Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 4 – Proving the matches, and establishing a theory of connection

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 4 – Proving the matches, and establishing a theory of connection

In the first three parts of this series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we went through and tagged all 288 of our Ancestry DNA results that were related to a group of matches which had Woodley/Woodson surnames in their attached trees. We then built out a common tree for as many of the matches as we could, to nail down common ancestors, and to gain clues on where these matches link up with our tree. In this installment, we leverage GEDmatch, and deductive reasoning, to identify where we think our tree will link up with their trees.

The largest DNA matches (by centimorgans) we identified in Ancestry had also uploaded their DNA results to GEDmatch, so we were able to do tests to confirm they all truly matched. The “One-to-One” matches for each of them confirmed they were all related to “Mary”. It’s not scientific to say that all 288 were actual DNA matches, but we know the core group of matches are and that a good number of the matches-of-matches are likely also legit.

X DNA is tricky, but the important use of it identifying people who you CAN’T be a match if you share X DNA.

We were also able to use GEDmatch to identify the “true” cM match amounts between various matches, and from there we leveraged the International Society of Genetic Genealogists’ table showing cM ranges and averages between various family relationships (Shared cM Project – V3). The closest match for Mary was “W.W.”, and we settled on 133cM as their match level. The most likely relationship for that level of match was with a shared Great Grandparent, with W.W. likely being a 2nd Cousin, or a 2nd Cousin Once Removed. When we fleshed out the other 12 matches on paper, they all roughly fit this notion that they matched either Mary’s Great Grandparent or Great-Great Grandparent.

female-x-chart
Inheritance pattern for females (X DNA)

The other thing that jumped out at us, unexpectedly, from GEDmatch was that some of the 5 matches there had X DNA matches as well. X DNA is tricky, but the important use of it identifying people who you CAN’T be a match if you share X DNA. For example, a person will only inherit X DNA from their mother, so if you have an X DNA match that you’re theorizing is related to someone, but there are two male relatives in a row between the two matches, that isn’t possible.

Once we built out the theoretical map between all the matches and Mary it all fit that her GGP’s could be Roman and Mary Jones, and with the DNA levels and inheritance pattern of X DNA it’s likely that Marie’s relative was a daughter of Roman and Mary. It also pointed strongly to the matching being on her mother’s side.

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 3.18.43 PM
“What are the Odds?” gives you the chances of various hypothesis’

The day after we did our work on paper with the ISOGG chart as our guidance, DNAPainter introduced a new tool called “What are the Odds?”  that does the same work we just did on paper! It’s easy, it’s awesome, and we’ll cover it in more detail in a future post. But, most importantly, it showed us that it was 77 times MORE likely that Roman or Mary Jones’s parents are our Most Recent Common Ancestor, than anyone else. It’s technically possible that our Mary is directly descended from Roman and Mary Jones, or that they are connected by 4xGGP’s…but it’s much, much more likely we’re looking for Mary’s 3xGGP’s, the parents of Roman and Mary.

Looking at Mary’s tree, and she of course has 2 maternal GGM’s. One, we have some documentation (mostly Census info with Ancestry Member Trees), but the other we had almost no information. We’re guessing the one we have little information on, Annie Caswell, might be the best lead, so we’re going to dig into her.

Samuel and Annie Caswell were born, married, and died in and around Crowder, MS. Family lore has Sam and Annie as Mary’s grandparents, but we only have Annie’s Census birth date, and no maiden name for her. About the only piece of hard information we had was that Samuel might have died in July 1974 (based on the SSDI).

Time for some old-school genealogy, to hopefully prove out the high-tech theory that points to Annie Caswell being on the Jones line.

Next in the Series: Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 5 – Rolling up our sleeves and doing some genealogy

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 3 – Building a single tree using all of our DNA matches Public Trees

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 3 – Building a single tree using all of our DNA matches Public Trees

In Parts 1 (Casting a Wide Net, Part 1) and 2 (Casting a Wide Net, Part 2) of this series, we went through and tagged all 288 of our Ancestry DNA results that were related to a group of matches that had Woodley/Woodson surnames in their attached trees. In this installment, we get to work!

