Some months ago I blogged about a major DNA breakthrough, confirming that I’d traced my Irish great granny properly. DNA testing was needed to be sure of the line, because we lack certain conventional key paperwork, and so it was enormously difficult to trace back.
That testing was with FamilyTreeDNA, using their FamilyFinder test, which finds chunks of DNA from all branches of the ancestral tree. This is called autosomal DNA testing.
I’ve since tested with AncestryDNA as well, which is a purely autosomal test, and have found that very useful too. It’s confirmed numerous ancestral lines, that I traced the conventional way through paperwork. So I thought it might be worth reflecting on that.
My ancestry is 1/2 Scottish (mainly Scottish Borders), 3/8 English (West Yorkshire and West Midlands) and 1/8 Irish (Dublin and County Cork). And I trace every single line, and have been doing so for 35 years.
Many people signing up for AncestryDNA do so for the approximate ethnicity measures, but as a genealogist I find the genealogical potential vastly more exciting, allowing me to make contact with cousins – near and far – who are tracing the same ancestral lines, uncovering more information about my ancestors, and letting us combine research efforts.
A big drawback with AncestryDNA is that people who are going just for the ethnicity angle don’t know their ancestral lines. So often they won’t respond to messages from possible cousins. And they would rarely have uploaded any summary of their family tree, which can be so useful for comparing trees automatically in the Ancestry system, identifying possible shared lines. I just have a skeletal ancestry tree entered into my Ancestry account, but find that invaluable for comparing potential matches, and helping people find me there too.
I find that out of about 150 AncestryDNA matches I can see from online trees in the system how about 30 of the people are probably linked. I contact those with particularly promising looking lines, perhaps those I’m struggling to trace, or am keen to make contact with a living cousin. Not even all people with online trees respond, but a fair number do.
Good contacts that I’ve made include:
- finding a distant Hall cousin, proving that my ggg-grandfather in Hawick had a brother we didn’t know about born 1820, who emigrated to USA. The emigrant was a spinner in the woollen trade in Hawick before emigrating, and did the same thing in the USA!
- matching a Broadhead cousin, which is great because I struggled to trace back past my gg-granddad, who was illegitimate, and wasn’t sure I’d traced him right. Now I can be.
- matching a Senior cousin, my granny’s line, contacting someone whose ancestor was the older brother of my gg-grandfather, and who returned to help run the family farm near Barnsley. This opens up the possibility of finding out more personal family information about the family farm, which our branch knew nothing about today.
- contacting a very eager genealogist who descends from the younger brother of my Fair gg-granny in Roxburghshire. We are now sharing family info, both actively tracing all lines back, and swapping and sharing notes.
All these connections through DNA confirm I’ve traced the relevant family lines properly through documentary records, including in tricky cases like my Irish great granny and the Broadhead example where the documentary record wasn’t clear, and so there was doubt. That’s been weird to experience, making me reassess lines, and know 100% they are right! I hadn’t expected DNA results to have an emotional effect like this, when it comes to confirming the accuracy of conventional documentary research. But for me it has done.
I also run a Cavers one-name study. My own Cavers link is quite far up my family tree, via mother’s father’s mother’s father’s mother. So that line can’t be Y-DNA tested, at least in my immediate family, and we haven’t been able so far to add it to the Cavers Y-DNA project I run, allowing its male-line DNA profile to be compared with other Cavers branches. But I seem to have autosomal DNA matches through AncestryDNA with other Cavers descendants. Some of the matching people descend from the Cavers ancestors I’ve traced back to, but others concern other Cavers lines, which may hint at a hitherto undiscovered link between my Cavers branch and others, that predates the paper records. That is potentially very exciting, and I’m considering widening my Cavers DNA project on FamilyTreeDNA to include autosomal DNA as well as the more conventional Y-DNA tests focused on by surname DNA projects which seek to match up paternal/surname lines.
Anyway those are just some thoughts. I expect to make more good autosomal DNA matches over the next year, as more people get tested and their results are added to the AncestryDNA database of test results. We have also bought an AncestryDNA test for my husband, having seen how useful it was for me. Fingers crossed he finds good links too!