Sunday, May 29, 2016
Sometimes, when I'm sitting in classes, trying to get up to speed on using genetic genealogy for my research, I hear people mention that term, "Daughtering Out." Mostly, it's said as if it's an unfortunate thing: "Oh, he daughtered out." I can picture a grizzled old pioneer, somewhere out in the forsaken, craggy outposts of the west—with a worn out wife collapsed somewhere inside their hovel, out of the blazing sun—bemoaning the fact that he has many more daughters than he can afford to marry off, and nary a son to help with the work around the house.
One could almost feel sorry for the dude.
When the term is used in reference to DNA pursuits, the pity is almost palpable. No one left to man up and volunteer for that Y-DNA test to discover Dad's true roots—instead of being captive to wholesale belief in the stories he came up with. Or didn't tell at all.
However, this season, I'm on a different quest. Fortunately for those in the family who wanted to know more about our patrilineal line, my dad didn't daughter out. And the one and only possible volunteer for the test in question was glad to help out.
But that's not what I'm working on, right now.
My goal this summer is to get a clearer picture of my matrilineal line. If you remember my surprising connection with a mystery cousin who turned out to be my first—and, at the time, only—exact match on our respective mitochondrial DNA tests, you know I've long been working on finding a genealogical connection with this adoptee.
More than that goal, though, is to secure additional support for my conjecture that an adoptee in my own line—my second great grandmother, Mary Rainey Broyles—was actually daughter of Thomas Firth and Mary Taliaferro Rainey. I have some documentation that seems to point in that direction. Lacking direct evidence, though, the matter isn't really settled—at least, not in my own mind.
Looking at the siblings of Mary Rainey Broyles, though, I ran into the very situation most genealogical DNA advocates seem to celebrate: the line didn't daughter out.
While that situation is wonderful if you are looking for potential volunteers for the Y-DNA test, it doesn't exactly help me in my research goal. After all, I need daughters because I'm working on the mother's mother's mother's line. And the only ones who can pass that along are women. No distant cousins on that matrilineal line, no possible test-takers with whom I can compare mtDNA results.
That's what landed me back a few more generations in that Strother line I mentioned yesterday. I made the presumptive leap beyond the generation in which I was stuck and kept tracing that line of mothers. If—and remember, that is a very speculative if—Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis, was up-line on the matrilineal side from my orphaned Mary Rainey Broyles, I now have a lot of daughters to work with. Eight, if I'm counting correctly.
For each of Jane's daughters whose descendants I'm tracing, I cheer when that daughter marries and has children of her own. I cheer louder when those children turn out to be daughters. And then I get ready to cheer when I move on down to the next generation from those daughters. I want to make it back to the land of the living with some potential candidates who will be willing to spring for a mitochondrial DNA test of their own. With bated breath, in hopes that those women's haplogroups turn out to be one and the same as mine. With a genetic distance of zero as the cherry on top. In other words, another exact match.
Only this time, it won't be a mystery cousin. I'll already have the paper trail confirmed.
As long as those lines keep daughtering out until I get back to the present.
Above: "Master Baby," 1886 oil on canvas by Scottish painter Sir William Quiller Orchardson; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Some researchers favor a solitary approach when pursuing the history of their ancestors. I am not one of them. If I can conduct research in the company of—or at least in conjunction with—a seasoned researcher possessed of judicious methodology, I'm much happier.
Perhaps that's because I've had positive experiences in such projects. I've found that you can meet the most interesting people, circulating among aficionados of genealogical research. True, there are people out there who have tried that approach and walked away from less than stellar experiences. But for the most part, I've appreciated the insight brought to the equation when I have a research partner to compare notes with.
That said, I'm always on the lookout to spot others sharing interest in the same family lines as I have. When I branch out to a new surname, the first thing I do is try to locate others who are working on the same surnames.
