With all the recent discussion about Ancestry’s new “New Ancestor Discovery” feature rollout, and some wrong individuals being assigned as my ancestors, some people have been asking the question, “How do you know your tree is right?” In other words, how do I know those ancestors are not my genetic ancestors? As they correctly pointed out, NPEs and adoptions do occur.
And they are right, absolutely right. It’s a legitimate question, one that every one of us needs to answer for our own trees.
I answered their question briefly by saying that I have a combination of both paper genealogy and DNA for all ancestors through the 6th generation, which is true, but I want to share more than that. Plus, I wanted to take the time to really evaluate every single line individually to be absolutely positive of what I was saying, and to weigh the evidence. All too often, it’s not a handy-dandy yes or no, it’s shades of grey.
It’s important for all of us to treat this, the study of our ancestors, like a big mystery with clues for us to find and decipher.
In some cases, there isn’t much mystery. For example, unless you’re an adoptee, you probably know your grandparents and their birth and death information is relatively easy to obtain. First, you’re a family member, and second, relatively complete records exist in the past century. There are lots of sources – birth and death certificates, obituaries, tombstones still remain, hopefully houses with Bibles haven’t all burned, etc.
But as you move back in time, there are fewer sources available, fewer records, if any, exist and eventually, you’re so far back that there is no “institutional memory” in the form of Aunt Marybelle’s or Uncle Jehosiphat’s stories.
Before DNA, we spent a lot of time compiling information about our families, fitting the pieces together, assembling old wills and estate distributions to figure out who the children were, and so forth. But we had no avenue to verify for example, that William Jr. was really the biological son of William Sr. Nor did we have the tools to figure out that William Sr. and his wife had taken a child to raise on a wagon train whose parents had died, and that child really wasn’t the biological child of either William or his wife. None of that existed before, but does now, at least in certain circumstances.
One of the things people, for some reason, believe is that they are going to take a DNA test and somehow, with the wave of a magic wand, or maybe the click of a leaf, their ancestry is going to be revealed to them. Needless to say, that’s not how it works.
What we do is continue to use a variety of types of DNA testing to prove various lines of our ancestry – and sometimes disprove them – in conjunction with other types of traditional records. By now, you’ve probably all heard the story of my brother, who I searched for, for years, only to discover he was not my biological brother. For me, there is peace in knowing and I love my brother regardless. I’m so glad I found him before he passed away – regardless of the DNA results. But before DNA, we would never have been able to know, for sure. What we believed with all of our hearts was not the truth. The DNA results were undeniable.
When I started working with DNA for genealogy, I was simply curious. I did not set forth a goal to “prove my lines,” nor, for a long time, did I really think about that. I was always just excited when someone from one of my ancestral lines would test, because their mitochondrial or Y results were relevant to my ancestors too – assuming we connected in the correct fashion. I cherished the ability to discover that my ancestors in that line were from the British Isles, Africa, Scandinavia or were Native American, for example. Mitochondrial and Y results allow us to extend what we know about that ancestral line back in time, beyond the time of surnames. These tests help us to answer the question, for each ancestral line, “where did I come from?” Because, after all, “I” am the combination of all of my ancestors.
In my article, The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors, I talk about how to create pedigree charts that include Y and mtDNA for each ancestral line. Obviously, I can’t test for all of these myself.
This is part of the answer to how I know that some parts of my tree are correct.
For example, let’s say my Estes cousin, Buster, tests to represent my Estes Y line, and he matches many Estes men, all the way back to Abraham Estes, the immigrant into Virginia. That unquestionably proves the Estes line he carries is the ancestral Estes line. However, since I don’t carry the Estes Y chromosome, I have to utilize autosomal DNA to prove that I am related to Buster and other Estes descendants on the Estes side. Those two pieces of information combined prove that my Estes line is confirmed back beyond the 6th generation – even though I don’t carry the Estes Y chromosome and I have no one in my immediate family to “sit proxy” for me.
Why am I focused on the 6th generation?
When Ancestry rolled their new feature that gives people “New Ancestors,” they graciously gave me two that were not only wrong – I can’t figure out any connection at all.
