Thursday, January 14, 2021

The identity of Jacob Bertschinger solved with Y-DNA

Y-DNA can solve mysteries when the documentary evidence does not exist. We are trying to resolve the identity of Jacob Bertschinger who arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Mercury in 1735. Was he later known as Jacob Barshinger who lived in Pennsylvania or was he the Jacob Persinger who lived in Virginia? 

No document exists to make a positive identification. I will refer to the two men as Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania and Jacob Persinger of Virginia

For Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania, the exact date of birth, the name of his wife and date of marriage, and the identity of his children and grandchildren are all known thanks to a Bible record which will be discussed below. 

There is no such information for Jacob Persinger of Virginia. There is no record of his age on any American document. The maiden names of his wives are unknown. The names of his children can only be inferred by looking at multiple documents.

The identity of the passenger on the ship Mercury has been established in Switzerland. He was Jacob Bertschinger, born 1715 in Zumikon, Zürich, Switzerland.

The story of Jacob Bertschinger in America involved the efforts of several people who helped me research this case. They included Jane Cox (a long-time researcher, Virginia resident, and descendant of Jacob Persinger), Harvey Persinger (a descendant of Jacob Persinger), Stephen Smith (a descendant of Jacob Barshinger), and multiple men who tested their Y-DNA.

Jacob Bertschinger

Jacob Bertschinger, luckily for us, was a member of an incredibly well documented emigration from Switzerland. 

The story of the passengers who traveled with him, and their amazingly difficult journey, have been told from both sides of the Atlantic. Jacob was part of a Swiss migration led by the controversial Pastor Moritz Götschi. The grueling trip involved many months of trials, culminating in the arrival at the port of Philadelphia.

A very detailed account was written by Hans Ulrich Pfister, Swiss archivist, who documented the story of the emigration as well as the origin of each emigrant. His account can be found in Jones and Rohrbach, Even More Palatine Families: 18th Century Immigrants to the American Colonies and their German, Swiss and Austrian Origins (2002), Vol. 2, pp. 1492-1537.

One of Pfister's sources on the identity of Jacob Bertschinger came from a man named Ludwig Weber who had intended to go to America but did not complete the arduous journey. He returned to Switzerland from the port of Rotterdam before the Ship Mercury left for Philadelphia. In 1735, Weber reported the names of the other passengers from memory, the number of people in the family traveling with them, and their hometowns. The list appears in Hinke, A History of the Goshenhoppen Reformed Charge: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (1727-1819) (1920), pp. 106-107.

From the Weber list shown in the screenshot below, we know that Jacob did not travel with any immediate family members [his parents were both deceased, he had no living siblings, and he was not yet married]. We also see the name of his hometown:

Jacob Bertschinger from Zumikon
Jacob Bertshinger from Zummikon traveling alone

Additional information about Jacob is found on the passenger list for the Ship Mercury and on two lists of oaths taken shortly after arrival in Philadelphia. 

The passenger list and oaths of allegiance are taken from the three-volume set of Strassburger and Hinke, Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Publication of the Original List of Arrivals In the Port of Philadelphia From 1727 to 1808  (1934). From the passenger list we find Jacob's age. He was 19 years old.

Jacob Bertschinger passenger list
Jacob Bertshinger, age 19, on ship Mercury passenger list

After arrival in Philadelphia, the passengers were required by law to take two oaths within 48 hours of arrival. These two oaths were the oath of allegiance and the oath of abjuration. Strassburger and Hinke report these two oaths as List B and List C. 

The names of men taking the oaths were recorded by separate clerks, and Jacob Bertschinger's name is spelled differently on the two lists. On list B, the clerk spelled his name Perdschenger:

Jacob Persinger
Jacob Perdschenger Oath of Allegiance

Notice that Jacob signed with a mark. Strassburger and Hinke used the letter O to denote a distinctive mark. 

On List C another clerk spelled the surname as Pertschinger:

Jacob Persinger
Jacob Pertschinger Oath of Abjuration

On the second oath, Strassburger and Hinke noted that Jacob used an X mark.

From various sources, Hans Ulrich Pfister identified Jacob as follows:

Jacob Bertschinger
Jacob Bertschinger identified by Hans Ulrich Pfister

Pfister did such detailed research on the families of the emigrants that he did an entire account on the Bertschingers documenting that Jacob's father, Hans Heinrich Bertschinger, died 15 Sep 1719 in a Zürich hospital, and Jacob's mother, Anna Graf, died in Zumikon 29 Dec 1721. The first portion of his Bertschinger research appears below:

Jacob Persinger family Switzerland
Hans Ulrich Pfister research of Bertschinger family

From the Zumikon parish records, here is Jacob's baptism:

Jacob Persinger baptism 1715
Baptism of Jacob Bertschinger 28 July 1715 Zumikon, Switzerland

The official church in the Canton of Zürich was the Reformed church. When a child was born in a particular town, he became a citizen of that town (not of the country of Switzerland), and if the family moved elsewhere copies of their marriage, death, etc. were supposed to be sent to their town of citizenship. Baptisms were recorded within a few days of birth, and these help us determine citizenship as well as religion. 

Jacob's parents were married 12 Apr 1715 in Zürich. The marriage record shows that Hans Heinrich Bertschinger was from Zumikon.

Marriage of Bertschinger to Graf
Marriage of Hans Heinrich Bertschinger to Anna Graf

The story of the ship passengers after arrival in America has been told by Rev. William John Hinke, A History of the Goshenhoppen Reformed Charge: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (1727-1819).

But what happened to Jacob, in particular, after that? That's the controversy. We have to determine whether he is Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania or Jacob Persinger of Virginia, who are both claimed by their descendants to be the immigrant Jacob Bertschinger.

Two Jacob Bertschingers

I am a descendant of Jacob Persinger of Virginia, and had always believed that he was the immigrant. I was convinced enough to do considerable research in the records of Switzerland. 

But last year I saw a comment that Stephen Smith, the author of Barshingers in America: A Genealogical History of Barshinger Families in America since 1735, provided convincing evidence that Jacob Persinger was not the one who arrived in 1735, and that Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania was the one who arrived on that date. I had to see this evidence.

Because of the Coronavirus quarantine, I could not access the facilities I usually use. I contacted Jane Cox and asked her if she could see a copy of the book in the Library of Virginia and send me the evidence provided by Stephen Smith, which she did.

In the book the story of Jacob Barshinger's family is well told, and the book even won an award from the National Genealogical Society. After seeing the evidence, which seemed pretty compelling, I began corresponding with Stephen Smith, and even temporarily removed the connection between Jacob Persinger and his Bertschinger ancestors on my family tree until I was certain. 

Although the book is well documented, did Smith make the correct connection between Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania and Jacob Bertschinger of Switzerland? What was this evidence that Jacob Barshinger, and not Jacob Persinger, was the immigrant who arrived on the ship Mercury in 1735? 

Evidence for Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania

Smith states that older research on the Barshingers indicated that Jacob was a descendant of an Andrew Barshinger. He lists four possible Barshinger ancestors including Andreas born 1691, Heinrich born about 1700, Casper born about 1700, Andreas born 1709. However, none of these could be the father of Jacob Barshinger because the first Andreas had no children (as proven in a deed), and the other three are too young to be the father. 

Smith begins to prove instead that Jacob Barshinger, and not Jacob Persinger, was the 1735 immigrant.

In his book, Smith shows the following evidence that Jacob Barshinger was the immigrant: 

1. A Family History: Smith states, "I came across the following passage in the Diehl Families of York and Adams Co., PA:"

Anna Maria (Diehl) BARSINGER b. 20 August 1783 Shrewsbury Twp. d. ca 1818 Windsor Twp. m. Henry BARSINGER b. 26 October 1779 d. 26 April 1849 son of Andrew & Anna Margaret (X) BARSINGER and grandson of Jacob BARSINGER immigrant on "Mercury" 29 May 1735.

2. Age: based on the birth date of Jacob Barshinger from the Bible of his mother-in-law Elizabeth Bechtler. In the Bible, Jacob's birth is listed as "4th mo. 29th 1716." 

At the time this entry was recorded, the American Colonies were still using the Julian Calendar in which the year began on March 25. The Gregorian Calendar, which we now use, was not adopted until 1752 in Great Britain and the American Colonies, but had been adopted much earlier in other European countries. Under the Julian Calendar Jacob's birthday was 29 Jun 1716. Stephen Smith interprets the birth date as 29 Apr 1716 (which is possible if Elizabeth Bechtler was using the Gregorian Calendar). If his birthday was 29 Jun 1716 he would have been 18 years old when the Ship Mercury arrived, but if his birthday was 29 Apr 1716 he would have been 19. Here is a portion of the Elizabeth Bechtler Bible as recorded in Barshingers in America:

Jacob Barshinger and Magdalena Bechtler
Portion of the Elizabeth Bechtler Family Bible

Jacob's age of 19 matches the age of Jacob Bertschinger on the Ship Mercury.

3. Dates and places. Jacob Barshinger was born 1716, married in 1736 [after the 1735 arrival], and received a land warrant in 1738 for 100 acres of land in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

4. Spelling of name. Smith believes that the spelling Barshinger, instead of Persinger, is further proof that Jacob Barshinger was the same man as Jacob Bertschinger of Switzerland.

