Durham DNA – 10 Things I Learned Despite No Y DNA Matches, 52 Ancestors #167

First and foremost, I want to thank my Durham cousin for stepping up and taking both the Y DNA and Family Finder tests to represent the Thomas Durham Sr. line of Richmond County, Virginia.

My cousin descends from Thomas Durham Jr., son of Thomas Durham Sr. and wife, Dorothy. Thomas Durham Sr.’s parents are unknown, which is part of why we needed a Durham male to take the Y DNA test.

What Might a Y DNA Test Tell Us?

A Y DNA test would tell us if our Durham line matches any other male Durham who had tested. In addition, if we were be lucky enough to find a match to a Durham who knew their ancestor’s location in the UK, where we presume our Durham family originated, we would have significant clues as to where to look for early records of our line.

What Did the Y DNA Test Tell Us?

The Y DNA test told us that our Durham cousin matches exactly no one, at any level, on his Y DNA test.

What, you might be asking? Is that even possible?

Yes, it is. I write the Personalized DNA Reports for customers, and I do still see people with absolutely no matches from time to time. When I drop their DNA results into a frequency chart and look at the percentage of people with their values in their haplogroup at each location, it’s usually immediately obvious why they have no matches. They have several mutations that are quite rare and those, cumulatively, keep them from matching others. In order to be considered at match, you must match other individuals at a minimum number of markers at each panel level, meaning 23, 15, 37, 67 and 111.

Now, this isn’t all bad news. It’s actually good news – because with rare markers, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to match a group of men by chance or just because your ancestor hundreds or thousands of years ago was very successfully prolific. I see some men in haplogroup R that have hundreds and thousands of matches, especially at 12 and 25 markers, so while no match is frustrating, it’s not a disaster because one day, our Durham line WILL have a match and it will be relevant.

The Durham Project

Being a curious skeptic, I visited the Durham DNA project and checked to be sure that my cousin’s DNA really didn’t match anyone, even distantly. I wanted to be sure that my cousins’ results weren’t “just one” marker difference in terms of allowable genetic distance to be considered a match.

Please note that you can click on any graphic to enlarge.

My Durham cousin’s haplogroup is I-M223.

There are no other people in the I-M223 Durham group. Checking my cousin’s markers, they are quite distant as well, so no Durham matches, even at a distance.

Now, here’s some good news.

Looking at the project’s Patriarch’s page, we can see which lines we don’t match.

We don’t match any of these lines, including the two that are from England. Two lines down, several to go.

Autosomal DNA

About this time, I began to have this nagging thought. What if my cousin’s Durham line isn’t really the right Durham line? What if the genealogy was wrong? What if the genealogy was right, but there was an adoption someplace in the 9 generations between Thomas Durham Sr. and my cousin? Those “what-ifs” will kill you, being a genetic genealogist.

So, I decided to see if my cousin’s autosomal results matched any of those known to be descended from the Durham-Dodson line. Thomas Durham Sr.’s daughter, Mary Durham, married Thomas Dodson. This line was prolific, having many children, so surely, if my Durham cousin descends from Thomas Durham’s son, Thomas Jr., some of the Dodson/Durham descendants from Thomas Durham Sr.’s other child, Mary, will match him, hopefully on a common segment.

Perusing my Durham cousin’s Family Finder DNA matches, and searching by Dodson, I found 27 matches.

I checked the Ancestry Surnames of those matches, and yes, 5 included both Dodson and Durham.

Checking pedigree charts, I verified that indeed, these people descended from the same Dodson/Durham lineage.

Thankfully, 4 of 5 matches had pedigree charts uploaded.

I selected those 5 people and viewed their results in a chromosome browser, compared to my Durham cousin.

As you can see, there are two sets of results where more than one person matches my Durham cousin on the same segment.

On chromosome 9, the green and orange person match the Durham cousin on segments of 12.36 cM

On chromosome 21, the pink and yellow person match my Durham cousin with a segment of 8.83 cM.

