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 ninth and last post in the series.
In the eighth step of the RLP with DNA process, Following Your Plan, Research Logging & Writing as You Go, I followed the research plan I made in Research Planning – Selecting DNA Tools & Methodology, and made some exciting progress towards my research objective. Now that I’ve conducted the research, it’s time to correlate my findings and write my research report!
Note: For my e-course project, I am using the autosomal DNA of my mother-in-law, Lesley Kotter, her father, Phillip Sutton, and their distant cousin Mark County. All three have permitted me to use their names and DNA in the project and these blog posts. Their matches will be privatized.
I have found that I do not realize the value of the information I found in the research phase of my project until I start the writing phase of my project. Something about explaining it to someone else allows your brain to make connections you hadn’t made up to this point.
I think the hardest part of writing a report is starting the report. To overcome this for myself, I usually start by jotting down an explanation of my research as if I was explaining it to a friend. This helps me quickly find a logical order for the outline of my paper and also helps me realize the most important points I need to make in the paper. I also like to read other research reports to get examples of how others have presented their genealogical and DNA information together.
It is always best to put your research objective at the beginning of your research report to lay out for the reader what you were hoping to find. As a reminder, the research objective for this project is:
“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.”
This is also a great time to reread your objective and make sure you’re happy with how it reads. For tips on writing your objective you can read RLP DNA e-course Part 2: Organize Your DNA Results and Create a Research Objective and Creating an Objective for a DNA Research Project.
The example reports provided in the Research Like a Pro with DNA e-course list a results summary after the objective to let the reader quickly see what conclusions the paper made. I have found this section is very helpful for the reader, especially as genealogy reports with DNA are not necessarily a light read. For this report I wrote the following results summary.
– Reviewed traditional genealogy research showing Mary Ella Parker as the daughter of William Edward Parker and Zilla Beck.
-Conducted multiple Leed’s Method Analyses for Lesley Kotter, Phillip Sutton, and Mark County to identify genetic networks pertaining to this project.
-Calculated average cM shared between each test-taker and the descendants of Parkers versus the descendants of Barnes.
-Identified a group of matches between Phillip Sutton and Mark County that indicated a paternal link between the two test-takers.
-Explored the likelihood that Mary Ella Parker is the biological daughter of Sarah Barnes, an unwed 17-year-old girl at the time of Mary’s birth.
The RLP with DNA e-course suggests using action verbs such as “reviewed, conducted, calculated, etc.” as you describe your results in this section. As you write your paper and read others, you can work on a running list of these verbs to use for your future results summaries.
The next section of my report was the background of the project. Here, I focused on writing up my notes from “The Summary of Known Facts” portion of my research plan found in RLP DNA e-course Part 7: Research Planning – Selecting DNA Tools and Methodology. Here is a portion of my write-up for the traditional background for this project:
“Through traditional genealogy research, it appears that the biological parents of Mary Ella Parker were William Edward Parker and Zilla Beck. However, after communicating with a DNA match, this cousin claimed the family story is that Mary was actually named Mary Ella Barnes and she adopted the name of Parker because William Parker was who raised her. This may be possible as the dates between Mary Ella’s birth and William and Zilla’s marriage are only a few years off and inconsistent enough to raise questions. The current sources available for the family seem to point to Mary Ella being born in Baldwin County, Alabama in 1877 and William and Zilla being married in 1875. While there is no direct evidence for this fact, it seems most likely based on multiple pieces of indirect evidence. There is also evidence of Zilla Beck, Mary Ella’s mother, being married to a Mr. Barnes prior to her marriage to William Edward Parker. Therefore, the candidates for Mary Ella Parker’s biological father are William Edward Parker and Mr. Barnes.”
I also wrote up the background for the DNA evidence by explaining how the DNA confirmed that Lesley was in fact a great-great-granddaughter of Zilla Beck, but did not clearly confirm who her great-great-grandfather was. To explain this I used different LucidChart diagrams I had made throughout the project.
Limitations and Methodology
Something else I learned in the class was that it is important to explain how genealogists can use DNA to answer their questions and also the limitations of the use of DNA to the reader as the reader may not understand the process. As such, I wrote a short paragraph that reads:
“Autosomal DNA can only help identify ancestors up to 6-8 generations back. When reviewing a DNA match, the testing website will report the amount of DNA shared with a match, but the specific relationship can only be discovered through analyzing pedigrees. Placing matches in genetic networks and tracking the surnames and locations that appear in different pedigrees can help pinpoint a common ancestor between a test taker and a DNA match. This process can help prove family relationships and lead to hypotheses for missing ancestors.”
The next section of the report is my favorite: the findings of the report! Instead of putting all my findings in one chunk, I separated my findings into three sections: Genealogical Evidence for Mary Ella Parker’s Family, DNA Evidence of Mary Ella Parker’s Father, and Mary Ella Parker’s Exact Relationship to the Barnes Family. To help explain my point in each of these sections, I used a combination of paragraphs, tables, bulleted lists, and figures to aid the reader.
In Genealogical Evidence for Mary Ella Parker’s Family, I went more in-depth into how I came to the conclusion that William Parker was Mary Ella Parker’s father based on traditional research. I also used this section to explain the different groups of the Parker children: children between Zilla Beck and Mr. Barnes, children between Zilla Beck and William Edward Parker, and grandchildren of Zilla Beck through Sarah Barnes that Zilla and William Parker seem to have adopted.