I wrote about this in the article, “Ancestry DNA Gave Me A New DNA Ancestor – And It’s Wrong.”
In order for Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte, spouses, to be my ancestors, they would have been born in about the 6th generation, given their birth dates, and reproduced in the 5th generation. The problem is that I have my tree documented solidly back through both of those generations, and John and Diedamia are not my ancestors.
This caused someone to ask how I knew that an NPE hadn’t happened and that one of my ancestral couples, who I believe are my ancestors, aren’t really – and Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte are instead – or at least John. Like, perhaps a baby swap, or a wagon train parental death/child adoption or some other form of NPE (nonparental event.)
Good questions. I want to know the answer too, for my own benefit.
In order to begin to address this, I looked at the years John and Diedamia were born and the locations where they are found. Diedamia Lyon was born in Wilkes County in 1804 and she and John Curnutte married in 1822 in Lawrence County, KY, according to the Ancestry story attached to this couple, and she died there in 1866. I can’t vouch for any of this, because it’s taken from Ancestry’s compiled trees. What I can tell you is that I have no family at all in or near Lawrence County Kentucky, not in this or any other timeframe.
I do have family in Wilkes County, however, which is where I began the comparative search. Both John Curnutte and Diedamia’s parents came from Virginia and I have lots of ancestry there, including several unknown lines – but not in any generation where John and Diedamia could be my ancestors. However, these common locations would be the most likely places for an adoption, in whatever form, to have occurred – if one did.
So, let’s take this one parent’s side at a time and look at the proofs I have and how I know, beyond a doubt, that these two people are not my ancestors.
I’ve divided my ancestors into my mother’s side and my father’s side and created a proof table for each one in the 6th generation. The Proof column, in this case, means proof that Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte cannot replace these ancestors in my tree, confirming that these are my ancestors and John and Diedamia are not.
Let’s look at my mother’s side first. It’s easy. Hendrick Jans Ferverda, born in the Netherlands about 1806, so about the same time as John and Diedamia, was not in this country at that time. We have documentary proof from the Netherlands. We have further evidence of when his son did immigrate in the 1860s. So, Diedamia and John cannot be clandestine ancestors, replacing Hendrick Jans Ferverda and his wife, Lijsbert Baukes Camstra in my tree. They weren’t even on the same continent when the begetting would have occurred.
As we assemble the proof for each ancestor, we consider birth and death years and locations, whatever documentation we have, and DNA evidence.
|Hendrick Jans Ferverda||1806-1874||Born and died in the Netherlands||Proof from documents in Leeuwarden and Blija, Netherlands||Not in the US at the time|
|Lijsbert Baukes Camstra||1806-1856||Born and died in the Netherlands||Proof from documents in Leeuwarden and Blija, Netherlands||Not in the US at the time|
|Harmen Gerrits de Jong||1803-1866||Born and died in the Netherlands||Proof from documents from Oosterlittens and Leeuwarden, Netherlands||Not in the US at the time|
|Angenietje Houtsma||1802-1866||Born and died in the Netherlands||Proof from documents from Leeuwarden, Netherlands||Not in the US at this time|
|David Miller||1781-1851||Born Washington Co., MD, died Elkhart Co., Indiana||Marriage documents in Warren Co., Ohio, estate in Elkhart Co., Indiana||Miller Y DNA from this line matches to other sons’ descendants of Johann Michael Miller b 1692, autosomal matches to several Miller descendants including mother’s first and second cousins.|
