Will DNA Testing provide the Answer for my Howell Brick Wall?

By Don Taylor

I have completed my initial writing about Generations 3, 4, and 5 on my Howell line research. (See my blog on Howell Research for a list of people and articles.) My next person to research in that line is the unknown father of Peter M. Howell, my wife’s third great grandfather. When you begin researching an unknown person, it is highly desirable to have a plan.  Maybe not as formal of a plan as many genealogists do, or say we should do, but it needs to be enough to get going and not duplicate previous efforts. The plan is simple.

  • Consolidate what I know.
  • Determine a pathway to potentially learn more.
  • Document and relate what I find.
  • Determine the vital information about the subject.

What I know:

What little I do know about Peter’s father was gleaned from Peter’s book, The Life and Travels of Peter Howell by Peter M. Howell[i]. From it, we know that Peter was born 15 July 1805, so there is a presumption that Peter’s father lived in Charlotte County, Virginia, in 1805. We know that the family moved to Buckingham County, Virginia in 1807. We also know that Peter’s father died when Peter was 12 years old (c. 1817). Finally, just for ballpark purposes, I conjecture that Peter’s father was likely somewhere between 20 and 45 when Peter was born. That gives the following:

Unknown father of Peter M. Howell

  • Born c. 1760-1785.
  • Resided Charlotte County, VA. 1805.
  • Resided Buckingham County, VA 1807.
  • Died Buckingham County, VA 1817-18.

Because this is my wife’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father, it is a perfect situation for Y-DNA testing one of my wife’s brothers. The first brother I asked agreed to test; he tested through Family Tree DNA – Amazing results. There were three matches with a genetic distance of 0 (Zero). The surprise was that the surname wasn’t Howell, rather it is Howle. Nothing I had ever seen before ever suggested that spelling for the surname.  Also, the haplogroup was I-M253 rather than the typical R-xxxx most Howells are.

A genetic distance of zero means there are no differences between the 37 markers tested. According to Family Tree DNA, that indicates an 83.49% likelihood that they share a common ancestor in 4 generations, a 93.29% likelihood in 6 generations, and a 97.28% likelihood in 8 generations. I have four generations (to Peter M. Howell) with assurance.

All three of the Howles indicate their most distant ancestor is William Howle, born circa 1730. One mentions William as being born in Lunenburg Co., VA and two show he was born in Charlotte County, VA. A quick check of Wikipedia indicated that Charlotte County was formed from Lunenburg County in 1764, so, all are consistent. (I love consistency.)

One of the three has a GEDCOM file on Family Tree DNA showing his 4th and 5th great grandfathers born in Charlotte County, VA. Another interesting item of his GEDCOM is that his Howle family moved from Virginia to South Carolina and then to Alabama. Peter M. Howell’s half-sister married a Holman and moved to Alabama. Peter apprenticed with him for a while in Alabama. So, there might be a connection there as well.

Crumbling Brick Wall
Crumbling Brick Wall

I also joined The Howell Surname Y-DNA project on Family Tree DNA. There are seven other people with the same Y-DNA Haplogroup (I-M253). Two of them indicate ancestors in North Carolina and two indicate ancestors in Virginia (three don’t provide a location for their earliest ancestor.)

I am excited. Family Tree DNA testing results may well provide the clues to help me find the answers to my Howell line brick wall. The DNA testing results are providing new holes in the wall for me to peek through and see if I can find the answers to the Howell research wall.

Further Actions:

Contact Match #2 and see if he has a tree that might include potential candidates for Peter M. Howells father.
Contact Match #3 and see if he has a tree that might include potential candidates for Peter M. Howells father.
Contact Haplogroup I-M253 matches with Howell surnames for further details.
Do further research regarding the descendants of William Howle, born circa 1730 because he may have had additional offspring that weren’t identified by other researchers.

List of Greats

Peter Fletcher Howell
Peter M. Howell
Unknown (father of Peter M.) Howell

Contact

If you are related to Peter M. Howell, or anyone in this Howell like I would love to hear from you.  Please use the contact form below.

ENDNOTES

[i] Howell, Peter. 1849. The life and travels of Peter Howell, written by himself in which will be seen some marvellous instances of the gracious providence of God. Newbern, N.C.: W.H. Mayhew.
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MGS had a winning Spring Workshop.

I attended the Maine Genealogical Society (MGS) DNA Workshop last weekend. I was impressed with the conference organization and agenda.

The logistics were excellent. Registration was easy; the conference program booklet was done well with a few extra blank pages for notes. I don’t know how many people were there, but I’d guess a couple hundred. The venue, The Augusta Elks Club, was adequate for the event, and the food was good. The MGS bookstore people were there. If you have ancestors from Maine, the MGS Bookstore probably has a book or two that can augment your research. Also, the Maine Historical Society had folks there promoting the society.

However, the real reason for my attending was to see Blaine Bettinger (@Blaine_5) speak. I had never seen Blaine before, but I have used several of his genetic genealogy charts for years. Because I have respected his work for several years, I was excited to meet him in person and hear him speak. I was not disappointed. Blaine was energetic all day and kept the audience engaged and interested. As the day progressed on his topics got more and more advanced.

His first topic was “Introduction to DNA for Genealogists” and he explained the types of chromosomes (X, Y, Mitochondrial, and autosomal) and the tests for each of them. He also went through inheritance and what each of the tests might show you.

Mitochondrial DNA
Picture : by Emmanuel Douzery
[CC BY-SA 4.0]via Wikimedia Commons

His second session was “Using mtDNA and Y-DNA to Explore Your Genealogy.” He explained Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), what HVR1 & HVR2 tests are about and what a full genome test is. He also provided information about how mtDNA test results may be used to solve family mysteries. Then he moved on to Y-DNA testing. He described STR (short tandem repeat) testing versus SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms) testing. I understand the STR explanations fairly well, but I got lost in the SNP stuff, again. I’ve listened to other people speak about SNPs, I didn’t understand them either. One of these days, I’ll get it.

Again, he spoke about using the test results to solve family mysteries. As you may know from reading my blog, in my case, I was able to use Y-DNA results to be certain that “Roberts” surnamed individuals were on my paternal line. See: My Paternal Brick Wall and Finding Family … tools to determine my biological father and half-siblings for details.

After lunch, Blaine continued with “Using Autosomal DNA to Solve Family Mysteries.” Besides the basics of what Autosomal DNA is, he reminded us that we have two family trees. A Genealogical Family Tree and a Genetic Family Tree. The chance of matching a first or second cousin is really high (over 99%), but the chance of matching a fifth cousin might be as low as 10%. That is to say that only one in ten of your fifth cousins may hold a DNA string that you also inherited. That is understandable, on average a 5th cousin would match only 3.32cM or .0488% of a match.
(See http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_statistics for details.)

Blaine Bettinger
Photo used by permission

Blaine’s 4th talk of the day was about “Using Third-Party Tools to Analyze your DNA.” This talk was an intermediate session with a close look at some of GEDMatch’s tools. Besides looking at the various matches available, but also looked at phasing and a tool he runs on everyone he imports into GEDMatch, the “Are Your Parents Related” tool, which answers questions regarding homozygosity that can skew your other results. He also talked about Lazarus and triangulation tools that GEDMatch has.

Although Blaine took questions throughout his presentations regarding issues at that point, he also had a more formal Question and Answers session at the end of the conference using Q&A cards written during the conference.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. I thought Blaine Bettinger was a great speaker. He kept to the topics. His slides were legible and decipherable from across the room. I would go out of my way to attend future conferences where he is a speaker.

To learn more about Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., see his Genetic Genealogist website. His website includes a biography page, a presentations page, and a “Contact Me” page. I’m sure you will enjoy having him as a speaker for your conference and your attendees will learn a lot.

On May 21st, I’ll be going to the “Third Annual Southern Maine Genealogy Conference” sponsored by the Greater Portland Chapter (GPC) of the Maine Genealogical Society. This conference will be in Portland, ME, (much closer to me) and will feature D. Joshua Taylor of Who Do You Think You Are? fame (no known relationship). Another fantastic day of genealogical programming is scheduled. I’m looking forward to listening to him talk. You can register for this conference on the GPC-MGS website.

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Finding Family – Ancestry and AncestryDNA provided the tools to determine my biological father and half-siblings.

By Don Taylor


Determining my biological father and discovering new half siblings is, by far, the greatest success I’ve had in my genealogical activities.  Thanks to Ancestry and AncestryDNA, I have been successful in answering lifelong questions regarding my paternity and my ancestry.
Don with step father's 1964 Olds Dynamic 88, the car he learned to drive on.
Don [Matson] Taylor with step-father’s ’64 Olds Dynamic 88
(The car in which I learned how to drive – c.1965)
Note the white sidewall tires — “Budgar” had to have them.
My quest started when I was sixteen and I needed a copy of my birth certificate to get a driver’s license.  That is when I learned that the man I thought was my father not only didn’t die in a car accident when I was a baby, but he wasn’t my father either. I had used his surname (Larson) for 12 years after which I used a new step-father’s name (Matson) for four years. Now, after sixteen years,  I had a completely new identity.  My biological father’s name was completely unknown and the surname on my birth certificate was completely made up. (That’s another story.) I adopted my birth surname then and have lived with it ever since. My mother gave me some hints as to possible friends of my biological father that I might be able to contact and learn my father’s name, but following those leads were never successful. My frustration was high but I’d go back to searching and seeking over and over again.
In 1994, a here-to-unknown half-sister, Glennis Peterson, who had been put up for adoption, found her birth mother and I suddenly had a new half-sister. Glennis didn’t learn she was adopted until she was in her 20s and had been searching for her birth mother (and a known older brother – me) for nearly 20 years. (That is another story but it is her story to tell – I think it will make a great book and she is a writer.) Anyway, her finding her birth family was a major impetus for my expanding my genealogical activities. First, I wanted to support her in learning about her new family (our shared Brown/Montran line), but also her finding us meant that maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to figure out who my biological father was. For the next few years, I retraced my previous efforts making sure I hadn’t missed anything. Again, to no avail.
In 2008, Ancestry offered a Y-DNA test and I took it.  Through that test, I learned that my closest Y-DNA matches all had the same surname, “Roberts.”  The problem was all of the matches were many generations away (eight to ten generations or more); there were no close matches. Although I tried, I was unable to find any of these people having a Roberts ancestor who had descendants in the place at the right time as my conception.

In 2011, Ancestry knew they were going to eliminate their Y-DNA testing and concentrate on atDNA testing. They sent me a free “Beta” test package, so I could be included in their atDNA database. My results weren’t very exciting, most matches were known distant relatives on my mother’s side. There were a few paternal matches, but they were very distant and never had any Roberts surnamed individuals.  I was disappointed and frustrated.  I even worked on someone’s tree for a while looking for potential matches on another person’s tree that the three of us shared a segment on the same chromosome.  Still no luck. Then the wall came tumbling down.
In December 2015, I had a new match – 1st to 2nd cousin.  Wow.  And that person had a tree on Ancestry.Com.  I looked at her tree and found her grandfather’s surname was Roberts.  Could it be?  If we were second cousins we would share a great grandparent, so I used Ancestry to learn about her great grandfather’s life.  I then used that information to further understand his children. He had three sons and one of them was in the right place (Detroit, MI) at the right time (Nov. 1949).
I decided to post two stories on my blog about my findings so far.  First, I wrote about “My Paternal Brick Wall and how I believe it to be shattered. A couple weeks later I wrote about Compulsive searching – Bert Allen Roberts (1903-1949).” It was my intent to examine and explore this family line more and more until I knew if it contained my people. 
A couple weeks later, I was contacted by Melody Roberts Jackson. She was Google searching her grandmother’s name and came across my “Compulsive searching…” article. Melody read it and “My Paternal Brick Wall” post and was amazed. These were her people that I was writing about. After exchanging a few emails we chatted at length on the telephone. She said she would contact one of her cousins, someone I suspected might be a half-sister.  The potential half sister, Beverly Roberts, then called me.  And we chatted for a long time. I indicated that the only way we’d know for certain was if she took an atDNA test as also.  She agreed. AncestryDNA sent to test directly to her and she sent it in.
Hugh Eugene “Gene” Roberts
Photo Courtesy: Tom Roberts
Then the agonizing wait.  AncestryDNA says six to eight weeks, possibly longer.  We were hoping for six weeks, but it took the full eight weeks. When the results came in, we learned that we share 1593 centimorgans of DNA across 58 DNA segments.  The DNA doesn’t say we are half siblings but gives clues to possible relationships.  The only relations we share that much DNA with are grandchild, niece/nephew, aunt/uncle, or a half-sibling.   I am older than BR so I can’t possibly be her grandchild. Her oldest sibling is younger than I am, so I can’t possibly be her nephew. Her (our) grandfather died fourteen months before I was born, so I can’t possibly be her uncle. Simple logic eliminated all potential relationships except one, that of half-sibling.  Which means I finally determined who my biological father was, Hugh Eugene “Gene” Roberts. From discussions with my mother over the years, I am pretty certain he was never told of my existence.
Sadly, Hugh Eugene “Gene” Roberts died in 1997, so I’ll never have a chance to meet my biological father. However, my new found Roberts family is excited to have a new family member.  I now have five new half-siblings and a passel of new cousins. There is a whole new line to explore genealogically. But best of all, I am looking forward to meeting my new Roberts family in person later this spring and I really feel they are excited to meet me too.