As I push back through the generations—especially in pursuit of my matrilineal line—I'm getting into unfamiliar research territory. When the trail of my mother's mother's mother landed me—after several iterations of that process—in the early 1700s with representative to the House of Burgesses Thomas Lewis, it was his wife in whom I was most interested.
She, as it turns out, was daughter of a man by the name of William Strother. Not knowing anything about the Strother surname, I thought I'd go cyber-exploring to see what I could turn up. If I can't have real live research partners, at least I can go find them online.
My first stop was to see what books might have been written on the Strother genealogy. Apparently, there were not a few. One item on the list which caught my eye was entitled Houses of Strother: Descendants of William Strother I, King George County, Virginia. Not a book, it was one of those items in the "other" category for which access was denied.
Not to be undone, I decided on an alternate route of discovery: Google it. After all, though I had no idea who "William Strother I" was—nor where King George County might have been—I did know the Strother on my matrilineal line was the daughter of a colonial someone named William Strother. He, in turn, was the son of another William Strother, who was son of yet another William Strother. The odds were with me.
As it turns out, my Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis, was great granddaughter of William Strother I. In the process of pursuing this item first found in FamilySearch.org's book list, I did access a separate volume of the same title with the subheading, "William Strother II (1653-1726) and his descendants." That, courtesy of his granddaughter, would include me.
Just in case I had the wrong William Strother, though, I thought I'd check out what could be found via Google Books. Though the volume wasn't accessible online, it was searchable, so I did a search for Jane Strother's husband, Thomas Lewis. Sure enough, there in the book were three entries which included his name—one of which specified the relationship of in-law to the Strother family.
From that shaky beginning—not being able to access the item included on the hyperlinked list of resources at FamilySearch.org—I made a few other discoveries, as well. Primary among them was that there is a family association for descendants of that original immigrant William Strother.
Since some websites are put online, perhaps hosted by a generous benefactor, and then left there long after the organization has disbanded, I had to poke around to see whether this was still a viable group. Apparently, it is; they are holding their biennial conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, this coming July.
In addition, they have a web page dedicated to genealogy helps. Most of them are generic, but on that page, I discovered references to some archives and holdings of Strother family papers. While that is beyond the realm of genealogy, per se, I'd be interested in perusing such holdings.
I also discovered from their website that The William Strother Society, Inc., are spearheading a DNA project at Family Tree DNA. Despite knowing that many such surname-based projects focus exclusively on Y-DNA test results, I still clicked through to see what the project gave as its mission statement. Sure enough, there was a Y-DNA project, but that was not all. They are tracking "Distinct mtDNA Haplogroups," which I'd specifically be interested in. After all, the reason that led me on the path to discovering this group in the first place was a question about my matrilineal line.
Family associations sometimes provide members-only resources for genealogical research—or at least the comparison of research notes. While this might not be exactly the research partnership I had in mind, I'm happy to stumble upon such an organization. Teamwork always holds out the promise of synergistic results.
Friday, May 27, 2016
No sooner had I caught up with the new announcement of changes at Family Tree DNA, when I slipped back to peek at what's been happening with my results at the post-changed Ancestry DNA. Honestly, despite all these promises of closer, more accurate matches, I'm still swamped with so many results which don't seem to connect to anyone in my family. Sometimes, I look at those thousand-plus "matches," scratch my head and moan, "Who are these people, anyhow?!"
Take Ancestry DNA's handy "New Ancestor Discoveries" feature, first introduced a little over a year ago. As
I try to make those connections work. Really, I do. But it seems I'm just spinning my wheels in the effort. No traction gained.
Take "New Ancestor Discoveries" candidate, Samuel Rowland Collier. That sounded like a fine and promising name to match. I do have some Colliers in my family tree—alas, each one of them married into my line, and not a one of them representing a connection with which we could share common descent.
However, I'm game to explore the possibilities, so I clicked through to see who, among those sharing DNA among my fellow New Ancestor Discoveries circle members, might show me a tree branch with just the right match. In one Collier family tree included in this readout, the only other surname showing was that of the Wade family. It so happens I have some Wade ancestors married into a distant branch of my maternal tree. But try as I might, I couldn't contort enough to fit that tree's Wade ancestor into the Wade branch of my own tree.
