Sunday, July 8, 2012

Autosomal DNA Can Be Frustrating But . . .

In early 2011, I took autosomal DNA tests at both 23&Me and FamilyTree DNA (before you could pay a fee and transfer your 23&Me results to FTDNA) and also had my mother tested at FTDNA. In the 18 months since the initial results came in, I've been able to figure out the relationship to a very small number of the hundreds of matches. (I'm talking less than 10.) I became so frustrated with the whole process that I threw in the towel for months and just quit looking at them.

Last month I received a message from a new 23&Me match wanting to compare information. We quickly realized that we have Bennett families in Troup County, Georgia in common even though any relationship between the two families is undeterminedThe next week I received an e-mail from a FTDNA match with a Bennett line in a different location. The possibility of finding a relationship between these Bennett families was enough to draw me back into DNA.

Last week I looked at a few other matches and, this time, I had some luck. Both companies allow users to upload a GedCom to create a pedigree chart but it seems like most people don't take advantage of that feature - at least most of my matches haven't. Of the pedigree charts I've checked, I had never come across one that had a match until a few days ago. And I found three in a row!

Stephen Hopkins and Rachel McFarland were my 3rd great-grandparents. There they were in a pedigree chart for one of Mom's matches at FTDNA. I fired off an e-mail and received a quick response from a cousin of the actual match who manages the account. He introduced me to another cousin in their branch of the family who has mtDNA results for Rachel's maternal line.

John Howard and Mary Risner were also my 3rd great-grandparents. The next two matches I checked, after the Hopkins cousin, had John and Mary in their pedigree charts. It's interesting that I found more Howard matches because two of the four 23&Me matches that I've figured out share John Howard's parents and one also shares Mary Risner's parents. (Mary's brother married one of John's nieces.)

So, autosomal DNA can be frustrating but maybe it isn't as hopeless as I thought. I may never work through all of our matches but I'm going to start spending some time on them again. Before I start digging too far, I really need a system for tracking all of this information. Everything up to this point is scattered through e-mails, messages at 23&Me, research notes in my database, a couple of not-up-to-date spreadsheets and who knows where else. Any suggestions?

Image from OpenClipArt.


  1. I can't imagine using autosomal DNA to just see who comes up, since it's for close relatives, only. But I'm trying to use it to check a particular family, because of a g-g-grandfather who disappeared and we think he's a certain fellow with the same name. Good luck with your search!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. We were successful in proving my paternal grandfather changed his name using Y-DNA. Is that not a possibility for your gg-grandfather?

      I did the autosomal tests with the hope that it would help solve some brick walls and solidify some questionable connections but not with any particular family in mind.

  2. I've not done any DNA testing to date. The frustration you are talking about is what had held me back. The DNA testing companies don't offer any sort of software or similar to help you track your information? Seems like they would have something online for you to use.

    1. They both allow you to enter "notes" with the person's info in your list of matches and you can change the predicted relationship to the actual relationship but that's it. I'm trying to set up something in OneNote (seems to flow better there so far than Evernote for me) but haven't quite got it worked out.