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 eighth post in the series.
In the seventh step of the RLP with DNA process, Research Planning – Selecting DNA Tools & Methodology, I made a research plan incorporating both traditional and DNA sources in order to help me make progress on my research objective for my first ever genealogy project with DNA:
“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.”
I decided to start by following my DNA research plan as I thought that may lead me to my answer faster than the traditional sources – and I was also more excited to try out these new tools. The plan I made in Lesson 7 for my DNA sources was:
- Revisit my shared matches on Ancestry and other DNA websites with matches that I know are descended from Zilla. Try to identify the matches that I don’t know the common ancestor with – especially those that don’t seem to share DNA with the Beck family. Make sure when building these trees that I check for multiple MRCAs due to the endogamy in the community.
- Using the segment triangulation tool from GEDmatch, try to identify which segments came specifically from Zilla Beck and see if looking at the matches that have these segments as well can help me make progress.
- Using my results from AutoTree on Genetic Affairs, go through the common ancestors showing up in trees to find out if any pertain to this research project.
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.
Revisit My Shared Matches
Throughout the past lessons, as I had been organizing, analyzing, and getting to know my DNA matches, I had been taking notes in the comments section for a match on Airtable. This helped me know which matches I was most interested in using to answer my question.
One of these matches, Match A, caught my eye because their online tree didn’t have a lot of information, but it did have that they were a descendant of a William W. Barnes. Zilla’s son through her first husband was named William W. Barnes and I was not aware of him having any children. So, using Ancestry hints and quick searches for traditional records such as obituaries, I tracked this match through their Barnes line and determined that this was a different William W. Barnes than the son of Zilla. However, I was still very interested in this Barnes descendant fitting into my Parker cluster without a known MRCA. So, I decided to do my due diligence and quickly build out this matches’ tree a few generations to find the ancestors contemporary with Mary’s father’s expected age.
I then added these surnames to the surname tab on Airtable to see if any of the surnames had been found in other matches’ trees. And luckily, I got a few hits! I had been exploring Match A’s paternal ancestors, where I found the Barnes ancestor, and I found that the surnames that I had seen from another matches’ tree (Match B) were on Match B’s maternal side – ancestors that came from Texas.
As I found common surnames between Match A and Match B, I decided to revisit Match B’s online tree to see if any of the ancestors were the same. Sure enough, it appears that Match B is the maternal uncle of Match A, leading me to the conclusion that Lesley is related to Match A & B through the maternal line and not through the Barnes line that originally caught my attention.
I began looking through shared matches with Match B to see if I could narrow down the MRCA more, but I soon realized that the MRCA for these matches must be further back than the centimorgans were suggesting. I believe that this is due to heavy endogamy in the community commonly seen in the south. Descendants of multiple ancestral couples have been marrying each other for generations causing my mother-in-law, Lesley, to be related to a lot of southern people in multiple ways. I don’t know a lot about researching endogamous groups, however, when it has been mentioned in the course, there has been an emphasis on using segment triangulation to fix your problem.
Note: As I was quickly building the DNA matches’ trees, I focused first on using Ancestry hints to link the generations. If no hints were available with sources, I would take a look at other Ancestry Family Trees for hypotheses of the next ancestor back. It can be a little tricky with the living people, so if you’re stuck trying to build a tree for a living person you don’t know, what helped me a lot was obituaries, google searches, and looking them up on Facebook. I quickly built these trees on a private tree on my Ancestry account and noted my findings of the quick build in my research log on Airtable.
In order to perform segment triangulation, I used GEDmatch – a website I hadn’t explored too much yet. Here, I was able to find known Parker descendants who had put their DNA on GEDmatch and view the shared centimorgans between Lesley and the match.
I then painted the segments I found for matches who I already knew were Parker descendants on DNA Painter.
From there, I used the segment triangulation tool on GEDmatch to find triangulated segments between these known Parker matches, Lesley, and other matches I didn’t know yet. When I got these results, there were not too many significant triangulations with the matches I was interested in. Unfortunately, I only found four known Parker descendants who had uploaded onto GEDmatch. For the segment triangulations that did appear, I had a hard time finding trees for those users. For the trees I did find, I was not finding a common ancestor at all. I wasn’t sure if this was endogamy or if I was doing something wrong, so I decided to learn more about endogamy to fully understand what was going on.
Note: Something I liked about GEDmatch is you can view the kits of your matches as if they were your own kit. I used this with the four known Parker descendants to cluster their matches and find some more matches to research, tracking all of these steps in my research log. With the RLP with DNA Multiple Testers kit on Airtable, you can track how each of these cousins relates to each other – which helped me keep things clear.
In researching endogamy, I came across Paul Woodbury’s articles on Legacy Tree: Dealing with Endogamy, Part 1 & Part 2. In these articles he gave some great definitions of endogamy and pedigree collapse that helped me understand the concept better:
“Endogamy is the custom of marrying only within the limits of a local community, clan, or tribe over the course of many generations…Members of endogamous populations may descend from a limited pool of ‘founder’ ancestors who represented the initial genetic makeup of their population.”
