Friday, July 28, 2017

DNA Testing :
Why We Can't Shoot for the Moon . . . Yet

While I may have made some astute guesses in figuring out who the parents were for my orphaned second great grandmother, Mary Rainey Broyles, I'm always hoping for further confirmation. A researcher is seldom satisfied.

It was indeed gratifying to find an exact mitochondrial DNA match linking me to the presumed third great grandmother to Mary—a woman named Margaret Watts, wife of William Strother of colonial Virginia. It also bolstered my confidence to see among my autosomal matches a fourth cousin descending from Mary's (erstwhile presumed) brother Thomas Rainey.

But I'm always wanting more confirmation. So why not look for a DNA match descending from an ancestor preceding that brick wall of the orphan's parents? After all, couldn't finding a descendant of Mary's presumed parents or grandparents cement my case even further?

At this point in the state of the art, I'd say that is the genetic genealogy equivalent of shooting for the moon. Perhaps someday; not quite yet.

Here's why: currently, our DNA test results are based on samplings of specific parts of the human genome; it doesn't include every bit of the data. When a whole genome test becomes available to the general public at a reasonable cost, things will be different. But for now, only specific sections of the genome are sampled. We aren't getting the full story yet.

There's even more to consider, as was capably pointed out by The Genetic Genealogist, Blaine Bettinger, when he stated in a 2009 post that "everyone has two family trees: a genealogical tree and a genetic tree."

In examining the possibility of genetic material shared by third cousins from their most recent common ancestor, Blaine observed that it is possible these two distant cousins "have segments of DNA from these ancestors, but they wouldn't show up as a match...unless they [possessed] the same segment of DNA."

So, first we need to remember we can compare segments only because they are part of the sampling included in the DNA test we are using. Then we need to realize that while we do receive small portions of DNA from these more distant common ancestors, there is nothing guaranteeing that all third cousins (or fourth cousins or beyond) will receive the exact same smidgeon from that exact same common ancestor.

That's where Bettinger's "genetic tree" comes in. Your genetic tree illustrates the DNA segments inherited from specific ancestors. Only at the nexus of the right segments in the right places—both your specific chromosome and your cousin's—will you have a DNA match. As Blaine observed in answer to a reader's question, a person may be third cousins with another relative on paper, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will both show up as DNA matches.

If that is so for a match between third cousins, then it is surely even more so for fourth cousins—which is the relationship I have with the Thomas Rainey descendant I match.

It would be even less likely if I were to hope for a match among those descended from the next generation up. In other words, while I am fortunate to have found a fourth cousin match to help muddle through this orphan puzzle concerning my second great grandmother via her brother, it would be even harder to ascertain her parents by seeking autosomal DNA matches from that more distant generation. Confirming relationship to Mary Meriwether Gilmer and her husband Warren Taliaferro as most recent common ancestor would put us in search of fifth cousins—doable, but not necessarily guaranteed to confirm.

On the other hand, if it happens, it happens. Any DNA match, obviously, yields the story of shared genetic material—as long as we can confirm through documentation which way the genealogical pathway went. But to go looking for fifth cousins on paper, then ask them to consider DNA testing, does not necessarily guarantee DNA confirmation of the relationship. Not at that distance.

Just as we have far to go before the general public can access full genome testing for a reasonable fee, the genealogical world has far to go before we can say we have access to every digitized document which could confirm our paper trails. Targeted research in locales pertinent to my ancestors' residence and migratory ways may yield a more readily accessible confirmation of my guesses about my second great grandmother's parents than can be had from the next generation of DNA tests at this point.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Confirming an Orphan's Ancestry: Another Option

The significance of finding an exact match to my mitochondrial DNA test result means so much more than the test itself, considering that matriline includes someone known to me only as an orphan. I had my guesses, as we've seen, but this type of confirmation bolsters any proof argument I could devise. As long as I have a firmly constructed argument, complete with thorough documentation for each step in the generational line from my second great grandmother Mary Rainey Broyles back to the woman who is most recent common ancestor for both my line and that of my exact match, I've got it made.

