Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?

All genealogists should be asking this question for every single relationship between people in their trees – or at least for every person that they claim as an ancestor. The answer differs a bit when you introduce DNA into the equation, so let’s discuss this topic.

It’s easier to begin by telling you what proof IS NOT, rather than what proof is.

What is Proof, Anyway?

First of all, what exactly do we mean by proof? Proof means proof of a relationship, which has to be proven before you can prove a specific ancestor is yours. It’s a two-step process.

If you’re asking whether those two things are one and the same, the answer is no, they are not. Let me give you a quick example.

You can have proof that you descend from the family of a specific couple, but you may not know which child of that couple you descend from. In one case, my ancestor is listed as an heir, being a grandchild, but the suit doesn’t say which of the man’s children is the parent of my ancestor. So frustrating!

Conversely, you may know that you descend from a specific ancestor, but not which of his multiple wives you descend from.

You may know that your ancestor descends from one of multiple sons of a particular man, but not know which son.

Therefore, proof of a relationship is not necessarily proof that a particular person is your ancestor.

Not Proof of an Ancestor

OK, so what’s NOT proof? Here are a dozen of the most common items – and there are surely more!

  1. Proof is not a DNA match alone. You can match as a result of ancestors on any number of lines, known or unknown.
  2. Proof is not an oral history, no matter how much you want to believe it or who said it. Oral history is a good starting point, not an end point.
  3. Proof is not, not, 1000 times NOT someone else’s tree. A tree should be considered a hint, nothing more.
  4. Proof is not a book without corresponding evidence that can be independently corroborated. Being in print does not make it so, people make mistakes and new information surfaces.
  5. Proof is not a man by the name of Jr., meaning that he is the son of a man by the same name with the suffix of Sr. Sr. often means older and Jr. means younger, but not necessarily related. Yes, this has bitten me.
  6. Proof of a father/son relationship is not two men with the same name in the same location.
  7. Proof is not a Y DNA match, at least not without additional information or evidence, although it’s a great hint!
  8. Proof is not an autosomal DNA match, unless it is an extremely close match and even then you (probably) need additional information. For example, if you have a half-sibling match, you need additional information to determine which parent’s side.
  9. Proof is not an Ancestry Circle, at least not without additional information.
  10. Proof is not similar or even identical ethnicity, or lack thereof.
  11. Proof is not a “DNA Proven” icon, anyplace.
  12. Proof is not a will or other document, at least not alone, and not without evidence that a person by the same name as the child is the RIGHT person.

I learned many of these NOTS or KNOTS as I prefer to call them, because that’s what they tie me in, by ugly experience. I began genealogy before there were proof standards, let alone the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard). DNA adds yet another dimension to existing paper standards and is an important aspect of the requirement for a “reasonably exhaustive search.” In fact, there is no reason NOT to include DNA and I would suggest that any genealogical search is not complete without including genetic evidence.

Proof Is a Two-Way Street

Using traditional genealogy, genealogists must be able to prove not only that an ancestor had a child by a specific name, but that the person you believe is the child, is indeed the child of that ancestor.

Let me use an example of Daniel, the son of one Philip Jacob Miller in Washington County, Maryland in 1783.

The tax list shows Philip J. Miller, 15 entries from the bottom of the page, shown below. It also shows “Daniel Miller of Philip” 6 entries from the bottom, and it’s our lucky day because the tax list says that Daniel is Philip’s son.

But wait, there’s another Daniel, the bottom entry. If you were to look on the next page, you would also notice that there’s a Philip Miller who does not own any land.

What we have here is:

  • Philip J. Miller, with land
  • Daniel, son of Philip, no land
  • Daniel, no father listed, land
  • Philip, no land

This just got complex. We need to know which Philip is Daniel’s father and which Daniel is which Philip’s son.

Establishing proof requires more than this one resource.

The great news about this tax list is that it tells us how much land Philip J. Miller owned, and utilizing other resources such as deeds and surveys, we can establish which Philip J. Miller owned this land, and that his name was indeed Philip Jacob Miller. This is important because not only is there another Philip, who, by the way, is NOT the son of Philip Jacob Miller (knot #6 above), there is also another Jacob Miller, who is NOT Philip Jacob Miller and who isn’t even related to him on the Miller line, according to the Y DNA of both men’s descendants.

How would we prove that Philip Jacob Miller is the father of Daniel Miller? We’d have to follow both men backward and forward in time, together. We have great clues – land ownership or lack thereof.

