Using DNA To Discover Family
A few years ago I started using DNA testing to assist with discovering more about my heritage after hitting a wall in my research. I had found these roadblocks to be extremely frustrating and, not being one who gives up easily (or at all!), I thought I would take a DNA test to try and solve some of these family mysteries.
I first took an autosomnal test from Ancestry.com. The autosomnal test provided me with an overview of my genetic make-up, both maternal and paternal, and provided some interesting information regarding my ethnic background. However, the autosomnal test provided me with too much general information to be of much use. I then took a Y chromosome DNA test which focused strictly on my paternal lineage. The Y chromosome in men passes from father to son, uninterrupted, from generation to generation. This test provided me with more specific information regarding my paternal lineage which helped me confirm some previously unknown relatives (on my paternal side my grandfather and his mother, my great-grandmother's paternity was at question).
With the information provided by the Y DNA test, I was able to locate my paternal great-grandfather who had previously been unknown to anyone in the family. In fact, no one that is alive even knew that my grandfather had been born out of wedlock in the first place. How did I discover who my paternal great-grandfather was? Well, with my test results published online, I was contacted by another member who had also taken the Y DNA test and who was a direct descendant of my great-grandfather. After a fair amount of detective work, we were able to place Herbert Clarke (my great-grandfather) living next to my great-grandmother's family prior to, and shortly after, my grandfather's birth.
Finding my paternal grandfather's birth father was a major "win" for me, and was something I never thought I would be able to do. After that discovery, I began to focus on finding out who my paternal great-grandmother's birth father was, as this was also in question.
I know how this may sound to some, and I was not impressed either when I found out that I had not one, but two grandparents who's birth fathers were in question, but history cannot be changed, nor can I realistically comment on my ancestor's morals; it is what it is, as the saying goes.
My great-grandmother was born prior to my great-great grandmother marrying a man by the name of Andrew Pickle. My great-great grandmother, Amelia, and Andrew Pickle married shortly after my great-grandmother's birth, and then divorced a few months later. Amelia then married a man by the name of John Taylor. Prior to discovering that my great-grandmother's paternity was in question, I had done an enormous amount of research on the Taylor family which I had managed to trace back to the 1630's in New England. When I found out that my great-grandmother had been born prior to Amelia and John's marriage, I foolishly deleted all of my Taylor family research.
Luckily for me, the Pickle family is well documented and a number of Andrew Pickle's descendants have taken DNA tests: I matched none of them so I knew I was not a Pickle, but who was I?
When I uploaded my DNA test results to Ancestry.com, I was inundated by a large number of genetic matches in the USA. I knew that my maternal great-grandfather (my maternal grandmother's grandfather) had been born in the US so I started checking my matches to see if any may be from his family. They were not.
What happened next took me by surprise. Most of my high probability genetic matches all had one thing in common: a connection to John Taylor, my great-great grandmother's 2nd husband. I started to explore these connections and was able to determine that I was, indeed, descended through the Taylor family. It seems that my great-grandmother was John Taylor's daughter and that her surname of Taylor was correct, not just one she took once her mother and John Taylor married.
I spent several months reconstructing the information I had about the Taylor side of my family and that is when things became very interesting, very quickly as I found an amazing amount of history available online about this branch of my family, including references to relatives in the Library of Congress. I thought this odd but worked on building my family tree back to the earliest known Taylor in the US, which was my 8th great-grandfather, Stephen Taylor and my 8th great-grandmother, Sarah Hosford. Stephen Taylor was born in Windsor, CT. in 1618 although I have as yet been unable to confirm his parent's names or when they arrived in the US. My 8th great-grandmother, Sarah Hosford's family though, was a different story; they were VERY WELL documented all the way back to my 11th great-grandparents.
The Hosford side of the family was a rich vein of information which was well documented not only in England, but in the United States as well. At first I found this odd but as I continued my investigation month after month, I soon discovered why so many of my ancestors were well documents in US history: the family members I uncovered turned out to be a "who's-who" of US history.
Soon I was discovering famous Patriots, religious leaders, politicians, businessmen, inventors, military leaders, community leaders and celebrities. We were all descended from the same ancestors.
I was stunned by my discoveries and started to question whether or not I had made some sort of serious error somewhere in my tree. I went back over all of my information and compared it with known DNA matches and compared it with their research. Everything matched up. I was confident that my research was correct as I previously paid a professional geneaologist to confirm several hundred years worth of research I had done on my paternal grandmother's family in Scotland, and she found no errors after weeks of her own research.
Since my initial shocking discoveries, I have continued to find more and more famous relatives through my research. Some of my famous relatives include:
General Ethan Allen, Revolutionary War hero
Frank Winfield Woolworth of the Woolworth department stores fame.
Elisabeth and Andrew Shue, actors
Kevin Bacon, actor
Zac Efron, actor
Nancy Davis, former First Lady Nancy Reagan
Humphrey Bogart, actor
Grover Cleveland, President of the US
Lillian and Dorothy Gish, silent movie actors
Winston Churchill, WWII leader and Prime Minister of the UK
Elizabeth Taylor, actress
There are many more historical figures I have found through my paternal grandfather's lineage and I continue to find new discoveries every week. DNA has made all of this possible. DNA testing has also helped me to help other researchers confirm their family lineage, including at least two family members who had been adopted who, with our combined test results and research, now know who their parents were. There is no greater feeling than being able to help someone find their family.
I still have not found my maternal great-grandfather's parents, but I am confident that as more people take DNA tests and make their results public, one day I will discover his lineage as well.
When you combine the science of DNA with good, old fashioned detective work, it is amazing what you can find about your own family history. I encourage anyone who has hit a dead-end to try using DNA to help you move past any wall you may have hit as it is truly an amazing fingerprint to our personal history.