Items 5-6 below contain Smith's evidence that Jacob Persinger is not the immigrant:

5. Naturalization. On page 44 Smith begins to present evidence that Jacob Persinger was not the 1735 immigrant. The [sic] in brackets is my notation, the other brackets are his:

Marsha Martin pointed out that: "in 1727, England started requiring that all aliens [in America] take a oath of allegiance to the King. To make sure this affected everyone, under provincial law, a unaturalized [sic] alien could not be granted land. If a man sold land in his name then you could assume he had either sworn allegiance to the King, become naturalized, or was a natural born subject of the King. Jacob [Bertschinger] Perschinger/Persinger when he arrived in 1735 swore an oath of allegiance to the King. This was the easiest way for the English to reach new people coming into the country, as they got off the boat. In 1765, Jacob Persinger became naturalized in Augusta County, VA. This Jacob [Persinger] must have been in the country before 1727.

Smith concludes "[Therefore Jacob Persinger can not be the same person as Jacob Bertschinger who arrived in America during 1735--being naturalized at that time. Jacob Persinger could be the son of other Persinger/Bersinger families who were in America before 1727--possibly some of the families discussed in the Barshinger Ancestors? section in this Chapter.]"

6. Signature. Marsha Martin also points out that

[Of] the signatures and marks of the people arriving on the Ship Mercury on 29 May 1735, Jacob Perschenger's mark is very distinctive. It looks like the letter 'B' sideways. It is a line drawn across the page with two bumps on the top of the line. The mark of Jacob Persinger on early land transactions in VA is a circle with an "X" in the center of the circle.

Smith concludes: 

. . . the documentation presented in this book is tangible and supportive of the conclusions reached about Jacob Bertschinger's Barshinger identity--the highlights include: Jacob's Pennsylvania land records in Lancaster County--the deed records the spelling of his name as BARSHINGER, and the deed places him in the proper local [sic] --a place where they are consistent with other records: Baptism records for two of Jacob's children--with one of them indicating the name of his wife as Magdelena (the other baptism record only listed the name of the father); the Bible Records of Jacob's mother-in-law, which ties the information together--especially the age match for her son-in-law with the Jacob on the ship Mercury, and the Bible's age matches to other records of Jacob's children; and the Diehl records indicating Jacob Barsinger, immigrant on the ship Mercury, is the grandfather of Henry Barshinger, who died 26 April 1849. With this evidence, the conclusion must be reached that Jacob from whom the Barshingers in America descend, is the Jacob Bertschinger from the ship Mercury.


Y-STR evidence

After seeing Smith's evidence, I looked at the Persinger DNA Project at Family Tree DNA. This section will discuss STRs and SNPs, so you may want to refer to this post: Y-DNA STRs, SNPs, and Haplogroups

Here is a portion of the Persinger DNA Project page:

DNA for Jacob Persinger
Persinger DNA Project at Family Tree DNA

There are several Persinger descendants whose DNA results all matched. The first twelve STR markers are displayed in the above image. The results beginning with 15-26-15, etc. are all from descendants of Jacob Persinger of Virginia.

There was also a descendant of Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania. His results begin with 13-24-14, etc. Stephen Smith was the one who arranged for this man to be tested. Unfortunately, this man is now deceased. Here is his descent from Jacob Barshinger:

Barshinger family tree
Descendant of Jacob Barshinger

Barshinger's DNA results matched one other man whose ancestor was John Persinger of Roanoke County, Virginia, but did not match any of descendants of Jacob Persinger. 

Because this John Persinger lived in Virginia, many people have tried to find his connection to Jacob Persinger. They could never find any connection, and the DNA shows us that he is not related to Jacob Persinger. John Persinger is listed in the 1850 census of Roanoke County, Virginia:

1850 census John Persinger Virginia
1850 United States Federal Census, District 57, Roanoke, Virginia

The census states that John was born in Pennsylvania about 1766. Jacob Persinger's family had long been in Virginia by that time, and the Y-DNA confirms that John Persinger is related to Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania. He is not, however, listed in the Bechtler family Bible, so Jacob Barshinger and John Persinger most likely share a common ancestor from an earlier Pennsylvania Barshinger line.

The most interesting part was that there was a man from Switzerland whose STR results matched the descendants of Jacob Persinger.

Y-DNA STRs can show probable relationships, but the results from SNP testing can definitively determine how two men are related. The Big Y test from Family Tree DNA contains both STRs and SNPs. 

Only one man in the Persinger Project had taken a Big Y test. Because the Big Y test can determine a much more precise haplogroup than the ones estimated by STR results, the man who took the Big Y test is listed as being in haplogroup R-BY168384, and he is a descendant of Jacob Persinger of Virginia.

I did not want to rely on STR results. I wanted absolute proof which can only be provided with SNP testing. So I corresponded with the Bertschinger man who was from the area in Switzerland where Jacob Bertschinger was born. He agreed to take the Big Y test. 

I will not identify the two Persinger and Bertschinger men who took the Big Y, but their results will determine whether Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania or Jacob Persinger of Virginia was the 1735 immigrant.

Time to re-examine the documentary evidence

I never take anybody's word for anything when it comes to genealogy and family history; I always try to examine the original records. 

Now that the Y-DNA appeared to refute the evidence provided in Smith's book, I was determined to verify every piece of evidence by looking at the original records.

The unfortunate thing was that, again, due to the Coronavirus quarantine I would not have access to any original records that could not be found online. However, Jane Cox lived in Virginia where she could get access to the records in the Library of Virginia by making a special appointment limited to four hours, going through screening, and then having access to the records. 

So the research went like this: I made a list of the initial records that I wanted to see. Jane went to the library and sent me copies of the records. She also went through her previous research to find more evidence. I would transcribe and evaluate the records and send another list of records that I wanted to see. Jane went once a week to the Library, and we corresponded every day for months.

If we could find convincing evidence in the records, we might be able to provide final proof with Y-DNA. I had to evaluate all of the Smith evidence, see if I could find alternative explanations for all of it, and try to find further evidence that Jacob Persinger was the immigrant.

Evaluating evidence presented in 

Barshingers in America

We saw above the evidence that Jacob Barshinger is the same man as Jacob Bertschinger. Below are alternatives for Items 1-3 that Jacob Barshinger is supposedly the 1735 immigrant:

1. A Family History: On page 25 of his book Smith states, "I contacted the author (Harry A. Diehl) about the source of this passage from the book on Diehl Genealogy, but he indicated that it would be difficult to locate in his records even if it was noted--however he was confident that it came from a primary source other than this bible record." 

So there is no source to verify Diehl's claim that Jacob Barshinger is the same person as Jacob Bertschinger of the Mercury. There is a well-known statement among genealogists "Genealogy without documentation is mythology." We cannot place confidence in a statement without documentation.

2. Age: The birth date of Jacob Barshinger from the Bechtler Bible [4th mo. 29th 1716] directly contradicts the birth date of Jacob Bertschinger of Switzerland [28 Jul 1715] shown in his baptismal record above. Baptisms in Switzerland occurred within a few days of birth.

3. Dates and places: Stating that Jacob Barshinger was in the right place (Pennsylvania) at the right time (after 1735) is not proof that he is the immigrant. We will examine the dates and places of Jacob Persinger later in this post and see that he was also in Pennsylvania at the right time.

4. Spelling of name:

The fact that the spellings Barshinger and Bertschinger both begin with B is not evidence that Jacob Persinger cannot be the same man as Jacob Bertschinger. This is especially the case since we know that Jacob Persinger did not spell his name. It was always spelled by a clerk who wrote what he thought he heard.

The evidence FOR Jacob Barshinger as the immigrant is extremely weak. With an undocumented statement in a family history, and a birth date that directly contradicts the date found in the Swiss records, the only evidence left is that he lived in Pennsylvania at the right time, and the Pennsylvania clerks continued to spell his name starting with the letter B.

The strongest pieces of evidence is the case AGAINST Jacob Persinger. Those are the items 5 and 6 above: the signature and the naturalization.

5. Signature:

Jacob Bertschinger could not write his name, so he signed with a mark. His mark on the first oath is shown below. It is, indeed, distinctive. 

signature of Jacob Persinger
Jacob Bertschinger's mark

If this mark was found on any document for Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania, it would be very solid evidence. However, Jacob Barshinger's signature has never been found on any document. The mark of Jacob Persinger of Virginia, on the other hand, has been found on numerous documents. It is consistently a + with a circle around it.  

Here's where is gets interesting. The same day that Jacob made his mark on the oath of allegiance, he made another mark on the oath of abjuration. The mark is shown below:

Oath of Abjuration
Oath of Abjuration

Here's a closeup:

Jacob Persinger signature
Second mark of Jacob Bertschinger

Here Jacob has appeared to make his original sideways B mark, and then changed it to an X. Why he changed it will never be known, but perhaps a 19-year-old was seeing many older men sign with an X and thought that it might be the proper way to sign. 

After his arrival in Virginia many years later, his mark had further changed and remained the same throughout the remainder of his life. Instead of an X with a circle around it, his mark appears to be a consistent cross with a circle. In fact, here is Jacob and his wife using the same mark:

signature of Jacob Persinger
Jacob and Catherine Persinger signatures

The sideways B was never found on any other document, and Jacob Persinger's signature only proves one thing: neither he nor the man who arrived on the Mercury could write his name.

