Ancestry.com recently debuted ThruLines™, a new tool for working with your DNA matches that is now in beta testing. One aim is to partially automate the often arduous task of figuring out how you are related to your DNA matches. Matches are shown at the bottom of clear descendant charts, suggesting probable or possible relationships given the DNA data combined with data from people’s online trees.
The facility just appeared on my DNA home page the other day, and has already helped me in several ways: It has provided potentially corroborating evidence for relationships I am not 100% sure of; It has shown me how I am likely related to matches I had not been able to figure out before; and it has suggested possible “new” ancestors.
I should say that I am not an expert in genetic genealogy, and frankly if I could I would pay an expert to figure it all out for me. Still I am gradually learning and I have been able to make several interesting discoveries via DNA matches, including finding a new branch of my Dad’s Maybury ancestors from Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland.
Although it is a fantastic tool and very helpful, it is important to remember that errors in people’s trees or in the logic of tool can cause errors in the “potential ancestors”. (These are only suggestions for further research after all.)
I think errors might be especially likely in fairly inbred populations, like my maternal grandmother’s mostly Dutch and Huguenot branch, where the immigrant generation arrived in New Netherland in the 17th century, and the resulting population married mostly within the same ingroup up to the 20th century. They traded around the same genes over centuries, while also recycling the same given names so that there were several people of the same name living near one another at the same time.
For example, my grandmother’s great grandfather John C. Bogert (1800-1894) was the son of Cornelius J. Bogert and Catrina Garrison. The identity of his mother is fairly certain, partly because Catrina’s father John Hessels Garrison provided for her two children including John C. Bogert in his will. But ThruLines™ suggests that John’s mother may be a Catherine Westfall.
Now there was a Catherine Westfall who married a different Cornelius Bogert, and my Mom does have a distant cousin match with a person who is a descendant of this Catherine Westfall’s sister Charity. But looking at the Westfall sisters’ pedigree, they are related to my mother in two other ways, as descendants of both the Kool and Emans families.
So I do not think this slight genetic relationship is explained by John C. Bogert’s mother being Catherine Westfall rather than Catrina Garrison. I think these seven centimorgans on one DNA segment have been passed down to both my Mom and the Westfall descendant from some other mutual ancestor, perhaps a Kool or an Emans. It is probably a good idea though to check out these suggested ancestors even if they do–especially if they do–contradict our own research.
So what are my favorite ThruLines™ so far? Some are impressive just because they allow me to see clearly the sheer number of matches descending from one particular ancestor. Even when you have a solid paper trail, it is gratifying to view a lot of genetic evidence for the relationship laid out in a nice chart.
For example, my Mom has a brick wall ancestor named John Meshech Grover, who was shipwrecked off Sable Island, Nova Scotia 28 Sep 1812 while aboard HMS Barbadoes. He had two children who left descendants, Jasper Sidney who remained in Nova Scotia, and James Jacob who moved to Lynn, Massachusetts. My Mom matches at least 47 other AncestryDNA customers who are descendants of these brothers. (I believe there are still more who either do not have their DNA results attached to a tree, or who have such a rudimentary tree that the tool cannot build their relationship to John Meshech.)
The graphic display is even more satisfying when it lays out your hard-won families, like my husband’s Irish Catholic ancestors from County Mayo. It took me years to get back to his third great-grandparents Peter Noone (c. 1800-?) and Bridget Hopkins (c. 1806-1879) of Killacorraun in Crossmolina parish, and to prove eight of their children. (I think I might still be missing a few.) So it is great to see my husband matching 17 descendants of this couple, through five of their known children.
I have my own murky Irish lines, including the Maybury family mentioned above. Documentation is solid back to Killarney land steward James Maybury (c. 1799-1870) and his wife Maria Shaw (1812-1888) who had at least ten children. Before James and Maria the records are so thin that everything is unsure, though it seems likely that James’ father was another land steward, William Maybury (c. 1765-1858).
James is said to have had a relative Elizabeth who married a Thomas Nicholson and moved to Canada. I have spent a lot of time researching Elizabeth (_____) Nicholson (c. 1801-1897), whose British Columbia death certificate does not list her parents, but whose gravestone does say she was a native of Killarney. ThruLines™ is linking my Dad to two 4th cousins via this Nicholson family, and these test takers do match Maybury descendants from other branches, so I think Elizabeth probably was related to James, possibly even as his sister.
There are many examples like the Degauche/Degoosh chart above, where ThruLines™ shows our matches to cousins whose lines branched off as early as the mid 18th century from our direct ancestors, corroborating (though not proving) descent from the common ancestor.
Will ThruLines™ help me break through any brick walls? Unfortunately there are no “potential ancestors” yet for my worst one, Calvin Luther Norton (1844-1888). There is a promising one for my mother-in-law’s ancestor Daniel Bagby (c. 1770-1828), who lived in Buckingham County, Virginia and Carroll County, Tennessee. I need to go through each potential ancestor systematically and try to corroborate or disprove the suggested relationships. I am sure Ancestry.com will continually refine the tool, so that it becomes increasingly helpful. It is already a great addition to their DNA analysis features.