Using DNA to answer: ARE YOU MY (great great great great grand-) MOTHER?


In 2010 I took my first autosomal DNA test through FTDNA.  I quickly discovered the frustration of autosomal DNA testing.

1)  Autosomal DNA provides no hints as to what part of your family tree your match comes from.  Given that we each have 64 fourth great grandparents, 128 fifth great grandparents and so on, it can be quite challenging to determine which person is our common ancestor when a DNA match occurs.

2)  Not everyone who does DNA testing is interested in sharing.  That was quite a surprise!  I had always assumed that people who are willing to expend the funds for DNA testing would be similarly interested in collaboration.  WRONG!

3)  Not everyone who does DNA testing posts their family tree for self-exploration by those with whom they have genetic matches.

Hoping to narrow down some of my matches, a couple of years I ago I located my mother’s cousin.  He is the son of my mother’s father’s half-brother who died when my mother was a child.  Thankfully this cousin was interested in family history and obligingly consented to swabbing his cheek for a Y-DNA test.  We are still waiting to find a connection there, but I’m hopeful that eventually we’ll find another cousin who can help with this side of the family tree.

Now, I have a specific goal in mind.  Really, it was the same, original goal I had when I first embarked on the genetic journey – to determine who are the parents of my great-great-great grandmother, Cynthia S. Day, wife of Benjamin Bursley.   Based on autosomal DNA testing, I think I have a likely match – Aaron Day and his wife Martha.  Their family lived in the same areas of Maine, moved to the same areas in Minnesota, have similar family stories.  Benjamin and Cynthia’s youngest children were named Aaron and Martha.  My problem is that Cynthia apparently married quite young, and was not listed in the household of Aaron and Martha in the 1850 census, at which time she would have been approximately 16 years of age.  No birth record has been identified, which is certainly not unusual and is to be expected for that time period.  She neatly fits into their family with her birth right in the middle of two identified children.  So given the lack of a paper trail, I’m considering turning to mtDNA to answer the question – is Martha, the wife of Aaron Day, my fourth great grandmother?

How many of you have been successful solving your family tree puzzles with mtDNA?  Or are you still waiting to find matches?

One response to “Using DNA to answer: ARE YOU MY (great great great great grand-) MOTHER?

  • Heidi Moose

    Will be interested in hearing what you decide. Have similar scenario and am considering DNA to ‘problem solve.’

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