6. Naturalization

First, let's look at the statement above by Marsha Martin that "If a man sold land in his name then you could assume he had either sworn allegiance to the King, become naturalized, or was a natural born subject of the King." If that statement is correct, then if Jacob Persinger sold any land prior to 1765, he was already naturalized. 

Jacob and his wife Catherine sold multiple properties in Virginia prior to the 1765 naturalization.

Here is one example: On 26 April 1762 Jacob Miller sold lot 110 in the town of Woodstock, Frederick County, Virginia, to Jacob Pershinger (Frederick County, Virginia, Deed Book 7, pages 449-452). On 3 October 1763 Jacob and Catherine "Passenger" of Augusta County sold Lot 110 in Frederick County to Peter Opp. (Frederick County, Virginia, Deed Book 9, pages 34-35) Jacob's signature on the deed is shown below:

Signature of Jacob Persinger
Mark of Jacob Persinger, 1763

Current naturalization law makes it difficult to believe that a man who was naturalized upon arrival in this country would be naturalized again. So, we must understand the history of naturalization law. A colonial naturalization only applied to the colony in which it occurred. Jacob and his children were naturalized citizens of Pennsylvania. However, when Jacob Persinger moved to Virginia, he, and his children, were not naturalized citizens of that colony.

In Augusta County, Virginia, Court Order Book 7, page 211, we find the naturalization of Jacob's son Henry Persinger:

Henry Persinger, son of Jacob
Naturalization of Henry Persinger, 10 May 1762.

The record reads "Henry Stone . . . Henry Persinger . . . produced a certificate of their having received the sacrament and took the usual oaths to his Majesty's Person and Government, subscribed the abjuration oath and test which is ordered to be certified in order to their obtaining warrants of Naturalization."

On October 16, 1765 the following oath is recorded:

Robert Brackenridge Virginia
Colonial Virginia Oath of Office

The important information in the above record is transcribed below [punctuation added]:

At a Court continued and held for Augusta County October the 16th 1765 . . .

Robert Brackenridge and Israel Christian, two of the Gentlemen in the Commission of the Peace for this County, took the usual oaths to his Majesty's person and government, subscribed the abjuration oath and test, and then took the oath of a Justice of the Peace and of Justices of the County Court in Chancery.

Robert Brackenridge and Israel Christian were already Justices of the Peace before they took the above oath. They can be seen in the list of Justices of the Peace in Augusta County, June 12, 1765. This list is on pages 66 and 67 of Justices of the Peace of Colonial Virginia, 1757-1775 .

On the next page and same date [16 Oct 1765], we find the entry for Jacob Parsenger:

Jacob Persinger naturalization
Jacob Persinger Oath of Office, 1765

It reads, "Jacob Harper . . . Jacob Parsenger . . . produced a certificate of their having received the Sacrament, took the usual oaths to his Majesty's person and government, subscribed the abjuration oath and test, and then took the oaths of Justices of the Peace and of Justices of the County Court in Chancery."

The only difference between the record of Jacob Persinger and the record of Robert Brackenridge is that Jacob [and the other men in his record] has an additional requirement before taking an oath of office--he must also prove that he has taken the sacrament. It fulfills the requirements for both naturalization and taking office. However, this oath of office is more likely to be for Jacob Persinger's adopted son Jacob because he was being called as a county official, and Jacob Jr. could write his name. His father could not. Jacob Jr., if his age in the 1840 census is close to correct, was about age 21 in 1765. 

Swearing allegiance to the King was later replaced by swearing allegiance to the United States Constitution. The oath of abjuration (and similar religious tests) were soon prohibited by Article VI, clauses two and three, of the United States Constitution which read:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Justices of the Peace and other officers in Virginia in the 21st century take a similar oath of office to the Colonial oaths. However, instead of swearing allegiance to the King of England, they swear to support the Constitutions of the United States and of Virginia. The current oath is, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as (a magistrate), according to the best of my ability (so help me God).”

The right place at the right time

Jacob Persinger was listed in the 1735 census of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and, beginning in 1744, in store records in the portion of Philadelphia County that late became Berks County. These store records are mentioned in Misbach Matthew A. and Misbach, Grant L, The Life of Jacob Persinger: A collection of stories, documents, and other information about the life of Jacob (Godfrey) Persinger and his family, p. 74:

"Richard A Pence has a website where he states the following

Gen. Pence also reported that Jacob Bentz and Valentine Bentz appear on a list of German settlers in Berks, Lebanon, and Lancaster counties who were customers of a Mr. Potts, a merchant of Pottsgrove. The records of these transactions were kept by Christian Lauer and Conrad Weiser, members of the Reformed Church at Tulpehoeken. ‘Based on the foregoing,’ wrote Gen. Pence, ‘it appears that our ancestor Jacob and brother Valentine lived in the vicinity of Tulpehoeken during their stay in Pennsylvania.’ Another customer of Mr. Potts was a Jacob Persinger, probably the same man who became a widower and later married Jacob Pence's widow, Catherine."

The Pence website is then cited:

The above store is said to have been operated by Christian Lauer on the following site where it is noted that "These accounts now form a part of Volume IX of a collection known as Potts papers, now on deposit in the vaults of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania," and the name "Jacob Perfinger" appears on the website:

Jacob Persinger and his son-in-law Michael Kern are associated with the aforementioned Adam Bentz (Pence) and Valentine Bentz (Pence) on multiple records in Augusta County, Virginia. After the death of his first wife, Jacob Persinger married Catherine, the widow of Jacob Pence (brother of Valentine Pence). Jacob Persinger's son-in-law, Michael Kern, is one of the witnesses to the will of Jacob Pence. 

Jacob Bentz, Augusta County Virginia
Witnesses to Will of Jacob Pence

In Augusta County Court Order Book VII, p. 486 is:

Jacob Persinger Catherine Pence

Jacob Persinger, Jacob Pence, and Valentine Pence

The record reads, "Jacob Parsinger and Catharine his wife late Catharine Pence Plaintiff against Peter Millar Executor of Valentine Pence deceased who was Executor of Jacob Pence Defendant."

Jacob Persinger's family in Virginia

Jacob Persinger's life and family are very difficult to document, and there are many online errors. After living in Pennsylvania County in the 1740s, the first record we have found in Virginia is a land survey of 370 acres of land in Frederick County for Jacob Persinger dated 20 April 1753. 

Jacob Persinger land 1753
Jacob Persinger land, 1753

Jacob would have been married to his first wife Mary at that time. Many online family histories state that the name of Jacob's wife (the mother of his children) was Rebecca. There is no document whatsoever that has this name. However, we can determine that her name was Mary by comparing two important lists, and also looking at the naming patterns used by Jacob's children.

In 1756 Jacob's wife Mary and two of her children were captured during an Indian raid and taken to live with the Shawnee Indians. Prisoners taken in Indian Attacks in Augusta County, Virginia, are listed in Lyman Chalkley, Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement of Virginia, Vol 2, pages 510-512.

Some prisoners still in possession of Native Americans in 1764 are listed in Pennsylvania Historical Commission, The Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, Vol. 18. "A list of prisoners among the Shawnee Indians: A list of the prisoners at the Lower Shawana towns" appears on page 250. This list is dated November 1764.

I compared the list of prisoners taken in 1756 to the list of prisoners still remaining in 1764. By 1764 many of the people who were taken prisoner had died or had been returned. I listed below only those for whom I could find matches between the two lists. Both of these come from transcripts, and the spelling of names was almost always different in the two versions. The reference from Chalkley below will be immediately followed by the same family found by Bouquet.


a. list:Prisoners taken 1756 [Source: Chalkley]                      

b. list: Prisoners listed 1764 [Source: Bouquet]  

a1. Mrs. Vanscher (Vause) and 2 daughters, at Ft. Vause              

b1. Susanna Voss

a2. Ivan Medley and 2 daughters, at Ft. Vause                                    

b2. Wm Medley, Betsey Medley

a3. 5 children belonging to Charles Boyl, at Jackson River                

b3. Boyles and brother

a4. Mrs. Bird and 6 children, at Jackson River                                    

b4. Margrett Bard and five children

a5. Mrs. Kinkead and 3 children, at Jackson River                             

b5. Aley Cincade 3 children

a6. Mrs. Parsinger and 2 children, at Jackson River                            

b6. Mary Pringer and two children [i]

a7. 5 Carpenter children, at Jackson River                                          

b7. Solomon Carpenter


[i] Henry Bouquet abbreviated the word “per” with a P followed by a raised R. The surname Persinger may have been written as Prsinger and was transcribed as Pringer. There were no Pringer families living in Augusta County, Virginia, during this time period. Mary and her children were never returned, and by the time she was located Jacob had married the widow Catherine Pence.

When some prisoners were returned to Virginia, Jacob and his wife Catherine adopted one of them and raised him as their son Jacob Persinger. The son Jacob later found a record that led him to believe that his original surname was Godfrey, and he used the birthdate of the Godfrey child as his own.

