Sunday, August 13, 2017

Still Counting

Now that I'm deep in the midst of researching a line that reaches to Mayflower ancestry—who knew I'd ever be spouting lines like, "and he was my eighth great grandfather"—you'd think the count on my databases would rise astronomically. But it hasn't. It seems the farther back you reach in your research, the harder the going gets to slog through the supporting documentation.

Let's take a look at progress in the last two weeks, anyhow—mainly because I promised myself I would. Tracking progress comes in handy when discouragement sets in.

The tree that stands to increase the most would seem to be the one I'm focusing on for this Mayflower research. After all, families back then were larger. Of course, on the flip side, families also lost more children to the hazards of pioneer life—everything from unexpected injuries to sicknesses to premature death following childbirth.

As it stands, my mother's family tree saw an increase of 106 names in the last two weeks, putting the grand total at 11,076. Even though it's a modest gain, at least it's an increase.

On the other hand, as focused as I am right now on putting together an application to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, I did carve out some research time for the other parts of our family. On my mother-in-law's tree, the total jumped 188 to reach 12,557. Not bad for being focused on an entirely different project. But also illustrating my point handily: much easier to locate descendants of founder families in the mid 1800s onward than in the mid 1600s.

If only that could extend to my father-in-law's database, where the total somehow managed to inch up by one solitary name, for a total of 1,262. Or my own dad's tree, where I scrounged up five souls to make 427 in total. Chalk that up to new hints appearing at, for the most part, since newly-added digitized records sure help me muddle my way onward.

Part of that increase comes from the motivation of finding new DNA matches at any of the three companies our family has already used: Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Whenever there is the faintest possibility that a DNA match belongs to either of our fathers' lines, I am on it, best I can be, given the lack of information on those previous generations. (And here, when I say previous generations, it certainly isn't with the luxury of boasting about far-removed centuries; both of these lines arrived in the United States well into the 1800s.)

As far as DNA testing goes, I'm sure grateful that two of the companies have decided to offer another sale this summer. It's when the numbers go up in each company's database that the likelihood of finding a match—especially in my father's and father-in-law's lines—improves. News like Ancestry's recent announcement that their database has exceeded five million customers is good news for someone like me, struggling to overcome brick wall mysteries from lack of documentation.

Still, it is becoming obvious that some people find more fertile ground for DNA matches at one company, while others reap their benefits at an entirely different company. It's really hard to tell at the outset which company will lead to the match that opens up those brick wall mysteries. Just in the past two weeks, I currently have had an increase of forty five at Family Tree DNA, fifteen at Ancestry, and a net loss of two at 23andMe. That brought me new match totals of 2,306 at FTDNA, 685 at AncestryDNA, and 1,177 at 23andMe.

For my husband, the numbers were up twenty four for a total of 1,498 at FTDNA, up six for 325 at AncestryDNA, and down eight to 1,226 at 23andMe.

Granted, those numbers represent different measurements at each company. I trace all matches at FTDNA, only fourth cousin and above at AncestryDNA, and all cousins who haven't yet removed their name from public matching at 23andMe. Yet even in this small sampling, it's interesting to see that my husband fares better at gleaning matches at 23andMe than I do, despite my significantly larger set of matches at, say, FTDNA.

The bottom line is that you can never know where distant relatives might choose to test their DNA—if at any place at all—so if you are hoping that a match will provide you with the answer to all your genealogical mysteries, you may as well resign yourself to testing at all the major companies. And if you are hoping to see the explanation for how you match another customer, you may as well resign yourself to doing some random acts of genealogical kindness in building a shadow tree for your most likely matches, if their own research prowess isn't up to providing the answers you are seeking.

 Above: "August Afternoon, Appledore," 1900 oil on canvas by American Impressionist painter Frederick Childe Hassam; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

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