My husband Greg’s great grandfather Ebenezer Henry Sullivan, known as Henry Sullivan, was born on 7 August 1863 at Gheringhap, a small settlement near Geelong, Victoria.
Henry’s birth was registered by Matilda Hughes, his maternal grandmother. According to the birth certificate, his father was a labourer named William Sullivan, about 24 years old, born in London. His mother was recorded as Matilda Sullivan, maiden surname Hughes (but actually born Darby), aged 18, born in New Zealand. William and Matilda had been married in 1862, the previous year. Matilda had another child, Eleazar Hughes, born in 1861 to a different father, unnamed.
The 1862 marriage of William Sullivan and Matilda Frances Hughes took place on 6 October 1862 in Herne Hill, a suburb of Geelong, at the residence of the Reverend Mr James Apperley. The marriage certificate records William as 23, labourer, a bachelor, born in London, living at Gheringhap. William’s parents were named as William Sullivan, painter and glazier, and his wife Mary Barry.
On 12 June 1865 at Ashby, Geelong, William and Matilda had a daughter, Margaret Maria Sullivan. The informant on the birth certificate was her maternal grandmother Matilda Hughes. The father was named as William Sullivan, farmer, deceased, aged about 25, born in London.
On 20 November 1865 Margaret Maria Sullivan died, five months old. A Coronial inquest was held, where it was revealed that six months after their marriage, a few months before Henry was born, Matilda was deserted by her new husband William. Matilda Sullivan maintained that the father of the baby Margaret Maria was William Sullivan, who had visited her twice since their separation. At the time of the baby’s death Matilda Sullivan worked at Geelong Hospital. Her two younger children were cared for by their grandmother.
The inquest heard medical opinion that the baby had starved to death. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against the grandmother [Matilda Hughes], and the mother [Matilda Sullivan], as being an accessory to it.
In April 1866 Matilda Hughes and her daughter Matilda Sullivan were called upon to surrender to their bail, but they did not answer to their names.
On the 15th May 1866 the ‘Geelong Advertiser‘ reported on court proceedings relating to the abandonment of two year old Henry Sullivan. It was said of his mother, Matilda, that “her husband had left her, and was supposed to have gone to New Zealand, whence no tidings were heard of him, and she had recently left Geelong with some man with whom she had formed an intimacy, and had deserted her children”. The child, Henry Sullivan, was admitted to the orphanage.
I have found no subsequent trace of William and Matilda. Nor have I found any record in London of William Sullivan before he arrived in Australia. I have also not been able to trace his parents William Sullivan, painter and glazier, and his mother Mary Barry.
Moreover, other than as descendants of Henry Sullivan, neither Greg nor any of his Sullivan cousins have any Sullivan relatives among their DNA matches.
When Greg first tested his DNA he had a strong match to Helen F. from New Zealand and also to her great uncle Alan W. Since 2016 I have been in correspondence with Helen who, with me, is attempting to discover how we are related. Helen has a comprehensive family tree. We have since narrowed the relationship to her McNamara Durham line.
Helen recently wrote to tell me that she had noticed some matches descended from a William Durham, son of a Patrick Durham. Patrick Durham, it seems, was the brother of Joanna NcNamara nee Durham, Helen’s 3rd great grandmother.
I have placed the matches in DNAPainter’s ‘What are the odds?’ tool. It appears likely that Greg and his Sullivan cousins are descended from Patrick Durham. We don’t yet have quite enough data to be sure whether they descend from William Durham or one of his cousins.
William Durham was born about 1840 in Finsbury, Middlesex, England, to Patrick Durham and Mary Durham née Barry. When William Durham married Jemima Flower on 9 April 1860, he stated that his father was William Durham, a painter and glazier. (There are several other records where Patrick Durham is recorded as William Durham but is clearly the same man.)
William and Jemima had two children together, one of whom appears to have died in infancy. The other, also called William Durham, left descendants, and some of these share DNA with Greg and his Sullivan cousins and also with Helen and her Durham cousins.
On 19 October 1861 William Durham, his wife and two children, were subject to a poor law removal. The record mentions his parents.
Jemima died about a week later and was buried 27 October 1861 at Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney.
I have found no trace of William Durham after the Poor Law removal. Did he emigrate to Australia and change his name?
ThruLines® is a tool from AncestryDNA that shows you how you might be related to people with whom you share DNA.
A ThruLine is a hypothetical connection based on information from your family tree that supports a link between your tree and the family tree of the person you match (a match is someone who shares some DNA with you).
For a ThruLine to exist both you and your match need to have a family tree linked to your DNA test. AncestryDNA uses the family tree linked to your test to find people who are in your tree and also in the trees of your matches.
You can find ThruLines from any page on Ancestry®. Click the DNA tab to start. ThruLines are available for ancestors through to 5th great-grandparents.
Here is a screenshot of my husband Greg’s ThruLines.
We know all of Greg’s great great grandparents, but when it comes to earlier generations there are gaps. ThruLines, using a combination of DNA and family trees, has the potential to help identify some of the ancestors whose name we don’t know. These suggestions are identified in green.
Thomas Harvey, born 1739, has been identified as possibly one of Greg’s fifth great grandfathers.
I select Thomas from the grid on ThruLines. While hovering it shows me there are two DNA matches who are also descended from Thomas. I am invited to evaluate the relationship paths.
One of the matches is a second cousin descended from Greg’s great grandmother Edith Caroline Edwards. The other match is identified as possibly a sixth cousin.
If I click on the green ‘Evaluate’ button beside the name of Thomas Harvey, I see two different sorts of trees to review. One tree is created by the DNA match, but it is a private tree with apparently no records. However, clicking on the private tree I can see that there are in fact 13 records attached. So I can evaluate the possible shared ancestry I have written to the match requesting access to the tree.