After we took a few days off, we downloaded the list of “Mary’s” (our Grandmother we’re trying to build matches to) DNA matches, and converted it to an Excel spreadsheet. We filtered the list to only show the 288 matches we’d tagged as related (DNA Line 47!), and deleted the rows that weren’t tagged. Next, we filtered on Private Trees and color-coded those 128 rows in Red since there’s no further work we could do on those lines.

That left us with 160 matches that had at least a small Public Tree. Sorting the list by centimorgans, we started reviewing each match one-by-one. The first match, with the most DNA in common, had a large Public Tree, so we started a speculative tree using the match as the root, and building back to the oldest Woodley ancestor. We followed the steps we outlined earlier in How to Build a Good Public Tree (Building a good Public Ancestry.com tree), so we had a decent foundation of facts supported by documentation. Going to the next match, we attempted to build a link between the first tree and this second tree. We found the link, and could tie these two DNA matches to each other in our speculative tree! We flagged these linked matches Green in the spreadsheet, and moved on to the next.Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.08.17 AMWe soon had a small skeleton tree building out nicely. We quickly found 4 matches we could link up, 2 others that we couldn’t build out from the data they had in their Public Tree (we flagged those as Yellow), when we hit the tree that brought it all into focus. “W.W.” had a 72cM match with Mary, and a Public Tree with over 3000 members. As we built this link, we found the most important data we’d learn in this project: The shared ancestor wasn’t a Woodley/Woodson, it likely was Roman and Mary (Stewart) Jones.

Roman and Mary Jones were born into slavery on the Eastern Seaboard in the 1830’s, and the Public Trees files available for them seem to have good Probate data showing the trail of ownership for them through to 1860. It appears they have 8-10 children that we know of (3 of which are confirmed with this DNA work), and there’s even an amazing picture of the couple. It appears someone has done quite a bit of work on this couple.

As we built this link, we found the most important data we’d learn in this project: The shared ancestor wasn’t a Woodley/Woodson, it likely was Roman and Mary (Stewart) Jones.

We spent weeks reviewing the 160 matches with Public Trees, and we eventually were able to link 12 of matches together in one speculative tree. All 12 share Roman and Mary Jones as a common ancestor. We also found 4 other matches that we could build out quite a bit, and we believe they are close to being linked to this grand tree, but we couldn’t find that missing piece. We called these “Orphaned Trees” and tied them into a placeholder.

The remaining 145 matches had data in their trees, but we couldn’t find good patterns to match with just what was online. For these 145 we built a spreadsheet of the listed family names, so that as we continue our research we can hopefully match those family names to new matches, and expand the tree.

Ultimately our tree has nearly 500 names with good data supporting each one. We didn’t use Member Family Trees to support any of the facts (other than some relationships), and we were able to shrub out some of the less developed branches with siblings/offspring/etc.

The bad news was, we couldn’t link ANY of these matches to our Mary directly. We are confident the matches are all were related to Roman and Mary Jones, and we can reasonably assume our Mary is too, but the link just wasn’t there yet.

That lead to our next step: leverage GEDmatch to confirm our theory that these were valid matches, and try and come up with an educated guess on where our Mary might link in with this group.

Next in the Series: Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 4 – Proving the matches, and establishing a theory of connection

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 2 – Identifying all “Matches of Matches” as a Group

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 2 – Identifying all “Matches of Matches” as a Group

(Note: Before we go further, we rely heavily on Jeff Snavely’s Ancestry DNA Helper tool for this work. It’s a Chrome plug-in that adds a lot of essential functionality to Ancestry DNA results. You can download it here: DNA Helper. For this project, we’re specifically using two features: “Search Test Notes” and “Download Matches”, and if you’re following along at home, you’ll want to get this tool and get acquainted with it.) 

