By: Andy Hochreiter

Andy Hochreiter’s advice for Group Project Administrators is simple: take time to set up a plan, have patience until the right person tests, and be prepared to purchase tests for the people you find.

My years as a FamilyTreeDNA Group Project Administrator have taught me many things. Participation in a DNA project requires three key elements: Time, Patience, and Money. We all fall short of one or all these items. But dealing with each requirement provides a rich and educational experience.

My journey began in 2005, when I completed the Genographic Project test from National Geographic. FamilyTreeDNA provided the lab services and offered participants a transfer of their results into the company’s database.

I remember a cheery young man who asked if I was interested in starting a surname project. I felt personally anointed by his request and interest in my surname.

He also sent me a copy of the book “DNA & Genealogy” by Colleen Fitzpatrick and Andrew Yeiser. It was the first book I ever read on genetic genealogy. Joining the list of DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA introduced me to the ever-expanding discovery of DNA’s potential.

It Takes Time to Setup a Plan For a Group Project

My particular interest in my surname originated during a visit to my paternal grandparents’ town of origin. They came from the market town of Moosbach, in the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria. The family homestead there passed to my grandfather’s sister, who married a Hanauer. Although I was grateful to meet the Hanauer descendants, there were no longer any Hochreiters living in the village.

Step One: Take Time to Research Your Surname

The Hochreiter DNA Group Project started in 2007 for men who carry the Hochreiter surname or variations such as Hochreuter and Hochreither. The surname Hochreiter literally translates to “high rider,” but I discovered a surname definition in The Dictionary of American Family Names (2013, Oxford University Press).

“South German: topographic name for someone who lived on or owned a piece of high-lying cleared land.”

This accounted for the alternative spellings in older records. Any connection to nobility was dashed, but I embraced my dirt farmer ancestry.

That finding compelled me to change my ancient roots story from a Teutonic chieftain to a Roman legionnaire.

Step Two: Make Time to Keep Your Research Organized

Although the Hochreither project is not large, there are participants from various US states, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, and South Africa (Austrian immigrants). I began testing many of my known male relatives, including first and second cousins. This established a DNA signature with compare to that of other unknown participants.

All my relatives who descend from Moosbach immigrants belong to Y-DNA haplogroup E-M35. This was a surprise since I expected a Northern European haplogroup representing my Germanic roots. E-M35 originated in Africa but is found in high percentages around the Mediterranean.

Step Three: Create a Plan To Reach Your Project Goals

I began a recruitment campaign by downloading address lists from online telephone books and befriending every Hochreiter on Facebook. As I tested more unknown Hochreiters, none of them matched my family’s Y-DNA.

Currently, we have participants represented by Y-DNA haplogroups..

  • Haplogroup R1a with origins in Eurasia.
  • Haplogroup R1b with origins in western and central Europe.
  • Haplogroup N with origins in northern Eurasia.
  • Haplogroup L with origins in south Asia.

This diversity shows the unrelated origins of the families that eventually adopted the surname. It was disappointing that I was not finding related Hochreiter families in Europe.

Once You Set Up Your Plan To Connect With Potential Matches You Have To Be Patient

The Hochreiter DNA project continued to attract various participants, albeit unrelated individuals. This suddenly changed when a Hochreiter from Buffalo, New York, tested and joined the project. He matched me and my other known relatives.

Traditional Research Can Be Used To Confirm Your Findings

To find our common ancestor, the Buffalonians provided information about their immigrant ancestor. I resorted to traditional research to identify where the connection could be.

The big breakthrough came with a marriage record. I pulled the image off of LDS microfilm and studied it meticulously. It contained the parents’ names and their hometown.

Traditional Research Can Be Used To Confirm Your Findings - FamilyTreeDNA Blog
Note: the break in Tennes and berg with abbreviated Bav

It took some perseverance, but I finally deciphered the town as Tännesberg, Bavaria. The thrill came when I looked at a map and found that Tännesberg is only ten kilometers from Moosbach.

Get Creative With Your Research by Looking Into Alternate Spellings of Your Surname

At this point, I went back to the online German telephone books and looked for Hochreiter in Tännesberg. I was disappointed that there were none listed. Then I tried some alternate spellings, and the name Hochreither appeared.

I contacted them and convinced the husband to test. It confirmed our relationship on paternal lines. I was thrilled to find a Y-DNA relative but wondered how we were all related.

Make Sure to Record Any Details You Find To Help Define Your New Match

Extensive research of German church records revealed multiple generations of Hochreithers in Tännesberg. Cross-references to Moosbach records revealed our most recent common ancestor, Johann Hochreutter (b. ~1681–1752). This information defined the degree of our relationship for the current generation as seventh cousins.

Did my Moosbach grandparents know their cousins in Tännesberg? Just as my family and the Buffalo families were unaware of our common origins, distance and time erase connections.

The memory of that relationship probably faded just as the autosomal DNA did. But thanks to a combination of DNA testing and traditional sleuthing, I reconnected with long-lost branches of my patrilineal family.

Private Variants From Big Y-700 Will Help You Refine the Mutations Specific to Your Paternal Lineage

Upgrades to the Big Y continue to provide clarity to the relationships. The first Big Y test identified seven private variants. These Y-SNPs were soon named and placed on the Y-DNA haplotree as additional testers were added.

The division of terminal Y-SNPs clearly delineates the recent family lines during the last 300-400 years. The branching of the Y-SNPs can clearly be traced back to our common ancestor.

You Will Need Money To Find Matches Through DNA Testing

The Y-DNA results confirmed our common patrilineal roots. The chart below shows the Genetic Distance (GD) for each marker level. At 37 markers, there is only one difference between my results and those of a first cousin: the Buffalo match and the Tännesberg match.

Additional markers differentiate the family branches, but they are still within closely related parameters.

Our autosomal DNA (atDNA) results at FamilyTreeDNA do not provide a match since atDNA dissipates with each successive generation. The algorithm at FamilyTreeDNA precludes matching because the longest matching segment block must meet the threshold of 9 centimorgans (cMs).

An analysis was made with tools at GEDmatch, which allowed smaller cM comparisons.

So, time and patience have served my project’s research well. As for money, I must admit it’s mostly self-funded, but the value is already netted. Group Projects do have a “General Fund” to help with testing needs that further the goal of the Project.

My only regrets are the ones who elude me with an unwillingness to test. My father-in-law is a prime example. He is 96 years old and a product of the Great Depression. He is conservative, wary, and frugal with his assets, which include his saliva. Persistence and patience do work here, too, because there have been a couple of prospects who took a year or two to convince.

Bonus Key: Attending FamilyTreeDNA Conferences Provided Me With a Network of Genealogists To Learn From

Another significant contributor to my education has been the FamilyTreeDNA Genetic Genealogy Conferences for Group Project Administrators. These gatherings have been inspirational, informative, and networking masterworks. Announcements of new discoveries, new tools, expert advice, and fellowship with colleagues are earmarks of these events. One year, a group of us were nicknamed “The Bearded Genealogists”. We now celebrate our reunion at every event.

Andy Hochreiter, Kyle Hochreiter, Greg Liverman, Dave Dowell, Chuck Haines, and Ed McQuire.

My association with conference organizers led to opportunities to staff FamilyTreeDNA exhibits at other events, including Back to the Past in Belfast and Dublin. It also inspired my creation of the East Coast Genetic Genealogy Conference to promote and educate about the benefits of DNA testing.

I am influenced by the ethics and practices of the founders, Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld. Their altruistic approach encouraged citizen scientists and provided project resources, education, and comprehensive consumer testing/pricing. The company’s support of law enforcement is laudable. My experience and involvement at FamilyTreeDNA led me to become one of the founders of the Investigative Genetic Genealogy Accreditation Board (IGGAB), which is developing standards and accreditation for this new field.

Group Project Administration at FamilyTreeDNA has rewarded me with growing experience and knowledge about genetic genealogy that have immensely benefited my family history.