Further confusion in this family comes from the fact that many researchers have combined two of Jacob's sons, Henry and John, into one man and named him John Henry. Henry married a woman named Grace. I have not yet been able to find out when this marriage occurred, but Henry's Will in dated 25 Nov 1824 in Alleghany County, Virginia. Jacob's son John married (1) Elizabeth Kimberlain 14 Nov 1788 in Botetourt County, Virginia, and (2) Catherine Stull 23 Dec 1803 in Botetourt County. His will was written 3 Apr 1810 in Kanawha County, Virginia.

In addition, most researchers do not have Jacob's daughter Elizabeth listed in his family. There is good reason for this--her marriage to Michael Kern could not be documented. In fact, I had been to Augusta County, the Library of Virginia, and other places looking for this marriage. Jane Cox located it in the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, Montreat, North Carolina.


Naming patterns

Naming patterns can sometimes provide evidence of the names of the parents. The naming patterns are not proof of relationship because people did not all use the same naming pattern. However, often the first two sons are named after the husband and wife's father, and the first two daughters are named after the husband and wife's mother. 

In the case of Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania, we know the names of all of his children and grandchildren because they are listed in the Bechtler Bible. He did not have a son named after his supposed father Henry. 

We have no list of Jacob Persinger's children, and we don't know the order in which they were born. It appears, however, that his two eldest sons were Henry and Christopher. If Henry was the eldest son this is entirely consistent with the fact that Jacob Bertshinger's father was named Heinrich (Henry). We have only been able to determine the names of two of his daughters.

Jacob Persinger's children named one of their first two sons and daughters after their parents Jacob and Mary. The adopted son Jacob did not have one of his first two daughters named Mary.

Religion: the most important evidence

Jane Cox lived in the area of Virginia where Jacob Persinger's family lived. She says the Persinger descendants are adamant that Jacob was from Switzerland because their family belonged to the Reformed church, and not the Lutheran church that the Germans in the area attended.

Jacob Persinger is proven to have remained a member of the Reformed church. The records of the Peaked Mountain church of Rockingham County, Virginia, show that Jacob was an Elder of the church in 1762.

Jacob Persinger Elder of Reformed Church
Jacob Persinger, Elder of Reformed Church

Although the name Barshinger may appear to be a closer spelling to "Bertschinger" than Persinger is, note that the spelling of Jacob's surname in the church record above is Perschinger which is similar to how the clerks spelled his name on his Pennsylvania naturalization oaths (Perdschenger and Pertschinger).

Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania had children baptized in the Lutheran church. For example, his son John Christian Barshinger was baptized by John Casper Stoever in Christ Little Tulpehocken Church which is one of the early Lutheran churches. 

John Christian Barshinger
Baptism of John Christian Perschinger, 1742

Many descendants of Jacob Persinger have assumed that this John Christian Perschinger is the same person as Christopher Persinger, son of Jacob Persinger of Virginia. However, the Bechtel Bible record shown above, and the fact that Christian was baptized in the Lutheran church prove that he is the son of Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylania.

Summary of documents

The evidence points to Jacob Persinger as being the 1735 immigrant, but we have no absolute documentary proof that this is the case. STRs show that Jacob Barshinger and Jacob Persinger are not related. Only Y-DNA SNPs can prove which one is the Jacob Bertschinger baptized in 1715.

Big Y results

As mentioned before, one of the descendants of Jacob Persinger took the Big Y-500 test. The Bertschinger man who lives in Switzerland took the Big Y-700 test.

Here is how Mr. Persinger appeared in the Family Tree DNA's Block Tree in September, 2020:

Persinger Y-DNA
Persinger in Block Tree, September 2020

Mr. Persinger is that long block on the right that says he has 33 private variants. This means that he has 33 mutations that have not been seen in any other man. The chart shows the common ancestor between Mr. Persinger and the men in the block next to him to be about 50 SNP generations ago. They are not related within thousands of years.

Finally: The answer

Mr. Bertschinger's Big Y-700 results have just arrived, and now we know whether Jacob Persinger of Virginia or Jacob Barshinger of Pennsylvania was the Jacob Bertschinger of Zumikon, Switzerland. 

The results were completed January 13, 2021. Here are Mr. Persinger and Mr. Bertschinger as they now appear in the Block Tree:

FTDNA Block Tree
Persinger and Bertschinger in Block Tree

There is now no further question about the identity of Jacob Bertschinger. He was born in 1715 in Zumikon, Switzerland, arrived 1735 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and moved to Virginia where he was known as Jacob Persinger.

Here is how they now appear in the Persinger DNA Project: 

Persinger and Bertschinger Y-DNA
Persinger and Bertschinger share Y-DNA

Mr. Persinger's haplogroup has been further refined from the previous R-BY168384 to R-BY169037, and it matches the haplogroup of Mr. Bertschinger (shown at bottom of the image).

What's next?

We have definitely determined that Jacob Persinger of Virginia was born 1715 in Zumikon. However, his ancestral line is extremely difficult to trace due to the fact that there are many men with the name Hans Heinrich Bertschinger, Hans Bertschinger, and Heinrich Bertschinger in the parish records. The same is the case for his mother Anna Graf. There are multiple guesses as to the lineage of Jacob Bertschinger.

More Y-DNA testing of Bertschingers in Switzerland, with known ancestry, will help determine which Bertschinger line is correct.  

Furthermore, we cannot determine the relationship between Mr. Persinger and Mr. Bertschinger because they took different versions of the Big Y test. 

Mr. Bertschinger took the more recent Big Y-700 which tests many more Y-chromosome locations than the Big Y-500 did. For example, Mr. Bertschinger has 10 private mutations. At least half of these may be due to the fact that many of these locations were not read in the Big Y-500 test of Mr. Persinger. All we know right now is that the two men are related, but they probably more closely related than the Big Y results suggest. 

The test results should show us how closely Mr. Persinger is related to Mr. Bertschinger. What we want to know is how closely Jacob Persinger is related to the common ancestor of Mr. Persinger and Mr. Bertschinger. 

Mr. Persinger is a descendant of Jacob's son Henry. The best use of money would be to find at least one descendant of Jacob Persinger from another one of his sons and upgrade his test to the Big Y.  This would give us the Y-DNA profile of Jacob Persinger and tell us how closely Jacob is related to the common Persinger-Bertschinger ancestor.


The search never ends, but Y-DNA testing has now told us where to look. Thank you to all the men who took the Y-DNA test. Please consider upgrading to Big Y. Also, thank you to all those who helped with this research, and will continue to do so. To Jane Cox: You're the best!

This story, more than most, really helps me to appreciate the struggles out ancestors endured. Jacob Bertschinger was from a poor family in Switzerland (documented by Hans Ulrich Pfister). He lost both parents at a young age and was an orphan at age six. He later decided to emigrate to America, but had to get help from others along the way. His journey was horrendous. 

After arriving in America Jacob lost his wife and two of his children to an Indian attack and never saw them again. We don't know what Mary's life was like after that. Jacob then lost at least one son in the French and Indian War. Thank you Jacob for enduring it all, for without you I would not exist.

May we all continue to find the stories of our ancestors and leave these stories for future generations.



To see another great Colonial American immigrant story solved with Y-DNA, see The Amazing Power of Y-DNA


Links to Family Tree DNA appear in the sidebar. I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase, but clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Getting the most from Y-DNA

This post is a great example of how to get the most from your Y-DNA. In this case we will not only prove a Y-DNA relationship, but also pinpoint the exact location in Ireland where a man's ancestors lived. I will explain the different types of Y-DNA tests, how to do your own evaluations of the results, and give a list of further suggestions on how to get the most from your results and what to do next. This will be a long post.

Can we find immigrant origins when there may be no records?

My father is very proud of his Irish heritage, but he wants to know more. From family tradition he knows that his ancestor, William Gibbs, emigrated to Canada from Ireland. That's the only information that he knew about his Irish origins. Can we find out more?

What we know from Canadian records

William Gibbs is first listed in the 1851 census of Sheffield, Addington County, Ontario. His wife was Mary Coulter, and he is listed in the census next to her parents. The census states that William, his wife, and daughter Mary were all born in Ireland.

1851 Census of Canada
Gibbs family in 1841 census of Sheffield, Ontario, Canada

William is listed in the 1861 census of Sheffield, but this time the census states that all of his children, including his first daughter, were born in Canada. 

1861 census Ontario, Canada
Gibbs family in the 1861 census of Sheffield, Ontario, Canada

Other censuses, and the death record of the daughter Mary, confirm that all children were born in Ontario.

It appears that William may have come to Canada around the time of The Great Famine. There is no passenger list to tell us exactly when he arrived. No record has been found that contains a date of birth or the names of his parents. Luckily, however, his death record [Number 18 in the image below] states that he was born in County Monaghan, Ireland. 

Death record Ontario Canada
Death of William Gibbs 15 Jun 1882 in Sheffield, Ontario, Canada

So here's all we know from Canadian records about William's origins: William Gibbs was born around 1826 in County Monaghan, Ireland, and was in Canada by 1851.

