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Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 24 Sep 2013 12:35AM GMT
Classification: Query
So, I will start out with saying I have not had any DNA testing done, and don't plan to in the foreseeable future, for various reasons. I am wondering though, if anyone has found information that they would not have found by diligent research alone. I understand it takes a lot of research to match possible relatives using your DNA results. But has anyone found anything groundbreaking, other than finding a bunch of sixth cousins, four times removed? I am not being sarcastic, I am just trying to figure what is it that makes it worth the effort to people.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 24 Sep 2013 3:31PM GMT
Classification: Query

My best example is my great-grandmother's mother. I knew her name and had a treasured family photo from 1888 of her with her father and sisters, her marriage record (an original handwritten copy, even), her husband's Bible stating her death date, and a family story that she had maybe been born in Mississippi. Sounds like a good start, but she died young and before the 1900 census, and the 3rd then the 4th wife raised her infant children, and any memory of her faded quickly. No death record, no succession record, no newspaper record, no cemetery record, no way to reasonably narrow down the 1880 census due to her common name, no known relatives, etc.

Because of a moderate-to-low (I forget which) DNA match here, and because it was the early days of the test when I had time to look carefully at every single match (all 200 of them back then, lol), I considered whether this DNA match's family with the same surname could be related to my family with that name. As I looked at this match's records, my ancestor seemed to fit very well with a daughter about whom nothing was known (by this researcher).

If I had diligently researched every family with this surname in mid-1800s Mississippi forward through all lines (in a situation of all daughters who married and changed their names), then I suppose *technically* I would have had the same light bulb go off as when I saw this match in my DNA list, but I think undertaking that task would have been an unrealistic expectation. I like to work collateral lines into the ground and chase all kinds of theories, but I don't have time to develop a well-sourced genealogy of everyone with a somewhat common surname in an entire state (which may not have even been where my ancestor was from).

When my Dad tested here, the same match came up as a high confidence match (3rd cousin), plus Dad had other matches here and at FTDNA to people who descended from these theoretical ancestors. When my great-aunt tested, she got the 3rd cousin match plus a 2nd cousin match who descends from what are her theoretical great-grandparents. She also has other matches related to this couple that my Dad didn't get, and a few of them seem willing to join GEDmatch, so I'm pretty excited that in won't be long before I can't cite specific matching segments as evidence.

If I'd researched exclusively with paper, which again would have taken years if not decades if I'd hoped to do other things in life as well, I'd at best have had an interesting theory with a few too many "could be coincidence" thoughts nagging at me to ever accept it to the point where I'd add these names to my family tree. DNA has definitely sealed the deal for me here.

That's just my best and brightest example. I now have had many experiences where the documentation was shaky but - thanks to several matches on the same segment - I'm now confident in the connection. I also have more theories/family stories without known documentation that are starting to look promising as a result of DNA.

The breakthroughs depend on luck: who else tests and what they put in their tree. My husband, who is not American (and thus tested at FTDNA due to the more international database), has not found a single identifiable cousin. He has a couple of really close matches, but they haven't responded. Bad luck. But me, I had my biggest brick wall break down because of autosomal DNA testing. (And my second biggest is crumbling due to yDNA testing.) It's all pretty amazing and is only going to get better.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 24 Sep 2013 4:49PM GMT
Classification: Query
I definitely have had success with a brother's Y-DNA test.

Our family goes by surname "A", but my papaw always told us, "we should have been "B". Papaw knew his father was born outside of marriage to "A" female and "B" male, and had gone by his mother's surname. After many years of struggling to document this A to B relationship, I finally found paper documentation as well as "B" surname cousins who knew of the relationship and were able to confirm it with even more documentation.

25+ years of research up that "B" line left me hitting a brick wall at my 4th Gr-Grandpa, so a brother did the Y-DNA test to help me out. We had some family lore that this 4G-Grandpa was supposedly "orphaned" and was raised by surname "C". When the DNA test came back....we were actually matching surname "C". Two other of our "B" surname cousins on different down-lines from mine did testing as well and matched my brother..all of us matching surname "C".

The DNA shows that my 4G-Grandpa "B" was born outside of marriage to "C" male and "B" female, and had gone by his mother's surname. Land records confirmed that surname "B" and surname "C" shared an adjacent property line for many years, and then county court orders, deeds, and other docs confirmed that these two families had always lived within very close proximity of each other even during their migration from western Maryland to southwestern Virginia.

