Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Tools That Tell


After years of working on one's family tree, it hardly seems possible to discover an entire branch of the family has been omitted. How did I manage to do that? But gaps in records, or perhaps a child who left home early for work, or other extenuating circumstance can render a sibling invisible—until the DNA results of subsequent generations reveal the omission.

Now that we have the DNA tools to hopefully tell us the story which has obviously been missed, what can we do next with our research situation? In this month's case, I have discovered eight DNA matches who descend from an ancestor named Dennis Tully and his wife, Margaret Hurley. The catch is that the Denis Tully from whom my husband descends was not married to the same Margaret—his wife was named Margaret Flannery. Besides, our Denis Tully was born nearly thirty years prior to the arrival of the other Dennis.

I have documentation to support my father-in-law's connection to our Denis Tully. Those eight DNA matches appear to have documentation connecting them to their Dennis Tully. But what ties us all together? That's the point at which we need to turn to some tools to tell us more.

In working on this puzzle, I first outlined each of the DNA matches in order from largest centiMorgan count to least, writing in the actual count of cMs as well as number of matching segments on the outline. Also in that list, I included the name of the specific son or daughter of Dennis from whom each DNA match descended. Of the children of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley, our DNA matches were descendants from four of their children: Bridget, Mary, Johanna, and John.

Taking those centiMorgan counts, I then used the interactive version of Blaine Bettinger's Shared centiMorgan Project, a tool provided at DNA Painter. Entering each DNA match's centiMorgan count in comparison with my husband's test, I checked to see whether the count would support the relationship yielded by my hypothesis of younger Dennis being son of elder Denis. Each of the matches' cM count was supported by that hypothesized relationship—but that isn't to say an alternate one, like elder Denis being younger Dennis' uncle, wouldn't be supported. The relationships might be too distant to finger such minute gradations.

Taking things a step further—and for clarity in my mind—I drew a chart to outline the proposed place in the family tree for each of the eight descendants of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley. Then, I added in the line connecting my husband (the DNA test participant) and his father to our Denis Tully and his wife, based on one possible hypothesis that our Denis was father of the other Dennis. That way, I could lay out possible relationships between each of the DNA matches and my husband.

There is an easier way to track all this, of course. That's where the other tools come in. Thankfully, Leah Larkin of The DNA Geek developed a tool called "What Are The Odds?"—or WATO, for short. She explains it in her blog and, since Jonny Perl of DNA Painter added that tool to his website, you can read about WATO there, too.

Most of the time I've seen WATO used, it has been applied to questions about the possible identity of birth parents. Diahan Southard of Your DNA Guide gives an example of how one adoptee put the tool to work in hypothesizing which relative of her matches might be her birth mother.

While I am fairly sure such tools could be put to good use in my own Tully case, it is now a matter of entering that proposed family tree, along with at least two alternate hypotheses, into the program at DNA Painter. As clearly as the adoptee example was laid out in Diahan Southard's blog, my concern is that a three generation example provides far closer relationships than the Tully situation I am examining.

While I'll be trying my hand at that question over the next few days, in the meantime, let's take a look next at what we already can find about the family of Dennis Tully and Margaret Hurley.

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