Ancestry Daily News
by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak
A few weeks ago, I received the kind of email message I especially like to get. It read:
"Dear Megan, I am the other Shields at the Oklahoma Genealogical Society (OGS) workshop this spring! I did my DNA in early June; results were back this past weekend. I am a 25/25 match with Greg Shields. He and I have emailed info and I got about 750 new relatives yesterday! Thanks to DNA.--Peace, James Carroll "Jim" Shields"
Jim and I had met a few months earlier when I had the opportunity to speak in Oklahoma City. In fact, the OGS was the first organization to request that I devote almost a full day of talks to genetic genealogy (which I like to call ?genetealogy'). Only my closing lecture was on an unrelated topic.
My dedication in Trace Your Roots with DNA, the book I co-wrote with Ann Turner, was to my mother, Seton Shields, and that caught Jim's eye. As soon as I saw his name tag, I understood why. We had an instant connection because my grandfather was also named Jim Shields.
I'm in the midst of creating a genetic pedigree--that is, slowly assembling Y-DNA and mtDNA samples for each branch of my family tree. Doing so usually requires tracking down assorted male cousins still sporting the surname of interest, and I had done just this for my mother's surname. Consequently, I was one of the early participants when the Shields DNA surname project was launched in mid-2003.
As in traditional genealogy, the beefier the databases of DNA results, the better the odds of finding a match of interest, so I selfishly encouraged Jim to join the Shields DNA project. Who knew? Maybe we were cousins. Apparently, Jim had been considering this for a while and our meeting tipped him over the edge into actual participation.
While Jim claims he's not a strong researcher, I suspect he's much better than he realizes. He had traced his line back to the early 1800s, but found himself stuck. In his words, "The DNA test for me was a last, good shot at solving the mystery of whether there was anybody out there in Shields-land."
When Jim received his results, he spotted a Shields with a perfect match. Since surname testing is essentially a matchmaking game, this was very promising! So he immediately shot off an email, only to have it bounce (a good reason to make sure your email address is current on any of your internet postings). Fortunately, with the help of Audrey Shields Hancock, administrator of the Shields DNA project, and a few others, he was able to reach Greg Shields, his genetic mate.Greg Shields
On the receiving end of Jim's message was Greg Shields, who's been researching what he calls the "Shields south line" since about 1976. As he explains, "When I started, no one had done this line and there were no computers or internet, so researching was a very different animal." So Jim had fortuitously matched someone who had spent decades researching the family. Even when science is involved, it helps to be lucky!
Greg elaborated, "I've posted ninety-nine percent of my findings on the internet in the hope that those I hadn't located might find me eventually. This eventually led Audrey Hancock of the Shields DNA project to contact me and invite me to submit my DNA, which I did--my hope being the same as it was with the internet."
Jim's email opened the door and the two Shields men quickly exchanged family details. According to Greg, "After seeing some of his info, I knew right away where he connected. I've researched past that point. His great-grandfather was my great-great-great-grandfather?-that is, our most recent common ancestor. I had no record of what happened to that branch after 1881. They just disappeared from the radar screen. The DNA connected us, and Jim's info and my research revealed where the connection was."
For his part, Jim says, "I went from almost no known Shields folks to Greg's extensive research. I was sort of a Shields orphan, and now have more cousins than I know what to do with just yet."
Is It Time?
The Shields DNA project is presently a relatively small one with sixteen participants, and yet, two men have already found an unexpected match. In fact, only six of us remain genetic orphans within the project (and yes, I'm one of them).
If you've been watching the development of genetic genealogy over the last five years trying to determine when to jump on the band wagon, now might be a good time. It's a matter of reaching critical mass: the more results we have, the better the chances we all have of finding relevant matches. While I told Jim in Oklahoma that he might find a match in the project, I never would have predicted that it would occur instantly. Still, his experience is less exceptional than it would have been a few years ago, simply because of the number of people who have opted in during the last year or two. I look forward to the time in the not-too-distant future when tales like this become routine!