Family History is for Everyone Spotlight: DNA Cousin Don Royston
Family history is all about people and meeting new cousins is often a highlight in our genealogy ramblings. Ten years ago, long before Ancestry’s DNA became hugely popular, I participated in a YDNA test group that not only proved my connection to Thomas Royston, who arrived in Virginia in 1635, but led me to a new cousin.
Today I’d like to introduce you to Don Royston, my DNA proven cousin and fellow Royston researcher. I met Don via email in November of 2005. I had been actively researching my Royston line for over two years, having only the name of my Texan g-g-grandfather, Robert Cisney Royston, to go on. Our family had moved from Seattle, Washington to Utah and I now had the Family History Library at my disposal. I spent hours tracing my Royston line back to Virginia and when I thought I had a reasonable tree constructed, posted it on Rootsweb. Little did I know, that would be the beginning of a remarkable journey.
Not long after posting my tree, I received an email from Mark Royston, another cousin, wondering how reliable my postings on Rootsweb were. Apparently there were other Royston descendants doing the same research and our results didn’t always match up. I was thrilled to have someone contact me. Mark had engineered a YDNA test that proved he and Don were descended from the Thomas Royston who arrived in Virginia in 1635 on the “Elizabeth.” I had connected my tree to this same Thomas Royston. Don and I corresponded, traded information, and I was able to find a Royston uncle from my branch of the family to submit DNA for testing. When the results came back, the DNA from my great uncle and Don’s DNA matched on all 43 markers!
Don began a Royston research group and kindly invited me to join. For the next two years we actively researched and shared information, then we each got busy on other projects. We kept in touch sporadically over the next few years and Don sent me pictures from Royston reunions in Alabama and Virginia. He has always been extremely gracious in sharing information and has also made contributions to the genealogy world with the compilation of two books on cemeteries in Virginia. I checked out one of his books at the Family History Library and thought of the hours and hours he and his wife, Mary, spent recording the names and dates from every headstone in each cemetery. As researchers, how often do we use these invaluable books and never know anything about the authors or compilers?
Don & Mary’s first book; the 3rd edition, published 2009, includes 7,736 burials
Because of Don’s service not only to me but to countless others who have and will benefit from his work, I wanted to honor him and thank him through this spotlight. I found some fun articles about him on the web and have included links to those in parentheses throughout the article. Let’s find out a little more about Don and his passion for genealogy in his own words!
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been married to my special lady, Mary Lou, for 43 years in July 2016. I am a farm boy from the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia – Clarke County, to be exact. I left the farm at age 25, went into the US Army, served 13 months in Vietnam of my three year enlistment and then began employment with the National Security Agency, then the US Army Corps of Engineers before gaining employment with General Motors Parts Division for 30 years. I retired in 1995 and I began my genealogy hobby in 1998.
My wife and I compiled information and published two books on all the known graves and tombstones in Clarke County, VA. Copies of those books are in the Library of Virginia. The county historical association did honor us for that work. Additionally, I contributed a copy of my “Thomas Royston b. 1610 and 400 Years of His Descendants” on a thumb drive to the Library of Virginia. Because of my advancing age, I am contemplating contributing most of my files to other places which will commit to allowing the general public to access that information.
(An article on rootsweb.com by Val Van Meter for The Winchester Star highlights Don and Mary Royston’s work: “We Washed a lot of Tombstones: Florida Couple Records Burials at 19 Clarke County Cemeteries in Second Book.”)
My sister challenged me after I chided her for all those hand-written notes and books. This was after I asked her why she did not use a PC. So I started with myself and that research has resulted in 85,000 plus names in my database. Most are Royston’s or folks with ties to the Royston name or even folks from my home county.
What are your research interests?
I really enjoy courthouses, cemeteries, and reunions. Lately, I’ve even discovered there are many, many digitized Virginia records recently made available on Ancestry.com. That has enabled me to “fill-in-blanks.”
Royston Reunion, 2011
What is the most rewarding part of researching your family’s history?
DNA confirmation that my g-g-grandfather, Peter Royston, was the first son of John Cary Royston. The result of that led to tying in the other children of John Cary Royston and his second and third marriages to Mary Ann Renwick and Mary “Polly” Baker Cessna.
What has been the most difficult part of your genealogical journey?
Probably the disinterest many folks have about who their ancestors were.
What is your favorite way to share genealogy and family history with others?
Telling stories and relating information I’ve learned from others.
(Read one of Don’s stories: “A Clermont Childhood: Going to Town,” published in the Clarke Daily News.)
If you had all the time in the world to spend on family history, what would you do?
I confess I spend most of my time looking for folks – either for myself or for others. My wife sometimes becomes annoyed with me because of my obsession with genealogy.
What’s the best discovery you’ve made about your family?
I don’t have a “best discovery.” I look at every one of the “cousins” in my files as the best discovery.
Who is your most interesting ancestor?
Thomas Royston b. 1610. He came to the Virginia Colony in 1635 on the ship “Elizabeth.” If you ever have an opportunity to go to Jamestown, VA, be sure you include a visit to a replica of that ship that must have bounced around on the Atlantic Ocean like a cork as it made it’s way to North America from England. Thomas and his 400 plus years of descendants were hearty beyond description!