As we discussed in our first post (Part 1 – A crazy, desperate idea), we came up with the idea to cast a wide net on this group of matches that have “Woodley” or “Woodson” surnames, build out one big speculative tree for them all, and see if we can identify a pattern to the matches that would indicate where the DNA grandma in question (“Mary”) might connect.

It is critical that we identify the target group from the nearly 11,000 DNA matches for Mary. It started easily…select the closest match with “Woodley” in their attached tree, and put a string in the Notes field of that match. Our note indicated who’s side of the family this match was on, and broke down if we’d researched it yet, and tagged it as “Woodley/Woodson family, unresearched – Line 47” since this is the 47th separate shared ancestor we’re researching in on DNA trees. By adding this note, we can easily search all of the matches later, and when we have the entire list of matches, we’ll be able to review and confirm the status of each. Have we reviewed the match’s tree? Did we find out how they fit in the large shared tree?

Click, paste, click, click, paste. Times 288. It took over a week, and it was some of the most boring work we’d ever done in our time doing family history.

Once we added the first note, we clicked on “Shared Matches” and clicked on the first match that Mary and this match shared. We then added the same note to that person, and repeated the process. Match, note, Shared Matches, click Match. We had NO idea how many matches we’d have to repeat this before we started. It turns out it was 288 times. Click, paste, click, click, paste. Times 288. It took over a week, and it was some of the most boring work we’d ever done in our time doing family history. We’ve gone through 10 years of unindexed registers of the Educable Children in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi…with about 300 pages per year. That was fun and excited compared to this. We had NO idea how many matches of matches were in front of us.

Line memoTwo things to note. First, yes it was horrible work, but it was great to finally make progress on such an intractable line with so little data on how those matches matched. Second, this is amazingly unscientific so please know that we knew going into this that some one of these people weren’t matches, they merely were tagged as potential matches by Ancestry. There’s no way to confirm the level of confidence in a match in Ancestry, so we took it at face they all were. That way we’d cast that net as wide as we could, because you didn’t know who’s tree/match would be the valuable one that would provide the connection we needed.

Click, paste, click, click, paste. Times 288. Not even knowing if this would pay off.

After over a week of work, when it was finally all done…we took a few days off. Our minds needed the break. But the hardest, worst part of this project was done, and we were about to start the fun, valuable stuff!

Next in the Series: Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 3 – Building a single tree using all of our DNA matches’ Public Trees

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 1 – A crazy, desperate idea

Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 1 – A crazy, desperate idea

It’s one of the things that slaps you in the face when you jump into DNA Genealogy: Finding a genetic match will rely mostly on other people’s trees being built out to 3x and 4x great grandparents. Since most people who take an Ancestry DNA test don’t have their trees completed to that level, we spend 90% of our time building other people’s trees in order to make matches.

This is amplified when doing African American genealogy, since there are even fewer complete trees available. It is not surprising, given that this country didn’t treat African people as humans for most of its existence, and then we spent the next 100 years or so denying those of African heritage basic rights and access to government across large parts of the US. It resulted in not only devastating impacts, but also simple things like Vital Records not existing, cemeteries segregated and at risk of being destroyed without a thought, etc. Combine that with the cultural hesitance in good parts of the older African American community to either ask or discuss their history with their elders and children (it can be a damn painful story!), and it’s no wonder this fun hobby the European American side of our family has enjoyed for over 100 years wasn’t as nearly matched by our African relatives.

We came up with a strategy on how to break this wall down: cast as big a net as we can, catalog every match-of-a-match that we can identify, and build out all of the trees we can as far as we can to see if we can start building a tree that gives us hints as to where our family might flow through

But, as we build our American Genealogy, we are working to build that side of our tree out and to use DNA as a tool as much as possible. It’s not like we’ll quit just because it’s much harder!

With that, as we went through the DNA matches on Michael’s maternal grandmother’s lines, there are no matches that aren’t from the tests we manage, or from close relatives that tested independently and let us know their results. But as we browsed through her results, we kept coming across two surnames in a bunch of matches: Woodley/Woodson.

