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DNA is a useful tool, but sometimes it can come with lots of work. Especially if you have an unknown parent or parents in your tree somewhere along the line, like I do with my Beaton/Batten Mystery. When you’re looking for your 2x great grandparents I going to say it’s a lot of work. So if this is your situation you’ll need to look at other match’s trees to get the full story of your family tree from your DNA.
This works for a recent tree breakdown and tree breakdown that’s has happened 100 years ago. It’s just a lot more work when it’s 100 years ago.
If you’ve not done this with an unknown DNA connection, let me tell you the steps I use.
So first, you need to look at your unknown match and then at their tree. So a match might look like this. (Examples are from Ancestry, but this approach work at any of the DNA sites that provide a list of people you have in common.. so MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, LivingDNA, and even 23andMe).
Or they might look like this
Or they might even look like this
Good for you if your match has a tree or even an unlinked tree… but sometimes they have no tree at all. Or perhaps that match that has a tree or even the unlinked tree has either one person in that tree with no additional info, or every person in the tree has been marked private. If they don’t have a tree, no worries, I’m sure they have people in common with you that do.
As long as you have people in common with your match with trees, you’re in business. I always say that even if I only have one name with anything like a date or a place… I’m in business. After all, we’re genealogist and detectives of a sort, …. so that should never stop you.
So now you look at the people you have in common with your match. If they have trees, start by looking for someone with several people in their tree and look at their tree.
By clicking on the tree, you open another tab with that tree on it. Now go back to your list and find another match with several people in a tree. Do the same thing.. open the tree in a new tab and search to see if you can find a common couple. Just toggle back and forth. Sometimes it takes a bit of looking, but quite often you’ll find that couple. Sometimes it’s just someone with a similar surname. Then you may have to look at the year they were born because you might be looking at a different generation.
Here is a list of in common with people with a match that I share 48 cM with over 4 segments.
This looks promising. The first match has an extensive tree, so we go on to the third person, and we see that that person has an unlinked tree with 10 people in it. But there is one surname that is common to the first person as well. The fourth person turns out to be the daughter of the third person, and she’s done a better job of her tree vs. her dad’s. That’s ok.. she’s given me a few more names for their tree.
But her tree doesn’t exactly connect to that first person’s tree, so that’s where I start building my own tree.
Some people do this in their own tree, but I prefer to do this in a separate tree. So I have a private tree for all the DNA matches that I’m not sure where they fit. My tree doesn’t have a snappy name, but I think you’ll notice it. (BTW if you ever see my tree in searches be sure to msg me)
Because there is no way to start a new person on a tree without a connection, I choose anyone in the tree and add that DNA connect as a parent of a random person on my tree. Just her name with (DNA) as a middle name and then her cM in the suffix field. Once I save her, I go back to the upper right-hand corner of the profile and click the edit button, and now I can edit the relationship.
I then disconnect her from everyone that I may have attached her to. She’s floating in my tree. Now I can add the parental info that she has in her tree. If her parents are private, then I just put “unknown” and then the surname. Then keep adding. But once you come to someone with a name, you add them, which is where Ancestry has made it simple.
I can now go to my match’s tree and choose that person, and when I’m looking at them, go to the tools button on the right-hand side and choose, save to tree. (I really don’t know when that button was added, but since I discovered it makes it so easy. Or maybe I just never looked) Note that even if you don’t have that name in your tree you can add them as a new person without having to disconnect them.
I don’t usually use the “Save to Tree” button for my regular tree, but in this case, it allows me to just adding a person to my DNA tree, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. (some people call these quick and dirty trees. I’m not sure mine is quick) Currently, my ICW Tree has almost 3500 people in it. That’s a lot, but many of my connections are distant connections. I only have a handful of high cM connection.
Back to my tree
Now I’m away to the races, and the system asks if I want to add others in the tree. Parents, siblings, etc. and of course I want to. When you save everything they are giving you, you end up in your own tree, but a couple of arrows back gets me to my match’s tree, and I can keep adding family. But I can stop at any point when I know it’s easier to find records and build the tree more carefully. Because I don’t always want to copy their tree because, as you know, they aren’t always right. I’m just using some of what they probably have that’s accurate especially at the beginning.
