Tuesday, 27 May 2014

DNA Projects -- What Genealogical Help Can We Expect?

During the past few weeks, I have been trying to understand what genealogical information we can ascertain from DNA testing.  We have had over thirty family members tested so far using Family Tree DNA.  The company provides us with exciting charts and lists of "matches" and it is easy to get carried away and jump to conclusions.  So far, we have found new cousins whose family trees match with ours and we have confirmed other cousin relationships.  But, we have not filled in ANY of the holes in our family tree.  I want to formulate questions that the DNA tests can help us answer.

I have decided to focus on three DNA missions:

1. Find information about the ancestry of my great-grandfather, John Edgar Riley.

2. Try to find the name of my missing great- great-grandmother, Atinahona (Austin's woman).

3. "Map" my parents' chromosomes as much as possible to help categorize their autosomal DNA matches into ancestry lines.

Mission #1: John Edgar Riley, why can't we find you?

One of the most stubborn lines in my family tree is that of my great-grandfather, John Edgar Riley.  He supplied his third wife with detailed facts from his early life:

He was born in Broad Brook, Connecticut on April 21, 1892.
His parents were Timothy O'Riley and Elizabeth Brennan.
He had three older sisters, Rose, Julia and Maude, who were born in Ireland before the family immigrated to the USA.
The family spent time living in Manhattan at 350 E. 88th Street.
His father owned a pub in Manhattan.
His father worked for the railroad.
He was Catholic and served as an altar boy and one of his sisters was a nun.
Before he turned 20, his whole family was dead.  His father and two sisters died in two separate railroad accidents.  His mother fell down the back steps and hit her head.  His other sister drowned.
He had a paternal uncle, Michael O'Riley, who moved to Texas, but returned to Ireland.

John Edgar Riley - Union Pacific Railroad
My mother spent years on this line (it's my dad's side) and so have I, but we have not been able to verify even one of these clues.  There are no records on John Edgar Riley until his army files in Kansas when he was about 20.  We have found nothing on his family of origin.

So, I hope that eventually, my father's Y-DNA will show a match with another man who shares the same male lineage.  For this, I depend on some unknown relative doing a DNA test.  I hold out hope.

My father, his aunt (John Edgar Riley's youngest daughter) and cousin have also had the autosomal DNA test.  So there is a possibility that we may be able to tease out a member of that line through those matches.  So far, though, the people who match do not mention Rileys or O'Rileys in their ancestral surnames or in recent generations of family trees.

So my John Edgar Riley DNA strategy is to wait and hope for Y-DNA matches while recruiting some of my dad's second cousins and second cousins once removed to get the autosomal DNA test done.  The more second cousins we can get, the better we can group his close matches into family lines.

John Edgar Riley in his later years with his wife, Frances

Mission #2: Atinahona, who are you?

Another very frustrating stumbling block we have is on my mother's side.  My great- great- great-grandmother is listed with her husband, Samuel Austin, as "Atinahona".  This is seems to be a transliteration of the Choctaw words for "Austin's woman."  We would like to find out Atinahona's real name. 

Through DNA testing, we have found that our male Austin line goes back to a Choctaw man.  Originally, we thought a man of European ancestry might have married into the line, but apparently Samuel Austin or his ancestor adopted the name.   

My strategy to find Mrs. Austin, or at least narrow down the possibilities, is to analyze DNA results and family trees of cousins known to share common ancestors as well as Choctaw tribal members who come from the same community and are likely to be distant cousins.  We have started to do this. The community members (2) who have been tested match my mother and her relatives.  The problem is that matches could be from other than the Austin line, and the matches could be from multiple lines.  This DNA analysis is to be done along with studying historical documents and rolls which is mostly done by my mom.  She is an expert on Choctaw genealogies from the time of removal to the Dawes rolls.  

Mission #3: Mom and Dad, what genes were you dealt?

My mother and grandmother

My dad's parents and relatives

I have started to read about DNA genealogists who map their chromosomes so that when they get a new match, they can make a good guess about which line it is on.  Also, it may be possible to identify missing surnames from branches.  One website I've used as a reference is: Chromosome Mapping.

I am just getting started with this process.  It looks like a lot of work, but I hope it will be useful, especially for my other two missions!  To fill in the chromosome map well (it will never be totally filled in), I need to have more cousin data.  I will update in a future post.


  1. Look forward to hearing of any successes you have with this project

  2. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Hard to figure out what's what when someone makes up a new identity.

  3. Great strategies. Love how you have line it out. Look forward to hearing your progress.


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