ENDNOTES

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My Paternal Brick Wall

Is my biggest brick wall is shattered?

Destroyed Brick Wall by Trebor Scholz (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Thanks to genetic genealogy, I believe my biggest brick wall has finally been knocked down, shattered, destroyed. I now have a huge lead as to who my biological father is.

Searching for who my biological father might have always been a major purpose behind my genealogical passion. I have been trying to figure it out for decades without real success, until now.

In 2012, Y-DNA tests I took indicated that I was a “Roberts.” Family Tree DNA’s results indicated that my four closest relatives were all surnamed Roberts.

My Closest Y-DNA Matches on Family Tree DNA
Name
% Common Ancestor is
likely in 4 generations
Comments
W. A. Roberts
59%
Has a great tree available on-line.
D. R. Roberts
59%
Unable to Contact. Possibly deceased.
G. Roberts
30%
N. Roberts
12%
C. E. Lathem
4%
50% likelihood in 11 generations
From this and similar results on the now defunct Ancestry Y-DNA, I surmised that my ancestor was probably a Roberts. W. A. Roberts was kind enough to share his tree with me, so I began looking closely at his ancestors’ descendants, looking for potential individuals that might have been in the right place at the right time. No success. Nothing seems to fit.
The DNA is matching!
When Ancestry began its autosomal DNA testing, I was an early adopter. When Family Tree DNA began accepting transfers of results from Ancestry DNA, I did a DNA Transfer with them. I also imported my results into GED Match. I figured that the more places you have your DNA out there, the greater the likelihood you will have a match. Maybe even a close match. No such luck. There were a few, four to 8 generations away. Some had nicely developed trees; some only had a couple generations documented. I helped some of the latter improve their trees, but nothing I found seemed to connect with the Roberts “notional tree” I was working on – Until now.

This week, I rechecked my results on Ancestry DNA and couldn’t believe the results. There was a new person, T.C.[i] who was identified as a 1st or 2nd cousin. Wow! She and I shared 313 centimorgans across 20 segments. And she has a tree that included a grandmother and great grandparents with the surname of Roberts. Could this be the breakthrough I’ve been looking for?

I added the names and the general relationships to my “Roberts Notional Tree” and took note of some of her sources. Then I began researching this potential line. If we really are 1st or 2nd cousins, then we must share a grandparent or great grandparent. I was almost giddy in my excitement. The initial problem was I didn’t see anything that fit the dates and places that my biological father needed to come from. I knew it wasn’t going to be quick, but if I researched, I might find the link I was looking for.
I found that TC’s great grandparents had five children – two girls and three boys. Any of the three boys would be the correct age to be my biological father. So, the search was on.
Crumbling Brick Wall by John Schneider - https://www.flickr.com/photos/85941395@N00/3171038821 Seen at the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Crumbling Brick Wall” by John Schneider
(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The first son I investigated was Bert Allen Roberts, Jr. He was born in Terre Haute, IN. He grew up there and relocated to Cleveland, OH as an adult. As I looked more and more closely at his life, I determined that he wasn’t likely.
The second son I investigated was Hugh Eugene Roberts. He was born in Detroit, MI, (like my mother) but moved to Terre Haute, IN, as a child. I found evidence that in May 1950, he was back in Detroit. From that, it is easy to surmise that he could have been in Detroit in October of 1949, when I was conceived.
The third son was J. H. Roberts[ii]. He was also born in Terre Haute. He married in 1947 in Detroit, MI. It appears that their marriage continued beyond 1950. I haven’t found much more about his life yet, but I don’t believe he is the “baby daddy” at this time.
Bert doesn’t appear to have located to Detroit.
J. H. although in Detroit at the right time was married and is a less likely candidate.
Hugh was in Detroit at about the right time and is a highly likely candidate.
I see two major directions for my research to take from here.

