The Importance of DNA to our Family History

Attendees at the Robbins Bicentennial Reunion in Indiana this summer had a great overview of the importance of DNA to Robbins family history by Greg Robbins of Florida.  I thought I’d provide a very brief recap to the discussion here along with my own thoughts.  Keep in mind: I’m no expert in this so others are welcome to share additional information or corrections in the comments.

It is that time of year when companies like Ancestry, 23AndMe, MyHeritage, and FamilyTreeDNA have sales on their DNA testing kits.  This usually happens around the family holiday season, as well as around Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and DNA Day (April 23th this coming year).  If you are interested in testing your DNA this the time to get a kit at a greatly reduced price.

Why test your DNA?  The advertising from these companies is primarily focused on the ethnicity reports, that is discovering what region or country your ancestors came from.  This might be a disappointment to some as DNA is most accurate only to the continent level:  Europe, Asia, Africa, etc.  The testing companies constantly update their ethnicity results based on changes (updates to) their reference populations.  That is, they compare your DNA to others in specific areas (British Isles, Scandinavia, Southern Europe, etc.) to determine who you most match with.  The problem is that populations have not remained in one location over history.  The companies also change their groupings – Scandinavia gets divided into Sweden & Denmark as one category and Norway as another.  The results are interesting but I don’t find them particularly helpful for the type of genealogy I do.

The strength of DNA, as far as I am concerned, are with the matches identified between you and other testers.  Having a match with a distant cousin who claims descent from your probable ancestor helps cement that relationship and helps to prove out the paper trail that we were previously dependent on.

There are three kinds of DNA tests commonly available.  Autosomal (provided by Ancestry, 23AndMe, MyHeritage, and FamilyTreeDNA), and Y-Chromosome and Mitochondrial (only tested by FamilyTreeDNA.  The Y-Chromosome is passed down from father to son, so is useful with surname projects (i.e. Robbins surnames).  Mitochondrial is passed down from mother to children (regardless of gender) and can be useful similarly.  Autosomal is the DNA you inherit from both parents and is primarily that type that I have worked with.

As Greg mentioned in July there is a Robins/Robbins DNA Project based on FamilyTreeDNA.  This is most important for Robbins surnamed males – the idea being that they are descended, generation by generation, from other Robbins surnamed males and a compilation of the data will help sort out all the various s Robbins/Robins family lines.  I am not a Robbins surnamed male (my surname being Mittge) so a Y-Chromosome DNA test will not help me.  It is my understanding that the project can accept autosomal results but it’s much less refined, and thus less useful, than the Y-Chromosome testing, but I may try it one day.  I would encourage any Robbins surnamed males to test with FamilyTreeDNA and join the Robins/Robbins DNA Project.

I have worked almost exclusively with autosomal DNA results and primarily results through Ancestry.  I have also tested with 23AndMe and MyHeritage (as well as FamilyTreeDNA and a couple of others) but the data available through Ancestry is so large I’ve barely had time to move beyond that company.

You receive 50% of your DNA from your father and 50% from your mother, 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent, and so on.  Autosomal DNA is quite useful for a broad view of your genetic relatives but becomes less useful as you move back through the generations.  There is a point where you do not carry the DNA of particular ancestors because each child receives a random split of their parents DNA.  That being said, I have DNA matches with relatives who are fifth or sixth cousins, so obviously we each received some small amount of DNA from the same far distant ancestor.

Here is a chart from the International Society of Genetic Genealogy showing the likelihood of not sharing DNA with cousins as their relationship moves further away from you.  You will definitely match with a biological 1st cousin, while you have a nearly 70% chance of not matching with a 4th cousin (which still leaves a 30% chance that you will!).

The 50% autosomal DNA you receive from each parent can be somewhat different than the 50% that your sibling inherits.  That’s why it is important and very useful to test as many people as possible in your family.  Your sibling may inherit more of a particular ancestors’ DNA, while you may inherit more of another one.  You may match with a distant cousin while your sibling may not – it doesn’t mean they aren’t related, just that the bit of DNA from the common ancestor didn’t get passed to you or them. 

This chart shows four siblings with colored squares representing the DNA they have received from the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  Each sibling is slightly different so testing each sibling is very useful for genealogy.

An example:  my brother shares much larger chunks of DNA with many of our Robbins cousins than I do.  He shares something like 147 cM (centimorgans, a unit of measurement of DNA) with one of our third cousins (another Robbins descendant), while I share 22 cM with the same person.  One of my brother’s matches, which I don’t share, is with a Robbins cousin who I believe comes down through the Chastain family – many, many generations away.  This is wonderful for sorting out and proving family lines.

