, I do a lot of genealogy work as a hobby. Primarily I focus on paper records, but DNA is an important piece of the puzzle. In a sense, it is the only record that cannot lie. It will reveal your biological connections to family that may have been otherwise lost. And it cannot be faked.

But that’s only true for your genetic matches. Those are the real power of taking a DNA test. I would bet, however, that most people initially take the tests for the ethnicity estimates. On a day like today, how Irish are you? How Irish am I?

That’s a lot of green.

Not surprisingly, I’m pretty Irish.

Of course, if you look at me, those Irish values do not quite equal each other. So what’s the deal? After all, the underlying DNA does not change from spit tube to cheek swab.

The first thing to know is that in one sense, ethnicity is, like so many things, a social construct. Super broadly, every individual is unique—except twins. Of course humans have spread across the globe and in that spread, certain regions have evolved incredibly slight differences between the populations. In addition to those genetic differences, the populations created civilisations and cultures. An ethnicity, in a sense, is a group of people who share that culture, civilisation, and genetic similarities vis-a-vis genetic differences across the world.

Importantly, within those groups, we still have differences. The Irish, for example, are known for freckles and red hair. But not all Irish have those traits. Instead, again super broadly, we say that for a group of people, a certain percentage will share a certain set of features. Consequently, within an ethnic group, you will still have variations and outliers. In some cases because generations ago a traveller from a different group entered the gene pool for some reason or another. And while the offspring might identify entirely with their new civilisation and culture, their genes don’t lie and a DNA test would reveal their traits from their ancestor’s foreign gene pool.

The second point to make is that Ireland is a fairly modern creation. Ireland did not exist as a sovereign state until 1922. Before then, the idea of Ireland existed. The country, however, did not. A better example would be German or Italian. Neither Germany nor Italy existed until the 1870s and 1860s, respectively. If you have “German” ancestors who arrived in Philadelphia in 1848, you don’t have German ancestors. You have ancestors from one of the various principalities or bishoprics comprising the German Confederation. Italy had the Venetian Republic, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and many others. Being Irish, German, or Italian is thus a modern construct.

The third point is that identifying anyone as any of these ethnic groups requires a baseline for a comparison. To do that, you need a reference population in the area you are going to define as Ireland, Germany, or Italy. But humans have migrated throughout history. Ireland was conquered by the English. Germans…well, let’s just say Germans have a history with conquering parts of Europe. And so you can see exchanges of genetic information among populations pretty easily. And over time, those genetic populations evolve.

Take those three points and add them together in admixture test and your results are really only good back to about 500 years. And even then, you may find yourself belonging to something incredibly vague and all-encompassing because, especially as with France and Germany, there’s been too much mixture to get so granular as to fit ourselves within the borders of modern political states.

In the above results, you can see my “Irishness” varies from 63% to 75%. Though, as far as I know 21/32 (66%) of my 3xgreat-grandparents arrived from Ireland. That’s why I say I’m 2/3 Irish. But, genetically, I may be more or less because those 21 might have English or Scottish ancestors. Ancestry says I may be 18% Scottish, but whilst I have ancestors who lived in Scotland, I’m not aware of any ancestors born and raised for multiple generations in Scotland.

And then that’s just how Ancestry defines it. Compare that to my results from My Heritage. Because of the aforementioned difficulty in separating out certain population groups, they lump the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh together. Add my Ancestry Irish and Scottish together and I have 81%, not far from My Heritage’s 85% estimate. Then look at my results from Family Tree. They estimate me as 75% Irish, but add in the 10% Scandinavia and I’m up to 85%.

That brings me to my last point about DNA tests. It’s probably fair to say that I’m something like 80–85% genetically from the British Isles/North Sea region. What about the other 15–20%?

You will often hear you receive half your DNA from each of your parents. And they get half from each of theirs and so on and so forth. I’ve had conversations with folks who take that to mean they get 25% from each grandparent and 12.5% from each great-grandparent et cetera. But that’s not quite true.

You do receive 50% of your DNA from your father and the other 50% from your mother. But that 50%, well that’s a sort of random sample from the share your parents received from their parents.

My maternal grandfather was 100% Carpatho-Rusyn. For generations, his ancestors lived, reproduced, and died in the Carpathian Mountains. If we received exactly half from each previous generation, I should expect 25% of my DNA from my grandfather. But Ancestry, which has the best representation of this small ethnic group, says it’s 17% (though they give it as a range of being between 2 and 27%). In other words, I’m missing seven percentage points.

And so if you take a DNA test and you know you have a great-great grandparents of Irish descent, you may only see a small fraction in your results. If your connection to Ireland (or anywhere else) is even further back, the result becomes smaller still. In fact, beyond 5–7 generations back, you may not even inherit any genetic material from a specific ancestor in your family tree.

