Success Stories

SEATTLE WOMAN HAS SURPRISING SUCCESS

Discovering an exact match on SGMF helps amateur genealogist learn her likely overseas region of origin and surnames, a result unthinkable only a few years ago.

Imagine searching for 13 years using traditional genealogical techniques to learn four generations of your maternal grandmothers’ names and where they lived. For Cynthia Wilson, an administrative assistant living in Seattle, this meant spending her vacations in Virginia and North Carolina courthouses and libraries poring over old deeds, probate records and birth registries. 

“I wanted to find out and verify who my grandmothers on my maternal side were,” she said. “I don’t mind the hard work of research and I even like to read difficult documents, like old court records,” she said. “But I don’t like brick walls.” 

The ability to hurdle family history research barriers with DNA testing has revolutionized the hobby of genealogy, solving many problems where traditional methods dead-end, such as missing or inaccurate paper records. Until recently, Y-chromosome testing was used most often. But Y-chromosome testing is limited to researching paternal ancestry. And because women do not have the Y-chromosome, they must have a close male relative tested for them. 

For Wilson who was curious about her maternal line, the solution was testing her mtDNA, a service now offered by many consumer-based laboratories using a mailer and a simple cheek-swab. mtDNA is a powerful tool for tracing maternal ancestry for both men and women because it is inherited by children exclusively from their mothers. Entering her genetic profile into SMGF, which is the world’s largest correlated genetic-genealogy catalog, Wilson learned where her ancestry intersected with others who have submitted their genetic profiles and pedigree charts. 

For more than a decade, Wilson’s persistent genealogy research efforts and clever detective work had allowed her to follow back into history the line of women she came from all the way to her fourth great-grandmother in colonial America of 1775. The task was painstakingly difficult because of the incomplete records kept of her African-American ancestors who were brought into the American South, sold as slaves and accounted for as property, if at all. 

Imagine then, how Wilson felt when she found an exact genetic match with SMGF that points to her family origins being in Mali, Africa and includes several surnames to trace as well. “I was very surprised to find one perfect genetic match and 10 near-perfect matches on SMGF,” Wilson said. “I really wasn’t expecting that. Could it be that I have ‘jumped the pond’?” “Jumping the pond” refers to the fact that nearly all Americans are descended from an initial immigrant from a country across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean—and locating that ancestor is a major genealogy breakthrough. 

“This is a dramatic example of the possibilities the mtDNA-genealogy holds for those who are researching the maternal side of their family history,” said the executive director of SMGF. “It allowed Cynthia Wilson to reach beyond the end of her paper research all the way to Africa. This is the type of discovery that makes maternal ancestry research an extremely rewarding experience for families, and it was impossible only a few years ago.” 

Wilson’s traditional genealogy research had already taught her important things about the line of women from which she is descended. “I learned that life for my grandmothers was a real struggle, but they were strong,” she said. And Wilson is optimistic about following her personal thread of history further and learning more. “I am very encouraged by what I’ve found on SMGF and already I’ve begun preliminary research about Mali and its people.”

A LITTLE SUCCESS STORY

The Little family of southeastern Georgia had a long tradition of having roots in Scotland, though traditional genealogical records were unable to prove the case.

David Patterson Little had spent years researching his Little family of Burke and Jefferson County Georgia. Traditional records show his first Littles arrived in America about 1770. 

However, due to a common set of given names in the family (William, Thomas, Nancy, and Eleanor), it was difficult to trace his Littles back before their arrival in Georgia. 

David Little submitted a sample and genealogy to the SMGF project, and his record became part of the Y-Chromosome data.

Several years later, another Little was tested by one of the commercial testing companies. He searched using his DNA marker values, and found a close match with an “SMGF Little.”

The second Little then posted a message in the Little DNA Forum on Ancestry.com and asked for the Little in SMGF with ancestors in Georgia to contact him.  

David Little saw the note on the message board, and contacted the matching Little. David and other Littles have since been in contact and have compared notes about their respective family trees.  

They have now been able to push their respective ancestries back to the Borders region of Scotland.

MARSHALL TO SIZEMORE: DISCOVERING IDENTITY

Martin Marshall's ancestral quest led him to discover that his father was not the one listed on his birth certificate, and ended with new family connections. Molecular genealogy made it possible, and is now helping Martin locate other living relatives.

The Challenge
Martin Marshall was anticipating the day he would become a grandfather, yet was not exactly sure who his own grandfather was. His father was not the one listed on his birth certificate, and his mother had misled him about his paternal lineage. Martin decided it was time to learn more about his ancestors.

The SMGF Solution
Martin signed up for a DNA test through a commercial testing company and later received his Y-Chromosome DNA results, but there were no matches in the company database for his genetic profile. 

Martin then entered his DNA results into the search engine and found a close Y-DNA match with three participants of the surname Sizemore. 

This potential connection gave Martin a new starting point for his genealogy research, and Martin started researching the Sizemore surname and contacting people who were researching the family.

The Outcome
After years of research and further DNA testing by other members of the Sizemore family, Martin is now confident that he descends from Sizemores living in his mother’s home town of St. Louis, MO.

Martin was surprised and overjoyed to discover the connection. He relates, “Using DNA as a tool, I am in the process of unlocking the secrets of my paternal ancestry and I’m discovering related secrets that even my mother did not know.”

AT-RISK KIDS FIND THEIR FAMILIES IN SOUTH AFRICA

Abandoned, homeless or lost children in South Africa struggle to stay out of trouble and accomplish something positive in their lives. Where other methods have failed, the Johannesburg Applied Ancestry Program helps them find their families through the powerful combination of genetics and genealogy.

The Challenge
In the Ngingubani region of South Africa, many children are abandoned or lost, and end up living on the streets of Johannesburg.

One of the greatest ways to help these children is to connect them to their extended families, who in turn, can help move their lives in more positive directions.  

The SMGF Solution
The Applied Ancestry Program, working in conjunction with SMGF, has been able to gather DNA samples and find matches that have allowed these children to connect with their families.  

DNA testing provides an invaluable link in searching for and positively identifying individuals who have been separated for some time, often from an early age. These results are combined with genealogical information, much of which is gathered orally as part of Applied Ancestry’s program. 

The Outcome
“One of the major objectives of our program is to build and strengthen family relationships,” said Clive Haydon, a director of the Applied Ancestry Project. “This leads to an increased sense of identity and values, where each child gains greater appreciation for family values.”

One young man was reunited with his family for the first time in 14 years. “This was a wonderful reunion with many tears, with the young man meeting a brother he never knew he had,” said Clive. “This reunification was a direct result of his involvement in the program.”

Note: All data submitted to SMGF are handled with strict confidentiality to protect the anonymity of our participants. Genetic and genealogical information can indirectly help make new family connections.