Monday, November 12, 2012

What’s Been Happening, Part 1 (or: Fun with DNA)

“Regular” life is same-old, same-old = too much work, but in my exhausted stupor in the evenings, I’ve managed to make a little bit of progress over the past year.

There have only been two “active” areas for me this year:  putting my existing genealogy database information in my Ancestry Public Member Trees (I do this in a labor-intensive, ancestor-by-ancestor way, but I think the attention to detail makes up for the amount of time that it consumes) and DNA testing with Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.

To address the last one first:  Interesting experience.  I would say that it is definitely worthwhile to do the DNA testing, although you have to sift through a lot of dross to hit paydirt.  And, of course, new information is always being added, so that can always change the significance of the information that is already there.  I tested with Family Tree DNA first, and now have something like 42 pages of matches.  Of those, I can only positively identify the connection for three matches.  One of these was for a family line that I felt of lot of confidence in, but it was still exciting to see the connection confirmed:  the McKinneys of Texas (think Collin County and the city of McKinney).  Not because this is a “minor celebrity” branch, but because it was one of the earliest genealogical references I ever heard my relatives make (one that I dismissed at the time) and one of the clues that I pursued when I first started family research.

I contacted the person in question, but did not receive a response.  Then how did I know that these were “my” McKinneys?  After all, McKinney is not an uncommon name.  The person did at least have family names listed, and there were two that caught my eye:  Blatchley and Coffey.  That clinched it for me, and even pretty much pinned down where the connection is.

The second connection was through the Pool/Poole (I actually have two lines for this name, one on my father’s side and one on my mother’s side) and Manning families (Adam Poole m. Esther Manning).  This was exciting because it confirmed the connection from the Lewis line; I believe I was the first Lewis researcher to identify Elisha Berry Lewis’ wife as Martha Poole, daughter of Manning Poole (and previous work done by other researchers has established his connection to Adam and Esther).  I have since found a second connection on this line (through a different sibling of Manning) on Ancestry DNA.

The third connection goes to my Hamilton-Calhoun line:  my first Hamilton is my 4g-grandmother Elizabeth Hamilton, wife of Henry Skiles III, and the Calhoun connection is several generations up from that.  I know that due to migration patterns, etc., there are often multiple family connections, so that this might not be the actual shared DNA, but still ... the possibility that this is where the match lies is intriguing, and I will be keeping an eye on future matches through this segment to see if the connection is confirmed.

Ancestry DNA, though it has a shorter list of matches, has more identifiable connections - 11 at last count.  Two Brinlee matches - no surprise, though I am enjoying corresponding with one of these matches, who is a relatively new researcher.  There are two McKinney matches, and one has an interesting McKinney connection:  due to a first cousin marriage, he is descended both from my ggg-grandfather Daniel McKinney and from Daniel’s brother Collin McKinney.  

There are two Norman matches:  one is descended from the full sister of my great-grandfather (he also had many half-siblings), and one is descended from from my Norman-surnamed 6g-grandfather.  This latter connection is also welcome news, as it confirms the connection between my 5g-grandfather (whose affiliation with my line I am confident of) and the alleged progenitor of the family in this country (my 7g-grandfather Isaac Norman).  I knew that some pretty sound research had been done on this line, but had not seen enough documentation for these generations.  To make a nice set with the Norman connections,  there is a match through my Monk line - the sibling of Rebecca Monk, my great-great grandmother and first wife of Joseph Madison Carroll Norman.  

The remaining matches are on my mother’s side:  another Poole confirmation as well as  two other matches that confirmed some of my original research - the Lewis connection to the Dalrymple family and a Tarrant connection, which provides support for the sole documentary evidence I have (so far) that my great-great grandmother Emily Moore, wife of Spencer Moore, was a Tarrant, and specifically one of the Greenville Tarrants.