Searching records in Ireland

First, as you may know, there is a scarcity of Irish records. In many cases we are stuck with just knowing that our ancestor came from Ireland. But that didn't deter me! After seeing that William was born in County Monaghan I immediately began searching through the records that remain. One of the most useful records for the time when William would have been living in Ireland are the Tithe Applotments. These records were taken between 1823-1837 and can be used as a census substitute. In the entire County of Monaghan, there was not a single Gibbs family. I could not find the family in other surviving records, so I eventually gave up.

An unexpected message

I came to stay with my parents in 2019 to help take care of my mother. She died Christmas morning. I was helping my father when the Coronavirus quarantine was announced, so then I stayed. In March of this year he was talking about his family and said, "About 10 years ago, a man named Jebb contacted me from Ireland and said he thought we might be related." I asked, "What made him think that?"  He replied, "DNA."  I asked if he still had the email, and he said he didn't, but he thought that he could find the man's email address. A few minutes later I was sending an email to a man in Ireland using an old email address and hoping that he still used it. The next day Mr. Jebb replied. He lives in Ireland, and his ancestors were from the townland of Billis, County Monaghan, Ireland.

Jebb DNA

Mr. Jebb informed me that many years ago he had done a Y-DNA test with [Ancestry no longer conducts Y-DNA tests]. Other Jebb men had tested at the same company, and some of them were matches. He said he was also a distant match to Gibbs. He was the only Jebb had also taken a 25-marker Y-DNA test with Family Tree DNA, but he did not have any Jebb or Gibbs matches in the FTDNA database. At the time these men were tested, most companies had only one kind of test available for Y-DNA. This was the STR test.

What is an STR test?

"STR" stands for Short Tandem Repeat. A Short Tandem Repeat means that a short series of bases (nucleotides) is repeated side-by-side several times, something like a hiccup.

Here's an STR example: AGATAGATAGATAGATAGATAGATAGATAGAT. In this example, the sequence "AGAT" is repeated eight times. There are many known locations on the Y-chromosome where these Short Tandem Repeats occur. Each of these locations is identified by a marker. 

Each marker is given a name such as DYS393. This abbreviation stands for DNA Y-chromosome Segment 393. At this marker the number of repeats is counted and reported. So, for example, in a 12-marker test the testing company will examine 12 named locations on the Y-chromosome and report the number of repeats at each location.

Old Y-DNA tests

After hearing that Jebb had tested at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) I was in quite a quandary. My father had not taken Y-DNA tests with either or with FTDNA. However, he had taken two Y-DNA tests. In 2006 my father had taken a 12-marker Y-DNA test from National Geographic's Genographic Project. I had transferred the results to Family Tree DNA. He had also taken a 43-marker Y-DNA test from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF). Although SMGF did not display the results, they did publish their database online. As a person guessed at each marker correctly it would show up in the results. I did exactly that, until all results were showing, and then transferred the SMGF results to and to SMGF tested 43 markers, but one of these markers was not tested by Family Tree DNA, so only 42 markers are recorded in the YSearch record.

You would think I'd be safe with the DNA in that many databases. But, unfortunately, all but one of them is now gone. purchased SMGF in 2010, and removed the SMGF online database. Ancestry then discontinued Y-DNA testing and removed its own Y-DNA database. Family Tree DNA removed the YSearch database. This one was the most devastating because I had tested the Y-DNA of hundreds of men. The Y-DNA test of every man from any company had been entered into YSearch, and all were now gone. Most recently, the Genographic Project has been discontinued, and its database has been taken down.

So what did I have left? I had the 12-marker Genographic Project results that had been transferred to Family Tree DNA, and one more thing--I had taken a screenshot of the Gibbs YSearch results. 

YSearch record
Gibbs 42-marker STR results recorded at

I could compare the Jebb Y-DNA results at Family Tree DNA with the Gibbs 12-marker results that had been transferred there. I immediately looked to see if Jebb was on the Gibbs list of 12-marker Y-DNA matches at Family Tree DNA. He wasn't. Right off the bat, Family Tree DNA is indicating that these two men are not related. If they aren't showing up as matches at only 12 markers, this is not a good sign. But, I still had my YSearch screenshot, and Mr. Jebb allowed me access to his 25-marker Y-DNA results:

25-marker STRs
Jebb 25-marker STR results

By comparing the two we can see how many differences there are. There is already a difference at the second marker, DYS390, where Gibbs has 24, and Jebb has 23. The second difference is at DYS385b where Gibbs has 16, and Jebb has 15. So these two men have two differences in the first 12 markers. A third difference is at DYS447 where Gibbs has 26 and Jebb has 25. This is definitely not looking promising.

But Mr. Jebb also informed me that he had compiled a database of his Ancestry Y-DNA results comparing them to the results of any possible matches. He sent me the list, and I carefully compared them. In addition to his own results there were three matches named Jebb on his list, and my father's Y-DNA results matched all of the men more closely than his results matched Mr. Jebb's. For example, all three of the Jebb matches had a 24 at DYS390. So there was a chance!

I wrote back to Mr. Jebb and told him that our best shot of solving this was to upgrade both the Jebb and Gibbs Y-DNA tests. I said that it was possible that no matter how many STRs we ordered, these two men might still not show up as matches, but if they were really related a Big Y test would prove it. 

The most recent version of the Big Y test is called Big Y-700. This test will prove the Jebb-Gibbs relationship because not only does it include more than 700 STRs, it includes the very important SNPs. In addition, the Big Y-700 includes a separate test of the first 111 basic STRs.

What is a SNP?

SNP (pronounced "snip") stands for Single Nucleotide Polymorphism. It occurs when a single base (nucleotide) mutates. In the image below the ancestral nucleotide A has mutated to a T in Man 1. [See the fifth letter from the left.]  

Single nucleotide polymorphism and short tandem repeat
SNPs and STRs (Image by Mark Jobling)

The main difference between SNPs and STRs is their stability.

STRs can mutate back and forth. For example, in the image above we don't know which of the repeat values came first. Man 1 has CTA repeated 5 times, but CTA is repeated 6 times in Man 2's results and 7 times in Man 3's results. Which is the ancestral value--was it first a 5 that changed to a 6 in Man 2 and then a 7 in Man 3? Or was it first a 6 that mutated down to a 5 in Man 1 and up to a 7 in Man 3? Or was it first a 7 that mutated down in Men 1 and 2? There is no way to tell. 

Furthermore, these not the only three options--STRs can mutate up in one generation and back down in another generation making two men look more closely related than they really are.

SNPs, on the other hand, are generally one-time events. When a SNP occurs it is passed down to all future generations. Some SNPs are proven to have occurred thousands of years ago. Others occurred in recent times. 

When a new SNP is found through Y-DNA testing it is given a name and placed on the human Y-DNA tree (called the haplotree). The name of this SNP can become the name of a new haplogroup. A haplogroup is simply a group of men who share a SNP. SNP testing is progressing so rapidly that SNPs occurring in the genealogical time period are being now placed onto the Y-DNA haplotree.

The Big Y test is ordered

The day after I suggested upgrading to Mr. Jebb, I received a reply stating that he had ordered the Big Y on March 7.  

I normally wait until the Big Y is on sale to upgrade, but I thought that if I ordered the test right at that time, the 111 STRs might be completed by Father's Day. That would be the best Father's Day present ever if I could show my dad that he was very likely related to Mr. Jebb. So I immediately ordered the Big Y test.

Back to the records

I spent the next few months working almost non-stop reading any records relating to the Jebb family. In case the Y-DNA results showed that these men were really related, I wanted to find the possible Gibbs ancestor (which seemed impossible). I read every Jebb deed, went through surviving church records, etc. For example, although there were no Gibbs families in the Tithe Applotments for County Monaghan there were Jebb families there. The Tithe Applotments can be searched at The National Archives of Ireland where we see that there were fourteen Jebb families listed:

Title Applotment index
Index to Tithe Applotments at The National Archives of Ireland

I wanted to trace all of the Jebb emigrants to see which ones ended up in Canada. I also wanted to find descendants of multiple Jebb lines for possible future Y-DNA tests. This was much more work than I had ever imagined because multiple Jebb descendants had left County Monaghan and emigrated to Scotland, England, India, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Many of them had migrated through multiple countries. I was going through the records in all of these countries compiling lists of Jebb families.

I eliminated many Jebb men as the possible ancestors of William Gibbs, and narrowed it down to just a few. One of them is the best candidate, but since there is no baptismal or other record for William Gibbs the proof can only be provided with Y-DNA.

Y-STR Results

The 111 STR results came in on June 10. Father's Day was June 21, so I had a few days to prepare the presentation of records and to show my father the most exciting news--the DNA results. At 111 markers Mr. Jebb was my father's only match:

STR matches
STR match list

In the Genetic Distance Column you see the number 5. This means that there were five differences between the two men in the 111 markers. We know that two of them occurred within the first 12 markers, and that would normally indicate that these two men are not related.

The 111 STRs indicate that these men probably are related, and if so, the SNPs will prove it.

Big Y results

Mr. Jebb's Big Y results came in first. I checked every day to see my father's results, but they did not show. I called Family Tree DNA, and they said that his test had failed and had to be redone. Mr. Jebb had no matches yet. 

The Big Y testing is done in two stages, the first part is automated, and the second stage involves a manual review of the results to more accurately identify the SNPs, name them, and place them on the haplotree. 

