Monday, December 5, 2016

CHAPTER 29: BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Hi there.  It's me.  Julie, the genealogist.  Some of you (by that, I mean all of you) may have noticed that I veered away from my original subject matter for several months.  While I was ensconced in six months of my Dad's illness, taking care of him and making sure he was received the best quality of care, I got a little side-tracked.  While I originally wrote about it on this platform- I have since transferred that story elsewhere so that this blog could continue to be strictly about genealogy. Writing about his situation and that journey, as it happened, is the natural way for me to purge frustrations.  It also became an invaluable way for me to keep track of timelines and events.  I certainly didn't expect it to go on for as long as it did- and is, in fact, on-going.  Though my father passed away at the end of September, I am faced with continued conflict that threatens to linger for, possibly, years to come.  While I take my cues from my dad, who was ethical, proud, and stubborn as hell- I vow to fight until the bitter end.  He is likely turning over in his urn by what is happening down here- and I can and will not disappoint him.

So yeah, genealogy.  When last I wrote I was awaiting the DNA results from the son of one of the brothers that my mother mentioned had lived across the street from her when she became pregnant with me. Those results came back as a non-match- so that ship has sailed.  I've received no more hints from my mother, and we've all but stopped discussing the subject.  DNA will be my only way of getting my answers.

During the past couple of years I have been contacted by readers who have turned out to be a distant DNA match to me.  One of them is a lady named Stephanie.  She reached out to me in one of the Facebook DNA groups.  Her half sister matches me on Ancestry as a distant cousin and on Gedmatch we share just 22.9 cM's.  That's a probable distance of 4-5 generations and while it's pretty much a needle in a haystack situation, the chances of finding your link are greatly increased when all parties share a passion for the search.  So the sister, Dena's father was adopted from England.  We know, by the way we match, that we match through her paternal line. While Stephanie, through research, had discovered who Dena's dad's family was, she reached out to a possible half-sister of his. Upon convincing her to take a DNA test (see, I'm not the only one with that talent) her results came back as an Aunt to Dena- and a 4-6th cousin to myself.  Ok, so great- all we needed to do was build out the aunt's tree right?  Right.  I applied for the marriage certificate of the Aunt's mother and, upon receipt, I had name's and locations of her parents.  From there I searched for earlier records and built the tree back to as far as I could. One of the direct lines was the name Whitall.  They seem to have remained in one area of Northern England for most of the 19th Century.  That name is not as common as most of the other names in the tree- so, I suppose for that reason I focused on them.  I scanned direct ancestors and there siblings in each generation until I came across Samuel Whitall- born 1790- sent as a convict to "Van Diemen's Land" in 1811.  That was what I called a "bingo".  It was a long shot- but with nothing else to go on- the first connection directly to Australia that I had discovered.  Following Samuel's life in Australia, he had a very interesting story of love, family, tragic early losses of children- and an eventual early death at 31.  Luckily, the last of his four children (born the same year of his death) survived.  His name was Thomas Gardener Whitehall- and he proved to be a prolific generator of humans- producing at least thirteen children from two wives. There are several Whitall family trees on Ancestry and I wrote to the administrators of several of them.  I finally got an enthusiastic response from one John Whitehall- who was a 4x great grandson to Samuel Whitall.  John was interested in my story and more than willing to take a DNA test, so I worked a few extra hours, bought another DNA test and sent it off to Sydney.

I won't leave you hanging.  John and I are not a DNA match.  Of course, that's not to say we aren't related- as I've said before, the possibility of 5th cousins showing a DNA match is around 10%.  If I tested every single one of John cousins, or older living Whitehall relatives my chances of getting a match is much higher (if there is indeed a connection).  So, in lieu of chasing that white rabbit- I put the Whitall/Whitehalls on the back burner- with a possibility of reopening an investigation should more opportunity arise.  Thanks for playing along John.  You're a good sport!

I'm going to talk a little bit more about triangulation.  As I've mentioned before, this is the best (and essentially only) method of finding common ancestors when you have absolutely no clue about whom you are looking for.  I've managed to create an interesting little triangulated cluster on Chromosome 1.  In order to triangulate matches, you must use a tool called a chromosome browser.  Ancestry does not feature such a thing on their site- so one must either test with 23andme or FTDNA.  Both of these sites have some semblance of a chromosome analysis too- in which you can identify exactly where/on which chromosome you match someone. The object, of course, being to figure out who your shared ancestor may be.  If more than one person matches/overlaps with you on a particular chromosome, and ALSO matches each other on that chromosome- then you have a TRIANGULATION.  All three of you share a common ancestor and have inherited that tiny piece of DNA from said ancestor.  In a perfect world, you would all have a thoroughly hashed out tree, that goes back at least five generations- and you can pinpoint who that person is by comparing trees.  Of course, this is rare (otherwise we wouldn't need triangulation...) so, it's always important to provide as much information about every person in your tree as possible- especially locations. Remember, before the twentieth century travel was expensive and took a long time.  More likely than not, families stayed in the same general area for several generations- unless they were convicts, fleeing a famine, or very wealthy.  Another option for triangulation is to upload your "raw DNA data" to a free site called "Gedmatch".  It's pretty bare bones, but features a lot of tools that can help a genealogist really zero in on their search.  Another positive aspect is that most people that use Gedmatch are interested in actually connecting with family- so you can e-mail matches directly and they're more likely to respond than the consumer sights.  Oh, I forgot to mention.  Gedmatch is FREE.  For a small donation you can access bonus "tools"- which are well worth it. 

So, my little Chromosome 1 triangulation consists of Dena D (in the eastern US), her biological Aunt G (in Northern England), Gavin S and his father Robin S (in NSW Australia) and someone who's  wife I found on Facebook- but I'm not getting much as far as info- or returned messages. All of these matches go back at least four generations- but we should all share a common ancestor. The biggest frustration about Ancestry DNA is that it has really expanded it's database in the past couple of years. This can be nothing but positive for genealogists.  The frustrating part is that most of the people who have tested- are not genealogists. By that, I mean that they have never looked into researching their family tree before now- so there is no tree from which others can glean information. Genealogy research takes time, perseverance, and some deductive reasoning.  A lot of people don't have the time or inclination to start researching now- so we end up with pages and pages of potential answers- with administrators that don't even realize that their information could offer someone their "missing link".  Ancestry has several ways for users to contact potential relatives- but the rate of "non responses" is astronomical.  There also seems to be a theory that if you message someone through the "green button" they don't get the message, but if you click through to the administrators page and use the brown/orange button- responses are more frequent.  I've tested this method myself- and there seems to be a difference.  So, if I can give any advice to my readers who are considering testing their DNA, please attach some semblance of a tree to your DNA results (with names and locations)- and please don't ignore requests for help.  If you never have any intention of sharing info or helping someone looking for answers, I respectfully request that you don't make your results visible to matches- because that's just plain cruel.
I mean, I get it.  You were just interested in finding out your ethnic make-up- but there's just so much more to discover.
The two other "testing" data bases that I use are 23andme and Family Tree DNA.  Both have their strengths and weaknesses-but I find their user response ratios even worse that Ancestry.  While 23andme rolled out a whole new "experience" in the past year, they are taking their own sweet time switching some of the older users from the previous interface.  My list of matches is a sad graveyard of people who no longer care to be contacted- but I am forced to experience the ghosts of distant cousins mockingly staring back at me.  Too much?  Probably.  I digress.
The Dixons.  From left Grandpa Raymond, Grandma Rosetta, Uncle Bryan, Auntie Diane, Ronald Dixon and Zella Baxter Dixon.

So, dear readers, there is really not much progress to speak of.  I have been working on the trees of my adoptive family.  I was thrilled to be able to identify the subject of a painting that has been in my dad's family for over a hundred years.  On my mom's side, I discovered that her first husband was the son of russian immigrants that changed his name from Dulofsky to Doal, after they got married. That was not a happy union for my mom, and she never shared any information with us- including my dad.  She also had three Great Uncles on her father's side- all brothers, named Abraham Lincoln Vincent, George Washington Vincent and Martin Van Buren Vincent.  They had a sister that married Prince Albert Baxter. I love this stuff.

Onward.  Stay tuned.