DNA, Paper Trails and Family Story

In the past ten years, I have spent a lot of time dealing with DNA results relating to Family History research. I have also done a lot of traditional genealogy. I have tended to favour DNA or, as it is now called “Genetic Genealogy” as it can help to answer questions which the traditional paper trail research cannot answer. Traditional genealogical research can be restricted by absence of records or lack of access to existing records or just not knowing where to start. So, we turn to DNA to break down “brick walls” in our research.

DNA (Genetic Genealogy) can give information on paternal lines, maternal lines and recent family relationships. I have found it to be a wonderful asset in my research and it is offering more and more as the science and technology evolves. However, it often relies on a genealogical paper trail to interpret and make sense of the results.

Even the paper trail is not the full story!

I was reminded of this last night when I looked at the census records for my great great great grandfather Lewis Jenkins. I knew that he was born near Swansea in 1796 and that his grandson, also called Lewis Jenkins had a provisions store in a small mining village in the Rhondda Valley in Wales. However, I had not paid much attention to the fact that Lewis Jenkins, my great great great grandfather had been a collier in the mining village. His wife had died after a few years of marriage. His son William was a coalminer in the 1851 Census, a “Coalminer and Occupier of 4 acres” in the 1861 Census. He was a labourer in 1871 but by 1881, he was a “Farmer”. William died, aged 67 in 1894, of “chronic bronchitis and emphysemia and exhaustion”. William’s son, Lewis was a Grocer’s Assistant in the 1881 Census and married the Grocer’s daughter in 1888. In the 1891 Census, Lewis was in charge of the Grocer’s Shop.

Jenkins shop

The real story is the day to day life of the family, of which the paper trail is a mere chronological listing. DNA provides a glimpse at the molecular level as an aid to filling in gaps. Photos, diaries, family lore etc. help to flesh out the clinical analysis. Let us not forget this.

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2 Responses to DNA, Paper Trails and Family Story

  1. Helen says:

    Your post is interesting Margaret. I match a group of O’Shea DNA tests that you manage. One is at the top of my list on GED match. I have done 2 autosomals and one mtDNA. I wanted to wait until the conference was over before contacting you and Dr. Gleeson another match. I watched the youtube videos and sadly I’m still confused.

    I tried experimenting with the numbers going from 5cm’s up to 10cm’s. You come in at 5cm’s! 2 of you tests that you manage still match at 10cm’s. I have traced my ancestors to at least my 3x great grandparents over the last 15 years. Cork has been my most difficult county due to lack of records online.

    I am related to O’Shea’s and Sheehan’s in Clogheen, Tipperary but not in Cork. I’m not sure what my matches mean on GED match, I tested with FTDNA and Ancestry.com. Genetic genealogy is very confusing, I just can’t seem to grasp where and what I should be looking for, I’m better with the paper trails.

  2. mjordan says:

    Hi Helen,

    Thank you for your comment. I will get in touch privately about the DNA matches you mention. It does take a lot of work to find the connections especially as many (if not most) people can’t go far enough back with their paper trails. For example, you need to know who your great grandparents were, in order to trace down to a second cousin and you need to know who your great great grandparents were, in order to trace down to a third cousin. Random matches in autosomal DNA seem to bring up 3rd, 4th and more remote relatives. So, it can be very difficult to find the connection!

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