At the end of the automated process, you will see results that may be later modified by the manual review. Family Tree DNA will place each person on a tree called the Block Tree which is a tree showing where that man belongs in the tree of mankind from the earliest ancestors down to the most recent ones. 

After logging into the Family Tree DNA account, there is a Big Y section for those who have taken the test.  Click "Block Tree" to see your placement on the tree.

Big Y options
Big Y menu: Click Block Tree

When you first click on the Block tree, you will see this welcome message with an explanation of the tree:

Big Y Block Tree
Block Tree Welcome message

Click "Show me around" to see how to navigate the tree, then see the tree itself. 

For people who have not taken the Big Y test, the public Block Tree can be accessed by going to the Family Tree DNA website. Then go to the bottom of the page and click "Y-DNA Haplotree." You can then search for any position on the tree. 

Public Y-DNA haplotree
Family Tree DNA Y-DNA Haplotree

Jebb's position on the Block Tree

Mr. Jebb appeared on the Big Y Block Tree in a branch called R-BY50723:

Big Y Block Tree
Branch R-BY50723 in Block Tree

At the top of the above screenshot is a white block [your own branch of the Block Tree is always shown in white] containing 26 SNPs with names like BY50723, BY137843, etc. They are grouped together because the order in which these occurred is not yet known. 

When a new Big Y tester has some of these SNPs, but not others, the ones that are shared by the new tester will then be known to have occurred in earlier generations than the SNPs that are not shared. As more people test, it is possible for many of these SNPs to be placed in generational order on the tree. The SNPs beginning with the letters BY were discovered with earlier Big Y tests, and the ones beginning with the letters FT were discovered with the more recent Big Y-700 test (which is the test Jebb and Gibbs took).

I looked at Mr. Jebb's results, and he did not have some of the SNPs in the R-BY50723 branch, but his results alone were not enough to determine exactly where he belonged in the branch. R-BY50723 is considered for now to be his "terminal" haplogroup, however this "terminal" haplogroup can change multiple times as more closely-related men take the Big Y test and provide a more precise placement on the tree. 

In the branches below R-BY50723 there is only one SNP whose exact position in the haplotree is now known; it is SNP BY152878, and it has formed a new haplogroup called R-BY152878. 

Here is the bottom of the above screen showing that Mr. Jebb is sharing branch R-BY50723 with one person from England.

Matches in Big Y Block Tree
Y-DNA matches in Big Y Block Tree

You will notice in Mr. Jebb's branch that it says there is an average of 16 private variants between the two men in that branch. Even though these two men are on the same branch of the haplotree, they are not considered to be a match because matches at FTDNA only include people who have no more than 30 total SNP differences which include private variants and named SNPs.

What are private variants?

In the Family Tree DNA Learning Center, FTDNA provides an explanation:

On the Big Y Block Tree, you will see blocks labeled Private Variants. Private Variants are one of the following;

    • mutations that are not named nor are shared between any branch members.
    • mutations that have not yet been validated and placed on the Haplotree.

It is important to note that Private Variants are filtered to only include SNP calls from regions of the Y chromosome that can be reliably mapped with NGS technology. For this reason, the block tree number might be lower than what you see in your personal Big Y Private Variants list.

Family Tree DNA used to list "Private Variants" as "Unnamed Variants" [See the "Examining variants with the Chromosome Browser" section of The Big Y could be the best DNA test ever!], but now most of them are named even though the official names do not appear on the list of private variants. Instead, private variants are listed by their position number on the Y chromosome. 

As previously stated, the Block Tree indicates that there is an average of 16 private variants between the two men in haplogroup R-BY50723. We want to see the actual list of private variants for Mr. Jebb.

List of Private Variants

The private variants can be seen by clicking either the Matches link or the Results link in the Big Y section of the home page.

Big Y options

You will then see a tab for Private Variants.

Big Y private variants
Private Variants tab

I checked Mr. Jebb's Big Y results, and he had 22 private variants. The private variants are ones that were not seen in other men. They are listed below in three screens:

Private Variants
Jebb Private Variants 1-10

private variants
Jebb Private Variants 11-20

private variants
Jebb Private Variants 21-22

With 22 private variants, Mr Jebb is remotely related to the other men on the Block Tree and is definitely not related to any of them within the genealogical time period.

Gibbs Big Y

The Gibbs Big Y results were not finished until September, but they were worth the wait. As suspected, he had one match:

FTDNA  Y-DNA matches
Big Y match list

In the above screen you can see the name of the match [I have erased his given name], an envelope for sending an email to the person, an icon for comments, the list of non-matching variants, the number of shared variants, and the date the match was discovered. We will examine some of these later. 

In addition to accessing the Block Tree from your home page, you can click on the Blue link at the top of the above screen to "View Big Y Block Tree" and see your placement on the tree. 

The Block Tree now looks quite different from the way it appeared before the Gibbs Big Y results were completed:

FTDNA haplotree
Big Y Block Tree with new match

The Jebb-Gibbs branch of the tree is the white block on the right. The original R-BY50723 block of 26 SNPs (which was previously shown in white because it was considered to be Mr. Jebb's block) has been now been broken into two blocks called R-BY50725 (9 SNPs) and R-BY50723 (17 SNPs). This is because Jebb and Gibbs both had the SNPs BY50725, BY50788, BY50811, BY50831, BY50848, BY73197, FT123034, FT123036, and FT94586, but they did not have the rest of the SNPs in block R-BY50723 which all of the other men have. 

The SNPs in each block are listed in alphanumeric order because the order in which they occured is not yet known. What is now known, however, is that all of the SNPs in block R-BY50725 occurred before the ones in block R-BY50723. Jebbs and Gibbs are now on their own new branch of the tree which is called R-FT368124.

Jebb and Gibbs common ancestors

Jebb and Gibbs share 20 SNPs in the block R-FT368124 that have not been seen before. All of these SNPs represent an ancestor, but since a SNP did not occur at the birth of every male ancestor, these SNPs represent at least 20 generations of common ancestors. In the left column of the Block Tree, you can see that Family Tree DNA estimates that their branch of the tree was formed about 33 SNP generations ago. If we use an average of 80-100 years per SNP generation, this branch is about 2640-3300 years old. 

Block Tree
Estimated SNP Generations

At the bottom of the branch is where we see the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of Jebb and Gibbs. The most recent common ancestor is when the two branches of Jebb and Gibbs separated. These two men have an average of 3 private variants since that time:

FTDNA private variants
Private Variants on Block Tree

You will notice that in the Family Tree DNA Block Tree the placement of more recent generations is far less reliable. FTDNA seems to be placing the most recent common Jebb-Gibbs ancestor at about 13 SNP generations ago, but as you can see there is a wide variation of private and shared SNPs at the bottom of the tree. 

Unless we have genealogical evidence of the most recent common ancestor, we can only broadly estimate the time to this ancestor by examining the private SNPs. This is because in some families Y-DNA mutates more than others, there may be uncertainty about the validity of some of the private variants, etc. The date estimation becomes more accurate as more men take the Big Y test.

To find out more about the most recent common ancestor, we will need to examine the private variants that are not shared between the two men. This is the only part of the Big Y that may require work. Before we look at the private variants, I will provide an explanation on how variants are identified.

How are variants identified?

Now we get to the difficult part. How do we know if a private variant or SNP is valid?  How do we know whether we have more or fewer variants than FTDNA identified?  

We must first understand how variants are determined. During the testing process, your DNA is not read in one continuous stretch. Instead, your DNA is broken into random fragments. The test reads these fragments from each end. These are called the forward read and the reverse read. Some positions are read many more times than others. Some locations on the Y-chromosome can be read in one person's test and not in other. After being read, the fragments are aligned to the reference sequence, and differences from the reference sequence are identified. The difference from the reference value is your "derived" value. 

Unfortunately, not all of the reads may give the same result. One read may show the reference allele (for example a C) and another read may show a derived value (for example a G). 

To be considered a high quality SNP by Family Tree DNA the position must usually be read at least ten times. The number of differing calls is then taken into account. A position that was read a few times with different results will be considered to be a much less reliable variant than one that was read many times with a consistent result.

We will see how this works when we examine the Chromosome Browser in the next section.

Evaluating private mutations: Gibbs

One of the most interesting parts of the Big Y test is the list of private mutations. These are mutations that are not shared between the two men which means that the mutations should have occurred after the time of the most recent common ancestor. As more and more men test their Y-DNA some of the private variants can eventually be identified with a specific ancestor.

If you go to the Big Y results, then to the Private variants tab, you will see a list of the mutations that were only seen in this test. Below, Mr. Gibbs has five private variants.

Big Y private variants
Gibbs Private Variants

Click on any variant to see it displayed in the Y-Chromosome Browsing Tool (I refer to this tool as the Chromosome Browser). Here we are clicking on private variant 21234315.

In the Chromosome Browser you will see the various fragments being read during the test. 

FTDNA chromosome browser
Family Tree DNA Big Y Chromosome Browser

In the above screen we are looking at the Gibbs private variant 21234315. The arrow at the top of the scan points to this position. It shows that the reference sequence had a G in this position, and then shows the various reads for the Gibbs test. 
The fragments being read in the forward direction are indicated in blue; the ones read in the reverse direction are shown in green. You can see where each scan started and stopped by scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

Notice on the third line that one of the reads showed a G in this position, but all of the rest showed an A. With 22 total reads, 21 showing A and only one showing G, this is considered to be a reliable private variant.