Now, as we know, just because two people match someone on the same segment does NOT automatically means that they match each other. They could be matching you on different sides of your DNA – one on your mother’s side and one on your father’s side

Next, I utilized the matrix tool to see if these individuals also match each other.

This matrix shows exactly what we would expect.

The bottom person, Gwen, matches the Durham cousin on chromosome 1 and doesn’t match any of the other cousins on that segment. The matrix tells us that Gwen doesn’t match either of these other two cousins either.

The matrix tells us that both kits managed by Ted match each other. This could be one person who uploaded two kits, but the photos are different. These two kits are the chromosome 9 match.

Then, the matrix tells us that Odis and Diana match each other, and sure enough, those are our chromosome 21 matches.

While this alone does not prove triangulation, because we can’t confirm that indeed, Gwen and Odis do match each other on this segment, at least not without asking them, my experience suggests that it would be a rare occasion indeed if this was not a triangulated match – indicating a common ancestor.

Triangulated matches minimally require:

  • Three people or more who are not close relatives
  • All matching each other on a common reasonably sized segment
  • Common ancestors

We Can Do More

We aren’t done yet. Next we can look to see which of these matches might ALSO match someone else in common with our Durham cousin.

Take each match, one at a time, and do an In Common With (ICW) search with them. You can read about the various options for in common with searching in the article, Increasing “In Common With” (ICW) Functionality at Family Tree DNA.

First, I just searched in common with the Durham surname, and none of these folks matched anyone else on the Durham surname match list.

To do this, search for Durham, select a match, then click on ICW, leaving Durham in the search box.

Second, I searched by selecting the match by checking the little checkbox by their name, but removed Durham from the search box so that I could see if my Durham cousin matched this person in common with anyone else on his match list, regardless of their ancestral surname.

As you would expect, many of the people returned on the ICW match list don’t have ancestral surnames listed.

When you have a few people to compare, the chromosome browser is wonderful, but for a lot of comparisons, there’s an easier way.

If I were my Durham cousin, I’d download my full list of matches with chromosome segments and see who matches me on those Durham/Dodson segments on chromosomes 9 and 21.  I would then look to see if they have pedigree charts uploaded, or contact them asking about genealogy.

You can download all of your match results at the top of your chromosome browser by clicking “download all matches.”

This enables you to sort the resulting spreadsheet by segment number and chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA.

Of course, that’s how genetic genealogy addicts are born. You’re never really done.

What Did We Learn?

What did we learn, even though we had no Y matches, and are understandably disappointed.

  • We learned that the Durham Y DNA is quite rare.
  • We learned that the Y haplogroup is I-M223, found in the following locations, according to the SNP map tool at Family Tree DNA.

  • We can, if we wish, order additional SNP testing or the Big Y test to learn more about the ancestral origins of this line – even though we don’t have any STR matches today. We will very likely have Big Y matches because the Big Y test reaches further back in time, generally before the advent of surnames. Generally, the further down the SNP tree, the smaller the geographic range of where the SNP is found – because it’s closer in time.
  • We eliminated 18 different Durham groups, based on the Durham DNA project, that we now know aren’t our ancestors, including several in the US and some in Europe.
  • We confirmed that this Durham line is the Durham line that also married into the Dodson line- so the Durham Y DNA has not undergone an NPE or undocumented adoption between my cousin and our common ancestor. If there was an NPE or misattributed parentage in this line, then my Durham cousin would NOT match people from Thomas Durham’s daughter’s line – unless they all shared a different common line with my Durham cousin AND on the same segments.
  • We have confirmed some Durham DNA autosomal segments – passed all the way down from Thomas Durham to his descendants today.
  • We can tell our Durham/Dodson lineage cousins that certain segments of their Dodson DNA are actually Durham DNA. How cool is that?
  • Our Durham cousin now knows that those same segments are Durham DNA and not introduced in generations since by other lines.
  • Our Durham cousin can continue to identify the DNA of his various lineages by utilizing matching, trees, the matrix and the spreadsheet.
  • We’re not dead in the water in terms of Durham Y matches. We just have to be patient and wait.

