Genealogy Research Planning with DNA
What should your research plan look like if you want to test a hypothesis with DNA evidence? Each project is unique, but all can follow the same guiding principles.
In the Research Like a Pro with DNA process, we have already discussed the following steps:
Step 2 Assess: Understanding and Using Your DNA Results – 4 Simple Steps
Step 3 Organize: Seeing the Big Picture: 3 Ways to Chart Your DNA Matches
Step 4 Research Objective: What Do You Want to Know? 3 Steps to Focus Your DNA Research
Step 5 Analyze your Sources: DNA Sources, Information, and Evidence: Sorting it All Out
Step 6 Locality Research: Where in the World Has My DNA Traveled? DNA and Locality Research
Step 7 is to create a research plan. The purpose of research planning is to determine which records, DNA analysis tools, and methods will help you answer your research question. Let’s discuss the basic research planning steps laid out by Diana in her post Research Like a Pro Part 4: What’s the Plan. I’ll give some examples of how to utilize DNA tools and methods in each step.
Summarize the Known Facts
When you begin a genealogy research project, it’s important to know your starting point. What information is already known about your subject and research question? Review sources that have already been identified. Analyze their soundness. List the most reliable facts from these sources in your research plan. This is a neat summary of what is already known about your research objective. Once you’ve summarized the known information, you can begin to form a hypothesis and identify additional sources and methods to help you meet your objective.
To add DNA information to your summary of known facts, review the DNA sources that relate to your research question. Your DNA matches are sources. Which DNA matches have you identified on the family branch pertinent to your project? In Step 5 of the RLP with DNA process, you organized the matches that are related to the family branch of your research objective by creating a Lucidchart or diagram showing the common ancestors. How DNA matches are related to you is the most valuable piece of information to include in the summary. It is also helpful to include the amount of DNA shared between the main test taker and their DNA matches.
Here are two examples of facts that could be included in a Summary of Known Facts using the Lucidchart above:
– The relationship of Diana to Charles Leslie Shults and Ettie Belle Harris is confirmed through DNA matches to her first cousins Gary (788 shared cMs across 34 segments) and Lisa (805 shared cMs across 27 segments.
-The relationship of Diana to John C. Harris and Malissa Welch is confirmed through DNA matches to third cousins Josh (103 cm across 5 segments), Levi (70 cMs across 6 segments), Dolly (34 cMs across 4 segments), and Carrie (45 cMs across 3 segments).
Create a Working Hypothesis
After the Summary of Known Facts, you should write out your hypothesis. What do you think is the answer to your research question? Maybe you have viewed Ancestry’s Thrulines and you have a suggested ancestor with several DNA Matches who seem to descend from that ancestor. Your hypothesis could be that the suggested ancestor is the father of one of your brick wall ancestors. MyHeritage DNA’s Theory of Relativity tool also gives hypotheses about how DNA matches could be related to a common ancestor. When you created your Lucidchart diagram, perhaps you added a dotted line, indicating that the link to that ancestor has not been proven. This is a hypothesis.
Viewing the shared matches of a match whose relationship to you has been identified can help form a hypothesis. In the diagram above, let’s say we are looking at the shared matches of Josh. We have already confirmed that he is related to Diana through their most recent common ancestors John C. Harris and Malissa Welch. On the shared match list of Josh and Diana, we see several matches whose relationship to Diana has not yet been identified. These matches share less DNA with Diana than Josh, perhaps indicating that they are more distant relatives. Maybe they are 4-6th cousins. Perhaps if we trace the pedigree of these matches, we will find the parents of John C. Harris and Malissa Welch. We now have a hypothesis that could reveal an ancestor we haven’t yet identified.
Identify Sources & Methods
Now that you have a hypothesis to test, the next step in research planning is to identify sources to search and methods to use. What are you going to do to test your hypothesis?
Typically in research planning, we list the record sets in the time and place that we will search. We focus on those records that could hold the answer to our research question.
For an objective to determine when and where our subject died, we may list the following sources to search: FindaGrave, Death Certificate, Funeral Home records, etc. We may also list the following methods: correlation of tax roll data, including negative evidence; census studies, land studies, etc.
In a DNA research project, the sources we use are our matches. Often the methods we utilize include verifying the pedigrees of our matches, putting hypothesized ancestral couples into the correct time and place to have conceived the known individual, descendancy research for the hypothesized ancestor, ancestral research for the hypothesized ancestor, etc.
When we add DNA methods to the list, we may come up with several possibilities. We’ve written articles about some useful DNA methodologies that you could review to see which fits your specific research project.
– What are the Odds? (WATO) tool at DNA Painter which uses the shared cM project to test out hypotheses in pedigree format
– Contact additional cousins on the pertinent family line
– Ask for access to the DNA test results of our closer cousins to find additional matches
– Phase the DNA test results to get a more specific kit for the test taker’s parent
– Target testing of individuals who could help test the hypothesis
As a side note, you can learn about various DNA analysis tools by reading books about genetic genealogy, joining a genetic genealogy group on Facebook, taking institute courses on DNA, and going to conferences with classes about DNA.
Prioritize your Research Strategy
Now that you have a list of several possible sources to search and methods to use, you need to prioritize your strategy. What will be the most effective use of your time? You may want to consider the following factors:
– ease of access to the tool or record set
– time required to search the record set or use the tool
– likelihood of the record set or tool to answer your research question.
We suggest that you start with a quick and easy DNA tool like auto-clustering. Don’t jump straight to chromosome mapping, which takes more time, or targeted testing, which takes more money. Instead, check to see if there are simpler tools you can try first.
With a research plan in place, you’ll have a road-map of where to go with your DNA project and be able to make progress toward your research objective.
Best of luck in your DNA research!
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