There are also 3 other trees with Thomas Harvey, with up to 3 records attached. The researchers have no DNA connection but are researching the same ancestors. Selecting one of the other trees I can see the three attached records and I can review these further. I am also invited to add Thomas to my tree on the basis of the research done by the Ancestry member. I prefer to progress more slowly and to evaluate the records to see if Thomas Harvey is indeed the father of Jane.
ThruLines has given me some hints to work on to go further back on the Harvey line and review the records to see if I can link Greg’s 4th great grandmother Jane Harvey to Thomas and Patience Harvey. The difficulty is that Harvey is not an uncommon surname and Jane is a common forename. It is hard to be certain that Jane Harvey is linked to this family. Parish records in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are less useful in making connections between the generations. I do not think there are wills available for this family which would help to link the generations.
ThruLines® is a useful tool for suggesting connections between DNA matches and providing hints about possible relationships. However, as with all such hints and clues, the written records must also be assessed to determine if the relationship suggested by the DNA evidence actually holds
To discover where you come from, we compare your DNA to the DNA of people with known origins from around the world. These people are our reference panel. Our reference panel has over 56,580 DNA samples from people with deep regional roots and documented family trees. We survey your DNA at over 700,000 locations and look at how much DNA you share with people from the reference panel in each ethnicity region.
Recently AncestryDNA provides estimates of ethnicity inheritance from each parent. They use your DNA matches to split your DNA into the halves that came from each parent. First, they find the segments that connect only to one parent or the other. Then, they separate out the DNA you got from each parent by piecing together the segments that overlap. After they have separated your DNA into the parts that correspond with each parent, they calculate an ethnicity estimate on the two halves. From this, they can show your “ethnicity inheritance”—the ethnicity percentages passed down to you from each parent.
These are my results.
Both of my parents have tested with AncestryDNA, so I can compare the estimate with its results. The differences are partly because I inherited only part of their DNA.
Column 1 has the ethnicity percentage I am estimated to have inherited from my parent and column 2 has their ethnicity estimate from their own test with AncestryDNA.
% I inherited from parent 1
My father’s ethnicity estimate
England and Northwestern Europe
Sweden and Denmark
% I inherited from parent 2
My mother’s ethnicity estimate
England and Northwestern Europe
Sweden and Denmark
Eastern Europe and Russia
It seems doubtful to me that I inherited Irish ethnicity from my mother. She herself shows no Irish ethnicity in her results and my documented family tree has an Irish connection on my father’s side, reflected in his ethnicity results, with no Irish connections for my mother.
AncestryDNA’s Chromosome Painter displays these results:
When I look at the results by different regions I see that Ireland has been assigned solely to chromosome 7, as has Wales. AncestryDNA has allocated Wales to one of my parents and Ireland to the other.
I suspect the breakdown by chromosome needs to be refined.
By way of comparison this is my father’s AncestryDNA chromosome painter picture. It can be compared with the map I have developed using DNAPainter.
For the most part AncestryDNA has allocated regions to whole chromosomes.
So far at DNAPainter I have only managed to paint just over a quarter of my father’s DNA profile. I can make some comparison between the two diagrams.
The Basque inheritance AncestryDNA shows on the paternal chromosome 1 appears to be inherited from Philip Chauncy and Susan Mitchell, my father’s great great grandparents.
My father has inherited Scottish and Irish ancestry from both his mother and his father. His Welsh ancestry was inherited only from his father. This does correspond with my known tree.
English ancestry has only been inherited from his mother; English ancestry is not so well defined for me – many forebears were born in England but had come from elsewhere, the issue becomes from what generation ethnicity is determined.
My father has inherited his Germanic Europe ancestry from his father on chromosome 6. It is not clear which ancestors might be responsible for this inheritance.
To be useful AncestryDNA’s Chromosome Painter diagrams clearly need more work.
I remain more interested in ancestral contributions to DNA rather than the vague attributions of ethnicity.
Unfortunately, for privacy reasons (or so it is said), AncestryDNA chooses not share detailed information about DNA matches. To obtain the details and be able to derive the information about which DNA you inherited from which ancestors you need to use other companies, such as MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, or GedMatch.
My husband Greg’s great great grandparents John Plowright (1831 – 1910) and Margaret Plowright nee Smyth (1834 – 1897) were married in 1855. They had six children, the youngest born in 1872. In 1881 they adopted a child named Frederick Harold Plowright. I have not found his birth certificate, and until recently I did not know how he was related to the Plowright family. Until 1929 there was no formal adoption process in Victoria and so there was no directly relevant documentary material from 1881 to establish a relationship.
In 2018 J P, grandson of Frederick Plowright, took a DNA test. This showed that he was related to the descendants of John and Margaret Plowright but that his grandfather was not the son of John and Margaret.
I used a DNA Painter analysis tool called ‘What are the Odds?’ to estimate where J P stood in the family tree and so how Frederick Harold might be related. The tool calculates where somebody probably fits in the family tree based on the amount of DNA they share with people about whose position in the tree you have complete confidence. The tool predicted that the best hypothesis is that J P was the great grandchild of James Henry Plowright, one of the sons of John and Margaret Plowright, and that his grandfather Frederick was a half-sibling to the other children of James Henry.
In short, it appears very likely that Frederick was adopted by his paternal grandparents.
The Avoca Mail reported on 28 June 1881 that Elizabeth Ann Cooke brought an affiliation case against James Henry Plowright. This is a legal proceeding, usually initiated by an unwed mother, claiming legal recognition that a particular man is the father of her child. It was often associated with a claim for financial support.
AVOCA POLICE COURT. Monday, June 28th, 1881. (Before C. W. Carr, Esq., P.M.)
Elizabeth Ann Cooke v. James Henry Plowright. — This was an affiliation case, and Mr Matthews, who appeared for the plaintiff, asked that it might be postponed to allow it to be arranged out of court. The case was accordingly postponed by mutual consent for one week.
Elizabeth Ann Onthong was born in 1862 in Avoca, Victoria, to Thomas Onthong and Bridget Onthong nee Fogarty. The family later used the surname Cook or Cooke. Elizabeth was the fourth of six children; she had four brothers, none of whom apparently married or had children, and one sister, Mary Ann, who married and had children.
Mary Hickey (1819 – 1890), my third great grandmother, came to South Australia in 1840 on the “Birman” with her sister Julia (1817 – 1884) and brother Michael (1812 – 1840) and Michael’s wife and their two young children. Michael died on the voyage; his wife and children returned to Ireland. In 1843 Mary Hickey married Gordon Mainwaring, a farmer.
Although I have found records for Mary Mainwaring nee Hickey in Australia I have not been able to trace her origins in Ireland. It is possible however that DNA may provide clues to more information about Mary Hickey and my Hickey forebears
My father has a DNA match with JW on ancestry.com. They share 21 centimorgans of DNA across 2 segments. JW is my father’s sixth cousin once removed. Their most recent common ancestors are Godfrey Massy (1711 – 1766), a clergyman, and his wife Margaret Baker; Godfrey and Margaret are my father’s sixth great grandparents. The amount of DNA shared is rather a lot for such distant cousins but not impossible. However, there may be a closer connection.
My father and JW uploaded their DNA to GEDMatch, a site that enables users to analyse and compare their DNA results. AncestryDNA uses algorithms to remove components of a match in cases where the company believes that the shared DNA may be due to general population inheritance rather than a genealogical relationship. On GEDMatch my father and JW share three segments of DNA on chromosome 3 totalling 37.6 centimorgans. They also share 49.4 centimorgans across two segments on chromosome 23, the X chromosome.
My father inherited his X chromosome from his mother, and a Y chromosome from his father. My father’s mother inherited her two X chromosomes from each of her parents but her father inherited his X chromosome only from his mother. Inheritance on the X chromosome thus has a distinctive pattern.
Godfrey Massy is shown on the fan chart highlighted in purple with an arrow pointing to his position. When the fan chart is overlaid with the X DNA inheritance path it can be seen that Godfrey Massy can not be the source of the DNA shared between JW and my father on chromosome 23.
JW’s great great grandmother was Ann Hickey born in County Limerick in about 1823 who married James Massy in about 1841. James Massy was the great grandson of Godfrey Massy. James and Ann had a son Michael (1842 – 1888) and a daughter Margaret born 1844. Ann Massy nee Hickey died about 1845 and James remarried to a woman called Mary. In 1847, by his second wife he had a daughter they called Mary. James Massy, his second wife and his three children emigrated to Queensland on the Florentia, arriving in April 1853. James’s wife Mary died during the voyage. The shipping record states that James Massy was aged 30 (born about 1823), was born in Limerick, was a carpenter, a Roman Catholic, and could read and write.
The X DNA inheritance for JW shows that she could have inherited some of her chromosome 23 from her great great grandmother Ann Massy nee Hickey. My father and JW also both share DNA with matches who have Hickeys from Limerick in their family tree.
While exploring records for Hickeys of County Limerick I came across a series of records for a woman called Bridget Hickey of Sallymount who had applied for a Poverty Relief Loan. One of the guarantors was a James Massy, the other was named William Kennedy. It could be a coincidence, but perhaps Bridget was related to Ann Hickey, the wife of James Massy.
The Irish Reproductive Loan Fund was a micro credit scheme set up in 1824 to provide small loans to the ‘industrious poor.’ In November 1843 Bridget Hickey, shopkeeper of Sallymount, received £4 principal on which 20 shillings interest was payable. Six years later, in 1849, Bridget Hickey, James Massy, and William Kennedy were served with a notice stating that Bridget had neglected to pay most of the amount owing . They were obliged to appear in the Sessions-House of Castle Connell.
On the reverse side of the notice it is noted that Bridget Hickey was dead and was the sister of James Massy and of William Kennedy. I interpret this to mean she was the sister-in-law of James Massy, the sister of Ann Hickey.
In a return to the Clerk of the Peace signed 5 March 1853 – a document associated with Bridget Hickey’s loan – James Massy, a fishing rod maker, is reported as having left for Australia in November last. This fits with his Australian arrival on the Florentia in April 1853; the Florentia departed from Plymouth on November 22. The trade of fishing rod-maker, of course, is not too distant from that of carpentry. In that time and place, fishing pole manufacture was not an ordinary trade. Fishing could be an upper class pursuit and a maker of fishing poles could have an intermediate status in the class structure, like an estate agent or a gamekeeper.
In the same return Bridget Hickey is stated to be a pauper last seen about November in the City of Limerick. The report of her death in 1849 seems to have been incorrect.
I am reasonably confident that James Massy, husband of Ann Hickey, is in some way connected to Bridget Hickey. Ann and Bridget were probably sisters. Bridget Hickey and James Massy lived in either of the adjoining townlands of Ballynacourty and Sallymount, parish of Stradbally. Given the likely DNA connection between Anne Massy nee Hickey and Mary Mainwaring nee Hickey, I intend to look for the family of Mary Mainwaring nee Hickey in the adjoining townlands of Ballynacourty and Sallymount, parish of Stradbally.
This afternoon I watched a Legacy Family Tree webinar (recorded) by Dr Blaine Bettinger, a genetic genealogist, about a DNA technique used to map the segments of DNA that a person does not share with a match. A match, of course, is definable as a string or strings of DNA common to two people. But what about the DNA that they do not share? Can it tell us anything?
Blaine Bettinger showed how, by using DNA information from close relatives such as parents or siblings, we can work out where pieces of DNA came from: how they were inherited. The technique is called deductive mapping, inverse mapping, or inferred mapping.
The key is to recognise that on the chromosome you inherited from your father, your DNA comes either from your paternal grandfather or your paternal grandmother. Similarly, the DNA from your mother comes either from your maternal grandfather or your maternal grandmother.
