Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Known and the Unknown-or What Has DNA Done For Me ?

I saw a little advertisement graphic from today. It listed the breakdown of exactly how many ancestors a person has at each generational step. For example, each human mathematically has 32 Great-great-great grandparents. The graphic carried the formula out to 10 Great grandparents, at which point, the total was 4,098 ancestors per human.

Just as everything involving humanity, the math might dictate one thing, but Reality almost always diverges from the path. One factor in everyone's ancestry eventually is "pedigree collapse". Instead of consisting of all unique individuals, a tree may have multiple places occupied by a single individual. This typically happens when the parents of an ancestor are related to each other (sometimes unbeknownst to themselves). Since we are ALL eventually related to each other, our ancestor total does not keep growing exponentially.

Pedigree collapse is not my focus, although I do know of at least one case, within five generations in my tree. This is actually fairly common.

After reading the Ancestry graphic, I engaged in a little genealogical memory exercise. I decided to try and recall as many of my 32 Third Great grandparents as I could. I knew going into this exercise that I would not be able to list them all. I was able to come up with 22 names, several almost stumped me, and one is actually questionable as to whether she belongs.

It was no surprise that 16 of those names represent all of my 3rd Greats from my paternal line. That line has been carefully tended, and centrally located in one geographic area for generations, creating a living repository from their descendants. We know each other, and our shared heritage.

Over the past 10 years or so, research into my maternal line has brought with it stories, rumors, and mysteries that cast doubt on my written pedigree. With DNA testing, I have been able to confirm the veracity of those stories, and now have 10 Third Great grandparents whose names I know only from my recent record searches and online family trees built by people I do not know.

DNA testing affected my paternal line as well, but in different ways. My grandmother and her siblings have searched for years for a SOLID link to the genealogy of their paternal grandfather John Patrick. We have submitted both autosomal and YDNA tests from the remaining siblings. (Autosomal tests for all ancestry. Y-DNA tests a male along his direct paternal line). So far, no immediate close matches have resulted.

There have been some glimpses into parts of that line's heritage of which we were previously unaware. A significant percentage of  my grandmother's ethnicity estimate takes her ancestor pool further into Europe than she had ever considered. Additionally, YDNA testing implies that Once Upon a Time, their family name may have been Bailey rather than Patrick.

As with pedigree collapse, finding a different name than your own tied to your YDNA is fairly common. It's really to be expected. People change their names, children are born and raised by families other than their genetic parents, and yes, sometimes people lie about paternity. In actuality, patrilineal naming patterns are a recent practice as world history goes, and mostly Anglocentric. If your ancestry takes you back to anywhere outside of the United Kingdom, your Family Name will have any number of origins. Even with the many varied reasons behind such differences, people are often upset by these changes to the family narrative.

Ethnic heritage is another factor of DNA testing that can cause consternation. My own ethnicity estimate includes the surprise slivers of heritage from Africa and Polynesia. For me, this is fascinating. I have a friend however, who is still trying to process the fact that her ethnic heritage is different than the 75% Irish, 25% Italian she has embraced as a hard and fast truth all her life.

Of the 22 Third Greats I was able to recall by name, there are only 14 who I could tell you anything about. And for half of those, I barely know anything, though I'm sure resources are available to me. only about 8 are familiar enough to me that they come close to feeling real. They are the Known. So many are silently Unknown.

Unknown                                                            Known

John Bastin                                                          Thomas David Evans
Ann Jaggers                                                         Priscilla Merriman
Frances Potter (connection unsure)                William Cox
William Morgan White                                      Rebecca Fox
Eliza Maria Sawyer                                             Jonathan C. Harrington, Sr.
Jens Hansen                                                         Julia Ann Clark
Maren Kirsten Nielsdatter                                 John B. Patrick
Michel Rasmusen                                                Charles Hulet
Elle Sorensdatter                                                 Mary Lawson
Ambrose H. Pierce                                              Charles Morris
Elizabeth McCorkle                                             Ann Ellwood
George W. WIlliams                                            Isaac Garner Shepherd                                      
Catherine Bolinger                                               Josephine Nielsen                                             
James Fulton Porterfield                                    Alma Cox
Orpha C Donnell                                                  Emily Page
Uriah Smith
Mary E. ________

Finally, for all of my disappointment that I know little about so many, I am dearly aware that genealogy for so many opens doors to secrets and mysteries that may not be welcome. I have encountered this myself, as I try and connect to the living cousins who never knew about our shared lineage. For some this is a search tied to years of doubt, fear, and anxiety.  I still believe that for most, Truth can be healing, and DNA can help in that process.