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DNA Tests Need Genealogy Research!

DNA Helix

The blog and I are back! Here's the tale of how I spent my Winter Sabbatical!

Besides doing some Continuing Ed, I was catching up on the DNA matches for my brick wall. I started researching my Family Tree in 1990, back in the Dark Ages of "Chat Rooms" on the baby internet, trips to libraries, and using Census Soundexes. What is a Soundex? Well, it's a coded surname index (using the first letter of the last name and three numbers) based on the way a name sounds rather than the way it's spelled organized by states. We are very spoiled these days.

The Book of Dow for sale on EBay

My paternal great-grandfather was Charles Thurber Dow. According to family tradition, he was born in 1867 in New London, and his father was "Ensign Dow" (that was his name, not his rank), and he married a "Mary Jane."

I built an extensive tree for Ensign Dow, tracing back to a family in Maine, which is so huge there is "The Book of Dow, Genealogical Memoirs of the Descendants of Henry Dow 1637, Thomas Dow 1639 and Others of the Name, Immigrants to America During Colonial Times. Also the Allied Family of Nudd by Robert Piercy Dow" which traces generations of descendants. So proud! If you are a Dow, you must research in this book, now available on line.

But then DNA happened. My father had passed. I tested, my brother tested, my 1st cousin tested and guess what? Not one bit of Dow DNA. So, back to the genealogy and to that 1880 census that was my first source, and sure enough, it says "Adopted son." Color my face red. No adoption records of a son are found for either Ensign or Mary Jane Dow on line.

Back to the DNA I went. I have 12,939 paternal DNA matches just at Ancestry. In all, Ancestry says I have 772 matches that are 4th cousin or closer including maternal, which would be in the range of a Great Great-great-grandparent. See the color coded chart below:

Shared cM Chart

So, the next step? A whole bunch of fast and dirty trees starting over a year ago with the matches with the largest number of shared cM's. Going for the low hanging fruit first, I looked at the online trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage. Then I researched their shared matches. I used dots to color code every match by matching ancestor couple.

For incomplete trees, I Googled the names I had, "Blanche C. Handy" + "Connecticut" for example, to find obituaries (, WikiTrees, and the public information sites like PeekYou or PeopleFinder or Spokeo for contemporary relatives. I made Leeds charts. Then I built one big tree of 940 people (to date).

Les Mis movie promo

My most often repeated mystery surnames are Field, Handy, Huntley, and Corbin, with origins in CT going back to the 1600's. My favorite match ancestors are Minnie Field 1883-1971 and her husband, Pearley Gene Valgene Handy 1877-1955 (sometimes spelled as Jean Valjean). One must assume his mother or father was a Victor Hugo fan. Certainly a great uncommon name to research, as opposed to John Smith!

Most of my fairly distant cousins match through Minnie and Pearley, but they were of the same generation as my adopted Great-grandfather (1867?), so I had to go farther back. Minnie's oldest sibling, brother Adelbert, was born in 1869, her youngest sibling, brother Dwight, in 1890. Who were Minnie's parents and their siblings were the next questions to answer.

Minnie Field was born to Frederick Newton Field 1843-1921 and Adelaide Huntley 1845-1920. They were married in October of 1868, after his discharge from the Army. Charles Thurber Dow's found records (my great-grandfather, remember?), all indicated a birth in Deep River, Middlesex, Connecticut on April 19, 1867.

Now, I do have half-cousins, as GGF Charles left his first wife in 1910 for his pregnant girlfriend. And those descendants do have Ancestry trees but they are not responding to my requests for DNA info (in all fairness it appears he disappointed this branch of his family too, as he was divorced from her in 1936), so what to do to try to figure out who his parents were?

Back to Genealogy! How many births could there be in Deep River in 1867/8? Especially if they should happen to be illegitimate? I wrote to the Town Clerk of Deep River, enclosing a money order, and asked for a check of the microfilms of 1867, explaining that he was adopted and I had no idea of his parents' names.

Birth record for illeg son born to Adelaide Huntley

Imagine my surprise and delight! I got a phone call from the Town Clerk's office, saying there was an illegitimate birth registered, but it was in 1868 not 1867. Guess who the mother was? Adelaide Huntley!!! Her first child, on April 20th, 1868 when she was 19, and six months before her marriage to Charles Newton Field.

So, how did he end up with the Dows?

Adelaide's mother was Mary Jane Huntley. In the 1860 Census, she is a servant in the Southworth home, and Adelaide is also listed in that household. Mary Jane does not appear on a Connecticut census for 1870, and Adelaide appears as married to Frederick Newton Field with their first child.

It was common practice for illegitimate children to be absorbed into the existing family as a sibling of the shamed parent, so it is quite likely that Mary Jane Huntley claimed Charles as her own, and married Ensign Dow who adopted him in time for the 1880 Census.

I'm still working on who could be the biological father of Charles Thurber Dow. My money is on a Corbin who was related to the Handy family by marriage, who was divorced twice for infidelity. I love this stuff, don't you? At some point we might address the inequities of the mother being named on the birth certificate but the father not.

So, what we have learned, is as Diahan Southard of has said once if she has said it a thousand times, you can't solve family mysteries with DNA without doing the Genealogy research! I researched the censuses, I contacted the Town Clerk, and the pieces fit together.

So, that's what I've been up to, what's new with you? I'm ready to look at other trees! Send me your mysteries, let's figure them out. Always a free peek at your tree and a free quote.

Happy female and child in garden

May your Family Tree grow like the flowers or vegetables in your garden, and may your weeds and rabbit holes be few!

Leslie Ryan

“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

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