In this case, Philip Jacob Miller eventually sells his land. Philip Jacob Miller also has a Bible, which is how we know that there is no son named Philip. Philip Jacob’s son, Daniel leaves with his brother David, also on this tax list, travels to another location before the family is reunited after moving to Kentucky years later, where Philip Jacob Miller dies with a will. All of his heirs sign property deeds during probate, including heirs back in Frederick and Washington County, Maryland. There is enough evidence from multiple sources to tie these various family members from multiple locations conclusively together, providing two way proof.

We must be able to prove that not only did Philip Jacob Miller have a son Daniel, but that a specific Daniel is the son of that particular Philip Jacob Miller. Then, we must repeat that exact step every generation to the present to prove that Philip Jacob Miller is our ancestor.

In other words, we have a chain of progressive evidence that taken together provides conclusive proof that these two men are BELIEVED to be related. What? Believed? Don’t we have proof now?

I say believed, because we still have issues like unknown parentage, by whatever term you wish to call it, NPE (nonpaternal event, nonparental event,) or MP (misattributed parentage,) MPE (misattributed paternal or parental event) or either traditional or undocumented adoptions. Some NPEs weren’t unknown at the time and are results of situations like a child taking a step-parent’s surname – but generations later – having been forgotten or undocumented for descendants, the result is the same. They aren’t related biologically in the way we think they are.

The Big Maybe

At this point, we believe we have the Philips, Philip Jacobs and Daniels sorted correctly relative to my specific line. We know, according to documentation, that Daniel is the son of Philip Jacob, but what if MY ancestor Daniel ISN’T the son of Philip Jacob Miller?

  • What if MY ancestor Daniel just happens to have the name Daniel Miller and lives in the same geography as Philip Jacob Miller, or his actual son Daniel, and I’ve gotten them confused?
  • What if MY ancestor Daniel Miller isn’t actually my ancestor after all, for any number of reasons that happened between when he lived and died (1755-1822) and my birth.

If you think I’m being facetious about this, I’m not. Not long after I wrote the article about my ancestor Daniel Miller, we discovered another Daniel Miller, living in the same location, also descended from the same family as evidenced by BOTH Y and autosomal DNA. In fact, there were 12 Daniel Millers I had to sort through in addition to the second Daniel on the 1783 tax list. Yes, apparently Daniel was a very popular name in the Miller family and yes, there were several male sons of immigrant Johann Michael Muller/Miller who procreated quite successfully.

Enter DNA

If DNA evidence wasn’t already a factor in this equation, it now must come into play.

In order to prove that Philip Jacob Miller is my ancestor, I must prove that I’m actually related to him. Of course, the methodology to do that can be approached in multiple ways – and sometimes MUST be approached using different tools.

Let’s use an example that actually occurred in another line. Two males, Thomas and Marcus Younger, were found together in Halifax County, Virginia, right after the Revolutionary War. They both had moved from Essex County, and they consistently were involved in each other’s lives as long as they both lived. They lived just a couple miles apart, witnessed documents for each other, and until DNA testing it was believed that Marcus was the younger brother of Thomas.

We know that Marcus was not Thomas’s son, because he was not in Thomas’s will, but Marcus and his son John both witnessed Thomas’s will. In that time and place, a family member did not witness a will unless it was a will hastily constructed as a person was dying. Thomas wrote his will 2 years before it was probated.

However, with the advent of DNA testing, we learned that the two men’s descendants did not carry the same Y DNA – not even the same haplogroup – so they do not share a common paternal ancestor.

Needless to say, this really threw a monkey wrench into our neat and tidy family story.

Later, the will of Thomas’s father, Alexander, was discovered, in which Marcus was not listed (not to mention that Alexander died before Marcus was born,) and, Thomas became the guardian of his three sisters.

Eventually, via autosomal DNA, we proved that indeed, Marcus’s descendants are related to Thomas’s descendants as well as other descendants of Thomas’s parents. We have a proven relationship, but not a specifically proven ancestor. In other words, we know that Marcus is related to both Thomas and Alexander, we just don’t know exactly how.

Unfortunately, Marcus only had one son, so we can’t confirm Marcus’s Y DNA through a second line. We also have some wives missing from the equation, so there is a possibility that either Marcus’s wife, or his unknown biological father’s family was otherwise related to Alexander’s line.

So, here’s the bottom line – we believe, based on various pieces of compelling but not conclusive evidence that Marcus is the illegitimate child of one of Thomas’s unmarried sisters, who died, which is why Marcus is clearly close to Thomas, shares the same surname, but not the Y DNA. In fact, it’s likely that Marcus was raised in Thomas’s household.

