How do you wrap up a research session so that you don’t forget all the connections made? Writing a report is the perfect way to not only make sense of the research, but to also correlate the findings, both with the documents and in the DNA analysis. In this final article of my series on using DNA in the search for Cynthia (Dillard) Royston’s father, I’ll share my process for writing the report as well as my conclusions. And yes, at the end of this blog post will share a link to the complete report for your perusal.
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.
Note – the process as taught in our new book, Research Like a Pro with DNA: A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Confirming Ancestors with DNA Evidence, the study group, and courses details 12 steps. I’ve combined some of them for ease of writing.
Writing the Report
As part of the RLP with DNA process, the final step to the project is writing up the research. We supply a basic outline with the following sections: Objective, Limitations, Results Summary, Background Information (documentary and DNA), Research Findings (documentary and DNA), Conclusion, and Future Research Suggestions.
Having a template helps to organize the material to a certain extent, but the biggest challenge is often deciding what to include for the research findings. Do we list every documentary search? Do we discuss every DNA tool we used? I’ll show how I curated the research and organized my report. This isn’t the only way a report can be written, it’s simply what worked best with this project. Each research session is unique and will warrant a unique treatment of the findings.
State the Objective
The research objective heads the report – giving the reader a clear picture of what the research was to entail. The objective can be reworded for clarity and in this case, I tweaked the wording a bit. I also added a date range for the birth years of Elijah and Cynthia based on their census and death records.
This research phase aims to test the hypothesized biological sibling connection between Elijah Dillard and Cynthia (Dillard) Royston. Elijah Dillard was born between 1813-1818 in Georgia and died on 6 September 1886 in Coffee County, Alabama. Cynthia was born between 1815-1818 in Georgia and died in 1882 in Collin County, Texas. Cynthia married Thomas Beverly Royston about 1833 in Georgia or Alabama.
All researchers operate under limitations such as time, availability of records, etc. With DNA added to the mix, we also have limitations arising from our testers and the types of DNA tests that apply to the research objective. I wrote the following.
The project was limited to 25 hours for research and writing.
The documentary research was limited to records available online.
Y-DNA will not apply for this project as Cynthia (Dillard) Royston does not carry the male-only Y chromosome.
mtDNA will not apply for this project, as the tester, Victor Parker, did not inherit mitochondrial DNA from Cynthia (Dillard) Royston.
atDNA analysis was limited to the DNA of Victor Parker, Cynthia’s great-grandson.
Although the results summary appears at the beginning for a preview of the project, I create this last. I want the summary to reflect the order the findings are discussed in the report and often I will rearrange paragraphs until the flow works well. My results summary consists of twelve bullet points, each beginning with an action verb such as discovered, located, explored, researched, etc. No citations are needed for the summary as the body of the report is fully cited. Here are two of the bullet points, one for DNA analysis and one for the documentary research.
Analyzed a Gephi network graph for only the Royston/Dillard lines and discovered a cluster independent of the pedigree collapse that had Elijah Dillard, 1816-1886 as the most recent common ancestor (MRCA). Hypothesized this could be a brother for Cynthia (Dillard) Royston.
Searched Alabama probate records and found a possible connection in Edmond Dillard of Pike County, Alabama. Reasoned that Elijah may have settled in Pike County in the 1850s because of this connection.
The background information sets the stage for the research findings. What was known previously? Are there any family stories to be explored? What is the purpose of this project? In a DNA project, separating out the genealogical background information from the DNA background information helps the reader. Although we may be writing only for ourselves, we want our writing to be clear and succinct.
Because I have previously done projects on discovering Cynthia’s father, I did a simple summary of those projects and cited my own work as well as the family bible pages. Here is a portion.
Who was the father of Cynthia (Dillard) Royston? Previous research explored the possibility that George W. Dillard, born about 1781 in Virginia, and died 1854 in Lee County, Alabama, was Cynthia’s father. Indirect evidence supported this hypothesis: the proximity of residences in Alabama, the 1820 and 1830 census records showing a female of Cynthia’s age in the George W. Dillard household, and naming patterns between the two families.
This hypothesis was proved wrong with the discovery of a family bible listing marriages for the children of George W. Dillard—none of whom were Cynthia born about 1815. Instead, the Dillard female born in 1815 was Mariah L. Dillard, married to James Kivlin.
The DNA background information discussed my tester, Victor Parker, and the importance of using his DNA. I showed an image of the Leeds Method analysis depicting the pedigree collapse in Victor’s lines. I also inserted three images of the Gephi network graph to illustrate the clustering technique used to find the Dillard cluster. To help the reader understand the DNA tools, I discussed each figure as clearly as possible.
Documentary Research for Elijah Dillard
The initial steps of the RLP with DNA process found the peach cluster with the most recent common ancestor of Elijah Dillard, so my documentary research centered on him. I had created a table with the summary of known facts as part of the research plan stage, so simply inserted it into this section of the report. Then I pointed out that Elijah had lived in five southeastern Alabama counties and included a map and context. I wrote the following paragraph.
Elijah Dillard likely moved into Macon County after its formation from the Creek cession of 1832. During the late 1820s and early 1830s, white settlers desired the rich lands of eastern Alabama—land that the Creek Tribe had inhabited for years. The Creeks were part of the Five Civilized tribes of the southeastern United States and treated repeatedly with the United States government in hopes of preserving a homeland for their people. Little by little, however, parcels of land were ceded, with the final cession taking place in 1832. The Treaty of Cusseta gave the Creeks land in the west in return for over five million acres in Alabama that would be surveyed and sold to settlers. Alabama created eight new counties from the land.
