Tag - brick wall

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Following DNA-generated Leads
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WikiTree
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DNA for Genealogy Research

Following DNA-generated Leads

The wonder of DNA testing is clearly exciting with all it can tell us about ourselves, but as with everything pertaining to genealogy, a little bit of knowledge always seems to lead to a thirst for more information. And while DNA can give us hints about who we could be related to, it is frustratingly non-specific when it comes to figuring out exactly how we connect to our cousins. That’s where paper genealogy comes in.

Right now I’m working with a person who matches my DNA closer than anyone else I’ve encountered through the various tools available (who isn’t a member of my immediate family). In fact, we are each other’s closest matches on GEDmatch.com. The only catch is that neither of us recognizes any known relatives of the other! So we are digging deeper.

GEDmatch ToolsAs I mentioned in a previous post, there are several tools at GEDmatch.com for helping to locate matches to your DNA. One of these tools, called “People who match 2 or more kits”, helps narrow the field somewhat by returning a list of just those kits that match both me and my cousin, with information about how close they estimate the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is for each match. From that list, I picked the top four matches, and since I have been doing genealogy research for longer, I went through my files to see if I could find any of these close matches in previous correspondence. There was one name I think I recognize, so that gave me an idea of which family we might share. But we need to follow up by contacting each of these people and try to find the commonalities in our family trees if we can. This is where the paper, or traditional, genealogy comes in.

By narrowing down the possible matches to one or two families, it is much easier to see if we share relatives with all those whose kits showed a match to both of ours. In this case, my (potential) cousin has turned up someone’s info on AncestryDNA, where she was tested, whose family tree happens to have a lot of names that match my maiden name. This is exciting, since my GGG grandfather, Charles M. Watson (1838-1889), is one of our brick walls. He just appeared in Alabama in the 1870 & 1880 census, saying he was a carpenter from Georgia, then he died and his widow and children went to Texas. We have looked for his birth family for years, with no luck until now, and this connection is still in the “potential” category until we can get more information that can help prove that he is somehow connected to the Watson family that my cousin had found on Ancestry.

Just to complicate matters, though, I have a hunch that we may share so much DNA because we actually are double cousins — that is, we share ancestry in two family lines instead of just one. Remember the person whose email I thought I recognized? She is from a different family from my paternal Watson line. Instead, if she is the person I’m thinking of, we are related through my father’s mother instead of his father. Both families, incidentally, spent at least one generation in Georgia, and my “potential” cousin who is working on this with me knows her family lived in Tennessee, which of course is just the next state over. If this is the case, it could explain how we have so much overlapping DNA in spite of any possible links being at least 4 generations ago.

So, our next step is to try contacting the people identified by GEDmatch. Depending on whether they can confirm belonging to one or the other family in question, we may have something to go on, and then it is just a matter of researching records until we find the MRCA. Stay tuned!

WikiTree

As you have probably figured out by now, I really like the wiki format. That is to say, I like the MediaWiki software. But it is not the only way to build a wiki. The concept of wiki is simply a collaborative website, frequently one that allows anyone to create an account and add to it. In these days of hackers and spammers that isn’t always practical, but the idea of an easy to use markup language still works, even if it might be too easy for the bad guys to “contribute” their stuff, as I found to my chagrin when I didn’t lock down the wiki on this site.

WikiTree

Anyway, last week I discovered a site called WikiTree, which combines the concept of audience participation or collaboration with family trees. So I spent a couple of days adding some of my own family info to the “world tree” they are building there, and in the process learning how this site works. They have a feature that finds potential matches for people as you add them to the site, and tools to let you merge your own info with that added by others if they have already documented some of the same people. It is possible to simply upload a GEDCOM file if you have one, but I choose to enter each name individually, to avoid duplication errors. At the same time, when I spot a bit of missing data or source citations, I can go off and research that before resuming my data entry.

