By Bob Foster
Pikes Peak Genealogical Society Newsletter
The purpose of this article is to report how a fundamental DNA property was used to solve a genealogy problem that had plagued me for over thirty years.
First, I'd like to review some basics. Two parts of what expert geneticists call "junk DNA" are mitochondrial DNA and y-chromosome DNA. From a genealogy viewpoint these parts are far from "junk". Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to daughter down through the generations. Similarly, y-chromosome DNA is passed down from father to son. If you have the y-chromosome of a male living in the present time, that DNA can be extended back in time to any male ancestor who had the same surname (you'll see below that even the surname for the line might change but not the y-chromosome). I was successful in using the y-chromosome property to identify the parents of my great grandfather George Foster.
Years ago my mother sent me a large box containing bits of genealogy she had collected over the years. In that box I found several lines on my mother?s side which went back to the 1600's. However, my father's line went only to my great grandfather George Foster.
The package she sent encouraged me to pursue genealogy as a hobby. I've been able to extend many of my lines considerably. However, in spite of quite a lot of research trying to identify George's parents, I had no success. My brother and I even took a trip to Utica, New York (the area where we believed he was born) with no results. Not a single piece of the information I had found identified George's parents. In sixteen different records, he gave his birth date between 1835 and 1843. He also gave several birth locations, but the one most often given was Utica, New York. I thought I had reached a dead end.
Now I'd like to digress a bit and explain the DNA study done by BYU. In about 2003 they collected many blood samples around the world for the purpose of studying migration patterns. Along with their blood sample, each participant was asked to submit their pedigree for at least four generations. Thousands of DNA samples were obtained but, probably for privacy purposes, the test results were not made available to the individual donors.
The database obtained by BYU is now in the hands of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in Salt Lake City. They have created a web site (smgf.org) which contains the BYU y-chromosome database.? If you obtain your DNA from another source it can be entered into the Sorenson database to look for matches. Presently, the database includes the DNA for over 60,000 individuals.
Last summer I attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Salt Lake. As is the norm at these conferences, between sessions you could visit vendor booths. Several of the booths were for DNA laboratories. Among them were Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and Family Tree DNA of Houston. I decided I wanted to get my y-chromosome DNA to see if I could connect to any Fosters who might possibly be my George's ancestors. Since Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation has the policy not to issue the DNA results to the individual BYU submitters, I needed to obtain my y-chromosome DNA from another laboratory. I selected Family Tree DNA. My thinking was that, at a minimum, my DNA from another source would allow me to check against my previous BYU blood sample which Sorenson holds.
About six weeks later I got the results. They were just a bunch of numbers corresponding to thirty seven markers (called DYS#s).? I entered my numbers into the Sorenson website to look for any matches. As I had expected, I had a perfect match with the DNA for the blood sample BYU had taken from me. However, in addition to that, there was also a perfect match for a Spaulding line someone else had submitted. My immediate reaction was that my nemesis George Foster might really have been a Spaulding. Since I had never been able to find a record for my George Foster before the 1860 census, I thought I'd look for a Spaulding in records before then. In the 1850 census I found a George Spaulding who, at fifteen, was about the right age. He was living in Little Falls, New York apparently as an orphan. Little Falls is only twenty-five miles east of George's most often used birth place, Utica. Since this George Spaulding appeared to be an orphan, I decided to look in the Surrogate court records for that area. In an 1846 record, I found the same George Spaulding with three siblings. One of the siblings was a John Jr. The record also listed the mother as Adaline. From that record it followed that the father was John Sr. Now I had a complete family, mother, father, and four children. Using this family for a start, I was able to do further research. I wanted to see whether the George Spaulding from Little Falls tied into the ancestry of the Spaulding line whose DNA I match. I traced both lines back and found a common male ancestor, Edward Spaulding born in 1596. Edward had two wives. A male line by one wife, Margaret Elliot, descended to the George Spaulding of Little Falls and a male line by the other wife, Rachel Needham, descended to Mylon Monroe Spaulding whose DNA I definitely match. I am now quite confident that my George Foster changed his name from Spaulding to Foster some time between 1855, when he was still in New York, and 1860, when he appeared in the Wisconsin census.
Several other facts I have collected help to support my opinion that my George Foster was originally George Spaulding:
George Foster' birth dates, although inconsistent, ranged from 1835 to 1843, while George Spaulding' was firm as being 17 March 1835 in Whitesboro, New York which is only five miles west of Utica.
George Foster's ecords could only be found in and after 1860, while George Spaulding' records could only be found in and before 1855.
George Foster' records identify only his wives and descendants, while George Spaulding' identify only his siblings and ancestors.
I?ll continue to look for facts to absolutely prove my opinion, but I think many of you will agree that I'e found my man.
I hope that my example of using DNA as an aid in genealogy might help some of you to find applications for extending your family trees.? DNA doesn?t do genealogy for you, but it can be an excellent supplement.? ?