Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mining DNA data with GEDmatch

My readers may have wondered where I have been for the last six months. I have been analyzing my autosomal DNA using GEDmatch.

Dna by Виталий Смолыгин,

I found the best definition of GEDmatch in a pdf document “Using GEDmatch” that Kitty Cooper highlighted in her blog post

“GEDmatch is a FREE, non-profit, “do-it-yourself” genomics website that allows DNA testers to upload raw data from FTDNA, AncestryDNA, and 23andMe to compare with a large database of data that has been voluntarily uploaded by other testers.”

 After learning more about GEDmatch from my cousin Sallie Atkins, I decided to try it out. For anyone who learns best by listening and seeing, I recommend watching Angie Bush’s video “GEDMatch Basics” on before even opening GEDmatch.

By 112.Georgia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
 via Wikimedia Commons

Depending on the company that you chose to test your autosomal DNA, follow the instructions (shown in the video) to upload your data. Remember to heed the caution given in several websites/blogs about this process: GEDmatch is run by volunteers and can be so inundated by users so that the program seems to freeze at times. Just be patient (and grateful for the wonderful tools this site offers) and try again. One more caveat on uploading: if another person in your household is on the internet at the same time you are uploading, the upload may fail.

After your data is on GEDmatch, you can begin using the tools to identify the people who match you. Aside from the technical aspects of getting your data on GEDmatch, something very important to your success in connecting with your “matches” often gets overlooked. After you run the “one to many” query and see all those potential matches, what do you do?

CC BY-SA 3.0,

 Let’s look at how to communicate with our matches. Rachel Ramey talks about just this subject in her post “A Few Things I’ve Learned as aBeginner at GEDmatch.” Among her tips to include in your message to your matches is your kit number and why you are contacting the person. Also, highlight any surnames that you want your match to consider.

You will be surprised when you see just how many matches GEDmatch delivers in the one-to-many tool. I liked Ms. Ramey’s suggestion that you save GEDmatch tables into Excel or another spreadsheet tool of your choice.

: 2007 Nuno Pinheiro & David Vignoni & David Miller &
 Johann Ollivier Lapeyre & Kenneth
 Wimer & Riccardo Iaconelli / KDE / LGPL 3

You can do so much with the data columns using the “Sort” feature in Excel. Be sure to use the advanced sort where you can choose primary and secondary columns on which to sort. Depending on the sort, you can see different patterns in your data.

Well, now we have our data uploaded to GEDmatch, we have developed a template message to our matches, and we have some spreadsheets where we can organize our data in different views. What do we do when we start receiving e-mail responses from the matches? That’s where Excel again comes into play. And again, Kitty Cooper comes to our rescue. In her post of Jan 17, 2014, Ms. Cooper offers a guest blog post by JimBartlett, “Organizing Your Autosomal Information with a Spreadsheet” (actually with two spreadsheets.)

As you might have concluded from the topics covered in this post, understanding genetic genealogy is not a walk in the park. The field demands a lot of study and concentrated effort if you wish to harvest the rich information from DNA testing, including getting the most out of  the list of matches you receive. But from my experience, nothing in my genealogy research has given me the volume of information that DNA testing has done. It’s just there waiting for me (and you) to analyze and massage it into a usable format.

A great advantage for anyone interested in exploring how to use DNA is the large number of on-line resources. The basic go-to site to for information is The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). In addition to the professionals I mentioned in this post, be sure to check out Roberta Estes’ blog, DNAeXplained, for her amazing ability to explain esoteric subjects. Emily Aulicino is another person who is so adept at decoding technical information in her blog, Genealem's Genetic Genealogy, that non-scientists can understand the concepts.

I wrote this blog post for those who have been hesitant to try their hand at incorporating autosomal DNA into their genealogy research and for those who have tried but got bogged down because they didn’t know the resources out there to help them.

categories: DNA 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seeing Greece the Best Way

One of the greatest joys of the journey to learning family history is meeting fellow travelers. Never has this come so clear as when we (my husband and I) visited Greece this September of 2015.