Although we know that private variants are named by Family Tree DNA, the name given to this position is not shown in the Chromosome Browser. However, we can find out the name given to this variant by going to

YBrowse display
Position 21234315 at

Position 21234315 has been identified as a SNP and has been given the name FT381499.

The names given to private variants will be important when we examine the variants of Jebb. 

Examining private variants: Jebb

When we look at Mr. Jebb's Big Y results, and go to the Private Variants tab we see that he has only one private variant:

FTDNA private varants
Big Y Private Variants

Jebb and Gibbs share a common ancestor. After the time of the common Jebb/Gibbs ancestor, why did five mutations occur in the Gibbs descendants, and only one in the Jebb descendants? It is known that mutations can occur for a variety of reasons including the age of the father (older fathers tend to pass down more mutations than younger ones), environmental factors, etc. Was there a particular reason that the Gibbs line that left Ireland had more mutations than the Jebb line that remained, or did Mr. Jebb have some mutations that were not called by FTDNA? Were there some positions that were read in the Gibbs test but not in the Jebb test?

Unfortunately, FTDNA does not give us the tools to resolve any questionable variants that might have appeared in Mr. Jebb's test results. 

Jebb's initial list of unnamed variants vs. final list

When Mr. Jebb's test was originally completed he had 22 private variants. After the results of Mr. Gibbs were completed and compared, the two men had 20 shared variants, and Jebb had only one private variant left. What happened to the missing variant?

We cannot use the Private Variants tab to answer this question because most of these are no longer private variants, and the Chromosome Browser does not show us the name given to any private variants. We must go to the Named Variants tab.

Big Y Named Variants
Big Y Named Variants

I entered into the SNP search box the name of each SNP on the Block Tree that was only shared by Gibbs and Jebb. For each SNP click on the SNP name to see it in the Chromosome Browser.

Big Y Chromosome Browser
Big Y Chromosome Browser

The Chromosome Browser for Named Variants provides the SNP name and the position number. We now know that SNP FT381739 is at position 11105011 and was originally the unnamed variant of that name. I went through all of the named variants and found that one of the previous unnamed variants did not appear. It is position 23825361.

You cannot use the FTDNA Chromosome Browser to for look this position. We cannot search for it in the Named Variants because we do not know the name (if any) given to it. We also cannot view it using the Private Variants section because this position now shows "Currently no results":

FTDNA search for variants
Search for Private Variant shows no results

What happened to this variant that was previously on Jebb's list of Private Variants? Again, we can search for any position using YBrowse:

Unnamed Y-chromosome position in YBrowse

This position was not given a name.

At FTDNA you can only examine the private variants that appear on your list. So there is no way at FTDNA to see why that position was not named.

In both Jebb and Gibbs, if I search for position 23825361 I see the message "Currently no results."  I cannot see this position in the Chromosome Browser, so there is no way at FTDNA to see if this position was read at all in either test or why this position was not named as a SNP or was not on Jebb's list of private variants.

There is only one way to find out about this variant, and that is to examine either the VCF file or, even better, the BAM file that are available for download. 

VCF and BAM data files

First, let's acknowledge that few people have expertise, or even interest, in examining raw data files. But you don't have to do any analysis yourself. There are others who will do it for you. We will see some of those options below. 

From either the Big Y Results section or the Big Y Matches section you will see links to Download VCF or Buy Raw Data (the BAM file). The VCF file is a filtered data file that can be quite useful, but the BAM file is the one that is needed to identify all possible private variants.

Big Y Raw Data
Download Raw Data

Downloading the VCF file is free. Unfortunately, the BAM file is under "Buy Raw Data" and FTDNA is now charging $100 to download this file. 

Here's some positive news about the $100 fee: At the time this fee was imposed FTDNA reduced the price of the Big Y by the same amount, so you might consider that you are now paying for the Big Y in two stages.

Once you download either the VCF or BAM, let's see options for evaluating them.

Transfer the results to YFull

Transferring your results to is, by far, your best option. Yfull will accept either the VCF or BAM file. If you choose to submit the VCF file, you can later submit the BAM file at no additional charge. Even without the BAM file, the VCF file can be very useful, and you will still find out much more about your Y-DNA and be able to use YFull tools with this file. 

For much more about the many benefits of YFull and how to use them see the following two blog posts:

The Gibbs VCF file has been transferred to YFull, so even though Jebb's file is not there yet, we can still find out more about Jebb's missing private variant.

YFull uses a different name for "Private Variants." They are called "Novel SNPs." YFull will separate Novel SNPs from a VCF file into three categories:

YFull private variants
YFull Novel SNPs identified from VCF file

YFull separates Novel SNPs from BAM files into five categories. For example, in the image below, these "One reading" variants could only be determined from a BAM file. After examining the BAM file YFull will show more variants than Family Tree DNA does.

YFull novel SNPs
YFull Novel SNPs identified from BAM file

One of the advantages of YFull is that you can search for any variant in your file. Click Browse Raw Data in the YFull menu:

YFull menu
Browse Raw Data

Although I could not find out why Jebb's private variant 23825361 is no longer on his list and could not see this position in the Chromosome Browser for Gibbs at FTDNA, I can see this position in the Gibbs file at YFull.

YFull raw data
Browse Raw Data at YFull

In the above image you can see that at position 23825361 the Reference sample has a C (Reference allele). This position was read 129 times in the Big Y test for Gibbs. In the Position Data row, it shows that the Gibbs results had a read of "T" 66 times at this position, and had a read of "C" 63 times. The reads at this position are unreliable, so during the manual review Family Tree removed 23825361 from Jebb's list of private variants.

Summary of Jebb and Gibbs Big Y results

Here's what we now know for certain. The Canadian immigrant William Gibbs and the Jebbs family of Billis, County Monaghan, share a common ancestor.

What we haven't proven yet is the name of the common ancestor. We can find out much more testing other Jebb descendants and by examining the shared and private variants of these men. So what are the next steps for Jebb and Gibbs? In the next section I will provide a list of suggestions for all Y-DNA testers no matter what level of Y-DNA testing you have ordered. 

What to do after getting your Y-DNA results

There is always more to learn from our DNA. It's the gift that keeps giving. We must let others know about our discoveries and preserve this information for future generations. Getting the results is just the beginning! Although there are many more things we can do beyond what is listed below, here is a list of what I consider to be essential actions if you tested Y-DNA at Family Tree DNA. The list may vary if you tested at another company.

If you want to make great matches with Y-DNA follow all of the steps below.

At Family Tree DNA:

1. If you already have a FTDNA account, click Add ons & Upgrades at the top of the screen. If you have not ordered a Y-DNA test, you will click the Add ons tab. If you want to upgrade your STR test click the Upgrades tab.

FTDNA test upgrade
Add Ons and Upgrades

2.  Add information about your earliest known paternal ancestor. Hover the mouse over your name, then click Account Settings.

mtDNA account settings
FTDNA Account Settings
From the Account Settings page, click Genealogy, then Earliest Known Ancestors. 

Paternal ancestor at YFull
Provide name, date, and place for earliest known paternal ancestor

Enter the name of your earliest-known direct paternal ancestor. Even though the field says to enter birth and death dates, it is much better to enter a year of birth and the approximate birth location. This is what will appear on match lists and in FTDNA projects. 

Enter a precise location using the location field below the ancestor's name. This is location that will appear in the Matches Maps section of your Y-STR results.

3. Review your Privacy Settings. Click the Privacy & Sharing tab. Review all privacy settings, and make sure you have opted into matching.

Update FTDNa account settings
Verify FTDNA account settings

Select your Y-DNA match level. In most cases you will want to select All Levels.

match settings
Select Y-DNA match level at FTDNA

4. Add a family tree to your account. Family trees at FTDNA are great for obtaining basic ancestral information, but the trees do not include sources. So, in addition to adding a family tree to their FTDNA account, some people put links to other online trees in the "About Me" section of their profile. To do this, go to Account Settings>Account Information>My Personal Story. 

Many people may not look at your profile, so be sure to add a family tree to your FTDNA account. You can even link DNA matches to your family tree.

Click myTREE at the top of your home screen.

View Family Tree at FTDNA
View your family tree at FTDNA
You will then be given the opportunity to create your tree.

add family tree to FTDNA account
Create your family tree at FTDNA

You can simply create a tree that contains only your paternal line. This is not your best option, however, because you will want a more complete family tree for Family Finder results, mtDNA tests, and any other tests that may be offered in the future. 

If you already have a family tree, click UPLOAD GEDCOM. You can create a GEDCOM file from your genealogy software program or from many online family trees.

For example, you can download your family tree from and upload it as a GEDCOM to your Family Tree DNA account. To download your tree from Ancestry, log into your account. Click the name of your tree, then click Tree Settings.

Tree Settings at tree settings

Find the "Manage your tree" section on the right of the next screen, then click Export tree.

Export Ancestry family tree
Export family tree as GEDCOM file
Ancestry will send you an email verifying that you are the account owner, then you will be able to download the GEDCOM and upload it to your Family Tree DNA account. 

