My AncestryDNA Ancestors Who Are NOT my Ancestors

AncestryDNA does a matching process that checks the gedcoms (family tree pedigrees) of your DNA matches to see if there are any names on those trees that match each other.  When matching names are found, AncestryDNA says, “Hey, we found out you are descended from so-and-so.”  The problem is, that so far, they have not revealed any ancestors for my mother or father with this matching process.  They have revealed a cousin connection with most of the supposed Ancestors.  You see, on up the family tree of the match there usually is a name that might match one of my ancestors.    The possibilities of unveiling an unknown ancestor and breaking down a brick wall are there, but it’s vague and unpredictable.

When AncestryDNA began this new matching process—which is really a ploy to get more particpants to pay for tests, but AncestryDNA needs to pay its bills too—my father was a match with a man named Samuel Bemis Merrill and Elizabeth G. Runyon.  Now, my father’s DNA does not match his Norton cousins, so we know that there is a mystery man out there on dad’s family tree.  There is no hint of who that mystery man might be.  So, these supposed ancestors get me excited that maybe Ancestry has located a name of a family that might be related on this mystery line.  Alas, all they have done is reaffirm   some matches are distant cousins.  In the case of the Merrills, AncestryDNA also listed their daughter, Elthura, and her husband Rueben Collett as ancestors.  So, I checked into the ancestry.

The attached family trees showed the parents of Samuel Bemis Merrill and Elizabeth Runyon.  Their births were in New Jersey.  On dad’s DNA test, any matches with New Jersey as an ancestor’s birthplace almost always links that match to his known ancestors, the Stouts of Hunterdon County, New Jersey.  (For Mom, New Jersey indicates a connection to the Rapalje family.) The pedigrees on the matches’ profile pages did not link to any Stouts, but other online family trees show that Elizabeth G. Runyon’s paternal grandfather’s mother was a Stout from Hunterdon County, NJ.

Recapping this research: No connection to the Colletts or Merrills, but definitely related to the Runyon through her grandmother Sarah Stout—this match is going to be in the 8th cousin or more distant range, but not my ancestor.

It’s great that Ancestry can link dad to a match and with a little bit of searching, I can find that common ancestor, or at least the common family.  It’s deceptive that they call these people “ancestors.”  They are just cousins—and the site does say that the people might only be related in the fine print.  I would word this differently!

So, if you are using AncestryDNA, beware these new ancestors they have found for you.  And if you are not sure about your ancestors, I can help you figure that out!

Paschal Norton, Who’s Your Daddy?

I named my son, Paschal, after my great-great-grandpa who raised my grandfather.  The original Paschal was born in 1872 and died in 1934, when my grandpa was only 13.   Within the last five years, the original Paschal has presented me with a genuine genealogical mystery.

Paschal and Susan Alice (Gay) Norton

Paschal and Susan Alice (Gay) Norton

My paper trail is tight!  What I mean is that the information I have on my ancestors—on paper—can be verified and proven with documents.  Me, dad, Grandpa Clarence Norton son of Harley, but rasied by his grandfather Paschal Norton.  Paschal was the son of William M. Norton, who went to the Civil War underage.  William was son of Rev. James Baker Norton born in 1812 in Pendleton Co, KY, named in his father’s estate of 1831.  Henry was the son of David Norton of Pendleton and Grant Counties.  David’s father was a mystery—it could’ve been John.  Later researchers said a William.  Finally, DNA confirmed it was a Christopher Norton of Virginia who turns out to be the grandson of Robert Norden, a Baptist missionary to the colony instrumental in forming the Baptist denomination in the United States.

DNA tests for genealogy come in three forms.  There’s the autosomal test that matches you with cousins on any branch of your family tree—this is the one I find most useful.  There is the Mitochondrial-DNA test that shows your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s…and so on DNA back thousands of years.  Men and women can take this test because we all get an X chromosome from mom. Men can take one more test—the Y-DNA test.  This shows the DNA of your father’s father’s father’s father’s…and so on back thousands of years.

