17 January 2011

Brick Wall Success with 67 marker Y-DNA Test

Randy Majors recently shared his website and this story with me. It's a wonderful story that shows the qualities of good genealogical research, perseverance, and how together with DNA testing you can break those brick walls. I urge you to read the entire journey on his website as this is only a summary. Congratulations Randy and thank you for sharing with all of us!

He writes:

I recently wrote a narrative about how I broke through a long-time brick wall using a combination of traditional genealogical research methods and genetic genealogy. It's about my great great-grandfather John Charles Brown, or at least that's who we thought he was...

For 130 years – from 1880 to 2010 – John Charles Brown’s past was hidden in veils of secrecy. John’s children and grandchildren didn’t know who his parents or siblings were. It was the proverbial genealogical brick wall. Therefore, since this was one of my most difficult family lines I could research, I researched it.

The basic problem is that we didn't have any confirmed record of John's existence for the first 28 years of his life...from his birth in December 1858 to his marriage in April 1887. Birth certificates were not required in Illinois in 1858, so that simpler approach to determining his parents was not possible. But in that time-frame, John should have appeared in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census at a minimum, as well as perhaps a state census or two...and that could have led to whom his parents were. And it did, eventually, but not how you might expect!

In summary, the steps I took over the last few years are these:

--- I researched all the traditional genealogical resources I could find (e.g. census records, vital records, church records, newspapers, and so on)

--- I talked with family members to find any information they had on John, and importantly, any stories or memories they recalled. I found it was critical to talk with the older living relatives who were alive at the time when John was still alive; he died in 1928, so there were still at least a couple of grandchildren living.

--- After hitting a brick wall on anybody knowing who John's parents or siblings were, I then dug deeper on trying to find additional sources including church records from where he was born, land and legal records from around the time of his marriage, newspaper clippings, and so on.

--- After uncovering plenty records since the 1887 marriage, but lots of nothing before that, I went back to the basics of what I knew or thought I knew. There were a few clues in the oral traditions from older family members so, on a hunch, I reduced the name searches in census records to first names and did some wildcard clues that used elements of the locations, occupations, birthplace of parents, etc., previously found. This led me to a specific family that I suspected could be John's family. (There is much more detail on this in my full narrative.)

The problem was that the family I found in 1860 and 1870 census records had a totally different surname. So continuing, I tried to disprove that this candidate-family with the different surname was in fact John and his family, but I couldn't disprove it. This compelled me that much more to try to turn my hypothesis into a certainty. I recalled that there was a direct male descendant of John Charles Brown whom I had made contact with earlier that year. He too knew nothing of John's parents or siblings and was equally baffled. After some time, he decided to have a 67-marker y-DNA test performed at Family Tree DNA. And the rest is history.

Check out the full narrative and what was ultimately discovered here:

Hopefully, this story offers some ideas that others may try on their brick wall ancestors!

11 January 2011

mtDNA Success Story at Family Tree DNA

Any DNA success story is a success for all of us! Each one shows us a way to use testing to help our brick walls. Each step in discovering how we can test to get beyond those blocked paper trails is one for our side: Score one for the genealogists!

Thank you Joy for your story...


My genealogy interest began in my single-digit years. Grandpapa Eldred Lowe would come from the island of Abaco, Bahamas to the capital city Nassau on business. He stayed with us. After supper my parents sat with him to relax and converse. I’d hide behind the sofa, shy and out of sight, to listen. Even though I did not know the persons they spoke of, the fact that they were our family intrigued me.

In my teen years, I visited Abaco and met our family. I liked them, and wanted to learn more. Life opened a distant trail to me. After marriage to an Oregonian, there I transplanted. The move in 1964 motivated the start of a paper collection of my people in the Bahamas. Dad lived 90 years, sharp to the end. After mother died, I began to record the historical family stories that poured from him. The collection grew to an enjoyable hobby for a senior—genealogy and writing dad’s family stories for our grandchildren.

A genealogy program on the computer manages the data, while the internet links the Bahamas Genealogy Group researchers. Here I learned of the Bahamas DNA Project. Peter J. Roberts is the volunteer leader. I wrote to Peter, provided my maternal ancestry for four generations, then an unknown blank, a mother who had lived in Abaco, Bahamas about 1800.

For Christmas 2006, I gave myself the gift of doing the mtDNA test. I had no expectation, no idea what this might reveal.

What a surprise when the results came. I MATCHED Anita Laurie Albury, who still lives at Abaco, Bahamas. Anita, and I had NO knowledge that our maternal families connected. Peter pointed us to the uncommon name of both grandmothers: Anita’s Amana Roberts, and my Amana Russell, both born at Cherokee Sound, Abaco. Plus the fact that I wear the middle name Amana.

I never knew my maternal grandmother. She died four years before my birth. But I did know Anita’s grandmother, Ms. Mana. A widow, she worked in Nassau during the 1950s. We have the paper trail for both AMANA grandmothers, and back to their grandmothers, a Lenora Pinder for Anita’s line, and her sister Frances Pinder of my line.

A recent—2009—mtDNA test has a third match with us—another sister of Lenora and Frances—Sarah Jane, who moved to Key West, Florida after marriage. So far, we do not know their parents’ names. A clue may come from a note in my mother’s journal that speaks of “Grandma Charity”. We watch and wait for verification.

The small girl no longer hides—she sits comfortable and confident in an interview. Still intrigued, and curious, she listens and shares in order to learn.

©Joy A Lowe Jossi, 202 SW 14th St, Gresham OR 97080 joyjos@juno.com 3 Apr 2009

09 January 2011

Family Finder Success Story For Pitts DNA Project

For the next few posts, I will include various success stories that have been shared with me by the administrators of a DNA project. They varying in nature and will allow the reader to see how DNA testing can help with genealogy.

Posting success stories can lead others interested in the same surname to your project. If you have other stories you would like posted, please email me at: aulicino@hevanet.com

Family Finder is an autosomal test taken through Family Tree DNA. This test allows both males and females to find matches with each other back four generations, at least. Read my previous posts on this test for more detail.

Family Finder Success Story for Group 1 on the Pitts DNA Project

We had long suspected that Mary Lenora Pitts was a daughter of Pitman Pitts and Mary C. Andrews. This was, in part, due to the 1860 census showing Mary and another girl (we think granddaughters) living with Mary C. Andrews Pitts. We had tried for several years to figure out a way to test this hypothesis using mtDNA by testing the descendants of Mary Lenora Pitts to a living person was a direct female line. But the other two daughters of Mary C. did not produce a viable direct female line.

The autosomal Family Finder test, however, made testing this hypothesis easy since the lines could be mixtures of males and females. We matched on chromosome 3 and my sister matched on a slightly larger segment in the same area on chromosome 3. My 3rd cousin once removed (verified by both Family Finder and Y-DNA 67 markers exact) matched the descendant of Mary Lenora on Chromosome 5. My 1st cousin once removed, however, did not match. But failure to match with autosomal DNA does not preclude a relationship. We believe that three out of four possible matches is sufficient. We are fourth cousins.

David Pitts
Pitts DNA Project co-admin

If you are a male Pitts or have the Pitts surname in your lineage, contact the Pitts DNA Project.