Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Speeding Through Details


In what can only be called speed-dating for genealogy, I've been racing through the remainder of my ThruLines connections with DNA matches at Before this month comes to a close, I'm hoping to finish the list of fourteen matches belonging to one daughter of my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, by adding each person to the right place in my family tree.

The fourteen matches which connect through Zachariah's daughter Lucy have mostly been a quick study, mainly because I've already laid down so many of the details of each generation through my previous method for connecting matches to my tree. Now, though, I've been using ThruLines as a tool to accelerate confirmation of each match.

Well, let me amend that statement: it had been a quick process of adding DNA matches to my tree, until I hit a roadblock. Just as how it is when you are speeding in real life, zooming down the highway at a high rate of speed might seem just fine—until, that is, something unexpected pops up. Then, you have no time for adequate reaction.

In this case, I had only three more to review of the fourteen DNA matches belonging to Lucy Taliaferro when I suddenly realized something wasn't working out. Could it be possible, I wondered, for a grandchild to not be mentioned in a grandparent's obituary? All the others were mentioned specifically by name, but not this DNA match. What happened?

If I had been plodding through the process of building out this branch of the family tree in my normal, less frenzied fashion, I might have taken the time to consider possibilities. After all, there is a good chance that any of us could run into what would be the reverse of those heart-rending stories of adoptees finding birth parents through DNA. We may know who our parents are, but we may not know who all our parents' children were.

As I worked through the process of connecting my DNA matches to my extended family tree, I had to pause to consider that any family will run into surprises, if we search far and wide enough. Right now, I'm working on matches who are at about the level of fifth cousin to me. Who knows what the personal stories are for these distant relatives. Perhaps the person testing has chosen to do so for that very reason: to find out the answers about parents through that DNA test which were never shared by those who knew.

There will be some DNA matches for whom we may never find the connection. We can guess. In some cases, we can place their name in our tree with a second parent marked simply as "unknown." But in other cases—especially those for whom reaching out and asking would simply not be feasible—a DNA match might better be left, for the time being, in that pile of unknowns. For some, we can guess, but we can't confirm. It's simply not our business.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Cousins in More Ways Than One


When it comes to researching the Taliaferro line, the potential for running across distant cousins can be high. Though the surname seems unusual—and thus, we presume, rare—its longstanding residence in colonial America affords it ample generations in which to leave its mark. It isn't unusual, when I'm attending a genealogy conference or training event, to meet a distant Taliaferro cousin—and by that, I mean relationships as distant as ninth or twelfth cousin, a level only an avid family history enthusiast would track.

In the course of tracking such details, though, I've also discovered that some of my fellow Taliaferro descendants are related to me in more ways than one. In fact, I'm my own distant cousin, due to the colonial habit of intermarrying among family members. As I work my way through my ThruLines results at, I'm realizing some of those DNA matches are also cousins to me in more ways than one.

My fourth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro descended from Richard Taliaferro of colonial Virginia, leaving him in the company of plenty of siblings and cousins—many of whom had descendants of their own. In this end-of-month research goal, I've been cleaning up my ThruLines DNA matches claiming Zachariah as their most recent common ancestor shared with me.

Although Zachariah and his wife, Margaret Chew Carter, had four daughters, only three of them are represented among my ThruLines matches. Besides my direct line descending from daughter Sarah—wife of Ozey Robert Broyles whose father's descendants we had worked on last week—I have fourteen matches descending from her sister Lucy, and another five from next-youngest sister Mary Margaret.

Since Lucy had the larger set of descendants, I began with her list. It wasn't long after I began this task when I began to spot the intermarriages in Lucy's line of descent. In fact, one of my other fourth great-grandfathers was Warren Taliaferro, Zachariah's own brother, whose own descendants figured prominently in intermarriages with other branches of my family, including Lucy's own descendants.

