Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Exploring Elizabeth Howard's Matriline


When you have a research tool at the ready, you may as well put it to good use. In the question of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard, I happened to notice that the pedigree line connecting the two women is what genetic genealogists call the matriline. And yes, there is a tool ready to explore that matriline, called the mitochondrial DNA test, or mtDNA for short.

It so happens that mothers pass along their mtDNA not only to their daughters, but also to their own sons. Thus, though he himself cannot pass mtDNA along to any of his children, in testing my husband's mtDNA, I actually received results indicating his mother's matriline. 

With that test, I have my mother-in-law's haplogroup, and test results which include three "exact match" candidates to contact from that specific matriline. 

Alas, as has been the experience of many DNA test participants, I have yet to receive a reply to my request to compare family trees, but hopefully a gentle reminder before the end of the month may awaken a response.

In the meantime, the next step is to build out my mother-in-law's tree, specifically pushing back another generation or two on that important—and biologically tenacious—matriline. That means exploring any records on Elizabeth Howard's mother and maternal grandmother, perhaps even to further generations, as mitochondrial DNA mutates very slowly. That's the power of tests like mtDNA and Y-DNA.

We've received the first suggestion on explanding that matriline, thanks to the Harry Wright Newman 1933 book, Anne Arundel Gentry. Since the book mentioned the many generations of Howards in colonial Maryland, it has served as my trailblazer in building out that part of my mother-in-law's family tree. But now, we'll see what can be found specifically on Elizabeth's mother.

It wasn't hard to find the entry for Elizabeth's parents in the Newman book, particularly since I was reading the digitized version on Internet Archive. That website includes search capabilities, allowing me to cut straight to the chase. On the entry for Joseph Howard, Elizabeth's father who died in 1777, Newman stated that Joseph married Rachel, daughter of William and Elizabeth (Duval) Ridgely.

While this may seem to be straightforward information, don't think I can simply dive in to research Rachel Ridgely. It turned out that there were a number of women in colonial Anne Arundel County who carried that same name, either as a birth name or as a married name. A first step will need to be a study of William Ridgely, ensuring we select the right William so that we can then identify the right Rachel, his daughter.

Along with that step will be verification of William's own wife, Elizabeth Duval, yet another way to make sure we're following the right line—and an addition to the matriline we are compiling.

Of course, not only my Elizabeth Howard, but any of her sisters and maternal aunts who had children may become part of that same matriline, so that will be another work-in-progress as well: to gather data on those female collateral lines. But first things first. We'll make William Ridgely, father of Rachel, our first step in this process, tomorrow.

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