Apr 26, 2020
April Blog Post
Using Ancestry ThruLines
In this blog post, I will discuss Ancestry ThruLines, a relatively new service from Ancestry.com that compares your DNA to the DNA of your shared matches and provides a diagram of both known and potential ancestors. Information from your family tree and the family trees of other DNA matches and other users are also used in the algorithm. ThruLines can be a great tool in your research, but only if used correctly. I will explain the situations where ThruLines can be very helpful and I will also discuss when users should use caution before adding suggested ancestors to their family tree.
Ancestry ThruLines is available to Ancestry.com users who have had their DNA tested with the company. Users also need to have a populated family tree on Ancestry.com, meaning if you only have yourself listed in your family tree then this service will not be available to you. First and foremost, always do additional research beyond what Ancestry ThruLines tells you, even if you think the information being provided is fairly plausible.
Here are three ways that Ancestry ThruLines can help you with your research:
1). Confirming Suspected Records for Ancestors:
William Morris Orem was my third great grandfather and was born sometime around 1800 in the area known as “Eastern Shore, Maryland”. There was a christening record for a William Morris Orem born on October 15, 1802 in Dorchester, Maryland with parents named James and Henrietta Orem. I believed that this was likely a record for my third great grandfather, but I had no concrete evidence. This record sat in my “shoebox” on Ancestry.com for a few years without being added to my family tree. I searched high and low for additional information on this family, but I just couldn’t find a breakthrough in my research.
Fortunately, potential ancestors appeared on my Ancestry ThruLines several weeks ago which gave me the confirmation that I needed. I knew that John and Mary Orem were believed to be the parents of my suspected fourth great grandfather, James Orem. Ancestry ThruLines displayed two other lines of DNA matches descended from John and Mary’s two other children. These other DNA matches were shared matches with my other known Orem cousins. Ancestry ThruLines also presented another DNA match who was descended from another sibling of my suspected fourth great grandparents, James and Henrietta Orem. This DNA match was also a match with my other known Orem cousins.
All of the information provided by Ancestry ThruLines allowed me to confidently accept the christening record for my third great grandfather and helped me add fourth and fifth great grandparents to my family tree.
2). Confirming Relatives When No Records are Available:
My husband’s third great grandfather, Thomas Miskell, was born in Baltimore, Maryland sometime around 1820 and died in 1876 in Philadelphia. The names of Thomas’ parents and their exact locations of birth were unknown. No names of parents were listed on Thomas’ Philadelphia Death record and I was told by the Maryland State Archives that I would not be able to obtain a record of Thomas’ birth since he was born before civil birth records were required. I searched through newspapers, church records, connected with distant cousins, you name it – I could not find any additional information. I knew that Thomas had connections to Ireland based on the census reports of his children and a distant cousin stated that Thomas was from Ireland according to family lore.
This is where Ancestry ThruLines proved helpful. Several descendants of Patrick Miskell appeared on my husband’s ThruLines. All of these DNA matches were shared matches with my husband’s known Miskell cousins, so this seemed promising. I did extensive research on Patrick Miskell and was able to determine that he was an ancestor of Thomas’, likely his father or an uncle. Either way, Patrick and Thomas were related. Fortunately, an 1844 Missing Friends ad in the Boston Pilot stated that Patrick was from Kilchreest, Roxborough, County Galway, Ireland. Thanks to ThruLines we now had a place of origin in Ireland for the Miskell family.
3). ThruLines Illustrates Exact Descendancy of Your DNA Matches:
I had several DNA matches that I knew were descended from my Teague ancestors from Cornwall, but I did not know their exact relationship. ThruLines helped identify the exact relationship for many of these DNA matches by showing which sibling of my fourth great grandparents, Thomas Teague and Honor Bastian, they were descended. Having exact information on how you are related to your DNA matches is extremely helpful, especially when you have to rely on DNA for information when records are not available.
