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Thanks to the testers

It is the last Sunday of 2020.

The last day of this year when The Legal Genealogist looks to the pros, cons, and complications of using DNA as part and parcel of genealogical evidence.

And a perfect day to say thank you to all those who’ve stepped up this year and in all the years past to contribute the clues they have tucked away in their genes to help find the answers to the genealogical questions we all have in our family histories.

Since DNA testing as a genealogical tool wasn’t really available until after both of my parents were gone, I’m so very grateful to five of my mother’s siblings for being willing to test and take us a generation closer to answers in my maternal line. And ditto big time to my paternal half-brother (and a whole bunch of full siblings) for doing the same. Using the aunts and uncles on one side and my brother on the other, it’s a whole lot easier to separate folks into maternal and paternal matches.

But the reality is, most of my matches are on my mother’s side. My father was born in Germany, and we just don’t have a whole lot of matches — or even relatives — on that side. My mother’s family on the other hand… sigh… Just about every single line has been in America since before there was an America and generation after generation they kept moving further and further out into the frontier leaving fewer and fewer records.

DNA gift

Which makes me doubly appreciative of those cousins on my mother’s side who have been so very generous with their DNA as we’ve fought to trace our family tree back. So let me offer my thanks to some very special people:

• My cousin John from Mississippi, the very first person who provided an autosomal sample for me back in 2010 when the autosomal DNA test first became available. The matching DNA segments he provided gave us the first incontrovertible evidence that we were on the right path in tracing our Gentry ancestors from the Mississippi frontier back to Georgia and Virginia. And the whole host of Gentry cousins who piled on afterwards, nailing this down.

• Then we need to add in the whole host of Robertson cousins — Michael, MaryAnn and Pug among the first — who helped us prove that we descend from that specific critical Gentry-Robertson marriage we thought was the right one.

• My maternal grandmother’s last remaining first cousin, Thelma (Livingston) Dibble, who was 91 years old when she agreed to test in 2010. Her father was a much-younger half-brother of my great grandmother, and so Thelma’s genes help us distinguish their shared grandmother’s line from the descendants of their differing grandfathers.

• Cousins Dorrinda and Connie who descend from a brother of Jasper Baird, the man we suspected was the differing grandfather on my line — and whose matching DNA segments to each other and to testers on my side point strongly in the direction of our suspect.

• My second cousins Dick and Barbara, whose grandmother Maud was the older sister of my maternal grandfather, Clay Cottrell. Their DNA has proved challenging since their father and grandfather contributed Ashkenazi ancestry, introducing a whole bunch of endogamy into the equation, but the shared matches we have with them have been very useful in hunting down the Cottrell side. Add to that another cousin, descended from Maud’s and Clay’s sister Theo, and a more distant cousin and… well, the Cottrell line is coming together nicely.

• My Buchanan cousin who contributed both his YDNA to our mutual research into our shared Buchanan forebears — and his autosomal DNA to help my branch (descended from a daughter) link into the bigger family.

• My Fore cousin — descended from our shared ancestor Jesse Fore — whose YDNA may someday help us know whether we do (or don’t) descend from the Faures of Manakin Town, Virginia — if we can ever locate a documented male descendant of those Faures, who arrived around 1700.

• My Johnson cousins — one male with the surname and one female — who have added greatly to our efforts to track back our Johnson line into the wilds of early 19th century Virginia.

• The Battles cousins — including Darrell and Jack — who not only have helped us link solidly to a Revolutionary War soldier ancestor, but whose YDNA shows us that there was a surname switch back in the mid-1700s, and that Revolutionary War soldier almost undoubtedly bears the surname of his mother… and not his father.

• My Shew cousins who have both cemented my own descent from Philip Shew of North Carolina but whose YDNA — sigh — shows us rather powerfully that we do not descend from the Ephrata Cloister (Pennsylvania) Shew family we thought we might be linked to.

• And — deeply contented sigh — a bunch of folks who either are cousins or who would have been cousins if my Battles fourth great grandfather hadn’t been catting around, whose willingness to contribute their mitochondrial DNA is in the process of letting me finally solve the question of which of that fourth great grandfather’s wives was the mother of my third great grandmother.

I am so very grateful to every one of these people and so many more for their willingness to be tested, to disclose what lies hidden in their DNA, to help answer our questions.

Their generosity has given us what in many cases we could never have found in any other way.

They have given us a gift of family.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “A gift of family,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 27 Dec 2020).

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