Yesterday was one of those unfortunate days we've lived through lately, here in northern California, in which we could actually see the air we were breathing. The smoke from fires near and far was, once again, descending upon us, swirling around us, and reminding us of components we wouldn't normally expect to include with our every breath.
Breathing that kind of air is not a habit I'd advise for anyone, yet it did prompt me to think about other invisible materials which, not normally seen yet once rendered visible can, instead, help our situation. If there is anything invisible in the world of genealogy, it would be those untraceable links from one mystery generation to another, hidden behind those insurmountable research brick walls that have us struggling. Oh, to be able to actually visualize those invisible links!
Surprise! We can see those invisible threads tying our ancestors' generations together. At least for a few generations, the tool which renders those invisible connections visible is the process which shows us the patterns laid down in the very genes in our own bodies. Those genetic patterns, when compared to other people's genetic signatures, can lead us to people who "match" a portion of our own DNA records.
When it comes to my convoluted research attempts to find the origin of my husband's second great-grandparents, John Kelly and Johanna Falvey, I have certainly put in my fair share of time twisting and turning in the face of a wide variety of records—all to no avail. Of course, from their records left after their immigrant years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I already know John and Johanna were born in Ireland. Furthermore, chatty resources like newspaper reports of their death lead me to believe they both originated in County Kerry. But where, specifically? And who were their parents?
Enter the key to unlock the code so I can actually see the invisible "air" of their genetic record. I have the DNA test results for my husband and his two sisters. Though those test kits at five DNA companies plus GEDmatch.com haven't garnered a great number of matches with Falvey kin—searching for Kelly matches would not be a productive foray just yet—there are a few matches to work with. Now is the time to re-evaluate just whom to pursue on this next attempt at finding the answers I seek.
Starting with Ancestry DNA, I limited my search to those matches who also have the surname Falvey somewhere in their family tree. Of those results, there were only three customers who placed high enough to be listed as possible fourth cousins—nothing closer.
Of those three matches, one shared thirty five centiMorgans with my husband, all in one lone segment. Examining her tree, I see one encouraging detail: this Falvey ancestor ended up traveling from Ireland to New Zealand—a good sign, as we already have another Falvey match from a different testing company with those specifics. This line very likely will align with that other New Zealand match, an answer I'm already off and running to pursue.
The second of these three closest matches is someone who is far closer in relationship to my husband. An actual descendant of Johanna Falvey's own children, this match already has a place in my husband's family tree, confirmed as a third cousin, once removed. Their shared thirty four centiMorgans, though only one count less than that shared with the first match, is actually distributed over three separate segments. Because of the already-known relationship, pursuing this match will likely not reveal any information I don't already know. The only way it could help with my research problem now is if this person is willing to collaborate with me and share the details she has on any of her DNA Falvey matches to whom she might be connected through genetic material my husband or his sisters did not inherit from those ancestors.
The third of the three closest matches is someone who shares just a little less genetic material: twenty nine centiMorgans. Like the first match, this amount is shared in only one segment, likely pointing to a specific inheritance from someone coming at least a generation prior to our Johanna Falvey. This information may prove valuable, so my next task will be to examine this match's family tree and pull up all associated documentation related to that Falvey line. You can be sure I will be examining each of the digitized documents for any details omitted in the indexing process, as well as seeking out further records to round out the narrative.
Thus, our next task will be to meet Catherine Falvey, presumably the daughter of immigrants from County Kerry known as Daniel Falvey and Mary O'Leary. We'll take a look at whether the documentation on this family will reveal anything new about the extended Falvey family. Hopefully, it will lead us back to the right townland location in County Kerry.
But first, we need to start from step one: the same step we take when we begin our own tree. Just as we would start with ourselves on our own family history project, we'll begin this new exploration with a Falvey descendant in a much closer time and place than pre-Famine Ireland.
Our first visit in this research trial will be to travel to a place not far from the Toledo home of all those Sullivans we've been agonizing over: we'll start our journey in Detroit, Michigan.