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How DNA Tests Helped Me with Genealogy!

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

DNA_OverviewI’ve discussed some of the various kinds of DNA tests available before. Recently I was discussing with family my experience with the Ancestry.com DNA test compared with the National Genographic test -both of which I’ve taken- and thought I’d share my experience. Of course, ultimately which test you find most useful or interesting will depend on what you, personally, are hoping to get out of the test.

For myself, I find Y-DNA/ Mt-DNA tests to be far more interesting than Autosomal tests.   I found the autosomal tests (like the one Ancestry offers) kind of vague. Basically, it will show you matches between your DNA and other Ancestry users with a % confidence rate (90% likelihood this is a 3rd cousin, for example). You could then go to that person’s family tree (if it’s not private) and figure out how you match up. That’s assuming of course that their family tree has correct information, which unless you’ve verified their research is a big assumption. It’s kind of neat, but I’ve yet to see it lead to a breakthrough in anyone’s “brick wall” ancestor.

The other thing the autosomal DNA tests offer is an “ethnicity estimate”. That takes your DNA and compares it to samples from all around the world, and tells you what population you most closely match. So for example, it might say “Your DNA looks like your 54% British Isles, 20% German, 10% Native American…” and so on. But remember, the autosomal tests are only good for up to 6 generations, so it doesn’t really tell you anything about the ancient origins or ancestral “homeland” of your direct paternal or maternal lines. For that, you’d want a Y-DNA and/or Mt-DNA test.

I myself was most interested in the ancient DNA information. Especially because on both my father’s and mother’s side, I haven’t been able to trace the families “across the pond” for the direct maternal line or direct paternal line. The Y-DNA and Mt-DNA helped shed some light on this. So, even though these tests didn’t connect me with any specific people, I learned that on Dad’s side, we have a DNA marker that is found in Northwestern Irish families traditionally connected with the Ui Neal dynasty of Irish kings – and on Mom’s side, my haplogroup is a quite rare one that is a remnant from the first humans to venture into Europe as hunters/ gatherers– long before the invention of agriculture and prior even to the last ice age! Cool stuff, huh?

So for me, my money is on the National Genographic test. It gives you Y-DNA and Mt-DNA, as well as autosomal, and you can transfer your results to FamilyTree DNA for free!

The Williamson Room and the Battle of Franklin

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian03d7e2d1064e09f7531b755c057924a6

While you are in the library during the sesquicentennial celebrations, take a moment to stop by the Williamson Room, located in the Special Collections Department on the second floor. With floor to ceiling windows on three sides of the room, you will be standing right in the heart of where the Battle of Franklin occurred. Facing southwest from this room, you will be looking toward the two miles over which the Confederates advanced from Winstead Hill, completely exposed to enemy fire. Facing northeast, you will be about 500 feet from the position of the Union embankments. From this idyllic spot overlooking Columbia Avenue, it’s hard to imagine that by the end of the day on November 30, 1864, you would be looking over some 10,000 casualties, over 6,000 of which were Confederate – including 6 killed or mortally wounded generals.

There are several new markers displayed in the room commemorating the Battle, as well as an original 1878 map of the battlefield, portraits of the fallen Confederate generals with accounts of their final rolls in the terrible battle. Several pre-1900 first edition books relating to the Battle of Franklin from the Col. John L. Jordan collection are on display as well. It is worth the visit for the beautiful view and a quiet moment of reflection on the scope and toll of the terrible battle that occurred here 150 years ago.

The NEW Genealogy and Local History Database!!!

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

The Special Collections Department has a new swanky database format with a wealth of genealogy and Williamson County historical information, available here. Below are some highlights of what you can find:

  • Local History News Database: Contains a selection of over 7,000 local news stories, and growing.
  • Obituaries: Contains over 50,000 Williamson County Obituaries and growing.
  • Index to the Edith Whitley Collection: Whitley was a professional genealogist who compiled a wealth of unique family research material in her 50 plus year career in Nashville. This material has not yet been digitized or microfilmed, and is thus unique to the Special Collections department.
  • Databases on Williamson County Births, Cookbooks, Families, Magazines, Maps, Marriages, and Veterans

We are especially strong in local African American history and Genealogy thanks to two outstanding collections; the Thelma Battle Collection and the Richard C. Fulcher Collection. In the Thelma Battle collection, there is a wealth of information on bank records, bills of sale, cemetery records, census records, churches, local community history, craftsmen, deaths, deeds, funeral program index, labor contracts, marriages, politicians, social organizations, slave genealogies, schools, and more – including an index to some of the popular exhibits of her large collection of local African American related photographs. The Richard Fulcher database contains a partial index of that collection, covering County records and court excerpts related to Williamson County African American Families.Database 2 image

Each one of these collections is individually searchable, or you can browse, by clicking on the Collection Links page. What makes this new format really exciting however, are some of the new features available through the Search tab. Using the KEYWORD search tab, we now have the ability to search multiple databases simultaneously. In the dropdown menu, simply hold the “Ctrl” key and click all of the databases you are interested in searching. In addition, the FIELD search tab allows you to be far more specific in searching individual databases than was previously possible.

As always, the Special Collections staff is available to answer any questions you might have in navigating the new format or giving you more information about the specific collections. Reach us at 615-595-1246 or email SPCOLL@williamson-tn.org.

Beginning genealogy: Those (not so) pesky neighbors!

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

You’ve started your family genealogy, and zipped right through the first few generations using census records on Ancestry.com. Great! Then the inevitable happens – you hit a brick wall. Great-great-Grandma or Grandpa seems to simply disappear off the face of the Earth! Now what? It’s time to take a closer look at the census records you’ve already used, and look at those nosy neighbors.4332964512_8d5eb8f643_o

It’s always worth bearing in mind that census records were compiled by a (sometimes very) fallible human being walking door to door, knocking, and asking “who lives here?”. If you stay aware of this fact, you won’t make the mistake of assuming that because a name is spelled a particular way, in must not be Grandpa Stephen, because he spelled his name with a “v”. If the census taker heard “Gavin”, he might have written “Gavin” on the census. If, on the other hand, he heard “Caffin”, that’s what he’ll write (I’ve seen it happen!). And if the name was even slightly exotic, be it French, German, Italian, Swedish, etc. – forget about it! I am often tempted to believe that to be hired as a Federal census taker prior to 1900, applicants had to pass a grueling exam, where only the most hard-of-hearing, sloppiest penmanship, and poorest spellers passed. I can’t prove this, but I have my suspicions.

The other reason it’s worth remembering this door-to-door-knocking fact, is that it means all of the families listed above and below the family you’re researching were next door neighbors. This can be tremendously helpful! For one reason, youthful betrothed tended to marry the guy or girl next door, or a couple of houses down, or the next street over. If you can find great grandpa while he was single in the census records, you can very often find great grandma’s family on the next page or sometimes even living next door.

Another reason this is useful is because families during certain periods tended to move in groups. The Johnsons moved from North Carolina to Kentucky to Tennessee with the Smith family, for example. And along the way, sons might marry daughters. You never know how little clues like this might help you break through your brick wall. As an example, I found a house full of my ancestors in the 1880 census, along with a very elderly lady by a different last name of Hollingsworth. Continuing my line yielded a few more results, but I eventually hit the familiar brick wall. This was solved eventually not by researching my family name, but by tracing the Hollingsworths, and looking at their neighbors. And sure enough, I found a family of Hollingsworths living next door to some Gavins in 1850, which filled in the gap I was looking for and allowed me to plow headlong into the next brick wall on the Gavin line.

Paying attention to occupations and nationalities of neighbors can also lend some context to the history and kind of location your ancestors were in as well. Was everybody a farmer? This might indicate a poor rural location. Is there evidence for industry? Do you see blacksmiths or railroad workers clustered in the neighborhood? Were the majority of the neighbors German or Irish, or did they speak languages other than English? This might give a clue as to your ancestor’s nationality. What was the average age of people in the community? An extreme lack of elderly individuals might indicate the area was fairly newly established, whereas a uniform lack of young men of certain age might indicate heavy recruitment for a war.

Like so much in genealogy, the smallest, most overlooked clues can lead to big breakthroughs with a little patience and diligence.

DNA tests for Genealogy

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

DNA testing offers the modern genealogist an important and powerful tool that can provide unique information never available to previous generations of genealogists. In fact, there are so many companies offering DNA tests on today’s market, it can be somewhat daunting to know where to begin. In short, the answer to the question – “what kind of DNA test should I take?” can be answered by asking, “What kind of information are you hoping to get?” Below I’ll review some of the different types of genealogical DNA tests out there, and explain some of the pros and cons of each.

Y-DNA tests:

This test examines DNA found on the Y-chromosome. The Y-chromosome is one of the sex chromosomes that determine the gender of humans. Women of have an “XX” set of sex chromosomes while Men have an “XY” combination. Consequently, one drawback of the Y DNA test is that only males can take it, and it only traces a direct paternal line. It will give you information on your father’s father’s father, and so on, but no information about any females in your line, as the Y chromosome is only inherited by males. This means a Y DNA test can be especially useful for tracing surname history and origins, as surnames are also usually inherited along a direct paternal line.

Two males descended from the same male ancestor will have inherited the same DNA marker. That means that if you or a male relative and another person have the same marker 40 generations back, this test will let you know. One interesting consequent of this is what’s called the “Genghis effect”. In researching DNA dispersal through populations, it was discovered that a large proportion of the male population in Central Asia and beyond carry the same particular Y- DNA marker, meaning, they are all descended from the same single male. Further research concluded this was probably Genghis Khan, who conquered much of Asia and whose sons (who continued ruling in various parts of the continent) would have continued passing on this marker.

In addition, Y-DNA tests can provide “deep genealogical” information. Humans began migrating out of Africa beginning as early as 60,000 years ago, but they did so in waves. Often, there would be a wave of migrations to somewhere out of Africa – say the central Asia for example – and that wave would stay put for thousands of years, before a sub group would split of and travel to another area. These waves left their DNA markers in the places they traveled and settled. These markers can thus be divided into one of a number of identifiable “haplogroups”, the migrations of which can be traced by examining what percentage of a population carries a particular DNA marker.

DNA

Y-DNA PROS:     Can help trace family surname

Can provide matches with other males that have the same marker, this might help solve “brick walls”, or place your father’s line at a specific place and time.

Can provide “deep” genealogical haplogroup information

CONS:                  Only traces direct paternal decent.

Can only be taken by males.

TESTING COMPANIES:

–          Familytree DNA offers a variety of Y-DNA tests that vary in price depending on how many markers are to be tested, and will provide member matches and surname work groups as well.

–          The Nation Geographic Genographic 2.0 DNA test is more expensive, but will trace the Y-DNA line as well as the Mt and autosomal tests. However, it is focused on providing haplogroup information more than more recent genealogical data.

Mt-DNA

This kind of DNA test examines mitochondrial DNA. This DNA is only inherited from your mother. Thus this test will only provide information about you direct maternal line – your Mother’s mother, and on back. Unlike the gender exclusive Y-DNA test, however, this test can be taken by both males and females. This test is useful in providing haplogroup information, but provides the maternal haplogroup rather than the paternal. Since mitochondrial DNA is always inherited directly from the mother’s line unchanged, population geneticists can trace concentrations of particular DNA markers around the globe and extrapolate migration patterns from that. Both Family Tree DNA and the Genographic project also trace Mt DNA.

Mt-DNA PROS: Can provide matches with other females that have the same marker.

Can provide “deep” genealogical haplogroup information

CONS:                  Only traces direct maternal decent.

Autosomal DNA tests

These are the types of DNA tests offered by popular genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe. The big advantage of this type of test, is that it traces both the father’s and the mother’s line. The drawback is that it is only accurate to a limited number of generations. You’ll get no haplogroup information here, but companies such as Ancestry do provide an “ethnicity estimate”. By comparing your DNA markers against a sample collection from various populations around the globe, a rough estimate can be made. They can, in effect, tell you “your DNA looks like its 20% Irish, 40% German, and 20% Russian” for example. Of course, this information can only be compared from comparatively recent generations, and is not the same as tracing one’s haplogroup back thousands of years. In addition, details about the sample population against which your DNA is being compared is generally proprietary, so we don’t know how many people were sampled, or from what exact area. Another big advantage of using companies like Ancestry.com, is that your much more likely to find a match between your DNA and another Ancestry.com user, since so many people use this popular site.

Autosomal tests:

PROS:    Traces both paternal and maternal lineage

More useful for more recent genealogy. Primarily 6 – 8 generations back.

Popular companies like Ancestry.com and 23&Me can provide a large number users against which to compare your DNA.

In general, these tests tend to be a bit less expensive

CONS:   Lacks any “deep” genealogical component – does not provide haplogroup information

Usefulness is largely determined by how many other users of this service have similar DNA to yours – thus there is no way to know how useful the test will be before you’ve taken it.

 

Some accessible introductions to using DNA to trace populations available at your library:

Brian Sykes:        Seven Daughters of Eve

Saxons, Viking, and Celts

Spencer Wells:  Deep Ancestry

The Journey of Man

Preservation Week

by Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

pwk_logoThe annual American Library Association’s Preservation Week is fast approaching! This year it is April 27th to May 3rd, and it’s a great time to pick up some great tips and tricks to preserve your family treasures! Hop over to the preservation week website to print out a free bookmark with great general preservation tips, or check here for preservation tips for specific materials – books, paper, photographs, electronic media, comic books, textiles, as well as general care tips for a collection or how to make a time capsul. Library of Congress also has some great tips for saving your stuff here!

Research your Family History at the Library!

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

Now is a great time to get started with your family genealogy for free using Ancestry.com at the Williamson County Public Library. Most patrons don’t realize that you can access the Ancestry.com library edition while you are in the library at no cost! All you need your WCPL card. From any library computer, point your browser to www.ancestrylibrary.com. The Special Collections department is also teaching Introduction to Ancestry.com classes twice every month –register online from the first of the month, and don’t wait too long as space fills up quick! Need more genealogy help? Visit the Special Collections department – we have deed records, cemetery records, county histories, maps, passenger lists and much more to help you break through those problem “brick wall” ancestors. Visit our digital genealogy list. Most of the resources listed there can be accessed from your home computer with only your WCPL card.

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