  • It’s entirely possible that if I incorrectly listed Thomas as Marcus’s father on Ancestry, as many have, that I would be placed in a Thomas circle, because Ancestry forms circles if your autosomal DNA matches and you show a common ancestor in your trees. This is why inclusion in a circle doesn’t genetically confirm an ancestor without additional information. It confirms a genetic relationship, but not how a person is related.
  • It’s entirely possible that even though Marcus’s Y DNA doesn’t match the proven Y DNA of Thomas, that Marcus is still closely related to Thomas – such as Marcus’s uncle. That’s why Marcus’s descendants match both Thomas’s and Alexander’s descendants through autosomal testing. However, without Y DNA testing, we would never know that they don’t share a paternal line.
  • It’s entirely possible that if Marcus was supposed, on paper, to be Thomas’s child, but was fathered by another man, such as his wife’s first husband, I would still be in the circle attributed to both Thomas and his wife, by virtue of the fact that I match DNA of Thomas’s descendants through Thomas’s wife. This is your classic step-father situation.

Paper is Not Proof

As genealogists, we became so used to paper documentation constituting proof that it’s a blow when that paper proves to be irrelevant, especially when we’ve hung our genealogical hat on that “proof” for years, sometimes decades.

The perfect example is an adoption. Today, most adoptions are through a court of law, but in the past, a functional adoption happened when someone, for whatever reason, took another child to raise.

The history of that “adoption” although not secret when it happened, became lost in time, and the child is believed to be the child of the couple who raised them. The adoption can actually be a step-parent situation, and the child may carry the step-father’s surname but his own father’s Y DNA, or it can be a situation where a relative or unrelated couple raised the child for some unknown reason.

Today, all paper genealogy needs to be corroborated by DNA evidence.

DNA evidence can be some combination of:

  • Y DNA
  • Autosomal DNA
  • Mitochondrial DNA

How Much Proof is Enough?

One of my favorite saying is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

People often ask:

  1. If they match someone autosomally who shares the same ancestor, do they really need to prove that line through Y or mitochondrial DNA?
  2. Do they really need to match multiple people?
  3. Do they really need to compare segments?

The answers to these is a resounding, “it depends.”

It depends on the circumstances, the length of time back to the common ancestor, and how comfortable you are not knowing.

Relative to question 1 about autosomal plus Y DNA, think about Marcus Younger.  Without the Y DNA, we would have no idea that his descendant’s Y DNA didn’t match the Thomas Younger line. Suddenly, Marcus not being included in either Thomas nor Alexander’s will makes sense.

Relative to question 2 about matching multiple people, the first cousin we tested to determine whether it was me or my brother that was not the child of our father turned out to have different Y DNA than expected. Thank goodness we tested multiple people, including autosomal when it became available.

Relative to question 3 about comparing segments, every matching segment has its own unique history. I’ve encountered several situations where I match someone on one segment from one ancestor, and another segment from an entirely different line. The only way to determine this is by comparing and triangulating individual segments.

I’ve been bitten so many times by thinking I knew something that turned out to be incorrect that I want every single proof point that I can obtain to eliminate the possibility of error – especially multiple kinds of DNA proof. There are some things that ONLY DNA can reveal.

I want:

  • Traditional documentary evidence for every generation to establish the actual paper trail that proves that the child descends from the proper parents.
  • Y DNA to prove the son is the son of the father and to learn about the deeper family history. For example, my Lentz line descends from the Yamnaya culture, something I would never have known without the Big Y DNA test.
  • Mitochondrial DNA to prove that the mother is the actual mother of the child, if possible, not an unknown earlier or later wife, and to learn about the deeper family history. Elizabeth Mehlheimer’s mitochondrial DNA is Scandinavian – before her ancestors are found in Germany.
  • Autosomal DNA to prove that the paper lineage connecting me to the ancestor is correct and the line is not disrupted by a previously unknown adoption of some description.

I attempt to gather the Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of every ancestor in my direct line if possible and confirm using autosomal DNA.

Yes, my personal proof standard is tough, but I suggest that you at least ask these questions when you evaluate documentation or see someone claim that they are “DNA proven” to an ancestor. What, exactly, does that mean and what do they believe constitutes proof? Do they have that proof, and are they willing to share it with you?

