Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Time to Check the Scorecard

Sometimes, we get so mired in all the detail of the multiple ancestors we're researching that it's good to take a process break and check our genealogical scorecard. Where are we, anyhow? And where should we be headed now?

In my case, while I'd love to solve the mystery of my paternal grandfather's origin, perhaps only his Y-DNA will reveal that secret. Until a yet-unrevealed match to his genetic genealogy shows up to also volunteer for such a test, all that's left to me is a waiting game on that account. That, and future forays into digitized collections of New York City minutiae—if, that is, the right document just happens to be scanned, at all.

In the meantime, there is much yet to be done on my maternal lines. Besides my now-completed D.A.R. application, I do have an adoption mystery to solve on my mother's side: that of her great grandmother, the young woman from Georgia who was said to have been adopted some time before she married Thomas Taliaferro Broyles of Tennessee.

So let's go back and review where we've been and see what next steps are possible.

This is a clip from my family tree diagram at—essentially my maternal line, beginning with my grandmother, Rubie Broyles McClellan from Fort Meade and Tampa, Florida. Right off the bat, you can see the tree is completed through my third great grandparents.

Extending a line from Rubie to the women in each succeeding generation—Sarah Ann Broyles, Mary W. E. Rainey, and Mary E. Taliaferro—represents my matrilineal line. That's the key to examining the results from my mtDNA test—the one that follows the mother's mother's mother's line back through more generations than we could ever hope to document. I need to identify another descendant from that line—a sibling of Mary W. E. Rainey, or, even better, a sibling of her supposed mother, Mary E. Taliaferro—who would be willing to participate in DNA testing to compare our results.

Of course, it goes without saying that, if you are reading this and realize these names sound suspiciously like the surnames in your own family tree, please contact me. I'd love to compare notes. You may have the answer to my question.

Beside that project, though, you may have noticed that, with the exception of just one of my third great grandparents (the one with the green arrow to the right of her name), I have not yet worked any of these lines back further than that point. There are a few reasons for that.

First, of course, is the realization that, with every succeeding generation we push back in time to reach, our number of researchable ancestors doubles. That may be a trivial detail when we are talking about moving from our four grandparents to our eight great grandparents. Or even when we make the jump to our sixteen second great grandparents. But when we arrive at our thirty two third greats, doubling that—and then following all their descendants back down line to the present—can be a daunting task.

Second, if you take a look at the range of birth years for my second great grandparents, you realize that they arrived on the scene anywhere from 1852 all the way back to, in one outlier's case, 1812. The significance of that detail is that, with the exception of our supposed orphan, Mary W. E. Rainey, all these second greats were born before census records provided itemization of all members of the household. To connect some of the members of this generation with their own parents calls for an entirely different set of resources for documentation. Some of those documents have yet to become available online. And I have yet to travel to the southern states where such legal documents may be found in their native habitat.

Third is a corollary of the first two: as the universe of ancestors broadens, we by necessity need to hone our focus more carefully. While it is quite an easy proposition to "do" all our grandparents, doing just one fourth great grandparent means focusing on only one-sixty-fourth of the possible company. Completing that entire generation is quite the grand slam, indeed!

The necessity of managing to complete that task, though, becomes apparent when we realize what is required of us, once we commit to using the tool of DNA testing. How can we determine the veracity of DNA test results placing us and a matching individual at the level of fifth cousin if we don't know our fourth great grandparents?

Granted, not all results ranging that far out in relationship are entirely accurate. The farther we go, the greater the chance of running up against the scenario of "identical by state" matches. But given the number of descendants of the longstanding American surnames in my family history—and that of my husband, whose family history and genetic testing I'm also tracking—I've run across a number of others for whom our matches indicate relationship at a level more distant than even sixth cousin.

In instances like that, it's a good thing our scorecards reach back that far.


  1. I'm envious. Being able to fill in your family tree so completely and find the grandparents of your grandmother is cool! My mom's grandmother is the only one I can do this for myself!

    1. That sure can be frustrating, Iggy! I can relate, after the seemingly-fruitless struggle I've had, working on my dad's lines. On the other hand--and especially considering your prowess at online searches--there is bound to be a breakthrough for your research at some point!


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