Sunday, May 22, 2016
A Genealogist's Work
Is Never Done
Perhaps I believed my own press releases more than I should have, in the last two weeks, for once again it's time to face the numbers, but that breathtaking work pace has not quite been sustained as much as could be hoped. Even I was astounded, two weeks ago, to see I had added over four hundred verified records to my mother-in-law's family tree—and that was after another half-month time frame in which I had added more than seven hundred individuals. Such a pace cannot be sustained indefinitely, no matter how well meaning the project.
And so, as we turn to check the numbers once again in this bi-monthly ritual, it will be no surprise to see the inevitable downturn.
I had been intending—thanks, in most part, to that inevitable computer crash due to happen someday to my Window XP operating system on my dinosaur computer—to transfer an old family tree file over to my Ancestry account. The purpose was two-fold: not only to save a body of work representing over two decades of hard work and collaboration with other respected researchers, but also to benefit from more recently available digitized documentation, to beef up my resources to verify that work.
Thus, the seemingly phenomenal work rate in the past month.
That is not quite how things progressed in this last term. On my husband's maternal line, I only added 444 individuals to the new tree, dusting them off, hauling them over from the old file and plugging in as many pertinent documents to each person's record as possible. The tally on that tree now stands at 5,791. It's getting there. But nowhere near project finish. It will likely take most of the rest of the summer before I can make that claim.
On my own maternal tree, in the past two weeks, I've felt a twinge of guilt as I recall my previous goal of working on my matrilineal line, in hopes of finding the nexus with a mystery cousin who is one of a very few "exact match" results on my mitochondrial DNA test. (Truth is, I got sidetracked by The Bright Shiny when I stumbled upon the unbelievable story of the man who shot Marshall Jackson in 1917.) Last week, I again felt the need to get back to that DNA project—it is, after all, another immense one—and recommenced work on that tree. It's only been a pathetically small bit of progress I've made there, but with the addition of thirty one more names on another branch of my matrilineal line, I've edged the total up to 7,686 in my maternal tree.
You can rehearse the story with me on the two paternal lines, for I've made not a whit of progress on either my father's line or my father-in-law's line. It likely will remain that way—barring a breathtaking breakthrough on either of these two family lines—until my two maternal line projects are completed.
On the DNA testing front, there hasn't been much progress—except for one interesting development. Matches to our test results continue to trickle in—sixteen on my mother's line, and coincidentally, the same number for my mother-in-law's line. I now have 1,150 matches for my DNA test at Family Tree DNA, and my husband has 707. For my test results at Ancestry DNA, I gained seven matches to bring my total to 290, and my husband gained six for a total of 119.
That interesting development, though, turned out to involve a separate type of DNA test. Unlike the matches I've been mentioning at both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA—which are autosomal DNA tests—I also have results at Family Tree DNA for the mitochondrial DNA test. This test, which involves the specific line of descent from an ancestor on the mother's mother's mother's line, is the one which revealed the exact match with the adoptee I refer to as my mystery cousin.
Matches on the mitochondrial DNA test are not listed by closeness of familial relationship—say, second to fourth cousin—as they are in the autosomal DNA test with which most people are familiar. Instead, they are ranked by genetic distance, based on count of number of mutations' distance, from one person to another in a matched set. In addition to my exact match—numbered at zero—with this adoptee, I have several other matches at greater genetic distance, starting from the third ranking.
Because mutations on the mtDNA line can occur very slowly, over several generations—sometimes even to a thousand years or more—someone with a genetic distance of one can turn out to be a recent relative, but will more likely be several generations removed, or possibly so far removed as to pre-date the genealogical paper trail or even the use of surnames.
Thus, I never bothered pursuing the matches to my matrilineal line with genetic distances greater than zero.
Until this past week, that is.
It was last week when the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution put out a letter to their members, explaining their newly formed DNA project for members of DAR. While they are primarily focusing on the Y-DNA test—specifically for the patrilineal line—they are also inviting members to share their autosomal and mtDNA results as well.
Since I already have my DNA results at the same company as the one used for this special NSDAR project—Family Tree DNA—it was only a matter of clicking the "join" button on my account there. (Those with their DNA results at Ancestry DNA can, for a minimal fee, upload their DNA results to Family Tree DNA and then join the project, as well.)
Once into the project, I took a look to see if any other DAR members had the same haplogroup as mine. Sure enough, there was one. Just one. But that was enough! I went back to my own results at FTDNA to see if she was on my list. Sure enough, there she was, showing at a genetic distance of three—explaining why I hadn't connected with her previously. Now realizing the DAR connection, I emailed that member, and we have begun comparing notes, both on our respective patriots, as well as on the matrilineal line which evidently connects us.
Confirming matches on DNA tests is deceptively more difficult than it may appear from the ease with which companies like Ancestry portray it. Perhaps that is why I am making such slow progress on the many results on both mine and my husband's family trees. Still, those confirmed tests can become so helpful in our genealogical research, and may provide clues on how to skirt some issues that we previously believed were immovable brick walls. The progress may seem glacial, but it's the determination—and the follow-through—to keep progressing that counts.