If you find DNA on the chromosome that you inherited from your father that did not come from your paternal grandfather then it must have come from your paternal grandmother. The principle applies equally to matches on your mother’s side.
I was very keen to put this new technique to the test on my husband Greg’s DNA. Luckily, Greg’s brother Dennis had tested his DNA, and I was able to use his matches in combination with Greg’s. The first match I reviewed was Greg and Dennis’s paternal aunt Betty.
My hypothesis was that for segments of DNA where Dennis shares DNA with Aunt Betty and Greg does not share DNA with Aunt Betty, those segments must have been inherited from Greg and Dennis’s paternal grandmother, Peter’s mother Elizabeth Cross.
All segments on Greg and Dennis’s paternal chromosomes were either inherited from their paternal grandfather Cecil Young or from their paternal grandmother Elizabeth Cross. If Dennis shared a segment with his Aunt Betty, he inherited that segment from Cecil. If Greg did not share that same segment with his Aunt Betty, then he did not inherit that segment from Cecil. He must have inherited the segment from his paternal grandmother Elizabeth Cross.
Using the tools at MyHeritage DNA I was easily able to extract the segment data of the DNA shared by Greg and his Aunt Betty. They share 138.5 centimorgans of DNA across 19 segments. I scrolled down to the chromosome browser on the match screen and clicked on “Advanced Options” on the right side of the screen and then clicked on “Download shared DNA info”.
This gave me a spreadsheet and I was able to copy and paste the data into DNA Painter (I have written about chromosome mapping with DNA Painter at DNA Painter – a new tool). I created a new profile for this exercise as I did the calculations.
I then extracted the segment data for Dennis and Betty.
I then mapped Dennis and Betty’s match at DNA Painter. So I could see Greg and Betty’s match lined up against Dennis and Betty’s, I mapped it as a maternal match. I then looked for the visual clues of segment mismatch. I have highlighted these segment mismatches with green arrows. There were eight segments where Dennis shared DNA with Aunt Betty that Greg did not. (There were also segments that Greg shared and Dennis did not but for the moment we are concentrating on Greg’s chromosome mapping.) Four of these were complete segments and four partial segments.
I took the spreadsheet of Greg and Betty’s shared segments and pasted beside it Dennis and Betty’s shared segments so I could compare them.
I then highlighted the whole segment mismatches in green and the partial segment matches in purple.
I then added the four segments that were inferred to have been inherited by Greg from Elizabeth to the DNA Painter profile. I only needed to add the chromosome number and the start location and end location.
For the purposes of chromosome mapping I did not need the additional data concerning RSID start and end, the number of centimorgans, or SNPs.
When previewing the segments I got a warning from DNA Painter about match segments being overlaid and that I might have already mapped these segments.
When I tried to save the match, DNA Painter told me that there was an overlap with the segments I had already painted of Dennis’s match with Aunt Betty.
The next challenge was to calculate the partial segments where Dennis shared some DNA with Aunt Betty that Greg did not at the beginning or end of a segment. I first did the calculation for Chromosome 5. The segment Dennis shared with Aunt Betty extended beyond the segment Greg shared with Aunt Betty. In the spreadsheet calculations for inferring the DNA Greg inherited from Elizabeth Cross, I copied the end location data for Greg’s segment match with Aunt Betty and the end location data for Dennis’s segment match with Aunt Betty. This created the segment that Dennis shared with Aunt Betty and Greg did not.
I painted that segment successfully. The black arrow highlights the segment Greg does not share with Betty and can thus be inferred to have been inherited from Elizabeth Cross. Underneath can be seen that Dennis shares that segment with Betty.
I repeated the exercise for chromosome 11. This time Dennis shares DNA with Betty and Greg does not before the segment Greg shares with Betty. So the calculation involved the start location of Dennis being the start location of the inferred segment and the start location of Greg’s match with Betty being the end location of the inferred segment.
I repeated the exercise of inferring segments for the remaining two segments.
I was confident in the logic of the results of this deductive chromosome mapping exercise and added the inferred segments to Greg’s DNA chromosome map. Before this exercise I had mapped 40% of Greg’s DNA with 161 segments being assigned. After adding these 8 segments 41% with 169 segments assigned. I have now mapped 54% of Greg’s paternal chromosome with 94 segments assigned.
I look forward to continuing the exercise and filling in more gaps.
By assigning inferred segments to either the paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother or on the maternal chromosome to either the maternal grandfather or maternal grandmother, I may be able to use the information to deduce how a DNA match links to Greg’s family tree based on the segment shared, even if that match does not have a family tree link to Greg.
A chromosome map is not just a colourful diagram. It’s a useful tool for exploring how DNA matches might be related. Information about the descent of a DNA segment, even if the segment is not directly shared by matches, could help you to calculate their shared ancestry.
The genealogy company MyHeritage recently announced it had refreshed the data for its ‘Theory of Family Relativity™’, a tool that computes hypothetical family relationships from historical records and DNA matches. It does this by ‘…incorporating genealogical information from [its] collections of nearly 10 billion historical records and family tree profiles, to offer theories on how you and your DNA Matches might be related.
In yesterday’s webinar I looked at a MyHeritage theory of the relationship between my husband Greg and his cousin Pearl. MyHeritage suggests that Pearl is Greg’s second cousin once removed. This is confirmed by the historical records. Greg and Pearl have well-developed and reliable family trees, so it wasn’t difficult to calculate the relationship.
It’s hard to say what’s new in MyHeritage’s new Theory. It’s possible that new ways of massaging the data have been developed, but it seems more likely that, with larger volumes of data being processed to develop Theories, ‘new’ simply means more, as in ‘newly-added’.
Anyway, I thought I’d give it a try.