Research the ancestors of Bert Allen Roberts, Sr. and see if there is a connection into my known Y-DNA cousins. That would prove that the Roberts line in TC’s tree is the correct connection in her

atDNA

results.
Research the children of Hugh Eugene Roberts, contact them, and see if any of them would be willing to take a DNA test. If they are my half-siblings, as I suspect, we should share about 25% of our DNA. So, if they show up in that 787-2134 centimorgan range, I will have proven a very close relationship, probably half-siblings.

 

Oh, yes, also I will continue my research of this Roberts line.
Finally, am I certain that Hugh Eugene Roberts is my biological father? No, but I am certain that this finding is the biggest, best lead I’ve ever had in determining who my biological father is.

 

Talk about a Christmas present…  Wow.

Endnotes

[i] In order to maintain privacy, I am only including initials of potentially living individuals.
[ii] I have been unable to find death information regarding J. H. Roberts, so I am only

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My Response to Ancestry’s “Business” Decisions


I have never done a rant before, but I think it is finally time…. 

RANT ON

Angry Face Gnome IconI used to really like Ancestry. They were my go-to company for everything genealogical. However, over the past couple years, they have really let me down.
First, I did my Y-DNA testing through Ancestry. Ancestry quit doing Y-DNA; so whatever matches I had when they quit is all that I will ever have from them. I had to transfer my results to FamilyTree DNA and pay them their fee. I really feel that the money I spent on Ancestry’s Y-DNA test was wasted because they canceled the program about a year after I tested with them.
Next, I decided to go “all-in” with Family Tree Maker for Mac. I had used Family Tree Maker long ago. I tried Mac Family Tree, Reunion, and Heredis but found that Family Tree Maker was better for my needs.  So I bought it, upgraded it, and learned the nuances of its use. Then I started having more and more problems with the synchronization between my database and what was at Ancestry. Whenever the two (my local and the Ancestry) trees got out of sync and corrupt, the answer Ancestry support had was to accept what I had on Ancestry and replicate it back down to my local machine. Of course, that would break any private information I had or any media that I hadn’t uploaded to Ancestry. I have a lot of private sources, mostly correspondence or interviews with living individual where personally identifiable information is included in the original text or recording.
I decided to continue with Family Tree Maker for Mac but stop any synchronization with Ancestry. My trees seemed to remain stable and I figured I could upload what I had once or twice a year and keep the public parts of my work fully shared. Sound like a great idea except we know it won’t work after next December when Ancestry quits all support for Family Tree Maker.
Ancestry’s decision to eliminate Family Tree Maker is more than just a nuisance. What it did was eliminate any trust I had and crushed my respect for the company. I now truly believe Ancestry does not care about their customers and will not support them in the long run. What they seem to care about is maximizing their profits. It appears that lower profit product lines and legacy products just aren’t worth supporting.
The bottom line is I do not trust Ancestry any longer. When the bubble bursts on atDNA and something newer and better is in the market, I’m sure that Ancestry will drop atDNA support too — It seems to be their way.
Photo of "Angry Mob"What can I do? First, I’ll quit using Family Tree Maker for the Mac. I know they will support it for another year; however, I will not. I will quit recommending Ancestry for atDNA, mostly because I can’t trust they will keep with the program. Finally, over the next few weeks, I plan to review alternatives to Family Tree Maker for Mac 3. Once I find a desirable solution I will begin the tedious process of exporting my trees from Family Tree Maker for Mac 3 to GED files then importing them into whatever software I decide on using. It is a lot of tedious work to restart a tree and fixing anything that broke during a migration from a GED file, but it is clear that Ancestry doesn’t care about that. You know what? I don’t care about them either.  
I know that for Ancestry it is “only business,” but because of their attitude I’m weaning myself off Ancestry products, ‘cause you know, it is “only consumption.”

RANT OFF



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