When that DNA Match Tree is Incomplete

This post is not about how to complete a family tree to determine how you and a DNA match are genealogically related. This post is about documenting that process in your research notes.

Take a picture of that tree you’ve sketched out and include that image as well.

Researchers often look at a specific DNA match to their DNA test because they have an idea of how that person is related to them–even if it is a broad idea of the connection. That connection is usually what caused them to look at the person’s tree in the first place.

That should be in your notes on that match:

This match is probably related to me on great-grandpa Trautvetter because we share some of those people.

It should also be made clear who great-grandpa Trautvetter is–in my case that’s George Trautvetter (1869-1934).

Because chances are if I suspect that the person is related to me through that great-grandfather I am going to look at their tree and research their tree with that in mind. There may be parts of the tree that I ignore for one reason for another–and those reasons may be very valid.

Did not look at ancestry of great-grandmother Heloise Fromenglandham since she was born in County Suffolk, England.

Did not look at ancestry of great-grandfather Sean O’Imirish since he was from County Cork, Ireland.

For matches to my ethnic German great-grandfather Trautvetter these exclusions make sense based upon what I now know about his ancestry. It is not possible to research every tree back as far as possible. But if we look to certain parts of the tree first or look away from certain parts of the tree we should indicate in our notes that we have done that. It does not take long to write up these reasons.


Creating a Neill Cluster

One reason I took a DNA test was so that I could make some discoveries on my Irish immigrant families. Consequently I’ve focused on DNA matches to known descendants of my Irish immigrant ancestors.

Samuel and Annie (Murphy) Neill were Irish immigrants (probably from different places) who married in New Brunswick, Canada, in the 1860s. They moved to Hancock County, Illinois, where Samuel’s brother Joseph and Annie (Brice) Neill also settled. The Neills presumably went there because Annie Brice had relatives in the area. Joseph and Annie were from the same area and had married in Ireland. Joseph and Annie had several children, but none of those children had families of their own. Joseph and Samuel had a brother Alexander who remained in Ireland and who has descendants, some of whom have done DNA tests. Samuel and Annie had several children and approximately twenty descendants who have done DNA tests.

My plan with my DNA matches was to look for individuals who were shared matches with known descendants of Samuel and Annie. There is a problem. Three of Samuel and Annie’s children (including my great-grandfather) married individuals from the Rampley family who shared 6 of the same great-grandparents (it is possible). The multiple relationships I share with these Neill-Rampley descendants was why I chose to use Neill descendants from the non-Rampley marriages for my DNA analysis. Shared DNA matches with known descendants of the non-Neill-Rampley marriages were likely related to me through the Neill or Murphy families.

This situation is a great example of why it is advised to know as much about your paper genealogical tree as possible.

I started with the matches I shared with known descendants of Samuel and Annie (Murphy) Neill who had also done DNA tests at Ancestry. I assigned a group color to matches of these descendants in AncestryDNA. The names are coded to make sense to me–note: the blue groups have nothing to do with the Neill analysis.

It took a little doing creating a group for the shared matches I had with each of these determined matches, but it was helpful. Then when viewing new matches or matches I did not have determined, I could see a little better what was going on.

Then I could see that a undetermined match, J, had four shared matches with me and that all of those shared matches with J were shared matches with known Neill-Murphy descendants.

I only used the groups (the colored dots) to indicate matches with matches whose relationship with me through the Neill-Murphy (non-Rampley) family were known. Some individuals who matched were descendants of one of Neill-Rampley intermarriages, but again, because of multiple relationships with those individuals, I did not use those matches in my analysis.

Through the analysis, I was able to determine another sibling for Samuel and Joseph. Basically this was accomplished by looking at individuals who in several match groups with known Samuel Neill descendants, who shared less DNA with me than the Samuel Neill descendants, and had at least a few names in their attached pedigree chart. “Less DNA” is very loosely defined and we will look at that in a future post. It took some time to trace their pedigree to determine the connection.


What an Experienced Researcher Would Expect to be Relevant

My post on “Writing A Proof: Another Take” contained the phrase “Conduct a complete search of all relevant records that an experienced researcher would expect.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase, what it really means, and what I meant by it.

The Genealogy Proof Standard (from the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Genealogical Standards Manual) uses the phrase “exhaustive search” when it discusses the research process and what types of records are searched in answer to a specific research problem. Exhaustive search does not mean a tiring one. The phrase one uses is not what really matters. Too many people get bogged down in semantics when they should be getting bogged down in actual research (at least until they can see through the fog).

What matters is that a search be thorough–whether you say it is “complete” or “exhaustive” is a matter of debate.

