Sunday, March 17, 2024

From a Mother of Mothers


This month, I've been taking my research cue from a mother of mothers—my fifth great-grandmother on my matriline, that is. Elizabeth Lewis, wife of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer, has been my focus mainly in the hope of pushing back through the generations even further to determine just how I match four "exact matches" on my mitochondrial DNA test.

The mtDNA test, you may recall, is the specialized DNA test which can confirm deeper ancestral roots than can the commonly-taken autosomal DNA test. Not only can it reveal our ancestors' geographic wanderings and ethnic heritage of that one specific branch of our family tree, but it can also tie us together with other matches reaching far back in time. The reason? The slower mutation rate for mitochondrial DNA allows us to "see" farther back in time.

Still, taking the mtDNA test does not mean we are handed answers to our genealogical questions on the proverbial silver platter. In my case, I have only four matches who are considered "exact matches"—in other words, there is no mutation evident in comparing our tests. While that may sound precise, an exact match can mean I share a common ancestor on my matriline with my match which might reach back two hundred years—or even farther back in time.

Of my four matches, only one had posted a tree which reached back to our ancestral nexus. That shared ancestor was born about 1700, not a bad stretch for a DNA test. As for the other matches, our mutual connection might be years beyond that three hundred year mark.

Still, I keep pushing back on the matriline—as well as mapping out all descendant lines connected to each mother of mothers. Now that I'm up to my matrilineal fifth great-grandmother, and since that can still be a genetically reachable ancestor for the autosomal test, I've also been keeping an eye on my ThruLines matches linked to Elizabeth Lewis, as well as her husband, Thomas Gilmer. Right now, that readout shows sixty two autosomal DNA matches with other descendants of Thomas Gilmer, and fifty nine matches linked to Elizabeth herself.

As I work my way through those ThruLines matches, confirming connections for each entry, adding those matches to my tree becomes another way that family tree keeps growing. Right now, I have 38,196 people in my family tree. With an increase of 169 over the past two weeks, the rate of increase has slowed from previous biweekly advances. However, I can safely say the reduced research speed can be attributed to having to resort to records of the 1700s and early 1800s to confirm family connections. And reading those handwritten documents can certainly put the brakes on research speed—even with the help of AI innovations at

As I continue my biweekly progress checks, the route I am now taking becomes more challenging. My next step will be to move to Elizabeth's own parents, focusing especially on her mother. From there, I'll repeat that same process for another generation—and keep going, as long as I can find supporting documentation available.

Incredibly, at this point, that document source is still housed in North America, though by this point, we will begin edging into the British colonial era. Fortunately for my purposes, Virginia—both state and colony—serves as a fascinating repository of historical documents, which may allow us to push further back in time than we could otherwise have hoped.

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