When it’s time to start researching, do you jump right in and start hopping from website to website? Or do you first create a plan, then follow that plan and log your research? If you’ve never created a research plan, you will be pleasantly surprised at how beneficial and satisfying it can be. When adding DNA to the mix, we need to put even more thought into our research plans. DNA tools and methodologies abound and if we’re judicial with how we use them, we’ll find more success.
In the hopes that DNA can help to discover an unknown 4th great-grandfather, 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.
I’m working on this project in phases. Previous phases included documentary research to eliminate Dillard candidates for Cynthia’s father and analysis of the DNA to find a cluster of DNA matches to research. Here is my current objective.
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.
I’ve completed the following steps and written about them in these blog posts.
By this point in the RLP with DNA process, I have a solid foundation for my project having worked with the DNA and the documents. Now I need to create a plan that will guide the research phase. This consists of four steps: summarizing the known facts, creating a working hypothesis, identifying sources, and prioritizing those sources. Let’s take a look at each individual step.
Summary of Known Facts – Documentary
After creating my timeline for Elijah Dillard, I summarized his key life events in a table in my Research Project Document. As I’m researching I can refer back to this summary to see how the records I find either match or don’t. I created the citations during the timeline assignment, so could easily cut and paste them into the table.
Notice the many different Alabama counties the records point to. I had created locality guides for Macon and Pike Counties since these were the bookends for Elijah’s life and I hoped to find good records for him there.
Summary of Known Facts – DNA
By analyzing the Gephi network graph for my tester, Victor, I had identified a cluster of DNA matches with the likely MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) of Elijah Dillard. In charting those matches, I found three that descended through Elijah’s son, Josiah.
The next part of the research plan is to formulate a working hypothesis. This comes from both the known facts and the preliminary DNA analysis. I wrote the following.
According to the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census records, Elijah Dillard was born about 1815/1816 in Georgia. Cynthia (Dillard) Royston, born about 1814, also in Georgia, would be his contemporary and likely a sister based on the DNA evidence from the Gephi network graph. Both Elijah and Cynthia have Georgia listed as their father’s birthplace in the 1880 census. Their Dillard father would have been born before 1795 and could have moved to Alabama anytime after it became a territory in 1817.
Researching additional records for Elijah Dillard could identify a possible family group to connect him to his and Cynthia’s birth family. The unknown Dillard father may not have moved to Alabama and his children may have independently moved from Georgia to Alabama in their adult years.
Using the summary of known facts and the hypothesis, the next step is to brainstorm all possible records that could be searched or methodologies that could be used to reach the objective. With a DNA project, you list both documentary sources from the locality guide and DNA tools from your exploration of pedigree triangulation and segment tools.
Because I had identified Macon and Pike counties as key, I created locality guides for both counties and using my guides made a list of possible books, films, and databases to search. I identified the years I would be searching for each county: Macon County – pre-1860, and Pike County 1850-1900. This helped me choose the most relevant sources.
Copying and pasting from my locality guide made this step easy! Here is a screenshot of a portion of the identified sources for Pike County, Alabama. Notice the live links that make it easy for research purposes!
I also needed to make a list of possible DNA tools I could use in the DNA portion of the research. Using the DNA Tools Bell Curve, I came up with this list for different testing and third-party websites.
Pedigree Triangulation Tools
Genetic Affairs: AutoTree, Rule-based Auto Cluster
DNAGedcom: Collins-Leeds Method, GWorks for comparing family trees
MyHeritage: Leeds method, Connections to Josiah Dillard – then segment data
FTDNA: Leeds method, Matrix
GEDmatch : Leeds method
Hybrid-AutoSegment Cluster analysis
I obviously couldn’t search all the documentary sources or use all the DNA tools in my research. I needed to select those most likely to further the research.
Prioritized Research Strategy
How many sources should you prioritize out of the long list of possibles? We recommend four to five documentary sources and two to three DNA tools, simply because you might find something in the first two searches that send you off in a different direction. You don’t want to waste time creating a perfect strategy only to find it unnecessary.
I reasoned that probate, land, and court records before 1850 in Macon County, Alabama, could find a family for Elijah. I also knew that county histories and death records in Pike County from 1850 – 1900 could name parents or counties of origin. Here is what I prioritized based on ease of access and use. I copied and pasted from the list of identified sources and included live links to the collections.
Documentary Genealogy Sources
1. Search probate records of Macon County, Alabama, for any Dillard connections.
– Alabama Estate Files, 1830-1976: FamilySearch collection: Index and images of estate files created by the probate courts of various Alabama counties.
– Alabama, Wills and Probate Records, 1753-1999 Ancestry collection: images of probate records from the state of Alabama. 99% of Alabama counties included.
2. Search land records of Macon County, Alabama, for any Dillard connections.
– Deeds, 1836-1902; general index, 1834-1915 digitized collection on FamilySearch,
3. Search county histories for Pike County, Alabama, for information on Elijah Dillard
Margaret Pace Farmer, (Troy Alabama, 1953); digitized book, FamilySearch.
4. Search for a death record for Elijah Dillard
– Pike County, Alabama, Births, 1881-1937; deaths, 1881-1929; digitized and indexed film
5. Search court records of Macon County, Alabama, for Dillard connections.
– Macon County, Alabama, court records, 1776-1953 FamilySearch digitized collection
Because I had already identified a cluster of DNA matches that seemed to descend from Elijah Dillard, I wanted to shore up that evidence and find more connections between those DNA matches and Elijah by working with trees. I decided to do the following:
– Build out any partial trees in the Dillard peach cluster of the Gephi network graph.
-View the FamilySearch descendancy tree for comparison against trees in the Dillard peach cluster of the Gephi network graph.
– Use GWorks to compare trees from Ancestry matches and identify additional DNA matches from the peach cluster.
Next up I’ll be following my plan and logging my research in Airtable. Stay tuned to see what I discover.
Best of luck in all your genealogical research!