Last month, a cousin asked for help to answer some questions. I temporarily set aside the tasks that I had planned as part of the Genealogy Do-Over. Was I following a BSO (bright shining object)? It seemed so although I did use some of my improved research skills. Each BSO has led me to a different branch of dad’s family—branches that I would probably not have explored, such as the great-granddaughter of one of my great-aunts. I realized that I was also building my research toolbox, a topic for Month 5 of the Genealogy Do-Over .
It all started with DNA. I submitted my DNA sample last year and finally convinced my brother to submit his earlier this year. We used different companies so we are both submitting samples again. I looked quickly at the DNA relatives and only contacted those whose name I recognized. Fortunately, a second cousin contacted me as a result of DNA matches and finding my online family tree with a common surname. We share the same great –grandparents. She knew very little about our common line, her grandmother’s family, which is also my grandfather’s family. I knew little about her grandmother and she answered questions for me. Her son also has the genealogy bug.
Both my second cousin and her son have sent in their DNA. He is very curious about all of those DNA relatives – exactly how are we related to this person? Figuring out your ‘cousinship’ is easy when you already know your common ancestors – use a relationship chart. Here is one that is commonly used:
My DNA-match 2nd cousin knew the names of her grandparents. Her grandmother was my grandfather’s sister. So, establishing the common ancestor was relatively (pardon the pun!) easy.
Other examples of relationship charts:
What is more difficult is identifying your possible common ancestor for that third cousin identified as a DNA match to you when you aren’t sure about the names of the other person’s ancestors. There are at least 16 possibilities (from both your mother and father)! In essence, you have to look at the relationship chart in a different way. If this person and I are 3rd cousins, then who might be our common ancestor?
My 2nd cousin and I have an already established a relationship through our great-grandparents. So, the list narrowed as we only looked at DNA matches who are related to both of us. Now, there are only four possibilities as a common ancestor – our common great-great grandparents, James, Meriam, Samuel or Charlotte.
Her son’s curiousity about those DNA matches led to the BSOs that took up much of my time during one two week period. Another person, who inherited work done by cousin on a related family line, has been extremely helpful. She used an extensive research toolbox to determine how we are related to one person, identified as a third or fourth cousin DNA match. Her search strategy included social media as well as the usual census records, obituaries, and gravesites. I admire her tenacity and thoroughness!
End of story: Two more cousins have been positively identified through DNA matches. Our common ancestors have been identified. All of the information is clipped together and has been entered to genealogy software and research logs.
Reflection: I experienced a mix of emotions during those two weeks. Initial response was frustration because I did not meet my specific objectives. Instead, I helped a cousin discover how we are related to two DNA matches. At first, I considered these projects as BSOs since the work was not planned. However, I chose to tackle those projects instead of keeping with my original plan. I met another person with marvelous detective skills. I can learn from her. Using research logs and making sure that I have complete source citations was helpful. I worked slower on these projects than I have in the past, due to improved research practices.
What helped: Research logs that had been done earlier. Starting new research logs. Checking and re-checking source citations. Label and file digital media as I found it online.
What didn’t help: Not being sure that this was a good use of my time. I had to acknowledge that I chose to work on these projects at this time. I could have deferred and waited for reports from others.
What I learned: Collaboration with others is key to discovering the relationships and avoiding duplication of work. Say ‘no’ to some projects, no matter how interesting they seem. However, these projects can still become learning tools. I learned a different way of using a relationship chart to determine a possible common ancestor. This leads me to the concept of a ‘flipped’ relationship chart. Here is first draft of my idea, for your consideration: Happy searching!