Modern Frauds

When I think of genealogical frauds I usually think about those quirky amateur genealogies published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Lofty connections with little or no evidence. Lots of oral history.

Then too, I think of the defenders of this old material. Generally people who fulfilled the requirements for a high school diploma some time in the ancient past, but never again gave a thought to study or thinking.

But now we have a new cottage industry of genealogical fraud. The new style of fraud uses DNA testing but piles on particular kinds of pseudo-science.

Like their predecessors, they aren’t setting out to deceive, nor are they (usually) profiting from it.

And, like their predecessors, the main problem is that they don’t actually have the education it would take to evaluate the claims they are making so confidently.

One example is Finding Ancient Ancestors with Chromosome Mapping. I spent some time with them in their Facebook group Chromosome Mapping of Ancient Bloodlines Project. Enough to see from the inside that they really are doing what it looks like they’re doing. This particular group is creating new, generally fake or at best highly speculative, lines to medieval royalty and nobility by “matches” among their members.

Other groups use the same methodology to create new and fake lines to the Native Americans of the Colonial American seaboard. I’ve seen quite a bit of activity among the so-called “Cheraw Nation” and among those claiming descents from Pocahontas.

The basic sleight of hand used by these groups is easy to spot. Scientists say short DNA segments are useless for mapping relationships. Anything smaller than, say about 5 to 7 cM, is just as likely to be the result of a new combination as it is to be something inherited from an ancestor who lived generations back. A common way of expressing this difference is to say the matching segment might be Identical by State rather than Identical by Descent.

These groups disdain that evidence. For them, a match is a match.

One very easy way to think about this problem is to ask yourself whether the two people who match know all their ancestors in the generation where they are speculating a common ancestor. This is pretty straightforward. If they don’t know all their ancestors, how do they know they don’t have some other relationship that would account for the match?

I plan to write more on this topic in the future. I have some detailed notes on individual scenarios but I want to make sure I’m handling personal information appropriately. And I want to find the right way to talk about a couple of cases where proponents of these frauds are claiming (falsely) that they have buy-off from prominent genetic genealogists.

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Name of Jesus

I wonder sometimes. Genealogists are supposed to use the earliest attested name. The rule is often glossed as requiring genealogists to use the “birth name“. We had a debate on Geni.com a while back about the name of Jesus. I still don’t feel comfortable with the result.

The Messianic Jews argued stridently in favor of Hebraicizing his name. The Christians argued just as stridently in favor of continuing the Grecized versions of his name common in different European languages.

Here’s the basic issue.

The common language of Palestine in Jesus’ time was Aramaic, while the commercial language was a dialect of Greek called Koine. The New Testament was probably written in Greek. The surviving Aramaic version of the New Testament is probably a translation from the Greek. Probably. A minority of experts believe the Aramaic version came first and the Greek version is the translation.

The name of Jesus in the earliest Greek version is Ιησους – that is, Iēsoûs, the name that became both Jesus and Joshua in European languages. In the Peshitta, an Aramaic text, Jesus’ name is ܝܶܫܽܘܥ – that is, Yeshuwe. In Jesus’ time the normal Hebrew version of his name was ישוע‎ (Yeshua), a shortened form of יהושע‎ (Yehoshua, Joshua), while the normal Aramaic version is argued to have been Yeshu.

It’s not such a complicated landscape. None of this is obscure or surprising to experts in the field.

What surprises me is that some amateur genealogists think it’s necessary to weigh the evidence and make a decision on a subject where even the experts are split.

And worse: the debate is driven by unacknowledged ideological baggage.

The name Yeshua is closely associated in modern times with Messianic Judaism. Indeed, the original debate on Geni.com began when a particular user demanded that Jesus’ name be changed to Yeshua, while traditional Christians wanted to keep the familiar forms of his name in their respective languages.

At the same time, the preferred Jewish form of Jesus’ name is Yeshu. Jesus is invariably called Yeshu, while other men with the same name are called Yeshua. In fact, in the Jewish tradition the form Yeshu seems to be unique to Jesus. There are no undisputed Aramaic or Hebrew texts as referring to anyone except Jesus.

I wouldn’t say the original name of Jesus is unrecoverable. Almost certainly it was some form of Yeshua, but in my opinion there are methodological problems with trying to be more exact than the evidence allows. It’s the genealogical sin of inventing information.

I would have preferred in this case to keep the earliest attested form of his name, with a short commentary.

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Stonehenge DNA

Our world is shifting. Once upon a time we thought humans spread from Africa, eventually reached and spread through Europe, then settled down to several millennia of farming — punctuated by invasions and population movements in historic times that are more or less known. 

Well, we didn’t exactly think that, but if you didn’t take time to make a study of it you could be forgiven if that’s more or less the idea you had about human history. 

DNA testing is changing everything. One of the things that has changed is the idea of continuity in Britain from the Mesolithic to the present. It turns out there’s a break with the invasion of farming people in the Neolithic.

Although Britain was inhabited by groups of “western hunter-gatherers” when the farmers arrived in about 4,000BC, DNA shows that the two groups did not mix very much at all.

The British hunter-gatherers were almost completely replaced by the Neolithic farmers, apart from one group in western Scotland, where the Neolithic inhabitants had elevated local ancestry. This could have come down to the farmer groups simply having greater numbers.

“‘We don’t find any detectable evidence at all for the local British western hunter-gatherer ancestry in the Neolithic farmers after they arrive,’ said co-author Dr Tom Booth, a specialist in ancient DNA from the Natural History Museum in London.

GEDCOM is not the Answer

James Tanner warns us about using GEDCOM. Info stored in a way that it is only portable by GEDCOM might be lost.

Even if you were successful in having someone in your family accept the information in GEDCOM format, it is very likely that much of the value of the information would be lost.

This is exactly what I see. Use GEDCOM if you have to, but you’d be better off getting away from the idea that your info is so special it deserves to be isolated in an inaccessible format. Get your data out of your standalone program and into one of the online programs pronto. You’ll never recover some of it, because you used a bad technology too long.

Update Nov. 5, 2019. Same warning from Dick Eastman, Bob Coret, and Nigel Munro Parker:

Edited to fix broken link.