Map of Greece from CIA World Factbook,
 22 August 2013,
gr.html, Wikimedia.

I first met Margarita Thomakou on in 2008 (before the site was purchased by Ancestry) when she responded to my query about my Greek Flessouras family. In her response, Margarita said she lived in Athens and enjoyed helping Americans look for their Greek roots. We e-mailed occasionally over the years, just to keep in touch. About eight months ago, I let Margarita know that we were planning our first visit to Greece. She was as excited to welcome us to her country as we were to visit!

Our tour was part family history, part Greek history and a whole lot of Hellenic hospitality. Margarita met us at our hotel in Athens, and we planned our itinerary. First we would go to Pigadakia, the ancestral village of the Flessouras clan, which is in the Peloponnese between Tripoli and Sparta.

By Pitichinaccio (Image:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg) [GFDL 
(, CC BY-SA 3.0
 (, GFDL
 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0
/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We had rented a car, and Margarita suggested that we follow her. It was good to have two cars because sometimes Margarita would have some business to conduct (she is in the real estate field) while we did some sight-seeing.

 “The cradle of civilization” is a phrase many of us heard in history class applied to Greece. The Greeks are very proud of their history, including their painting, sculpture, theater and poetry. But they have a special reverence, as Margarita attested to, for the honor, courage, and fighting prowess displayed over the eras by those who have inhabited the Greek land.

Our first visit was a day trip out of Athens to the town of Marathon. Many Americans, even those who participate in running marathons, may not know where the word comes from. Well, now I do. But first some history. Margarita took us to the site of the Battle of Marathon that occurred in 490 B.C. when the outnumbered Athenians repelled the Persians.

The battle field at Marathon as it looks today,
9/6/2015, taken by Bert Schuster

Battle field relief, taken by Bert
Schuster 9/6/02015
Then she gestured to a huge hill behind us. This large mound is the final resting place of the Greek soldiers who gave their lives in the battle.

Burial Mound at Marathon, taken
by Bert Schuster 9/6/2015

And how did the modern marathon come from this historic battle? After the Greek victory, a messenger was dispatched to take the news to Athens – running all the way. The modern contest is a little over 26 miles, the same length as the distance from Marathon to Athens. 

The day after visiting Marathon, we started our trip to Pigadakia. The chance to visit one’s ancestral village is a rare and precious gift. Just before reaching the village, Margarita introduced us to a small restaurant all by itself on the side of the road, a treasure as it turned out that you would never find unless you had a wonderful guide. We sat eating and discussing Pigadakia and the Flessouras clan. A neighboring diner had been listening to our conversation and pointed out, in Greek of course, another departing diner: “There, there is a Flessouras.” Well, luck, happenstance and chance are welcome companions on any ancestor-hunting trip.

Street in Pigadakia, taken by
 Bert Schuster, 9/6/2015
Margarita followed the man thus described and struck up a conversation. And most certainly, the gentleman was a Flessouras from Pigadakia! He came with us to show us the small village and talk about his family tree. As of right now, my Flessouras tree is short – it starts with my great grandfather, Peter (Panoyiotis.) I am still working on going further back.

Street in Pigadakia leading to small shrine,
taken by Bert Schuster 9/6/2015

After Pigadakia, we headed to the Mani, Margarita’s ancestral homeland. She is proud to be from Maniot stock, and she knows the history of the land.
By al-Qamar (File:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg)
 [GFDL (],
 via Wikimedia Commons
We saw a lot of historical towns and villages, but two places stand out in my mind.

First, is Aeropolis (see map above), where, as Margarita told us proudly, the Greek War of Independence started in 1821. We stood in the very square where Petros Pierrakos (his birth name), later known as Petros or Petrobey Mavromichalis, declared war on the Ottoman Empire which had ruled Greece since 1453. In addition to the historical significance of Aeropolis, the village has much natural beauty and traditional houses.

