The time has come to get off the bench and get into the game. You can’t procrastinate about learning about DNA and what it can do for your genealogical research any longer. DNA is the most recent addition to our genealogical research toolkit and I can personally attest to its power.
DNA tests are a necessary expense in our research. There are four primary providers of DNA tests (in alphabetical order): 23andMe, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage. A fifth company, Living DNA, located in England, currently tests for the purpose of helping isolate where in England and Wales your ancestors may have originated. Each of the companies places their test kits on sale from time to time and watching for sales can save you 20-40% of the unit price. There are sometimes specials in which you can buy multiple test kits and get one free. At least one provider offers free shipping when you buy multiple kits.
Let’s not go into the educational details of DNA testing. There are many online webinars, genealogy meetings and conferences with face-to-face presentations, books, and other materials available if you look for them.
I’ve been working with DNA to some extent for a number of years and was a very early tester with Ancestry. I’ve since tested with Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and, because I’m actively researching my English and Welsh ancestry, with Living DNA. The DNA test results have included ethnic origins, and this has assisted in verifying my traditional research. The autosomal test results have provided me with matches to other researchers’ test results. This has helped me make compare my traditional results with that of others, and to make contact with individuals.
I want to share the story of one autosomal DNA match that recently made me do the Genealogy DNA Happy Dance!
My paternal grandmother, Laura Augusta “Minnie” Wilson (1873-1966) was the youngest of nine children in her family. She had three sisters and five brothers. One of her brothers, Joseph “Joe” Patterson Wilson, was born on 1 March 1868. He married Frances “Fannie” Lamb Mims in 1909 and he became a hotel proprietor in Columbia, South Carolina, and Ridgecrest, North Carolina. Their first child died at birth, but three others followed. On 21 December 1916, Joe and his family were visiting his parents’ home for the Christmas holidays. He had driven his wife, their three children, and one of his sisters into the city and on the way back collided his automobile with a mule-drawn wagon. He suffered a fatal head injury but everyone else in the car and the wagon survived. Eight months later, another son was born to his wife.
In my family research, it was clear that my grandmother and her remaining siblings had lost touch with Fannie and the children. I began seriously looking for the family in 2012 using the Internet using websites, newspapers, and other materials. I was able to trace Frances and the children in the 1920 US census in Columbia but not after that. I ultimately discovered in Find A Grave that she died on 1 May 1962 and was buried beside Joe in Columbia. However, I also discovered her second husband, George W. Thomas, was buried on her other side. This led me on a research chase for the obituaries for Frances W. Thomas and George W. Thomas, and I learned that they were living in Miami, Florida, at the time of the 1930 US census and the 1935 and 1945 Florida census. Further research helped me fill in some gaps and the fact that they moved back to Columbia before their deaths.
I now wanted to trace my cousins, Joe and Fanny’s four children. I dug in on my research and was able to trace three of them, but I came up empty on the fourth after the 1945 Florida census. My research was stalled – until I got into my DNA results.
As I grew more astute in the use of the results of my DNA tests, I explored and exploited the tools offered by each of the testing companies. One of those tools is Ancestry’s DNA Circles. One of those is for my second great-grandfather William Patterson. Another researcher’s results matched one of the four children. I reviewed the information in our common matches and the person’s tree, and this matched what I had found in my traditional research. I then sent a blind message to the researcher to try to establish contact. I received a reply several days later telling me that he/she had all the information I was looking for and many photographs.
I can’t share any more specifics because of ethical and privacy considerations. However, because of the use of DNA we have not only now begun sharing information, we are now reconnecting our family lines – 102 years after the tragic automobile accident that began the loss of contact between us all.
I urge you to get started with DNA education and begin using this important tool to verify your own traditional research and to make connections with those severed family lines.
Here are two excellent books on the subject of DNA:
Bettinger, Blaine T., Ph. D., J.D. The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. Family Tree Books, 2016.
Bettinger, Blaine T., Ph. D., J.D. and Debbie Parker Wayne. Genetic Genealogy in Practice. National Genealogy Society, 2016.