I hope all of you consider DNA testing at some point.  It’s fun and extremely useful for family history research.  But –it’s up to you to test or not – you need to be comfortable with your decision – reasons not to test can include concerns about privacy, concerns about “surprises” you may not be comfortable with, not wanting to connect with strangers (albeit “biological” ones), and other reasons.  For me the decision to test was fairly easy, but we should all respect the choices of testers and non-testers alike.

And with that I would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season and a wonderful 2023!

Oliver and Mary Robbins

Oliver Robbins, the fifth child of Jacob and Sarah (Spilman) Robbins, was born in Decatur County, Indiana, in 1840.  He turned 12 years old on the Oregon Trail as the family came west in 1852.

After arriving in Oregon, Jacob’s family initially settled near Salem in Marion County, but soon enough moved north to take up land around Molalla in Clackamas County, about half way between Salem and Portland.

Molalla – between Portland and Salem

In 1865 Oliver Robbins, then about twenty-five years of age, purchased 1008 acres about a mile south of Molalla.  That same year he was married to Mary Jane Thompson, the daughter of a pioneer from nearby Marquam, Oregon.  Mary had attended school in Oregon City and always remembered being drive back to Marquam by a freight hauler.  It took the hauler’s ox teams three days to make the trip because of the poor roads.  A clipping from an unknown newspaper later recounted Mary’s story:

“…when a wheel dropped into one of those chuck holes, the man would get a fence rail, or a limb to pry it loose so the oxen could draw the wagon on.  Sometimes I was sitting on the rail or limb to help pry the wheel up, and sometimes I was whipping and hawing at the oxen.  And sometimes the man, he was such a big fellow, was doing the sitting and I was driving and making all the noise I could.  If we had met anyone I don’t know how they could have passed us, the road was so narrow.  We would bounce over a big root, and down into a big chuck hole would go the wheel, then our work would begin all over again.  The oxen were poor and weak and the road was worse than bad.  I have forgotten a great many things, but I’ll never forget that trip from Oregon City.”

Oliver Robbins

The year following their marriage, Oliver and Mary moved to Umatilla Meadows in eastern Oregon.  where they remained until 1871, when they returned to Molalla.  Oliver’s father Jacob and older brothers Harvey, Martin, and Thomas, were engaged in freight hauling and other activities in eastern Oregon during this time.  In 1871 Oliver and Mary Robbins returned to Molalla, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Mary Jane (Thompson) Robbins

In 1880 their farm was described in the U.S. census as comprising 200 tilled acres, 400 acres of pasture or orchard, and 40 acres of woodland.  Their farm produced 50 tons of hay, 600 pounds of butter, 350 bushels of Indian corn, 1200 bushels of oats, 900 bushels of wheat, 180 bushels of Irish potatoes, 400 bushels of apples, 40 pounds of honey, 10 pounds of wax, and 45 cords of wood.  Overall cash value of the farm was estimated at $11,000, making it a very large, profitable operation in Clackamas County.

An article at the time of their 65th wedding anniversary (in 1930) reported that:

“Uncle Ol and Aunt Mary have been identified with business interests in the county in a large way and have always been progressive.  They have contributed their share to the progress and development of the Molalla valley.  It was by putting $10,000 into the Willamette Valley Southern railroad at a critical time in its construction that it was built.

They now live on a fifteen acre farm three blocks from the Molalla four corners.  They do all their own work and raise ducks, chickens and hogs, and milk three cows which they raised from calves.”

Mary Robbins was a noted lover of flowers and gardens and was instrumental in helping organize the local Women’s Civic club.  During its first years when she was President the club helped the city purchase the city park and set out maple trees and shrubs.  The article about their wedding anniversary also noted that Mary “has not submitted to the modern style either.  She has beautiful long hair that has never been cut.”  

Oliver Robbins

Oliver and Mary were very active until the end of their long lives.  Oliver was a noted hunter late into life and his wife Mary, at age 90, once routed a burglar out of their home.  A scrap of an undated newspaper clipping reports:

Mary Jane (Thompson) Robbins

“A burglar failed to ruffle “Aunt Mary” Robbins, 90, when he entered her home.  “Aunt Mary” heard a noise in the dining room, and thinking it was her daughter, she arose, but was surprised to find a man.  Undaunted she demanded: “What are you doing here?”  “I want something to eat,” the man said.  “Now you get right out of here and come around and ask for it right. Git!”

