Category Archives: DNA

The Stibrik Brick Wall – using DNA info to target record search

So I didn’t last too long in last year’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge! Part of the problem for me was finding an ancestor to fit the prompt. So I’m finally back to posting, but I think I’ll stick to free-form — at least for now.

So DNA. DNA-based research has been my focus for a while now. Of course I am still looking at records, but I am using DNA matches to help focus on where to look for records. That’s exactly how I was able to break through the brick wall of my husband’s Stibrik ancestors.


Andrew Stibrik (1881-1940)

Andrew Stibrik was my husband’s great-grandfather on his dad’s maternal side. He was born in 1881 in Hungary (in an area that is now part of Slovakia) and immigrated to the United States in July of 1912 through Ellis Island. His destination was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the home of his brother-in-law Joseph Blasko. His actual connection to Joseph was that they were married to sisters. Joseph was married to Julia Kuzma who was already living in Pittsburgh with her husband and children. Andrew was married to Julia’s younger sister Anna.

So although he was already married and the father of three, Andrew came to the United States on his own in 1912 in order to establish himself. In early 1914, just months before World War I broke out in Europe, Anna and the children joined Andrew in Pittsburgh. (I am in awe that Anna made this journey on her own with three children under the age of 5!) Once in Pittsburgh, Andrew and Anna had three more children. As it would turn out, they spent the rest of their lives in Pittsburgh. Andrew died there in 1940 from injuries he received when he was hit by a car while walking home from work. Anna lived nearly thirty more years, dying 1967.

The challenge has been to find information on the Stibrik family in Slovakia. Andrew’s naturalization papers give his place of birth as Bardejov. Bardejov is a city in the northeastern part of present-day Slovakia, near the Polish border. Interestingly, his wife Anna (nee Kuzma) was from the town of Čaňa. That is in the southeastern part of Slovakia near the Hungarian border. It is nearly directly south of Bardejov. Records for the three oldest children show that they were also born in Čaňa, indicating that either as a child or young adult Andrew moved roughly 100 kilometers (over 60 miles) south from Bardejov to Čaňa.

The only other known information about Andrew was that his Pennsylvania death certificate gave his parents names as Andrew Stibrik and Mary E. (maiden name blank). Oh — and the family was associated with the Catholic Church. They were definitely Catholics!

My main (pretty much only) resource for Slovak research was the Slovak Church records on In searching this collection I was able to find information on the Kuzma family, but nothing on Andrew Stibrik. Nothing on anyone with the surname of Stibrik. And this is where I was stuck for several years. Did he change his last name? Is Stibrik a phonetic spelling? If so, what would be the original spelling? Or was Stibrik an ethnic variation – with the original spelled differently?

Then several descendants DNA tested and suddenly some new leads emerged. The initial breakthrough was discovering a DNA match who didn’t seem to fit with the other Slovak sides of the family (Tomkos, Kuzmas, etc) – a predicted 4th cousin from Ohio sharing a decent amount of DNA. So I did a little research on the match’s family. I found roots in the Bardejov area. I found an obit stating the funeral of the match’s ancestor was officiated by a Lutheran minister? What? Lutheran? Okay, maybe someone converted after immigration. I checked out the shared matches. I researched some more. I found a pattern of matches tracing back to Bardejov — and they were Lutherans (or at least their descendants who lived in the US were Lutherans.) I was stunned! Could the Stibriks (or one of their allied families) have been Lutheran??

The first step was to find Slovak Lutheran church records. I went back to the familysearch website and dug deeper. And guess what. The Slovak Church record collection includes non-Catholic churches. But in the case of the Lutheran records for Bardejov, they were unindexed. They were online for browsing — but no index for searching. So I browsed, page by page. And I found Andrew Stibrik! He was baptized in the Evangelic (Lutheran) Church at Bardejov, his parents being Andras Stibrik Sr. (a protestant) and Mary E. Szabol (a Catholic)!!

To make a long story a little shorter, the paternal ancestors of Andrew Stibrik were deeply entrenched in the Lutheran Church in the Bardejov area. I was able to find birth, marriage and (some) death records to document back to Andrew’s four paternal great-grandparents (Adam Stibrik, Maria Krukar, Adam Benka and Maria Chovanecz). They were born in the late 1700s to very early 1800s. In the process, I was able to determine the exact connection to some, but not all, of the DNA matches that sparked the initial research into the Lutheran records.