Genealogical Proofs Table

The example table below is designed to be used to document the sources of proof that the individual listed under the name column is in fact the child of the father and mother shown. Proofs may vary and could be personal knowledge (someone you knew within your lifetime), a Bible, a will, a deed, an obituary, death certificate, a church baptismal document, a pension application, census records, etc. DNA confirmation is needed in addition to paper documentation. The two types of proof go hand in hand.  

Name Birth Death Spouse Father Mother Proofs – Sources DNA Confirmed
William Sterling Estes Oct. 1, 1902, Claiborne Co., TN Aug. 27, 1963, Jay Co., IN Barbara Ferverda William George Estes 1873-1971 Ollie Bolton 1874-1955 Personal knowledge – William is my father and William George is my grandfather. Autosomal triangulated to multiple Estes cousins
William George Estes March 30, 1873, Claiborne Co., TN Nov. 29, 1971, Harlan Co., KY 1. Ollie Bolton

2.  Joyce Hatfield

3. Crocia Brewer

Lazarus Estes 1845-1918 Elizabeth Vannoy 1846-1918 1.  Will of Lazarus Estes Claiborne Co., Tn. Will Book 8, page 42

2.  Deed where Lazarus states William George is his son.  Claiborne Co., Deed Book M2, page 371.

3. My father’s personal knowledge and birth certificate

Autosomal triangulated to multiple descendants of both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy.
Lazarus Estes May 1845, Claiborne Co., TN 1916-1918, Claiborne Co., TN Elizabeth Vannoy John Y. Estes 1818-1895 Rutha Dodson 1820-1903 1. Personal knowledge of George Estes, now decd

2.  Deed here John Y. deeds all his possessions to his eldest son, Lazarus when he goes to Texas, Claiborne Co., Deed book B1, page 37.

Y DNA confirmed to haplotype of Abraham Estes, autosomal triangulated to descendants of Lazarus and Elizabeth and upstream ancestors through multiple matches on both sides.
John Y. Estes December 29, 1818, Halifax Co., VA Sept. 19, 1895, Montague Co., TX Rutha Dodson John R. Estes 1785/88-1885 Nancy Ann Moore c 1785-1860/1870 1. Family visits of his children in Tennessee

2. Census records, 1850, 1860, Claiborne Co., Tn. shows families in same household

Y DNA confirmed through multiple sons. Autosomal triangulates to several descendants through multiple lines of other children.
John R. Estes 1785-1788, Halifax Co. VA May 1885, Claiborne Co., TN Nancy Ann Moore George Estes 1763-1869 Mary Younger bef 1775-1820/1830 1. Halifax County 1812 personal property tax list where John R. Estes is listed as the son of George Estes and lives next to him.  Only 1 George in the county. Later chancery suit lists John R.’s wife’s name and location in Tennessee Y DNA confirmed through multiple lines.  Autosomal confirmed triangulation of multiple lines of his children and his ancestors on both sides.

If you’d like to read more about the difference between evidence and proof, and how to get from evidence to proof, check out this article, What is proof of family history? by my cousin, retired attorney, Robin Rankin Willis.

Proof is a Pain!

So now that we’ve discussed what proof is not, and what types of records constitute proof, you may be thinking to yourself that proof is a pain in the behind. Indeed, it is, but without sufficient proof, you may literally be doing someone else’s genealogy or the genealogy of an ancestor that’s not your own. Trust me, that’s infinitely more painful.

I hate sawing branches off of my own tree. If I have to do it, the sooner I make the discovery and get it over with, the better.

Been there, done that, and really, I don’t want the t-shirt.

There is never such a thing as “too much” proof, but there is certainly too little. We are fortunate to live in a time when not only are historical records available, but the record passed by our ancestors inside our very cells tells their story. Use every tool and every type of DNA at your disposal! Otherwise, you get the t-shirt:)



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43 thoughts on “Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?

  1. Great article and great points, Roberta. I know this is probably a dumb comment, but you wrote, “We know that Marcus was not Thomas’s son, because he was not in Thomas’s will….” Absence of a child in a will does not a parental relationship disprove.

  2. What happens to our proof if you only have DNA with no actual paper to an ancestor? For decades people have tried to find a paper trail on my great grandfather. There are only 2 pieces of paper, one when he married my great grandmother and one the following year where he was living with her. Then he disappeared a few years later. No one has ever been able to find where he came from or where he went.
    But I do have Y match with a man of the same last name right there in the same geographical location, and many atDNA matches with that Y match descendants. That is all we can do, so a “probable” father for my great grandfather is all. What do you think?

