Monday, July 24, 2017

First, the Good News

It was rather deflating, after finally finding someone who qualified as an exact match to my mitochondrial DNA test, to realize that either her pedigree or mine—or worse, both—might have been wrong. I spent a good deal of time yesterday, sorting through the possibilities. Thankfully, once I came up for air, I felt like I could breathe a bit easier.

For one thing, I can see where some errors might have been perpetrated—something I'll cover tomorrow. For another, it seems we are in good company with our confusion over some members of the Strother family of eighteenth century Virginia. Thankfully, there are some points made by previous researchers to bolster my contentions and help set the record straight.

Before we get into that, though, I'm in desperate need of taking an inventory of reasons why this effort is worth the while. So let's take a look at the good side of the equation before we launch into the messy details.

First, let's consider what an mtDNA test can show us. Of course, it measures the "genetic distance" between two matches—for instance, this Strother descendant and myself—who both share a most recent common ancestor of a specific type. That type is limited to the matriline, the line moving back in time from my mother to her mother to her mother, in like manner back to the 1700s—and then, about-face, marching right back in time from that woman to her daughter to her daughter, all the way to the point of the person who is my match.

That we are an exact match means that this genealogical journey was made from me, all the way to that matrilineal ancestor and then back again to my match, without any genetic mutation in the specific material measured from our respective mitochondria.

Considering that, unlike my two thousand autosomal DNA matches, my mitochondrial DNA matches only number fifty eight, that's an awe-inspiringly limiting set of chances. In fact, of those fifty eight matches, I only have four who are exact matches. All the others have at least two or three mutations between me and any given match. To find one who is an exact match and actually has also posted a pedigree chart for our perusal is a rare—and long-awaited—occurrence.

In addition, this pedigree chart happens to include a surname shared in my tree. Unlike the hundreds of autosomal matches I've perused whose trees seem to recount ancestors from the opposite side of the world from my family, this one actually screams BINGO! Who could ask for more than that?

Of course, that one thing we could ask for would be a correct pedigree. And I can't exactly fault my match for that; perhaps the error is mine. Time to take out the magnifying glass and scrutinize my own work, as well as hers. And while I'm at it, time to pull out those dusty old records and see what additional documentation I can find to bolster the paper trail.

The best news of all, however, is that this is a quest to verify just who the parents were of a girl orphaned in Georgia at the age of eleven in the midst of a civil war. If I can demonstrate, on paper, the connection of my Mary Rainey Broyles to Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis of eighteenth century Virginia—and then confirm that matriline via mtDNA results—I will have put to good use one of our most modern techniques to bolster our genealogical research.

But first, let's take a look at that other side of the story...

Above: "Reader with Magnifying Glass," 1895 oil on canvas by German Impressionist artist Leo Lesser Ury; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Replies
    1. DNA testing has definitely become a game changer for genealogical research.


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