Friday, October 30, 2020

Where We're Left Standing


It's been a long journey through all the DNA matches who share both roots in County Kerry, Ireland, and the family surname Falvey. After this whirlwind around-the-world tour, we can at least say we are still left standing, but if so, we stand at a crossroads with our empty research pockets filled with null-set answers. Each ancestral Falvey pointed us back to County Kerry—no matter whether from Massachusetts, Indiana, Michigan, or around the world in New Zealand or the other lands I researched but didn't mention (Canada and Australia)—but not one Falvey descendant could elaborate on just where in County Kerry their family originated.

Nor could I determine that these DNA matches all descended from the same common ancestor. It seemed they clustered into at least three different groups. One group might have an ancestor with a given name Mark or Marcus. Another group may have originated from a Michael. A third group may have been connected to someone named Daniel—although whether each Daniel root was the same as the other by that name, I'm still in doubt.

One observation which gave me pause was the several times in which it seemed other surnames intertwined with these Falveys. On my husband's own Kelly-Falvey nexus, it was the Sullivans who kept appearing among the in-laws. In New Zealand, I wondered about the Barry surname. Cementing that concern was a sequence of correspondence between another New Zealand Falvey researcher and myself, in which this researcher pointed out examples in one tree yielding instances of "double cousins." These family strands keep weaving in and out of the pedigree picture.

To look at the DNA results for all the Falvey matches, that may be evident, just from observing how many segments were shared between some of the matches and my husband or his siblings. Some matches, even at relatively larger centiMorgan counts (up to about eighty five), were contained within just one sole segment. Others seemed to share genetic material in three separate segments.

With the possibility of repeated intermarriage—instances of "pedigree collapse"—it is sometimes more likely, within a given total centiMorgan count, to see a higher number of what turn out to be smaller segments of shared genetic material. Indeed, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy observes:

the common historical tendency to marry those within walking distance, due to the relative immobility of the population before modern transport, meant that most marriage partners were at least distantly related.

While that observation may hold for remote islands in far-flung locations, it is a perfect explanation for social interaction between those of our Irish ancestors of marriageable age in Ireland, and not unlikely in the earliest years of British settlement in New Zealand, as well. Perhaps the constant reappearance of specific surnames in the Falveys' timelines, no matter where the founding immigrants landed, is a telltale sign that, at least for our Falvey matches who share more than one segment, there was indeed repeated intermarriage of families.

With that, we have to realize that pedigree collapse can tamper with the typical assumptions in genetic genealogy: that shared genetic material halves with each step we take away from the founding generation. While it may be true that we share half of our father's genetic inheritance, and thus our children claim approximately one quarter of that same man's genes, pedigree collapse seems to amplify certain parts of that chromosomal inheritance. Thus what seems, by the numbers, to be a third cousin match, by virtue of intermarriage, may be a cousin much farther removed than we assumed.

If that is the case with our Falvey cousins, the most recent common ancestors may be a farther stretch than the reach back through the generations we had originally assumed.

In the meantime, as I set aside this Falvey DNA puzzle in the hopes that further Irish documentation may materialize in future years, I have to remember that, with the close of this month, only two more remain in which to attend to those New Year research resolutions I had set for myself. I need to move to the last set of surnames to squeeze into these two remaining, holiday-laden months.

With that, we'll begin anew with some ancestors from my mystery paternal grandfather's roots: Anna Zegarska and her husband, who might or might not have been named Thomas Puchała. While the amount of time devoted to struggling with those two identities has not yielded me much in past years, perhaps one more try will be worth the effort.


  1. Hi Jacqi Can't

    1. Oh, Kat, thanks for including the link here. I saw your email but wasn't able to access the information there, so appreciate your providing it here. Sounds like a great resource!


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