  3. Imagine my surprise when finding out my mother’s father was not her father. Her mother (my grandmother) had an affair while married and became pregnant with my mother. Her father’s name on the birth cert was the man she was married to, not the biological father. When my cousin asked why I wasn’t in any of the DNA “circles” I figured out through DNA who her real biological father was (a family friend). I am the only one that knows this, and she is deceased. So now I have 2 trees at ancestry, one that is the biologically correct and the old incorrect one (for the sake of the family). I’m wondering how many families experience something similar and never know the truth.

    • I am in very similar situation.. My great grandmother had an affair and conceived my maternal grandfather. My mom adored her grandmother and still talks about her. I’ll tell my family once my mom passes.

      For several years I was seeing people identified as distant cousins on three DNA Web sites. They could not be connected to my “known” family genealogy until a person was recently identified as a 2nd cousin. She had as much shared DNA with me as three known 2nd cousins. I found the identity of our common ancestor as i was attempting to understand how i was related to my “new” 2nd cousin and to a group of DNA circles. My “DNA” great grandfather lived less than 10 miles from my great grandmother, was a travelling farm supplies salesman (I know the joke), and both had suffered the loss of a child with-in a year of each other. This discovery also explained why I could not find any ancestors related through my maternal great grandfather though the family was very large.

      I have also used common DNA with a 2nd cousin from another part of the family to identify a great great grandfather. It was known that our common great grandmother was base born. As it turns out her father, my great great grandfather, conceived her just before heading off to the civil war. They lived within walking distance of each other. He later became a minister and I have several pictures of him.

      DNA can answer many questions as well as create a few surprises. Situations similar to ours will become more common.

  4. I think the legal folks have settled this issue as best as can be possible. By a preponderance of evidence; beyond Reasonable Doubt, whatever . I guess whatever convinces a jury is the best you can do. Nothing’s perfect, though. Calling Judy Russell ;=)

  5. Once again Roberta you have so eloquently written about an important aspect of genealogy. Thank you!

  6. “Genealogical Research in England and Wales” volumes 1 and 2 by David E Gardner & Frank Smith were published in 1962. They set high standards of proof when I was beginning my research.

  7. I especially agree with “Proof is not an Ancestry Circle, at least not without additional information.” My Ancestry Circles are a total joke. One ancestor they have listed is triangulated with several other people not on their list, and the people they have included are triangulated with a different ancestor. A total waste of server space. I quit looking at them several years ago so I have no idea how many more mistakes they have included.

    Ancestry admitted the Circles are not based on chromosome data but rather on family trees. More smoke & mirrors.

    • I have found some people in a circle with me, where my great-great-great-grandfather was the ancestor that linked us. Only the tree of two of the people was incorrect in listing him as their ancestor. The amount of shared DNA did NOT match the number of generations from this ancestor and was a good case of how Ancestry can make mistakes when they rely more on the trees than on the DNA itself. The two later corrected their tree(s) and no longer fit the circle. Now, their ancestor WAS a 2nd or 3rd cousin to mine, and that area has a big of endogamy going on, but if the amount of shared DNA isn’t enough to justify the relationship, then there’s definitely something wrong with how Ancestry establishes who belongs in an Ancestor Circle.

  8. Great, Great, Great. TKU. With your permission may I use the What is NOT proof of an Ancestor by Roberta Estes? If it were not for you trees’ would still be showing my 3rd GG John Campbell with your George Campbell as his father. Now have you figured out how to change an ancestor’s profile story shown in the DNA circles?

    • You are most welcome to use this information. As for the profile story – no, other than changing the profile itself. Ancestry combined information for that story. I wish they wouldn’t.

  9. I used to work in an industry where a disaster could leave me explaining my actions in a court of law. Family history tends to include emotion, which often bypasses logic. When I start feeling too much emotion about a possible link that might not have enough evidence, I put myself in that court room and see if I can prove my case.
    I suppose the equivalent for many these days is an announcement that has to be retracted: the court of social media.

  10. Roberta, I agree with you wholeheartedly! No paper trail can ever tell you with certainty that someone is your ancestor.