Oliver and Mary were the parents of two daughters, Kate and Orla.  Kate was married to George Adams and they lived in Molalla on Lay Road.  The nearby Adams cemetery (where many members of the Robbins family are buried) are named for the family.  Orla Robbins attended the Oregon Agricultural College (later Oregon State University) where she met her future husband Austin T. Buxton and they courted by horse and buggy.  There are many descendants of Oliver and Mary today.

Oliver Robbins died in 1933, while Mary died in 1940.  Both are buried in the nearby Adams Cemetery.

Photos are courtesy of Oliver and Mary Jane’s descendant Betty Guild.

[Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Oliver Robbins]

A Mystery in the Woods by Thomas K. Robbins

A Mystery in the Woods: Ye Old Robbins Burial Place Upper Freehold Township, New Jersey.  By Thomas K. Robbins. Havre de Grace, Maryland: self-published, 2022.  152 pages; illustrations, index, and appendices.  $25 plus $5 P&H.

I have posted in the past about how my family history focus is on the descendants of Jacob and Mary Robbins, who we last have record of in Shelby County, Kentucky, but whose children moved on to Indiana, especially Decatur County.  That is not because I don’t have an interest in earlier generations but I’ve had to make choices in where to spend my limited research time.  Others have focused on the earlier generations and I greatly appreciate their research and am always happy to promote their efforts.

A newly published book (2022) by Thomas K. Robbins of Havre de Grace, Maryland is titled A Mystery in the Woods: Ye Olde Robbins Burial Place, Upper Freehold Township, New Jersey.  In this nice piece of writing, Tom describes his purpose as “to document the forgotten souls buried here and my journey to find the owner(s) of the property.”

He begins with some background of Daniel Robins, our common ancestor.  DNA evidence does conclude that we are his descendants (basically, Robbins family members descended from Jacob Robbins match with proven, documented, descendants of Daniel Robins – ergo, we share a common ancestor).   Some feel there is a clear, documented descent from Daniel, and while I’m not so convinced of the paper trail (but remember I haven’t spent much time on the connections back in the 1700s), DNA proves the case.

Tom Robbins tells the story of how Daniel Robinson came to the American shores in 1651 as a prisoner of war, served as an indentured servant in Wethersfield, Connecticut, before moving on to Woodbridge, New Jersey, and shortening his name to Robins.  He finally came to Allentown, New Jersey, in the Upper Freehold Township. 

Daniel’s children and descendants were buried in a cemetery on property owned by Daniel Robins.  The cemetery is so old that burials may have pre-dated European settlers.  Called Ye Old Robbins Burial Place, along with several other names, this cemetery’s earliest marked grave is that of “Deborah Lincon”, a great-grandaunt of Abraham Lincoln, of all people.  The cemetery has survived over the years, probably because of its Lincoln connection.

The cemetery has also been lost, and then found, a number of times over the years.  Tom tells the story of the overgrown cemetery being “rediscovered”, cleaned up, only to fall into obscurity once again.  The cemetery is located on property belonging (at least originally thought) to the state of New Jersey’s Assunpink Wildlife Management Area and Tom describes his research in identifying and locating the cemetery’s real owners.  Tom admits that there are still unsolved mysteries in the story of the old cemetery.

Overall this is an enjoyable story of an ancient cemetery, how it has been lost, found, and reclaimed.  The book concludes with a listing of all inscribed headstones.

The book A Mystery in the Woods is available for $25, plus $5 for shipping and handling, directly from Thomas K. Robbins, 312 Woodduck Court, Havre de Grace, MD, 21078.  His order form provides several ways to pay for the book and you can always email him with questions at

Daily News Reports on Reunion

Greensburg (Indiana) local columnist Pat Smith, headlined an article in the Daily News:  “Robbins Reunion Was a Success.”  Pat had contacted me for a report about the reunion.

“Months ago (or maybe even a year ago) I wrote about a Robbins reunion that took place in 1922 and wondered if anyone would be interested in one this year, 100 years later.  It did take place, and Kevin Mittge wrote to me about it saying it was a great success and that local attorney William (“Bill”) Hunter Robbins welcomed families to Decatur County.”

She goes to mention some of the Robbins history in Decatur County and then writes “I visited his [William Robbins Sr.} grave in 1975 when writing a series about Revolutionary War veterans buried in Decatur County with the help of the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

Pat also describes how reunion attendees came from all over Indiana and all over the United States, using some of the statistics that I provided in a previous post.

And finally she credits the generous reunion attendees for, not only covering the expense of the room rental and photographer fee, but providing much more that was donated in the name of the Robbins reunion to the Decatur County Historical Society (which organization, by the way, sent me a nice acknowledgment of the reunion’s donation).

