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 2 of this series, I showed how I created a Lucidchart diagram for Victor’s close DNA matches. I found that the closest matches for Victor connected to Cynthia Dillard were those through two of her sons, Robert C. Royston (my ancestor) and Richard A. Royston. Both of these men moved to Texas by 1880 and were not part of the pedigree collapse among Victor’s other DNA matches. Victor’s ancestor, Sarah Royston, married Francis Marion Parker and stayed in Alabama. The pedigree collapse likely comes through the Parker line.
I then analyzed a network graph and identified a cluster of DNA matches that connected to the descendants of brothers, Robert C. and Richard A. Royston. This cluster included some DNA matches with trees listing Josiah Dillard and his father, Elijah Dillard. I hypothesized that Elijah was the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for that cluster and could be Cynthia’s brother. I then created my objective using this hypothesis and the key identifiers for both Cynthia and Elijah.
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.
Creating a Timeline
The next step of the RLP with DNA process is to create a timeline for the focused ancestor. Compiling a timeline for an individual -whether from online trees or your own records- provides an amazing resource for the project.
I had completed this step for Cynthia in past research projects but knew nothing about Elijah. I decided to create a timeline for him based on the online trees in Ancestry and FamilySearch. Those trees revealed enough records that I could place Elijah Dillard in several Alabama counties from 1848 to his death in 1886: Dale, Pike, Barbour, Lee, and Macon.
My Airtable research log holds the two timelines – one for Cynthia Dillard and one for her hypothesized brother, Elijah Dillard. I can easily compare dates and places between the two as I begin the research on Elijah.
I filled in each category for the sources I viewed and even attached a record image so I could quickly look at the record. Sorting by “date” lines up the entries chronologically. I chose to use only the year for the “date” field and put complete date information in the “details” field.
Part of this assignment is writing source citations for each entry in the timeline. Because I have a citation template, I easily created citations for the basic census, land, marriage, and military records. The timeline holds those citations and when I’m ready to write my report, I can easily access them.
Notice in the following screenshot that I added several associates of Elijah Dillard who patented land near him. The “FANs” field links to the “FANs” table in the Airtable base and as I research I can track these men and see what clues I can glean from their possible connection to Elijah.
The timeline also has fields for analyzing each source so you think more deeply about whether a source is original, derivative, or authored; if the information is primary, secondary, or unknown; and what evidence the information provides. The following screenshot shows the evidence analysis portion of the timeline.
DNA Match Diagram
At this step in the process, we start working with the specific DNA matches for the objective. Using the Dillard cluster I previously identified, I built a diagram showing the connections between my tester, Victor Parker, and the three matches with trees. Notice that all three matches descend through Josiah D. Dillard. As I continue building the descendancy for Elijah Dillard, I’ll be looking for connections to the other DNA matches in the cluster – hopefully from independent lines of Elijah’s other children.
Part of the process is to continually analyze the amount of shared DNA between the tester, Victor, and each of his matches. Using the Shared cM Tool on DNA Painter, I compared the amount of DNA, (shown on the diagram as cM/segments) and the proposed relationship. Each of the three matches in blue fell within the range of third cousin, once, twice, or three times removed. Although Victor is Cynthia’s great-grandson, the connection to these matches would come through his 2nd great-grandfather. For the other matches, this would be their 4th, 5th, or 6th great-grandparent, and explains the small amount of shared DNA – between 25-29 cM.
DNA Source Citations
We know we need to create source citations for our documentary research, but what about DNA research? In the RLP with DNA process, we learn how the five questions for creating source citations apply to DNA sources. As we run clustering reports or create network graphs, we need to track the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE IS, and WHERE IN. Then when we write the report, we have citations ready to use. The source citation also reminds us of the cM parameters we used as part of the WHERE IN information.
For example, here is the citation I created for running a report for Victor’s DNA matches through GWorks, available on DNAGedcom.
“Compare All Your Trees,” for Dillard Victor Parker, DNAGedcom (https://www.dnagedcom.com/GedComUtility/GedCompare.aspx : test run 12 October 2021), used match and tree files from Ancestry DNA matches of October 2020.
As both the creator of the report and the publisher of the website, I only listed it once. Italicizing website names sets them off.
WHAT: “Compare All Your Trees,” for Dillard Victor Parker
I set off the title of the report with quotations marks and added Victor’s name as identifying information.
WHEN: test run 12 October 2021
Add the date of access or the date the report or test was created.
WHERE IS: https://www.dnagedcom.com/GedComUtility/GedCompare.aspx
Include either the entire URL or the basic URL of the company. As part of the publication information, the URL and the date of access or test is set off with parentheses.
WHERE IN: used match and tree files from Ancestry DNA matches of October 2020
For this element, add details about the report. If reporting on a DNA match, this could include the number of cM shared.
With this solid foundation for the research, I’m looking forward to tackling the next steps in the RLP with DNA process. Below are some resources to learn more.
Best of luck with all your genealogical endeavors!
Airtable Research Logs, blog post by Nicole Dyer
DNA Sources, Information, and Evidence: Sorting it All Out, blog post by Robin Wirthlin
RLP 61- Analyzing Your Sources in a DNA Research Project, podcast with Nicole, Diana, and Robin
DNA Source Citations, blog post by Robin Wirthlin
RLP 84: DNA Source Citations, podcast with Nicole, Diana, and Robin