The Family Story, Part One: DNA Assisted Research

We all have regrets from our youth. I definitely have a few. Many of those regrets, however, didn’t become manifest until I was much older. Neither of my parents had siblings, but my grandparents had many brothers and sisters. The (great) Aunts and Uncles I spent most of my time with were advanced in years. I never thought much about it at the time, but now I realize that these dear elderly relatives were the only pipeline to all our family stories and history. Few stories were shared, let alone recorded, so most of that history has been lost.

Family-Tree-for blog 1By the time I got interested in my family history, I had to start from scratch. I began with what I knew—which wasn’t much—building my family tree starting with my parents, grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, and the few second cousins I knew about. I contacted one cousin that I knew fairly well and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he knew a few things about my dad as well as some other family history. Later he sent me a letter with an old handwritten document of my dad’s that listed three generations of the family. My family tree had just tripled in size! That was an exciting find. From there I was able to locate another cousin that had been working for years doing family research and he shared all of his discoveries with me, opening up several more generations and branches on my family tree.

After that, progress came to a grinding halt. We could only verifiably go back so far. Anything beyond that was purely guesswork. Suffice to say, not much happened with my family research for several years.

Enter ancestry DNA. I didn’t really have ancestry research in mind when I submitted a DNA sample to ​, but as soon as the results came in all of that changed. I learned things about my ancestry that I didn’t know and discovered over 900 DNA matches from third to distant cousins. It was exciting! The family research that had been languishing for years had just gotten a shot of adrenalin.

Note: If you’re concerned about privacy, the only information displayed about your DNA matches is the person’s gender. Everything else is private unless you decide to share more in your public profile. You do have the option to send an introductory message to a DNA match, which they can either respond to or ignore.

Soon after I got my results, I was contacted by a cousin, Patricia Divjak, who is a professional genealogist. I readily responded to her message and it didn’t take me long to find the connection. DNA not only confirmed most of what I knew to be true on my family tree, but it also showed what I had wrong, the lineage that was guesswork, and pointed me down a new path of connections.

Here’s how DNA helped us make the connection.

This story began with a little booklet that one of our mutual cousins compiled with names and dates of the children of James and Mary Ann Winn of Lunenburg County, VA. James was one of the nine sons of Daniel Winn of that same county. James married his cousin (common at that time), Mary Ann Winn. Together they had 12 children!

James (born 14 Apr 1757 – died 14 Jun 1815) fought in the Revolutionary War eventually attaining the rank of Sergeant, quite a respectable rank for those who served in the Continental Line. He served under Lt. Col’s James Hendricks, Charles Simms and Colonel Thomas Elliott, 6th Virginia Regiment from Lunenburg County, VA.

After Patricia learned the particulars of James’ and Mary Ann’s parentage and their early life together, she was curious about how our mutual cousin acquired all the names of their children. To make a long story short, it was acquired from the old Winn family Bible. With a LOT of phone calls and leg work she was finally able to locate the cousin in possession of the family Bible. The Bible was passed down through one of James son’s, Archelaus Winn. We believe that it was Archelaus’ wife, Susannah, who entered all the information in the Bible. [See page from the Winn Family Bible.]

Fast forward to today! Descendants of five of the sons of James and Mary Ann have tested through either, AncestryDNA or Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) and the autosomal comparison of their DNA with Patricia’s DNA verifies that these cousins match genetically through comparison of our family trees and our strong DNA results. This is how Patricia and I met, through our DNA match at 23andMe. Since we both had an established family tree to compare, it was fairly easy to find the connection. I am a descendant of James and Mary Ann’s son Younger Winn, brother to Patricia’s ancestor, Archelaus Winn—verified with the DNA results.

It’s important to note that in autosomal DNA comparison, the Winn cousins who matched Patricia may not necessarily match me. Autosomal DNA is randomly inherited. I may match with different Winn cousins than Patricia. When we put everything together however, we have a more accurate and complete picture of the early colonial families and their relationships.

A WinnBibleRegisterAncestry DNA is still a fairly new concept to me and is probably new for most of you reading this blog. Patricia has generously agreed to be interviewed for this blog about ancestry research and DNA. Next week in Part 2 of The Family Story, Patricia will talk about how DNA ancestry works and how it’s being used to reconstruct missing family history. In Part 3, she’ll discuss ways that parents and grandparents can begin sharing their family stories with their children.

About Patricia Divjak
patricia divjakPatricia Divjak has been active in genealogy research for 20 years and is the author of two family history books. She is an expert lineage researcher, assisting over 75 women in joining the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. She was a successful Past Regent and Registrar for the San Diego Chapter, NSDAR. She is also a member of the Jamestowne Society and the Colonial Dames of the Seventeenth Century as well as the National Society Daughters of the War of 1812. She is a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogists. Her current project is a compilation of stories of her female ancestors and how they inspired generations of their descendants to follow their dreams.