But ultimately, for today, as I wrote in one of my very first posts here on Coffeespoons, back in 2010, on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all at least a little bit Irish.

Hopefully next year we’ll be able to celebrate in person.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Difficult Descendancy Charts

The holiday break is over as your author has burned up all his remaining time for 2020 and so now we’re back to work. And that means attempting to return to a more frequent and regular posting schedule for Coffeespoons.

I wanted to start with the death of Diego Maradona, a legendary Argentinian footballer. He died in December of a heart attack and left behind a complicated inheritance situation. To help explain the situation, the BBC created what in genealogy we call a descendancy chart. You typically use a descendancy chart to show the children, and sometimes grandchildren, of a person. (You can also attach people above the person of interest and show the person’s ancestral families.)

This is an example of a descendancy chart from my research into an unrelated family.

The descendants of Samuel Miller

You can see Samuel Miller married Sabra Clark and had at least nine children with her. And I followed one of them, another Samuel, who married Elizabeth Woodruff and they had four children. In this version, you can also see Samuel the elder’s parents and siblings.

But Diego presents a complicated situation. He was married and had two children, then divorced. That’s not terribly uncommon. But he then went on to have potentially eight children with potentially five different women. (I say potentially because some of the claims are still working their way through the courts via paternity tests.)

The above type of chart works well with one couple. In my own family, I have at least one ancestor who had potentially two husbands (the second marriage has not yet been confirmed, but she definitely had children with two different men). And when we use this chart type to look at my ancestor’s descendants, you can see it becomes tricky.

Mary Remington’s descendants

Her children’s fathers can be placed to either side and then the children flow out from that. But whereas in the first chart we could see all nine children in one glance, Mary Remington had four and we only see two in this same view.

So how do you deal with one person who has six total relationships that have offspring?

The BBC opted for a vertical chart that uses colour to link the couples. Diego and his ex-wife receive a red line, and that link moves vertically down from Diego with the two daughters shown as descendants on the right.

Diego Maradona’s descendants

Each subsequent relationship with offspring receives its own colour and continues to move vertically down the page, linking the mother on the left to the children on the right.

What I find interesting is the inconsistency within the chart, however. At the end, with the unidentified women, we have two instances of multiple children. Santiago Lara and Magali Gil, for example, descend from one stem. But note at the top how Diego’s two daughters Gianinna and Dalma each receive their own stem. Is there a reason for combining the two children from one unidentified mother into one branch?

And why the vertical format? You can see in my two examples, we are looking at a horizontal format. It works well when I am working on my desktop. The format is less useful on a mobile. I wonder if the BBC knows from their analytics that most people access their content like this via mobile phone and created a graphic that best uses that tall but narrow proportion. Because the proportions do not work well when the article is viewed on a desktop.

The vertical descendancy chart here is an intriguing solution to show descendants from multiple partners in a single mobile screen display. I am not sure how useful it would be as a new form, because I am not certain of how many times we would run into issues of children from six partners, but it could be worth exploring.

Credit for the images from my examples goes to the designers at Ancestry.com.

Credit for the BBC graphic goes to the graphics department of the BBC.

African Descent in African Americans

A study published last week explores the long-lasting impact of the Atlantic triangle trade of slaves on the genetic makeup of present day African Americans. Genetic genealogy can break down many of what we genealogists call brick walls, where paper records and official documentation prevent researchers from moving any further back in time. In American research, slavery and its lack of records identifying specific individuals by name, birth, and place of origin prevents many descendants from tracing their ancestry beyond the 1860s or 50s.

But DNA doesn’t lie. And by comparing the source populations of present day African countries to the DNA of present day Americans (and others living in the Western hemisphere), we can glean a bit more insight into at least the rough places of origin for individual’s ancestors. And so the BBC, which wrote an article about the survey, created this map to show the average amount of African ancestry in people today.

Average amount of African genetic ancestry in present day populations of African descent

There is a lot to unpack from the study, and for those interested, you should read the full article. But what this graphic shows is that there is significant variation in the amount of African descent in African-[insert country here] ethnic groups. African-Brazilians, on average, have somewhere between 10–35% African DNA, whereas in Mexico that figures falls to 0–10%, but in parts of the United States it climbs upwards of 70–95%.

In a critique of the graphic itself, when I look at some of the data tables, I’m not sure the map’s borders are the best fit. For example, the data says “northern states” for the United States, but the map clearly shows outlines for individual states like New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. In this case, a more accurate approach would be to lump those states into a single shape that doesn’t break down into the constituent polities. Otherwise, as in this case, it implies the value for that particular state falls within the range, when the data itself does not—and cannot because of the way the study was designed—support that conclusion.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Armistice Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day, a bank holiday hence the lack of posting. So I spent a few hours yesterday looking at my ancestors to see who participated in World War I. It turned out that on my paternal side, my one great-grandfather was too old and the other was both the right age and signed up for the draft, but was not selected.

