Friday, August 29, 2014

DNA Testing and Unending Questions

I've been dipping my toe into the world of DNA testing for genealogy. Some months ago, the genealogy society I belong to hosted a wonderful evening with a DNA expert who presented compelling arguments as to how DNA testing can expand genealogical research and smash brick walls. I started doing some reading on my own and was intrigued. I ordered an Autosomal DNA test from

Autosomal DNA looks at both your paternal and maternal genetic material and is a good way to get an overview of your ethnicity.  It can also help you identify cousins who have a common ancestor within about the last 150 years.  After my Autosomal DNA results came in at Ancestry, I uploaded the raw data to Family Tree DNA to get their analysis.  The summary was mostly what I'd expected.

According to both companies, I am 100% European, with the vast majority of that being British Isles heritage.  This is correct, as my known ancestors are largely Irish, English and Scottish.

However, there were some surprises.  Neither company made significant mention of my Dutch and French ancestry.  My French ancestors left France in the late 1600s, during the exodus of the Huguenots, so with all the intermarriages since then, it simply may not register significantly on an Autosomal test that's looking at more recent history.  The big mystery to me is why my Dutch ancestry is not acknowledged.  My great-grandfather, George Beck (formerly Gerhardus Beukenkamp), emigrated from Amsterdam to America in the early 1900s.  His family was in The Netherlands for many generations prior to that time.  I am one-eighth Dutch.  The Ancestry test says I may have 2% Western European heritage, a percentage which doesn't seem to stack up with what I know about my family.  I understand that these tests have their quirks and are not 100% accurate, but I'm puzzled by this omission.

My great-grandfather, George Beck (formerly Beukenkamp)

Another question mark for me is that both tests claim I have some Eastern European ancestry.  Ancestry's results claim this is a trace amount, but Family Tree DNA indicates it could be as much as six percent.  I am baffled by this.  I can't find so much as a single Eastern European ancestor anywhere in my family tree.

However, both Ancestry and Family Tree DNA did immediately connect me with several second cousins that I already knew.  Through Ancestry, where I find it easier to look through family trees and see potential areas of connection with suspected cousins, I've also met a couple of people who appear to be linked to me through specific families.  We're having fun trying to identify the common ancestor.

My dad and me, 2004

Any questions that I might have had about my results pale in comparison to the eyebrows that were raised when my father received his DNA results.  I encouraged him to do a Y-DNA test on 67 markers through Family Tree DNA.  Y-DNA traces the patrilineal line.  The Y chromosome is passed down, unchanged, from father to son. Theoretically, this testing would connect my father with other men with his surname, Lacey.

A Y-DNA 67 marker match with another person gives you a 95% probability of having a common ancestor within the last 150-200 yrs.  We are confident of my father's line back to his second great-grandfather, Bartholomew "Bartley" Lacey, who was born in Rossadillisk, Ireland in the early 1800s.  Because this family comes from a small corner of Ireland, we were very excited to connect with other Laceys. 

My father's results match him with 24 people who are ranked as either 0: Very Tightly Related, 1: Tightly Related or 2: Related.  More information about exactly what those levels of relationship indicate can be found at Family Tree DNA.  Of those 24 matches, there is not one person with the surname Lacey.

The closest connection, the one person classified as Very Tightly Related, has the surname Elliott.  In fact, 15 of the 24 men on that list have the surname Elliott.  Elliott is not a surname that I know to be in my father's family tree at all.  Other surnames in this list of matches are Hall, Pryor and Glendenning.  None of these surnames appear in my father's family tree.  The ancestors of all these matches appear to be Scottish, some of whom seem to have gone to Northern Ireland and England.  None are truly Irish.  None are Laceys.


One thing to keep in mind is how small the pool of male Laceys is.  Bartley Lacey had three sons, only two of whom, Valentine and Mark, had male descendants of their own.  I believe there are a couple of living male Laceys from Valentine's line who are second great-grandchildren of Bartley.  Bartley's son Mark Lacey was my second great-grandfather.  He had six sons, three of whom were killed in the Cleggan Disaster before having sons of their own.  Of the remaining three, only my great-grandfather, Thomas Lacey, is known to have had children.  Following his line, this means that it's possible the only other direct male descendants of Bartley Lacey are my father and my two brothers, my father's cousin, Skip, my father's brother, Mike, and his son Matt, and now Matt's newborn son.  That's seven descendants, plus a few more out there from Valentine Lacey's line.  There simply aren't a lot of people who would be close Y-DNA matches for my father.

This still doesn't clear up the mystery of the Elliott matches, however.  I'm at a loss to explain them.  Thus far, DNA testing seems to have created many more questions than it has answered.

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