Q: How much evidence do I need to prove a genealogy conclusion?
A: It’s all relative! Get it? ‘relative’…. [snicker] But seriously….
This month’s post deals with both DNA and non-DNA evidence. I’d like to use a metaphor—my evidence jar.
I imagine an empty jar, which I plan to fill with information to support a hypothesis.
Some of my evidence is the relative size of a pickle; some is the size of a pea.
With non-DNA evidence, size relates to how reliable it is, and how well it answers my research question; it’s not a literal dimension.
Example 1. My great-grandma Emma was born in 1882 and married in 1899. So, she doesn’t appear by name in the census household of her parents—she missed the 1880 census and was with her husband in 1900. I have her birth record naming her parents William Miller and Charlotte Scheu, and I have William’s 1924 probate file, identifying Emma (with her married name) as his daughter. In my evidence jar called ‘Who is the father of Emma…,” these documents are pickles! My jar is already pretty full.
Example 2. Census records tell me my ancestor Nancy Jameson was born in Kentucky in 1810. She married in Greene County, Ohio, in 1832. The only adult male in Greene County, Ohio, in the 1830 census old enough to be her father was George Jameson. Yes, I’m putting these records in my evidence jar called ‘Who is the father of Nancy….’ But these are peas! My jar is not very full yet. (I may even end up taking that 1830 census record for George out at some point.)
With DNA evidence, size relates to how reliable it is, and how well it addresses my research question, but unlike the documentary evidence above, literal size may actually matter too.
I can’t *fill* my evidence jar with only DNA evidence, but I can top off a jar that has a foundation in documentary sources.
Example 3. I’m looking for Margaret’s maiden name. I have no vital records for her. Her son Russell’s 1914 birth record says Margaret’s maiden name was Smith. His 1940 marriage record says her maiden name was Kosmerchock. Was Margaret Smith his mother, and Margaret Kosmerchock a later stepmom? Or were they the same woman? Russell’s granddaughter Colleen has a DNA match over 190 cM with test taker A1, who descends from an Annie Kosmerchock. This leads me to more documentary evidence; too much to delve into here. But the documents tell me that Colleen and A1 are the same generation, that their ancestry doesn’t have any apparent endogamy, and that there is no other line in their trees that could be the source of that DNA. The size of the match tells me that Colleen and A1 cannot be more distantly related than third cousins. Margaret and Annie Kosmerchock were likely sisters; Kosmerchock was Margaret’s maiden name. And that big DNA match was a pickle!
Irish native James Darcy, age 29, was a married farmer enumerated in the 1861 census in Ontario, Canada. In the same village, Michael Darcy was age 64, also born in Ireland. These sources lay the foundation in my evidence jar seeking to prove that Michael was the father of James. Michael sold the farm to his son John and the two of them moved to Michigan, where Michael died with no probate file. James, meanwhile, had moved to Wisconsin. A descendant of James and a descendant of John share 35 cM. That’s relevant evidence supporting my hypothesis that James was the son of Michael—but it’s a pea, not a pickle. A match that size means the test takers could be 4th cousins or even 8th cousins or more distant. I may be able to fill that evidence jar with DNA matches, but it will take a lot more than one or two to inspire confidence that I’ve identified the common ancestor, and that it’s not someone else generations earlier, in a part of our family trees that don’t go back far enough.
How much evidence do I need to prove a genealogy conclusion?
It’s all relative!
© July 2021 Ann Raymont, CG®