Swimming in DNA

Ethnicity estimate1It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog – a very long while.  A few years ago I was well into this blogging thing, then the findingannewatkins.com website was born and not long after died a decommissioning death.  Around the time I decommissioned the website, I decided enough-was-enough with the topic of my adoption BUT then I decided to send my DNA to Ancestry.com and here I am, drowning in my, and other people’s DNA.

I’ve been a member of Ancestry.com for some years now, I’ve completed my adoptive family’s family tree as far back as the records allow.  I’m also an avid viewer of ‘Who do you think you are’ and was enticed by the DNA related adverts, so I checked it out. As luck would have it there was a sale on the test and being the cheap-scape, I completed the form, paid the reduced rate and waited for my DNA kit to come in the mail.

After about two weeks I received the kit.  I spat in the tube, carefully packed my precious DNA and sent it off.  The information provided with the kit said the results would be ready in 6-8 weeks.  I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email two weeks later informing me that my results were ready.  This meant I could login to Ancestry and activate my DNA test results.

The first information I saw was my ethnicity estimate.  I was expecting to see predominately British with a splash of Western Europe. But low and behold I’m 59% Irish.  I was of two minds about this information:

  • Firstly, this would likely indicate I originated from poor Irish stock either brought to Australia in chains or through the free settlement deals of the mid to late 1800s as the new colony needed men to work.  I’d always dreamt I was the bastard child of a British aristocrat.
  • Secondly, wow Irish – I love their accents and I certainly approve of their dry and mostly cutting sense of humour and of course I too love a drink or more – many more, I digress!

Ethnicity estimate-matchesThe other information, and the most important, was the DNA relationship matches of which I had 37 4th cousins (figure raising steadily).

Wow, I have blood cousins! I would never have thought I’d ever find another person who share my DNA besides my kids and grandkids- how exiting!

My first task was to find out what a 4th cousin looks like, not in the physical sense but how am I related to a 4th cousin?

It’s important to note that DNA doesn’t know the concept of cousins, a cousin match is just a way of describing the amount of DNA shared between people. A 4th cousin could mean we share a great-great-great-grandparent (3rd GG), more or less. To put this into context – everyone has  32 x 3rd GG (ie. sixteen sets – refer to figure below).

Tracing a family tree and uncovering great grandparents is moderately simple if you know where to begin which is usually with yourself, your parents and/or grandparents.  To go beyond grandparents gets a little tricky but still doable. It’s not until you reach your 2nd GG that the information starts drying up so researching 3rd GG is getting into the late 1700s/ early 1800s and the records are well and truly scarce.  To add salt to the wound, the Irish records are mostly none existent as many records were lost in fires or through the English occupancy – just my dumb luck!

To understand my dilemma, my starting point is to find  a common set of 3rd GG I share with any one of my 37 4th cousins.  Of course this task made all the more difficult since I don’t have a starting point as in a name as it’s most likely that the name of Watkins given by my birth mother is false.   So needless to say when I stare at a cousin’s family tree it’s anyone’s guess as to which set of 3rd GG we share.  To top off my dilemma, very few of these cousins have a family tree in the first instance and those that do don’t go beyond 2nd GG.

In order to find a common relative, I need to find several 4th cousins who share the same 3rd GG, meaning their 2nd GG would be a siblings to each other and so would mine – confusing isn’t it?

Ancestry.com didn’t provide tools for finding matching cousins until now, however, it’s still not a useful tool.  In the meantime I’d sent a few emails to various cousins and one or two of them suggested I upload my DNA results to a free service called GEDmatch.com. GEDmatch.com – is a service that allows you to match with people who have had the DNA tested from other ancestry sites such as 23andme and FtDNA (Family Tree DNA).  GEDmatch is for the more serious DNA researcher and it appears that’s what I need to become.

After I uploaded my DNA to GEDmatch and waited the obligatory 24 hours, I received my unique ‘Kit’ number, this helps in the various searches you can perform on the website.  You can also find people who match your kit as well as other cousin kits.  I can even run a test that predicts eye colour, which was spot on in my case – bloodshot – at least that’s the colour they have been every since I received my DNA results.

Since uploading my DNA to these sites, I can’t count the time that has been consumed running diagnostic tests, contacting cousins, scouring ancestry trees and running test after test.  I’ve had help along the way from cousins. One cousin who understands DNA suggested I check out a possible 3rd GG by the name of Hayman. The Haymans immigrated from England to New Zealand and some moved to Australia in the 1800s.  His suggestion was based on a shared cousin relationship between three people, me being one. He knew this other cousin shared the Hayman’s as 3rd GGs so the likely conclusion was I too shared the Haymans.  This means I need to identify which of the Hayman’s children are my 2nd GG and down the line I go.

How hard could that be?

My joy was short lived once I knew Mr and Mrs Hayman had 20 children – 20!  OMG, kill me now!  One of these 20 children MAY BE my 2nd GG and if I knew which one I’d have to find out which of their kids was my 1st GG and there are 72 to choose from – YES THAT’S RIGHT, 72!

Needless to say my job is definitely set out for me and this research is only based on someone’s calculated guess which in all likelihood is wrong.  Regardless, I press ahead with endless hours of searching trying to find some glimmer of hope, some correlation between the search results and the information provided by my birth mother, any information that seems to make sense.  I go to sleep thinking about the search. I wake up at 3am thinking about the search and I wake up in the morning thinking about the search.

I really am swimming in my own DNA.  However, it seems on most days that I’m drowning in it.  And today is no exception!

Author: Kitty

First and foremost I'm a busy working mother, grandmother and mother-in-law. I was brought up in a small country town but I've lived and worked in Sydney for over 17 years. I'm a slack blogger because life and earning a living gets in the way.

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