But there could be problems with that assumption, still. Perhaps Mary Rainey Broyles actually connected with that other match at a different point. Remember, I don't have solid proof that she was daughter of Thomas Firth Rainey and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro. I just have indications. The relationship could have taken a different generational pathway that I haven't yet discovered.

Another route that could bolster my argument might be to use other DNA matches in conjunction with what I've already laid out. And it just so happens that I have a Rainey match from a different DNA test: the autosomal test, which reveals relatives as distant as fifth and sometimes even sixth cousin, reliably.

In my case, the match came in at an estimated level of relationship as third to fifth cousin. Working with the administrator of that match at Family Tree DNA, we realized the connection was with my orphaned second great grandmother's brother Thomas—the very man who was listed with her in the 1870 census in Georgia.

Of course, we couldn't tell he was her brother, based simply on the 1870 census; that enumeration didn't provide any listing of relationships within a household. All we could tell from that record was that Mary "Reiney" and Thomas "Reiney" were both in the household of Charles Taliaferro.

It took going back to the 1860 census to find both Thomas and his baby sister Mary listed in the household of widow Mary Rainey.

After that point? The young Mary married Thomas Taliaferro Broyles and moved to his home in Tennessee, where she died before her record could even appear in the subsequent census. Her brother, eight years her senior, was married and living in Alabama—and then gone to Texas by the time of the 1880 census.

It turns out to be this Thomas whose descendant matches my autosomal test at Family Tree DNA.

While I've hoped for additional DNA indicators—like another female descendant willing to take the mtDNA test—an indicator such as this autosomal relationship is an encouraging additional vote of confidence for my theory that Mary Rainey was daughter of Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro Rainey, and thus part of the matriline which leads to Margaret Watts, mother of Jane Strother Lewis of colonial Virginia.

Insert above from the 1870 U.S. Census for Muscogee County in the state of Georgia courtesy

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Strother Mother

If you've been following along here at A Family Tapestry while I've been muddling through the puzzle of possible parentage of my orphaned second great grandmother, you may have been left with a question in the back of your mind. After all, we're seeking the mothers who people the matriline of Mary Rainey Broyles, and since my farthest removed opportunity to document her existence as I knew it was with her license to marry Thomas Taliaferro Broyles in 1871, everything beyond that roadblock really becomes conjecture. An educated guess, to be sure, but still nothing solidly documented.

So to arrive at Jane, wife of Thomas Lewis and daughter of William Strother of Stafford, Virginia, may seem exciting, but it's still a hypothesis.

Since we're comparing this genealogical paper trail with one other research tool, however, it is indeed good news to see I received an exact match to my mitochondrial DNA test which contained a surname matching a woman also figuring in my proposed matriline: Strother.

Despite the momentary glitch of finding my exact match's pedigree containing an error in the parentage of my Jane's sister Elizabeth, it appears we really are talking about sisters and not cousins or any more distant relationship. While this is good news, it is not the end of the line. It merely leads up to the nexus between my matriline and that of my exact match.

The person to whom the honor goes for being ancestral mother to both of us would be the mother of Jane and Elizabeth Strother. And as naming conventions in the western world would have it, that means the Strother mother actually was born with a name other than Strother.

It would be fitting, before moving on, to note just who that woman might have been. Thankfully, a number of references provide the information that William Strother, father of both Jane and Elizabeth, had as his wife a woman by the name of Margaret Watts, whom he married around 1720—according to one reference, before 26 March 1718. This Margaret was said to have been daughter of one Richard Watts.

So, in this pursuit of the woman who was my mother's mother's mother's (et cetera) mother, and the one filling that same role in my exact match's matriline, while we find the surname nexus at the appearance of the Strother sisters in our respective pedigrees, it was their mother who qualifies as our most recent matrilineal common ancestor.