Without the Y-DNA test, I may never have found my true "C" paternal lineage.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 25 Sep 2013 7:35AM GMT
Classification: Query
@ barbdale_1

Last year, I did the Ancestry DNA test in order to access the large database I anticipated would grow from testing of people with Ancestry family trees. In the first 30 days I had 4th cousin match on my results which led to the connection with a 1st cousin 1x removed in Virginia. Now this was not a "brick wall" break through that I believe you mean in your initial message. However, the connection has been personally satisfying as we are now reconnected with my Dads kin.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 25 Sep 2013 11:37AM GMT
Classification: Query
DNA has confirmed a couple relationships that have been assumed for many years but for which no paper trail has been found in a couple iffy spots. So that is helpful.

My best success with DNA was with someone that I have a significant match, but no "obvious" connection to their tree. I found one surname after looking at all 8000+ names in the list, but it was still not someone that I was researching.

BUT, when I saw that person's spouse's name and her parents AND looked through some of my spotty research on the surname of interest I found them quite connected through wills, guardian records, I had the paper trail but didn't know what to do with it without the DNA match.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 25 Sep 2013 4:18PM GMT
Classification: Query
I don't know what happened, but I did reply a couple of days ago, and it has disappeared. It definitely is appropriate for this board, and I am enjoying all of the replies. I can see how DNA testing has been helpful, and even essential in the examples you all have provided.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 25 Sep 2013 10:22PM GMT
Classification: Query
Edited: 25 Sep 2013 10:25PM GMT
Y-DNA (Y-STR) testing is essential for genealogical research. However, results are useful only when compared to others, which is why a person needs to join or start a surname project.

The most important use is assessing whether lineages in a tree are plausible. If someone does not closely match the others in a tree, either the paper trail is wrong or there has been a non-paternal event (NPE). We found two such cases.

It also focuses the research on orphan lines by paring down the number of families that might connect. This aspect was where the biggest successes in our project occurred. Researchers worked for decades to find connections of two families to one of the documented colonial families to no avail. DNA quickly gave us the answer: They were not related.

You may also uncover a very useful branch-defining mutation. This is one that occurs early on a very slowly mutating marker. The possibility of finding the same mutation in a different line (parallel mutation) means that faster markers need to be used carefully. We were lucky to uncover a mutation on DYS438, a very slow marker, that a family progenitor had, so we can readily identify members of this family by testing.

Another use is grouping people within a surname who match closely. This answers the question of whether all people with a low-frequency surname are related and has some networking value. Once in a while people will connect with someone who has an older tree. However, the DNA itself will not help extend the lineage. In projects that do not work with trees, the results can be spotty. Many people have joined them and been very disappointed with how little they got out of testing.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 27 Sep 2013 5:32PM GMT
Classification: Query
I have had numerous possible breakthroughs, stymied by the fact that Ancestry provides no way to properly verify their data. So IF I could convince a dozen strangers to upload their raw data to GedMatch, it is possible that I could prove the parentage of my 4th great grandfather. Numerous genealogists, much more qualified than I, have been searching for years and not been able to find documented proof. We have tried through Y-DNA and have "proven" several sons but do not match any of the people with the same surname who immigrated to America at the same time. I have numerous POTENTIAL autosomal matches to a possible line, but their one testee has Y-DNA totally different even to the haplogroup. Either the Ancestry matches are wrong, or the other person has a NPE he doesn't know about. Without seeing the chromosome match-up, I have nothing. Our only hope is on GedMatch - maybe someday.

So the potential is there. Ancestry may be thrilled with their "better mousetrap" but until I can verify the matches myself, I will continue to urge people to test at the other two companies.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 27 Sep 2013 6:27PM GMT
Classification: Query
One thing I am not clear on- say, you match someone according to the DNA. So, then you need to find out where the matching ancestors are through research. But what if that person's tree is not accurate? It seems like you would end up researching your own tree and theirs to prove the match.

Re: Has anyone had breakthroughs with DNA

Posted: 27 Sep 2013 7:51PM GMT
Classification: Query

That is exactly the challenge. Genetic genealogy is a research-intensive, collaborative effort. My best matches have been ones in which I exchanged information with the match, we both did supplementary research, and then figured out the connection together. Sometimes that required a correction in one or both of the family trees.

You can also come up with surprises. I have a well-documented 4th cousin relationship on paper with a man who shares my surname. But DNA testing revealed that we are not genetically related at alll and that there is a non-paternal event (adoption, surname change or out of wedlock birth) somewhere in his paternal lineage.

In terms of a breakthrough, not long ago I worked with one of my close matches and together we were able to confirm that person's suspicion that there was a non-paternal event in her family involving one of my ancestors. Without DNA testing we never would have been able to verify what had been a family rumor. There are a number of stories on the various message boards, here and with other companies, about adoptees or children of donors who were able to combine DNA testing with diligent research and discover their families of origin.

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