Macon County, Alabama Research
Next, I revealed the findings from the probate, land, and court research. I had hoped to find a possible Dillard father in Macon County, Alabama, Elijah’s earliest known residence. Instead, I found only the George W. Dillard family. I had previously disproved George as Cynthia’s father, but the absence of other Dillard’s in the county made me take note. Perhaps there is still a familial connection to discover between George and Cynthia and Elijah.
Pike County, Alabama Research
Elijah lived in Pike County for the majority of his later life and I hoped to find clues to his origins in searching county histories. Using Margaret Pace Farmer’s, History of Pike County, Alabama as a source, I wrote the following.
Elijah resided in Pike County, Alabama, almost exclusively after his marriage to Winnie Grubbs in 1855. A county history explained that most of the early settlers of the 1830s were Scotch Irish in origin from the Carolinas and that this was a poor part of Alabama with few slaves and mostly white settlers. The Civil War didn’t have as much effect on Pike County as other Alabama counties because of the fewer number of enslaved people. The newspapers covering the area were The Troy Messenger— established in 1866— The Enquirer , and The Buzzing Bee. The coming of the railroad brought a huge increase in population. The area had 500 residents in 1870 and by 1880 that number had increased to 3,000.
I concluded the documentary research section with this summary and a transition to DNA research.
The objective of this project was to find connections between Elijah Dillard and Cynthia (Dillard) Royston. To this point, the documentary research has shown no family or associates that connect the two hypothesized siblings. Cynthia first appears in the records with the 1850 census of Chambers County, Alabama. She lived in Chambers County until her move to Collins County, Texas, between 1870 and 1880. Chambers County is only separated from Pike County —where Elijah resided the majority of his life —by Macon County. The dearth of early records for both Elijah and Cynthia Dillard could point to several situations: a father’s early death and lack of probate records for his estate, children left orphans being raised in different households, record loss due to burned counties, and more.
Continued work in the DNA may point to additional clues to Cynthia and Elijah’s origins.
DNA Research for Elijah Dillard
Continuing to work with the peach cluster from the Gephi network graph and shared matching, I identified another descendant of Elijah Dillard, this time through his son, James M. Dillard. Previous matches had been through Elijah’s son, Josiah. Having another match through an independent line adds confidence to my hypothesis. Additionally, I found a Florida connection through James M. Dillard. I wrote:
The new DNA match and review of James Monroe Dillard’s timeline discovered a Florida connection. Death certificates for three of Cynthia (Dillard) Royston’s fourteen children provided the maiden name of “Dillard” with a birthplace of either Alabama or Florida. The two instances naming Alabama are reasonable given Cynthia’s time in Alabama from about 1834 to about 1875. The informants for those certificates were a son-in-law and a granddaughter, neither of which would have first-hand knowledge of Cynthia’s birth.
The locality of Florida on the death certificate of Cynthia’s daughter, Adeline, seems an outlier since no other record mentions any Florida connections. The informant for Mrs. Adeline Spear’s death was Mariah (M.C.) Lovelady, sister to Adeline and another of Cynthia’s daughters. Although Mariah also would not have first-hand knowledge of Cynthia’s birthplace, she lived with her mother in both Alabama and Texas from her birth in 1859 until Cynthia’s death in 1882. Perhaps Mariah kept in contact with Dillard family cousins and assumed a Florida birth based on this connection.
If Elijah Dillard was Cynthia’s brother, his son, James Monroe Dillard, would have been a first cousin to Cynthia’s children. James moved to Pensacola, Escambia County, Florida, by 1930 and could be the source of Mariah’s listing of Florida on her sister, Adeline’s death certificate.
Pensacola is located on the Florida panhandle and borders Alabama to the south, near the southeastern counties where Elijah Dillard resided in the 1800s. See figure 11 for the proximity of the locations. Cynthia lived in Chambers County, Alabama, just north of Barbour and Bullock Counties shown on the map. Although it is doubtful Cynthia was born in Florida, the connection to Elijah Dillard’s family could explain the naming of Florida as her birthplace by her daughter, Mariah.
With my time expired, I needed to wrap up the report. I recapped the documentary research and the DNA findings and concluded that “further research in both documentary records and DNA is needed to continue exploring the connection between Cynthia and Elijah Dillard.”
The conclusion doesn’t need citations as those are in the body of the report. It’s an opportunity to lead the reader through the research once again and clarify any important points.
Future Research Suggestions
An important section to fully flesh out is the list of future research suggestions. Here you can note everything that didn’t get completed from the research plan as well as new ideas that came about during the research. I like to separate this list by documentary research and DNA research. I compiled a list of many more record searches such as in newspapers and land application files at the National Archives, then brainstormed possibilities for advancing the DNA work. I like to bullet point this list to help with organization.
I always appreciate the opportunity to tackle one of my own genealogical brick walls with the study group. Sharing my work along the way and receiving feedback helps me to improve my skills and gives me a huge incentive to finish each assignment.
I made a huge leap forward during this phase of the research in discovering the likely sibling connection between Cynthia and Elijah Dillard. Although there is much more to be done, I am one step closer to discovering their father.
If you’re interested in joining one of our study groups or the independent study course, see our Services page on Family Locket. We’d love to help you overcome your brick walls using the RLP with DNA process.