Perseverance is worth it!

One of the common problems for the family historian exploring the new world of DNA testing is people not replying to your messages.

I tested my great-aunt (now 92 & going strong) in the summer of 2015 with Family Tree DNA. As one of only two remaining in my grandparents’ generation, I thought it was important to capture her autosomal DNA. As a nonagenarian, her matches are often of a lower quality reflecting the average age of testers being middle-aged. However,  I was very interested in a match that appeared in April 2017. I have removed the people’s names in this article to protect their privacy.

As you can see, it’s a good strong match of 301 centimorgans and FTDNA estimated a 1st-3rd cousin match. When I reviewed the shared matches, it didn’t really add to my knowledge – apart from close family, I didn’t recognise any of them. So I sent an email. And got no response. This is unfortunately a very typical problem. People are doing DNA tests at the drop of a hat these days and they may have only a casual interest in the results. Add to this the possibility that they’ve changed email or may have even died, and it’s pot luck whether you get a response. I followed up with another email 6 months later and also got no reply.

Last month, a new match appeared for my great-aunt and this person also shared DNA with the first match. They were estimated as a 2nd-3rd cousin with 188 centimorgans in common. Luckily, this person was interested and replied quickly. We soon established a very good contender. We both had someone called Mary Jane Mahony on our trees – their direct ancestor, and a sister to my great-great grandmother, Annie Mahony. A key factor was a surname in common between both these matches. 
Working together, we soon had a good tree for this woman, who died in 1891, but left many children. After a couple of days intensive trawling the records, I had found a second connection between our 2 families and was ready to confirm the second match as a 2nd cousin twice removed of my great-aunt. However, 2 of the lady’s sons were unaccounted for. Based on the census, it was possible one had died young but I wondered about emigration. I decided to send one final email to the first match. This time I asked directly if they might be descended from either of the sons. Bingo! I finally got a reply which confirmed the match was the youngest child of the younger boy, who had gone to England between the 1901 & 1911 censuses. I was able to add almost 100 people to the family tree!

Tips:

  • I’ve started to add in DNA kit numbers to people I have confirmed the link to on my family tree and I’m marking them in a different colour so I can find them easily.
  • Make notes in the DNA database if you have suspicions of how you connect or if you’ve tried to make contact & what success you’ve had.