Perhaps that would explain some details I had spotted regarding these matches. While the majority of my DNA matches from my Broyles project last week had a very small count of shared centiMorgans with me, and generally only one segment in common, the matches I've working on this week tend to have a higher centiMorgan count and three to four segments shared in common. I wonder whether the pedigree collapse at that point in the Taliaferro genealogy might be what has resulted in the higher number of segments, since the relationship distance is roughly the same as I saw for the Broyles cousins: from fourth cousin once removed to fifth cousin once removed as a range of relationship.

While this will be a short week, as far as research goals go—and it will be doubtful that I can review each of these nineteen DNA matches before the start of October—I'd like to revisit this goal in the future. That way, I can look at that other fourth great-grandfather, Warren Taliaferro, and see which matches are simply repeats of the names listed for Zachariah's descendants. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

On to the Next


It sometimes seems like a sprint, running through the generations of my family tree—until you add the hazards of DNA testing, which transforms this race into an obstacle course. Adding nicknames or initials to the mix with enigmatic DNA match labels—and then, even further, mixing in a missing generation with the name of a surely deceased grandparent withheld for "privacy" reasons—and it seems the task will never be completed.

But it is—at least for my end-of-month goal to connect all the ThruLines descendants of my fourth great-grandfather Aaron Broyles to their proper place in my family tree. That was just the start, though. I've managed to finish all of the Broyles listings for the siblings of my third great-grandfather, Oze R. Broyles—including a DNA match linking me to the Civil War diarist Emmala Reed.

With only one more week left to wrap up this month's research, though, I'll need to move on to the next ThruLines ancestor quickly. This time, I'll reach back to the second ancestor I had selected for my Twelve Most Wanted this year. Again, the focus will be on another fourth great-grandfather.

As fast as I can work on it, I'll be examining the ThruLines connections to Zachariah Taliaferro, namesake son of my D.A.R. Patriot. True, that work will entangle me with over sixty DNA matches. At the rate I've been going—about one DNA match confirmed through documentation per day—that seems more the work of two full months than one week, but at least I'll get the project going. You can't ever finish unless you first start, no matter how big the task may be.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Initial Response


It's been another week of cleaning up those DNA matches through's ThruLines tool. My goal has been to work on the matches linked with my fourth great-grandfather, Aaron Broyles. I've been able to clear out all but one of the descendants of Aaron's eldest daughter, Jemima—with the one straggler out of the six matches being a case of mistaken identity from a different branch of the extended Broyles family. I've also worked on all but one of the four matches belonging to a different child of Aaron Broyles, his son Cain.

I'll admit, I was hesitant to work on that fourth match for one simple reason: instead of displaying an actual name, the match was labeled with a moniker. Now what? My initial response was to just bypass this match and move on to another part of my end-of-month project.

As with almost anything else in genealogy, what at first may seem like a puzzle—or even a roadblock—can be tackled successfully if taken step by step. The ThruLines tool itself walks us through that very process, if we use the steps outlined for each generation. I've found that so, when I've had to figure out the identity of a match listed only with initials—and I'll admit, some of the tests I administer have been identified only with initials, too—so I decided to take that step-by-step approach with this match, as well.

Starting with Aaron Broyles himself, there were eight generations involved in this pedigree pathway. I had already laid down three of them in my tree, then had worked on two more because of another DNA match. All I had to do was work on the last three generations, including the one labeled with the moniker.

Sometimes, when I work on such matches and they turn out to be labeled with initials, this process can provide a clear indication of the identity of the DNA match, and I can place that person in my tree. The only time that wouldn't work is when the parents were the type who thought it would be cute, or perhaps add to family unity, by selecting names resulting in the same set of initials for each of their children. I've sure been grateful for the families in which the only son turns out to be my DNA match. And this guessing game works far better for families in which the parents are already deceased—and were memorialized in the type of obituary which makes a genealogist's heart sing.