Finally, I should mention that shortly after Andrew’s 1881 Lutheran baptism, his father Andrew Sr. apparently converted to Catholicism. Though I have absolutely no proof, I cannot help but wonder if his conversion was a contributing factor in the family relocating that 100 kilometers.

And that’s pretty much my story of how DNA helped me to break through this brick wall. Essentially, it prompted me to look in a place (Lutheran church records) where I would have never considered looking. In the process I also learned that even though a collection on familysearch has an extensive index, it does not necessarily mean all the records are indexed. And so here is my research tip. Check the familysearch catalog. Maybe the records you need are online and can be browsed. Or maybe they are still only available on microfilm. (Unfortunately this is the case for some of the Slovak Church records that I need for other branches of the family.)

Happy searching! And if we are related on this or any other line, feel free to contact me!

My mtDNA Results Are In!!

dna-1020670_1280This is one of those blog posts that I have been meaning to write for the past few months but never got around to doing. Last summer I decided to take the mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) test available from FamilyTreeDNA. Just to recap – this is the type of DNA that is passed unchanged (except for occasional mutations) from a mother to her children. In other words, you get this type of DNA from your mother’s mother’s mother…. etc. While this is much the same way the Y-DNA is passed through the paternal line, please note that mtDNA is NOT to be confused with the X-DNA — they are 2 completely different things.

I took a full sequence mt-DNA test. It examines all regions of mt-DNA and is the most comprehensive one available. Basically, this test compares your mt-DNA to a reference sequence. The results reported are the differences between your DNA and the reference sequence. You also find out your maternal haplogroup — which traces your maternal ancestry to a major branch point on what is known as the mitochrondrial phloygenetic tree. This is basically the earliest ancestor with your particular set of mutations. If you are interested in more details, I recommend this article on mt-DNA on the ISOOG wiki.

To be honest, I thought long and hard about taking this test because I really wasn’t sure the information I would get from this test would justify the cost. I have a solid paper trail for my matrilineal line back 7 generations to Anna Maria (aka Mary) Shimer, wife of Jacob Keeley and daughter of Michael Shimer. She was born about 1760. Her mother may have been Catherine Ash, but I need further research to confirm that. In any case, all evidence points to Anna Maria’s parents being of German descendant. She seems to have been born in Pennsylvania, but both her parents were likely immigrants from a Germanic state. I therefore expected a European haplogroup. I also expected many matches, most of which would be so far back in time that I would not be able to determine a common ancestor. After all, the common ancestor for an exact match can be 22 generations back (or more)!

As it turns out, there were a few surprises! The actual results were that my maternal haplogroup is H13b1b. This is a subclave (or subgroup) of H13, which I found out is supposed to be found mostly around the Caucasus, Iran, Anantolia and Sardinia, but also along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe. So my deep maternal ancestry points to this region of the world. (Interestingly, my AncestryDNA ethnicity results show the Caucasus as a trace region.)

Also, apparently this haplogroup (H13b1b) is relatively rare. Rather than many matches, I only had 2 exact matches on FTDNA. One of them had a tree, and incredibly, he was also a descendant of Mary Shimer Keeley. His line was through the daughter Mary who married Abraham Hause, whereas my line was through the daughter Catherine who married Amos Evans. Given that we are exact mt-DNA match, I feel that this offers additional support (maybe even proof) for my entire matrilineal line back to Mary Shimer. [The other exact match did not post a tree and did not respond to my email as of yet.]


3 Tips For Getting Started with Ancestry DNA

If you’ve taken an Ancestry DNA test with the idea of using it to further or enhance your genealogy research you might be wondering just how to get started. Looking at page after page of cousin matches can be overwhelming to say the least.


Maybe you’re feeling a little like the dog in the above photo!? Well, if you are, here are some tips which have helped me. Maybe some of you will find them useful as well.

I. Get Known Close Relatives To Test.

I am putting this first not because it is the first step in analyzing your matches if you are new to AncestryDNA, but I feel that it is the most important thing you can do to in order to gain better insight into your matches in the long run.