|Catharina Schaeffer||Circa 1775 – 1826||Born Berks Co, PA, died Montgomery Co., PA||Marriage document 1799 Berks Co., Marriage document 1805 Warren Co., Ohio||Schaeffer males have tested Y and autosomal. They match the Schaeffer Y upstream of Catharina’s father and match cousins autosomally.|
|Jacob Lentz||1783-1870||Born in Germany, died in Montgomery Co., Ohio||Citizenship papers and census show birth, tombstone and estate papers show death||Multiple males have tested Y DNA and they match each other. They also match other Lentz men, but we can’t figure the common ancestor in Germany. The Y testers and other cousins match mother autosomally. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Frederica Moselman||1788-1863||Born in Wurttemburg, Germany, died Montgomery Co., Indiana||Was married before immigration||Born in Germany, not in US at the time. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Honore Lore||1766 – 1834||Born in New England during Acadian removal, died Quebec, Canada in Acadian community||Church records||Y DNA of descendant matches Y DNA of other Lore males upstream of Honore, autosomal DNA matches mother.|
|Marie Lafaille||1767-1836||Born in New England during Acadian removal, died in Quebec Canada in Acadian community||Church records including marriage to Honore Lore in 1789 in Canada||Not in right place, married to Honore, autosomal DNA of descendants matches both Lafaille and Lore family members.|
|Joseph Hill||1790-1871||Born Barrington, NH, died 1871, Lake Co., Ill||Hill family from NH and Vermont where he is first found in records, death records in Illinois||Autosomal DNA matches with other descendant of Joseph and his parents. His father is Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Nabby Hall||1792-1874||Birth record in Mansfield City, CT town records, death record in Lake Co., Illinois||Family moved to Addison Co., VT where children were born and where they are in the records, ancestor daughter’s birth||Autosomal DNA matches with other descendants of Nabby and her parents, Gershom Hall and Dorcas Richardson.|
|Phillip Jacob Kirsch||1806-1880||Born Fussgoenheim, Germany died Ripley Co., Indiana||Church birth records, death recorded in cemetery records||Not in US at the time|
|Katharina Lemmert||1807-1889||Born Mutterstadt, Germany, died Aurora, Indiana||Church birth records and death recorded in cemetery records||Not in US at the time|
|George Drechsel||1823-1908||Born Speichersdorf, Germany, died Aurora, Indiana||German church birth records, death recorded in cemetery records||Not in US at the time|
|Barbara Mehlheimer||1823-1906||Born Goppmansbuhl, Germany, died Aurora, Indiana||Germany church birth records, death recorded in cemetery records||Not in US at the time|
I don’t think there is any doubt whatsoever in any of my mother’s lines that Diedamia Lyons and John Curnutte whose families were from from VA, NC and KY can possibly be substituted for any of these ancestors.
Now let’s move to my father’s side of the family, who were indeed from VA and NC.
In the chart below, I’ve starred the ancestors who I feel have a weak or unknown parental connection, meaning with their parents, based on the facts. In many cases, this is an unknown mother or unknown mother’s surname or lack of solid DNA proof. My goal for each ancestor is to have both the genealogical and the DNA proof, supporting each other.
For example, let’s look at Nancy Ann Moore. Nancy is starred because her mother’s surname is unknown. This means I can’t prove or disprove any ancestral line through her mother, Lucy. In other words, while it’s clear that John and Diedamia cannot replace John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore as ancestors, one of them might be related to Nancy’s mother. Therefore, based on the evidence, we do have proof that John and Diedamia are not clandestine ancestors in place of John and Nancy, but what we can’t know is if they are related upstream to Nancy’s mother.