And so the only two that served were my maternal great-grandfathers. One served a few months in the naval reserve towards the end of the war. My other great-grandfather served for a year, a good chunk of it in France. This I largely knew from my great aunt, who had told us stories about how he had told her about blowing up bridges they had just built to prevent Germans from capturing them. And then how after the war he served as military police, arresting drunk American soldiers in France. But I had never realised some of the documents I had collected told more of the skeletal structure like units and ranks. Consequently, I decided to make this graphic.

All the timelines
All the timelines

Credit for the piece goes to me.

The Roaming Life of Rev. Dr. Stephen Remington

As many of you are aware, one of my personal interests is in genealogy and my family history. And sometimes, data visualisation can help make sense of my research. This past weekend, I was looking through some of my notes on my great-great-great-great-grandfather, a man named Stephen Remington.

One of the outstanding questions is who was his wife, a woman named Eliza Ann. Her surname might be either Garretson or Caustin. So I used a timeline of Stephen’s residences to see if any his residences overlapped with similar surnames. It sort of did, but not until after the year he married her. So still more work is needed.

But then I decided with a few tweaks I could actually plot out where he lived, because he lived all over. His earliest years are a bit of a mystery, because his parents are both unknown and they both died during Stephen’s youth.

Ridgefield was home to a small cluster of Remingtons. Were they related?
Ridgefield was home to a small cluster of Remingtons. Were they related?

In his earlier years he was what was called a circuit rider. Before there were large, dense settlements of people, the rural and frontier people relied upon essentially travelling ministers. The ministers had a responsibility for a small (sometimes large) area. And early in Stephen’s life his circuit riding kept pushing him north up the Hudson River with occasional postings back to New York City.

Rhinebeck is the town demanding my closer attention for Eliza's sake.
Rhinebeck is the town demanding my closer attention for Eliza’s sake.

Eventually, however, he ended up preaching in Massachusetts, where he separately earned his medical doctorate from Harvard University. He practiced medicine on the side for years. Then in 1846 he converted from the Methodist church to the Baptist church. He wrote about it in a notable book/pamphlet: Reasons for Becoming a Baptist.

From then he became an itinerant pastor, never staying at a single congregation for more than five years or so. He travelled from New York to Philadelphia to Louisville for several months then back to New York.

Evidently his time in Louisville was short, possibly because of anti-slavery views.
Evidently his time in Louisville was short, possibly because of anti-slavery views.

He preached as a Baptist for twenty-plus more years before finally settling in Brooklyn, where he died at the age of 66. He lived all over the mid-Atlantic, especially the Hudson River Valley. And while he returned to places over the years, notably New York City, he appears to have never stayed in one place longer than maybe five years.

That was a lot of places for Stephen to hang his hat.
That was a lot of places for Stephen to hang his hat.

As for Eliza, she died in 1850. But I wonder if she may be related to a cluster of Garretsons that lived in Rhinebeck, which included the famous Reverend Freeborn Garretson, a circuit riding Methodist minister.

The daughter born in Hartford is my direct ancestor. She eventually married a man in New York City with the surname Miller. Then, after having a son (my next direct ancestor), she upped and moved to Wisconsin and married another man with the surname Miller, who was not related to the first. There is talk of a divorce, but no record of it. Could she have been a bigamist? That’s a story for another day.

The Great Migration Map

Yesterday in a post about Angela’s forced journey from Africa to Jamestown I mentioned that the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Bay just one year later in 1620. From 1620 until 1640 approximately 20,000 people left England and other centres like Leiden in the Netherlands for New England. Unlike places like Jamestown that were founded primarily for economic reasons, New England was settled for religious reasons. Consequently, whereas colonies in Virginia drew young men looking to make it rich—along with slaves to help them—New England saw entire families moving and transplanting parts of towns and England into Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

New England kept fantastic records and we know thousands of people. But we do not know whence everyone arrived, but we do know a few thousand. And this mapping project from American Ancestors attempts to capture that information at the English parish level. At its broadest level it is a county-level choropleth that shows, for those for whom we have the information, the majority of the migration, called the Great Migration, came from eastern England, with a few from the southwest.

Quite a few from Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex
Quite a few from Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex

You can also search for specific people, in which case it brings into focus the county and the parishes within that have more detail. In this case I searched for my ancestor Matthew Allyn, who was one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut. He came from Braunton in Devon and consequently appears as one of the two people connected to that parish.

Devon did not have nearly as many people emigrate as the eastern counties
Devon did not have nearly as many people emigrate as the eastern counties

But was Thomas related to Matthew? We don't know.
But was Thomas related to Matthew? We don’t know.

Overall, it’s a nice way of combining data visualisation and my interest/hobby of genealogy. The map uses the historical boundaries of parishes prior to 1851, which is important given how boundaries are likely to change over the centuries.

This will be a nice tool for those interested in genealogy and that have ancestors that can be traced back to England. I might be biased, but I really like it.

Credit for the piece goes to Robert Charles Anderson, Giovanni Flammia, Peter H. Van Demark.

Angela from Jamestown

Today we move from royalty to slavery. Earlier this week the Washington Post published an article about an African woman (girl?) named Angela. She was forcibly removed from West Africa to Luanda in present-day Angola. From there she was crammed into a slave ship and sent towards Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. Before she arrived, however, her ship was intercepted by English pirates that took her and several others as their spoils to sell to English colonists.

The article is a fascinating read and for our purposes it makes use of two graphics. The one is a bar chart plotting the Atlantic slave trade. It makes use of annotations to provide a rich context for the peaks and valleys—importantly it includes not just the British colonies, but Spanish and Portuguese as well.

My favourite, however, is the Sankey diagram that shows the trade in 1619 specifically, i.e. the year Angela was transported across the Atlantic.

Too many people took similar routes to the New World.
Too many people took similar routes to the New World.

It takes the total number of people leaving Luanda and then breaks those flows into different paths based on their geographic destinations. The width of those lines or flows represents the volume, in this case people being sold into slavery. That Angela made it to Jamestown is surprising. After all, most of her peers were being sent to Vera Cruz.

But the year 1619 is important. Because 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves being brought into Jamestown and the Virginia colony. The Pilgrims that found Plymouth Bay Colony will not land on Cape Cod until 1620, a year later. The enslavement of people like Angela was built into the foundation of the American colonies.

The article points out how work is being done to try and find Angela’s remains. If that happens, researchers can learn much more about her. And that leads one researcher to make this powerful statement.

We will know more about this person, and we can reclaim her humanity.

For the record, I don’t necessarily love the textured background in the graphics. But I understand the aesthetic direction the designers chose and it does make sense. I do like, however, how they do not overly distract from the underlying data and the narrative they present.

Credit for the piece goes to Lauren Tierney and Armand Emamdjomeh.

The Chrysanthemum Throne

Today we move from the Iron Throne of Westeros (Game of Thrones) to the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan. Emperor Akihito abdicated his throne in favour of his son Naruhito. Fascinatingly, because Japanese monarchs are not allowed to abdicate, the Japanese parliament had to pass a law allowing Akihito to do just that. It was also a one-time deal. The next emperor would need similar legislation should he ever want to abdicate. You will also note there are a lot of male pronouns in this paragraph. By law, women cannot inherit the throne. And when royal princesses marry, they leave the royal household.

Not surprisingly, the news today had some graphics depicting the family tree of the Japanese royal family. And you all know how much I am a sucker for genealogy related work. This piece comes from the BBC and it is pretty simple. It uses a nice grey bar to indicate the generations and some titling indicates who succeeds whom.

There ain't no Cersei here…
There ain’t no Cersei here…

The graphic also makes rather painfully clear that if Japan wants to preserve its monarchy, it will need to embrace some kind of reforms. There are only four males left in the line of succession and only one is likely to have any sons.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Individualistic Immigrants

As many of you know, genealogy and family history is a topic that interests me greatly. This past weekend I spent quite a bit of time trying to sort through a puzzle—though I am not yet finished. It centred on identifying the correct lineages of a family living in a remote part of western Pennsylvania. The problem is the surname was prevalent if not common—something to be expected if just one family unit has 13 kids—and that the first names given to the children were often the same across family units. Combine that with some less than extensive records, at least those available online, and you are left with a mess. The biggest hiccup was the commonality of the names, however. It’s easier to track a Quinton Smith than a John Smith.

Taking a break from that for a bit yesterday, I was reminded of this piece from the Economist about two weeks ago. It looked at the individualism of the United States and how that might track with names. The article is a fascinating read on how the commonness or lack thereof for Danish names can be used as a proxy to measure the individualism of migrants to the United States in the 19th century. It then compares that to those who remained behind and the commonness of their names.

But where are the Brendans?
But where are the Brendans?

The scatter plot above is what the piece uses to introduce the reader to the narrative. And it is what it is, a solid scatter plot with a line of best fit for a select group of rich countries. But further on in the piece, the designers opted for some interesting dot plots and bar charts to showcase the dataset.

Now I do have some issues with the methodology. Would this hold up for Irish, English, German, or Italian immigrants in the 19th century? What about non-European immigrants? Nonetheless it is a fascinating idea.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

In-law Trees

Happy Friday, all. I’ve been busy preparing for a trip to Boston next week where I’ll continue to research my family’s history. But family trees and generational relationships between cousins can be confusing. Over at xkcd, however, it turns out the in-law relationships are more confusing.

It's all confusing…
It’s all confusing…

I don’t think I blame him.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.