Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Thomas and Judah Farrell Project: DNA connections using AncestryDNA, Part I

Let me say right off the bat that I do enjoy and appreciate AncestryDNA. But people, for Pete's sake, get yourselves a chromosome browser! And maybe take a second look at your search function especially as it relates to surname matching. Otherwise you're fine... but I really need these two things, ASAP. Now here's why I need this, and I'm going to talk about the chromosome browser thing first and in another post address the issues we're having when we use the search function for surnames.

Let's chat about the usefulness of a chromosome browser. What's a chromosome browser, you say? In a nutshell, it's the ability to run a search or matching app to see exactly where in their DNA two people share the same chromosomes. When we're lucky, some segments of those chromosomes  come down through the generations from the shared common ancestor relatively in tact in each person's DNA. A chromosome browser will find the matching segments for you.

How important is this? I've read a genealogy blog recently (wish I could remember which one, dang it) that compared the chromosome browser to the idea of "original source" in standard genealogy. I can use a chromosome browser to find out which chromosomes exactly match Mom and Uncle Sonny's DNA.

Here's a look at the GEDmatch comparison of Mom and Uncle Sonny's matching chromosomes. Mom first tested with 23andMe and Uncle Sonny and Aunt Mary tested with AncestryDNA.  In order to see exactly how and on which chromosomes they match we needed the help of a 3rd party service like GEDmatch. Here are the results for Mom and Uncle Sonny.


In order to get this report both parties must upload their raw data file to GEDmatch, and that's no trouble really, but if the other party is reluctant for no particular reason, then you're out of luck. If you have a chromosome browser built-in to the DNA service you are using, you can just go on ahead and see where you match with the other person's DNA, without the fuss.

Here's a link to Ce Ce Moore's blog where she talks about all this and Ancestry's plans to add their own chromosome browser. I can't wait... but there's no release date at of yet. And I really have a personal problem with waiting because I WANT IT NOW!

And now about our situation which is, I'm willing to bet, typical. Mom and Uncle Sonny are each descended from the oldest daughters of Thomas and Judah Farrell. You can read about them and the Farrell Project here. Mom descends from Mary Elizabeth (Farrell) House (1835-1919) and Uncle Sonny descends from her sister Catherine (Farrell) Boxwell (1838-1910). I'll show you both trees on down.

As we work through Mom's and Uncles Sonny's DNA matches we're always looking for people who match someone in this cluster of people and surnames that fan out around the Farrells. The main surnames are: Farrell, House, Hartley, and Biggerstaff.

Now the Biggerstaff surname is interesting and there's a distinct way that it's important to Mom and I. Samuel Albert House (1832-1917), the husband of Mary Elizabeth Farrell, was the illegitimate son of Isaac Biggerstaff (1798-1844). Proving this paternity is one the top items on my wish list of what I'm looking to find using DNA for genealogy. In order to accomplish that task I would have to find an undeniable DNA match to Mom who has a solid tree tracing back to an offspring of Isaac Biggerstaff through his marriage with Elizabeth Longstreath.

But there's another big problem: Samuel Albert could have also received Biggerstaff DNA from his mother. Keep reading to see how.

Now this next part is a bit sticky and complicated and I hope that the two trees below will help. Back to Uncle Sonny. The top tree for Uncle Sonny's ancestors shows the line back from James E. Boxwell, husband of Catherine Farrell. You'll notice that his mother is Dinah House, and her parents are James House and Margaret Hartley. Now look at Margaret Hartley's mother! Rebecca Biggerstaff! Which means that any of the descendants of James Boxwell and Dinah House could have Biggerstaff DNA... and in theory Uncle Sonny should too.

Uncle Sonny is a descendant of Aaron Boxwell and Dinah House.
Dinah House's grandmother was a Biggerstaff.

Now look at the this tree segment below from Mom's tree. There's Isaac Biggerstaff, presumed father of Samuel Albert House. (Are you wondering about the surname and why Samuel Albert took his mother's surname? He didn't at first and you can find him in the 1850 census listed as Samuel Biggerstaff and living in the home of his mother and step-father, Patrick Caton.)

In this tree below you'll see the biggest problem for me, and that is that Samuel Albert's father was a Biggerstaff and on his mother's side, his grandmother was a Biggerstaff. As a matter of fact, Samuel Albert's great grandmother on his mother's side was sister to his grandfather on his father's side. That's a whole big mess of Biggerstaff DNA! Is there any chance at all for me to sort it out and make a case for Isaac Biggerstaff being Samuel Albert's father using DNA?

I know, I know, I could do some Y-DNA testing with direct males descendants of SA House and Isaac Biggerstaff. I'm trying!

Here, I should mention that we've found a Biggerstaff match with Mom on AncestryDNA and he's a descendant of Isaac and Elizabeth. Nice, huh? He's Cousin Joseph and he came up with a 95% confidence rating. He's great to work with and has already shared some very useful info about local records:)

So, if Uncle Sonny has Biggerstaff  DNA he should in theory show up as a match with others who have this Biggerstaff DNA. Except that Cousin Joseph matched Mom but not Uncle Sonny. Hmmm. See, I wish Ancestry had a chromosome browser because I could use it to see right away how Cousin Joseph and Mom match and on which chromosomes.

Cousin Rich and I are scratching our heads and wondering why. Why new-to-us Cousin Joseph, the direct descendant of Isaac Biggerstaff and his wife Elizabeth Longstreth, should match Mom and not Uncle Sonny. Two answers come to mind immediately. First is that Joseph and Mom both have DNA that comes down through Isaac and no one else in our Farrell group, and I'll need a chromosome browser to answer that question. The other answer is that there is a problem with AncestryDNA's matching function. Or maybe it's both. Next time I'll talk about an issue we might have uncovered with AncestryDNA's search function.

Now do you see why I really, really want AncestryDNA to get a chromosome browser? Soon.

The URL for this post is:

1 comment: