Updating Ancestry trees with DNA evidence

Have you ever come across a public family tree that has the wrong people identified as someone’s parents? Me too. Here are some steps I’m taking to make sure I’m not guilty of the same thing, especially with regard to DNA.


Last month, I wrote about using the ‘DNA match’ Tree Tag on my private, unsearchable work tree that I use to develop the lineages of key DNA matches. This month, I’ll walk thru a process I’m beginning to use in my public Ancestry tree—the one attached to my DNA. Here is an example.

ThruLines has made a suggestion about Cornelius Gleason’s father. You can tell by the green color that I don’t have Thomas Gleason in my tree: he’s a potential ancestor to consider. See image 1. I don’t know Con’s parents. He was married in 1836 in Newport parish in County Tipperary, but I haven’t been able to find his baptismal record. The parish is missing records for 1810-1811, which is when the 1870 census suggests he was born.

Image 1.ThruLines blog 8-2019

Now, I’m not going to add Thomas Gleason to my tree just because ThruLines suggested it. I start to look into those other children of Thomas. The ThruLines cousins’ trees didn’t carry any evidence for their connection to Thomas Gleason; perhaps the information was passed down in their family. One had a birthplace for Anna. I research Anna and Michael myself and find their baptismal records, which identifies their parents: Thomas Gleason and Margaret Ryan. And I’m thrilled to discover that they were both baptized in the same Catholic parish in County Tipperary, Ireland, where my ancestor Con Gleason was married. Anna was married in that parish too, before emigrating to North America. This is looking promising.

Anna eventually moved to Wisconsin, but Michael settled in Sanilac County, Michigan—in the same village Con did. Michael also witnessed a deed transaction when Con sold land; further evidence that they might be related. Michael’s death record says his parents were Thomas and Margaret Gleason; that matches the names on his baptismal record. There is more research I need to do, but given that ThruLines tells me that my DNA matches a descendant of Michael and five descendants of Anna, I’m feeling more confident that this lead is viable.

I think I’m ready to make my theory public. So here’s what I’ll do.

I’ll add Thomas Gleason as the father of Cornelius—and I’ll add his wife and children identified in Irish church records too, with those sources. After adding Thomas, I’ll click on the Tree Tag icon (circled in Image 2.) This opens up the Workspace.

Image 2.

Workspace blog 8-2019

I’m going to add some Tree Tags to Thomas. A Tree Tag accomplishes a couple things. It lets you filter your tree search results. (For example, instead of searching for a specific name in my tree, I can search for any individuals I have marked as a Brick Wall.) And it also displays the tag(s) whenever you look at this individual’s profile. If you tag someone in your public tree, anyone else looking at this profile can see the tag(s) too. So I am going to tag Thomas Gleason as Hypothesis (see arrow 1, above.) I want others looking at my tree to consider Thomas Gleason as a good candidate for Con’s father, but I want them to know I’m still gathering evidence. I’m not positive.

Because DNA is part of my evidence, I might also click the drop down for DNA tags (see Arrow 2) and tag Thomas as a Common DNA Ancestor. (Should I use the DNA Connection tag for Michael and Anna? For the generations between myself and Cornelius?  I’m still considering if/how the DNA Connection tag will provide any value to me.)

Now, someone visiting this profile in my tree can’t tell exactly what the hypothesis is yet. Is it a hypothesis that Thomas is the father of Con? Or of Michael? Or Anna? Is it a hypothesis about his birthplace or date? So I add one last tag: a custom tag.  See Arrow 3, above. A custom tag can have up to 25 characters, and you want this to be a fairly generic tag, applicable to many people in your tree. You don’t want to end up with too many tags. I’ve created a tag for myself called View Comments for Proof. See the red arrow in Image 3 below to add Comments.

(Notes are private. No one can see Notes you create except you and anyone you’ve given editor rights on your tree. Comments are public if your tree is public.)

Image 3.

notes and comments blog 8-2019

Comments can hold up to 1200 characters. A person’s entry can hold multiple comments. Image 4 shows how Thomas Gleason’s profile now appears.

Image 4.

updated profile Aug 2019 blog.jpg

Anyone can select the number after View Comments (see yellow circle above) to read the comments. I can edit my comments or add new ones. Others can add new comments – perhaps they want to reply to mine with additional information! And if they have conflicting information to discuss, well, I’d want to know about that too.

In the comment, I’ll clarify the hypothesis. If my research is completed and I’ve published it in a journal or a blog, I could include details in the comment on how to access that. If my research is still in-progress, as it is with Thomas Gleason, I’ll say something like this:


Hypothesis: Thomas Gleason is the father of Cornelius Gleason. Baptismal records prove he is the father of Anna and Michael; ThruLines indicate descendants of Anna and Michael and Cornelius match each other. Michael and Cornelius both settled in Speaker Twp., Sanilac Co., Michigan. Michael was a witness on Con’s deed. Additional evidence is available, but research is still in-progress. For more information, email Ann Harrigan Raymont at dnasleuth@att.net.


Final thoughts

I want to be careful not to put any information about living people in the comments without their permission.

If I want to access the workspace again, the little tree tag icon is gone, but I just need to click the dialogue icon that appears in the same place. (See the yellow circle in Image 3 and the corresponding dialogue icon in Image 4.)

If anyone should email me with questions about my hypothesis, I want to be sure that I adhere to genealogy standards as best I can when I answer. (See Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), Genealogy Standards, 2d ed. (Nashville: Ancestry, 2019), pp. 1-3.) That means:

  • Thoroughly exhaustive research
  • Complete and accurate citations
  • Analysis and correlation
  • Resolution of any conflicts
  • Write it up!

It’s a work-in-progress, so some things will be incomplete. There are more documents to find and more DNA analysis to do. But I’ll do my best in my reply—provide citations, discuss conflicts I’ve encountered and addressed, etc.

What about when I’ve decided my research is conclusive? That proof argument, with citations, charts, etc., might not work best with the Comments workspace. Maybe I’ll write it up and upload it to my gallery as a PDF, call it something like Proof for father of Cornelius Gleason. (But if I want to include living people in my write-up, such as DNA matches, I either need their permission or I need to anonymize their identity.) I can remove the hypothesis tag on this profile then. I’ll remove the View Comments for Proof tag, too, and replace it with a new See Gallery for Proof tag. I may attach the PDF to Cornelius Gleason as well as Thomas, and use the See Gallery for Proof tag for both of them.

But first, I have to finish that research and analysis!


© August 2019  Ann Raymont, CG®

6 thoughts on “Updating Ancestry trees with DNA evidence

  1. patriciaanngenealogy

    Dear Ann Raymont,
    I have linked your EXCELLENT article to the Helpful Links section under DNA Testing Companies on the dggli.com website.
    I’m also mentioning it in my genetic genealogy lectures.
    Your information will help many. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Patricia Ann Kellner
    President of the DNA Genealogy Group of Long Island
    and member of the Genealogical Speakers Guild


  2. dnasleuth Post author

    Thanks! You read my mind! I have a whole ‘Next Steps’ section in my research plan for research in Ontario records. Church records, deeds, census records… I’ve found a lot of baptism records for Con’s children (and no useful sponsor info yet), but I have more to look for, and I’m only just starting to look for Michael and Anna’s records. That’s a great idea!



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