Experiences like these—contorting to try and make the match work—reminds me of a term given to this very experience by a genetic genealogy blogger I follow. Right after Ancestry first rolled out their beta program last year, Roberta Estes, writer of the blog, DNAeXplained, dubbed them "Bad NADs"—NADs, of course, being Ancestry's New Ancestor Discoveries.
Roberta went on, about a year ago, to describe one of the "new ancestors" Ancestry was trying to gift her with. In a follow up post about a week later, she continued her complaint with a catalog of "A Dozen Ancestors That Aren't—aka Bad NADs."
Of course, I read those posts when they first came out, so I consider myself forewarned. But the message apparently never took root for me, for I'm still conscientiously attempting to make these Bad NADs work, at least in my own tree. And by "conscientiously," I mean concluding that I must be needing more education to learn how to make the science fit into my tree. The more I learn, though—at seminars, workshops, DNA conferences, even a week-long intensive program at SLIG—the more frustrated I become at not being able to make these connections work.
Perhaps the key is to understand that sometimes, we need to cut our losses. Call them Bad NADs or whatever misaligned connection moniker you prefer, and walk away from that toxic family tree concoction. There may be solid DNA behind that connection, but it isn't what the majority of those paper trails in the circle are claiming. Maybe those grumpy genealogy researchers who were always complaining about the mistakes in online trees have yet another reason why their point is valid.
Still, you think I would have gotten it well before the eve of yet another DNA conference trip. Call me a slow learner. Or perhaps I just need to go back and do some basic review work. After all, in Ancestry's own rebuttal following the uproar, last year, over the introduction of their beta program, they emphasized,
We’ll show you a New Ancestor Discovery if you share significant amounts of DNA with multiple members of a DNA Circle.
Perhaps the fault is not with Ancestry's beta program. Nor with the science behind DNA testing. Perhaps the match is there all along—those "significant amounts of DNA with multiple members." Maybe the real problem is with the trees of all those members. Who knows? Perhaps those trees were all cut-and-paste creations glomming on to just one sloppy researcher's errors, perpetuated across the genea-universe in like manner by other cut-and-paste enthusiasts in this brave new genealogical world. We may, indeed, all be related—we "NADs," who may not be bad, after all—but just can't see the forest of our joint relationships on account of all the mis-labeled family trees.
Above: "Forest Reserve, Pine Grove," 1881 oil on canvas by Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
No sooner had Ancestry DNA announced that they had made plans to adjust their algorithm for matches—and created a furor over impending changes in the process—than Family Tree DNA came out with an announcement of their own.
I first found out about it when making the rounds of all my favorite bloggers, especially the ones I can count on to keep me up to date on genetic genealogy news. First announcement I ran across was from John Reid's Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections, where his article included a link to Blaine Bettinger's blog, The Genetic Genealogist.
In explaining that FTDNA intends to update its matching thresholds, Blaine included a helpful flow chart in his post. In addition, he, too, linked to the other major bloggers covering genetic genealogy, including Debbie Kennett, Roberta Estes, and Judy Russell. While some of these posts added little to what Blaine had already covered, there were a couple helpful observations.
In Debbie Kennett's blog, Cruwys News, she noted that the challenge with setting a cut-off limit is a walk down the fine line between false positives and false negatives. Because FTDNA doesn't phase their data (differentiate between chromosomes originating from the paternal side versus the maternal side), smaller segments do run the risk of yielding false results.
On the other hand, she explained another point to remember:
if you match on a single segment under 10 centiMorgans you will not share a common ancestor within the last ten generations. Even matches of 10 centiMorgans can be very distant.
With this proposed revision in mind—and FTDNA's anticipated outcome slated to yield "only minor changes in their matches"—I took a look at just how many of my own distant matches fall under that 9 cM threshold.
