My 3 top DNA goals met in 2020

There are a lot of reasons to be glad 2020 is in our rear-view mirror now, but there were some things to celebrate too. Every January I like to look over how I did on my genealogy/DNA goals for the past year. Here are my top 3 DNA achievements for 2020.

1. Solve a case and publish it.

Who was the father of my 4x-great grandfather Walter Griffith, who died in Ohio in 1827? (I first wrote about this brick wall on my blog here five years ago!)

A genealogy published in 1892  identified a Walter Griffith born in 1783 in Maryland to Hezekiah Griffith. My Walter was born between 1776-1794, which fits, but I had no records tying him to Maryland. And the author didn’t include sources for the family information.

I was able to locate Hezekiah Griffith in Maryland records and trace his migration from Maryland to Virginia to Jefferson County, Ohio, where he died in 1825. Unfortunately, there is no record of any Walter Griffith in Jefferson County in that period. My Walter Griffith lived his entire adult life in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, 60 miles away, and Hezekiah never lived there. Furthermore, Hezekiah wrote a will and named three sons, but he didn’t name Walter, even though Walter was still alive at the time. So, could Hezekiah really by my Walter’s dad?

After literally hundreds of  hours researching contemporaneous documents, authored works, studying the FAN club and collateral relatives, analyzing and correlating information and onomastic evidence… I built my case that Walter of Tuscarawas County was indeed Hezekiah’s son. Would my argument have convinced a panel of genealogists who were experts in the records of that time and place? Honestly, I think they might have found my conclusion possible but not compelling. At least, not without supporting DNA evidence. I think that made all the difference, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly published my case study in September 2020.

2. Identify the common ancestor for all my shared DNA matches over 60 cM.

This is an ongoing goal. Even when I accomplish it, I still monitor my match lists and see if any new mysteries need to be solved. Sixty cM is a somewhat random threshold. Perhaps because I have a lot of 19th century immigrant lines, I only have 21 matches that size on Ancestry that I didn’t recruit myself, so I think it’s a reasonable goal for me.

My biggest mystery in 2020 was Eileen: she matches me for 92 cM, and she matches several of my siblings for even more. She, too, has recent immigrant lines. From our shared matches, it seems most likely that my ancestor Barbara Conneely (who was born in Ireland in the 1830s) was a close relative of Eileen’s ancestor Mary Connolly (who was born in India in 1851). Yes, that’s right. India! But we almost share too much DNA for that relationship.  

Or maybe… was it more likely that Eileen’s mom and my granddad were secret half-siblings, and they shared a biological parent unbeknownst to the family today?

This was a super fun puzzle, which I’ve now resolved to my satisfaction. So, I can still claim my goal is met.

Oh, you want to know the answer to the mystery? Stay tuned…. That may be a topic for a later blog post.

3.  Continuing my genealogy education.

This is another recurring goal. We are never done learning, are we? In January 2020, I participated in a week-long institute in Salt Lake City, called Meeting Standards Using DNA Evidence. I blogged about that here. It was a highlight of my genealogy year. As a result of this course, I made tremendous strides on my Flynn family project, but—as is often the case—I uncovered new documentary directions to research too. And Covid-19 put a bit of a damper on access to many archives and repositories. I knew I wouldn’t finish the Flynn case study this year, but I’m happy with the progress I made.

Time to think about what genealogy and maybe DNA goals to pursue in 2021! How about you?

© Jan 2021, Ann Raymont, CG®

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