AncestryDNA Communities and the Benefits of Testing the Oldest Generation

I look forward to learning about the new tools and updates that come from DNA testing companies. Recently Ancestry.com updated their genetic communities. Genetic communities demonstrate the link between genetic genealogy and traditional documentary genealogy research. Ancestry uses the family trees of customers and the power of their massive autosomal DNA database (over 21 million testers) to place groups of ancestors in a place and time. The time frame (starting about 300 years ago) matches the time period when documentary evidence might be found. DNA communities provide hints for further research.

Autosomal DNA inheritance is random and siblings (unless they are identical twins) will have different results. My brother and I each received half of our atDNA from our dad and half from our mom, but we didn’t get the same half.

My results aren’t very impressive:

My DNA Communities from Ancestry.com

I have one community. Clicking through the information tells me which DNA matches and which ancestors fit in this group.

Here are the results for my brother:

My Brother’s DNA Communities from Ancestry.com

The DNA Community for my brother is different than the one I have. One of the same 4x-great grandfathers on my maternal side, Holloway Key (1777-1855), is in both groups. This makes sense since the geographic area of Tennessee where he settled appears in both. For my paternal side, there are hints I can pursue in the Lower Midwest & Virginia Settlers group for the House family that I am curious about.

I tested my mother before she passed away, and her brother (my maternal uncle) also agreed to test. That puts me one generation closer to my maternal ancestors.

Here are my mother’s results:

My Mother’s DNA Communities on Ancestry

Not only does my mother have the DNA community my brother had, Southern Midwestern Settlers (his is orange, hers is green), she has four others.

My uncle provided an additional community, Early Upper South Settlers:

My Maternal Uncle’s DNA Communities on Ancestry

The results differ a little, and that’s because of the different autosomal DNA they inherited from their parents (my maternal grandparents). The number of new communities demonstrates the rich genetic information older generations hold.

Here’s a comparison of the results for the four of us:

RegionMotherUncleMeBrother
Arkansas, Oklahoma & Texas Settlers (1700-1975)  
Early Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana & East Texas (1700-1800)   
Early Upper South Settlers (1700-1975)   
Lower Midwest & Virginia Settlers (1700-1950)   
North Upland South Settlers (1775-1975 Northwest Tennessee & Kentucky Jackson Purchase Settlers  
South Central Appalachia Settlers (1700-1950) North Carolina High Country Settlers  
Southern Midwestern Settlers (1700-1975) 
Comparison of DNA Communities for My Mom, My Maternal Uncle, Myself and My Brother at Ancestry

The text describing the community, animated maps showing migration patterns, and hints from Ancestry provide clues that I can research. We don’t know anything about my maternal 2x great-grandmother, Mattie (Childres) Fisher Pike Adams outside of 3 marriages and 1 census. Ancestry placed this branch in the “Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas Settlers” with origins in Northwestern Europe and the British Isles, possibly migrating to the Chesapeake Bay area and moving across Tennessee and Kentucky. This is consistent with the Childres matches I am researching.

If I did not have my mother and my uncle, I would I would be missing five genetic communities. Perhaps in the next update, the DNA communities will show up for my brother and me. I welcome the new clues in my search for Mattie’s family.

That new project feeling

Every new project has a honeymoon period. There’s the anticipation of what might be discovered and the pleasure of setting up the project so that the research proceeds smoothly. Here’s a glimpse into my project set-up process.

Research Log

A little over a year ago I started using Airtable as my research log. I have enough understanding of programming to be dangerous. I even took a class in Fortran in college and I learned how to use Microsoft Access when I worked in a health services research setting. I love relational databases even more than I love spreadsheets. Airtable is a “spreadsheet-database hybrid with features of a database but applied to a spreadsheet” according to Wikipedia. Nicole Dyer of Research Like a Pro (RLP) with FamilyLocket has shared terrific bases (templates) in the Airtable Universe. I developed my own adaptations to Nicole’s RLP with DNA Multiple Testers Base.

Below is a screenshot of the documentary research log I use based on Nicole’s template. I’ve grouped this log by surname (4th column), then sorted it by date of event (3rd column) then locality (5th column). Dates are written in YYYY-MM-DD format to sort the records (rows) by a field (column). Place names begin with the two-digit state abbreviation, followed by county, and town. This arrangement also supports sorting without creating multiple fields to sort. And if you are looking at column 8, yes, I do create the citations when I first look at the document. I have a citation template (also in Airtable).

Documentary Research Log in AirTable

Digital Filing

Every project has a folder on my drive which is backed up to Dropbox. The folder organization varies by project. The snapshot below is for my mysterious 2x-great grandmother, Mattie Childress. Each research question has a numbered file. “00-Mattie death date” and “01-Parents for Mattie” are examples. Nested within the folder are sub-folders for phases of research. “Archive” holds prior drafts and will be discarded at the end of a project. “Analysis” contains tables for census or timeline analysis. “Images” has screenshots of diagrams.

Digital Filing System

I’ve used Google Docs and Sheets and struggle to use the filing system in Google Drive. Many people use them to good results. Using Google docs, sheets and drive allows sharing through links. I get around this by sharing Dropbox folders for large files.

Naming conventions

File names for individual items (documents, images, spreadsheets) have evolved. There are two styles I use consistently: Name of document first or date first. When I am writing a report, the name of the document is written with underscores, then the date, always in YYYY-MM-DD format.

Childres_father_2022-01-31.docx

For sources (scans of originals, downloaded census, birth, marriage, death, etc.) I lead with the date, followed by the last name in caps, then location and type of record. I use dashes between elements of the date in YYYY-MM-DD format. This creates an instant timeline in my folders. Locations are organized from large geographic region to small.

1879-05-08_CHILDRESS_Bill_TN_Tipton_indictment_riot.jpeg

Report template

I set up the project report using a template and “write as I go.” Writing the report while I’m working supports the analysis process and I’m not faced with a blank page at the end. When working on client projects, writing-as-I-go also helps me stay within hourly limits for a project. The template, like naming conventions, has evolved over time. I use a Microsoft Word .dotx file which includes sample paragraphs I often need (such as explaining the usages of different types of DNA tests or how autosomal DNA is used to predict relationships).

Report template

I started a new project two weeks ago and set it up as described here. I can spend a few minutes or several hours researching knowing that I can focus on the research and analysis. And I’m enjoying the honeymoon!

What will you find here?

Welcome to my blog and thanks for spending your precious time here with me. This blog will share:

  • Musings about family history, identity, and resilience
  • Thoughts about the impact of family history on the present and future
  • Methods and tips about genetic genealogy and documentary genealogy research
  • New (or new-to-me) topics in genealogy
  • Discoveries from my own family history research

I study family history because it forms the foundation of who I am and how I think and act. An understanding of where I come from gives me strength and gives me pause. I have discovered inspiring stories and tragic ones. I have marvelled at the steps my ancestors took (literally) that led to my presence and wondered at their inhumanity. Curiosity and the quest for meaning shape my journey. And sometimes that meaning requires action. The action can be reporting on what I’ve discovered or taking steps to address historical wrongs.

Researching my family history keeps my brain agile. Learning new approaches to genetic genealogy challenges me. Working through the logic of conflicting evidence invites me to weigh sources and types of information and come to conclusions about what I’ve gathered. And in the end I know more about those who came before me and myself. And I have something to offer my grandchildren and those who may follow.

My goal is to uncover the past so that it can inform the present and lead to a better future.

Thanks for coming along!