So why am I able to ascertain the connections for more of my Ancestry matches?  I imagine the answer to that is that most of them have family trees on Ancestry.  There are a number of my matches on FTDNA who post their pedigrees, and many more who post the family names they are researching - but perhaps not enough.  While I was able to figure out one of the matches without a pedigree, for the most part it is the context in the trees that helps me out.

And none of my FTDNA matches has responded to my messages to them.  To be fair, after testing with FTDNA, I was quickly contacted by several matches, but none of us has been able to pinpoint our connection.  I have had more responses on Ancestry, but only a couple of them seem to be actively researching the lines in question.  One contact for whom I provided the maiden name for a female ancestor who was not very far back in his family tree was polite, but did not seem to be interested in finding out more about the new family connection.

So what is behind the indifference of all of the people who went to the trouble and paid their money to get their DNA tested, but have provided little or no family information, do not bother to respond, do not want to pursue the information further?  I am aware that I need to be patient - some of the people may not check their results or e-mail regularly or may have had to put their research on hold - heck, I’ve been in that situation myself for most of the past year.  Even then, even in my most comatose state of tiredness, a contact from a new cousin could always get me going.  

And why do so many people provide little or no family information?  I have heard that there are a number of people who test with Family Tree or 23 and Me who are adopted, so they have no information to post, but other than that situation, how do people expect to get results?  Even I figured out how to post my pedigree on FTDNA - if I can do it, anyone can.  I even submitted it to Gedmatch (though there seem to be a number of glitches/problems/bugs with this site), and I’m going to switch the only one of my Ancestry trees that is private to public so that that information will be accessible as well.  

It occurs to me that the same people who start research but then get discouraged after the first few “finds” when they learn that they are going to have to do some real digging are the ones who take the DNA test and then do not pursue it when they see that it takes some real work to find out what their connections are with various people.  Correlating DNA evidence, like correlating documentary evidence, is not simple or easy.

Here is what I am doing to pursue the DNA evidence:

Writing to all people shown as my DNA matches for whom:  (a) there is a strong match or (b)  I can pinpoint the connection; if they do not have an Ancestry tree, or it is a private tree, or if they are on FTDNA and have not posted either a pedigree or a detailed name list, I am offering to exchange pedigrees.

Continue to fill out my Ancestry trees, and also direct people to my website and blog, so that they can have more complete information to calculate our connections.

Use Gedmatch, Excel/Numbers, and FTDNA’s Chromosome Browser to correlate information:  sort out people by chromosome and then chromosome segment, and then see who lines up with my known connections; keep spreadsheets of some names that pop up with a lot of my matches; and whatever else I can think of.

If anyone reading this has any other suggestions for how to use DNA matches to find more information, I’d love to hear them!


  1. Dad's DNA testing (on Family Tree DNA) resulted in contact with 4 people, 3 of whom stay in touch - and I with them.

    That was 2 years ago that he was tested.

    I think your method of contacting folks is a good one. One thing I saw with people who matched (on at least 12 markers) was that some folks want to be reassured that any information they provide about living people will not be shared publicly.

    So I always make sure to say that up front.

    Dee at Shakin' the Family Tree

    1. Good idea, Dee - I will include that in future correspondence. I also offer up a little bit of any new information that I have on a particular line - such as where DNA evidence is leading Brinlee researchers, or some old articles that I found on Chronicling America, etc.

    2. It's always great to hear from you Greta! We just received our DNA results from FtDNA and I'm still in a state of "duh, what to do now." You are correct in that sorting through and correlating all this info is a challenge. Now that I know we can put a pedigree on FtDNA, I'm going to try and figure out how. Pedigrees are much more helpful than a list of surnames.

      Now to figure out how to organize the rest...

      I do like your approach of contacting the close matches and I like Dee's approach

  2. Great to see you back, Greta! I recently tested with FTDNA, as well, and am floundering a bit trying to figure out what to do next! I've contacted, or been contacted by, several people, most of whom have responded, and NONE of whom I could identify a relationship with. I know it takes time, but I wish I knew what I was doing so I could be confident I was making the most of this new avenue of research!