Can DNA help us discover an unknown 4th great-grandfather? In the hopes that it can, I’m returning to my brick wall of identifying Cynthia (Dillard) Royston’s father. The Research Like a Pro with DNA study group is a perfect way to tackle a persistent research question. The structure of the assignments helps me stay on track and the process keeps me moving forward. I’ll be sharing my progress in this series. Will I finally be able to answer the question of who was Cynthia’s father? I don’t know. But I do know that I’ll be one step closer by the end of the study group.
When working with DNA, using the DNA matches of the closest generation to the target ancestor can make all the difference. For this project, I’ll be analyzing the DNA matches of my second cousin, twice removed (2C2R), Victor Parker. While Cynthia is my third great-grandmother, she is Victor’s great-grandmother. He received approximately 12.5 % of her DNA, whereas I only received about 3% or less.
In part 1 of this series, I discussed choosing a research question based on your pedigree, then assessing your DNA matches by doing some initial clustering.
When working on a DNA project, organizing your DNA matches with a diagram helps you see connections between your tester and their matches. I used the manual Leed’s method and the automated DNA2Tree programs to cluster Victor’s DNA matches and discovered significant pedigree collapse in both his maternal and paternal lines. Knowing that Cynthia (Dillard) Royston is on the paternal line, I started entering relevant DNA matches into Airtable.
Diagramming Close Matches
The next assignment in the RLP with DNA process is to create a diagram of close matches showing common ancestors. Because I am working with Victor’s DNA and his tree is not as familiar as mine, this was a useful exercise. I use Lucidchart for diagramming and I created a new diagram titled “Victor Parker matches.” I added pages for diagrams of smaller groups of matches, including one for the Royston/Dillard cluster, shown below. (For this post I anonymized the names of the matches by using the names of the two sons of Cynthia shown, then the number of the match: Robert 1, Robert 2, etc.)
Although Cynthia and Thomas Royston had fourteen children, the closest DNA matches to Victor are through these two brothers. I can continue to add to this diagram as I discover more DNA matches.
As part of the initial clustering for this project, Nicole used Gephi to create a network graph for Victor Parker’s DNA matches. With my diagramming done, I decided to use the graph to see if I could determine the Royston/Dillard cluster. The first graph (figure 2) showed the pedigree collapse I had discovered with clustering via the Leed’s method and DNA2Tree. Instead of separating out into nice neat groups, there was so much inter-relatedness, the graph appeared as a colorful blob.
Nicole experimented with the results and was able to create another network graph (figure 3) separating out the paternal line so I could more clearly see the Royston/Dillard DNA matches. This I could work with!
The two brothers, Richard and Robert Royston, shown in figure 1, moved to Texas in the 1870s and were not part of the pedigree collapse found among Victor’s side of the family who stayed behind in Alabama. When I identified descendants of the brothers in the blue and aqua clusters in the top right corner of the above graph and enlarged in the image below (figure 4), I noticed a peach cluster also connected to them populated with people I didn’t recognize. Could this be a group of Dillard matches?
I created a focus group on Ancestry using the colored dots and viewing the peach group, discovered some matches with extensive trees, and the Dillard surname. This group of matches seemed to have the common ancestor of Elijah Dillard, born about 1814 in Georgia and died in 1882 in Alabama. Could Elijah be a brother to Cynthia Dillard? The DNA connections certainly give me a basis for this new hypothesis.
Creating a Research Objective
With a focused cluster of probable Dillard DNA matches identified, I created an objective for this phase of the research. DNA work often takes several phases of research. Here are the phases for this project so far.
Overarching Research Question
Who was the father of Cynthia Dillard, born 1816 in Georgia, and died 1882 in Collin County, Texas? Cynthia married Thomas Beverly Royston about 1833 in Georgia or Alabama. Cynthia’s father would have been born before 1796 and resided in Georgia in the early 1800s.
Phase 1 – Research all likely candidates in the Georgia 1820 and 1830 census
All candidates were eliminated based on census, probate, and marriage records except Susan Dillard.
Susan Dillard headed a household in 1830 in Muscogee County, Georgia. The female aged 10-14 in the household could have been Cynthia who married Thomas B. Royston about 1833. Additional research did not reveal any further information on Susan Dillard – a possible husband for her, or members of her household.
Phase 2 – Analyze the Network Graph for Victor Parker’s DNA matches for a Dillard cluster that could be Cynthia’s siblings or parents
Completed September 2021
Discovered the peach cluster with an MRCA of Elijah Dillard, born about 1814 in Georgia.
Found several of the matches have trees that connect to Josiah Dillard > Elijah Dillard
Phase 3 – Research Elijah Dillard, born 1814 in Georgia, and died in 1882.
Begin the documentary research by verifying the lines from the three descendants of Josiah D. Dillard, hypothesized son of Elijah Dillard.
Seek for evidence of parent relationship from Josiah D. Dillard to Elijah Dillard.
Look for connections to Cynthia Dillard.
This project will certainly require more phases, but for the purpose of the study group, the following objective will guide my research.
The objective of this research phase is to test the hypothesized biological sibling connection between Elijah Dillard and Cynthia (Dillard) Royston. Elijah Dillard was born about 1814 in Georgia and died on 6 September 1886 in Coffee County, Alabama. Cynthia was born about 1816 in Georgia and died in 1882 in Collin County, Texas. Cynthia married Thomas Beverly Royston about 1833 in Georgia or Alabama
With my second assignment completed, I have a solid foundation for working with Victor’s DNA matches and an objective to guide the research.
If you’re ready to start working on a DNA project, check out our book, Research Like a Pro with DNA: A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Confirming Ancestors with DNA Evidence, our online course, or our many blog posts and podcasts about working with DNA.
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!