What I’m trying to find is that surname that was the same as that first “in common with person” and see if I can find a common ancestor. If I can, then once I get to the common ancestor, I build the tree forward to the present and include the other DNA match to my tree.
Hopefully, I haven’t lost you, but by building their trees, I realize this group connects to Edward Greenwood (1856-1905) and Harriet Walden (1853-1933). That’s their common ancestor. But that’s not necessarily my common ancestor to them. I know this because once you get to that connecting couple now, you have to see if you match with Edward and Harriet’s parents.
So Edward’s parents are Edward Greenwood (1829-1880) and Elizabeth Hedge (1828-?), so I need to search my DNA match tree surnames and see if I have connections to those names. I should connect on both surnames if they are my great great grandparents.
Depending on how unusual the names are, I can figure out quite quickly if there’s something to investigate or just to move on. I did have some Hedge matches, but after some investigation, I moved on. This isn’t foolproof because, of course, this is based on trees, but someone is bound to have the surname somewhere in distant matches if there is a connection. So again, you may have to build more trees.
So you see, you’re kind of going back in time and zig-zagging up your tree. In this case, I could see I needed to go at least one generation further back from Harriet Walden (1853-1933) to her parents. Perhaps that’s where our common ancestor is. They were George Walden (1818-1871) and Ann Phipps (1818-1856). George Walden married twice (the second time to Elizabeth Surrage), and I have DNA connections through Ann and the second wife. But when I look at George and Ann’s parents, I realize I don’t seem to have a DNA connection to Ann. It seems to only be the Walden side. So again, we go up the tree. Now we are looking at Issac Walden and Mary Maria Beachy.
This might appear blurry, but you get the idea. At the same time, I usually add other children. I’m looking in each generation to see if there are siblings that might connect to some of the other surnames I’ve discovered over the years. Those surnames are; Grantham, Bayliss, Lisbonee, Passey… etc.
Try Different Views
I usually only look at my tree in pedigree view because it was easier to see the direct, in common with the ancestor of my matches, but now I look at the family view from time to time.
Over the past few months, I realized that more and more of my floating branches have become connected in this tree. They were no longer floating. But I’m looking for the ultimate connection. A DNA Quadfecta if you will. The one that brings the Walden, Grantham, Bayliss, and Lisbonne/Passey lines together.
When looking at Issac Walden and Mary Maria Beachy’s children, I see they have a son William who has a son; Walter, and guess what? He marries Eliza Bayliss, and when I work her tree, I find Grantham’s. Ok, now I’m interested. Also, Walter has a brother, Henry, who’s married and his wife ends up with one of my DNA matches family names in Ontario. So the plot thickens.
There is more work to be done to see how everyone connects and see if the other DNA connections that I’ve added over the years are in the correct spots. Because the amount of cM they match with me should be very similar to the possible relationships I’d find on the Shared cM Project. (If you don’t know about the Shared cM Project you can read more at the creator blog HERE or go to Tools on DNA Painter.)
So that’s where I am.. the mystery isn’t solved, there is still more work because there was also that match with the locked tree to deal with. So I’ll need to contact them and see if they can and will tell me more. So I’m still “Hot on the Trail” looking for my DNA Quadfecta.
Note: When you’re contacting your DNA matches are you keeping track of your correspondence? At Shop the Hound I have a FREE tracker that you can download. It’s not fancy but it works.
Note that the graphic was created using FOREVER Artisan (Artisan 6 coming soon) and Vintage Memories and Reminisce Heritage Digital Additions Art Kits.
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Great writeup and excellent examples of q&d tree building. I like the idea of putting all those branches in a separate tree. One thing I do from time to time is sync the research tree with RootsMagic or FTM and then use their “check for duplicates” tools to see if I can bring some branches together.
Bonnie, Yes that’s a great way to tidy up.
Interesting! I have done some of this, but not nearly to this extent. I may give this a try for some mystery matches. I do have a lot of illegitimate ancestors making cousin matching hard at times.
Good luck and happy hunting