BIGSbits & pieces

Here you will find a variety of content that will be updated regularly. Be sure to check back!

Pat's Prompts - February 2023


The name “Valentine” is in more than seventeen world languages. In most spellings, the root is found in the Roman  name of third century Saint Valentine, and appears in many European languages. If, however, you are Russian, you would hail “Valya.” Notably, in Shakespeares’ play, “Two Gentleman of Verona,” Valentine is a central comedic character. The history of this name is extensive. 

This month’s prompt asks questions about your own name or a name from your tree. (your choice)  

Whether the name is commonly used or is unique, it has linguistic history. The list of questions below is not exhaustive; do adapt the process to your research: e.g. “April,” – What is the significance of the month for this family? 

 What is the history of the name? 

  1. Was the name handed down from previous generations? 
  2. Do cousins in the same generation have the same name? 
  3. Did the name come from literature, an event, a song, or a season of the year; possibilities seem endless.

If you would like to share your response to this prompt for publication in a few weeks, please send it to Joleen Aitchison or Susie Wood. Thanks!

A response to the January prompt:

Who in your history would you like to thank?

I thank BIGS and Helpline House as my first two volunteer opportunities after I retired.  I joined BIGS in 2008; they were recruiting for board candidates and reached out to all new members.  Since it didn’t require any genealogy expertise, I volunteered.  It has been a rich experience of collaborating on projects and plans ever since.  At Helpline House I worked at the front desk — fielding all kinds of calls and inquiries.  What both of these organizations offered was a way to contribute to community, solve problems, in partnership with others. ~ Betty Wiese

DNA Ditties

Centimorgans – How we measure
genetic distance and relatedness 

In previous DNA Ditties we talked about SNPs and recombination between parental chromosomes during meiosis. How are we going to quantitate the degree of relatedness between the DNAs of two individuals? Should we count up the total number of SNPs that are shared? No, this won’t work, because those SNPs might be scattered all over the genome and might not reflect recent common ancestry. Should we look at the presence of long stretches of identical SNPs? This is much better, but SNPs are not evenly distributed throughout the chromosomes, so one short length of DNA might contain more SNPs than a longer segment. What we need is a way to measure genetic distances. How likely is it that two linked (nearby) genetic markers (SNPs) will become separated by recombination during a single meiosis? Intuitively we would say that the further apart they are on the chromosome the more likely they are to be separated. However, recombination frequencies are not the same in all areas of all chromosomes. So linear distances on the chromosomes are not the same as genetic distances. Having measured recombination frequencies in all regions of human chromosomes, scientists can define a unit of genetic distance, the centimorgan (cM) as “equal to a 1% chance that a marker (SNP) at one genetic locus on a chromosome will be separated from a marker at a second locus due to crossing over (recombination) in a single meiosis (generation)”. So the sharing of one or more  substantial DNA segments with identical SNPs between two individuals indicates a relatively recent common ancestor, and in general the more cM shared the more recent the ancestor. Now we need to define what we mean by substantial. A shared segment with a small number of cM could be just the result of chance identities. Usually we only count segments greater than 5-7cM in genetic length when we are totaling genetic relatedness. The smaller segments might be inherited from a recent common ancestor, but they could also be by chance. Similarly, a few large segments of identity are a more convincing measure of a recent common ancestor than a large number of small segments of identity, even if the total cM shared are similar. 

Make It Quick!

Finding Help – FamilySearch Research Wiki

Image of FamilySearch Wiki main page

The Family History Research Wiki is a fabulous FREE tool kit for genealogists! It can be found by clicking on the map or HERE. You don’t have to have a FamilySearch account to use it. The FS wiki is an ultra-comprehensive resource where you can find almost anything, from how to get started, to how to research in a particular location, to where those frustratingly obscure records might be found. Among the pages is information about record types and how to use them; articles about specific record collections; finding aids; ethnic, religious, or political groups information; methodology; assistance for interpreting foreign language records; even links to blank genealogy forms. If you haven’t visited the wiki nor recently used it, be sure to take a look. It’s like opening an encyclopia. You have to keep turning the pages!