Not All is Lost

I know it’s initially very discouraging to see that someone has no Y matches, but truly, all is not lost.

Not only is all not lost, we’ve learned a great deal. Y DNA testing in conjunction with autosomal is an extremely powerful tool.

Not to mention that our Durham cousin’s Y DNA results are now out their fishing, 24X7, 365 days per year, just waiting for that Durham man from some small village in the UK to test – and match. Yep, that’s my dream and I know, I just know, it will happen one day.

Thank you again, to my Durham cousin. When men Y DNA test, they not only serve their own interests, but those of others who descend from the same ancestral surname line.

Using Spousal Surnames and DNA to Unravel Male Lines

When Y DNA matching at Family Tree DNA, it’s not uncommon for men to match other males of the same surname who share the same ancestor. In fact, that’s what we hope for, fervently!

However, if you’re stuck downstream, you may need to figure out which of several male children you descend from.

If you’re staring at a brick wall working yourselves back in time, you may need to try working forward, utilizing various types of information, including wives’ surnames.

For all intents and purposes, this is my Vannoy line, in Wilkes County, NC, so let’s use it as an example, because it embodies both the promise and the peril of this approach.

So, there you sit, disconnected from the Vannoy line. That little yellow box is just so depressing. So close, but yet so far. And yes, we’ve already exhausted the available paper trail records, years ago.

We know the lineage back through Elijah Vannoy, who was born between 1784-1786 in Wilkes County, or vicinity. We know my Vannoy cousin Y DNA matches with other men from the Vannoy line upstream of John Francis Vannoy, the known father of four sons in Wilkes County, NC and the first (and only) Vannoy to move from New Jersey to that part of North Carolina.

Therefore, we know who the candidates are to be Elijah’s father, but the connection in the yellow box is missing. Many Wilkes County records have gone missing over the years and births were not recorded in that timeframe.  The records from neighboring Ashe County where Daniel Vannoy lived burned during the Civil War, although some records did survive. In other words, the records are rather like Swiss cheese. Welcome to genealogy in the south.

Which of John Francis Vannoy’s four sons does Elijah descend from?

Let’s see what we can discover.

Contact Matches and Ask for Help

The first thing I would do is to ask for assistance from your surname matches.

Let’s say that you match a known descendant of each of these four men, meaning each of John Francis Vannoy’s sons. Ask each person if they know where the male Vannoy descendants of each son went along with any documentation they might have. If your ancestor, Elijah in this case, is not found in the same location as the sons, geography may be your friend.

In our case, we know that Francis Vannoy migrated to Knox County, Kentucky, but that was after he signed for his daughter’s marriage in Wilkes Co., NC in 1812. It was also about this time that Elijah Vannoy migrated to Claiborne County, TN, in the same direction, but not the same location. The two locations are an hour away by car today, separated by mountains and the Cumberland Gap, a nontrivial barrier.

We also know that Nathaniel Vannoy left a Bible that did not list Elijah as one of his children, but with a gap large enough to possibly encompass another child.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “Who would leave a child’s birth out of the Bible?,” I though the same thing until I encountered it myself personally in another line.  However, the Bible record does make Nathaniel a less likely father candidate, despite a persistent rumor that Nathaniel was Elijah’s father.

Our only other clues are some tax records recording the number of children in the household of various ages, but none are conclusive. None of these men had wills.

Y DNA Genetic Distance

Your Y DNA matches will show how many mutations you are from them at a particular marker level.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any graphic.

The number of mutations between two men is called the genetic distance.

