Monday, December 27, 2021

Taking a Cue from D N A


If you are wondering what research item you should place a priority on, why not let your DNA test results be your guide? 

As I choose the Twelve Most Wanted of my family's ancestors to focus on for the coming year's genealogical research goals, I realize I have been all but ignoring one obvious clue: I have plenty of DNA matches connecting me to one specific surname on my mother's tree. However, there is one problem with that little genetic gift: none of those people who match me have anyone in their tree who connects with my line bearing that surname.

Now, don't go thinking I am about to discuss a family surname like Jones. While yes, I do have Joneses in my family, I strangely have been able to sort them out to my satisfaction. The surname I'm concerned with now is less familiar than Jones—or Smith, or Baker, or any other surname you might consider irksomely common. The surname I will be working on, come this February, will be the maiden name of my second great-grandmother, Sarah Catherine Laws.

Wife of Thomas Davis of Washington County, Tennessee, Sarah Catherine Laws has had me stumped ever since I found documentation of her existence. For the most part, the records I could find were of her children's death certificates. I have not been able to find any paperwork which connects her to the previous generation.

And yet...over the past few years, I've noticed DNA matches at several of the companies where I've tested that lead to Laws family ancestry. All, of course, are distant matches clustering around the estimated fourth cousin mark. As if resisting the urge to make things easier, each of these Laws matches leads back to a different Laws ancestor. My matches' family lines do not seem to line up to mine.

So, I procrastinate. Avoid this mess. Set this puzzle aside. But no more; I need to settle this question for myself. Thus I face the music: examine each match's potential tree—rebuild it, if necessary—to see which family configuration makes the most sense. Above all, look for documentation—if, that is, any is still there to be found.

When I look at the overall progress made in the past year on my mother's family tree, I can see I've gained ground. I started the year with 24,961 people in her family tree, and ended it with 27,082 documented individuals. While that represents an overall gain this year of 2,121 individuals, the progress has been spotty. There are some branches which literally blossomed, while others seem to have withered from inattention.

The Laws branch, unfortunately, is one which has stood frozen in time. It's time this February to introduce a spring thaw in that region and see whether I can pry loose a few isolated records to add to this family picture. Sarah Catherine Laws—and, hopefully, her mystery parents and siblings—will become Ancestor Number Two of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2022.    

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