Evidence from DNA Matches

From the outset my family tree application has been completely document-based. I started out with documents like certificates, then added parish records, and recently added relationships taken from less structured documents like wills. Although it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t unheard of for my ancestors to have lied through their teeth on official documents (mostly in relation to paternity), I’m inclined towards the view that documents are generally more reliable than family memories and hearsay. (Where my grandmother got the idea that her grandmother was an opera singer I have absolutely no idea…)

In 2014 I added what I called ‘Tentative Identifications‘ as a means of linking documented individuals who it seemed likely were the same person, but there remained some individuals where there was no documentary evidence of relationships. Particularly frustrating was the unknown paternity of my paternal great-grandfather, Ernest Phillips. Since he and his younger brothers were born in relatively quick succession I rather hoped that his father was the man his mother Annie Elizabeth Phillips married when Ernest was four years old, but unfortunately William Wickham left no helpful will bequeathing all his worldly goods to his beloved eldest son Ernest!

In 2019 I took a DNA test with Ancestry and was excited to get a match with a descendant of a sister of William’s grandfather. (Well, likely grandfather – there was a lot of illegitimacy in that branch of the family!) However, the lady I matched to also had relatives on my mother’s side in her tree – both my parents have Sussex ancestry – so my parents agreed to take tests as well to establish which side the match came from. My father sent his off first, and didn’t match to the same lady, but then when my mother’s test result came back she didn’t either! I suspect that the reason I match and they don’t could be that the amount of DNA they share with the lady individually is below Ancestry’s cut-off point, but I’ve inherited enough from the pair of them to take me above the threshold.

Happily, though, my father’s test did result in matches to descendants of various relatives of William Wickham, to the extent that I think it would be quite difficult to explain how my father came to have DNA from all those branches if Ernest wasn’t the son of William or one of his brothers. Similarly, my mother has DNA matches that suggest that her 4xgreat-grandmother Martha Luck was likely the daughter of Thomas Luck and Martha Dann as I suspected, even though I’ve not been able to find a baptism for her.

So I’ve decided that DNA evidence is of a similar level of objectivity to documentary evidence, and have adjusted my application to take it into account in a couple of places. It now appears as one of the criteria for Tentative Identifications, and an individual’s page will now show parents where the relationship is assumed from the DNA evidence (with an icon indicating that this assumption has been made).

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