Mar 2, 2011

Genetic Genealogy and Family Websites

I had my DNA tested last year with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). Before I made the purchase, I'd been reading everything I could find for almost a year, to make sure I understood all the ramifications and possibilities. I eventually decided to order their 37-marker Y chromosome test (Y-DNA 37), HVR1+HVR2 mitochondrial DNA test (mtDNA Plus), and the autosomal test they call Family Finder.

The results for the Y-DNA test came back quickly, but resulted in very few matches–no close ones at all. I have a fairly rare paternal haplogroup, N. After researching what that means, it made perfect sense; my paternal line comes from the Baltic region. There just aren't enough people from that background who've tested yet. The mtDNA results came back next, placing me in the maternal haplogroup K. I have several exact matches, but they're from all over Europe, so I haven't contacted any of them yet. Since mtDNA mutates much more slowly than the Y-DNA markers tested, matches could be related through a maternal ancestor 100s or even 1000s of years ago.

Family Finder (FF) results were a bit slower. FTDNA is in the process of upgrading their tests to a new platform, so all their existing FF tests are being rerun also. As soon as my results came back, I had one match predicted as a 5th or more distant cousin. I e-mailed them, but have yet to hear back. Now every few days, as more tests are posted, I'm getting a few more matches. As of today, I have eight matches, all pretty distant, except one predicted as a 3rd cousin. I've e-mailed all of them, and received replies from most of them. We haven't been able to determine how we're related yet, but in many cases we've been able to narrow down our search to one particular branch, or geographic area.

Most of my ancestors were relative newcomers to America, arriving in the late 19th century. So I've been concentrating on the lines with deep roots here. Unfortunately, those branches are some of my least documented, or researched in many cases. I have solid paper trails for most of my ancestors since the mid-19th century, some extending back into Europe. What little I knew of my ancestors who were already in America in the 18th century, was often based on others' research I'd found on the internet. Yes, I know, one should never trust somebody else's research without verifying the evidence, especially from the internet. But this was years ago, before I'd ever heard of Evidence Explained. Ancestry.com has actually made me a better researcher, as I have access to countless databases, and check everybody's work against the sources (but I'll save that for another post some day).

One line that's been in America since the 17th century, and I hadn't researched thoroughly, is the Matteson family. Based on the geographic area where the ancestors of both my matches' and mine were approximately co-located, this was one branch I suspected might have some connections. One of my great-great-great-grandmothers was a Mattison, and I already had records regarding her and her parents back to 1850. Then using a simple Google search, I found a wonderful family website for the Mattesons! I'd previously found the eponymous cemetery, village, lake, and township in Michigan, but didn't know how they were related. The website lists five generations of descendants from the patriarch, Henry Matteson. Now I'm going through it all, verifying the information against the sources I can find, and adding it to my family tree. I wish every family had a website like that. It would make research so much easier. For many of my ancestors, I don't know where to go next, or even begin in some cases.

As a side note, this is probably the most misspelled surname among all my ancestors. It's not a particularly strange name or difficult to spell, but it's close to several other surnames, and the double consonant and vowels are often mixed up. Not even counting the collateral branches, here are variant* and deviant* spellings of the surname I've found in different records:
  • Maddison (deviant)
  • Madison (adopted by some descendants)
  • Mathewson (deviant)
  • Matson (deviant)
  • Matthewson (deviant)
  • Matteson (original surname)
  • Matterson (deviant)
  • Mattison (adopted by my descendants)
*Note: I'm using the terms variant and deviant according to the Guild of One-Name Studies.

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