Now, Ancestry ThruLines has been very helpful to me over the past few months, but ThruLines doesn’t always get it right. You have to recognize when the information doesn’t add up, so you don’t add the wrong ancestors to your tree.
Here are two examples of red flags:
1). There Is No Other DNA Evidence:
Meaning you are the only DNA match, or your close relatives are the only other DNA matches used to prove relationship to a suspected ancestor according to ThruLines. Other relationship paths are necessary in determining the validity of the algorithm’s recommendation. Relationship paths illustrate how DNA matches are descended from the other children of your ancestors.
I have one branch of my family tree from Ireland who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1850s, the McQuades. I have not had any luck finding the names of my fourth great grandparents or the family’s origin in Ireland. Ancestry ThruLines has been recommending potential fourth great grandparents bearing the McQuail surname, but I am skeptical of this information. First of all, I have no evidence of a surname change for my third great grandmother, Julia McQuade Hickey. Secondly, Ancestry ThruLines offers no other DNA matches descended from the McQuail family to help validate this information. The only thing that has kept me from totally disregarding the algorithm’s suggestion is that the McQuades and McQuails both resided in Pottsville, Pennsylvania in the mid to late 1850s. Pottsville is not a major city, so I do think it is curious that my third great grandparents lived in this smaller community before moving on to Philadelphia.
The bottom line: perhaps Ancestry ThruLines is correct, but I do not have enough evidence to determine this information. As a result, I cannot claim the McQuails as my fourth great grandparents at this time. I recommend passing on ThruLines suggested ancestors in these situations at least until more information becomes available. Who knows? Maybe someday I will be able to confirm the McQuails as my fourth great grandparents, but I am not there yet. Avoid putting the wrong ancestors in your tree at all costs.
2) When the Suggested DNA Relationship is Based on an Unsourced Tree:
Asa Ridgway, my fourth great grandfather, was born sometime around 1800 in either Philadelphia or Delaware. He was descended from Richard Ridgway (1654-1723), but I still do not know the names of Asa’s parents. Now, I have countless DNA matches who are descended from Richard Ridgway and I have not been able to determine Asa’s parents based on these other DNA matches.
I was excited when I noticed that Ancestry ThruLines had a suggested father for Asa with two other DNA paths descended from Andrews Ridgway. Andrews Ridgway and his father, Jacob, are very well documented in various New Jersey history books. There is no mention anywhere of Andrews having a son named Asa. There is another user on Ancestry who has Andrews Ridgway listed as Asa’s father, but there is no documentation to support this. I tried to contact the tree owner, but I never got a response from that person. I can only conclude that the Ancestry ThruLines algorithm got the potential ancestor suggestion from this unsourced tree. Perhaps this information is correct, but I cannot determine if this is the case at this time. I would like to add that I have several other DNA matches who are descended from Richard Ridgway’s other children and I share more DNA with some of these descendants than the descendants of Andrews Ridgway. I am going to have to pass on adding Andrews Ridgway as my fifth great grandfather, at least for now. Other Ancestry ThruLines users should also pass on adding ancestors to their tree in similar situations.
Ancestry has created a very useful tool with their ThruLines service, which can help researchers knock down brick walls in their family tree. Additional research must be conducted to verify that the information provided by ThruLines is correct. Important factors to look for are: 1) are the DNA matches presented by ThruLines shared matches with known DNA matches from that branch of the family tree? 2). Are there other relationship paths illustrated? Relationship paths show that the suggested potential ancestor had other children and the descendants of those other children are now appearing as your DNA matches. 3). Is the information coming from ThruLines based on a sourced or unsourced tree? ThruLines will show you the trees that the algorithm used to come up with your potential ancestor suggestions. Be very wary of trees that have little or no sources.
In next month’s blog I will discuss Collateral Research, the practice of researching extended family and neighbors in order to find additional information on your direct ancestors.
In the meantime, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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