Day 5–Scotland’s People at the Archive

After several days of lots of walking, I was ready for an easy day, so I took the morning to collect the research that my sister had done and formulate a plan for an afternoon accessing the Scotland’s People website at the Archive. You can get to this from the US, but it is much more expensive to browse. At the centers in Scotland, you can view an unlimited number of images for £15 per day.

Initially, there was very little to go on–a birth year and a name. It turns out there were a dozen or so men born with that name listed in the Old Parish Registers during the decade of birth, but only one with the birth year I was after. The Old Parish Registers may only contain about half of the births that occurred. I was able to figure out that I would need a lot more information from the American side to make any progress. I was also able to figure out that a find-a-grave entry for this individual is probably fanciful.

When the library closed, we took a nap and then I went off to do laundry but got there too late; last wash was at 6:00 even though they closed at 8:00. I hiked back up the hill and we went to a convenient Italian place for dinner and crashed.

Day 4–June 20–Trains, Buses,and Ruins

The plan for today was to see the castle and cathedral ruins in St. Andrews, along with the coastline of the Fife. I ended up taking the train from Waverly Station to Kirkcaldy for 9.50 pounds (round trip) and then a bus (X60) from Kirkcaldy to St. Andrews for 8.60 pounds (day pass). I chose the train for the first segment because it promised (and delivered) the best views of the coast and the bridges over the Firth of Forth. I chose the bus for the second segment for the same reason. While in Kirkcaldy, I stopped at the museum, it is worth 20 minutes if you are in town but not a special trip. The bus stops in numerous small coastal towns and is quite interesting if a little long. All totaled, it took 3.5 hours to get to St. Andrews, including the museum visit in Kirkcaldy.

The view of the firth was spectacular, and interesting for the idle offshore drilling rigs.

St. Andrews is worth the trip, but the castle and cathedral ruins are, well, ruins, so it is important to understand that. The interpretative displays are in many ways the key. The town is a fun college town where all of the buildings are quite old.

While waiting for the bus back to Edinburgh or Kirkcaldy, wait at the St. Andrews University Student Union; the food is inexpensive and good, and the Wi-Fi is free with no intrusive registration. The Wi-Fi registration at the Costa Coffee shop is quite intrusive.

The ruins of the St. Andrews Cathedral are quite impressive, especially considering that they date to about 1450, with much worship occuring on the site from about 700.
St. Andrews--the Abbey
The St. Andrews Cathedral ruins are a popular subject for artists.
St. Andrews--the Castle
Today was commencement for some of the St. Andrews University colleges; there were many students walking around in academic regalia, with beaming parents in tow.
St. Andrews--Graduation Day

Day 3–June 19–Hiking to Arthur‘s Seat

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel and realized that they really were not staffed for the volume of people that they had, so we plan to get there much earlier tomorrow. After breakfast, I started off to find a notebook for Kristin, an additional UK power adapter, and a copy of Rick Steves’ Scotland book to replace the one I left on my desk at home. Shortly after I started off, Kristin texted that the library sold notebooks, so I could crossthat off. I stopped at the Travel Information center near Waverly and got some good information on running down my errands.

I made the walk down Prince’s Street to WaterStone’s and found that they have notebooks, but not Rick Steves’ books. They have a very good selection of maps, so we will probably make a trip back later in the weekt to get some maps for Glasgow. I found the power adapter at a computer store a couple of doors down.

I now started in on my main plan for the day–a hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a 275 meter hill that offers a great view of Edinburgh. I headed up to the Royal Mile and turned left to go down to Hollyrude Palace. I stopped for tea about 3/4 of the way down to the palace, and made good progress in planning out my week while I watched the passers by on the Royal Mile. I continued on to Hollyrude Palace, where I picked up the trail to the summit. This is a moderately strenuous hike and you will want decent shoes or boots, though there were women doing it in flip-flops, at least near the bottom. I don't think I saw any flip-flops at the top.

The hike is about the same difficulty as the Enchanted Rock hike in Texas. The counter clockwise route is analogous to a 1/3 scale sea-level version of the Pinnacles trail in Big Bend National Park, with steps for the majority of the vertical gain. The clockwise version is longer but easier and is just a steep walking path until the last 50 meters of elevation gain, where it turns into steps and rubble.

There were a bunch of French school children on a trip with two chaperones, though effectively one since one of the chaperones was working exclusively with a child who had vertigo (or perhaps fear of heights). I was impressed with how well behaved the children were, after seeing a similarly aged group at Enchanted Rock a few weeks earlier.
Edinburgh-The Walk Down from Arthur's Seat
The view from the top of Arthur’s Seat is breathtaking and worth the time, though it was quite crowded at the summit.
Edinburgh-The View from Arthur's Seat

For dinner, we went to a run-down pub close to the hotel and had forgetable fish and chips. I had a half-pint of Strong Bow cider while Kristin had a half-pint of McEwan’s; we both liked our respective choices.

After dinner, we went for a walk to find an ATM, and ended up walking through the Princes Street Gardens, where we found a community Scottish dance group meeting. For 5 pounds, you could get into the stands and join in the dancing. It reminded me of the Friday night crowd in Rennes.