Many thanks to Melissa Robbins of Greensburg for forwarding a copy of the newspaper to me!

Robbins Reunion – Group Photo and More

Group Photo

Christina Newby of Milestones Photography has uploaded the group photo taken at the 2022 Robbins Reunion.  The direct link to the photos is:

The “download PIN” is:  2563

The gallery will expire Oct. 6, 2022.

I will include her email message here: 

Hello Robbins Extended Family,

Thank you again for allowing me to capture your family. I always hope these will be treasured for years to come!

Here are your images. These are the high res files that you can download. You can download them individually by clicking on each image, or all together at the same time, by clicking the down arrow button at the very top of the gallery. You can also select the resolution at download – I suggest downloading both the full resolution, and a second set at a lower web resolution, which makes it great for social sharing. Feel free to share this gallery with family and friends. Please note the gallery expiration date [Oct. 6, 2022].

Save time by ordering prints directly from this gallery. When you make a purchase, it is shipped directly to you. Please let me know if you have any questions, or need assistance with ordering.


Christina Newby []

I have downloaded both the large and small resolution sets and that was very easy.  I have also ordered a copy from Christina Newby (Milestones Photography) as well as Costco (where I usually have photos printed) to compare price and quality.  Though I’m sure Milestones archival quality will far surpass Costco many of us may just want a good affordable copy of the photo.  Ordering from Milestones was a little more complicated as it leads you to Paypal – I was able to pay with a credit card and not Paypal – but it took a few extra steps even though I also have a Paypal account.  Be patient with that process.

Feel free to share this post or send copies of the photos to anyone you think might be interested.  I sent out an email to all the attendees and all went through except for one that bounced.

It has been suggested that we identify everyone who appears in the photo.  I’m not sure the best way to do that – perhaps in the comments here – or you can email me at and I’ll compile a list. Identify by row (there are four) – and the number from either the right or left.

Reunion Demographics

I thought it would be interesting to share where everyone who attended the reunion came from.  This is taken from the reunion sign-in sheets and while I don’t believe everyone signed in we’re pretty close to the total.  The breakdown by state is as follows:

California                    1

Colorado                     2

Florida                         1

Indiana                      37

Michigan                     2

Oregon                       4

Pennsylvania               2

Texas                           1

The specific Indiana locations (where given) included:  Connersville (3), Decatur County (5), Fishers (1), Greenfield (1), Greensburg (10), Indianapolis (4), Morgantown (1), Poland (1), Spencer (2), Westport (3), Winchester (1), and Zionsville (2).

Robbins Reunion – Report

The 2022 Bicentennial Robbins reunion in Westport, Indiana, was a great success!  We had 50 to 60 people attend.  There was meeting of new cousins, reunions of long separated cousins, and friends discovering they were cousins of one another.  During our program William (“Bill”) Hunter Robbins welcomed family to Decatur County, Greg Robbins discussed the importance of DNA to solving Robbins genealogical brickwalls, and I (Kevin) read a very brief family history.  (I had an expanded seven-page history – still quite brief – as a handout; if you weren’t at the reunion and would like a copy, feel free to email me at “mittge @” – it’s too long to post on here).

The attendees were extremely generous and we collected donations well in excess of the cost of the room rental and photographer, so I will be passing along a donation of $251 to the Decatur County Historical Society in the name of the 2022 Robbins Reunion!

Once it is available I will be sending out the link to the group photo taken by Christina Newby, our photographer.  The photo will be available to have prints ordered or to be downloaded if folks would like to save it or print it elsewhere.

Below are some photos from the reunion.

Westport Community Building

William (“Bill”) Hunter Robbins
Kevin Mittge
Greg Robbins speaking about DNA
The 20-foot “abridge” 4-generation family chart
Historical displays

Robbins Reunion – Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the day!  Hope to see some of you there.  The Westport Community Building has a very nice, large room – and we’ve set some tables and chairs up but we can add more depending on how many folks attend. 

A couple of things to mention:


Don’t forget that the Decatur County Historical Society Museum will be open from 9am to 11am tomorrow. It is located at 222 N. Franklin St. in Greensburg.

