Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What difference can one DNA test make?

When I got into DNA testing and genetic genealogy a few years ago, I learned about the "fishing in all ponds" philosophy. Basically, you test everyone you can, everywhere you can. The more tests you have out there, the more hooks in the water you have so to speak, and the more matches you're likely to make. So I tested my three living grandparents and my mom (my maternal grandfather passed away before I was born) at 23andMe, and transferred their data to FamilyTreeDNA, and then to MyHeritage. I tested my wife, my sister, a maternal aunt and myself at Ancestry, and counted myself covered. As mysteries began to unfold and my desire to see what DNA could really tell me grew, I tested additional relatives - my maternal aunt and uncle, my wife's parents, some more distant cousins, all at 23andMe or FamilyTreeDNA (I even sprung for one for a guy in Ireland I met through a mailing list, though he turned out to not be a match). Through these tests, I've found some amazing people, and learned incredible things about my family's past and present. Then, as I've started to do more genetic genealogy as a career, I've come to see AncestryDNA in a whole new light - the light of "we have 14 million people who have taken our test." For those who are adopted or for whatever other reason have no knowledge of their parents or other close relatives, AncestryDNA has become an absolutely essential test, primarily because of the sheer number of people who have tested there. The tools they offer are pretty good (though I would really love a chromosome browser) but since DNA testing is often a numbers game, you need to test where the chances of finding a match are greatest.

With that thought burning in my mind the last few months, I decided to expand my AncestryDNA testing group to include my parents, my paternal grandfather, and my mom's cousin Renne't (there's a mystery ancestor in her line I want to identify). For Renne't, I'm really excited about finding matches on her mystery line, and figuring out who that guy was. For my mom, it's more about finding people with new info and maybe some stories or pictures. For my grandpa, it's all about finding close matches to help me get past some brick walls, primarily on his Gibson/Cain side. I'm stuck at his great-grandparents, and DNA seems to be my one hope in getting past them. I have been waiting on the edge of my seat for the last week or two, waiting for his results to come in. I even saw him during the day today, and when he asked about the test, all I could say was "it's almost there." Then, when I came home tonight, the results were ready! At last!!

I started to dig in and was immediately shocked - he had 3 matches at the 2nd cousin level I had never heard of, and 16 matches at the 3rd cousin level!! I started working on determining how these close matches were related to him. His closest 2nd cousin turned out to be a descendant of his grandfather Samuel Joseph's brother Heinrich Joseph. Another 2nd cousin is a Joseph relative, though I'm not sure how yet. The third is a Gibson/Cain match, so I'm thinking she is a descendant of John Gibson and Catherine Cain somehow. So far so good!

This is where it gets really exciting. As I was scrolling through his 3rd cousins, one of them has the last name of Rosenke. My jaw DROPPED. Rosenke is one of the variations Samuel Joseph's children gave in various records for their mother's maiden name, along with Rosen, Rozinko, and Rossenke. Sam's wife Pauline was probably from Volhynia, and I know she was born on 15 April 1868 (based on her death record), but I have no info on her parents, siblings, or any other relatives. So to see a DNA match with that name just made my heart jump. I checked and the match did not match with the more distant Joseph matches on Ancestry, which was good, as they shouldn't. I looked for shared Gibson matches, and didn't see any of those either. So I emailed the match, and am crossing my fingers for some good results.

In addition to the Rosenke connection, I found two matches with trees going back to Dennis Cain and Catherine Mulhearn, my grandpa's great-grandparents. I found another match with the Gibson surname, who I think is descended from my grandpa's uncle Thomas Gibson, who lived in Idaho. Then the one that got me most excited of all - a match with a Gibson ancestor from County Fermanagh, Ireland!! Her ancestor, Ann Gibson, was born in 1844 and married in County Fermanagh in 1866. Ann's father was Andrew Gibson, and he would have been about the same age as my grandpa's great-grandfather, Henry Gibson. This is the first time I've found anything about a connection to someone outside of Henry and his wife Ann (Stephenson) Gibson in the same place in Ireland my ancestors came from! There's a shared match that also descends from the same Ann Gibson. I emailed the matches, and while they may not have much info beyond their ancestor Ann, at least I have DNA matches with Gibson ancestry from the same location. That's a lot more than I had yesterday!

All of this came from one DNA test, and just the first couple hours of looking into the match list. I can't wait to see what there is to see when I really get into it! Plus my dad's results are pending, as are Renne't's, and with a little luck, I may get a couple of my dad's siblings to take a test for me as well, so my grandmother's DNA gets more representation on Ancestry.

So to answer the question I posed in the title - one DNA test can make ALL the difference. Even after 6 years of genetic genealogy research on my family, it seems I've only scratched the surface!

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