Petrobey, a Greek Hero,
in Aeropolis taken
by Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

Typical Aeropolis street, taken by
Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

Still life, Aeropolis, taken
by Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

A second Mani destination with fascinating history was Vathia with its breathtaking sea views, century-old towers standing proudly next to new models, and acres of carefully dug terraces by farmers of old.

Sea view from Vathia, taken by
Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

 Margarita explained that the towers were built not only to protect the residents of Vathia from attacks from foreigners but also from the onslaughts of feuding neighbors.

Towers and terraces of Vathia, taken by
Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

After a few days of sightseeing, it was time for some rest and relaxation. Margarita took us to her favorite beach and hotel in this part of the Mani, the Alkion Hotel/Apartments owned by Yannis Bechrakis.

Beach in front of Alkion
Hotel/Apartments, taken
by Bert Schuster 9/10/2015

What a paradise! After a day at the beach or visiting nearby scenic/historical attractions, you have only a short drive to Gythio with its choice of restaurants.

Our week in the Peloponnese with Margarita came to an end all too soon. We left her to finish her business in the Mani, and we took off to Napflio and then to the islands of Naxos, Santorini, and Rhodes. 

Two weeks later on our last day in Athens, Margarita had a surprise for us. She took us to her favorite hair salon which is located in the upscale Divani Caravel Hotel.

Hotel Divani Caravel, Dimitris Kamaras,
August 21, 2015, Vasileos Alexandrou
 st., Athens, Greece,

Bert and I spent the next two hours in the hands of the talented staff of Yannis’ Salon:

Yannis -- the transformer of women, the man who makes music and miracles with his scissors.

Anna -- the lady with the colors and the styles right from the red carpet

Kostas -- the master barber who gave Bert the shave of his life

After this fabulous trip to Greece, I came away with a new awareness of  my Greek heritage and with a wonderful Greek friend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Destination: Greece

Well, the time for our departure to Greece is coming closer. Now we’re getting out the checklists to be sure we have everything we need for a comfortable trip, including medicines, electronics, and travel clothes. But what helped us reach this point where we feel nearly ready to head for Athens?

By Gilberto Gaudio from Rome, Italy (Athens (Greece))
 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (
licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, this is not just a tourist trip but also a heritage journey. Thomas MacEntee explains what heritage travel is in his web article “You Can Go Home Again.” I am taking this trip in part to visit the home village of my Greek great grandfather, Peter Flesouras. He was born in a small village in the middle of the Peloponnese: Pigadakia, Tripoli, Arcadia, just a small dot in the mountains where he and his family herded sheep and goats. Pigadakia is 15 miles (24.3 Km) south of Tripoli.

"PeloponnesosMap". Licensed under Public Domain
 via Wikimedia Commons -

My first step in preparation for the heritage part of the trip (as I described in my Feb 6, 2015 post) was to find and hire a heritage guide to search for existing Flessouras records and possible living relatives. Through connections on the Facebook Hellenic Genealogy Resources group, I was introduced to Marina Harami, and we have been working together for several months. It has been frustrating for her because the economic situation  in the country has hit most sectors including the registry offices, church offices and other research centers. Staff has been reduced or put on really limited schedules, which makes it very hard to reach anyone and to try to locate information. But she has persevered, and we may have some success yet.

For my part, I have contacted Americans with the surname Flessouras on Facebook. Since this is a rare Greek surname and all the people of this name hale from the same area of Arcadia, we probably are related, but we don’t yet know how. Some of these Americans of the Flessouras name have relatives in Greece, and I have arranged to meet two of them.

Along with planning for the heritage side of our trip, we are also preparing for the tourist part. If you are considering a trip to Greece and are looking for travel guides, my husband and I have found three in print and on-line that we recommend. First, is Rick Steves’ Greece Athens & The Peloponnese.