Out of nearly 1,160 matches in my autosomal results at FTDNA—a number incrementally growing every week—it turns out that from match number 811 onward, the "longest block" slips below the 9.00 cut-off point. Of course, there is a further option with the second node in FTDNA's new decision tree—in which single segments falling below 9 cMs may still be considered if the total amount of shared DNA is greater than 20 cMs—but I'll set aside that thumbnail sketch for another crisis.
The point is, upon that cut-off at the first branch of the decision tree, my matches leave off well over three hundred results.
Of course, those extra three hundred now-supposed non-relatives clock in at the proposed ranking of fifth cousin to remote cousin—a classification which already won them Ignore status in my personal decision tree for further contact. This may turn the whole issue into a non-news item for me.
For my husband's results, however, I may see this change a bit differently. He is the one who descends from Perry County, Ohio, ancestors—those folks in the coal-mining region of southeastern Ohio who can't simply ask a classmate on a date without first checking to see who everyone's great-great-grandparents were. When I find a fifth cousin on his FTDNA results, that match often turns out to be a keeper. We have the paperwork to confirm it. It's nice to be able to get to know these distant relatives-cum-genealogy-aficionados who are as ably equipped to prove the connection as we are. There's a higher confidence level in letting such newfound relatives help fill in the blanks on the descendancy of those connected lines. Those are the matches I'd hate to see disappear, simply because someone decided to champion a different algorithm.
Of course, it's the rare person who wholeheartedly welcomes change, unexamined. I understand the reasons for the change. Besides, it would be nice to exchange that useless padding of umpteen misaligned "matches" for some real ones—if that is at all possible. Time will tell. And, from the looks of it, we won't have long to wait to find out.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Sometimes, research projects seem so massive as to be unwieldy. That's how I feel, sometimes, about trying to find the nexus between my matrilineal line and that of my mystery cousin, the adoptee who turned out to be one of two "exact match" results on my full-sequence mitochondrial DNA test. (The only other exact match I received, strangely enough, also turned out to belong to an adoptee.)
As fortune would have it—or, more specifically, near-invincible determination and inexhaustible hard work—my mystery cousin was able to identify his birth parents and, in an almost storybook-perfect yet starkly-terrifying episode, actually meet up with his birth mother. From that point, the sharing of a lifetime apart opened the doors for him to learn about his genealogical heritage.
Of course, you know he and I compared notes. We want to know how our two lines connect.
Well, wherever they connect, it will have to be beyond the early 1800s, for that is where we have both made it in our trek backwards through time. Even then, neither of us has located surnames promising any connection.
In the face of such daunting possibilities, it is not any surprise to learn that I lost some of the verve to keep up the chase. After all, according to some calculations, the glacial rate of mutation means an mtDNA exact match could lead us to a Most Recent Common Ancestor well before the advent of surname usage. Complicating matters is the fact that this matrilineal pursuit presents one other hazard: the changing of surnames with each generation. Get one passage from married to maiden name wrong, and you could be on an entirely misleading track in your quest to discover your roots.
Right now, I'm looking at all the female descendants of my sixth great grandmother, Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis. Thankfully, the family of Thomas Lewis—an Irish-American pioneer in colonial Virginia who served in the House of Burgesses and, later, in the provisional government of the new state—has been well documented in records retained by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The rather large Lewis family meant Jane passed her matrilineal line on to thirteen children, eight of whom were daughters insuring the continuance of that line to future generations of daughters, as well.
The task, once again—as I've already repeated for all the women in more recent generations of my matrilineal line—is to follow the lines of descent of each of those daughters of Jane Strother Lewis. The hope, once again, is to find one of these women moving to Kentucky and marrying someone whose daughter turns out to be the matriarch through whom my mystery cousin's matrilineal line is passed down to him. I've been through this process with each iteration of a new generation. It is certainly understandable to realize that I'm hoping this will be the last cycle—otherwise, it means pushing back yet another generation to Jane's mother, Margaret Watts Strother, and a whole new set of daughters and their descendants.
