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When do you use DNA?

So what do you do when you can't figure out who or where your next generation came from?

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Alan Smith
Word Count: 855 (approx.)
Labels: Census  DNA Study 
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Over a year ago I wrote an article entitled; "DNA Research and your Family's history." At that time, through DNA testing I had discovered two family lines which matched my mother's maiden name of ‘Owen.' Today I now have a total of seven family lines which have matched with my mother's family.

The Brick Wall

Following a paper trail, I had traced the Owen line back through Kentucky and their march westward through the Cumberland Gap from Person County, North Carolina. According to the 1820 census, my 3great-grandfather, Edward Owen was born around 1775, but the census did not list where he was born. This had become my brick wall, a condition many researchers have experienced.

So what do you do when you can't figure out who or where your next generation came from?

Steps Taken To Get Around the Wall

The first step was to review all the records in Person County, primarily census and deed records of anyone with the surname of Owen around and before 1820. Family did not often move far from their parents prior to 1800. They purchased adjoining land, but in my case, I found no connection with my family.

There is an old adage which I read once that fits this situation. If one wants to resolve a problem, one must be responsible for the entire subject and not just a small portion of it. In genealogy, researchers sometimes make the mistake of drawing restrictive guidelines or boundaries which they have decided as "too much" to study, when what they should be doing is expanding their search parameters to include larger and larger areas to research. All genealogical research has three principal targets. They are; (1) Location, where they were living, (2) Time, when they lived there, and (3) Names, what were the surnames involved.

These three targets formed the basis for what I had to do next to find earlier generations. In order to broaden my research base, I joined the Owen Association and the Owen e-mail list. The Owen Association had a monthly newsletter which featured different Owen families. The Owen e-mail list automatically sent me a copy of every Owen query posted. I started to create my own database of every Owen family which was documented in a six-county area surrounding my family. I then signed up with over 35 other Owen families in a DNA testing project by getting a sample from my uncle, Albert Owen.

In a newsletter with the Association I discovered they had found six seemingly unrelated Owen families in Halifax County, Virginia. This county was right across the border of where my 3great-grandfather lived. I used these six families as the initial core for my database and soon had well over 25 families recorded. I cross-referenced them with place, time, names and DNA results, which allowed me to eliminate two of six families in Halifax County.

Then a couple months ago the fifth and sixth family DNA match arose out of the unlikely area of South Carolina. Only one of the six families in Halifax County had been tracked to South Carolina, and they had been suspected for some time due to similar first names.

DNA has not officially linked any of these families together, but it narrowed the field and accented family groups which would of never been suspected otherwise. Thus, it is important to understand when to use DNA. If you have not exhausted the document trail, it is not time to use this tool. If you are blocked and have exhausted relevant files, then it is time to widen your parameters and to include clans which married into your line and families which were neighbors. Finally, you will have to roll up your sleeves and delve into all the families in the area which have the same last name and begin to understand their ancestral relationship, so as to rule them in or out. There are many surname associations and e-mail lists on the internet, although not all are as proficient. The major advantage they offer is a group of like-minded individuals whom are all working toward a similar goal.

When the seventh DNA match was recently announced this month, the researcher of this family line had census documentation of a connection between the South Carolina lines and the above mentioned family in Halifax County, Virginia. With that final puzzle piece, the family outlining skeleton began to arise from 200 years of mystery. But like excavating a skeleton, some of the pieces were still missing to connect all of the family spurs. But with the primary backbone known, the new collective group of DNA cousins can concentrate their efforts toward a complete resolution.

DNA is an amazing tool which can rejuvenate a researcher's enthusiasm. I found I was related to both the president and the editor of the Owen association. I started with my own line of 400 to 800 members, and in about the space of a year have found myself a member of nearly 5,000 relatives. For more information about DNA testing I suggest you go to "http://www.familytreedna.com/.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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