When considering research on a family member's patriline, of course the first research tool that springs to mind is the Y-DNA test. Yielding information on the male subject's father's father's father's line, this genetic test can help extend our reach far back into our family's history.
Fortunately for me, in my quest this month to discover anything further on my husband's second great-grandfather John Stevens, I already have access to such test results; my husband was kind enough to test eight years ago. Unfortunately, however, despite all the matches which have been added to his account at Family Tree DNA—the only company to offer a stand-alone Y-DNA test—my husband's results contain zero "exact matches" and precious few which are close enough for consideration.
However, when we signed him up to take the Y-DNA test, we also opted to have him join the Family Tree DNA Group Project for the Stevens surname. Currently, there are about 11,000 volunteer-led group projects affiliated with Family Tree DNA—thankfully including one project for the many spelling variants of the Stevens surname. The benefit of being part of such a group (free for those who have tested and fit the group parameters, such as surname or geographic area) is that the group's results, anonymized and listed by kit number, are organized by closeness of genetic relationship. For each "STR marker" (or Short Tandem Repeat), the key is to watch for mutations within those of similar paternal lineage.
While our Y-DNA test result itself does not place my husband as an "exact match" (no mutation difference) with any other customer, the group project aligns his results with those of other Stevens/Stephens men. Just looking at the results of those other closest customers' tests shows me one troubling sign: there are Stevens men from Ireland, sure enough—but also from Great Britain and Scotland, as well. Once again, not very helpful information—not, at least, if I'm hoping to discover just where immigrant John Stevens might have originated.
Though the test itself is powerful—results can reach back for up to fifteen generations—there are some drawbacks. The first is that not as many people purchase the Y-DNA test as the more familiar autosomal test provided at large companies such as Ancestry.com, 23andMe, or MyHeritage. Thus, the pool of possible matches is greatly reduced. The second problem is that, as the test is now marketed, customers have a choice of how many "markers" to purchase: from thirty seven markers all the way up to the 700 marker package. Of course, as the count of markers goes up, so does the price, which becomes a third inhibiting factor in finding matches.
I've waited now for eight years in hopes of finding an "exact match" to compare records with, and it is likely I may never find that hoped for DNA silver bullet. With that, I'm looking for another way to bypass my Stevens research brick wall and find my way back from Lafayette, Indiana, to John Stevens' supposed native home in County Mayo, Ireland. This is where I've made the decision to proceed slowly and head back to the basics. With that, tomorrow we'll explore a most basic first step: learning more about the general history of the Stevens surname.