Maybe you’re one of those hard-to-shop-for people who already has everything. So, for a holiday gift this year, maybe you got a DNA test kit from Ancestry.com or another company that was advertising them at a cut rate. You spit in the tube, send it off, find out what the pie chart of your ethnicity shows by way of percentages European, Asian, African, etc., then what?
We did the test a few years ago, after I was charmed by an Ancestry.com vendor at Rootstech.
Oddly (to me), most of the DNA connections I’ve found through ancestry.com have no pedigree listed on the site at all, so I have no earthly idea how I’m related to them. You can go and see what matches you have in common with them, and then presume that you’re related to them through a common ancestor from the match in common. But when you have some Smiths, Williams’s, and other such very common names in the various ancestral lines, it could be any one of them.
For one thing, my parents’ few siblings had no children, so I have no first cousins. The second cousins should be the descendants of my grandparents’ siblings. So I would have at least 4 common ancestors with a DNA match who is a second cousin. Third cousins: we would have 8 common ancestors to be descended from. Fourth cousin: 16 common ancestors. Unfortunately, in the majority of my matches, I have to guess which one of the 32 common ancestors the match is descended from. That generation (5th cousin) is my great-great-great grandparents, and most people haven’t gotten that far in their research. But, some people have gotten far. And maybe they can help me, because when you go back many generations, there weren’t as many people in the world.
Another quirky thing about the DNA test, is that a person inherits 50% of his or her DNA from their mother and 50% from their father. So it is actually possible for a brother to have a DNA match and his sister to not have that match. I have seen that first hand, since my son and daughter both had their test results registered on the site. The DNA match I’m referring to would be at the level of distant cousin.
Ancestry also has an affiliated phone app called “We’re Related.” You also have to link up with Facebook somehow, to get matches. And DNA has nothing to do with these matches, they’re all based on the pedigree you’ve entered on the site, and enhanced by information from other people’s pedigrees, I guess. So every now and then, we get a notice from “We’re Related” telling us who may be a cousin, and exactly how we are possibly related. This week, for me, it was Steve McQueen.
When we first get the notice of a match, it’s fun and interesting to see who is our distant cousin, but I never took it very seriously, since practically everyone in the US who has colonial ancestors, is related at the level of tenth cousin or so, right? [Or, as one friend put it, “we’re all brothers and sisters when you go back to the beginning!”]
But it wasn’t until I was reading a blog called A Tree Grew in Oakland that I realized I should be checking the connections given in these notifications, to see if they are feasible. I knew by clicking on the 10 in the notice above, and seeing the ten generations the site came up with for my lineage, that I only had an ancestor for the prior 5 generations. It ended with my furtherest-back ancestor, a great-great grandmother, but they listed 5 more generations previous to hers. You could say that I had a brick wall. I didn’t know where she came from. I still don’t know for sure, but these new connections are feasible, and when I entered some of the information, hints popped up to show that there are historical records that confirm the data.
Another coincidence is that a few days before, I’d gotten a notice that Derek Jeter is possibly my 8th cousin. When I clicked on the 8 to see what they came up for our common ancestor, the lineage included that same great-great grandmother, but this time it showed three previous generations in her maternal line, rather than paternal like the Steve McQueen connection.
Amazing, do you think that great-great grandmother wanted her lineage to be found? Time to stop all the fun speculation and actually follow up on some of these leads.
As Pat Shaul, the author of A Tree Grew in Oakland, says, not all of the connections on “We’re Related” are correct. But when he wrote that he had some checking to do, it hit me that those speculative relationships from Ancestry.com can be a gold mine of a starting point for research!