Dodds Family Story

This story originally appeared in Genealogy Gems.

The ties that bind a child to his or her parents are some of the strongest that exist in the human society.  The shared experiences, goals, hopes, and laughter could have been what motivated a young man in his twenties with his new wife in tow, to board a ship sailing from England to Montreal, Canada in search of his father.

These bonds that connect us are woven with multi-colored thread and many have found that while the threads of shared culture and tradition weave beautiful and unique patterns in our lives, many are seeking the biological threads that they feel act like a strong cord and provide the stability and strength of a relationship, and ultimately provide a sense of identity.

It would be 25 years after Paul Dobbs set out on his journey to join his father, Len Dodds, that he would find the threads binding him to Len start to unravel, for it was then that he learned that Len Dodds was not his biological father (link to original story).

Discovering he was the child of an American serviceman stationed in Wales during World War II, Paul again started out on a journey to find his father. This time, his biological father.  Traditional genealogical methods proved unfruitful and he eventually turned to DNA testing.

YDNA testing was the first, and logical choice. But Paul was not able to find the results he wanted.

YDNA testing was the first, and logical choice. But Paul was not able to find the results he wanted.

For any male adoptee seeking his father the YDNA test is a logical route to take, and is where Paul turned first (probably more because other kinds of tests weren’t yet available- but still, it was a good choice!).  The YDNA provides an undiluted record of a direct paternal line.  This can often help adoptees identify a surname for their paternal line. However, Paul did not have the success he was hoping for with YDNA testing.

He then turned to autosomal DNA testing. Remember that this kind of test traces both your paternal and maternal lines and reports back to you matches in the database that have predicted relationships like, “2-4th cousins” or “3rd-5th cousins” and then you are left to decipher who your common ancestor might be.

Paul found a match, a first cousin.

With the help of his new found cousin and the traditional genealogical records available about servicemen serving in Cardiff at the end of World War II, Paul was able to form a convincing hypothesis about the identity of his biological father.

He reached out to a potential half sibling who agreed to conduct a DNA test to explore this option.

She was a match.  Paul had found his biological family.

Some relationships take years to mature as threads of shared experiences and ideas slowly come together to form a mutual bond.  But the immediate bond of Paul and his half sister was almost visible- the strength of the DNA cord was evident as Paul described their first meeting saying: ““I was out to see her just four weeks ago and I was just over the moon.”

The story of Paul Dodds is one that represents the search of many who turn to DNA testing for answers to their genealogy.

What will your story tell?

Here's How AncestryDNA is improving their Autosomal DNA Test

 This post was originally published at Genealogy Gems.


This past week I had the privilege of standing on an 8th story balcony in downtown San Francisco. To my left: towering downtown buildings bustling with enterprise.  To my right: the Giants stadium (unfortunately they were losing). In front of me: the beautiful California coastline, complete with pristine blue water dotted with all manner of seafaring vessels.

But, what matters most to you as genealogists, was going on in the glass-encased conference room behind me.  It was a meeting of the minds. An exchange of information and ideas. Information about current trends and accomplishments at AncestryDNA, and ideas about the future of DNA testing at

You might recall our discussion here at the Genealogy Gems about how Ancestry recently decided to discontinue their mtDNA and YDNA tests‑the two that trace our direct maternal and direct paternal lines‑ in order to focus all of their efforts on the up and coming autosomal DNA test.  Remember that the autosomal DNA test delivers information about both your mother’s and your father’s side of your ancestral tree.

This all day meeting included a diverse group of Ancestry representatives, from the CEO, Jim Sullivan himself, to members of the marketing, scientific, communications, and even computer science departments, as well as some of the top voices in genetic genealogy. It was an open and lively discussion, and I walked away with a few gems that I want to share with you today.

The Shaky Leaf

The shaky leaf is no doubt the most iconic symbol of Ancestry.  In AncestryDNA it is meant to help you find a common ancestor between you and your DNA matches.

Did you know that the shaky leaf in the DNA trees recently underwent a makeover?  You probably didn’t notice‑it still looks as green and shiny as ever‑but if you look closely, you will see that your leaf is sporting a brand new pair of running shoes. You see, in the past, the computer code that created the shaky leaf was not very efficient, lazy, in fact.  It started at the bottom of your tree, and the bottom of your match’s tree, and slapped on a shaky leaf at the first sign of a shared common ancestor. While this method worked for a large number of cases, it was leaving a lot of stones unturned.  But the IT guys at Ancestry have beefed up the computer power behind our leaves, allowing them to cover a much greater distance through our trees and the trees of our matches before making a judgment about the best place to assign that shaky leaf. The result? Better hints about how you and your match COULD be related.  Remember, the leaf is still a leaf, albeit in fancy running shoes.  It is not a crystal ball, and therefore you should take all of his hints as SUGGESTIONS on how you and your match might be related.