If all the conjecturing which brought me back to Margaret Watts is correct, that means, without any mutations in our mitochondrial record from our current times back until Margaret Watts' birth in 1700 colonial Virginia, I have a three hundred year old genetic record within me that is exactly the same as one borne within the genes of a stranger with whom I apparently share no other relatives except this Strother bride and mother. That's a pretty far-reaching record.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

There's Always Going to be a Down Side

Admittedly, at first I jumped the gun. Looking at the pedigree chart for my—finally!—first real "exact match" from my mitochondrial DNA test, the minute I saw the name Elizabeth Strother, I knew we had a match. Why? Because there was an Elizabeth Strother, sister of the Jane Strother who was part of my matriline.

At least, it was part of my presumed matriline. The difficulty, as we've been discussing, is that right in the middle of my matrilineal ancestry is the roadblock of the unknown parentage of my orphaned second great grandmother.

We've already examined the possible lineage from the point of that orphan back through the next several generations, and why I think these are reasonable guesses. But when we get to the soon-to-become wife of Thomas Lewis, Jane Strother, we start running into problems.

First off, though some old recountings of the family genealogy state, almost in one breath, "Jane, daughter of William Strother of Stafford," there are some records which assign to him thirteen "blooming daughters," while other arguments imply he had absolutely none—or, perhaps, six.

Thankfully, the listing that allowed for a more modest count of six included both a Jane and an Elizabeth.

Besides that, depending on whose account one is reading, Jane's father, William, is one of a line of at least three, if not six, generations of men named William Strothers. Conveniently, each generation is numbered. The trick is to insure how far back any particular researcher decided to start his count of the Williams. One genealogy has my William identified as "William III." Another counts him as "William VI."

Let's take leave of our woes on that side of the family for a moment and look at the other side of the story: the pedigree chart provided by my exact match.

What I hadn't, at first, noticed when I spotted that Elizabeth Strother in my match's tree was that she had Elizabeth's parents listed not as William and Margaret, as I was showing, but as Francis Strother and Susannah Dabney. Understandably, for large families given to repeating the same favorite names from generation to generation, there would be more than one Elizabeth in the Strother generations. But I'm really not in the mood to celebrate that abundance just yet.

As it turns out, depending upon which old published genealogy one wishes to use as guide, there are helpful suggestions...or not.

For one thing, in support of a Francis Strother's very existence, there is mention of Jane's father William having a brother Francis. More to the point, that brother Francis did marry someone named Susannah Dabney.

Even more perilous to the survival of my presumed pedigree, that Francis and Susannah did have a daughter. And—surprise, surprise—that daughter's name was, indeed, Elizabeth.

Oh, groan.

Take heart, though, for in continuing the saga of that Elizabeth, it turns out she married someone named James Gaines. My match's pedigree indicated her Elizabeth Strother married a man by the name of John Frogg, just as I had had it in my own records. The only problem I had from that point onward was that my match's pedigree continued with a daughter for John and Elizabeth Frogg, when I only had two male descendants listed for that couple—male descendants, incidentally, who would never pass along that matrilineal heritage from my Jane's mother.

If you recall from the other day, that very John Frogg (or Frogge, as some records had it) was the one over which there were some documentation disputes, according to the national Daughters of the Revolution website. Still, even on their database, one of the descendants of this John and Elizabeth was listed as the Jane Frogg named by my match. And, just as my match had it in her tree, this DAR-verified Jane went on to marry a Virginia man named Manoah Corley.

So perhaps that "down side" I was concerned about adds up to nothing more than mis-attributed parentage of the Elizabeth Strother in my match's line. Still, to be quite sure I'm comparing the correct lines—after all, mine is a presumed line, owing to my second great grandmother's orphan status—I need to check every step of the way on both mine and my match's pedigree. This will take some additional digging to pull up as many documents as possible.


Monday, July 24, 2017

First, the Good News

It was rather deflating, after finally finding someone who qualified as an exact match to my mitochondrial DNA test, to realize that either her pedigree or mine—or worse, both—might have been wrong. I spent a good deal of time yesterday, sorting through the possibilities. Thankfully, once I came up for air, I felt like I could breathe a bit easier.

For one thing, I can see where some errors might have been perpetrated—something I'll cover tomorrow. For another, it seems we are in good company with our confusion over some members of the Strother family of eighteenth century Virginia. Thankfully, there are some points made by previous researchers to bolster my contentions and help set the record straight.

Before we get into that, though, I'm in desperate need of taking an inventory of reasons why this effort is worth the while. So let's take a look at the good side of the equation before we launch into the messy details.

First, let's consider what an mtDNA test can show us. Of course, it measures the "genetic distance" between two matches—for instance, this Strother descendant and myself—who both share a most recent common ancestor of a specific type. That type is limited to the matriline, the line moving back in time from my mother to her mother to her mother, in like manner back to the 1700s—and then, about-face, marching right back in time from that woman to her daughter to her daughter, all the way to the point of the person who is my match.

That we are an exact match means that this genealogical journey was made from me, all the way to that matrilineal ancestor and then back again to my match, without any genetic mutation in the specific material measured from our respective mitochondria.

Considering that, unlike my two thousand autosomal DNA matches, my mitochondrial DNA matches only number fifty eight, that's an awe-inspiringly limiting set of chances. In fact, of those fifty eight matches, I only have four who are exact matches. All the others have at least two or three mutations between me and any given match. To find one who is an exact match and actually has also posted a pedigree chart for our perusal is a rare—and long-awaited—occurrence.

In addition, this pedigree chart happens to include a surname shared in my tree. Unlike the hundreds of autosomal matches I've perused whose trees seem to recount ancestors from the opposite side of the world from my family, this one actually screams BINGO! Who could ask for more than that?

Of course, that one thing we could ask for would be a correct pedigree. And I can't exactly fault my match for that; perhaps the error is mine. Time to take out the magnifying glass and scrutinize my own work, as well as hers. And while I'm at it, time to pull out those dusty old records and see what additional documentation I can find to bolster the paper trail.

The best news of all, however, is that this is a quest to verify just who the parents were of a girl orphaned in Georgia at the age of eleven in the midst of a civil war. If I can demonstrate, on paper, the connection of my Mary Rainey Broyles to Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis of eighteenth century Virginia—and then confirm that matriline via mtDNA results—I will have put to good use one of our most modern techniques to bolster our genealogical research.

But first, let's take a look at that other side of the story...

Above: "Reader with Magnifying Glass," 1895 oil on canvas by German Impressionist artist Leo Lesser Ury; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What If . . .

What's with all the speculation?, you may be wondering as I puzzle out just who my orphaned second great grandmother's family might have been.

What if you're wrong?, the genealogist in you is certainly asking. After all, I have very little proof that my guesses are correct.

That, however, is the goal I'm after: to build a case through documentation that seeks to allay those concerns while demonstrating the possibility that my proposal could be credible.

A few years ago, in my DNA results was another mitochondrial "exact match" result belonged to an adoptee who turned out to be successful in figuring out who his birth parents were. He shared his search technique with me, one which is so bombastic and assuming as to make a trained genealogist shudder at the possibilities of error. The trick, my mystery cousin explained, was to build a private tree on and experiment with hunches—by entering possibilities to see what might trigger "hints" that led to viable material.

I am not attempting an approach as energetically radical as his, in this quest to determine which family my second great grandmother might have belonged to. But I do need to experiment with some possibilities using, at least, educated guesses. The reason: after bringing you up this matrilineal line of ascent all the way from Mary Rainey Broyles to Jane Strother, there is a second part to the story.

Yes, you guessed it: I have an exact mtDNA match with someone whose matriline includes a Strother mother. According to my records—yes, my records based on guesswork—this person's line includes Jane Strother's sister, Elizabeth Strother.

Sisters, that is, depending on whose accounting we choose to believe.

We've already found one old genealogy which stated that the Thomas Lewis who is presumed to be part of my orphaned second great grandmother's line married someone named "Jane, daughter of Wm. Strother, of Stafford county, Va."

That hint, as it turns out, is a trickier line than originally bargained for. The William Strother we are seeking would have been married to a woman named Margaret Watts. Depending on which genealogy publication you believe, though, William and Margaret had either "thirteen daughters" or what seems to read as none at all:
William VI, b. circa 1696; d. 1732; m. circa 1720, Margaret Watts, who m. (second) John Grant, leaving six daughters.

