Sunday, March 25, 2012

DNA Genealogy Excitement!

As I've said in previous posts, I'm the fourth generation searching for our ancestor Thomas S. Maness, who disappeared from his family in Randolph County, N.C. in 1875. We suspect he may be Thomas "Swain" Maness of Moore County, who was married to several women (at the same time), including one in Randolph County. We tried testing Y-DNA (male family lines) to compare with his first cousin-once removed, and came up with no match. But the stories about Swain are so similar, and he was adopted by relatives — we can't help but question his undocumented parentage. I began to look for living direct descendants (instead of cousins), but found only females, including a granddaughter, Mrs. Myrtle (correction: I talked to Mrs. Lessie; Mrs. Myrtle is her sister).

A few weeks ago, I read more about DNA testing on the Family Tree DNA website. I hadn't realized that autosomal testing works with either gender. However, that portion of DNA gets more mixed up with every generation, so it's only useful for close relatives. Autosomal testing has a high reliability for comparing up to third cousins. I drew a little chart to see how close Ms. Lessie would be to us if Swain were our ancestor. I was stunned to realize she would be my grandfather's first cousin, and my living uncle's first cousin-once removed.

Thomas S. married my great-grandmother in 1874 when he was 25. Swain married Ms. Myrtle's grandmother in 1901 when he was about 50 and she was much younger. I hadn't realized that his children by different women, half-siblings, could be an entire generation apart.

Could DNA give us the answer we've been searching for for more than a century?

I have two obstacles.
1. The test costs $289. To compare, we would need a test for my uncle and a test for Ms. Myrtle — nearly $600! This is not a good time in my life to come up with that kind of money.
2. DNA testing can sound big-brotherish to some people. Would Ms. Lessie, who is 89 years old, consent to be tested?

Image by jscreationzs /

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