  11. Pingback: What is "proof" of family history? - Digging Up Dead Relatives:

  12. Absolutely excellent essay! Can you get this circulated nationally, internationally?
    Sadly, common sense is fading from the vocabulary of so-called “family researchers.” Clearly 75% of what I see in on-line family trees is borrowed from other’s family trees with no checking of sources.Maybe even more. I would also add that a “Millennium File” is not a source no more than just using another’s family tree. Please understand these statements may not apply to ALL family trees and certainly not ALL family researchers. I can speak only of my own personal experiences and searches. I have currently restricted my research to only one surname that I actively pursue. After 46 years of researching various family lines, I can make such a choice now.
    I’ve learned that asking one for their source is a very delicate issue. I shall be more “tender” in my request so I’m not told again to “get off my tree!” Fortunately, I suppose, most whom I make such a request of never respond at all. Many that respond confess to borrowing.
    I am hopeful DNA testing will continue to advance to the point that absolute proof can be obtained. As anyone will know who has researched in the 1700s, records are few and far between. Great leaps of faith are taken by researchers and after years of believing something, they consider it proven. Whether it is or not. And they do not wish to give up such beliefs and will fight to keep them. You will learn of my death of having a tree fall on me for having shook it so intensely.Here I lie. Death by Family Tree!

    • Thank you for raising this subject. As a retired attorney myself, I personally dislike the word “proof” in genealogy. There are different standards of proof in various fields of study, and varying standards of evidence required to meet the several burdens of proof in different legal proceedings. It’s one reason the rules of evidence fill many pages and take years to learn in law school. If one ever fully learns anything in law school.

      To me, in genealogy, there is simply an accumulation of evidence that leads to a person drawing an inference or concluding that a fact as alleged is reasonably likely. I have seen too many errors in original sources, let alone books and other secondary sources. How many of us have compared ages given on several censuses for the same person, or birth locations that differ from one census to the next? Even well-regarded genealogical researchers make mistakes when indexing records they have personally copied. Even cemetery headstones sometimes have errors !

      Until better evidence comes along to refute or modify what I believe to be likely, that’s the standard I use – varying degrees of likelihood, never proof.

  13. I especially love the T-shirt! I now realize that I have hardly any proof of anything.

    Best from your Miller cousin Jane

  14. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (KJV 1 Thess. 5:21)”
    I cautiously disagree with those who detest Ancestry circles simply because they’re so often inaccurate. We have a deceased cousin who refused to share her years of research. My dad simply discounted her findings by saying her data was “full of holes.” Later, I found another cousin who was able to record an interview with the reluctant relative before she died. True, her data was full of error but much of what she said was true AND unavailable from any other source. That taught me to value truth from whatever source, including Ancestry’s often inaccurate family trees. If my sources for other info are accurate, I can often use them to prove or disprove new info. I no longer automatically assume a tree is worthless simply because it’s “full of holes.’

  15. You’d think, with a sound papertrail, in a land where archives were well kept since early 17th century, with a double copied and centralized, where women never lost their “maiden name” (which would more like their “life long name”), where an army of historians review the early colonie’s archives to extract the who’s who, where my ancestress was probably the only settler with that haplogroup, let along that subclade, with my papertrail approved by a professional genealogist (who happen to be descendant of the couple), with two mt-matches and me from three different daughters, one of which who stayed behind where the family grew up and the two others following their parents and they moved.

    And still, I wonder sometimes, what if one of my ancestresses took in her unwed sister or first cousin’s daughter to save appearance?

    • This system where the women must retain her maiden name even in marriage ( Italian system) also comes with other papers for man and women to sign if the child is the legitimate child to the couple . Even if the child is born out of wedlock , a different paper must be signed by the man must state that the child is his or not.

  16. I shared this post with two cousins both retired from journalism. One, Tom replied with “Dan probably has heard many times the journalistic saying: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” In genealogy, it’s “If she says she loves you, tell her to prove that she’s your mother.”
    I could not stop laughing!

  17. Thanks, Roberta for all good advice. I have found inaccuracies in Federal Census records. Seems to happen when Head of Househoid individual is not around and someone else gives the info to the Census taker. Often it has been the State or country where one is born. Sometimes the relationship to Head of Household. I have also found a brother listing another brother in a court paper as a ‘good friend’. Why do you suppose this has happened? Bev

    • I know that this is five years later and unlikely to be seen by the original poster, but I wonder if “good friend” was used in that jurisdiction in the way that “next friend” or “nearest friend” is used in others.

      From Wikipedia: “In common law, a next friend (Law French prochein ami) is a person who represents another person who is under age, or, because of disability or otherwise, is unable to maintain a suit on his or her own behalf and who does not have a legal guardian.”

      From what I can gather from the filings, one of my relatives about eighty years ago was a legal adult, but still a young woman with no means of her own, who was in an abusive marriage. Her mother acting as her “next friend” filed for divorce on her behalf.

