Sunday, September 17, 2023

Keeping on Track With D N A


The larger the family tree grows, the more ways we need to organize our approach to systematically research all branches. Unless the goal is to only learn about one surname in the family tree, we face a multiplying spread of unidentified ancestors if we don't develop a system.

For the most part, since I've decided to include research on all collateral lines—in other words, the siblings of each of my direct ancestors—that has become a helpful approach to overcome two potential pitfalls in genealogy. One is the "brick wall" ancestor—that great-great whoever who becomes the roadblock in research progress due to lack of information. The other is that overwhelming dazed sense, in looking at the avalanche of DNA matches and realizing that none of the names look familiar: who are all those people?!

Doing an end run around the brick wall ancestor became far easier, once I learned to look to siblings to unlock the puzzle. Sometimes, it's the kid brother whose life story makes it into the tell-all obituary when older sister's prim and proper generation didn't have much to say at her passing.

It's the DNA approach, however, which took much more effort to snap into shape. I did develop a system to work through all the descendants of collateral lines, so I could pin those DNA matches into my family tree. Let me tell you, when working with large families with many children who do likewise in the next generation, that process, though thorough, can be tedious.

That's why I've developed a second, faster approach to provide information up front as needed. Rather than researching every single line of every sibling in each generation, I've used my DNA matches as my guide. In particular, I'm working with the ThruLines matches at and the Theory of Family Relativity at MyHeritage. Yes, of course, that leaves big gaps in my tree; I'm only working on those who have tested their DNA and have posted enough of a family tree to grant me a toe-hold on finding our ancestral nexus.

With that process, I'll be taking the next two weeks to double check on family lines which I had long ago meant to complete—namely, the three maternal lines I mentioned in yesterday's post: Broyles, Tilson, and Taliaferro. My starting point will be to examine the ThruLines for those specific ancestral surnames.

Starting that process today, I managed to add seventy more names to my mother's tree, most of them in one day of work. Though my own family tree has languished in the last several months while I focused on my father-in-law's Tully and Flannery lines, the count for my own tree has started to grow. Total count for documented ancestors and related lines is now at 33,977.

Because I had spent so much time working on my father-in-law's lines for the past three months, of course there was much progress there. In the last two weeks, I added 221 more documented individuals to that tree, which now stands at 34,019 names.

As I wrap up the last two weeks of September, and before springing into research on my own father's lines for the last three months of the year, I'll be focusing on the ThruLines results for my Broyles, Taliaferro, and Tilson lines. With each DNA match listed in that program, I'll then work through the documentation to confirm those ThruLines suggestions—or reject them, as sometimes happens, once a problem manifests itself through conflicting records. This can become a multi-generational process for each DNA match, but it can also become a deep and wide procedure, as the research stretches not only from founding immigrant ancestor to present time, but also through each sibling's line of descent over the generations.

Since I've saved way-markers for my more thorough but plodding family-wide sweep through the generations, I'll always be able to return to the places where I left off that process. In the meantime, though, since I have a limited two weeks for this catch-up period, I'll keep on track more quickly by focusing on what the DNA matches show me on specific lines of interest. When that two week test run is completed, I'll take another look at the results and see whether it will be worthwhile to pick three more surnames for this fast-track approach before the year is out.

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