MyHeritage’s announcement included a note advising users that ‘If we have found new theories for you in this update, you’ll see a banner about the Theory of Family Relativity™ at the top of your DNA Matches page. Click “View theories” to see all the theories we’ve found, both old and new.’
I couldn’t find this banner, but I eventually found my way to the filters on the DNA results page where by using the “All tree details” filter, I could select “Has Theory of Family Relativity™”
My husband Greg has 14 matches with theories. Back in March 2019 I counted 7 matches with theories so I looked at this list of matches again to see if I can learn anything new. In March 2019 Greg had 4313 DNA matches at MyHeritage. Now he has 6399, 50% more.
Several of the 14 matches in the list were matches I had not previously reviewed. I decided to look at S, whose DNA kit is managed by T from Canada.
Greg and S share 35 centimorgans across 1 segment. MyHeritage estimates them to be 3rd to 5th cousins. S appears in a family tree with 250 people. S is the 4th cousin of Greg according to the Theory of Family Relativity™. Ancestral surnames appearing in both trees include Dawe; Daw and Smith. Ancestral places common to Greg and S include Great Britain and Ireland.
I clicked on View Theory which I have highlighted with the green arrow.
There are three paths to support the theory that Greg and S are 4th cousins.
The first path uses 3 websites: my tree, a tree by B R from Australia and the third website the tree by T who administers the DNA kit for S. MyHeritage states “This path is based on 3 MyHeritage family trees, with 55% confidence”
The link is William Smith Dawe (1810-1977), Greg’s third great grandfather. I have on my tree that he is married to Mary Way (1811 – 1861). B R’s tree has William’s dates (1819 – 1877) and has William’s wife as Elizabeth Hocken 1821 – 1884 and the daughter of William and Elizabeth as Thirza Dawe 1824 – 1891. Thirza is the great great grandmother of S.
MyHeritage thinks the probability that the two William Smith Dawe’s on my tree and B R’s tree is 100% despite the differing birth dates. MyHeritage thinks the probability that Thirza Daw on B R’s tree is the same Thirza Daw on T’s tree is only 55%. I clicked on the small 55% immediately above the green letter b and got the following pop-up.
There are several problems with this first path of the theory calculated by MyHeritage. I don’t believe our William had two wives and Thirza born 1824 would have been born when William and Elizabeth were extremely young. I know this family does have common names and these are repeated across several generations. There are also several cousin marriages in this branch of the tree.
I looked at the second path to see if it is more plausible. MyHeritage states “This path is based on 4 MyHeritage family trees, with 70% confidence.”
The four trees are mine and the tree by T who administers the DNA kit for S plus a tree by JS from Australia and a tree by MT from Australia.
This path goes from Greg’s great grandmother Sarah Jane Way (1863 – 1898) to her mother Sarah Way née Daw (1837 – 1895). The Daw surname sometimes is spelt with an extra e as in the tree by J S. From Sarah Dawe on J S’s tree we go to Sarah Ellen Dawe (1837 – 1895) on the tree by M T. I am not sure where the middle name came from. I don’t recall it on any document. I will check the documents I have.
M T’s tree has the parents of Sarah Ellen Dawe as Betsey Metters 1792 – 1863 and Isaac Smith Dawe 1795 – 1851. From Isaac we link to T’s tree. He shows Isaac Smith Dawe 1797 – 1851 and Betsy Metters (Matters) 1792 – 1863 as the parents of Thirza Daw 1824 – 1891, the great grandmother of S.
This theory seems more plausible to me, but I need to verify this against source documents. At the links between the trees MyHeritage assigns a confidence level. Most of the links are 100% but MyHeritage is only 70% confident that Sarah Dawe in J S’s tree is the same person as Sarah Ellen Dawe in the tree by M T.
I clicked on the 70% and got the popup showing the comparison which gives additional detail from both trees. The difference is that the tree by J S has no parents has no parents but the tree by M T has Sarah Ellen Way’s parents as Isaac Smith Dawe and Betsy Metters. M T’s Sarah Ellen Daw has the same dates and places of birth and death as the Sarah Daw in my tree. I have plenty of documents to back up that sarah’s parents were not Isaac and Betsy but instead Isaac’s brother William Smith Daw.
This theory almost but not quite adds up. The need to go across several surnames is because of the spelling variations between Daw and Dawe. In my tree I have spelled the surname without a final ‘e’. I think MyHeritage has placed too much emphasis on the surname variation and not enough on other variations.
The third path “…is based on one community tree and 4 MyHeritage family trees, with 52% confidence”.
This path uses our tree, the tree by Greg’s cousin Pearl, a tree managed by S R from Great Britain, Family Search Family Tree, and the tree by T who administers the DNA kit for S.
Pearl’s tree provides the link between Sarah Daw on our tree spelt without an e to Sarah Dawe with an e and from there to her father William Dawe – surname with a final e. From there the link is to S R’s tree with William Smith Dawe (1810 – 1877), MyHeritage are only 72% confident they have the right man. William Dawe is not a direct forebear of Pearl and she has not provided many details for him in her tree.
S R shows Thirza Dawe (1824 – 1891) as the daughter of William Smith Dawe. From there the link is to FamilySearch Family Tree but with only 52% confidence. I clicked on the 53% to find out why MyHeritage is not confident they have the same person.
There are some important differences. The dates are the same and the place name variations are minor. FamilySearch, however, has Isaac Smith Dawe as the father of Thirza, not William Smith Dawe.
This path is rated 52% confidence by MyHeritage. The level of confidence is determined by its assessment of the weakest link.
I don’t think this path is correct. S R’s tree shows William Smith Dawe fathering Thirza when he was only 14, which is unlikely.
Of the three paths I think path 2 is most plausible but even then it is not quite right as it relies on the wrong father for Greg’s great great grandmother Sarah Way born Daw and does not fit with known records.
The next step is to review records and update my own tree using those records. After all, the Theory of Family Relativity generated by MyHeritage is meant to be a hint and not a proven conclusion.