Dad had distant cousins who had already tested the y-DNA, so when I did my autosomal DNA test, I added the y-12 DNA just because it was cheaper.  The results came in, and I did not match Dad’s distant cousins.  There are these designations called Haplogroups.  Roughly they are racial/geographical categories where certain types of DNA are found more heavily than in other places.  Dad’s distant cousins were from a Haplogroup that indicated Scandinavian ancestry.  That fit with the story Dad told about being Vikings and Norsemen, that later turned into Norton.

My DNA came out East African/Middle Eastern!

My mother assures me that I am my father’s child!  There were some funny jokes about Grandma Norton and Mr. Rodriguez, and why Dad was so much darker than his brothers, but…those were just jokes.  Then, Grandpa was raised by his grandparents because his parents had divorced.  Was there more to this situation?  I was completely shocked because my paper trail is tight.  All marriages are recorded, all firstborns are born about a year after the marriage or later.  Nothing to raise any eyebrows.  No stories of adoptions or anything like that either.

I had Dad and my brother, Jeremy, tested too.  I did the y-12 DNA test because it was cheaper, and I did Dad’s autosomal DNA to match with his cousins.  Good news—Dad, Jeremy, and I all match each other.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Grandpa is gone, so I can’t test him.  Dad has three brothers who could test.  If the brothers didn’t match Dad, then I’d know the “non-parental event” occurred with Grandma and Grandpa.  Grandpa has three half-brothers on his dad’s side still living.  They are on the West Coast, and I’ve asked one to think about testing.  No word yet.  If one would, or one of their sons, they should match Dad too.  If they didn’t, then we’d know the break was with Great-grandpa Harley.

Fortunately, my great-great-grandpa (Paschal) had a brother Martin who has a grandson who has tested.  This third cousin matches the Norton haplotype of Scandinavian.  What this tells me is that Martin’s dad (who is William the Civil War veteran) is from the true Norton line, but Paschal might not be because we descend from Paschal.

William and Nancy

William and Nancy Catherine (Sandlin) Norton

I can pretty much narrow down the “non-parental event” to the generation between William and Paschal because of the autosomal DNA tests.  Dad has many matches with the Gay-Cornett family who are related through Paschal’s wife, Susan Gay.  Dad has many matches with the Sandlin-Anglin family who are related through Paschal’s mother.  Thus, I am sure we descend from Nancy Catherine Sandlin Norton, the wife of William M. Norton, but we do not descend—genetically, biologically—from William.

My findings are still preliminary because I have noticed that Dad has many matches with the Gott family (his mother’s line), but no matches with the Tharp family (who was Grandpa Clarence’s mother’s family).  No matches with the Tharps might indicate something else as the non-parental event.  Most telling of all, though, Dad has no Norton matches at all.  We are not Nortons!  Unfortunately, our y-DNA has not matched any other surname out there, so I have no idea WHO our true ancestor might be.

I’ve come up with many theories.  Maybe Paschal was the son of a sister of William Norton—but this is unlikely with no Norton matches on the autosomal DNA.  Maybe Great-great-great-grandma Nancy Sandlin Norton was already pregnant , but Paschal’s birth date does not suggest that.  Maybe she had a sister who had a child, and they took him in—no stories like that in the family, and no sister matches such.  Maybe Nancy Sandlin Norton was unfaithful, but really?  We are talking staunch Baptists in 1870s!  It’s a complete mystery.

Dad has many, many second to fourth cousins who have no family connection on our family tree.  I assume these people are from the mystery ancestor.  Frustratingly, though, none of these people have any common ancestors on their trees that would help me narrow down the choices.

Genealogy is a frustrating, time-consuming hobby.  Sometimes, the answer just doesn’t reveal itself—in your lifetime!  I do think I’ll get a lucky break sometime.  Dad took his test about three years ago.  It took eight years for my grandma’s cousin’s test to have a match that unlocked a 60+ year genealogy brick wall.  So, maybe in a few years someone who matches our y-DNA will test, and it will unveil our true ancestry.  Or, maybe more cousins will test on the autosomal tests at FamilytreeDNA and AncestryDNA (dad is at both).  As more people test, maybe common family names will pop up and lead me to an answer.

