The journey so far
A momentous milestone was achieved last month, and no, it wasn’t that I have written about ANY of my ancestors for the 52 ancestors challenge, the main reason for starting this blog site 2 years ago! At the time, I was very enthusiastic and excited by the thought of the project but I must have known I couldn’t keep up the weekly challenge given the tagline ‘starting small!’ It’s probably fitting that my inaugural post is about my genetic research, when you think of how totally obsessed I have become with solving various mysteries associated with my ancestral roots in the past few years.
Cause for celebration – I now have 52 confirmed DNA ancestors! It has however been a long hard slog and don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. You might think 52 confirmed ancestors is a lot, but if we go out 7 generations (that’s to 6th cousins) we all have a total of 254 direct ancestors who may have contributed to our DNA. So after 6 years since my Family Finder autosomal test with FTDNA I am about 20% of the way there, but don’t forget much of what I have achieved so far is what they call ‘low hanging fruit!’ Of those 52, 28 of those are clearly confirmed and the remaining 24 we have confirmed connections back to 12 sets of ancestral couples.
To start doing DNA research, getting your head around the 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is the most important first step, no one can explain that better than Roberta Estes. Reading her stories about how DNA has helped her in understanding her family history as part of the 52 ancestors challenge is always inspiring.
I just thought I’d share some quick comments about my progress to date on each of the 4 Kinds of DNA:
Passed down from father to sons. Being female I don’t have any Y-DNA passed to me from my father. A common problem in our family, particularly on my maternal side, is that the male line had a tendency to die out. So I have had to rely on the generosity of other extended male family members to help me. So far, I have test kits for my COAT, ROBERTS, CASSIDY and SWEENEY lines. I am still searching for possible candidates for my BRADLEY, GRIFFIN and MURPHY lines. In particular the COAT line has given me loads of interesting follow up research, but I’ll tell you more about that in a subsequent post! These tests helped me confirm 7 of my 52 ancestors, so 13%.
Mitochondrial DNA – better known as mtDNA.
Only females can take this test, but unlike Y-DNA which only gets passed down to sons, women pass this on to all their children. I had the full sequence mtDNA test back in early 2011 and six years later only have six matches and all of them at a genetic distance of 3, which many say is too far out to worry about! My maternal haplogroup is J1c5, it is said to have originated between 8-13,000 years ago, European, but often found in West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia or North Asia. My maternal line traces back to County Clare in Ireland. By contrast, my fathers maternal haplogroup (which I was able to obtain by testing a distant cousin), is H1a1e, also European and originating 15-20,000 years ago, also found at significant frequency in the Near East and in some Middle Eastern populations. It is the most common haplogroup for most Europeans being about 14% of the population. Consequently, it is not so surprising that we have 192 full sequence matches, with 37 of them a genetic distance of 1. Unfortunately, no DNA confirmations have yet come from these two tests.
I like to think of this as the ‘cousins’ test. It’s the part I love best, trying to untangle lines and identify where your DNA segment matches are coming from, a great big puzzle! Unlike Y-DNA and mtDNA it can’t just be attributed to one person up the line, but any of them! This means finding other cousins to compare your results to. You can either recruit more testers or just build on your results as you find matches. Every new confirmed match is a clue to finding more matches. The remaining 45 confirmed ancestors (including the 12 couples) I have found from this type of analysis. After about 5 years of research I was only up about 17 of these, mainly confirmations of my known tree through targeted testing. In 2015, I reached a turning point, a Mac version was released of Genome Mate Pro and I haven’t looked back. The program helps you be systematic in your approach to your research and results show for themselves. If you haven’t used it yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go, it’s a free download and they have a great support network.
Not to be confused with mtDNA, the X chromosome has special inheritance patterns and in theory can help you find your common ancestor. I’ve had a lot of fun colouring in my charts which you can find on The Genetic Genealogist, by Blaine Bettinger which I do for all my known cousins so I know when ‘X’ might be relevant. I haven’t had any success, YET, in having this help me confirm any ancestors but it has helped me narrow down the possibilities for some of my autosomal matches.
Why did I start this and where to from here?
I started out on my DNA journey to test a theory about my very elusive 2nd great grandfather, the father of Abigail COURTNEY, Arthur George COURTENAY or is it really George William COURTNEY? I am no closer to finding him than I was when I started but I have now finally established that there are no known male descendants who may have carried his Courtney Y-DNA. So, its only autosomal testing that can help me – one segment at a time!
The other major goal is to identify the father of my paternal grandmother, Thelma Irene GRIFFIN. The mystery man who must have been in Adelaide, South Australia around 1903. I am in search of cousins from her known GRIFFIN line to help me isolate that DNA from the segments I have inherited from her father. I thought I had a contender, right place, right time, but as will happen with DNA, subsequent testers have proven that those segments came from my fathers paternal side. Back to the drawing board…. If you are a Griffin cousin please let me know if you are interested in helping with this research.
Bye for now, back to marking DNA match segments for me. Hope it won’t be another 2 years between posts!