I did not have Thirza Daw(e), the great great grandmother of S in my tree.
I have Isaac Smith Dawe (abt 1797 – 1851) and his wife Betsy Metters (1792 – 1863) in my tree. They show as Greg’s 4th great uncle. I have only one daughter showing for that marriage, the forebear of another match. Because Isaac is off to one side I have not researched all that family.
Isaac Daw appeared on the 1841 English census as a 40 year old miller living at Newton Mill, Tavistock, Devon. In the same household was Betsy Daw aged 45, and four children Betsy Daw aged 15, Honor aged 9, Jane aged 8, David aged 4.
On the 1851 census Isaac S Daw is a 54 year old miller employing 4 men and 1 boy living at Lumburn, Tavitock. In the same household are his wife Betsy aged 58, a niece aged 15 and a servant, a miller’s labourer, aged 30. All children have left home.
At the time of the 1841 census there may have been other children who had already left home.
Research by another cousin Lorna Henderson which she shared to Wikitree showed “entry in Beer Ferris in Tavistock parish register for 25 Aug 1818 shows Isaac Smith Dawe as sojourner of this parish, and Betsey Metters of this parish spinster, “married in this church by banns with the consent of their parents” by Harry Hobart, Rector. Both signed: Isaac Smith Daw and Betsey Matters. Wit: Humphrey Roberts, Mary Box (neither of whom witnessed other marriages on the page)”. I navigated to the Wikitree entry from MyHeritage when I searched Isaac Smith Dawe (Daw)/Dawe in All Collections. MyHeritage has 13,676,346 results for Isaac Smith Dawe (Daw)/Daw – far too many, the problem with a common name – they would of course be reduced as one narrowed down the search parameters.
I have been in correspondence with Lorna Henderson before and I know she is a most conscientious researcher and that Isaac is her direct forebear. She has a website for her family history at http://LornaHen.com and the details she has researched about Isaac Smith Daw are at http://familytree.lornahen.com/p28.htm . Lorna records there that in his will of 1847, William Smith Daw mentions his daughters: “My Daughters Names are as follows Mary Cook Betsey Bennett, Thirza Daw, Honor Daw and Jane Daw” and also his sons “my too sons Isaac Daw and David Daw”.
I could not find a baptism record for Thirza Daw in the MyHeritage record collections. On Wikitree cousin Lorna recorded that Thirza Daw was baptised 5 APR 1824 Tavistock, Devon, England. I found an image of her baptism in 1825 at FindMyPast. She was the daughter of Isaac Smith and Betsy Daw. Their abode was Newton Mill and Isaac’s occupation was Miller. I have updated Wikitree with the slightly revised date.
I am confident that Thirza is the daughter of Isaac Smith Daw, Greg’s 4th great uncle. Thyrza Daw shows up on the 1841 census as a female servant in another household. She married in 1850.
I traced down to S through English and Canadian censuses and other records. I found that she was Greg’s 5th cousin. S and Greg share 4th great grandparents Isaac Daw(e) 1769 – 1840 and Sarah Daw née Smith 1774 – 1833. Greg is descended from William Smith Daw 1810 – 1877 and S is descended from his brother Isaac Smith Daw 1797 – 1851.
I will update my family tree at MyHeritage. The Theory of Family Relativity won’t update straight away but at least I know that the next time it updates it may use the opportunity to trace a more accurate path.
As mentioned above I feel the algorithms MyHeritage used placed too much emphasis on the variation between Daw and Dawe and not enough emphasis on the parents named in the trees though there was obviously some weighting for variations in parents.
Nothing has changed about the MyHeritage theories particularly that I can see although I had not noticed previous theories that I reviewed making use of the tree at FamilySearch.
The Theories of Family Relativity generated by MyHeritage are just that, theories or hints. But they did point me in the right direction to make the connection between S and Greg and build my tree a little further.
Last November I agreed to give a webinar (Web-seminar) – a live Internet presentation – for the genealogy company MyHeritage. Scheduled to be broadcast on Tuesday, September 22, 2020, it was to be called “Finding new cousins and building your family tree with DNA”.
The webinar was to start at 2 p.m. North American Eastern Time. I can’t remember if I realised that this would be 4 a.m. here in Ballarat.
What with bushfires and a pandemic I’d forgotten about this. Then last Friday I got an email scheduling an audio-visual test of the webinar software and hardware. It was on.
The walk-through went well, with only one hiccup: my Macintosh was reluctant to give microphone permissions to the webinar software. I gave up trying and used my Windows laptop instead.
My presentation was based on several posts, especially:
To comply with the convention that living people should not be identifiable, I asked the few people affected if they would mind being referred to by forename only. No one refused and I am very grateful. I also spent some time blurring their surnames where these were visible in screenshots and also blurring the details of other DNA matches.
My webinar was about using the MyHeritage DNA tools. Users interact with a web page for this. It’s complicated, and people new to it sometimes struggle to understand what’s going on. I tried to explain, emphasising that:
Find your matches where you know how you are related. MyHeritage has 4.2 million DNA kits in its database. You do not match all of these people but the number of matches you do have is probably overwhelming. Work from these known matches on to the matches you share with these matches.
Build or upload your family tree and link that tree with your DNA kit. If you are trying to work out how a match might be related you may need to work on their family tree to find the path to your shared most common recent ancestors and also to ensure there are no other possible relationships that could explain the shared inherited DNA.
There is a lot of data on the website and you have to explore often by scrolling down, and by clicking on the screen to reveal more even when there are not obvious prompts.
I pointed out the messaging icon and also the notes icon. Not everybody responds to your messages but many do. I recommend keeping the message short and offering to work with your match to find your shared ancestry.
I use the notes facility to keep track of when I messaged somebody and if I had received a reply plus any brief thoughts I might have about how they are related.