The actual mtDNA identifier I'm pursuing is a subclade of haplogroup H5. Depending on which research paper you read, you can find claims that my particular subclade of haplogroup H5 (which branches off from H5a) originated in central Europe, but there is wide fluctuation in speculations on origins. One interesting geographic pinpoint for a more highly honed subclade was the Austrian region of Tyrol. But the general H5 haplogroup has one specific point of interest, in regard to my own family history: some research papers consider the highest concentration in Europe of the H5 haplogroup to be in Wales.
If you know your surname origins, you would be correct in assuming the surname Lewis may have been from Wales—although Thomas Lewis' own history specified that he came from County Donegal in Ireland. However, remember that though I'm studying the genealogy of Thomas Lewis' family, because of the mtDNA test, I'm primarily doing so because of his wife, Jane Strother. Therefore, it would be her origin—precisely through her own matrilineal line—which would come from that (so far) hypothetical central European (or maybe Welsh) location.
At this point, I'm fervently hoping one of Jane's daughters will provide me the key to connect my matrilineal line with that of my mystery cousin. I've enjoyed the pursuit, but have to admit it is slipping much closer to the realm of exhaustive search than I had intended when I first started out with this project.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Perhaps it's that I just don't get it. After all, genetic genealogy can be an imposing topic to get your head around. And I feel like I'm continually learning. But never having learned.
To remedy that, I've made sure to register for the separate DNA Day preceding the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree 2016 at the beginning of June. This has become a yearly event for me—a real treat to glean from a smorgasbord of DNA topics presented by an impressive array of much-appreciated speakers.
Despite having had the treat, last January, of a week of intensive training in the subject under the direction of Blaine Bettinger at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2016, I can still stand to learn more about the topic. I'm a hands-on learner who needs constant refresher courses if I don't keep my own hands in the mix all the time. Though I was dismayed to see the Ontario Genealogical Society lure away my favorite regulars from past SCGS DNA Day events, it looks like this will simply be the chance to meet many other, equally-impressive speakers in this realm.
One unexpected luminary in the DNA speakers lineup this year turns out to be certified genealogist Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., who will present "Using Autosomal DNA to Solve a Family Mystery." I'm particularly curious about this presentation for one specific reason: while working on my husband's own autosomal results last year, one particularly promising distant cousin turned out to have an administrator by a different name than her own—someone by the name of Thomas Jones. Upon emailing that administrator, sure enough, it turned out to be the Thomas Jones. He graciously thanked me for my contact but explained that he was pursuing a specific goal with that particular person's Family Finder test, which involved relatives in New York. While my husband's Ohio branch of the family may have matched this woman's tree—at a distant level—this was not the focus of the project he was working on at the time.
I suspect the project he was working on was the very narrative he'll present at the SCGS conference this June. And you know I'm curious to see what it was.
Monday, May 23, 2016
About a week from now—just as everyone is buttoning up their Memorial Day commemorations for another year—I'll be unzipping my suitcase and packing for another of those annual trips south to attend my favorite conference, the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree.
My registration is completed and paid for—thankfully, as advanced registration closed just last night—and I'm wading through the myriad class selections to at least present the vague impression that I'm organized. Once again, I'm not only going there to attend the classes, but I'm hoping to meet with interesting fellow researchers and make some connections. After all, to my mind, that's what conferences are for: being with people.
It wasn't long ago—although quite far away—that another genealogical conference finished its last session and waved happy attendees goodbye. No sooner was the National Genealogical Society's annual event over than out came the observations about this year's attendance. It seems the numbers appeared to be down, and people were speculating as to reasons why.
In one blog post with off-the-charts reverberation—generating ninety comments to the post itself, plus a significant number of shares on social media—genealogist Amy Johnson Crow mused, "Are In-person Genealogy Events Dead?" Thankfully, her take on the matter was that no, they are not—but only if we are wise enough to capitalize on the reasons why people tend to do things in person (versus, say, save all that money and watch proceedings from the comfort of their own easy chair at home).
