My dad and I recently had our DNA tested with 23&me, and each got a list of over 1000 DNA relatives who had taken the same test, along with percentages of just how much DNA was shared. This ranged from 50% – between the two of us – and 0.07% for what 23&me class as a ‘Distant cousin’. The test involved dribbling some saliva into a test tube, a mouth-watering that cost £79.
The ancestry composition report included a pretty map showing I am 73% British and Irish, 10% French and German, 1.5% Scandinavian, 15% Broadly NW European and an intriguing 0.5% North African and Arabian – with that influence entering the timeline between 1700 and 1790! I am amazed such things can be predicted, and, like Agent Moulder from The X Files, I Want To Believe!
There is a messaging function on 23&me, as well as fields in which you can add ancestors’ surnames and geographical locations. So it’s easy to take somebody with whom you share say 2.5% of your DNA and who is predicted to be your second cousin, read through their list of surnames, and message them with details of your ancestor from the family you both have in common.
It’s quite simple, but in practice fewer than half of 23&me members reply, and it’s difficult to find somebody with shared DNA who’s uploaded more than a handful of surnames. If you think about it, this list doubles with every generation, so going back just 100 years or 4 generations yields 16 great great grandparents; 200 years gives 256 great great great great great great grandparents!
For me, this was made easier as my dad was tested at the same time, so some DNA relatives where flagged up as being on my ‘Father’s side’. I searched for Brockbank among these relatives, and found Beth Farrington, who was predicted to be my 4th cousin and who lives in Florida. This means we share ggg grandparents. So, knowing that my ggg grandparents were Robert Brockbank who married Agnes Taylor in 1814, I messaged Beth, asking if she knew details of her Brockbank ancestor.
I was excited to find that Beth not only replied, but was also a genealogy enthusiast, so she knew that the ancestor in question was Sarah Brockbank who married William Cooper in 1810 in Lancaster. I did a search for Sarah Cooper in the censuses and quickly found her in 1851 and 1861, widowed and living in Lancaster, with Hannakin and Hawkshead as her birth place, confirming this was our branch of Brockbanks! Her age put her birth year at around 1784, fitting with the Sarah Brockbank who was Robert my ggg grandfather’s older sister. So the 23&me prediction was out by a generation and Beth and I are actually 5th cousins, sharing gggg grandparents! But amazing that DNA can identify such a weak link at all.
Working out the finer details of the connection
Sarah died in 1870, so I ordered her death certificate, as the person named as ‘informant of the death is usually one of the deceased’s children or a spouse.
In this case the informant was John Thompson who I later found was the husband of one of Sarah’s daughters, confusingly also Sarah.
It made me smile that Sarah, from a long line of joiners, married a cabinet maker – William’s occupation at the birth of the couple’s eight children.
Beth sent me Sarah and William’s marriage record from 1810. It looks like both parties were able to sign their name, unlike many in those days who just left their mark.
Of course, we have no idea what brought Sarah the 32 miles from Hawkshead to Lancaster as a young woman, in the years before the first census in 1841. But it must have been either for work or for love. Perhaps William as a cabinet maker moved in the same circles as Sarah’s father Robert, a carpenter, or her brother, also Robert, a wheelwright?
Beth told me that there was an intermediate ancestor named Janet Cooper, who was Beth’s great grandmother. Janet must have been a descendant of Sarah and William’s son Samuel, because the report of Samuel’s marriage in the Lancaster Gazette mentions that Samuel was William’s only [surviving] son.
Interesting that Samuel was a coach maker in Manchester – he must have inherited his father’s joinery skills. And his maternal uncle back in Hawkshead was a wheelwright and carpenter.
Samuel and Catherine had four sons. To save me scouring all these families, Beth told me that the youngest son, Walter, married Mary Jane Carmichael in 1880, their daughter Janet being born in 1886. She even sent a photo of Janet and her older sister Annie with parents Walter and Mary Jane.
Walter is listed as a grocer in the 1911 Census, by which time Janet had married Tom Taylor. The tree at the bottom will help with all these changes of surname – but it shows how confusing it can be when trying to trace a female line!
I’ve not pinpointed this marriage and couldn’t find Janet and Tom in the 1911 UK Census, but did find them in the Canadian Census of 1921 in Verdun, Quebec. Beth told me that they had four children, only one of whom – Ivy born 1911 – was to survive beyond infancy.
It’s been fun linking up with Beth across the Atlantic and comparing our relationship to that predicted from our shared DNA! Our most recent common ancestor is Robert Brockbank 1746–1822 who is Beth’s 5g grandfather and my 4g grandfather, making us 5th cousins once removed because of the extra generation in Beth’s line.
As a simpler chart, I annotated the modified relationship diagram from 23&me, which obviously works vertically:
To end this post, a photo of Beth with some of her ancestor portraits and one of her daughters on the wall behind – a lovely reminder of how the family goes forward even though the surnames may change.