When I first heard about using DNA to help with genealogy, I wanted nothing to do with it. I felt like it would be “cheating” and would take all the fun out of the hunt! Well, times have changed!
For my first step into DNA, I asked my uncle if he would do a Y-DNA test to help me break through the brick wall of my ancestor, John M. Smith. Since the Y-DNA test shows your father’s father’s father’s, etc. line, I figured it would lead me directly to the pesky Smith who dared to name his son John! But no….it didn’t do that. That was several years ago. Since then, my mother and 2 aunts plus one of their cousins have all tested.
But I haven’t looked at much of anything related to DNA in quite a while. So this week, I decided to take a look to see if Ancestry ThurLines had any great hints for me.
I have a theory that John Smith, the son of John Schmidt is the father of my John M. Smith. Yes, that’s a lot of John Smiths! To keep my theory John Smith straight when looking at files, I think of him as “John Smith 1809” because that’s the year that he died. I have a copy of his will and within that, a list of his children. And yes, he had a son named John.
So I went to ThruLines for my mother’s kit and was thrilled to see several DNA matches that lead to John Smith 1809! Having multiple people connected to John 1809 must mean that my theory is correct, right?
To make sure, I wanted to see if any of these matches triangulated with the other matches. And they did not. Hmm. Since John 1809 was so many generations back, I thought that maybe we could all still be related to John 1809, but that we all got a different “piece” of his DNA. So I decided to write out the “path” from John Smith 1809 to each of the matches and then I would go back and prove each line for myself. And that’s when I noticed that none of the matches actually went back to any of John Smith 1809’s children.
Now if you look at the image, there is a solid line around John M. Smith, indicating that he is a “confirmed” son of John Smith in my tree. The 3 DNA matches coming through John M. Smith are my aunts and their cousin. But all of the rest are just dotted lines.
As I looked at the trees for these matches, they all showed that the person in the dotted boxes had last name of Smith, but few had a father named John Smith (most of them had no father listed at all), not to mention John Smith 1809. So what ThruLines has done is to look through all of my matches to see which people also have a Smith in their line that fit into the same approximate time period as John Smith 1809. They have taken information from all kinds of trees to try to piece together trees that might lead back to my John Smith 1809…whether these people know it or not.
Let me give you an example of how this is working. Notice the line on the far left for WE. Their line shows 5 generations between WE and Nancy Smith at the top. However, when I actually look at WE’s tree, they only have the 2 boxes above WE in their tree at all! The rest of the tree is hypothetical. After looking at other trees on Ancestry, ThruLines is saying that this MIGHT be a path to Nancy Smith who MIGHT be a child of John Smith 1809 based on the surname and date spread.
So is it a total waste of time? No, I wouldn’t say that. There are some interesting things to explore here. For example, Nancy Smith has 6 DNA matches to my mother in her line.
I will certainly be taking a look at these 6 matches. It’s easy to assume that THEY are all related – after all, Ancestry is showing me the tree and everything, right?
I’ve learned that I can’t make assumptions here, so I will be clicking on the “evaluate” button to see how “proven” each of these lines are, because to create this chart, Ancestry is looking at all kinds of trees to make connections. Not just trees of my DNA matches, but all trees. When you click on a button that says “evaluate”, you get several blocks of information. Here’s an example of a “proven” relationship in this chart.
I would need to click on each of these records to see if I agree that there’s enough proof for this relationship.
There are also boxes to tell me that there are 72 trees on Ancestry that also have this father/son relationship along with a link to each tree. Below each link, Ancestry tells me how many records each tree has attached to that individual, so I can decide if it’s worth clicking on or not. If there are zero records, I don’t even bother to click on it.
If I continue up the tree, I eventually get to Nancy Smith. When I click on her “Evaluate” button, I see this.
So what I think they are saying is that there is a DNA match who has a Smith connection at about the right time and that they MIGHT be a child of John Smith 1809, but that’s only based on the name Smith and only because I asked for matches that include a Smith. It would be interesting to see if any of these people show up in ThruLines for a different ancestor just because they also have THAT name in their tree.
So where do I go from here? I’ll definitely be following this group of 6 matches. Do they all triangulate? How far do I have to go back to “prove” that they are all connected to Nancy Smith? What other DNA matches do I have that might triangulate with any of these matches? Perhaps Nancy Smith WAS a daughter of John Smith 1809 and just wasn’t listed by name in the will, or perhaps she’s a niece of John Smith 1809, which would still be helpful to know.
Why doesn’t this ThruLine example have more concrete information for me? Because my target ancestor – John Smith 1809 is so many generations back. He would be my mothers 4th great-grandfather – 6 generations back. If DNA were passed down consistently to each new generation (which it isn’t) then my mother would only have about 1.5% of her DNA from John 1809. To find another DNA match would mean that they inherited the same small segment of DNA. Pretty low odds. And in this case, having the name John Smith certainly doesn’t help. But knowing that the odds are low doesn’t mean that I should stop looking! I’ll never find that match that I need if I don’t check out all of the possibilities! And Ancestry is trying to help me find that match!