In DNA Evidence of Mary Ella Parker’s Father, I went through the Leed’s Method analysis for each of the testers and explained how the results impacted the project. I then calculated the average amount of DNA between the testers and Parker/Barnes descendants to decide which side of the family we seemed to be more related to. The table I used for this analysis is below:
Table 3: Average Amount of DNA Between Testers and Parker/Barnes Descendants
|Range of cM
|Mark County – Parker Descendants
|(12 cM – 71 cM)
|Mark County – Barnes Descendants
|(64 cM – 151 cM)
|Phillip Sutton – Parker Descendants
|(10 cM – 144 cM)
|Phillip Sutton – Barnes Descendants
|(64 cM – 251 cM)
|Lesley Kotter – Parker Descendants
|(8 cM – 45 cM)
|Lesley Kotter – Barnes Descendants
|(34 cM – 112 cM)
*Note: This analysis shows that there were significantly more Parker descendants than Barnes descendants, but looking at the range of cM shared, there is a significantly higher ranger with the Barnes descendants than the Parker descendants. More descendants should be tested to make the statistics as reliable as possible.
As this analysis seemed to show a closer relationship between Mary Ella Parker’s descendants and the Barnes descendants, it seemed that Mary Ella Parker might biologically be a Barnes instead of a Parker! So the next section explored Mary Ella Parker’s Exact Relationship to the Barnes Family:
“Based on the information from the DNA match who disputed Mary Ella as a Parker, the family story that has been passed down is that Mary Ella Parker was the biological daughter of Zilla Beck and her first husband Mr. Barnes. However, the first two children of Mr. Barnes and Zilla were born in 1860 and 1865. Mary Ella’s birthdate does not appear to be until 1877. Even adjusting for the conflicting dates found throughout records for Mary Ella, it appears that Mary Ella is 10 years younger than the youngest known Barnes sibling. It seems unlikely that Zilla would have two children with Mr. Barnes, then not anymore for 10 years. It is possible, but an odd gap in the family.
Another possibility of Mary Ella’s biological relationship to the family could be that she is the daughter of Sarah Barnes – the oldest daughter of Mr. Barnes and Zilla Beck. Sarah would have been around 17 at the time Mary Ella was born and it is possible that to cover up the daughter of an unwed child, William Parker and Zilla Beck raised Mary as their daughter. This hypothesis can be examined further by looking at the expected relationships for each possible relationship and using the shared cM project to decide the likelihood of each relationship.
For this analysis, the average amount of DNA between Phillip Sutton and Parker/Barnes descendants was compared to the average amount of DNA shown in the shared cM project for the expected relationship. Four possible relationships were explored – Mary Ella as the biological daughter of William Parker, Mary Ella as the biological daughter of Mr. Barnes, Mary Ella as the biological daughter of Sarah Barnes with the same father as the Pierce children (full siblings), and Mary Ella as the biological daughter of Sarah Barnes with a different father than the Pierce children (half siblings).
This analysis showed that there is a 21% chance that Phillip Sutton is a second cousin once removed to Parker descendants, a 52% chance that Phillip Sutton is a second cousin once removed to Barnes descendants, a 29% chance that Phillip Sutton is a full second cousin with Barnes/Pierce descendants and a 52% chance that Phillip Sutton is a half-second cousin with the Barnes/Pierce descendants. This exercise seems to suggest that the most likely relationship of Mary Ella Parker to the family is that she is either the daughter of Mr. Barnes and Zilla Beck or the daughter of Sarah Barnes and an unknown father.”
After exploring the findings, the conclusion just wraps up the report by reemphasizing the important points. The big conclusion for this report was that Mary Ella Parker did seem to be biologically related to the Barnes family, but it was unclear if she is the daughter of Zilla and her first husband or the daughter of Sarah Barnes, and therefore the granddaughter of Zilla Beck and more DNA should be collected to sort out the exact relationships.
Future Research Suggestions
Throughout the entire project, I had been jotting down future research suggestions. Compiling them into specific points at the end of the report can really help you know what your next steps should be. For this project I’ve listed the following future research suggestions:
-Collecting Y-DNA from an unbroken male descendant of the Parker family could help with this research project as it would show further generations back from William Edward Parker. These descendants could also be compared to the DNA matches of Mary Ella Parker’s descendants to see if they share DNA past William Edward Parker. This finding could strengthen the conclusion of whether or not Mary Ella Parker’s biological father was William Edward Parker or Mr. Barnes. Unfortunately, there is not a known unbroken male descendant of Mr. Barnes as his only confirmed children are Sarah Barnes, a daughter, and William Washington Barnes, a son who had no children of his own.
-A focused research project of the descendants of Mr. Pierce and Sarah Barnes would help identify Mr. Pierce, and also would give more information of the Barnes family. Traditional research should also be included in this project trying to find seamen with the surname of Pierce in the area of the panhandle of Florida in the late 1800s based on the family story.
-A traditional research project should be conducted to confirm the death date of Sarah Barnes and Edward Barnes/Parker to discover which child had died by 1910 as discussed in the census record. Hopefully, this project would find more records of these two individuals to help identify where they were and how they interacted with the family.
-The DNA for other descendants of Mary Ella Parker should be gathered to verify Mary as the biological daughter of Sarah Barnes and the biological granddaughter of Zilla Beck. This could also help locate Mary Ella’s biological father.
-The shared matches between Mark County and Phillip Sutton should be analyzed in-depth to discover the common ancestor of this genetic network. A brief overview of the matches found multiple descendants of the couple Frank G. Ward and Mary Brooks (see Research Log), but this couple has not been tied into the family yet. A research project focusing on this issue could help uncover questions about the paternal line of Mary Ella Parker.
Overall, I had so much fun completing my first DNA research project! It led to some exciting discoveries and new directions for my family history! Are we descendants of Sarah Barnes? Time to start collecting more DNA and learning more tools! I’m ready to start the next iteration of this project now that I’ve learned how to Research Like a Pro with DNA!
If you’d like to read my full report you can view it here:
Some of the resources that helped me the most with this phase of the project were: