Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The never finished tree: DNA proving otherwise

Weekly, someone will contact me because we match on either AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Mostly, we can find the common ancestor and a time or two we've found more than one shared ancestor. That's nice too because we're doubly connected.

I'm lucky because I got a big head start from all the genealogy work Mom did. She worked on the family tree from the early 1970 and when she had to stop due to eye problems she had almost 70,000 folks on the tree. Sure, many are way out there on limbs connected to other limbs, and so on, but she got more right than not.

Truth be told and because she's a great genealogist, she still worries about the accuracy of it all. When someone contacts me because they see their ancestor in this blog or because of a DNA connection, it's rare for them to tell me that I have it wrong. She's that good and I've been rechecking her work as I go along, finding new records not available to her.

There are exceptions to this and one of them has to do with a particularly confusing bunch of Workman chromosomes. I match people I shouldn't. And because DNA doesn't lie, if you do it right, my suspicion is that the confusion has to do with a man named John Workman.

Their John Workman on the confusing match trees, is John the Mormon. He was born in Cumberland, MD and went "out west" as part of that great Mormon migration. Here's the Find A Grave listing for John the Mormon and there's so much incorrect about it I hardly know where to start! Let me just say that, yes, there were early Workman in Maryland in the 1600s but they have nothing to do with the Workman family who came to Western Maryland in the late 1700s who were Dutch and came to New Amsterdam in 1647, then New Jersey about 1700.

I'm certain about who my John Workman is and that he was the son of Isaac Workman, one of many by this name, who moved on to Ohio about 1820. I have that paper trail nailed!

Thing is, these other John the Mormon people are showing up on my DNA match radar. And a couple are adamant that I'm wrong. One is quite offensive about it too. Never mind.

So here's the interesting part. I know who my John Workman is and who his parents were and children too. Have it all documented. So when these other folks came at me with the DNA thing and their John Workman and insisted that I am incorrect, at first I got defensive. Then I just sat back and thought, guess we just disagree.

Imagine this situation, if you will. By the 1780s, maybe as many as 100 Workman people were in Allegany County living in very close proximity to each other, all ultimately descended from a couple who came to New Amsterdam in 1647. They migrated in clutches - Brooklyn to New Jersey, then Pennsylvania, and on to Allegany County MD - then split up and moved on in small groups.

Have been collecting names and ancestors and keeping a chromosome spreadsheet when I can get the information. But there's a number of projects on my To Do list. I'll get on this one in a while. It needs to be done. Back before 1800 all of these Workman were moving around and naming all of their children John, Isaac, Nimrod, Cuthbert, William, Samuel and Stephen, and all in the same place. Good grief! DNA might be the only way to sort it out.

As a side note, John the Mormon is a very big deal and to say that you descend from him is rather  important. Of course you see what I'm getting at here. Not saying that's what's going on but simply suggesting a possible motivation to be connected to John the Mormon rather than my humble John the farmer out in Western Maryland.

We all know our trees are never finished and that they all contain mistakes. It can hardly be any other way. Once you get past a certain point, going back in time, records are hard to find. Maybe DNA is the only way to sort it all out. Maybe.