With all the tools family historians now have at their fingertips, it is thankfully quite possible to push back our brick wall boundaries to previous generations. One of those tools I've been using this month has been DNA testing. Specifically, I've been reviewing all the suggestions at Ancestry.com based on their ThruLines program.
My goal in the past few days has been to examine all the DNA matches for which ThruLines has indicated my fourth great-grandfather Warren Taliaferro as our most recent common ancestor.
Specifically, I've been checking the twenty one matches who descend from Warren Taliaferro's daughter Mary Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Firth Rainey. Because that daughter who was my direct line ancestor was the youngest of their children, and because she died young, herself, I've been curious to see whether I could reconstruct the family lines of her older siblings. This has become a real challenge, which I hoped could be eased by using a tool like DNA to augment what little I could find in documents from the 1850s when her family was still all together.
Out of those twenty one DNA matches from that specific line of Warren's daughter Mary Elizabeth, fifteen were descendants of my ancestor's next-oldest brother. Named after his father, this junior Thomas Firth Rainey was already well known to me, because at the death of their parents, both Thomas and my direct ancestor, Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey, had been taken in by their aunt and uncle, and they were listed there in that household for the 1870 census.
Researching young Thomas had been fairly easy. I was able to follow him from his native Georgia, through nearby Alabama where he met his wife, and eventually to Texas, where he settled and raised his family. I was also able to document each of his children, then his wife's death and Thomas' subsequent marriage to her sister and the children born to him from that marriage as well. It is not surprising to see so many of his descendants represented among my DNA matches.
However, what I was really hoping for were DNA matches who had descended from the many other Rainey siblings both Thomas and my second great-grandmother shared. Though an older brother and sister had each died untimely deaths, what had become of their other six siblings?
With the exception of one other Rainey sibling—Sarah, born about 1835—I had been unable to locate documentation explaining what became of them. As with the lack of documentation, the ThruLines tool seemed to indicate that the only other Rainey sibling with a life story to be preserved on paper had also been the only one whose descendants' DNA has since been tested.
That is not to say the others didn't have descendants. They may very well have survived to adulthood—notwithstanding a brutal war that interrupted their younger adult years—and had children of their own. It's just that I can't find any paper trail to explain who those descendants might have been. And, from this quick glance at ThruLines for this ancestral line, it appears that none of the possible descendants of those siblings have chosen to test their DNA, or have enough DNA matching my own results to show up in such a test as the one currently used at Ancestry.com.
With all the possibilities for why a potential Rainey descendant might not show up as one of my DNA matches, I am certainly appreciative of the fact that at least two of my ThruLines matches did descend from another Rainey sibling: Sarah. Though she married a man with that next-to-impossible surname to research—Smith—I had been able to document the four daughters born to that marriage, as well as the four children born to her subsequent marriage to Hartford C. Fischer. And now, DNA provides the extra confirmation that Sarah was indeed an additional surviving child of Thomas Firth Rainey and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro.
Granted, these results are gleaned strictly from the ThruLines reports which, along with DNA results, focus on trees constructed by other Ancestry.com subscribers—potential mistakes and all. An alternate route would be to return to all those Rainey/Taliaferro ThruLines matches and check the "shared matches" for each distant cousin, to see whether any other descendants materialize. And, of course, there will always be more people testing their DNA in the future; someone in that yet-to-test bunch may turn out to provide me with the answers I'm seeking, enabling me to push those brick wall boundaries out another generation.
For now, with only one additional day left in the month before I launch into a new research project, I'll try my hand at cleaning up the ThruLines results on another surname I've been meaning to tackle: my Tilson line, which eventually leads me all the way back to the Mayflower. Tough assignment for a brief twenty four hours, and one I'll likely revisit in a coming year, as well.