The same process can work almost as well for those matches labeled only with monikers. Initials give us at least one more clue than monikers, though, making monikers a bit more challenging. Still, sometimes that moniker turns out to be a lifelong nickname, which might be found in a high school or college yearbook picture, or in a newspaper article, especially from a sports or social section. I've seen some with a meaning which became more clear, once I discovered specific circumstances of that person's life, like where he or she lived, or a favorite hobby or characteristic.

In this particular case, once I worked the line of descent step by step through the generations from Aaron Broyles to the current time, I realized I had a gift from ThruLines. Each generation's specific descendant checked out, according to confirming documentation, leading up to the match's grandfather. From that point, each of two now-deceased sons had an only child. And because the match's father was deceased, access to his obituary provided the person's name for my tree, and for the DNA connection.

Perhaps we live in an age when almost anything is—or can be—discoverable. This is a risk we need to consider as we leap for the chance to confirm our position in our genetic family tree. With all the information out there, publicly accessible for those who know where to look, initials as a disguising label for a DNA test are hardly the cloak of anonymity we had hoped for.

The truth is out there, as has popularly been said, and yet we suffer a sort of future shock over what might eventually be done with that knowledge. Perhaps we are simultaneously longing to be found yet hoping never to be discovered.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Now you See Them, Then you Don't


To every favorite online resource there will eventually come a glitch. I hold my breath and hope nothing serious ever happens to the websites which hold years of my genealogy research (and make sure to back up my work to desktop-resident programs), but cannot help feeling annoyance when programs don't work as promised. Today was one of those days.

Two of the people in our family-owned company (one of them being me) happened to be on the road for business this morning. As sometimes happens, though, a break in the work flow meant I could take a peek at my progress online with my DNA-matching prowess. I pulled out my laptop, fired up my phone's hotspot and took a break to work on that Broyles ThruLines backlog. After all, fifty-something matches will take some time to whip into shape.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled up the ThruLines readout for my fourth great-grandfather Aaron Broyles to see someone else had whittled those fifty-plus matches down to a mere eleven or so. What happened to the other forty? Poof! They were gone, reminding me of that old saying: now you see them, now you don't.

I wasn't sure what to do with a problem like that. Fervently hoping it was some sort of glitch, either at or on my end, I simply moved on to another part of the Broyles project, attaching marriage announcements and obituaries from my subscription.

Funny, but that function was acting a bit strange, as well. Was it the fact that my phone was choking on the graphics? Running out of time, I set the whole project aside to await my arrival back home.

I assure you I was relieved to see, upon checking at home, that my Broyles ThruLines readout was restored to its original fifty two matches. And, on my home's own wifi connection, showed up without any hesitation. While it's nice to have connectivity on the road, when it comes to online work with my family trees, there is no place like home.

Still, I looked online for any reports of connectivity problems, or any sightings of glitches at Ancestry. Though I couldn't find any such reports from recent days, I did stumble across Ancestry's own Support page article on Fixing Display or Download Problems. Right at the top of their list was one of the most common reasons for display issues: Internet connection problems.

The Ancestry Support page article included several clickable links providing more information on specific download problems, making this a useful page to add to my bookmarked items. If I have to have a problem with a website, the only thing worse is not being able to locate any instructions on how to fix the problem. I'll keep that in mind if I ever try working on my family tree while using my phone hotspot in a cell phone hole again, sure, but I plan to be prepared for more than just one issue. Never know when an unexpected opportunity might arise to work on that family tree.    

Friday, September 22, 2023

At Least it Isn't John Smith


I've run into a problem with this most recent research goal of mine. I'm tidying up my ThruLines suggestions for DNA matches who descend from my fourth great-grandfather, Aaron Broyles. My first step had been to connect the six matches descending from Aaron's son Cain—a small number which should be fairly easy to complete. Right?