The rule of thumb is that the more mutations, the further back in time the common ancestor. The problem is, the rule of thumb doesn’t always work. DNA mutates when it darned well pleases, not on any clock that we can measure with that degree of accuracy – at least not accurately enough to tell which of 4 sons a man descends from – unless that line has incurred a defining mutation between the ancestor and the current generation. We call those line marker mutations. To determine the mutation history, you need multiple men from each line to have tested.

You can read more about Y DNA matching in the article, Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting with your Paternal Ancestor.

Check Autosomal DNA Tests

Next, check to see if your Y DNA matches from all Vannoy lines have also taken the autosomal Family Finder test, noted as FF, which shows matches from all ancestral lines, not just the paternal line.

You can see in the match list above that not many have taken the Family Finder test. Ask if they would be willing to upgrade. Be prepared to pay if need be – because you are, after all, the one with the “problem” to solve.

Generally, I simply offer to pay. It’s well worth it to me, and given that paper records don’t exist to answer the question – a DNA test under $100 is cheap. Right now, Family Finder tests are on sale for $69 until the end of the month.

Check for Intermarriage

While you’re waiting for autosomal DNA results, check the pedigrees for all for lines involved to see if you are otherwise related to these men or their wives.

For example, in Andrew Vannoy’s wife’s line and Elijah Vannoy’s wife’s line, we have a common ancestor. George Shepherd and Elizabeth Mary Angelique Daye are common to both lines, and John Shepherd’s wife is unknown, so we have one known problem and one unknown surname.

You can tell already that this could be messy, because we can’t really use Andrew Vannoy’s wife’s line to search for matches because Elijah’s line is likely to match through Andrew’s wife since Susannah Shepherd and Lois McNiel share a common lineage. Rats!

We’ll mark these in red to remind ourselves.

Check Advanced Matching

Family Tree DNA provides a wonderful tool that allows you to compare matches of different kinds of DNA. The Advanced Matching tab is found under “Tools and Apps” under the myFTDNA tab at the upper left.

In this case, I’m going to use the Advanced Match feature to see which of my Vannoy cousin’s Y matches at 37 markers, within the Vannoy DNA project, also match him autosomally.

This report is particularly nice, because it shows number of Y mutations, often indicating distance to a common ancestor, as well as the estimated autosomal relationship range.

You can see in this case that the first Vannoy male, “A,” is a close match both on Y DNA and autosomally, with 1 mutation difference and falling in the 2nd to 4th cousin range, as compared to the second Vannoy male, “D,” who is 3 mutations different and falls into the 4th to remote cousin range.

Not every Vannoy male may have joined the Vannoy project, so you’ll want to run this report a second time, replacing the Vannoy project search criteria with “The Entire Database.”

Unfortunately, not everyone that I need has taken the Family Finder test, so I’ll be contacting a few men, asking if I can sponsor their upgrades.

Let’s move on to our next tactic, using the wives’ surnames.

Search Utilizing the Wife’s Surname

We already know that we can’t rely on the Shepherd surname, so we’ll have to utilize the surnames of the other three wives:

  • Millicent Henderson – parents Thomas Henderson born circa 1730 Virginia, died 1806 Laurens, SC, wife Frances, surname unknown
  • Elizabeth Ray (Raye) – parents William Ray born circa 1725/1730 Herdford, England, died 1783 Wilkes Co., NC (the portion now Ashe Co.,) wife Elizabeth Gordon born circa 1783 Amherst Co., VA and died 1804 Surry Co., NC
  • Sarah Hickerson – parents Charles Hickerson born circa 1725 Stafford Co., VA, died before 1793 Wilkes Co., NC, wife Mary Lytle

Utilizing the Family Finder match search function, I’m going to search for matches that include the wives surnames, but are NOT descended from the Vannoy line.

Hickerson produced no non-Vannoy matches utilizing the matches of my first Vannoy cousin, but Henderson is another matter entirely.

Since the Henderson line would be on my cousin’s father’s side, the matches that are most relevant are the ones phased to his paternal line, those showing the blue person icon.

