If you’ve read my posts about the Huff and Roberts families of Jackson County, Tennessee, you know they have been a huge brick wall for me. I’ve been waiting since mid-April for my Family Finder results from Family Tree DNA, and they finally came this week. My Huff cousins and I have been burning up the Internet ever since, trying to make sense of the matches.
I have been receiving DNA matches from ancestry.com for several months now, so I had an idea of how the process works. Since ancestry.com has access to many family trees, they can show you matching surnames, connections among relatives, and public trees. However, until recently, you didn’t get the raw data—the numbers that show how much DNA you and your relative actually have in common. Family Finder gives you those numbers upfront. Family Finder also shows matching surnames.
If your relative has contributed a family tree to Family Tree DNA or if they have a public tree on ancestry.com, you can see that tree to help you determine where the two of you are related. If your trees intersect, ancestry.com even charts it and shows you the degree of relationship (3rd cousin, once removed, for example). Of course, any mistakes or assumptions that you or your relative has made in your family tree affects the truth of the relationship. If no tree is available or if it’s questionable, it’s up to you to figure out how you are related to the person that you match.
You can also compare DNA results on Gedmatch, which according to their website, “provides tools for making 'deep' comparisons between genealogies and DNA test results to help identify possible hidden ancestral connections with distant cousins.” However, right now their server is down for restructuring, overwhelmed by the influx of raw data recently released by ancestry.com.
I guess that some people think that DNA will solve all their family research problems, but I can tell you for a fact that is not true. Among the 6 or 8 Huff cousins that should match each other in DNA, we have some that are descended from ancestors who were supposed to be sisters and apparently don’t match each other enough to show up on Family Finder or as a DNA match on ancestry.com. We have one with a Huff surname whose y-DNA (patrilineal line) doesn’t appear to be Huff. I match a cousin that is a descendant of Sam Huff, but I don’t match another “cousin” who is a descendant of Sam’s supposed brother, Nathan Huff. I match Pharris descendants on both ancestry.com and Family Finder, but Pharris isn’t supposed to be in my direct line. It’s obvious that the family trees are wrong or there were undocumented marriages with resulting half-siblings or even hanky-panky with neighbors. Combine that with the problem of generations of ancestors with the same first names or the same nicknames or using first names for official documents and middle names in other circumstances, and you have one big mess!
I don’t want to discourage DNA testing. I’ve had proven matches with other branches of my family tree. I just think this is a particularly gnarly bunch of people. One of my Huff cousins said that a Huff researcher “spent decades in search of sorting these exact lines. Unless an old dusty Bible or court book is discovered, DNA is the only way to do it.” In fact, I’m hoping to persuade one of my Roberts cousins to take a DNA test and hope the results will give us some Roberts connections, as well as some insight into the parentage of some Huff ancestors.
All you can do is keep pushing on. I think about that Huff researcher who spent decades researching the paper trail. Her research undoubtedly helped those of my generation who are now turning to DNA to find more data. Maybe I’ll never have the full story of how my Huff, Roberts, and Pharris ancestors are connected, but now is the time to take advantage of DNA testing while I am only four generations away from the answers.