  18. I’m glad you mentioned that documents are not proof. This is even true of official documents that may constitute *legal* proof, because even an official document is only as reliable as the person who gave the information.

    A prime example, of course, is the birth certificate. In the case of adoptees, these can sometimes be deliberately falsified by the state in the interest of “protecting privacy”. They can also be falsified by mothers who name as a child’s father someone who is *not* the biological father. (And in some circumstances, they might not so much be *lying* as *hoping* the husband is the father, even if they know it *might* be otherwise.)

    I believe I have such a situation with my own maternal grandfather. I now am aware of two possible 2nd cousins and one 2nd cousin once removed who should not have these relationships with me according to “documentation”. Not, of course, that there really is that much documentation.

    The two 2nd cousins are 1st cousins to each other; and the mother of the 2nd cousin once removed is a 1st cousin to the other two. I share a significant amount of DNA with all three, and there is the sort of overlap that one would normally expect. They’re definitely on my maternal grandfather’s side, but none of their paper trails leads to the couple who I believed were my grandfather’s parents. And who my grandfather himself apparently believed were his parents.

    I am basically at the place where I’m convinced that only two possibilities exist.

    One, that my grandfather is the man my mother always believed was her father, and I always thought of as “grandpa”. But if so, it is nearly impossible that the people my mother thought of as her paternal grandparents really were — at least biologically. In that case, there is an apparently undisclosed adoption.

    The other possibility is that the man my mother thought of as “Daddy” wasn’t her biological father. This would be extremely hurtful to her, if she were still alive to discover it. I’m not so happy about the idea myself, because I remember “grandpa”.

    In either case, my maternal grandfather was almost certainly a brother of my 2nd cousin’s shared grandfather — great grandfather to the 2nd cousin once removed. It’s essentially just a question of whether that man was the same man I think of as “Grandpa”, or someone else.

    Arguing on one side is the fact that there was apparently no record of my grandfather’s birth in the county in which he’d supposedly been born. Or at least, not until after my grandfather requested a copy of his birth certificate in 1963, when he was 59 years old. When he learned no record existed, he filled out an “Application to Register Birth or Correct Birth Record” with that county’s Probate Court. Both of his parents (or adoptive parents, anyway) were long dead. The only “witnesses” were two brothers, who each supplied an affidavit stating that my grandfather’s application was correct.

    However, I do know that in at least two particulars it was definitely *not* correct. My grandfather stated that his mother had only two children besides himself who were still living, and no children who were born alive but were now dead. In fact, he had a living sister and a sister who had died. All three brothers were aware of this.

    It’s of course possible that this was somehow just an oversight. But there is something significant about the sister who was still living but not included in the count, and who did not provide a third affidavit: the couple I’m convinced were my grandfather’s *parents* were also her mother-in-law and father-in-law. That’s right, my grandfather’s sister by adoption, if I’m right, married my grandfather’s brother by birth. (Again, if I’m correct.) My suspicion is that this fact may have inhibited her from providing an affidavit, and my grandfather left her out of the count in order to avoid any possible questions.

    Also on this side, my mother was born in Mississippi. Her father grew up in Oklahoma, and most of his family — and his sister’s in-laws — were still there. So distance would speak against the possibility that my grandmother conceived my mother by another son of my cousins’ grandfather.

    Except, that is, for one thing. I have a copy of a “write up” by my mother’s purported grandfather, written in the 1930s. It’s partly a “family history”. There are two items he mentions that are worth noting.

    One is that from 1925 until the end of his life in 1944, he lived with his daughter and son-in-law. Yes, the daughter that married the brother of my cousins’ grandfather. The other is that in 1931 — the year before my mother was born — his youngest son (my grandfather) and his wife visited them in Oklahoma.

    So … the timing is at least possible for a “liason” between my grandmother and my purported grandfather’s brother-in-law. There is, of course, no proof. This particular grandaunt and her husband never had any children (that anyone was aware of), and reportedly they did not get along at all. Perhaps there was a very good reason.

    I find it hard to credit this of my grandmother, and I’m much *rather* believe the “undisclosed adoption” idea. But I’d rather know the truth, either way. I wish that I were brave enough to ask my two 1st cousins on this side if they’d take a DNA test. I *should* be related to them in either case, but as only a half 1st cousin in the one scenario. In addition, if the adoption idea is correct, they’ll also show as being related to the same 2nd cousins (and 2nd cousin once removed), among others.

