Sunday, August 7, 2022

Not Counting on a Breakthrough


Sometimes, using genetic genealogy to break through a research brick wall seems a sure thing—and it can be, if we remember one small detail. To get a DNA match, it takes one to make one.

In the case of some of my Twelve Most Wanted research goals for this year, I've had DNA matches a-plenty. Take the project that swallowed the month of June: working on my husband's fifth great-grandfather, John Gordon. There were no less than one hundred sixty eight DNA matches on that ancestor's ThruLines report at I'm still working my way through that list.

A DNA bonanza like that can explain why the count on my husband's family tree, after that point, exploded by nine hundred names. Not so for my current month's project. This month, my Twelve Most Wanted target is a mere second great-grandfather to my husband, a man from Ireland named John Stevens.

Fewer generations of separation might obviously indicate less time to produce enough cousins willing to spring for a DNA test. But only one? That is the only ThruLines connection showing for John Stevens: one match. Even less helpful, this match is a grandchild of one of my husband's uncles, someone we already know. No great surprise there.

Still, there is a lot to clean up on my father-in-law's side of the family tree. Working on my biweekly tally this weekend, I did see that progress is being made. The tree grew by 207 names over the past two weeks to reach a total tree size of 29,797. Some of that was catch-up work from the pileup earlier this summer from those 168 Gordon cousins. Some also came from the Tully research done for July's goal. But I still haven't been able to make that Stevens brick wall crumble by the use of DNA testing. If there are any other unknown distant Stevens cousins out there, I certainly haven't found them on the paper trail, either.

Searching by surname among those DNA matches at the companies where we've tested isn't a productive practice, either. Stevens is simply too common a surname to be of use as a search term.

Even though I'm not counting on any miraculous breakthrough on this month's research goal, that doesn't mean I won't continue trying. After all, I have way too much month left to quit now. And there's still that broad-based approach of learning what can be discovered about more general aspects of this relative's life. If John Stevens came from County Mayo, what was the place like? Why did people leave there? Where did they usually go, and from which port did they embark on their journey?

These and many other such questions may not yield any specific answers about John Stevens himself, but will at least broaden my understanding of the region and the time period in which he lived. Surely that should count for something. 


  1. I've been looking at the town where my grandparents grew up and specifically her senior year of high school, 1917-1918. It is extremely fortunate that some saints digitized all the old newspapers they could find in the county. I haven't learned that much about my specific family, but I sure have a greater understanding of what was going on in the community.

    1. Kathy, those local newspapers are priceless, if you can find them! Just as not every record has been digitized and on a major website, likewise for some local newspapers.

      I've found one way to discover those hidden treasures is through the old genealogy forums, or their updated counterparts on social media. Someone locally is bound to know if and where their own town's newspapers have been stored.


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