“Pedigree collapse occurs when two related individuals produce offspring. As a result, the number of unique individuals occupying locations in a pedigree decreases or collapses…Pedigree collapse is not the same as endogamy. However, recent cases of pedigree collapse in an individual’s tree and long-term endogamy can have similar effects on DNA inheritance. When practiced over multiple generations and over the course of several hundred years, continued pedigree collapse can lead to endogamy.”
Honestly, these articles are full of so much helpful information, I would highly recommend you read them if you are dealing with this problem in your tree.
One of the tips Paul Woodbury talks about to deal with your endogamous tree is to test multiple individuals. This may not be an option for some people, but luckily, Lesley’s father had already tested and all I needed to do was get access to his results.
Note: When learning more about a certain DNA topic, make sure to log what you’re learning in your research log so you can easily access the information again. I also like to add helpful resources to Evernote (see Create Your Own Genealogy Reference Center with Evernote).
Phillip Sutton’s DNA
Lesley’s father is Phillip Sutton. He has given me permission to use his name and DNA in this project and these blog posts. To start with his DNA, I used the Leed’s Method and Ancestry colored dot system explained in the first post in this series, Assess Your DNA Matches and Analyze Your Pedigree. When I did this step with Lesley’s DNA, the Leed’s Method resulted in five genetic networks instead of the expected four. This was my first clue to pedigree collapse in Lesley’s DNA results. Well, when I did this step with Phillip’s DNA, the result was FIFTEEN different genetic networks instead of the expected four! It looks like the pedigree collapse is more severe than I originally thought.
I went through each of these clusters and found the common ancestors that were being represented in each cluster. As you can imagine, there was a lot of overlap and each ancestor was represented in multiple groups.
I then decided to go through any of the groups that were representing the Parkers or the Barnes and isolate matches that did not have overlap with other groups. There were not very many of these matches, but I reached out to the few I found and tracked all of my correspondence in my correspondence log on Airtable.
One of the matches I began corresponding with was Mark County, who has given me his permission to use his name and DNA in this project and these blog posts, Mark gave me access to his DNA results to help with my project.
Mark County’s DNA
To orient myself with Mark’s DNA, I once again performed the Leed’s method and I was so happy with the results!
Four distinct groups! I quickly learned that Mark was the great-grandson of Virgil Eugene Moseley and Mary Ida Parker. From traditional research, I had concluded that Mary Ida Parker was a granddaughter of Zilla Beck through her daughter Sarah Barnes. Sarah died early and William and Zilla adopted Mary Ida – explaining her surname of Parker. This would make Mary Ida a biological Barnes. This tracked as Mark was sharing the most DNA with the Barnes descendants I had previously identified and was looking like he was sharing half relationships with the Parker descendants.
I started going through the shared matches between Grandpa Sutton and Mark County and identified matches in this group that did not share DNA with previously identified Beck descendants. The goal of this was to focus on Mary Ella and Mary Ida’s paternal DNA matches.
As I went forward with the goal of pedigree triangulation, one couple kept coming up in these matches’ trees: Frank W. Ward & Mary Brooks.
Note: Using the surname tool in the Airtable base provided in the e-course really helped me identify these common ancestors between all the matches I was reviewing.
Frank W. Ward and Mary Brooks
Frank and Mary were surprising finds to me as they did not have the surnames I was expecting. Based on these matches’ family trees, Frank was born in October 1842 in Alabama and died in Texas, and Mary was born in 1854 in Mississippi and died in 1905 in Milam County, Texas. Based on these time periods, I was thinking they may be a sibling to Mary Ella’s father. I also found the Texas connection interesting as Mark seems to be a Barnes descendant. I decided to take this point in the project to start doing traditional research on Frank and Mary.
I went through the ancestry hints for Frank and Mary to get an overview of their life and made a timeline on Airtable as I did so. With Frank being born in Alabama, I wanted to focus on finding his parents and siblings. Ancestry led me to the couple of William Richardson Davie Ward and Henrietta Marie Vivion. However, after comparing timelines, I came to the conclusion that this was not the correct family for Frank Ward.
At this point, I had so much information swimming around in my head, I decided it was time to stop the research phase of this project and begin the write-up. I have so many ideas for future research and I find that a lot easier to manage after finishing a research report on the first phase of a project.
I also went through the steps in my traditional research plan from the previous blog post, Research Planning – Selecting DNA Tools and Methodology, but unfortunately did not make any more progress on traditional research pointing me towards someone besides William Edward Parker for Mary Ella’s father. I also searched my AutoTree results from Genetic Affairs for the surname of Ward or Brooks and did not find any results for that search. There is definitely more research I will need to do on this family to figure out how they tie into my mother-in-law’s tree, but I don’t need to expect myself to do all that research in one chunk. Sometimes phasing your project out can be the best way to make progress on a brick wall.
Reflection on Logging for a DNA Project
Overall, working with DNA is definitely a lot of work! Building each matches’ tree and trying to keep track of the connections you are making is incredibly time-consuming and difficult. I was so happy I had followed the process up to this point, as it gave me so many tools to help me keep things straight. I learned so much during this time and am excited to start writing out my conclusions as I complete my first project of Researching 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: