My cousin Pete is often the inspiration behind my blog posts. Last October, he saw my family tree at Ancestry and wrote to ask if his grandfather, Carl Toemmes was related to my Toemmes ancestors. At the time I didn’t know, but between consulting our mutual cousin Bernhard in Germany and a bit of sleuthing through Illinois records we soon learned that indeed we were related.
Pete is my 3rd cousin 2x removed. We both descend from 2 of the 8 children born to Johann Temmes and Maria Schmitt who were married in 1815 in Trier, Germany. His grandfather Carl was the son of the only sibling who didn’t immigrate to Illinois along with the rest of the family. I’d had no idea Johann existed until Bernhard went through the German church books and confirmed our relationship by providing his baptismal, marriage and death records, as well as the German baptismal for Pete’s grandfather Carl.
Our mutual ancestors are my 6th great grandparents, and as luck would have it the line had already been successfully triangulated, or proven by DNA. Two descendents of a 3rd sibling, Katherine, had already tested and been identified. GB and Steve are my 3rd cousin 2x removed and my 4th cousin, respectively. According to ISOGG, statistically such cousin-ships share 13.28 cm. GB, Steve and I all share the same 29.2 cm segment on chromosome 17. To each other, GB and Steve are 1st cousins 1x removed.
Once Pete’s connection had been proven on paper, he dove head first into DNA testing. 3rd cousins 2x removed is the DNA equivalent of 4th cousins and Pete and I had a 50-50% chance of matching just as I had had with GB and Steve. When his results came in, unfortunately we fell into the 50% of those who don’t match. However, he did match GB for a total of 88.1 cm. As Pete and GB are 3rd cousins, they had a 90% chance of matching.
While statistics suggest Pete and I could have shared about 13 cm of DNA, and we don’t match at FTDNA, once he uploads his results to Gedmatch we will be able to investigate our exact shared segments more thoroughly. Meanwhile, statistically Pete and GB were only expected to share 53.13 cm but exceeded that at an impressive 88.1 cm spread over 3 chromosomes.
When I shot off an excited email to let Pete know his results were up, he sent me an equally excited email asking, “So, are we related?”
The simple answer is yes, no and maybe.
- Yes, Pete and I both descend from Johann and Maria according to traditional genealogy, as do GB and Steve.
- Yes, Steve, GB and I are related by DNA. Yes, Pete and GB are related by DNA. Pete could also be related to Steve, but Steve has withdrawn the ability to be seen by close matches.
- No, Pete and I are not genetic matches according to FTDNA. FTDNA will only show a match with a segment of at least 7 cm and a minimum of 20 cm total shared.
- Maybe we share a valid segment, but if Pete and I are under the 20 cm total mark, the match will not be shown. Gedmatch will answer that question. edited to add 1/25/2014 Pete and I share a segment on chromosome 8 of 5.6 cm/1288 snps.
- Maybe my Aunt Jackie, who is a 3rd cousin 1x removed from Pete, and should statistically share 26.56 cm will match him. Her test is en route to the lab for processing.
The Moral of the Story: Test Everyone You Can
To confirm your paper trail and prove your genetic relationships, you are going to want to have as many people sharing segments as possible, which can be kept track of with Genome Mate. This will increase the odds of identifying a common ancestor as each new match will be able to (hopefully) contribute useful information about their family’s background. All it takes is one familiar name or location to unravel how you are related to an entire group of matches. Once that has happened, and at least two of them (not descended from each other) point to a specific ancestor, your ancestry for that line is proven.
In the case of Cousin Pete, no one else in the FTDNA or Gedmatch databases share the segment I overlap with GB and Steve. No one else in those databases shares the same segment on chromosomes 5 and 18 that Pete shares with GB, and he only has 3 matches between 10-13 cm on their shared chromosome 2 segment. He is the first in his line to test DNA, so he doesn’t yet know if his 3 matches on chromosome 2 are paternal (Toemmes) or maternal. Pete will need to contact them and compare trees, and thanks to another Toemmes cousin, Bernhard, if they are paternal, he will probably be able to provide them with a great deal of information.
So, Are We Related?
Of course Pete and I are related. Our family tree is documented well enough to know that, but I must admit I have become a bit of a DNA snob. Whenever I’m contacted by traditional genealogists, I can’t help but think in the back of my mind that the paper trail is great and all but…have they tested yet? My descent from Johann and Maria was already triangulated so GB, Steve, and I can be confident of our places within the Toemmes tree. Thankfully, three different lines from the same ancestral couple have tested, and that has expanded the odds of proving our mutual ancestry back to Johann and Maria. With an 88 cm match between Pete and GB their 3rd cousin relationship is also confirmed, as is the importance of testing as many different cousins as possible. I am hopeful that Pete and Jackie will also match under FTDNA’s criteria, which will be icing on the cake.
Looking back at our earliest emails it is funny to see how formal they were originally. Over the months we have become friends as well as cousins. Every time I write an article prompted by one of his questions, his ears burn. Although genealogy can be a worst case scenario of cutting, pasting, and copying names, dates and facts, occasionally you get a best case scenario like cousin Pete, and manage to graft an entire lost branch of the family back onto the tree. To me, that is the spirit of genealogy, and genealogy at its best.