Are you hoping to use your DNA test results to break down a long-standing brick wall in your family tree? What are the steps you need to take? I’m using the Research Like a Pro process combined with DNA to tackle one of my mysteries and sharing my experience here.
The first step in the research process is to create an objective based on your research question. In Creating an Objective for a DNA Research Project, I explain why I chose my brick wall ancestor, Rachel Cox, and how I formulated an objective.
The objective of this research project is to prove Benjamin Cox as the father of Rachel Cox through DNA evidence and traditional genealogy research. Benjamin Cox was born about 1791 in Ohio and died between 1870 and 1880 in Bell County, Texas. Rachel Cox was born about 1828 in Indiana and died between 1870 and 1880 in Falls County, Texas. Rachel married Hickman Monroe Shults on 4 July 1848 in Navarro County, Texas.
What is the next step of the research process? Analyze the sources, the information they hold, and the evidence that information provides. I understand how to analyze traditional genealogy sources, but when it comes to DNA, how does that translate? Robin Wirthlin, our genetic genealogy guru, explained more in DNA Sources, Information, and Evidence: Sorting it All Out.
I learned that my DNA and that of my cousin matches are original sources. As genealogists we know that original sources are valuable and contain important information. In this case my cousin matches share specific DNA segments with me and that shared DNA came from a common ancestor. Figuring out the common ancestor requires another source – the cousin’s family tree. Since a family tree is a combination of original and derivative sources put together by an individual, it can be termed an authored source and the more accurate the generational links, the more credence can be given to the information.
Analyzing genealogical sources
Because I’m combining DNA with traditional genealogical research, my first step was to analyze the sources I’ve gathered through the years on Benjamin Cox and Rachel Cox. I did this original research several years ago and the timeline analysis revealed several opportunities for further research.
I was reminded of why I thought Rachel Cox was the daughter of Benjamin in the first place. Their proximity in Navarro County, Texas, in 1848 being the primary reason. The screenshot below shows my timeline highlighting Rachel’s marriage record of 1848, Navarro County, Texas, and Benjamin’s presence in the county in 1846 in a tax list.
The timeline analysis revealed that my research had centered on Texas and Arkansas from the 1840s to the 1880s. Since Rachel’s census records indicated a birth in Indiana and Benjamin’s indicated a birth in Ohio, I decided to explore records of Indiana and Ohio for Benjamin Cox. Some of my questions: were there other Cox men that could be Rachel’s father? Was Benjamin in Indiana when Rachel was born in 1828? Is there a possible mother for Rachel in the records?
Analyzing DNA sources
To analyze possible cousin matches in my DNA results, I turned to Lucidchart.com to create a visual of my cousin matches and their lines of descent from Benjamin Cox. I followed Robin’s advice and added the following information: the name of the match, the testing company, the relationship estimate, and amount of shared DNA. Using Ancestry Thrulines, I identified possible cousins – matches who had also identified Benjamin Cox as an ancestor. Each of these would need to be verified, but creating the chart put me in the driver seat and helped me feel in control of the process.
The matches are primarily on small segments meaning the amount of shared centimorgans is between 5- 10 cM’s. There is danger in using these potentially false segments, so I’ll be working on some strategies to overcome this hurdle.
I created my chart with the hypothesized shared ancestor in blue: Benjamin Cox. Each row below him represents a generation. My box is in pink as well as those of my potential cousin matches. I traced each cousin match back to Benjamin Cox and added how much DNA in centimorgans was shared as well as the relationship. Most of the matches fell into the 4th-5th cousin range. I added a sticky note and a highlight note for some information I wanted to recall.
Analyzing the data helped me see the potential for this line of research and solidified my research objective of proving Benjamin Cox as the father of Rachel Cox. Now I’m ready for the next step – locality research!
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!
Read the entire series here:
Creating an Objective for a DNA Research Project
Source, Information, and Evidence Analysis for a DNA Research Project
Locality Research in a DNA Research Project
Creating a Research Plan for a DNA Research Project
Using DNA Source Citations in a Research Report
Using a Research Log in a DNA Research Project
Writing a Research Report on a DNA Research Project
Thanks for this post which is so timely for me. There must be something about the name Benjamin because I am also trying to link a the granddaughter of a Benjamin to a DNA match of hers that is 988 cm suggesting a cousin or a few other close relationships and who has a large tree. Unlike your scenario, though, is that I cannot place Benjamin or any of his family in the same areas as the matches locations. However, it has to be a meeting of the two families somehow at some point since a match that high has to be real. I will use your scenario though to set out what I have learned so far and see if it triggers a hint on how to proceed. Thank you for sharing.
Good luck with your project! I hope you can make real progress. Putting DNA together with traditional research is a challenge, but I have every hope that we can be successful.
How did you identify which DNA matches claimed to be related to Benjamin Cox? Surname search on the DNA match page? Something else? I have brick walls, but I cannot begin to guess which ones are descended from which ancestral line.
I used Ancestry.com’s ThruLines feature. Because I had previously done a lot of research pointing to Benjamin Cox as the ancestor, as I was browsing ThruLines, his suggestion as an ancestor caught my attention. Seeing that there were multiple possible cousin matches helped me decide to choose this objective. A surname search in this instance brought up too many matches. I hope this helps!
We have a similar brick wall. We know our 3rd (or 4th, depending upon which generation a particlar cousin belongs so) Great Grandfather is a Joshua Lee. We’ve done all the paper research, identified all the neighbors, persons with whom he had a relationship. We cannot find our Great Grandmother. That Joshua Lee’s father is also Joshua Lee, same thing. We cannot find his wife, our Great Grandmother. Even my dear cousins who are males are upset as they say, “the women are who kept the churches going; the families together. We need to know who these women are.” There are 97 of us descended from this earlier Joshua Lee who have done DNA and loaded to GEDmatch. We’ve used YDNA, including advanced Y700 to no avail (we know our Lee family, we just don’t know who the earliest Joshua Lee’s father is) Are you ladies interested in taking this on as a project? We have an extensive amount of paper research (every bit of paper available in Bladen, present-day Sampson, Duplin, Robeson Counties, NC. ) Thank you for your time.
This sounds like a challenging project! I’ll send you an email to discuss further.