What matters is that all relevant records to the problem be searched. It is difficult to define “relevant” exactly and precisely–it depends upon the problem. What is relevant depends upon the context. The key here is “all.” Not just those records that are easy to access and not just those that the researcher has used enough times to be comfortable with, but any record that may address the issue at hand. Any.

And this is where experience also comes in to play.

When I had only researched a few of my families in one location, I simply didn’t have enough experience to solve some of my other more difficult problems. That’s why researching the families of others helps to make our own research better. Researching families outside our own (hopefully) gets us outside our comfort zone, outside our cultural and ethnic biases, and outside our “tried and true” assumptions.  Reading how others have solved similar problems in similar locations can help us get outside our own immediate zone as well. In fact, seeing how others have solved problems, what records they have used and how they have used them is an excellent tool in developing our analytical skills.

And that helps us when we go back to our own research.

So when you are trying to solve that problem, think “what are all the sources that an experienced researcher would use to answer this problem?” Be honest with yourself when using the word “experienced.” to described your research skills.

I didn’t use the word “expert” and I didn’t use the word “professional.” I used the word “experienced.”

That was on purpose. Anyone can style themselves an expert or a professional.

But experience in using the appropriate records is what matters in solving most problems.

Most–not all.

You can also strengthen your research by reading the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Genealogical Standards Manual


Writing a Proof–Another Take

Personally I think too many people “stress” about writing a proof argument. And I think that there are a number of people who want others to think that they have discovered the “magic” formula. There is no magic formula and it’s not as difficult as one thinks. It takes practice and more practice and little “magic.”

Here is my take:

Conduct a complete search of all relevant records that an experienced researcher would expect

  • to provide a direct, specific answer to the question
  • to provide information, that when combined with a knowledge of the law, culture, and other records, would suggest an answer to the question.

Adequately and completely cite each source used.

Adequately and completely discuss your research procedure if a record that should be found cannot be found. Just “I didn’t find it” is not enough–what records were searched (online, microfilm, courthouse, etc.) and how they were searched (what names, search terms, etc.) needs to be a part of this “can’t find it” discussion.

Consider all possibilities–not just the one that “fits your notion.”

Clearly discuss why certain possibilities are not supported by the records. If there are other conjectures about the persons involved that run counter to your conjecture, clearly state (with supported reasons) and analysis, why those other conjectures are not supported by currently available information. Do not simply discount them and do not simply ignore them. Doing so may indicate to others that you’ve not adequately researched the problem. 

Clearly state your assumptions. If you use a marriage record as evidence that someone was at least a certain age when they married, make certain you know what the statute in effect at the time said about the age of marriage.

Do all that and you are well on your way.


Dutch Naming Myths

Tamara Jones’ article on “Dutch Naming Myths” is a good, short, to-the-point read.

Those whose ancestry is pretty much English speaking with a dash of Dutch thrown in for good measure (typically because the person has 17th or 18th century ancestry in what is now the United States) would do well to read it because Dutch naming practices are different from English language ones.

As one who is half-Ostfriesen, with family living in that area until the mid-to-late 19th century, I noticed many aspects of Jones’ conversation that are applicable to that area as well. One practice some Ostfriesens had, particularly in the mid-to-late 19th century was to have a first name, a second name that was a patronym, and a last name that was a surname.

But as a reminder to those who had families from other of Europe–practices elsewhere may be different. Ostfriesland today is in Germany. My German ancestors from other areas of Germany did not practice these naming patterns. And Ostfriesland did not practice some of the naming tendencies that other areas of Germany did.

It is always worth remembering that what today is one country may be made up of many different ethnic or cultural regions and those different regions may have different practices.


Too Much to Do and Don’t Care!

There are several reasons why errors appear in records.

Have you ever thought while filling out a form:

I have too much to do and I really don’t care information I put on this form.

A “they really don’t need to know this” may be added for effect.

The older I get and the more paperwork I complete for various things, the more I think this explains a significant number of discrepancies and errors in records.


Thoughts on a 1943 Farm Ledger

The ledger of my Grandfather Neill’s farm expenses only covers a few years in the early 1940s. Aside from the initial novelty of World War II era prices, it’s an interesting insight into his life.

Transcribing it when I get to that point will be a slight challenge. However I do have some advantages. I won’t be transcribing this based solely on the handwriting. There are some advantages that I have.

I can read cursive.

I know something about farm life. No matter how neat the handwriting in a document may be, having a working knowledge of the occupation and time period in which the document was created helps to understand that document. I know the mash is to feed the chickens and that what may look like a “shirt” is actually a “shoat.”

The time period is not all that far from my own existence. Twenty-five years later I came into existence. The ledger does not pre-date my lifespan by all that much.

