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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.