None, that is, if those six daughters were actually the descendants of Margaret and her second husband.

Meanwhile, best I can determine, our Jane Strother had a sister—well, at least according to some accounts—named Elizabeth, who married a Revolutionary War era man named John Frogg. That his entry in the roster of Patriots at the national Daughters of the American Revolution is in dispute makes me wonder whether the reports of his wife's name may also be suspect.

Of course, it would be this Elizabeth Strother to whom my exact match is linked. Therein lies the problem: just how do this Elizabeth and my Jane relate?

All this to say: while I've discovered an exact match through my mtDNA test possibly linking me to the Strother line, not only do I need to construct a proof argument for my orphaned second great grandmother's link to the Strother family, but I then have to sort out whether I have my Strothers lined up correctly, for my accounting does not reconcile with my match's pedigree.

Nothing is ever easy. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

It Pays to Have Connections

If it wasn't for one small detail concerning the woman whose parentage we're seeking, I might have experienced considerably more difficulty in accessing the information. As it is, in trying to piece together the matriline of an orphan—who just happened to be my second great grandmother—we're struggling with guesswork tangled up with lack of documentation. Seeking verification of genealogical details in the era of the 1700s and early 1800s is so different than experiences in researching our more recent history.

By the time we moved from my second great grandmother, Mary Rainey Broyles, to her mother Mary Taliaferro Rainey, to her grandmother Mary Gilmer Taliaferro, and then her great-grandmother Elizabeth Lewis Gilmer, we've arrived in the mid 1700s. Trying to determine the parents of a woman in that time frame might have been tricky; sometimes these people were mentioned by name, and sometimes they were nearly invisible.

In the case of Elizabeth Lewis, though, she had something going for her. After marrying her husband, Thomas Meriwether Gilmer, she just so happened to give birth to a son who eventually went on to become governor of the state of Georgia. Some biographical sketches—though not all—of governor George Rockingham Gilmer include a line crediting Thomas and Elizabeth as his parents.

That portion of a lineage which fortuitously includes my (presumed) matriline helps bolster confidence that I'm on the right track. Besides, it elevates chances that the family's previous generations might have rubbed shoulders with all the right people, too. I could use a few more handy connections like that in this research project.

It certainly wasn't difficult, employing a Google search and some choice keywords, to locate public domain genealogies containing just the names I was seeking. For Elizabeth Lewis, the current stepping-off point on this matrilineal pursuit, it was easy to find her place in two volumes (apparently using the same sources, which does make me hesitate) mentioning her parents' names.

From William Terrell Lewis' 1892 Genealogy of the Lewis Family in America, we see Elizabeth mentioned, along with her twelve siblings and the note that she was born in 1765 and married to "Thos. M. Gilmer." Turning to the preceding page, it reveals her father: Thomas Lewis, a surveyor in colonial Augusta County, Virginia. His wife, Elizabeth's mother, was mentioned as "Jane, daughter of Wm. Strother, of Stafford County."

This is supported in another volume of similar name but slightly later date of publication (1906), Genealogies of the Lewis and Kindred Families, where we find one of those name-dropping entries, thanks to Elizabeth's relationship as mother of the governor of Georgia. For our purposes, that provides us with the feature of Elizabeth's mother as Jane Strother, daughter of William Strother of Stafford County, Virginia.

While this second volume also detailed Elizabeth's father Thomas Lewis' heritage—son of John Lewis and Margaret Lynn and grandson of Andrew Lewis and Mary Calahan—we have to remember that is not our goal in this pursuit.

Jane Strother, however, is. And, as it turns out as I surveyed the surnames in my mtDNA match's pedigree, that was exactly the point at which I needed to focus my attention: to the Strother family. 

Above: My second great grandmother's matriline now reaches to her second great grandmother, Jane Strother, daughter of William Strother and wife of Thomas Lewis. Graphic layout of the pedigree courtesy of
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