Marie's Tree
It’s nearly impossible to build a 3rd Cousin DNA match when you have solid info on only 3 of 16 2xGGP

We have no Woodley/Woodson in our tree, and none of the trees we looked at provided any hint as to the path that might link these matches and the maternal grandmother in question. So, after mulling this for a couple of months, we came up with a strategy on how to break this wall down: cast as big a net as we can, catalog every match-of-a-match that we can identify, and build out all of the trees we can as far as we can to see if we can start building a tree that gives us hints as to where our family might flow through. Once we had the best tree we had, we hoped that using the strength of each match mapped to that tree would give us hints on where to dig in a build the links between our target (“Mary”) and her matches.

We knew this would be further complicated by not entirely knowing/trusting that the man listed on her Birth Certificate is her father. Going into this there was a 50% chance that all of these matches might link to a side of the family where we know only a man’s name…and it might not even be the right name. Again, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we weren’t going to do it, and the hope was that even if the matches are all from Mary’s father’s line, that will just help us learn more about that brickwall.

We’re going to cover this in a series of posts, and next we’ll talk about how we cast that net over 288 DNA matches and very little other supporting data!

Next in the series: Matching unmatched DNA matches by Casting a Wide Net, Part 2 – Identifying all “Matches of Matches” as a Group

 

Our Family Archives are now Online!

Our Family Archives are now Online!

When we inherited our first big set of archives from our family (The find of a lifetime…twice in a weekend) the promise we made was that anything shared with us would be made available to everyone, so the family could finally have access to all of the treasures that we’re entrusted with.

Since that time we’ve properly archived everything we received (10 Gaylord boxes of documents…and counting!), and we’ve received a few more collections. Today, we’ve flipped the switch on our new online archive, which has high-res scans of documents, all of which are categorized with proper metadata and tagged with an “Evidence Explained” quality citation (Archive Collections).

As of today, it’s only 29 of the 1000’s of documents, photos, letters, speeches, etc. we’ve received, but it’s taken almost 2 solid months of planning, learning SharePoint 2013 and things like the Library of Congress Subject Headings and DCMI to get this first run of documents up. Hopefully, subsequent batches are larger and more frequent…but for now here’s a taste of what we’re going to someday share.

Thanks again to everyone how entrusted us with these family treasures!! Also, to all the fellow nerds who want to know how this was all done, expect a detailed post to follow soon!

Family History is a hobby…but DNA is serious business

The news is blowing up today about how the “Golden State Killer” was tracked down, at least partially, due to the authorities using publicly available genealogy DNA sites to identify the relatives of whomever left DNA evidence behind at crime scenes. Assuming that the DNA was left by the suspected criminal, they were able to create a DNA profile, upload it, and narrow down a suspect that matched the criminal’s age and location.

My first reaction was not at all shock or fear that the authorities had somehow overstepped some boundary. My first reaction was that any serious genealogist and/or serious family historian that’s using DNA should know this is a risk, and that lives can be changed/destroyed by these tests. My second reaction was that I’d be fine with any of the DNA kits we manage leading to a close relative being arrested for a serious crime.

We published a post about some of the risks of DNA testing a while back (Dangers of DNA Testing), to highlight that this tool isn’t just about nice charts and cool stories about the geographic location of your ancestors 1000 years ago. And while we didn’t raise criminal charges of relatives as one of the risks (but I thought about adding that, honestly) DNA hobbyists need to understand this: Testing your relatives could lead to very serious, negative consequences to your loved ones…and the more successful you are in using these tests, the higher the risk becomes.

About two years ago Felice’s test led to our first brick wall broken down by DNA. Her great-grandmother was Ella Aldridge, born in 1911 in Arkansas, and that she died young of cancer in 1958. Through GEDmatch, we met a shared relative that connected through Ella, and he was descended from Henry Washington “Wash” Aldridge, Sr. He was related to Wash’s daughter Charlotte, and it looks very much like Ella was the daughter of Henry Washington “Cap” Aldridge, Jr. This researcher had evidence of another out-of-wedlock birth for Cap in 1910 by a different woman, and with evidence listing Cap as Ella’s father, we were pretty confident we had a match. We received a trove of great information on this wing of the family, and confirmed with Ella’s granddaughter (Felice’s grandmother) some of the details matched some of the speculation over the years.