While I heartily endorse Amy's recommendations—and hope you stop by to see what she has to say in its entirety—her thoughts, juxtaposed with this upcoming venture to our west coast version of a genealogical conference, of course triggered other ideas on my part, ideas which veer far from the beaten path. You know me: rabbit trail thinking style. One thing always leads to another. There's just no guarantee that the path from thought to thought will lead in a straight line of reasoning.
You see, I'm very concerned about the health and well-being of genealogical gatherings, myself. I have a vested interest in those of a more local kind, being on the board of a local society. But I also see the need for us to continue gathering together in these larger genealogical events, as well. The educational value is superb, the range of options unparalleled at state, regional and national events. But the chance—and the need—to keep gathering together is an imperative, in my estimation.
Here's my jagged-line thought process, thanks to another interest in my life. Besides genealogy, I'm consumed with reading about nutrition, organic gardening, and health topics in general. In one particular nutrition site I frequent, I recently read the following, about a topic called apoptosis:
When a cell recognizes that it has become too compromised to continue functioning in a healthy manner with other cells, it stops proceeding through its own life cycle and essentially starts to dismantle itself and recycle its parts. It's critical for a cell to determine whether it should continue on or shut itself down, because cells that continue on without the ability to properly function or communicate effectively with other cells are at risk of becoming cancerous.
Apoptosis, if you haven't heard the term before, refers to programmed cell death. While death may seem like a morbid topic to discuss, at a scale as minute as the cellular level, it is important that cells go through a normal life cycle, then retire and become dismantled in an orderly fashion. Otherwise, drastic results such as cancer may result.
When I read about topics like this—not just regarding apoptosis, but referring more broadly to overarching concepts about cell messaging—in my mind, I get this picture of cells joining together in groups, sending each other messages, like, "Okay, jump!" (I know: not very scientific.)
Some messages—at least, in my highly imaginative but scarcely scientific mind—are probably very supportive, and not only the tiny cells in our bodies, but we, ourselves, need those micro-messages sent and received. After all, we are—even more so than those tiny cells we are made up of—social beings. We need to connect. We need to stay connected. We learn from the messages we send back and forth with other people.
If the very elements that keep us functioning in a beneficial manner follow such a pattern, perhaps we can benefit from heeding the lessons gleaned from that process of intercellular communication. After all, each of us needs to be in touch with each other, too. Not just in a digital, cyberized sort of way, but face to face, where we can take in all the visual and audio cues around us, and be in touch—literally—with each other.
For any organism to grow and thrive, being able to receive and heed the messages exchanged between parts of the whole is critical. I'd say the same is so for organizations—especially our genealogical groups, whether local societies or national establishments. It will be through our ongoing connections—the communication shared between the parts—that we will have the kind of adaptive growth that responds to both our internal needs and the imperatives of the environment in which we operate.
I know, I know: what a long, strange post this has been. Bet you hadn't bargained for a journey through such sidelines as these, just to talk about why we shouldn't forsake gathering ourselves together on a regular basis as genealogists. Of course, the warning is always lingering in the background: if we don't keep in touch to keep up to date with the needs of our constituents, that cell message received may someday become, "Okay, jump!" Hopefully, though, we'll not only remain attuned to the messages sent by those within the body of genealogy, but become pro-active in adapting and re-inventing ourselves to remain relevant to every aspect of our body of knowledge.
As for the event I'm heading south to attend in just over a week now, I'm hoping to give it my all in connecting, talking, listening, learning—even using the social media hashtag #scgs2016 and tweeting about it. I hope to see you there, too—but if not there this year, at a future event, whether in southern California, Fort Lauderdale, Springfield, or with another group at another time and place. Whatever you do in genealogy, find a way to get together with the others who speak your language.
Above: "Young Hare," 1502 watercolor by German artist and printmaker, Albrecht Dürer; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.