5. Join a FTDNA surname project. Go to myPROJECTS at the top of your FTDNA home page, then click Join A Project.

FTDNA projects
Join a Project

Go to the Surname Projects section then click the first letter of your surname.

Join surname project
Surname Projects at FTDNA

There was not a Jebb surname project, but there was a Gibbs project.  The project administrator has now added Jebb and Jebbs to the list of surnames for the project, and now both men appear together where we can compare the 111 STRs.

FTDNA surname project
STR results in Gibbs Surname Project

6. Join a FTDNA haplogroup project for your Y-DNA haplogroup. One of the most important reasons for joining a haplogroup project is to extend your paternal line by finding men who are slightly more related to you than your closest surname matches.

First, find your haplogroup. If you have only tested STRs you will be assigned to an ancient haplogroup. One of the most common is R-M269. You can find your haplogroup on the left side of the screen in the Badges section.

FTDNA badge
Haplogroup Badge

You can also find your haplogroup in the Y-DNA section of your home page.

FTDNA haplogroup
Haplogroup recorded in Y-DNA section of FTDNA account

At the top of your FTDNA home page, click myPROJECTS, then Join A Project. (You can also find this option on the left side of your home page.)

FTDNA projects
Join a Project

Find the Y-DNA Haplogroup Projects, then click the first letter of your Y-DNA haplogroup.

join haplogroup project
Y-DNA haplogroup projects at FTDNA

The Y-DNA haplogroup list can be confusing because some projects were formed when Family Tree DNA used an earlier system of naming haplogroups. For example, there is no haplogroup project named R-M269.

Block Tree haplogroups
Haplogroups listed at top of Big Y Block Tree

The haplogroup project for R-M269 is called "R _R1b ALL Subclades":

R1b Haplogroup Project
R1b haplogroup project at FTDNA

If you have taken the Big Y test, there is likely not a haplogroup project for your specific terminal haplogroup which may only include a few people. However, your terminal haplogroup is a subclade of haplogroups formed earlier, and you can join a project for one or more of those haplogroups. You can find a list of your haplogroup lineage, from ancient to modern, at the top of your Big Y Block Tree.

FTDNA haplogroups
Y-DNA haplogroups listed at top of Big Y Block Tree

Again, go to Join A Project, and in the Y-DNA Haplogroup Projects click the name of the project you wish to join. For example, Haplogroup R-FT368124 assigned to Jebb and Gibbs is a subclade of R-U106, so they should both join that project.

FTDNA haplogroup projects
Join haplogroup project

On the next page click Join. Repeat this process to join multiple haplogroup projects. You can join as many upstream projects as you wish.

7. Update your Group Project Administrator Access. As you have done before, click on Account Settings, but this time click Project Preferences. Click the pencil icon next to the name of your project. In most cases, it is recommended to give all project administrators limited access.

FTDNA group administrator
Group Project Administrator Access

8. Download your Y-STR results. You will use this file to upload to mitoYDNA and, for Big Y tests, to update your results at YFull [both described below]. Go to the Y-DNA section of your FTDNA home page, and click Y-STR Results.

Click on Y-STR Results

Scroll to the bottom of the results and click Download CSV. 

Download CSV
Download CSV file of STRs from FTDNA

At MitoYDNA:

MitoYDNA replaces the databases YSearch and Mitosearch that had been created by Family Tree DNA but are now removed. MitoYDNA was created by private citizens, and not by a company, so its database should remain. You will use this database to compare and preserve your Y-STR results. 

Go to and register. Log into our account, and click Kits at the top of the screen.

submit to mitoYDNA
Create new Y-DNA kit

Click Create a new kit, then fill out the information on the next page. At the bottom of the screen click "Choose File" to upload the CSV file that you downloaded from Family Tree DNA. 

mitoYDNA upload
Choose CSV file

You also have the option to click "Manually Entered" to individually enter your mutations. Once you have created your file you may want to take a screen shot of it and upload it to your ancestor's profile in your online family trees.

If you have taken a Big Y test

At Family Tree DNA:

9. Go to your Big Y results, and download your VCF file. You can use this to submit to YFull and the Y-DNA Data Warehouse (see below). This is a different file from the CSV file of STRs that you previously downloaded.

Big Y download
Download VCF File  from FTDNA

10. I strongly recommend that you also click Buy Raw Data and preserve your BAM file.

At YFull:

1. Go to and place your order.

Y-DNA analysis
Order Y-DNA analysis at YFull

Notice in the above image that uploading the VCF file does not include STR matching. I will show you how to get around this issue.

Fill out the order information, and load your VCF file on the next screen.

YFull analysis
Upload VCF file to YFull

Once you have uploaded Y-DNA results, you can add mtDNA results at no additional charge. Log into your YFull account, and in the menu on the left click Upload mtDNA. 

YFull mtDNA
Upload mtDNA to your YFull account

Then upload a FASTA file of your mtDNA results.

You can also upload your BAM file of Big Y results at no additional charge.

2. Enter information about your most distant known paternal ancestor. Click Settings at the upper right of your Home page.

Account settings at YFull
Update account settings

Click Most Distant Ancestor.

YFull settings
Enter Most Distant Ancestor and Place of Origin

Enter your ancestor's name along with the approximate year and place where he was born. Be as specific as you can. Again, in the screenshot below, the example below the ancestor field shows the name John Johnson with dates of birth and death. This is not very helpful. We need a name, date, and PLACE. 

YFull ancestor
YFull: Most Distant Ancestor

Next, click Country of Origin. Enter not only the country but also the region, if known. 

Origins at YFul
Add Country and Region of Paternal Origin

3. After your results are ready, upload your CSV file of STRs to your YFull account. YFull can extract STRs from your BAM file, but they cannot extract them from the VCF file. 

VCF file STRs
STR matches at YFull

Please note, however, the neither the BAM nor the VCF contains the complete list of 111 STRs that can only be obtained from the CSV file. To submit your CSV file of STRs, go to the STRs section of the YFull menu, and click Upload STRs.

Upload STRs to YFull
Upload CSV file of STRs

You will now be able to compare all STRs (not just the first 111) in YFull groups.  

4. Join a group if one exists for your haplogroup. YFull "groups" are similar to FTDNA "projects".

In the menu on the left, scroll down to Groups Y.

YFull projects
Y-DNA Groups at YFull

On the next page click the name of the group you wish to join, then click Join request.

YFull groups
Submit Join Request

If there is no Y-DNA group for your haplogroup or for your surname you can easily start one yourself. Send a message to YFull stating something like, "I would like to start a Y-DNA group for the surname Jebb." Your new group will be quickly formed. You will periodically receive an email when a new person wants to join your group. All results within the group are automatically sorted, but you can create your own subgroups if you wish. For example, subgroups were created in the R-U106 group, and Mr. Gibbs is in the subgroup "Z2265+ Z381- Z18-".

Subgrouping at YFull
YFull Group with subgroups

The complete list of STRs can now be compared in a YFull group. For example, even though Gibbs submitted a VCF fie and has no matches in the STR matches section of his YFull account, he can make STR matches in YFull groups because he also submitted a CSV file. In the screenshot below, the STR results of Mr. Gibbs are in the fifth row from the top:

YFull group
Comparison of STRs in YFull group

At Y-DNA Data Warehouse:

The primary use of the Y-DNA Data Warehouse has been to submit VCF files for inclusion in Alex Williamson's The Big Tree for haplogroup R-P312 and subclades. The Warehouse has recently been expanded to include all haplogroups, although it is not yet known if the other haplogroups will be displayed online. This will be a subject for a future blog post. In the meantime, go to Y-DNA Data Warehouse and upload your VCF file. This is especially important if your haplogroup is within haplogroup R-P312 so that you can get into The Big Tree. See an example of a subclade in The Big Tree here: R-A9871.

Recruit other men for Y-DNA testing

Recruit other male descendants of your ancestral line to test their Y-DNA. For example in the case of Jebb and Gibbs, we do not yet know their common ancestor but the DNA results of other Jebb/Gibbs men with known family trees can provide the answer. I will definitely try to recruit another Jebb with ancestors from County Monaghan.

a. Contact your Y-DNA matches. They likely share your interest and may help recruit other men with your surname to test their Y-DNA.

b. From your surname or haplogroup project at Family Tree DNA, post in the group's Activity Feed (if the group is using that feature).

c. Join an online forum for your haplogroup.

d. Recruit other testers in surname societies and their newsletters or online forums.

e. Post links or screenshots of STR results in online family trees. People may contact you regarding these results.

f. Communicate with people who share your common ancestor 


The basic genetic outline for the Jebb and Gibbs families has been provided by the Big Y results of two men. All future descendants of their Irish ancestors will provide a more complete picture. The best results will be obtained by following all of the steps above.

For yourself. please complete as many of the steps above as you can. Then after you're finished contact your Y-DNA matches, and encourage them as well. If more people preserve and compare their results as outlined above we could be seeing some amazing results in a relatively short time. 

For a Colonial America immigrant study see The identity of Jacob Bertshinger solved with Y-DNA.
Links to Family Tree DNA appear in the sidebar. I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase, but clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.