Who do you test? If you have living parents or grandparents they are the first priority. Remember, you only got half of your parent’s DNA. So they will have matches that you don’t – and they only got half from each of their parents. No living parents? Then get siblings to test. Unless you are identical twins, at least some of the DNA your sibling(s) got from each parent is different than what you got. Therefore, siblings will have some matches you have, but also have some matches that you don’t. No living siblings either? Then ask half-siblings, aunts, uncles, and/or first cousins if they would be willing to test. The more the merrier! Each person’s unique combination of DNA adds additional data and matches. (The exception being, of course, if both parents have tested, testing their children won’t add new information.)

I personally manage 11 kits for various relatives, These include myself, my brother, my mother, a maternal aunt and a maternal uncle for researching my ancestors. For research on my husband’s side, I manage kits for him, his mother and one of his sisters. One of his paternal uncles has tested as well.

I have found that there are at least three benefits to having close relatives (i.e. parents, siblings, aunts, uncles) test. First, they will have matches that you don’t. This expands your pool of matches for breaking through brick walls and testing theories. Second, having close relatives test could help you sort (or phase) your matches. For example, matches you have in common with a parent indicate a common ancestor on that side of your tree.  And a third benefit is that you may gain a better perspective as to how closely a match is related. Because the combination of DNA that you and a sibling inherit from each parent is different, Ancestry may classify a match as as third cousin to your sibling but a fifth cousin to you. Knowing that your sibling has a closer genetic match may indicate you need to look for a closer genealogical connection than you would expect if you only had your own test to go by.

II. Using AncestryDNA Star and Notes

Ancestry does not provide much in terms of letting the user catalog, classify and annotate matches. Basically, you have the star and the notes field. The way I use these is to star the matches for whom I have found a genealogical connection. In the notes I first put the amount of shared DNA (so I don’t have to open the match to see it) and and then the common ancestors if known. If the common ancestor isn’t known, I sometimes add brief notes that will help me pick up the analysis later. As an example, if the shared matches I have with the unknown match include matches I that I know connect on my Dilliplane/Weidner line, I’ll add that to the notes as a possible connection. If I’ve found the match on gedmatch, I also try to add that information to the notes. It does get a little tricky, because the notes are of limited length.

I would love for Ancestry to implement a user-defined tagging system (similar to say gmail) or even user-defined color-coding. It would be great to have tags for various family lines, whether or not you’ve been in contact, etc. But for now this is all they have – stars and notes.

III. Incorporate Your DNA Matches into your Family Tree

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m a little fanatic (i.e. obsessive) about finding the genealogical connection(s) to my close genetic matches! When I log on to check out my new matches, my process is to start with the closest unidentified match. The easiest case is that the match has a fairly well-developed, attached tree and our common ancestor(s) are readily apparent. In these situations, I add any missing generations between our common ancestor and my DNA match to my research database. (I use rootsmagic for that, but any desktop family tree software would work equally well. A private research tree on Ancestry is another option.) If I don’t know the match’s real name, I use an initial or the ancestry username in place of the first name.

Unfortunately, the more common case is that the match has a small tree or no tree. In this case I will often start researching and building the match’s tree within my rootsmagic research database with the hopes of being able to eventually connect it to my main tree.  I obviously don’t do this for every match, but if there is a small tree or an unattached tree from which I can get some starting clues, I will give it a shot and see if I can make any progress. This is especially true if they are a close match — i.e. third cousin or high confidence fourth cousin match.  I should note that if they are an active user, I will try messaging them to collaborate, but if they haven’t logged onto Ancestry for months (or years) I don’t feel it’s worth sending a message that probably won’t even be read, much less answered.

When I add a person who is DNA match to me or one of my close relatives to my database, I add a user-defined fact/event to them which I’ve called aDNA. This fact uses only the description field and the notes field – no date or place fields. Since I manage multiple kits on Ancestry for various close family members, the description field contains either my name or the name of one of my relatives whose kits I manage. The notes field contains the match’s ancestry username, the number of centimorgans and matching segments, the predicted cousin relationship and any other pertinent information. If the person also matches my brother (or any of the others for whom I manage kits) I add an additional aDNA facts to capture that information. (Much like you would add multiple census/residence facts for different years.) Recording autosomal DNA matches within my rootsmagic database is a system that works really well for me. I can use the features built into rootsmagic to search for matches, calculate relationships, etc.


I hope that some of you find these tips useful, but keep in mind that this is just for starters. I find the combination of GEDmatch and Genome Mate Pro essential, as well as creating descendancy charts. I will blog about these topics in the future.