Friday, February 25, 2022

Retracing Those "Fast and Furious" Steps


Toward the end of her life, my mother posted notes to herself, most likely as a reminder to keep working hard at a particular task. One note, however, did not refer to grocery shopping lists or calendared meetings, but was an enigmatic descriptor. The note said simply, "Fast and furious." At times, she had that note pinned to surfaces throughout the house, as if to remind herself, when working on a project, to focus for speed in accomplishing a specific task.

Now that I'm racing the month's close to find the parents of my second great-grandmother, Catherine Laws, I must have subconsciously taken my cue from my mother's scribbled reminders. I've been working fast and furious. Too fast, as it turns out: I misplaced the identity of the DNA match who leads back to a second potential brother of my Catherine.

Simple, you might be thinking: just pull up your DNA matches on Ancestry and search for all matches with a surname Laws in their tree...except that not all family trees of our DNA matches reach back that many generations. Let alone consider the difficulty of researchers who have not yet discovered the maiden name of their female ancestors.

I tried retracing my steps, recreating yesterday's research path in every way I could recall. Matches of matches? Nope. Search using a more recent surname in the match's family tree? Nice try, but no. I ended up going back to Catherine's proposed collateral line, dropping down from that other brother—Pine Dexter Laws—to the daughter I remember being named in the match's tree (Peggy). From there, I looked in my hints for every single Ancestry member's tree which contained that specific Laws descendant's name, and clicked through all the respective trees to each subscriber's name to see whether Ancestry mentioned that person as a DNA match.

Eventually, I retraced my way to the right DNA match—but let me tell you, I hope to never have to repeat that lesson again!

The match in question shares thirty seven centiMorgans in common with me. Taking a quick look at DNA Painter, home of the interactive version of Blaine Bettinger's Shared cM Project, I noticed that, of all the possible relationships for those sharing thirty seven centiMorgans, fourteen percent have reported being fourth cousins with their match. I fall into that less common category, for this Laws descendant DNA match and I are indeed fourth cousins.

On the heels of that research triumph, though, should follow this question: is there any other way my match and I could be related? After all, we share those thirty seven cMs in two segments. And Greene County, Tennessee, being the small, interrelated region that it is, there is that possibility of more than one connection. I don't see any possibilities yet, but keep in mind my match's tree is quite limited, though my tree doesn't reveal any other mutual family surnames.

I have yet to locate a match descending from any other of the siblings in my target Laws family—the children of William and Elizabeth Laws of Yancey County, North Carolina—but now that I've traced them through several decades and noted their move across the state line to Greene County, I did see one other encouraging sign: according to his death record, my own great-grandfather Will Davis, son of Catherine Laws, was born in Greene County. Not only that, but his entire family moved from their home in Washington County to Greene County for a while, showing up there in the 1870 census—a fact I had previously overlooked until prodded to pursue Catherine's own roots.

Over the weekend, you can be sure I will be thumbing my way through records for the rest of this proposed Laws family connection. My interim goal is still to locate any other DNA matches who descend from a William Laws family member other than Larkin or Pine Dexter. While the DNA matches I've already found from these two likely brothers of my Catherine seem to confirm I've selected the right potential parents for my second great-grandmother, it would certainly bolster a proof argument to strengthen it with even more lines to connect them.

In the meantime, while working "fast and furious" on the heels of a potential family history breakthrough, I've been reminded to always, always, always remember to keep track of that research trail. Better to spend time moving forward than retracing those tedious steps once again. 


  1. One step forward, two steps back. I sometimes think my own "fast and furious" leads this to be my theme!

    1. A frustrating dance step, granted, but even then, hopefully there is progress, Miss Merry. Even those side-tracked journeys help us learn something about our ancestors' path.


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