I’m familiar with the area. My grandparents lived one-half a mile from where I lived until I was in my early twenties. I know the names of all the little towns in the area. Many of the businesses Grandpa mentioned were will around when I was growing up. My own parents farmed as well and frequented some of the same businesses. Some of the individuals referenced were still living when I was a child and their names were ones that I heard. That knowledge helps when transcribing.

“Locker rent and dues.” That certainly is not a locker at any sort of fitness center. It’s likely a reference to the “locker plat” that was in Carthage, Illinois, and that was referenced as in the planning stages in a March 1939 article in the Warsaw Bulletin. The article stated that the rent at the Carthage facility would be between $10 and $14 a year. Grandpa indicated that in 1943 he paid $14.51 in “rent and dues.”

Of course not everyone can have this knowledge and I certainly don’t have that same level of knowledge when transcribing a document from Massachusetts in the 1750s. That’s something I have to remember when transcribing something created in a time period and a place with which I am unfamiliar. There is a learning curve. Google can help, but it only helps so much.

And the abbreviations. Those can be an entirely separate challenge all by themselves. The best advice is to wait until you have transcribed the entire to determine the ones that do not immediately come to you. Later references may make their intent a little more clear.


Avoiding that “Go-to” Problem Solution

It can be easy to get stuck in a rut even when one is solving problems, finding answers, and making progress. One approach will not guarantee a solution to every problem.

One of my go-to solutions when a person seems to appear from the sky in a new location is to consider that they’ve been there for a while but hiding under a last name–often a last name of a step-father whose identity is unknown. That scenario was the one that found my ancestor Ira Sargent. Ira’s father died when Ira was around seven. His mother married again a few years later and Ira was known by that last name until he married in 1870. That’s why it looked like he just “appeared.”

Because that approach worked for me on a brick wall that was near and dear to my heart, it tends to be one that I think of first. But it’s not the only thing situation that could result in someone appearing to drop from the sky.

Always consider all the options when you are brainstorming scenarios to help you try and find records and answers. That “brick wall” may be a worse brick wall because you are stuck on one approach.


A Private Tree for My DNA Results

Regular readers know that my family tree is full of relatives who are related to me in multiple ways and with relatives with whom I share relatives through connections they have with each other but do not have with me.

It’s confusing when a significant proportion of your tree came from a handful of areas and settled in one area and have lived there for nearly one hundred and fifty years. It makes the DNA matches and shared matches a twisted and tangled knot that makes seems like an infinite number of Mobius strips intertwined with each other.

To help deal with that, I have a working “tree” where that includes my known ancestors and as many of their descendants as I can reasonably locate. For some of those descendants, I have traced their “other ancestors,” ones that they do not share with me. Depending upon how the match and I are related to them, I may have traced that tree rather extensively. There may be errors in that portion of the tree and most of these families have not been researched extensively or exhaustively and some of this research has been somewhat superficial–at the risk of being perfectly honest.

Keep in mind that these people who have been researched in a somewhat superficial manner have no real bearing on my ancestry at all. These are great-great-grandparents of my third cousin on the “other side” of the family (the mother’s side who came from New England when I’m related to the father’s side from Maryland). They’ve only been traced to potentially help me with some of the shared DNA matches. Their connection to the ancestors and families I am working on is extremely tangential. These are not associates of my ancestors. These are people who lived hundreds of miles from my relatives and whose great-granddaughter eventually married a relative of mine.

That tree with all those extraneous names to use my own DNA analysis is kept private. It is not shared. It is not posted online. Why? Because I have not “worked it up” as well as I do the tree on my ancestors and their own family networks. It’s just for my own analytical work.

And because of that I keep it private–I don’t want to reproduce any errors.

But I need it because it helps me to analyze all the crazy multiple relationships in my tree.


A Piece of Paper from my Cousin…

Years ago, early in my research I was having difficulty interpreting a phrase in an old document and was corresponding via regular mail with a distant relative about it.

They told me what the phrase meant and included a phototopy of a page from a typewritten list of legal phrases and their meanings as their “source.” There was no indication of the book from which the page was taken. There was no page number to suggest it had even been copied from a book, and frankly the page looked like it had been typed on a early 20th century typewriter and what I had was an umpteenth generation photocopy of that page.

The explanation of the phrase didn’t make complete sense to me and I asked my correspondent where they got it. Another relative had sent it to her, just like she had sent it to me.

I decided I needed a better reference.

Reference materials written by individuals with significant experience in the field and edited by others with just as much experience abound in genealogy. Don’t rely on unsourced sets of definition whose authorship is unknown or questionable.

You’d want to know the source of great-great-grandpa’s will. Find out the source of those definitions you are using to interpret what it says as well.