The surname that you have entered as the search criteria will show as blue in the Ancestral Surname list, at far right, and other matching surnames will show as black. Please note that this includes surnames from ANY person in the match’s tree if they have uploaded a Gedcom file, not just surnames of direct ancestral lines. Therefore, if the match has a tree, it’s important to click on the pedigree icon and search for the surname in question. Don’t assume.

Altogether, there are 76 Henderson matches, of which 17 are phased to his paternal line. You’ll need to review each one of at least the 17. Personally, I would painstakingly review each one of the 76. You never know where a shred of information will be found.

Please note, finding a match with a common surname DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU MATCH THIS PERSON THROUGH THAT SURNAME. Even finding a person with a common ancestor doesn’t mean that you both descend from that ancestor. You may have a second common ancestor. It means that you have more work to do, as proof, but it’s the beginning you need.

Of course, the first thing we need to do is eliminate any matches who also descend from a Vannoy, because there is no way to know if the matching DNA is through the Vannoy or Henderson lines. However, first, take note of how that person descends from the Vannoy line.

You can see your matches entire surname list by clicking on their profile picture.

The surname, Ray, is more difficult, because the search for Ray also returns names like Bray and Wray, as well as Ray.

But Wait – There’s a Happy Ending!

If you’re thinking, “this is a lot of work,” yes, it is.

Yes, you are absolutely going to do the genealogy of the wives’ lines so you can recognize if and how your matches might connect.

I enter the wives’ lines into my genealogy software and then I search for the ancestors found in my matches trees to see if they descend from that line.

One tip to make this easier is to test multiple people in the same line – regardless of whether they are males or carry the desired surname. They simply need to be descendants – that’s the beauty of autosomal DNA and why I carry kits with me wherever I go.  And yes, I’m really serious about that!

When you have multiple testers from the same line, you can utilize each test independently, searching for each surname in the Family Finder results.  Then, from the surname match list, select a sibling or other close relative with that same surname in their list, then choose the ICW feature. This allows you to see who both of those people match who also carries the Henderson surname in their surname list.

Not successful with that initial cousin’s match results – like I wasn’t with Hickerson?

Rinse and repeat, with every single person who you can find who has descended from the line in question. I started the process over again with a second cousin and a Hickerson search.

About the time you’re getting really, really tired of looking at all of those trees, extending the branches of other people’s lines, and are about to give up and go to bed because it’s 3 AM and you’re discouraged, you see something like this:

Yep, it’s good old Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.  I could hardly believe my eyes!!! This Hickerson match to a cousin in my Vannoy line descends from Charles Hickerson’s son, Joshua.

All of a sudden…it’s all worthwhile! Your fatigue is gone, replaced by adrenalin and you couldn’t sleep now if your life depended on it!

Using the ICW (in common with feature) to find additional known cousins who match the person with Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle in their tree, I found a total of three Vannoy cousins with significant matches.

Using the chromosome browser to compare, I’ve confirmed that one segment is a triangulated match of 12.69 cM (blue) on chromosome 2.

You can read more about triangulation in the article, Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation? as well as the article, Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation.

Do I wish I had more than three people in my triangulation group? Yes, of course, but with a match of this size triangulated between cousins and a Hickerson descendant who is a 30 year genealogist, sporting a relatively complete tree and no other common lines, it’s a great place to begin digging deeper! This isn’t the end, but a new beginning!

After obsessively digging through the matches of every Elijah Vannoy descended cousin I can find (sleep is overrated anyway) and whose account I have access to, I have now discovered matches with four additional people who have no other common lines with the Vannoy cousins and who descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through sons David and Joseph Hickerson. I can’t tell if they triangulate without access to accounts that I don’t have access to, so I’ve sent e-mails requesting additional information.

WooHoo Happy Day!!! There’s a really big crack in the brick wall and I’ve just witnessed the sunrise of a beautiful, amazing day.

I think Elijah’s parents are…drum roll…Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson!

Which walls do you need to fall and how can you use this technique?

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