Excited for this new breakthrough, we went to the next match on the GEDmatch.com list, and explained our findings and the strength of our DNA matches. The response shook us, but not nearly as much as our original email had shook him and his family. Frederick Smith (all names have been changed on this line, for obvious reasons) is in college and had picked up family history as his hobby. He is the son of Sarah (Jones) Smith, who was the daughter of Mary and Frederick Jones. The Frederick we’d reached out to was named after his grandfather.

Frederick took an AncestryDNA test, and at first the results were straight forward. He was able to identify some close cousins, and it largely matched his know family history going back a couple of generations. Past that, however, things got strange on his mother’s side. There were a series of matches that he could not build lines to, and that didn’t match his known tree. He had talked to his mother about how it seemed strange that the matches on her father’s side didn’t make much sense, and she didn’t seem overly concerned but did ask him to keep his research private. They had a suspicion that something might be up, but 5 days later, they received our email, and it confirmed a truth they hadn’t full considered: Frederick Jones was not Sarah’s biological father.

Frederick had considered that Aldridge was a name appearing enough in his mom’s results that there might be a link, so when we laid out what we knew and why it was likely that his mother was a child of Cap Aldridge it had a strong ring of truth. Frederick didn’t reply for about 2 weeks after we reached out, and when we followed up he explained the impact of that first email. He was named after his grandfather, who he now knew was not his grandfather. His mother had never suspected that her parents had any secrets, and was completely devastated. Her father was not her father, and her mother had lied and kept this secret her entire life.

Sarah asked Frederick to delete the test information, stop digging into family history, and to never talk to anyone about this ever. He was torn, but for as long as she’s alive he decided to dropped everything and stop working on his family history. We exchanged a couple of emails, and he’s since gone completely quiet.

The joy and rush of breaking down our first brick wall using DNA was replaced by regret and sorrow in just a few short weeks. There are two people out there that had their lives changed forever, who’ve had their birthright taken away in many ways, because of this hobby, and because my wife took a test. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and Sarah will never think of her mother, or father, the same way again.

DNA is a wonderful tool, and it’s literally changing the notion of genealogical research forever, but do not think that these tests are either simple or easy. You can change lives with your research, you can do damage with your research, and once you start you largely will lose control of how your research affects your relatives.

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 4 – Looks like we’re back at the brick wall…

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 4 – Looks like we’re back at the brick wall…

(Note: This is continuation of a series, and we suggest you start at the beginning – Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery)

Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of this experiment of live-blogging a search to break down a brick wall. It was kind of exciting starting this series not knowing if we’d be successful, even though it felt like we might be able to link this DNA match.

We’ve gone through every quick trick we know to try and find Excell before 1910, and so far, we’re striking out. We’ve searched for Excell (and XL and Ex and X) in both the 1900 and 1880 U.S. Census. We’ve used Stanford/Standford/Sanford/Stanfor and we’ve looked in the counties we expected him in, surrounding counties, and the entire state. We’ve even looked for him as “White”. Theres nothing so far, although there are a surprising number of people with the first name “Excell” in Mississippi in 1900! We’ve also tried to push through to 1880 using his uncle James, but to no avail. We now know James’s wife’s maiden name, but we can’t find either of them in the 1880 U.S. Census.

So, after a day of searching, we have another set of data points which will someday help us break down this wall, but we didn’t get through it today. When we’re on the ground in Mississippi doing physical research, we’re confident we can put this puzzle together…just not today. Not yet.

But hopefully sharing this day of searching illustrates how we go after these leads, and we’ll follow this up with a more detailed explanation of our approach on these DNA matches, and of course we’ll follow up when there’s a break through!!

Last screen shot 2
Correcting the tree from Episode 3…THIS properly reflects James as Excell’s Uncle. Thanks for one of our readers pointing it out!!