The Scottish dance group meeting in Prince’s Street park was fun to watch.
Edinburgh--Dancing in Prince's Street Park
The thistles in Scotland are much bigger than the thistles I have seen in the states. This example in Prince’s Street Park is probably about five feet tall.
Edinburgh--A Real Thistle

DNA Testing for Genealogy

Several friends have asked for advice on DNA testing for studying their family history; this is a summary of advice for 2017.

Be Prepared for Surprises

The first thing that I tell people is to be prepared for surprises:

  • If you have white ancestors who lived in the South during the slavery and reconstruction eras, it is highly probable that you will get a DNA match from a second, third, fourth or fifth cousin who is black. Slave owners raped female slaves, who then got pregnant and had children. Given the number of fourth cousins that you have, it is almost a certainty that you will have at least one genetic match who is black.
  • Your parents or grandparents may not be your biological parents or grandparents. It is not routine, but it is also not unusual for your dad not to be your dad.
  • You may discover siblings that your mom or grandmother had out of wedlock. Again, this is not routine, but it is also not unusual.
  • Some relatives may have committed crimes with no (or very long) statutes of limitations (or think someone else did) and may be adamantly opposed to DNA testing for no apparent reason. The genealogy DNA testing services intentionally fail to keep an evidentiary chain of custody, but this will not allay the fears of some family members.

Who Should You Test?

The short answer is the oldest living generation that you can. The long answer depends upon the specific genealogical research problems that you are trying to solve. To prove/disprove a particular relationship from the late 1700s, I am trying to find someone provably descended from a potential male direct line who has done a Y-DNA test. We would not know whether we are related until after testing has been done.

Generally, try to get tests from parents and grandparents who are living, and then look for specific people to solve specific problems.

What Tests Should You Purchase

The key for all of the testing services is to get a DNA sample, and have a single test done. Once they have a sample, they can do additional tests from that sample at a later date as your are willing to spend more money. The short answer for parents and grandparents is everything:

  • For men, get a Y-DNA, autosomal DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests done.
  • For women, get both autosomal and mitochondrial DNA tests done.


Only men can take this test. It can prove/disprove a match the direct paternal line for many generations, as there is no dilution from one generation to the next, and the mutation rate is generally about one every four generations.

Autosomal DNA

Both men and women can take this test. It can identify the presence of a relationship back about four or five generations, but it will not tell you what the relationship is. It is diluted 50% with each generation, and is thus limited to about five generations.

Mitochondrial DNA

Both men and women can take this test. It can prove/disprove a match for the direct maternal line for many generations.


Both men and women can take this test. This is a specialized test that is useful only proving very specific relationships.

Which Service Should You Use

This is a long complicated subject; people with unlimited budgets test with all of the services, since the value of each service is related to the number of people who test with that service. Some of the services allow you to unload data from competing services and upload it to their service, but this is not universal and changes from year to year. The key to testing parents and grandparents is to get a sample kit activated at both the Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA services. It probably helps to outline the major testing services:

All of the services offer an estimate of your ethnic origins; those who have tested with multiple services laugh at this, as each service gives different, and sometimes significantly different results.

If your parents or grandparents are the first generation to immigrate to the US, you may want to look at testing with MyHeritage, as it may have a larger European population for matching.

Test Men with Family Tree DNA and Optionally Ancestry DNA and/or MyHeritage

Family Tree DNA is the only service that offers the Y-DNA test, so you should get a kit from Family Tree DNA and do at least the Y-DNA test with them. You can do an autosomal test with either Ancestry or Family Tree DNA. I would recommend getting kits from both, doing Y with Family Tree DNA, and autosomal with Ancestry, then upload your Ancestry autosomal info to Family Tree DNA. At a later date, you can optionally order an autosomal or X-DNA test from Family Tree DNA. The key for testing parents and grandparents is to get the samples to each of the services.

Test Women with Family Tree DNA and Optionally with Ancestry DNA and/or MyHeritage

It is not clear that Ancestry offers a mitochondrial test, so I recommend ordering a mitochondrial test from Family Tree DNA and an autosomal test from Ancestry, then upload your Ancestry autosomal info to Family Tree DNA. At a later date, you can optionally order an autosomal or X-DNA test from Family Tree DNA.

For Genetic Diseases, Test with 23 and Me

For most people I would not recommend testing with 23 and Me due to concerns about privacy. Both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA were created primarily for genealogical research and intentionally chose genetic markers that have no known disease information; if you testing results were to become public, it would not have an effect on your insurability.

23 and Me was formed primarily to build a pool of people with specific health-related genetic information to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to do clinical trials for drugs that are targeted for specific populations, like women who are negative for the BRCA2 breast cancer gene. For this reason, the 23 and Me privacy policy is very different from the privacy policy at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA.

If you are interested in health information, 23 and Me is the only option, but make sure that you understand the privacy policy and the implications for purchase of 23 and Me by a pharmaceutical company.

DNA Seminars

The Dallas Genealogical Society has a DNA Special Interest Group that meets at the downtown library on the third Thursday evening each month.

Diane Southard and Cece Moore are among many consultants that hold frequent seminars and speak on DNA topics at local historical and genealogical societies.

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