One of the first things that grabbed me about this site was a match for my great-great-great grandfather, Jane Cattell‘s first husband, Sylvester Hutchinson. Sylvester had been a particular brick wall of mine for many years, not least because he had a cousin with the same name who lived in the same state and born just a year or two apart. Not much family history had been passed down about him since he died when my great-great grandmother was a child, and his widow apparently didn’t talk about him much. A few months ago a cousin and I spent a few weeks chipping away at that wall, and we made a lot of progress, but finding this family online with more details, siblings and citations was very encouraging! At least it confirms that we were on the right track, and now we can link our branches of the family together with what more distant cousins have entered online.

Another aspect of WikiTree that I haven’t been able to take advantage of yet is their inclusion of DNA test results. When 23andme delivers my report, this will be one of the first places I enter the data. There are five or six other cousins on the “other end” of that link who may have some matches for us, in the autosomal genetics if not direct Y-DNA or mtDNA, so I am anxious to see what we come up with.

Have you tried WikiTree? What do you think about it? What about other collaborative online family trees? Let us know your opinions in the comments.

DNA for Genealogy Research

About ten years ago I persuaded my dad to have his DNA tested. We used Family Tree DNA, which was the best-known company available for genealogy DNA at that time, and which continues to be prominent in the field. Being an adventurous sort of guy, Dad went ahead and got the maximum number of markers tested for both his Y-DNA and mtDNA offered then. It was early days for that kind of thing, and the results were a bit disconcerting for my dad, so he didn’t pursue it. Basically, he didn’t match anyone with his surname at that time, and even falls into a different haplogroup than most of the participants in our one-name study. Now, 10 years later, many more people have been tested and there are some closer matches, but he has lost interest. I’m not sure I can get him to even update his account so we can follow up. It may be necessary to get my brother to have a test if we are going to learn any more.

my mtDNA brick wall

my mtDNA brick wall

Now, however, I’ve been given a DNA kit from 23 and Me by one of my sons, so we will have another go at it. Of course, since I’m female I don’t have any Y-DNA to test, but I’m eager to see the information about my mtDNA. My maternal line peters out in terms of genealogical knowledge with my great-great-great grandmother, who immigrated from somewhere in the British Isles in the early 1800s. Since she answered the “place of birth” question differently on several different censuses, exactly where she came from has been a mystery. While it may not be possible to determine that exactly, I hope to at least get some clue about her ethnicity; was she Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Scottish, or Welsh? Viking, Norman or Huguenot? Or maybe something else? And what does that mean, anyway? Her maiden name was Starling, and she said at various times that she was from Ireland or England, so it could be any of those. Great Britian is such a hodge-podge of people from everywhere, it may require DNA testing to determine one’s deep origins, after all.

Where to get DNA tests

If you are interested in obtaining a DNA testing kit, refer to the list of companies offering them for genealogical purposes on our wiki.

What is Y-DNA or mtDNA?

At this point, it may be a good idea to review exactly what the terms Y-DNA and mtDNA refer to. If you already know this, just skip ahead, but for those who aren’t sure, here’s a brief explanation. Essentially, Y-DNA is that passed down from father to son, while mtDNA is passed from mother to daughter. So, while we have many possible admixtures of chromosomes from all our ancestors, it is easiest to trace those on our direct paternal or maternal lines.

What DNA test results can tell us is another question. We can use them to determine whether we are closely related to someone else, or as implied earlier, to find out where our ancestors came from in the world, or their ethnicities. DNA obviously determines some of our personal traits, such as eye and skin color, and even potential temperament and intelligence (whatever those are). In some cases DNA tests can be used for medical diagnostic purposes, too, but that is outside the scope of this website. In general, if you plan to have your DNA tested, first determine what questions you want to have answered, and find a testing company who offer analysis that might provide the insights you seek. They are all slightly different in that regard, but examining their websites (listed in our wiki) should let you know what each outfit emphasizes.

I’ll be writing more about this topic when I get my own test results. Have you had your DNA tested? Were the results what you expected? Let us know your experiences in the comments.

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