Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Matrilineal Matters

Sometimes, research projects seem so massive as to be unwieldy. That's how I feel, sometimes, about trying to find the nexus between my matrilineal line and that of my mystery cousin, the adoptee who turned out to be one of two "exact match" results on my full-sequence mitochondrial DNA test. (The only other exact match I received, strangely enough, also turned out to belong to an adoptee.)

As fortune would have itor, more specifically, near-invincible determination and inexhaustible hard workmy mystery cousin was able to identify his birth parents and, in an almost storybook-perfect yet starkly-terrifying episode, actually meet up with his birth mother. From that point, the sharing of a lifetime apart opened the doors for him to learn about his genealogical heritage.

Of course, you know he and I compared notes. We want to know how our two lines connect.

Well, wherever they connect, it will have to be beyond the early 1800s, for that is where we have both made it in our trek backwards through time. Even then, neither of us has located surnames promising any connection.

In the face of such daunting possibilities, it is not any surprise to learn that I lost some of the verve to keep up the chase. After all, according to some calculations, the glacial rate of mutation means an mtDNA exact match could lead us to a Most Recent Common Ancestor well before the advent of surname usage. Complicating matters is the fact that this matrilineal pursuit presents one other hazard: the changing of surnames with each generation. Get one passage from married to maiden name wrong, and you could be on an entirely misleading track in your quest to discover your roots.

Right now, I'm looking at all the female descendants of my sixth great grandmother, Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis. Thankfully, the family of Thomas Lewisan Irish-American pioneer in colonial Virginia who served in the House of Burgesses and, later, in the provisional government of the new statehas been well documented in records retained by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The rather large Lewis family meant Jane passed her matrilineal line on to thirteen children, eight of whom were daughters insuring the continuance of that line to future generations of daughters, as well.

The task, once againas I've already repeated for all the women in more recent generations of my matrilineal lineis to follow the lines of descent of each of those daughters of Jane Strother Lewis. The hope, once again, is to find one of these women moving to Kentucky and marrying someone whose daughter turns out to be the matriarch through whom my mystery cousin's matrilineal line is passed down to him. I've been through this process with each iteration of a new generation. It is certainly understandable to realize that I'm hoping this will be the last cycleotherwise, it means pushing back yet another generation to Jane's mother, Margaret Watts Strother, and a whole new set of daughters and their descendants.

The actual mtDNA identifier I'm pursuing is a subclade of haplogroup H5. Depending on which research paper you read, you can find claims that my particular subclade of haplogroup H5 (which branches off from H5a) originated in central Europe, but there is wide fluctuation in speculations on origins. One interesting geographic pinpoint for a more highly honed subclade was the Austrian region of Tyrol. But the general H5 haplogroup has one specific point of interest, in regard to my own family history: some research papers consider the highest concentration in Europe of the H5 haplogroup to be in Wales.

If you know your surname origins, you would be correct in assuming the surname Lewis may have been from Walesalthough Thomas Lewis' own history specified that he came from County Donegal in Ireland. However, remember that though I'm studying the genealogy of Thomas Lewis' family, because of the mtDNA test, I'm primarily doing so because of his wife, Jane Strother. Therefore, it would be her originprecisely through her own matrilineal linewhich would come from that (so far) hypothetical central European (or maybe Welsh) location.

At this point, I'm fervently hoping one of Jane's daughters will provide me the key to connect my matrilineal line with that of my mystery cousin. I've enjoyed the pursuit, but have to admit it is slipping much closer to the realm of exhaustive search than I had intended when I first started out with this project.


  1. It is a shame your mystery cousin is of more than 2nd cousin and/or so many removes!

    What I would like to see is someone that "falls" out of your mystery John McCain linage...

    1. That would be a real victory, Iggy! I keep a close eye on my brother's DNA results and, in stark contrast to my other matches, there are only 22 on my dad's side. Unfortunately, they are all such distant relationships that it is hard to determine how they connect, since I'm stuck at my grandfather John's own records. Who knows...

  2. How wonderful for your cousin to locate his birth parents! Sometimes those meetings don't go well:)


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