Reflection Journal: Week 0: Introduction: Research Like a Pro with DNA – Study Group

Series information

During the winter-spring of 2022, I am enrolled in the genetic genealogy course, Research Like a Pro with DNA Study Group, from the team at Family Locket of Diana Elder, Nicole Dyer, and Robin Wirthlin. A weekly reflection journal is one course component. I’m sharing mine.

This week’s assignment: in preparation for the first class meeting, write an introduction of yourself for your classmates, touching on your experience with genealogy and using DNA in that work, along with any biographical information you would like to share.

Bio Blurb

Husband, Dad, birder, chess dilettante, film & TV fan, genealogist, Methodist pastor, photographer, reader & writer, regex script hacker, skygazer, Virginian, and avid walker. Loves to share and collaborate.

Genealogy and Personal Intro, Background, Experience, and Goals

All 32 of my 3rd great-grandparents settled into one Appalachian county by 1820. My sixty most-recent ancestors were born, lived, and died there, in Ashe County, North Carolina; surnames among them are: Little, Lawrence, Bower, Houck, Adams, Bare, Burkett, Curtis, Fox, Gabey, Goodman, Greene, Grogan, Halsey, Johnston, Koontz, McMillan, Osborn, Parker, Perkins, Poe, Sheets, Strunk, Taylor, Wagoner, Witherspoon.

My parents left Ashe County in the mid-1960s, the first of my direct ancestors to leave Ashe in 140 years; sometimes they say they escaped (left of their own free will) and at other times they will say that they were exiled (“asked” to leave); both are in jest. The only people who love Ashe County more than the people who live there are the people who have left there.

I inherited my love of genealogy from another Ashe expatriate, my aunt, Monte Ann LITTLE DeBoard, an educator who spent her summers haunting county courthouses, archival libraries, and family reunions. Thirty years ago, about the time of the birth of my oldest son in 1992, I began helping my aunt with genealogy, first by digitizing her work in an early version of Family Tree Maker. About 15 years ago, I started getting serious about doing my own genealogy research. That research kicked into overdrive when I took my first DNA test in 2017 and starting analysis to confirm my aunt’s previous work (I found almost no errors). I now manage about two dozen DNA kits for friends and family.

I love doing genealogy work, both the traditional document-based research and the DNA analysis. Some skills were acquired from an academic background in computational linguistics and a first career (about fifteen years) in information technology as back-office support in university libraries, law libraries, and state archival libraries. Other skills have come from a second career (about another fifteen years) as a Methodist pastor (learning that every family is messy, yet God is in the messes, not least of all your own) in Fauquier County, Virginia, one of the most beautiful places on earth (eclipsed only by Ashe, and perhaps Rockingham County, Virginia). I live less than 50 miles from where my surname immigrant ancestor, Abraham Little, first landed near Fredericksburg in colonial Virginia as a boy in the mid-1680s as an indentured servant, having boarded or been placed upon a ship in England.

I have two possible research objectives I am considering for my focus in this course, one modest, the other perhaps too ambitious. Both possible objectives are to confirm or refute the parentage of an ancestor using DNA analysis and documentary evidence. The more ambitious case dates to the late 1700s, involving my 3rd great-grandfather, Isaac Little (1799 — 1884, Ashe, NC) and determining Isaac’s father from among two brothers (Edmund Little or Peter Little) or perhaps their father, Charles Little (a 111-marker Y-DNA test strongly suggests that Isaac and this researcher are descendants of Charles’s ancestor, Abraham Little [1677, England — 1724, Virginia], mentioned above as my surname immigrant ancestor).

The more modest case is a non-paternity event (“NPE”) dating to the Civil War when a soldier, William McMillan (1830 — 1865, Ashe, NC), on leave in 1862, is said to have returned home not to his wife and children, but rather to have fathered my 2nd great-grandfather (James “Bawly” Bower, 1863 — 1960, Ashe, NC) with another woman, not his wife, my 3rd great-grandmother, Riley Bower (1840 — 1915, Ashe, NC). No shaming or judgment is implied or should be inferred; sometimes the most interesting stories arise out of challenging cases (just wait till you hear about Absolom Bower, scoundrel extraordinaire), not to mention that this researcher and a not-insignificant portion of the population of Ashe would never have been born but for this relationship.

Currently, my primary tool for genetic genealogy research is Genealogical DNA Analysis Tool (“GDAT”), which I’m trying to master for segment triangulation, as that seems to be essential given my endogamous Appalachian heritage. A current project is to identify the most recent common ancestor-couples of my 20 largest DNA segments shared with known second and third cousins. GDAT is great for holding, organizing, and analyzing DNA matches and segments from all the testing companies in one tool. GDAT includes its own segment browser and analysis tools, but when desired, data from GDAT can easily be exported to DNA Painter, Excel, Google Sheets, Airtable, other MySQL databases, and simple CSV files. There’s a steep learning curve, but after working with GDAT for about a year, I think I’m about halfway to the skill level I’d like to have.

I enjoy learning and skill-building with genetic genealogy tools, and looking for more efficient and effective methods and practices. A longer-term project is the integration of my GDAT match and segment data with my genealogical data stored in RootsMagic, a popular family tree and history database. Like GDAT, RootsMagic data can be extracted to a MySQL database (see SQLite Tools for RootsMagic). The Holy Grail would be a simple and seamless marriage of the genealogical information in RootsMagic with the DNA match and segment data in GDAT. I enjoy working with SQLite Expert to integrate my GDAT genetic match and segment data with my RootsMagic genealogical information to solve family mysteries and tell forgotten stories.

During this course, I am looking forward to learning best practices and efficient work-flow processes, DNA report writing, how to integrate sound DNA analysis and valid conclusions into proof arguments, proper documentation and citation of DNA analysis, and, especially, learning and collaborating with other genetic genealogists.

Steve and Shawn Little overlooking ancestral homeland of Ashe County, North Carolina

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