Did You Know?

-       Ancestry DOES store your DNA samples in a secure location.

-       Ancestry spent months designing their own DNA collection kit.

-       Ancestry employees love their jobs.

-       Ancestry was able to attract some of the brightest scientists in the field of population genetics because of YOU. You with your documented pedigree charts and your willingness to help move this science of discovering our ancestors forward.

Looking Ahead

There is no question that the genetic genealogy industry is rapidly advancing, and our discussion with Ancestry certainly didn’t disappoint. While I will be sharing with you in future posts about some of the exciting changes, I do want you to be ready for one that will be coming online fairly soon.

It has to do with your matches.  If you have been tested by Ancestry, you may have been initially excited, then nearly immediately overwhelmed, by the number of individuals listed in your match page, all claiming to have some kind of connection to you and your family tree.

All of the three major genetic genealogy testing companies,, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe, are using basically the same laboratory methods to glean information from your DNA.  What differs between the companies is how they use that data to draw conclusions about your ethnic heritage and about your relationships to other individuals.

As it turns out, Ancestry has been reporting far more individuals as your relatives than it should have.

You can think of it like this: You have sent out tickets, in the form of your genetic code, to an exclusive party where you (of course!) are the star. However, you have lost the guest list and you are counting on the testing company to check the ticket of each guest before they enter your party to be sure they were really invited. Ancestry was relatively new in the role of party bouncer, and in the interest of not turning away any VIP guests, they initially allowed guests into your party who had (gasp!) forged tickets!! But as Ancestry has now surpassed each of its competitors in the number of tests sold, the experience gained in party monitoring is starting to show. You see, each of the forged tickets has some unique qualities that have started to send up red flags to the team of scientists at Ancestry. They are now in the process of carefully documenting what each forged ticket looks like and tossing those unwanted guests out on their ear. 

The short of it: in the near future your match list at will be much shorter. Which is good news to you, as it means only those invited genetic cousins will be around eating hors d' oeuvres and ready to talk about your shared common ancestry.

Each testing company has its strengths and weaknesses. It was good to have a bit of insight into this one company and come to a greater understanding about why it is they do what they do. It is a great time to be in this young genetic genealogy industry, with so much room to grow and change. I will let you know when I find the next genetic gem.

What YOU Can Learn from the DNA of King Richard III

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The blog below was originally published on Genealogy Gems,

Michael Ibsen, a cabinet maker living in London, was recently awarded the title of "royal descendant" when researchers identified him as a direct maternal descendant of Ann of York. Why did this lucky man have an unsolicited team of researchers filling in 17 generations of his genealogy?

They were trying to identify a body.

A body discovered under a parking lot in (Lester) Leichester, England.

Thanks to the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of Ibsen, that body has been identified as Richard the III ( Researchers needed Ibsen because his mtDNA is EXACTLY the same as his 17th great grandmother, Ann of York.   Because mothers pass their mtDNA to all of their children, and only the daughters pass it on to the next generation, Ann had exactly the same mtDNA as her brother, Richard.

With the positive identification in hand, researchers are now prepared to undertake a£100,000 project to discover the combination of letters in a four-digit code that makes up the genetic book that is (or was) Richard III.  This process is called full genome sequencing. They are also planning to sequence Mr. Ibsen's genome to see what shared segments may still remain.

What does this project have to do with you- the genealogist who doesn't have a team of researchers hammering out your 17th generation grandparents? First, it is a win for genetic genealogy as mtDNA was used to unequivocally link past and future generations. Each story like this serves to increase awareness for genetic genealogy, which means more people get tested, which means databases grow larger, which means you will find more matches, which means you will have more genealogical success. Plus, the comparison of the ancient Richard the III genome with the modern genome of Mr. Ibsen will be the first of its kind to try to identify shared segments of DNA after so many generations.

In a recent interview Michael Ibsen said, "I almost hope somewhere along the line they dig up some more people so others can be ancestors and descendants in the same sort of way. It is going to be an extraordinary experience."

Someone needs to introduce Mr. Ibsen to genetic genealogy as that is EXACTLY what genetic genealogy is all about-but minus the digging up the bones part! Genetic genealogy is all about using the DNA of living people to reconstruct the DNA of your ancestors. It is about making connections among modern day genealogists that can help them answer questions about their relatives.

While a full genome sequence is not a practical genealogical tool for most genealogists, there are other kids of DNA tests that could help you answergenealogical questions.

You can find more information about a few famous people and their DNA at