I looked at some of the tools MyHeritage offers: my favourite is the AutoClusters tool, an automatic tool that organizes your DNA Matches into clusters that likely descended from common ancestors. The tool was developed by Evert-Jan Blom and I have previously looked at the tool in my post DNA: experimenting with reports from GeneticAffairs.com.
All in all, it went well. The feedback was good. Most people found the session useful and in line with their expectations.
Next time I’ll use a headset for better quality audio and I’ll show simpler slides. And I will try to make sure the navigation tool for the presentation does not pop up.
AncestryDNA announces changes to its matching policy
From time to time users of the AncestryDNA service are confronted by a message advising that:
Our backend services are overtaxed at the moment and we are unable to retrieve all your matches. We apologize for the inconvenience, please try again later.
At other times users are told, “Something went wrong. Try reloading the page in your browser, or come back later.”
Refreshing the page often fails to work and users are forced to accept the invitation to ‘come back later’. Sometimes even the less specialised Ancestry.com site becomes overwhelmed.
AncestryDNA has more than 18 million samples in its database. It uses enormous computer power to store data and compare DNA. This is costly, of course, and where its methods produce false positives, inefficent.
Recently the company announced that it will no longer provide details of matches with only one segment where that segment is smaller than 8 centimorgans. The company gives as the reason for this new policy that
the shorter the length of the detected IBD segment (expressed in genetic distance), the less likely it is that the detected chromosome segment is truly inherited from a common ancestor.
it has “…changed the [minimum] amount of DNA you need to share to be considered a match with another individual to 8 cM”.
from late August “…you’ll no longer see matches or be matched to people who share 7.9 cM or less DNA with you unless you’ve messaged them and/or included them in a note, or added them to a group (including your starred group).”
the change has been delayed “…until late August so you have time to review and determine if you want to save any very distant matches by sending them a message and/or including them in a note or group”.
Definitions, and what the AncestryDNA announcement means
A centimorgan (cM) is “a map unit used to express the distance between two gene loci on a chromosome. A spacing of one cM indicates a one percent chance that two genes will be separated by crossing over.”
The more centimorgans person A shares with person B the closer they are likely to be related. Your chromosomes have a total length of about 7400 cM, so you share about 3700 cM with each of your parents. Two people who share 6 to 7.9 cM are likely to be about 6th cousins, that is, they possibly share 5th great grandparents.
If you are related to a DNA match then the DNA segment or segments you share with at least one other person are identical by descent (IBD); you and your match inherited the segment from a common ancestor without recombination, and the segment has the same ancestral origin for you and your match.
The blogger Roberta Estes has estimated that 18% of her total matches share 7 cM and 30% share 6 cM. AncestryDNA’s purge of matches smaller than 8 cM will reduce her number of DNA matches by nearly half.
It has been estimated that about half the matches in the 6 to 7 centimorgan range are false positives. These matches do not truly demonstrate inheritance from a common ancestor. An error might have occurred when the DNA testing company compiled the chromosome marker: the DNA variations or the series of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) .
The companies’ matching algorithms do not treat the paternal and maternal chromosomes separately. Consequently consecutive SNP results for a short segment of DNA may appear to be half-identical in two individuals when in actuality the DNA sequences are not identical because the SNPs match on opposing chromosomes or because of errors in the matching algorithms. False matches can be the result of pseudosegments (matching alleles zig-zagging backwards and forwards between the maternal side and the paternal side), compound segments and fuzzy boundaries.
DNA is inherited so a match must also match one of our parents
If a person appears to match me but does not also match either of my parents, something has gone wrong in the matching process, for if neither of my parents shared the segment that appears to justify our match that person and I did not inherit the segment from a common ancestor.
If about half of all DNA matches in the AncestryDNA database are very small and about half these are false positives, then about a quarter of the matches in our list of matches are false positives and are not genealogically relevant.
On 15 August 2020 I had 25,434 DNA matches to individuals. With 125 of these people I share 20 Cm or more. There are 25,309 distant matches with whom I share between 6 and 20 cM. Unfortunately there is no way using AncestryDNA to count matches in the range of 6 to 8 cM.
As both my parents have had their DNA analysed I am able to look at my very small matches to assess whether they match either of my parents.
Recently I looked at my small matches where AncestryDNA used its ‘Thrulines’ algorithm to show we both share common ancestors on our family tree and share DNA.
I have 9 matches with shared common ancestors and shared DNA of 6 to 7cM. Of these matches 8 also share DNA with my father. The 9th match has a strong genealogical connection on my Mainwaring line and I do not doubt we are 5th cousins. However, he does not show up among my father’s DNA matches so despite being cousins we do not share DNA. It is estimated that only one third of fifth cousins share DNA.
It may be that the match with my father was somehow modified by AncestryDNA’s proprietary Timber algorithm, which tries to eliminate false matches “because they are of the same ethnicity or population — meaning that they (and many others from that same population) share DNA that they inherited from a distant ancestor who lived much longer ago”.
The Timber algorithm removes matches where the segments show “identical DNA with thousands of other people at that particular place”.
Recording notes about matches in the AncestryDNA database
AncestryDNA allows users to make personal notes in their database for each of their matches. Users can record when they messaged a match, how they believe they might be related, and the details of their shared match.
I looked at the 38 matches in the range of 6 to 7 cM shared DNA where I had made notes.
Of these 38 matches only one was shared with my mother, who shares 9 cM with that match. I don’t know how we connect.
Of 19 matches for which I had made notes and messaged, the matches also recorded shared DNA with my father. Three show common ancestors. Sixteen do not show common ancestors at present, although for several I know definitely how we are related.
Eighteen matches that I had annotated do not show as sharing DNA with either of my parents. It is thus likely that these matches and I do not share a common ancestor who can be genealogically traced.
Two of these matches had previously shown up as common ancestors, a green leaf in the list and the connection between our trees identified but no longer show up with the connection between our trees. Moreover they do not share DNA with my father.
