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Adventures in DNA

Every week I log in to a couple of DNA testing websites to see whether I have any new matches. Recently, a few relatives on my dad’s side of the family have tested at these sites as well. Comparing their match lists with mine allows me to speculate on how my unfamiliar matches might be related to me.

I find this particularly interesting because several of my closest matches were adopted. I would like to know how we are related. Three people come to mind:

  1. A man in Florida matches my dad at the second cousin level. This man’s mother was adopted. As far as I know, no one in previous generations of Dad’s family lived in Florida, so I have no idea where this match fits into my family tree. He does not seem too interested in helping me puzzle this out.
  2. The same goes for a match in Montana. Again, this adopted woman does not want to correspond much although I have more to offer here. My dad had several family members who settled in Montana. Perhaps this woman is related through them. But without more information from her to go on, I cannot fit her into my tree, either.
  3. The final match, the closest one, is to a woman who was adopted from a foundling home near Lincoln, Nebraska in 1930. The third match and I have corresponded several times hoping to discover her parentage and how she is related to us.

She and I have made a little progress. When my second cousin on my father’s paternal side did a DNA test, she did not match my third match. This means the Nebraska baby does not belong to the Reed side of my dad’s family. Instead, she belongs to my grandmother’s family.

The third match’s family lived in the same area around McCook that my grandmother’s family did from 1885-1954. Only problem in placing the adopted baby into my family is that we do not know who Grandma’s father was. Without this information we do not know whether the baby is related through our known Riddle line or through my unknown great-grandfather’s line.

The match’s birth certificate provides the clue of a surname, probably her mother’s. I do not recognize this name as anyone related to me.

Two possibilities, then, come to mind. One of the baby’s parents may have been related to my unknown Nebraska great-grandfather. In that case, of course I do not recognize the surname on the baby’s birth record. Or perhaps the baby’s father was one of my known Riddle relatives.

Without more DNA testing, I think I will not find an answer. It would help to locate a Riddle descendant to see whether my third match also matches them. Doing this will be difficult because so many of us are double cousins, and their DNA would not help in sorting this out. We need a Riddle cousin whose family did not intermarry with the Reeds.

In the meantime, I will stay in touch with my DNA cousin in Nebraska. She would really like to identify her birth family, and I am her best evidence.

Probing My DNA Results

Recently I began combing through the family trees of my DNA matches looking to see if I could determine how I am related to these people. I have several brick wall ancestors, and a DNA match offers the possibility of breaking through one.

My first success was a connection to a descendant of the Stillabower family of Indiana. I have long suspected that my great-grandmother’s mother was a Stillabower. This match provides some evidence, especially since neither the other tester nor I recognized any other surnames in common.

This week I looked through my matches again for anyone who claimed a Riddle ancestor. My second great-grandfather, John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) was born somewhere in Pennsylvania, but I know nothing of his family. If I could find a Riddle match whose family also came from Pennsylvania, it might help my own research.

As I scrolled through my matches, one person who listed Riddles in his family tree seemed like a possibility. Further investigation, however, showed that his ancestors lived in the Carolinas, not Pennsylvania. Odd, then, that we should be a DNA match.

As I looked more closely at his family tree, I realized that our genealogical match probably is not from our Riddle lines at all. He has Carter and Templeton ancestors from Tennessee, and so do I. This common heritage is much more likely to be the reason for our DNA match.

Analyzing this match made me much more aware of how difficult it is to prove relationships with DNA testing and how careful one must be. Finding a common surname does not guarantee the DNA match is on that line. My matches and I must also match a third party who also descends from the suspected common ancestor. This is called triangulation. Once this occurs, one has a proven descent.

I will keep trying. As new matches are added, I will look for the surnames of all my mystery ancestors, Stillabower, Riddle, and Sherman. I will also search for close matches I do not recognize in the hopes that one may be from the family of my unidentified great-grandfather.

Sometimes there just is no paper trail to move us back in time. DNA testing can provide answers.