Rick Steves at the Mountain Hostel, Gimmelwald,
Switzerland, 20 July 2007, Andrew Bossi, Wikimedia.

 My readers may remember how much we relied on Mr. Steves’ book on Eastern Europe to guide us through the Czech Republic and to help make our trip more rewarding and memorable. We especially like the walking tours, complete with “concise and simple” “black-and-white” (p. 495) maps, to introduce each destination. My husband describes Steves’ books as full of practical, everyday necessary information.

One of my husband’s favorite books is Insight Guides Greece with its stunning color photographs of natural beauty, icons, and monuments. He says this guide has the best photographs and maps and comprehensive coverage of culture, history and geography.

The third guide that I found very engaging on the subject of the Greek islands is by D. Haitalis: Discover the Greek Islands. This book delivers with stunning photographs, that make you want to fly tomorrow. It also has a brief history and sightseeing section for each island accompanied by small maps. For more detailed information on the islands, I would pair this book with the Insight Guide referred to above.

Just by luck and the grace of google, I came across Max Barrett’s  (online) Greece Guides. What a treasure trove of information! Mr. Barrett arranges his site as a virtual book with chapters ranging from “Matt’s Essential Greece Info” and “Honeymoon in Greece” to “Travel Agents & Tours.”  This is where we found one of the best discoveries in our travel planning: Fantasy Travel.

Many of you may be familiar with working with travel agents and arranging tours. Throughout most of our travel, we have created our own itineraries as we are doing for the Peloponnese. But for the island part of the trip, we decided to work with a tour company. The first step in working with Fantasy Travel was to figure out which islands we wanted to visit and in what order on what dates. After looking through our travel guides, Bert and I came up with this itinerary.

First we will visit Naxos:
"Naxos8" by Ildebrando - Own work. Licensed under
 Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.
How could one miss the island described by in the Insight Guide as:
"the largest, loftiest and most magnificent of the Cyclades, replete with high, windswept ridges, long beaches, remote villages, ancient ruins, medieval monasteries or towers, and a fascinating history." (p. 249)

Next on our island tour will be Santorini or Thira as it is known in Greece. In his book Greece Athens & the Peloponnese, Rick Steves calls Santorini  "one of the Mediterranean's most dramatic islands..." and goes on to say  "...this unique place has captured visitors' imaginations for millennia...." and is " of Greece's most scenic spots." (p. 429)

Santorini Scene by Understandingmedia13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

 I am excited  because the island is what was left from a volcanic eruption around 1630 B.C. (p. 450) For fans of Pompeii, one can visit the city of Akrotiri that was buried under ash and was unearthed in 1967.

The final island we will visit is Rhodes.
Acropolis of Lindos on Rhodes by Norbert Nagel, 
Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany (Own work)
 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I found great information about Rhodes and all the islands in Frommer's Greek Islands, our last print pick.
What does Rhodes have to offer? Here's what Frommer's has to say:

"A location at the intersection of the East and West propelled the island into the thick of both commerce and conflicts. The scars left by its rich and turbulent history have become its treasures. Hellenistic Greeks, Romans, Crusader Knights, Turks, Italians -- all invaders who brought some destruction but also left behind fascinating artifacts." (p. 332)

 In addition to detailed descriptions of the islands, the book also contains 60 pages on exploring Athens.

Once we had our schedule of islands to visit, we simply e-mailed this to Fantasy Travel. They arranged our rental car and all hotels on the three islands we are visiting.  Then they set up connections by ferry and air from one island to the other. Someone from Fantasy Travel will be meeting us at the airport. What royal treatment! It makes me feel like this:

HM Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Perth, Australia for CHOGM,
 taken by Andrew Taylor, Oct 26, 2011, Creative Commons,

Traveling for heritage and/or tourist reasons can be made easier and more productive with the help of excellent heritage guides, travel books, tour companies and websites. I’ll have a lot more to share when I return from Greece.

Categories: genealogy tools, genealogy professional