It’s been a while since I blogged about DNA. This is because there is very little change across all kits.
I now have nine FtDNA kits to play with, and a known third cousin has just received her own kit in the mail. I look forward to her result popping up in my match list (assuming no family tree surprises) but it will be at least six weeks before this occurs.
I’ve learned a lot since I first received a match list. I now know just what I am seeing here. I know my region, I know the population base and where they come from and I understand the way local records were created. All this enables me to look at a table of numbers and understand it.
Any Australian who tests needs to understand a few things about our country if they wish to properly utilise their matches. I’m writing this for my two newly tested cousins and for anyone else who might be swimming in DNA irrelevancies.
I don’t know for sure if my experience is applicable to only my four tested families, or if it works for everyone. It certainly is necessary for my kits and all of my kits’ matches.
1) We have pockets of endogamy existing inside more general endogamy.
On the match list, it looks like a whole lot of 3rd-5th cousins who are living near us geographically but do not share any ancestors. We might recognise their ancestors from perusing the registers for our own family, but we know of no connection. If this occurs in just one or two specific families, it might be an NPE. If it’s across the board, it’s probably endogamy.
If you are lucky, you have an ancestor in the mix who immigrated within the last four generations. You can then separate their DNA from the general pool. If not, you need a really good tree.
When our ancestors arrived, they stuck together for a long time. Young adults married people they met on the boat coming over, or they joined cousins who had already come out and married them. Lifelong friendships were forged and it shows up in our trees. When a young couple married, sometimes the father of one died and the mother of the other died. The remaining widow and widower then married each other. Sometimes that widow was young enough to have a child or two who is half-sibling to each of the younger married couple. It happened often and genetically it is not an issue, but if you have a second cousin descended from that new baby and you descend from the original young couple, it screws with the relation predictions.
Australians need to get their trees in order to identify this and other similar situations. I really can’t stress that enough if you want to get your money’s worth from DNA testing. We are matching a whole lot of people who don’t really understand their own family.
2) Our colonising ancestors came from endogamous populations to start with.
What you may see in your matches are a whole lot of distant cousins who share ancestry locations – the same little village -but not ancestor names.
In my own family, the four main endogamous regions of origin are East Dean in Sussex, East Harptree in Somerset, Redruth in Cornwall and Athea/Listowel in Limerick/Kerry. Hard on their heels are Chardstock in Dorset and Lorrha in Tipperary. Other testers will have identified their own regions of issue, I’m sure.
Entire villages of immigrants came from the one town. They were all struggling, crime was high. One person came out and found Australia to be good for them. They sent a message back home and called the others out to join them. Family came in droves, taking advantage of government assistance schemes and family sponsorship.
So chances are the supposedly unrelated settlers in one district, with different surnames and even different counties of origin, might all have had the same grandparent or great grandparent in the same little town, and if we could test their DNA they’d be fourth cousins presenting as second cousins.
The other inevitable occurrence was one homesick man from eg Fermanagh meets a young girl from Fermanagh. They share memories, places, customs, songs and an accent. They are far from home and feel an instant connection. Then they get married and the gene pool has not really varied.
Identifying all this takes research and a clear head.
You don’t see this mentioned much online, I assume because so few in the United States – where genealogical DNA began – have traced their ancestors back to England with much certainty. Despite the absence of discussion on this matter, it is assuredly the case.
3) Australian Birth, Death and Marriage registers are only as good as the informant.
These registers are generally considered to be the authoritative source, but we need to understand how they were taken.
In a city, they are usually good. If someone at the same address is the informant, then you can trust them exactly as far as you trust that person. You get to know, through your research, just who can be trusted and who liked to spin a yarn.
Early Hobart for instance had a lot of ‘living in sin’ where a girl took on her ‘husband’s’ name for the duration of the relationship. Children born are recorded with the father’s surname and the girl says she’s his wife. Later they separate, she moved in with someone else and now all the children have his surname. Thus, Ellen Daley born 1841 is the same person as Ellen Brown who spent six months in the orphan school in 1845 and the same person as Ellen Redden who was married in 1857 at age sixteen. We are so lucky in Tasmania to have full free access to the civil registers giving occupations, witnesses and informants, because that detail is crucial.
And what about those remote mining communities with no church and no registrar’s office? Or the country farms with no roads going to them? What often happened was a travelling salesman – a regular guy usually – would be entrusted with the details. “When you get to Bathurst, can you tell them we had a boy last week and called him William? Father is John Brown.”
At the next farm the salesman got a similar request. “Can you tell them John White had a girl?”
But when the man gets in he gets them mixed up. John White is recorded as having a son called William and John Brown’s child goes in as a daughter. The salesman is entered as a ‘friend’ or a ‘neighbour’.
This is where viewing the original register helps. You can then see how many babies were recorded on the one day and who the informant was.
4) Endogamy is very hard to detect if only one member of a family is tested
I’ve written about this before. Half my 2nd-4th cousins show in one of my parents’ 3rd-5th cousin list. A few show in both my parents’ 4th-remote cousin list. For those matches, each of my parents actually share a small amount of DNA with them that they do not share with each other. That DNA has passed to me from each side, resulting in a decent sized match between myself and the distant cousin. In reality, they are not so close. In reality they are my 6th cousin via two ancestors, not my 3rd cousin via one.
It’s very useful when people have uploaded to Gedmatch since I can then compare with my parents’ tests and can find the matching portion which is too small for FtDNA.
I detect a genuine close cousin by the number of chromosomes with a 10cM or more match. It’s a rough measure but anyone who has a descent block in common with me on three chromosomes or more, has turned out to be around the third cousin mark and we can find our Common Ancestor.
This obviously applies to my parents and my in-law’s tests as well and hopefully I can apply some of the tricks I’ve learned from my own test to theirs.
As a final update, regular readers may recall that one side of my family discovered a mystery relation through DNA testing. Initially we speculated on a half-brother to our tested kit but further testing set him at the first cousin distance, with a few small anomalies. Our relative is hoping to identify his father.
Shared matches suggests this relative may be on our kit’s paternal side, but given endogamy in their birth town we cannot yet be sure. Our kit has a Y-67 test completed.
Our mystery cousin has a Y-67 test on the way at FtDNA. Anyone who has tested Y DNA at FtDNA will know the common experience. I do have faith that the result will come to us eventually. If the result is a match, then we have a likely answer. If not, then we are at least a step closer to the truth.
In the meantime, after just one delay so far, we are at this stage:
We are all on tenterhooks. What will happen? Another delay and a new date? Or a result!