|John R. Estes||1787-1885||Born Halifax Co., Va, died Claiborne Co., TN||Birth and death from War of 1812 pension app||Estes Y DNA proven beyond John R. Estes, autosomal DNA from descendants and other Estes descendants triangulate. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Nancy Ann Moore*||Circs 1785-1860/1870||Born Halifax Co., VA, died Claiborne Co. TN||Marriage doc in Halifax Co in 1811, husband’s War of 1812 pension app||Moore DNA tested to Nancy’s grandfather’s generation, descendants match other Moore testers autosomally, Nancy’s mother’s surname unknown. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Lazarus Dodson*||1795-1861||Parents living in Hawkins Co in 1795, Pulaski Co., KY death records||Father-in-law John Campbell estate records for marriage to Elizabeth||Dodson Y DNA beyond Lazarus, many Dodson autosomal matches, Lazarus’s mother’s surname unknown.|
|Elizabeth Campbell||C1802-1827/1830||Parents living in Claiborne County TN per tax and court records, death in Claiborne per her children’s guardian records||Her father, John Campbell’s estate records regarding her children, guardianship settlement||Campbell DNA from this line matches Campbell clan DNA, autosomal matches to many Campbell cousins. Her parents are Ancestry DNA Circles.|
|Elijah Vannoy||1784-c1850||Parents lives Wilkes Co at that time, death from Hancock Co. TN census||Elijah found in Wilkes Co deed records in 1807, in Claiborne court records by 1812||Vannoy Y DNA from his line matches lines earlier than Elijah, autosomal DNA matches cousins. Son is Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Lois McNiel||c1786-c1839||Parents living in Wilkes at time of her birth per tax and deed records, died before census in Claiborne Co., TN||Parents also moved to Claiborne Co., TN, family history records Elijah’s wife as Lois||McNiel Y DNA matches back to Rev. George, 2 generations beyond Lois, autosomal matches Lois’ descendants as well. Son is Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|William Crumley III*||1785/1789 – 1852/1860||Born where parents lived Frederick Co., VA proven by 1789 tax list, death in Appanoose Co., Iowa by census||Was in Lee Co by 1820 census, marriage documents in 1807 in Greene Co., TN||Crumley DNA from this line proves back to James, 3 gen earlier, autosomal matches to cousins, William’s mother unknown. Daughter is Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Lydia Brown*||1787/1790-1830/1849||Born where parents lived in Montgomery Co., VA, death by census in Lee Co., VA and husband’s remarriage||Married in 1807 in Greene Co., TN, in Lee Co. Va by 1820, in 1830 census, 1850 census shows husband has been married within the year to new wife||Brown Y DNA confirms Jotham and matches other Browns without common ancestor identified, autosomal DNA matches to cousins, Lydia’s mother surname unknown.|
|Henry Bolton*||1759-1846||Born England, died Giles Co., VA||Birth location unproven except by family stories, marriage records, death by local documents and census||Bolton DNA confirms Henry and there are other matches but common ancestor unproven. No Y matches to Curnutte or Lyons. Many descendants autosomal match but cannot go beyond Henry with proofs. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Nancy Mann*||c 1780/1783 – 1841||Born where family lived, Botetourt Co., VA, died Giles Co, VA||Birth from census and inferred from marriage document 1799, death from family Bible||Parents are unconfirmed but believed to be James Mann and Mary Cantrell. Not Y DNA confirmed to Mann line. No known Manns from this direct line have tested. Autosomal matches to James Mann’s brother Moses. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|William Herrell*||1789/1790 – 1859||Born in NC, probably Wilkes Co, died in Hancock Co., TN||Birth from War of 1812 pension and bounty land apps, death from his wife on pension app||Herrell confirmed back to John, William’s father on Y, match Y cousins autosomally, mother’s surname unknown.|
|Mary McDowell*||1785- after 1872||Born where in Wilkes Co., NC where parents lived at the time per tax records, died Hancock Co., TN||Marriage in 1809 in Wilkes Co., lived in Claiborne & Hancock, death per pension docs and census||McDowell Y DNA proven to Michael, her father, via multiple lines, autosomal matches to cousins, mother’s surname unknown.|
|Fairwick Claxton||1799/1800 – 1874||Birth in Russell Co., VA by census in location where parents lived, death Hancock Co., TN according to his mother’s War of 1812 pension app after his father’s death, death by chancery suit||Born in Russell Co., VA, lived in Claiborne which became Hancock Co., TN entire life, chancery suit provides significant info, plus census.||Claxton/Clarkson DNA proven to James via Y with additional matches from NC with earlier unidentified common ancestor, autosomal matches between entire group of cousins. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Agnes Muncy*||1803 – after 1880||Born where Lee Co., VA parents lived according to tax and deed records, dead via census Hancock Co., TN||Census and chancery suit show family in Hancock Co., TN||Muncy Y DNA confirmed beyond Agnes, cousins matching autosomally. Would like additional triangulated matches. Ancestry DNA Circle.|
|Charles Speak||1804 – 1840/1850||Born Washington Co., VA where parents lived according to tax and deed records, death by census Lee Co., VA||Marriage in 1823 in Washington Co., VA, later records in Lee Co., VA having to do with Speaks church||Speak Y DNA confirmed back to Gisburn, England, many autosomal matches in this line. Parents are Ancestry DNA Circles.|
|Ann McKee*||1804/1805 – 1840/1850||Birth in Washington Co., VA where parents lived according to father’s will, death from census Lee Co., VA||Married in 1823 Montgomery Co., VA, moved to Lee Co., VA, her father’s will names her as daughter||Have not found McKee Y to test, but match several McKee descendants on autosomal. Ann’s mother’s surname is unknown. Father Andrew was Ancestry DNA Circle, but disappeared.|
As you can clearly see, there is no question that Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte aren’t my ancestors. There is no place for them to be born in 1801/1804, replacing two people here. Plus there is no Canutte Y DNA matching downstream anyplace, nor any Lyon or Canutte matching at all that I can discover at Family Tree DNA where I can search for ancestral surnames among my matches. At Ancestry, the only Curnutte surname DNA matches I have are the two individuals that are in the Curnutte “New Ancestor” circle. Lyon is a more common surname, but nothing connecting matching people, the Lyon surname and any common ancestor or location – other than the two people who also match Curnutte.