    But, I’m not sure even how to begin. Any thoughts?

    • I would simply ask them if they would be willing to take a DNA test to help you unravel family connections. If you don’t ask, the answer is no. If you’re going to see them, take a kit along with you and have it ready. If they say yes, do it then and there. Good luck Gary.

    • I share over 200 cM with a match and tried to prove she was from one of my uncles, but it did not work. I could not find any possible way. I tried to make a way, but no, not possible. Then I noticed she is not matching my dad’s maternal grandmother’s family and may not match his paternal grandmother’s family. I found just using Ancestry that she only has small matches to cousins from my dad’s maternal side. Finally after she uploaded to GEDmatch, I was able to understand more of why we match. She is from the same state as my dad’s gg grandparents in the maternal line she matches and we have x dna through that line. That appears to be through her dad’s mother. I believe the rest of our shared dna is because our dad’s paternal lines are related. I do not match her mother. When I first saw pictures of her dad’s parents and grandparents, I was struck by how much both sides of his family look like my immediate family.

      To make a long story short, we share a lot of dna because our father’s are cousins through both of their parents. We don’t know the MRCA’s yet, but we know the segments and who matches from each side, so hopefully we will find who those common ancestors were. But it is two different lines of ancestry for both of us, not just one ancestor couple. We cannot assume our match is only through one set of common ancestors!

      This taught me a lesson about making assumptions based on a fairly large dna share. This time it is a coincidence because we just happen to be related two or more ways.

      Both sides of my dad’s family just happen to be related to both sides of the family of Johnny Cash also. I wish had both had an autosomal DNA test!

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  20. Here’s a situation: An African-American family claims that a Caucasian man’s Great Great Grandfather (paternal side) is the father of their grandmother. Is DNA testing able to definitely prove that two current persons, one from each side, both actually descended from the 2x great grandfather?

  21. I’m struggling with a side in which I can triangulate the DNA to the mother of my ancestor, but not the father. The paper connections are there (baptism and marriage documentation) and all of my ancestor’s brother’s descendants have had their YDNA match descendants of her father’s father (if that makes sense). I have just not been able to triangulate the DNA of my mother or uncle back to this ancestor’s father. These are somewhat distant ancestors as this ancestor is a 3rd great grandmother and I’m attempting to triangulate autosomal DNA back to 4th and 5th great grandparents. Any tips or insight?

    • I’m not sure I understand but I’ll answer what I think you’re asking, but it’s certainly possible that you only inherited the DNA from one person in the couple. If it’s one segment only, that’s almost positively the situation.

      • Thank you! You answered what I was asking! My apologies for not being very articulate! lol.

        It’s been maddening trying to prove what I can’t! So far, I have only been able to triangulate that one segment, so that makes sense.

  22. How does a person confirm ancestral connections, when vital docs for almost all their relatives are from the old soviet countries and are basically non-existant, and then to boot, they discover that there were multiple marriages (step family) and the surnames were changed during immigration?

    So how does one know (without having that paper proof) that a branch of their DNA match’s tree, is also their branch?

    Do you pull in their relatives into your tree and see if you start getting matches?

    How do adopted people recreate their tree if there are no records? Can you just use DNA matches? I’m so confused.

  23. Pingback: Caution: Invisible Fathers and Autosomal Matching – Who’s Hiding in Your DNA? | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  24. What if you find out that the man you marry is not the actual son of the Father due to infidelity? Then you have a baby with the man you marry or what if the man you marry goes away for a time like in the military lets say and the person that returns says it’s him but something is off he doesn’t look or act the same and then your thinking it may not be him but you already have lids together? It’s a crazy world. Anybody can do or say anything!

  25. Speaking of being correct with trees and ancestors…
    I would like to know if an in-law is an ancestor.
    Example: old to present…. father son father son father daughter…. then her husband to his dad and back to his sister…. then mother son father son etc…
    Does that jog in the tree mean there is no true ancestry?
    Obviously I would not have the blood of the woman or her ancestors. I have the blood of her husband’s sister.
    She would be my ‘aunt-in-law’. Will that count toward being a descendant from the oldest first man? As in joining Mayflower or Revolution societies?

    and I appreciate your writings even if they are a few years back. I can’t imagine how you all are finding DNA from so many distant relatives. I think very few of mine have done testing. I hear you saying it will be commonplace, but 5 years later, 2022, it isn’t commonplace yet.

  26. Pingback: DNA: In Search Of…Your Grandparents | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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