For 2 of the 18 matches my father does not show as sharing DNA but does share DNA with another relative administered by the same manager. To me this indicates a possibility that the match is genuine but AncestryDNA’s Timber algorithm has modified my father’s match so it does not show up.
I am not concerned if AncestryDNA removes smaller matches from my match list. Based on my very small review I accept that around half of the matches do not share DNA with my parents and thus are not useful matches for genealogy.
Of the remaining matches I already try to make connections with cousins who are researching the same ancestors using Ancestry.com’s member connect facility, which helps users to find fellow users researching the same ancestor. So while the ‘Thrulines’ method of highlighting shared DNA and common ancestors on a tree is useful, it is not the only means to make connections with cousins.
Other matching services
Databases such as MyHeritage, FTDNA, and GEDMatch have tools that AncestryDNA does not provide. The tools are based on a chromosome browser, which helps to reveal details about the matched segment, enabling users to compare the shared segment with other matches. Without this it is impossible to be confident that the inherited segment is indeed from a distant ancestor. (See my post on Triangulating Matilda’s DNA.)
The findings that a significant proportion of DNA matches are not genealogically significant seems plausible . For those small matches that are in fact genealogically sound I am prepared to miss out on these and concentrate my research efforts on the many thousands of larger DNA matches where I can be confident that there is definitely shared DNA and a genealogical connection if I could work it out – there are plenty of puzzles yet to be solved.
I will be pleased if AncestryDNA’s decision to remove small matches relieves pressure on its computing resources and improves response time for its users.
How will these proposed changes affect subscribers? I hope that AncestryDNA will provide more information about shared matches and new tools for exploring DNA data. And I wouldn’t mind at all if I never saw the “backend services are overtaxed” message ever again.
In 2016 my husband Greg and I, hoping to learn more about our family history, had our DNA analysed by AncestryDNA.
All living things are related; you and I are related to bananas, earthworms, and the fish, your cousin, whom you ate for dinner.
We share more and longer segments of DNA with our closer cousins, a fact that can be turned to use in family history research: find someone with whom you share a significantly long string of DNA and that person is your genealogical relative – you can probably work out how you are related.
Cousinship in the great tree of life means a common ancestor: whales and cows are related in this way. The DNA we share, or to be precise, the fact that we share it, provides clues about our relative places in the tree. To focus in a little, our relative places in the tree of our direct forebears and cousins are indicated by the segments of DNA we share. The more DNA I share with someone the more recent our common ancestry.
AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimate is intended to be a measure of a person’s ethnic makeup. Are you partly Inuit? Were your ancestors Tasmanian Aboriginals or Scottish Highlanders? AncestryDNA calculates the estimate using DNA data about people who, it is said “…have long-standing, documented roots in a specific area”. This group of people identified by the company provide a reference group for ethnicity estimates.
Genetic communities, compiled on the basis of shared DNA, are defined as “groups of AncestryDNA members who are most likely connected because they share fairly recent ancestors who came from the same region or culture.”
It is said that a large proportion of people who pay to become members of Ancestry do so in order to discover their ethnic makeup, and presumably many of them are satisfied with what they are told. Ethnicity is a tricky concept, however, and Ancestry’s pitch about ‘long-standing’ (how long?), ‘documented’ (by whom? how?) roots in a specific area (how is the area specified?) sharing ‘fairly recent’ (how recent?) ancestors (which?) in a ‘region’ (of what extent?) or culture (what’s that, for Heaven’s sake?), is a pitch that will strike many people as promoting something largely meaningless. [AncestryDNA explains some of this in their 2019 Whitepaper on ethnicity estimates but you can see for example that they are estimating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ethnicity on the basis of 14 DNA samples only.]
In late July 2020 AncestryDNA updated its genetic communities calculations, including those for communities associated with European and British settlers in Australia. I have looked again at my family’s place in the ethnicity estimates and genetic communities provided by AncestryDNA. The updated AncestryDNA genetic communities of my husband Greg and of my father became more specific: no longer vaguely “Southern Australia British Settlers” my father is now part of the group “South Australian European and British Settlers” genetic community and Greg is linked to the “Victoria, Australia, European and British Settlers” genetic community. Our ethnicity estimates have not been updated.
As I type these notes my cat Vinnie is sitting on my desk amusing himself by pressssssssssssssssssing randommmmmmmmm keys. I moved his paws, but now he’s taken to making sarcastic comments, and it’s hard to concentrate.
ME: “Most of Greg’s forebears came to the Colony of Victoria at the time of the gold-rushes and the assignment of this genetic community makes sense. AncestryDNA provides the information that just over 127,000 AncestryDNA members are part of this genetic community.”
VINNIE: “I’d say that the vast majority of his forebears didn’t come to Victoria at all. Most of them saw out their days on the African savannah. I’d call this a genetic community of approximately 50 million. What AncestryDNA ‘provides’ is just gas.”
VINNIE: “In the logic trade that’s called a reductio ad absurdum. AncestryDNA’s methods make the daughter the mother of the mother.”
ME: “This was an anomalous result”.
VINNIE: “Did you get your subscription back?”
ME: “In response to this assignment of genetic communities and while waiting for the update, I removed my results from AncestryDNA by updating my settings and choosing not to see my matches and by not being listed as a match. My strategy seems to have worked. In the latest update my mother is no longer assigned to any Australian genetic community.”
VINNIE: “If I remove myself from the veterinarian’s appointment list I will no longer be assigned to it as a cat and you won’t have to take me for my annual checkup. Great.”
ME: “Ethnicity estimates including the assignment by AncestryDNA to genetic communities need to be treated like any other hint with caution but as a clue to one’s origins”
VINNIE: “It was thought that the One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater had to be treated with caution too, but he turned out to be harmless. There weren’t any purple people for him to eat. You needn’t be cautious about nonsense.