Think again. There is one DNA match whose ThruLines chart has me stumped. The line of descent moves from Aaron himself to his son, Cain, and then to Aaron's namesake grandson, Aaron R. Broyles. From there, supposedly, the next generation included a son named William. And there's the problem: I can't find a son named William. In fact, I can't find any sons at all; the younger Aaron had only daughters.

I spent a lot of time poking around all the possible collateral line routes to unearth any clues about the missing William without success. There was no William to be found.

And then, it hit me: what if the trees this ThruLines diagram was drawn upon were based on the wrong Aaron Broyles? After all, I've run into that problem before with the name Aaron Broyles. While having to find multiple Aaron Broyleses might make the possibilities even messier, at least it isn't a John Smith that I'm seeking!

Doing a quick search through records at, I located another Aaron Broyles who happened to have a son named William. Checking the data on my ThruLines match, it gave the same year of birth as the William I had found in this quick search. And this William's middle initial—"H."—made all the more sense once I realized this other Aaron was married to someone whose maiden name was Hays.

It is easy to see how someone could make the mistake. The other Aaron Broyles was born in 1821—the same year, but not the same month, as my Aaron Broyles.

How I'm related to this other Aaron Broyles I don't yet know. I'll have to construct my own tree to determine the connection to the correct ancestral Broyles linking me to this DNA match. Or—who knows?—perhaps extending the family line and vetting it with adequate documentation may point me to another most recent common ancestor shared with this DNA match. In fact, I'll need to confirm every step along that generational journey. There may be yet another unexpected turn to find. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Genetic Road Maps


When you consider how many matches the average participant in DNA testing can receive, it becomes mind boggling to think of all the people with whom we connect genetically. I have, for instance, over twenty four hundred people who have tested their DNA at and match me at the level of fourth cousin or closer. And that is just the matches I have at one of the five companies where I have tested.

In the process of reviewing all these matches and finding a place for each of them in my family tree, I inevitably end up adding several more generations of cousins as I chart my way back to the most recent common ancestor we—my match and I—share. That process alone can be a tedious exercise—something I can vouch for, having managed to merely complete one such matching task per day, now that I've started reviewing my Broyles connections. It's the documentation which puts the brakes on the otherwise willy-nilly temptation to go careening down the steep slope of descendancy. 

When you consider how many families in our past generations were composed of multiple children, you realize that documenting each one of them down to the present age can be a mind-boggling process. There are so many points at which to make a wrong turn.

Now that I've taken to using the DNA shortcut to that tedious every-child-in-the-family approach, I realize that tools like Ancestry's ThruLines serve as genetic road maps guiding my progress. I have the starting point, pinpointing my possible DNA cousin through the actual test results. And then I have suggestions, based on computer-guided searches through multiple resources within the Ancestry tree collection, laying out the possible route from where I stand, up through the ancestor I share with my match, then back to the generation of that specific DNA match.

While I appreciate having access to those genetic road maps, the route proposed still needs to be carefully traveled. Why? Because many of the clues pointing the way are drawn from other subscribers' family trees. True, there is a genetic connection, but any tree is only as reliable as the documentation which supported it in the first place. I've got to compare what others assert with a thorough examination of available documentation. I owe that process to myself—and to all the family members who will eventually come to rely on my research.

Thus, the reason for such slow progress, despite the handy genetic road map. Hopefully, by the end of this week, I will have completed confirming the six DNA matches whose ancestor was Jemima Broyles Horton, sister of my third great-grandfather, Ozey Robert Broyles. From there, I will move on to the four DNA-matching descendants of her older brother, Cain Broyles. If there is any time left, perhaps I'll be fortunate to also squeeze in work on the one DNA match each for their siblings, John Taylor Broyles and Edna Broyles.

As for the DNA matches leading to my own third great-grandfather Ozey Robert Broyles, don't think I'll be able to follow that route in the remainder of this month. With thirty nine matches on that line alone, it will be a while before I close out that process. Road map or not, DNA work doesn't proceed well on a speedway.

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