I am 100% positive, bet on it and take it to the bank positive, that Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte are not my ancestors. And anyone who knows me knows that I never, ever, bet unless I know it’s a sure thing. So, if I ever say to you, “wanna bet,” think twice. I wound up with a nice piece of jewelry because my husband hadn’t learned that yet. Not once, but twice. Unfortunately, he has learned now:)
However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t share DNA with the descendants of Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte. One of two scenarios can be happening.
1. I do share DNA with two of the Lyon/Canutte descendants, but that DNA could be from two different, unidentified, lines, neither of which are John Curnutte and Diedamia Lyon. It just so happens that the two people I share DNA with happen to share the Lyon/Curnutte line between them. Therefore, the leap of faith has been made that I too share those ancestors. A triangulation tool would answer this question, because if I don’t match my two matches on the same segment, there is no proof of the same ancestor. Lack of a triangulated match doesn’t mean that I don’t share those ancestors either. In other words, it’s not negative proof. Lack of a triangulated match wouldn’t mean I don’t want to see this information. I do. I just want to know how strong the evidence is, or isn’t. Without analysis tools, we’re left to flop around in the dark.
2. I share DNA with two of the Lyon/Canutte descendants because there is a common ancestor upstream of EITHER John Canutte or Diedamia Lyon whose DNA comes through that couple to their children who match me. If this is the case, then the common ancestor is most likely in one of the lines that are starred above where the parents are unknown. If Ancestry provided chromosome matching and triangulation tools, I could see who else I match on that segment and perhaps find some common genealogy between others who match me (and my matches) on that same segment.
So, the answer to the question, “How do you know your tree is right?” is threefold.
First, genealogically, I’m a terribly anal, er, I mean thorough, researcher. If you have any doubt, please feel free to read my 52 ancestor series and you can see for yourself the kind of in-depth research I do.
This isn’t to say everything is perfect or that I can’t make mistakes. I clearly can, do and have. But for the most part, my trees are solid and I know when they aren’t, where and why. Plus, I’ve been doing this now for 37 years. Experience is a wonderful teacher, so long as you learn and don’t just make the same mistakes over and over again.
And, yes, thank you, I did start when I was quite young – barely of age.
Secondly, I have been triangulating my autosomal DNA for several years now, proving segments through both known and previously unknown cousins to specific ancestral lines, and specific common ancestors. But, I have to be able to see where we match to utilize those tools, and we can’t do that at Ancestry where it’s genetic genealogy wearing blinders. I’m very thankful for GedMatch so I can compare DNA with the Ancestry cousins who will download their results. If my two matches who descend from John and Diedamia downloaded their results to GedMatch, then I could see WHERE I match them and I might have that segment already mapped to a specific family line. That would help immensely tracking backwards and finding the common link with my matches.
Third, I have been utilizing Y and mtDNA where possible and appropriate to learn about, prove and confirm various lines for nearly 15 years.
Often, I use combinations of these tools, like in my Buster example where Buster proved the Estes Y in my line, and I proved my relationship to Buster through autosomal DNA.
These combinations are powerful tools to prove, or disprove, family lines.
And now that you know how to do this, you can prove each one of your ancestral lines too!