My Genealogical DNA Test Experience – 5th to Remote Cousins

No, I had not forgotten about these very distant cousins.

Given that I had 4 2nd-4th cousin matches, 17 3rd-5th cousin matches and eight pages of 4th-remote cousins, the remaining matches had to be 5th-remote cousins.

I don’t remember how many of these I had when I took my first look.  Now, I have 28 pages of them.  That’s about 280 matches.

There is still a lot of debate about IBS and IBD.  Yes, I’m sure there is a proportion of IBS among these, but FtDNA only shows matches which have at least one shared segment of 7 cM or more.  There is a total shared segment limit too, but I don’t remember what that is.

When I began, I read up on autosomal DNA – that it was good for the closest six generations, that it reduced each generation, that small segments are IBS.  Now, just a few months later, I have come to see that these are guidelines only.  Some segments seem to be very resilient, as I said in an earlier post.  They pass down in their entirety.  Others are broken up but they were still passed down so remain IBD.   Some testers feel that they have a large amount of IBS amongst their distant matches.

I am not yet convinced.  I won’t really be convinced until several people have mapped their complete genome and identified which ancestor every segment came from, and then compared this with their match list with a very well researched family tree.  There are a lot of nearly impossible factors in there but technology – and genealogical research – improves all the time.

I have and continue to have success with small segments.  I have more success with matches where we share several small segments than one small segment but nonetheless, to me, the small segments should not be ignored.

We may learn down the track that this varies family by family. Some of us may be built of quite ancient segments that stay together like glue and will not break down.  Others might have genetic structure which recombines more quickly.  But I speculate here.  Genealogical DNA testing is very new and I’m sure someone is collecting the data somewhere.

My impression is that some believe they can’t trust the small segments to locate their relations.  Others believe they can.  I’m one of the latter type.  Undoubtedly some of them are IBS but I’m going to have a damn good try at finding a link before I decide that.

A big new land
Australia – A big new land

I realised several weeks ago that I have a better chance of identifying my remote cousin matches than most, because I live in Australia.  Records are pretty good for Australian colonisation.  Yes, we have our brick walls and there are holes in our research, but I don’t think many settled in Australia without finding themselves on some record, somewhere.  A burial record, a hospital record, the electoral roll or a muster.  If we go looking for our direct ancestors who clearly met a partner and produced a child, we’ll find them somewhere.

Of my emigrating ancestors, most were 5 generations back and there are only 32 of those.  Take another step back and there are 64.  There are only 64 people who I need to find to know where my family emigrated from.  I have a couple of exceptions but this basically holds.

Most of my remotest cousin matches have ancestry in North Carolina and Virginia.   There are a few distinct clusters and there are a spattering of others.  So I am looking for a common feature between the immediate ancestors of my 64 at emigrant level, and families from those two locations in the now United States.

Looking for common factors between inhabitants of those states and my own ancestors, I find two.  Poor but able farming families emigrating in search of a new home, and convicts.

Convicts were sent to Virginia from about 1615.  The process was stop-start, with a concentrated portion from 1657-1671.  It resumed in 1711 and continued till 1775.

Between 1775 and 1788 there were only thirteen years.  Anyone researching convicts in Australia will know how often siblings were transported across a ten or twenty year period.  Undoubtedly, in some cases, a convict was transported to Virginia and a sibling several years later was transported to Australia.  The poor and struggling families of 1750 were often the same poor and struggling families of 1800.  In both the US and Australia there was a stigma about convict ancestry.  In Australia too many records continued to exist and the convict era was too recent for us to cover it up.  We moved on, we grew to understand and accept them.

Replica Cottage from early colonisation era in Sydney, New South Wales
Replica Cottage from early colonisation era in Sydney, New South Wales

In the United States, the cover up was more successful.  Many people today, researching their family, will come to a point where an ancestor suddenly ‘appeared’ in Virginia or Georgia or Maryland or South Carolina. Pennsylvania also had a few.

It is explained nicely at Early American Crime.  With useful figures.  There were well over 50,000 convicts transported to the United States in the 18th Century.  Many of them served out their sentence, married and became labourers or tradesmen.  A few generations down, their children told stories of their grandfather who came over ‘to seek his fortune’ or because he was a younger son who would not inherit land in England.

If these convicts were anything like the ones which came to Australia, they were able men and women who had been held back by circumstance and lack of education.  Sure, there were alcoholics and habitual thieves amongst them, rapists and murderers – but there were even more who just wanted an end to strife and hardship.  Those ones married, raised a family, saved up and bought themselves some land and two generations on their children were bankers and magistrates and large property owners.  It definitely happened in Australia, it undoubtedly happened in the United States.

I have now made contact with two distant cousins whom I am sure are connected via convict siblings, but they don’t even want to consider the idea.  So I’ll do some more research and see if I can prove it from the English end.

Other cousins of course have been very receptive to all possibilities.

I notice from various email lists that Ancestry testers have their matches sorted into categories, one of which is ‘Colonial Ancestry’.  I can see why.  I helped a friend trace his family tree within America and the trail died off in Tennessee in the early 1820s.

However, from Australia, I might just be adding a clue for my distant cousins to use.  They connect to one of 64 people, most of whom are well documented.

If they would all put their trees on FamilyTree DNA, I could browse to my heart’s content and follow all possibilities.  I’m a blood hound and ferret rolled into one, when I have the opportunity. In the meantime – I’m grouping, linking and making spreadsheets.

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