Saturday, October 18, 2014

DNA News: Episode 4 of "Finding Your Roots" & Overwhelmed With New Information

Episode 4 of "Finding Your Roots" was another interesting episode with fun DNA results. The episode theme was Civil Rights and Freedom. Ben Affleck's mother was a Freedom Rider in the 1960's.  It was so funny to hear the former President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, is mostly white only 18% African. On the flip side Khandi Alexander had more African than she expected, she seemed to change her identification from black to African. The most moving story in this episode was how one of Ben Jealous' ancestors purchased his freedom, and that of his wife and children. He was able to do this because he was a trained shoemaker, an unusual occupation for a slave.

It was great to see an explanation of how DNA testing works in this episode. Instead of showing the stock film blood vials they showed the accurate testing process and explained that saliva was used. I'm sure more people would pursue a saliva test rather than a blood test. I hope this encourages more people to test.

Looking at Ben Jealous I could predict he had a high percentage of European. Another guest on a previous show was quite dark complected and turned out to have more European than he expected. This brings me to my current projects. Predictions based on appearances can turn out to be correct or incorrect. The genealogical proof standard requires inferences drawn from appearances to be checked out by doing a reasonably exhaustive search. I'm turning more and more to DNA to support my inferences.

In  mid 2001 I began focusing my genealogy research on the Mason family line. I found some information about the family posted on message boards, which were the popular social networking media at the time. I received some great leads from a 3rd cousin, Sophia Preston. She posted some information about our common Mason line. She referred me to another Mason researcher with additional information. With their help I discovered the locations of our Masson family in Quebec, Canada. It was easy to trace the family back hundreds of years due to the fact that transcriptions of the extensive record collections in Quebec were available online at this point.

After quickly putting together a huge family tree for the Mason line I moved to my ancestor Peter Mason's American wife's family. His wife was Mary Owens. That's what I started with in 2001. I had a great lead on her parents when I found two of her sister's living with the Mason family in 1880 in Mattoon, Il. It was easy to find them  living with their father in 1870 in Mattoon, Il. His name was William F. Owens. I later found a Nancy Owens wife of William F. buried in a local cemetery. She would have been in the right age range to be the mother of my Mary Mason, and her siblings. Their mother was not in his household in 1870, she was probably the Nancy I found in the cemetery who died in 1865?

According to the children of William F. he was born in Kentucky, and their mother was born in Ohio. I looked for a marriage for a William F. Owens to a Nancy. I found such a marriage in Clermont, Ohio. A William F. Owens married a Nancy Hicks in Clermont, and they matched the Census description regarding where they were born. I found them in 1850 with two sons , James H. and John W. living in Clermont, Ohio. From there I looked for them in 1860. At that point in time the online Census information was sparse and the search function didn't always show matches with similar names. It took many months before I found them listed with the name spelled Owen and initials used instead of full names. I found Mary and all her siblings including James H. and John W. from the 1850 Census. These eldest siblings had disappeared from the area in Mattoon, Illinois early on.

By March 2002 I was able to find proof that Mary's mother's maiden name was Hicks. It came from a marriage record for her sister which listed her mother as Nancy Hicks, and her father was listed as William F.. Her own marriage record from a decade before did not contain her parents' names.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I found out what became of William F. and Nancy's eldest sons. I found some information about them at Find-a-grave and made contact with descendants through this site (you can read my 2012 post here. I later exchanged info with Pam and Justin.) I also found more information posted in Ancestry trees. Pam and Justin provided me with loads of additional information. I also discovered that one of the male Owens in my line Y DNA tested which helped confirm some of my inferences about this Owens ancestral line.

I was fairly confident I had traced this line correctly. I was a little apprehensive because I didn't have very much info about my Great-Grandfather Mason. I had heard he was French Canadian and used this knowledge to find his family in the Census. I believed I found him with the correct family. I had not known that he was originally from Mattoon, Ill. I was only aware of the family living in Chicago. I asked an Aunt and she said she believed I was on the correct track, and he was from Mattoon.

All of my apprehensiveness disappeared when the third cousin I had located on the message board years earlier tested at 23andme. We compared at GEDmatch and there was absolutely no doubt we were from the same Mason family from Mattoon. We shared more DNA than most third cousins. So the Mason line was confirmed with DNA.

Darrell Owens 3rd cousin 1x and me
I purchased an AncestryDNA kit on sale in August. I decided to give it to an Owens/ Hicks line cousin to confirm this relationship and hopefully find additional cousins in these lines. The results came in on last Wednesday, exactly 3 weeks after it was received. We were predicted to be 3rd cousins by Ancestry (great news!). We are actually 3rd cousins once removed, good prediction. Unfortunately Ancestry's raw data download feature was down until yesterday. It was so hard to wait for this to be fixed. I was on pins and needles the whole time. It was incredible to see how much DNA we shared in common. We had some 30 cM segments. There was a chance we wouldn't share any DNA at all. Our Cousin Sophia shared a 9 cm segment on a different chromosome, a lot less than either my Aunt or myself. That's the fickle nature of DNA inheritance.

Susan and Nan's Aunt
Another great match came in on the same day. My 5th cousin Nan Harvey's Aunt's results also came in on Wednesday. She turned out to be a much stronger match with my Mom and I than Nan. So now we have some good sized segments for triangulation. She was predicted to be a 4th to 6th cousin to both my Mom and I, which is the correct range. My cousin Susan is actually Nan's aunt's strongest match.

With our growing segment collection I'm hoping to reconstruct some of these lines.

There are so many changes occurring in the genealogy industry. Family Tree DNA released news about many new features which will be offered to customers at their group administrator conference. They rolled out one of those changes this week offering those who upload raw data from AncestryDNA or 23andme (only v.3) the opportunity to try their service for free. They can see their highest ranked 20 matches for free. The price to see all of your matches is $39, which doesn't include the myOrigins feature. They also announced a social networking platform will be added to the site. Sharing photos and documents etc. should make the site more interesting to use. The ability for the public to search Family Tree DNA trees for their surnames should boost interest in testing. I would love to see the number of testers grow.

GEDmatch is undergoing some changes too. You will be able to access more tools if you donate $10. Using family kits to create ancestors' kit sounds interesting.

I mentioned finding an Owens cousin at The value of the trees and information attached to them can't be over estimated. Most of my breakthroughs at Ancestry have been through documents attached to trees. A Wray line cousin contacted me to let me know she uploaded some pictures and manuscripts she found at their Kansas family home. I've never been to Kansas and would never have seen all of this had it not been for the networking opportunity provided by The old forums and mailing lists were helpful but didn't allow you to share documents and photos. It's been great with sites like Ancestry and Facebook that we can share information and coordinate DNA testing and find cousins to test.

I've had so much information coming at me so fast I need to stop researching for a while and start adding my new facts to my tree and my new segment information to Genome Mate .

Sophia's only shared segment with our 3rd cousin 1x removed

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