DNA tests are on sale at both companies for Father’s Day!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, Grandpa Clarence, Great-grandpa Harley, and Great-great-grandpa Paschal.  Happy Father’s Day to William Norton who raised Paschal as his first-born, and Happy Father’s Day to Mystery Father—someday I’ll find you.

Genealogy–It’s Not Just About Dead People

My expertise is in finding ancestors—anyone born before 1940—because I usually begin with the 1940 census.  Deceased ancestors are usually listed on sites like Findagrave or records pop up at or  For the most part, genealogy is about finding these ancestors from decades and centuries before us.  Sometimes the quest is to join a lineage society (DAR, SAR) or to prove a relationship to someone famous (or infamous).  For me, I just want to know who was living when, and where, and how they fit into the history of America.

But genealogy is not always about dead people—sometimes it’s about the living!

A few years ago, I helped a friend’s mother locate her birth father.  It is a great story: young girl in Germany meets US soldier.  She gets pregnant; he ships home…to his wife and family!  The friend knew the name of the soldier, and utilizing the same techniques I use to find the long-ago deceased, I found the birth father.  Unfortunately, he was deceased, but he had other children and there was a reunion of these siblings.  (There was one more brother, and I’m still waiting for something to unlock to discover his whereabouts.)

Another friend, hearing about how I helped this previous family, asked me to try and find a cousin who had been adopted after his parents divorced.  Adoptions make it tougher, but the family did know the adoptive family’s last name.  I found him.  Another reunion took place.  I’m glad to have been a part of making the connection.

Recently, as part of the research conducted for my sister-in-law, she asked if I could find some people who might still be living.  Some of the people were deceased, but often they have brothers or sisters, or children, living who are willing to connect and talk.  I have had some luck using Facebook to find people—even people in their 70s and 80s—grandparents like to see pictures of their grandkids!  So, I use every avenue I can think of to locate missing relatives and friends.

Most recently, a former student contacted me to see if I could locate the half-sister of her grandfather.  She gave me a name, an approximate date of birth and place, the mother’s maiden name, and a possible state of residence.  “Do you think you can find her?”  I can find a lot with very little information, but a woman, who probably married, and could be anywhere in the US…or the world!  The last contact between the two siblings was in the 1950s.  Would she even be alive?

I took this challenge.

Starting with what the family already knew, I began searches for the names involved.  I found census records for the father’s side.  I found directory listings in the 1940s.  Eventually, I found the marriage record for the father and the mother of the half-sister.  The family knew the father died, but what happened to the mother and half-sister after that was a mystery.  I located the mother as a widow in a city directory.  She was a widow in 1948, and at this time it would’ve been difficult for a single woman with a child to make ends meet.  I wondered if she might have lived with relatives.  Knowing her maiden name, I searched the directory and found a man who was living at the same address!  It was her father.  With that information, I was able to track down brothers and sisters.  In one brother’s obituary, he named a sister—obviously the mother of the half-sister I was looking for—but she had a different last name!  This led me to another marriage record.  That led me to newspaper articles naming the half-sister with her step-father and mother in Iowa.  Then the trail ran cold.  Every person I located with the right name had the wrong birth information.  There were no obituaries or profiles at Findagrave, so I was pretty sure the half-sister was alive.  She most likely married, moved on, and I found myself with the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I concluded my research, met with the client, and gave them everything I had found including the phone numbers for two aunts of the half-sister who might be alive.  I cautioned that the phone numbers might be outdated.  The family was ready to try.

I am so happy to say, the numbers were good, the aunts were alive, and my client’s grandfather has spoken on the phone to his long-lost half-sister.  A reunion is planned for the end of summer.

I love looking for missing ancestors, but truly, reconnecting families with lost relatives makes the quest of genealogy honorable and important.