This is my first post on a few DNA-related things I’ve been doing. I began a little DNA testing about 6 months ago, and I’ve found it confusing, bewildering, and totally awesome. I’ll report my adventures here from time to time, but for advice on DNA, better look elsewhere. Here are some helpful sources from people who are knowledgeable:
- Your Genetic Genealogist
- The Genetic Genealogist
- DNA EXplained
- The Legal Genealogist
- The guidance and wikis on the testing sites
I have been involved in four tests.
Y-DNA – Family Tree DNA – a cousin
This 37-marker test of the Y or male chromosome was taken by a cousin named Anderson who is directly descended from my ggggg-grandfather James Anderson of Baltimore, and later of Chester, Nova Scotia. Two things are holding us back from benefiting from this test:
- many of our fellow test-takers seem to have some mystery in their direct male line, and their known first ancestor is more recent in time than James Anderson.
- Anderson is a common, and I mean common, name. There is an Anderson project, so that’s good, but we can’t make much out of our matches there. We do not have a lot of close matches, only one Anderson and a few Dagliesh/Douglas families.
I am glad we have this test recorded, but I think we need to try some other strategies.
MtDNA – Family Tree DNA – me
This is a test of the kind of DNA that goes from a woman to her children, but only can be passed on again by her daughters, not her sons, so over a long period of time is transmitted through a direct female line. I took this test because my direct maternal line does present a problem. My grandmother’s grandmother Jessie MacLeod Murdock came to Rhode Island from Pictou, Nova Scotia, but her background before that is murky, particularly regarding her mother, Rachel (last name unknown). I thought if I could at least find out about Rachel’s origins that might help me.
When the results came back, they looked good, since I had several “0” matches (meaning no mutations different than mine) and many “1’s”. However, there were two serious problems:
- many of the testers who showed up in the list knew very little about their maternal family tree or submitted no tree at all or seemed not to understand that for this test, most distant direct maternal ancestor should be listed, not the overall most distant ancestor.
- Of the matches where I COULD see direct maternal info, I was surprised at the wide range of origins. Germany, England, Russia, Ireland, Holland, and early U.S. settlers were represented. Doesn’t clarify things much. Clearly, we have some kind of strong MtDNA which has not changed in hundreds or should I say thousands of years.
So all in all, no help for me here although I suppose I have ruled out Native American origins, which were a possibility.
Autosomal DNA – Ancestry DNA – my father
Autosomal DNA is the bulk of one’s DNA, some of it being acquired from the mother, and some from the father. This test was of my father’s autosomal DNA.
Of all the tests, this one definitely led to the closest cousins. My father’s grandparents, Torquil and Sarah MacLean, had 11 children and dozens of grandchildren. So of course I have many second cousins in this line, and my father’s test matched with one of them, a woman about my age in Utah. I hope to get to meet her someday. There were many other third and fourth cousins, with names and locations familiar to me from my father’s Cape Breton family tree, although currently most of the descendants are living all over Canada and the U.S.
My father’s four grandparents were from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with Scottish origins in the Lewis and Harris regions on the western islands. So I was a little taken aback, at first, to see Dad’s ancestry come up as 54% Ireland and 41% Great Britain. But on closer inspection, I could see Scotland is included in those two designations. Looking at the shapes on the map, BOTH locations covered portions of Scotland, with the north western islands of Scotland representing the most remote coverage of each area. So it made sense; it easily could represent his Scottish roots.
Autosomal DNA – Ancestry DNA – my mother
My first surprise with Ancestry DNA is that when they alerted me that results were in, and I looked, there was almost nothing there. Oh well, I thought, that’s not so good. But surprisingly, a few days later I looked again and there was far more to see. And then I looked again two days after that, and there was even more. Apparently, the data must be present for a while before the matching starts to show.
Mom was 99% European, mostly British with some Irish, but I suppose some of the British/Irish originates in Scotland.
This is where we shout from the rooftops that DNA testing is better than dusty old archives any day (with apologies to dusty old archives, who were my first love). Once mom’s results really started rolling in, I saw close matches with ties to the Andrews, Sweet, and Matteson families of North Kingstown/East Greenwich/Warwick, Rhode Island. Two of the matches actually showed up as third cousins, I am guessing because they, and my mom, had multiple ties to those families (I have heard that multiple lines of descent can exaggerate the closeness of the genetic link between two people). Genealogy happy dance. Evidence (but not proof, at this point) that my Andrews family IS the same as the Jesse Andrews and Sally Arnold who married in Warwick in 1795. More on this to come.Other “matched” people at the fourth cousin level showed up pretty clearly in other spots on my tree, and it felt GREAT to see some scientific evidence backing up my carefully-grown family trees. And as I keep thinking about it, clearly I can keep scouring the many matches that turned up for links to other problem areas.
This will take a lot more work to really figure out, and as I start to think this through I realize it will take a new way of researching. Usually, ANY connection is a clue to be followed up on, but with DNA, only a direct link between generations will produce the matches I am seeing. It’s a new way to approach research, and everything that comes next is really a new road for me. A lot to learn. My goal is to prove that those matches did not come from some other connection.
Meanwhile, I talked two very nice fifth cousins descended from mom’s Nova Scotia ancestors into taking some extra tests I had. If they are related to my mom, both would be rather significant for me since they come from branches where I’m not sure if there was an adoption, or not. A bit of matching wouldn’t tell me exactly what I need to know, but could encourage me to keep looking.
I uploaded results to the free site GEDMatch.com, to see what additional matches I might find, and to try some of their other utilities, to get more from my results. More to come on that.
In other news
Mom and Dad do not appear to be related to each other. There was a possibility, since they both descend from MacLeods of Nova Scotia/Scotland, but GEDMatch did not find genetic ties.
I would like to begin a systematic testing of my parents and other relatives on the Family Tree DNA Family Finder test. That test allows you to pinpoint the specific DNA sections that match other people. I am hoping a sale comes up soon. This may end up including my Y-DNA testing cousins.
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