Getting to Westport:

There is a detour sign as you drive south on Highway 3 from Greensburg to Westport.  I’m not sure what the official detour route is but if you drive down Highway 3 past Letts to almost the road closed sign you can take a right on CR (County Road) 800 South.  Drive west to CR 700 West (you could turn on CR 600 West but it looks smaller and narrower), turn left and take CR 700 West south to CR 1100 South – then turn left and you drive past the Westport Cemetery and into the small community of Westport.  Go straight across Highway 3 and continue into town – the Westport Community Center is on the right.  Here is a map from the Indiana atlas.  (You’re basically driving a rectangle around the closure through beautiful lush corn fields).  It probably adds less than 10 minutes to your drive.

In Westport:

There is parking in the front and along the sides (especially the west side) of the Community Building.

The entrance into the back large room of the community center is on the east side of the building along a short driveway. Unless it is too windy there will be a poster outside.

Having seen several drivers pulled over by police it appears that Westport P.D. takes it’s 20 MPH speed limit seriously!  Drive safely through this tiny town.

Robbins Reunion – One Week Out!

Well – we’re only one week out from the 2022 Robbins Bicentennial Reunion!  We are looking forward to seeing everyone and spending some time getting acquainted and sharing our common family history and experiences.  Some of us (such as myself, Kevin) are beginning our travel to Indiana.  Others will be traveling the reunion weekend.  We wish everyone a safe trip and we will meet up in Decatur County.

We’ve done just about as much publicity as has been possible:  newspaper, radio, flyers, Facebook, and this blog.  But – if you still encounter anyone who might be interested: pass the word!

If you have any questions, you can continue to email “” and will be answered as soon as possible. Also – for a little more detailed information click on the reunion link above.

Again, the reunion will be Sat., July 30th, 11am to 5pm, at the Westport (Indiana) Community Building.  See you there!

Robbins Reunion – Updates

Places to visit:

If you are visiting Greensburg and haven’t been to the Decatur County Historical Society’s museum before, you can visit the morning of the reunion.  The museum will be open on Saturday, July 30th, from 9am to 11am, for any one wanting to stop by before going on the reunion site!  The museum is located at 222 N. Franklin St. in Greensburg.  This is one block north of the courthouse square on the east side.

Decatur County Historical Society

The Greensburg Public Library has a genealogy room with a lot of information.  The hours over the reunion weekend are Friday, 9am to 5pm, and on Saturday, 9am to 1pm.  The library is closed on Sunday but open again on Monday at 9am.  The library is located at 1110 E. Main Street.  Main Street is on the south side of courthouse square and you can just follow that east to the library.

Family History and Photographs:

One of the fun things about family reunions is sharing family history and family photographs.  I would encourage all of you to bring things to share. I am bringing three Robbins photograph albums, three large working notebooks of genealogy, four stand-up trifold historical displays, and more.

Example of Historical Display

I will also have a laptop, portable scanner, and some extra thumb drives for those who want to share or save material to take home (or we can email them from the reunion).  All of the photos in my albums are on my laptop for easy access and sharing.

A small portion of the family chart

I am also bringing a twenty-foot abridged four-generation family chart starting with our common ancestors Jacob and Mary Robbins.  Note that I said abridged!  It’s twenty-feet long and it still doesn’t include everyone down to the fourth generation.  Which by the way, is about our great-great-grandparents’ level.  It will give you a feel for our family’s immense size.  The chart is very simple, see example above, called a working chart, and will probably be outdated with only a little more research.  But it’s fun to ponder!

Robbins Reunion – Updates

We are now less than three weeks away from the 2022 Robbins Bicentennial Reunion!  I thought I’d update some things on this blog and the Facebook page over the next week or so.  Don’t forget that you can also email the reunion at with questions (I usually check it a couple times a day).

Publicity:  An article appeared in the Greensburg Daily News the last week of June announcing the reunion.  I was interviewed live by Greensburg radio station WTRE (AM 1330) last week and hopefully some local listeners caught it.  I have also mailed out a number of flyers to the two libraries in the county, the visitor’s center, the museum, and a number of churches.  If there is any last minute publicity anyone would like to try – go for it!  (I’m attaching a PDF copy below of the flyer which you are welcome to print out, download, or distribute any way you think useful).

Food:  As a reminder, this event will be a potluck.  While a couple of us who are coming some distance are hoping to visit Costco in Indianapolis and pick up some food trays, it would be great if attendees can bring main, side, or dessert dishes.  Coffee will be provided thanks to one of our cousin volunteers!

Expenses:  We only have two dedicated expenses, which is good for a unbudgeted family reunion!  The community center costs $350 and a professional photographer who will be taking a large group photo costs $100.  We have folks who can cover the costs up front but we are hoping they can be shared out among attendees afterward.  We will have a donation jar at the reunion.  Any amount collected in excess of the above expenses will be given to the Decatur County Historical Society.