If you’re like me and overwhelmed by DNA and this new wealth of information for genealogists, I am going through my experience with the Research Like a Pro with DNA e-course to help those looking for a way to get started! This is the fourth post in the series.
In the first step of the RLP with DNA process, Assess Your DNA Matches and Analyze Your Pedigree, I found some holes in my husband’s family tree that I wanted to approach with DNA and then began looking at the DNA matches available that could help with filling those holes.
In the second step, Organize Your DNA Results and Create a Research Objective, I charted the DNA matches in a Lucidchart and chose an objective for my project:
“The objective of this research project is to use DNA and genealogical records to determine the biological father of Mary Ella Parker born on 22 August 1877 in Baldwin County, Alabama. Mary Ella died on 28 December 1950 in Columbus, Muscogee, Georgia. The test taker is 3 generations from the research subject and atDNA will be applicable, however, 3rd-4th cousins may not share very much DNA which could make verifying the exact relationship difficult. The community of the research subject also experienced pedigree collapse, so there may be multiple MRCAs with the test taker. mtDNA is not useful in this case as it is not an unbroken maternal line and Y-DNA is not useful in this case as it is not an unbroken paternal line.”
In the third step, Source Citations for DNA and Traditional Sources, I created a timeline for Mary Ella Parker based on the previous research I had completed for her. I then created source citations for the traditional records in the timeline and began practicing creating DNA source citations.
Now that I have organized my sources and cited them correctly, it is time to analyze my sources and DNA matches.
Note: For my e-course project, I am using the autosomal DNA of my mother-in-law, Lesley Kotter. She has permitted me to use her name and DNA in the project and these blog posts. Her matches will be privatized.
Analyze Sources Used in your Timeline
Reflecting on the timeline I created in step 3 of the RLP with DNA process, it was time to go through the records I already had and analyze how reliable the information was from each source. This is done by determining if the source is an original, derivative, or authored source; if the information in the source was given by a primary, secondary, or undetermined informant; and if the evidence in the source is direct, indirect, or negative. (To learn more about this process read: Research Like a Pro, Part 2: Analyze Your Sources). Below is the analysis of some of the sources in my timeline for this project:
Mary Ella Sutton’s death certificate has direct evidence of her birth being 22 August 1877 and her parents being “William P. Parker and Zelhie Beck”. However, the informant for this record was Mary’s daughter, Mrs. Duncan Johnson – or Verlia Sutton. Verlia was very young when William and Zilla died and probably had no memories of them. She was most definitely not present at her own mother’s birth and therefore is considered a secondary informant for the information about Mary’s birth and parents.
Another source important to this objective is the 1900 census where William and Zilla’s marriage year is given as 1875. If that information is true, and Mary’s birthdate is true, then it seems most likely that Mary’s biological father is William Parker. However, the information for William and Zilla’s marriage is given 25 years after the event, and the person who gave the information for this census may or may not have had firsthand knowledge of the account, therefore it is hard to judge the reliability of this marriage year as the informant is unknown. A lot of the information in the 1900 census for the Parker family conflicts with other known information about them – leading one to believe that a neighbor, or someone who didn’t know the specifics of the family well, gave the information for the census.
Analyzing this information helped me realize how the conclusion I had previously come to could be incorrect and that new information – such as DNA – could help clarify the truth about Mary’s biological father.
Continue your Diagram for your Objective
In step 2 of the RLP with DNA process, I created a Lucidchart diagram showing how the DNA matches I was using for this project were related to one another. To analyze my DNA matches, it was time to revisit my diagram and add some more information to it. Some suggestions are to add dotted lines to the relationships you have not proven, adding the shared cM with a match, and check to see if the hypothesized relationship is matching the expected range of shared DNA using the Shared cM Project. I decided to revisit my Lucidchart, add the shared cM with each match, the hypothesized relationship, the average cM they should share based on the Shared cM Project, and the relationship probabilities for each match. If the average cM that would be expected to be shared was relatively similar to the actual shared cM, I would border the cousin’s box on Lucidchart green, and if the average and actual cM were significantly different, I would border the cousin’s box red. This is shown in the diagram below:
Looking at this analysis, I noticed there were quite a few of the matches that were not showing up as very likely for the relationship I was hypothesizing and that the shared cM I was getting for some matches was significantly different than the average amount of shared cM expected for the relationship. Could this mean that the relationships I was hypothesizing as half relationships could be full relationships and relationships I was hypothesizing as full relationships could be half relationships?
Overall, this step in the RLP with DNA process helped me realize how much DNA evidence could strengthen proof of a relationship between Mary and her father. The traditional genealogy seems to point to one answer, but after analyzing those sources, there is a possibility that there is information missing in her story. Looking at the DNA matches with an analytical eye has made me wonder why these relationships are not appearing as I would expect and has encouraged me to find out if there is something unknown about Mary’s father. I am excited to continue sorting out this mystery as I learn to Research Like a Pro with DNA!
Some of the resources that helped me the most with this phase of the project were:
Other posts in this series are: