Jeans & Genes

Rockdale County Genealogical Society Newsletter-February 2008

                                          To DNA or Not To DNA

                                Genealogy's latest tool has its limitations

In genealogy we are always looking for ways to extend our lineage into the past. DNA tests are the most recent, most expensive, and most controversial tool for doing that. The study of  DNA(deoxyribonucleic acid) is a science, and can get very technical in terms and scope. For basic use in genealogy the science is divided into two groups, mtDNA(mitochondrial)and Y-DNA(Y-chromosome). The former is passed from mother to both sons and daughters, but is only continued in the female line. In other words, your grandmother's mtDNA would pass to her son & daughter, but only through the daughter, to granddaughter, to great granddaughter, etc. The great granddaughter's son, however, would have the same mtDNA profile as his mother, his grandmother, his great grandmother, etc. As mtDNA changes very slowly[and is only extended in the maternal line]it is best for deep genetic studies. In theory if Leaky's "Lucy" in Africa had viable mtDNA, many modern women could trace lineage to her! Prince Phillip of England, a direct descendant of Queen Victoria, supplied the mtDNA sample which verified the bodies of the Russian Imperial family-the Romanovs, killed in the Russian revolts in 1917. Since surnames change in our maternal lines with each marriage, mtDNA is not a great tool for genealogy research. Like mtDNA, Y-DNA relies on samples, and on their comparison to other samples. So if you are trying to prove your descent from Peter the Great with DNA, you should first get a sample of his DNA-or from his paternal uncle, as happened in the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings(slave)findings!

The Y-chromosome is passed only in the male lineage, from father to son. Small chemical "markers"(alleles) on the chromosome form patterns(haplotypes-sort of like a barcode)which have been shown to distinguish one male line from another. These patterns are useful in matching suspected related individuals, particularly those who share the same surname. For that reason alone, numerous DNA surname groups are forming; to prove or disprove genetic linkages in same-named men, but not their actual relationships(that still requires traditional methods). I joined such a group in 2004, after the paper trail ended on my paternal line here in Georgia, in Hancock County(1794). I learned of the study through a family association[Knowles/Knoles/Noles FA]a good way to get involved in your general genealogy. These same-name groups are clearly the way to go with DNA! Some large groups get a discount on the tests. The number of test markers determines its cost, and the overall usefulness of your sample. The sample itself is a simple swab or scraping from inside your cheek.

In my case the surname-Knowles-was derived from the place name hill(Old English for knoll). So, Robert of  the hill(Knowles)might have the same name as George of the hill(Knowles)-yet they might not have ever met, much less have been related. Traditional genealogists in the US have found at least 26 different spellings of the name. Conventional methods and DNA samples have defined over 200 different progenitors! Ultimately, DNA will help sort many of those disparate families. As the DNA databases grow, individuals will discover which ancestor is theirs, and will hopefully then be able to extend their family lines.         

In Hancock Co. I was unable to link my family by conventional methods to either of two brothers, Edmond or Zachariah Knowles, who had come to adjacent Greene Co. from Sussex Co. DE in the mid-1780s. Brother Edmond left a better paper trail, and had descendants who could make the link to Delaware, and thus to the immigrant ancestor Edmund "Old Silverhead" Knowles-who came to Virginia from England as an indentured servant in November of 1700. So, after considerable rumination, I decided to give DNA a try. I did the 25 marker test of the three then available[12-25-37]. After about two months, I received my results, and a neat frameable certificate. Soon afterwards I began to get "hits"-or matches, through my internet connection. This surname project was done through Family Tree DNA of Houston, TX-the actual lab work was done at the University of Arizona. FT-DNA's own website gives these, less than glowing, outlooks for matches: "Our 12 marker test gives you the following range: 7 generations (50%)likelihood & 29 generations(95%) likelihood. Using our 25 marker test the 50% likelihood drops to 3 generations and the 95% to 13 generations. The 37-marker test tightens further to 2 generations(50%) and the 95% to 7 generations". Since that time DNA tests have been further refined; the latest I heard was 67 markers, but those may not be viable for commercial use. More matching markers mean greater likelihood of kinship, but also add to the overall laboratory costs.

For about year I received only matches on the 12(included in my 25). I got a few 11/12s, 12/12s, and even a 13/13(I think). I made a few contacts but did not establish anything of value. Then, as more people came into the mix, I began to get matches for 25s; 22/25s, 23/25s. Again, several contacts, but nothing of value to me in Georgia. Finally, just over a year ago, I got an exact match-25 for 25! Someone had my same DNA(at least on those 25 markers). I figured he had to have a Georgia connection, and sure enough he did, to Hancock Co. GA. According to Rob Noles-DNA administrator for the K/K/N Family Association, this retired geology professor from Moscow, Idaho, is most probably my sixth cousin, once removed. I now feel certain that I descend from Edmund "Old Silverhead" Knowles, and I can't wait for a distant relative-a descendant of his in Lancashire County, England, to get into the Knowles surname DNA pool!

Editor's note: Please forgive the "personal touch", I thought a first hand account might show how DNA can work!

In April 2005, The National Geographic Society-with corporate sponsor IBM, announced the "Genographic Project" a five year study using DNA testing to, among other things, map the world's patterns of migration, and to establish genetic footprints for most of its people. Roughly half way into the program, more than 250,000 people have provided DNA samples. While the overall project will not be of direct use to genealogists, the geneticists will be able to trace movements of the various haplogroups over thousands of years.  Using mtDNA and Y-DNA samples, they will be able to see how random mutations in the human genetic code(the "genome")have passed into the various populations today. Though worldwide we share a 99% commonality in the genome, these tiny differences define us as the individuals we are. This study will likely define how we became the groups that we are!

Prior DNA studies have pointed to our ancestral "Eve" in Africa, perhaps 150, 000 years ago, and have indicated at least two distinct migration corridors into Asia. The current project's data, utilizing the IBM computer system, will be able to further refine how those routes of migration moved into Europe, to Siberia, and to the Americas. At an initial estimated cost of $40 million dollars, the five year venture will yield a priceless picture of mankind's diversity and commonality.

For more on the Genographic Project visit this site:

                        Newspapers-A Secondary Source

As with most published works, newspapers are generally considered to be secondary sources. But, they can be quite helpful, particularly in filling in details about your ancestors. In cases where courthouse fires or floods have destroyed the primary records, they may be your only source. Legal notices, deaths and marriage announcements, in papers near the time of occurrences, are usually pretty reliable. In Georgia, small town newspapers didn't become widespread until early in the 20th century-so you will have to look for papers[the so called "legal organs" for counties]in the nearest large town or city. The earliest newspapers in Georgia were obviously in Savannah, Augusta, Athens, Milledgeville, Macon, Columbus-and much later, Atlanta. Of course, you need to have a pretty good idea about a date before you begin your search. Legal notices were well organized in early papers, but obituaries and marriages are often obscure, in random locations. There are many publications-abstracts from newspapers, available; several here at Nancy Guinn, and others nearby in the Heritage Room at Newton County Library. For all of those check the computer "Pines catalog" for each branch for the subject-"georgia newspapers". The Newton County library has one of the oldest papers, "The Augusta Chronicle" on microfilm(with index)for the years 1786 to 1830!

The Georgia Archives has many more books and a fairly large collection of state-and some regional newspapers-on microfilm. But, by far the largest collection of newspapers in Georgia is on microfilm at the University of Georgia, on the lower level of the Main Library. This quote is from the Digital Library of Georgia-"The Georgia Newspaper Project (is)part of the U.S. Newspaper Program that receives support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and (the)Library of Congress, (it)contains 15 million pages of newsprint gathered from every county in Georgia that published a newspaper"-it continues-"The long-term goal of the Georgia Historic Newspaper Digitization Project is to convert every public-domain Georgia newspaper to digital format and to make this resource available as a public, searchable database". The key word there is "long term", to date very few older newspapers have been digitized. After you exhaust your  county records, look for the nearest newspapers. If you will pardon another personal item; I recently found an ancestor's legal notice at Nancy Guinn in a book of newspaper abstracts from the Macon(GA)Telegraph by Mary B. Warren-GA-R-975.8[Bibb/Mac?]. I probably would have never found the item otherwise.

"CAUTION: All persons are cautioned not to trust my wife Rena Williamson on my account, as she has forfeited all claims to my protection, and I am determined not to pay any of her contracts. Nathan Williamson, Butts Co."--Macon Telegraph-Nov. 13, 1838

                   Scheduled Programs

Program Chair Claudine Jackson has announced the following speakers fors the next three months:

February:  Walter Freeman will offer a more detailed view of this issues's feature storey:  DNA
 and its use in genealogy.

March:  Judge Lillis Brown, Probate Judge of Rockdale County,  will talk about the importance
of Wills. (Rescheduled from earlier date conflict).

April:  Larry Guzy of the Sons of the American Revolution  (SAR)  will speak on the Revolutionary War.


JEANS & GENES is a publication of the Rockdale County Genealogical
% Nancy Guinn Library
864 Green St. SW
Conyers, Ga.  30012

President:  Chris Zawadzki
V. President:  Gayle Vivian
Treasurer: Ellen Trainer
Secretary:  Joyce O'Malley
Program Chairman:  Claudine Jackson:
Membership Chairman:  John Barnes
Trip Coordinator:  John Brown
Library Liaison: Jackie Smith
Newsletter: Ed. : Larry Knowles
Archive Editor: Marion Farmer