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

 

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!!

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 3 – Now we’re in the thick of it…

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 3 – Now we’re in the thick of it…

(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)

Progress was good this morning…until we got out of Illinois, and started researching the history of Excell Stanford in Mississippi. It’s just disheartening on how little information is available for Mississippi post-Civil War, especially for African Americans.

We know that Excell and Carrie were married in Mississippi around 1917. Of course there is no marriage record, so we still don’t have a maiden name for Carrie confirmed, but we do have her children’s birth records showing it as Boling/Boiden. We found Excell’s 1910 U.S. Census entry, and he was living with his uncle James in Coahoma Co., Mississippi. Interestingly, his name is listed as “XL” which gives us another name to search (we confirmed that his son Edward’s middle name was legally “Excell” so that’s likely how our Excell spelled it). We’ve been able to take uncle James and his wife/children back to the 1900 U.S. Census, but not yet to the 1880 U.S. Census…which might give us a lead on Excell’s father.

We also haven’t been able to find Excell in the 1900 U.S. Census yet…which is going to put up a pretty serious barrier to tying our DNA match to the known Stanford line. Let’s hope we can get past this. There are some un-indexed records like the Mississippi List of Educatable Children which can be helpful, but records for the early 1900’s can be spotty, and since they are un-indexed it will take review of each of hundreds of pages to find a match.

We’ll keep digging in on Excell, and see where we are in a few hours!

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 12.20.00 PM
Tree growth has slowed…and we’re using “Unknown” to link the two brothers.

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 2 – Building out our match’s tree starting with her grandparents and their children

(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)

It was the biggest shock we had when we started trying to use DNA results in our research: We spend most of our time working DNA building other people’s trees.

So, step one was re-create their tree in our Ancestry account using the information they had posted. They don’t have much up on this line, but the good news is that the match’s grandparents died in Cook County, IL and grandfather had a VERY unique name: Excell. It’s also positive that Excell was born around 1895, so we miss the gap of the 1890 Census, we have a good shot at him being on the very helpful 1900 Census, and he’s born after the 1870 slavery gap.

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.09.00 AM
Our match’s tree

As of right now we have expanded Irma’s family to identify her mother’s maiden name, some brothers/sisters, as well as a step-family. We’ve gone through Excell’s Cook County records, and the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census. We’re working backwards to build out the tree in chronological order, and so far so good! As much as we’d love to rush to 1900 U.S. Census, to see what we can find, we’re trying to be patient and let it unfold for us!

The process we’re following is how to build a good skeleton tree: review online sources, attach them to facts as Primary or Alternate, starting with “Shakey Leaf” hints (which are the top 10% of Ancestry matches), then using “Search” to look for the other 90% of Ancestry records. Notice we’re stay away from Ancestry User Trees at this point. They aren’t sources! Here’s how we brokedown this process in an earlier set of posts: Building a good Public Ancestry.com tree – Part Three: Attaching online records to your tree

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.13.18 AM
Our tree…so far!

More to follow!!

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery

Breaking down a brick wall in real-time: Episode 1 – The setup, and the discovery

We’re going to try something different today…we’re going to live blog the process of taking an AncestryDNA match and using it to break down a brick wall, without knowing the outcome before we start the posts. We’re not sure it’s going to go as we hope, but we thought it might be interesting to try.

What’s going on

Last night, after finishing up a few genealogy emails after 10 days of near-obsessive research on ANOTHER brick wall (which is crumbling nicely, and we’ll post on that later) I was killing time before our youngest was going to need us to put him to bed and hadn’t gone through my wife’s mother’s DNA results in awhile. As I was puttering around, I literally gasped when I clicked a match…the match was 98cm (close cousin, 3rd or better most likely), had a small tree to the grandparents, and the match’s maternal grandfather’s last name matched Felice’s mother’s grandfather’s surname. We’re going to call Felice’s mom “Sue” in this post, since we haven’t gotten her approval to use her real name. Only needing to match the parent of both “Stanford” men in these two trees to make a match might be doable, and this will be a huge brick wall broken down.

Why is this a brick wall

This is part of the darkside of genealogy in-general, and DNA genealogy specifically: when you ask questions, and collect proof, you expose not just the best parts of your family. Sue’s mother Delia had 3 children, by a man named Robert Holmes in Mississippi, before she migrated to Milwaukee in the 1960’s. But, it’s widely assumed, and Delia told Sue as much, that Robert Holmes was not Sue’s actual father. He had just agreed to sign the birth certificate, although he might have actually been the father of Delia’s first child. Robert was married this entire time, and 30+ years older than Delia, and no one has any information on him in the family. He died in 1968, and Delia died in 1999, so we can’t ask them. Talking to Delia’s sister about her history, and as much as she could remember about Delia, she said they were party girls back in these times and that the sister had actually gotten married once just so she had someone to watch the kids while she went out and partied with Delia. I love this woman, and I would have loved to meet Delia when she was here, and I love that she giggled and with a gleam in her eye at 85 years old gave me the best quote of all of our family interviews: “We were whores back then”.

Further complicating this search, is that getting past Sue’s great grandparents is difficult because before the 1870 they were all owned property (the “S” in the image above symbolizes a person born into slavery), and for the 100 years that followed they lived in Mississippi which sought to de-humanize them in every way they could…including reducing the official records their names might appear. Since these official records are the lifeblood of genealogy, and since Mississippi is behind just about every state in digitizing/sharing the records they do have for African Americans, it’s very challenging finding black ancestors in that state.

Additionally, African Americans tend not to participate in the hobby of genealogy as much as, say my family, which was DAR in 1904, and which I have several lines that have books published about. The combination of not wanting to talk about a painful linage, generations of economic challenges which doesn’t lend itself to time consuming hobbies, systematic suppression of official records, lack of work from older generations to build upon, and of course the 1870 wall, finding good genealogical matches is hard. For my wife’s family, we have only identified 12 of 32 3xGGP vs. my side where we’ve identified 29. (More about this: Genealogy was teaching us lessons on MLK Day…)

What’s next

The good news is that our match is in Illinois now, with at least her father passing away in the same state. This means we should have better records to start our search, and since I work in Cook County, it will not be hard getting access to original birth/records for their first generation.

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 9.59.17 AMWe’re going to start building out our match’s tree, and hope that we find a Standford father that has her great grandfather, and Sue’s great grandfather, as children, and we’ll proven the DNA link. In doing so, we’d not only better understand that line, push back her known ancestors back at least one more generation, but we’ll also be able to prove that Sue’s father is the man listed on her birth certificate.

More to follow in a few hours!!