Breaching that Brick Wall

by Laraine L. Thompson

For many years I, as my father before me, have worked to find the parents of my second great grandfather. He was born in 1813 in Kentucky, probably in one of the many forts erected along the Cumberland Gap trail and beyond. In 1820 he and his family migrated through SW Indiana to SE Illinois. They met or left off many relatives along the way. In Illinois, a will from 1837 lists his mother’s name. He, along with three other, supposed, brothers appear as signers of the will. Their X’s are clearly visible. A history of the county tells of my grandfather’s arrival, along with that of another family. Tracing the genealogy of the accompanying family has produced nothing to tell me more about my great grandfather’s parents.

We, my father and I, had stood at the bottom of that proverbial brick wall for far too long. My father died in 1984, long before DNA testing was available to the masses. Dreaming of finally being able to breach that wall, I was thrilled when DNA testing became a realization. I urged my brother, the only known living male relative on my father’s side to submit his DNA. Testing the Y chromosome is the most accurate way to trace one’s lineage. At first, we paid for the 12 marker test, then the 24 marker and ended, some years later, paying for the 67 marker test. The results arrived and I was excitedly anticipating seeing other men with the same last surname. My anticipation was not rewarded. I received, and so far, continue to receive periodic updates with the names of matched men who, it turns out, share with me a common ancestor—a long, long, long time ago. We know our haplogroup which identifies us with a very common group of ancestors who migrated from the upper mid east through Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, to America. We are like countless others with the same haplogroup identification. I knew that we were very ordinary people, but reality is still difficult to accept sometimes.

I have this dream that my great, great grandfather will one day stand over my shoulder and dictate to me the details of his life and that of his parents and hopefully, his grandparents. Until then, I will have to content myself with mining and re-mining the depths of the records that are already here. And one day, just one day, someone with the same sir name will appear on that DNA list and my research will begin to make more sense. I have and will continue to join sir name projects associated with the DNA testing sites. Notice the plural use of the word, sites. It pays, pun intended, to submit DNA to more than one site, to join the sir name groups of each site. I have also learned that it is of value to submit my own mitochondrial DNA to better insure a more detailed outcome.

There are a number of genetic testing websites:


Several cautions:

  • Testing is not particularly cheap
  • There are privacy issues (there are ways to insure privacy, but what would be the point?)
  • You may find skeletons in the closet (an illegitimate child from some unknown father has DNA totally different from what one would expect)
  • Take care not to overreach when interpreting results, particularly Mitochondrial DNA results

Would I do this again? Absolutely! While there have been no results yet to connect me with that elusive 3rd great grandfather, I know that our DNA is recorded. The technology is increasing in its effectiveness to trace our genealogies. As more people submit their DNA, the data banks increase, thus increasing our chances of a match with the same sir name. Twenty years ago a DNA test was only a dream. Twenty years from now, who knows what might be possible? Knowing that the last male member of my father’s family will be dead, I want his DNA, our family data to already be there. Just as I would prepare for any eventuality by storing water, food, fuel, I want my brother’s stored DNA to one day link us to loved ones who, for now, are only a dream.

Photo source: LDS Media Library

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