Monday, August 5, 2013

My first DNA triangulation!

I have finally triangulated a fragment of my genome through two DNA relatives!

I connected with the first match, Cathy, on AncestryDNA back in May. We quickly compared trees and immediately noticed the Moyer connection. She is a descendant of John Moyer, son of Johann Peter Moyer. John (or Johannes) was the brother of my own ancestor, Peter. This makes Cathy and I fifth cousins exactly.

Cathy was nice enough to also send me her raw DNA file, which I used to find our matching DNA. The biggest segment was on chromosome 7, positions 93M to 106M.

Then, just a few days ago, I got a new match on Family Tree DNA. My matchPatwas predicted to be at an incredibly close 2nd to 4th cousin level. I was very excited about this and immediately set about the chromosome analysis (FTDNA, unlike Ancestry, has a chromosome browser and displays matching segments). Lo and behold, this match was also on chromosome 7, with two big segments running from 93M to 131M totaling 30.8 cM. This segment wholly overlapped the one I shared with Cathy! Another Moyer link, then?

I contacted Pat to determine our connection. As a predicted 3rd cousin, I expected this to be easy, but nothing jumped out. In fact, both her tree and mine were so filled-in as to completely negate the possibility of a 3rd, or even 4th, cousin connection. So I looked further back.

I was immediately drawn to a Nathan Myer in her tree, born 14 September 1818 in Heidelberg Township, Lehigh, Pa. Pat gave me a quick rundown of what she knew of Nathan:
He came with his family to Wayne County, Ohio at the age of 14. When he was 17 his father died and he assumed responsibility for his mother and several younger children. He married Elizabeth Wright in Medina County, Ohio in 1841 and they lived there for almost 40 years before moving to Ashland County. His obituary says he was one of 9 children but much to the dismay of myself and several other Myers descendants there has never been any record of a name for either his parents or any of his siblings. Nothing!
Among the vast army of Moyers in my tree (all descended from Johann Peter), there are four named Nathan. My first thought was that Nathan Myer must be one of them. The closest (date-wise) was Johann Peter's own son Nathan, but he was born in 1819 and ultimately moved to Michigan. I had to expand my search.

I found my answer in an Excel spreadsheet I had made containing all the Helffrich Pastoral Records from that contained a variation of Moyer: Nathan Meier, born 14 September 1818 in Heidelberg to "Johan" and Magdalena Meier.

Woo! Found him! Wait...who the heck were Johan and Magdalena? I scoured more baptism records and found more of the pair's children, all in Heidelberg:

Name Parents Born Baptized Sponsors
Johannes Mayer, Johannes & Magdalena 28 Jun 1807 19 Jul 1807 Jacob Fritzinger & w Susanna
Daniel Mayer, Johannes & Magdalena 28 Jun 1807 19 Jul 1807 Jacob Muller & w Catharine
Nathan Meier, Johan & Magdalena 14 Sep 1818 22 Nov 1818 Jacob Fritzinger & Catharina Miller
Abigail Meier, Johan & Magdalena 18 Dec 1821 3 Feb 1822 Daniel & Margaretha Kern
Rachel Meier, Johannes & Magdalena 25 Mar 1825 22 May 1825 Heinrich & Eva German

To my eye, there is clearly a relation between this Johannes Meyer and my ancestor Johann Peter Moyer. The names of four of Johannes' children (Johannes, Nathan, Abigail, and Rachel) were shared by children of Johann Peter! But how, exactly, are these two men related?

One possibility is that Johannes is Johann Peter's brother. In my post on Johann Peter's father, William, I mentioned a baptism I found in the Weisenberg records: Johannes, 8 weeks old, baptized 9 October 1761; parents Wilhelm Meyer, Elisabeth, Lowhill; witnesses Johannes Meyer, Maria Elisabeth. As I mentioned in that post, I am not at all sure that this William is the same one that fathered Johann Peter. But let's hypothesize that it is, and that his son Johannes is Pat's ancestor. What would this mean?

First, the children listed in the baptisms above would have been born while Johannes was between the ages of 46 and 64. This seems a bit old, but Johann Peter fathered his youngest child when he was 60, so it's not unprecedented. Second, according to the facts relayed by Pat, Johannes would have moved his family to Ohio when he was 71, and died three years later at 74. Again, this seems a bit old to pack up and move so far away, but not impossible.

If this pans out, then Pat and I are 5th cousins, once removed. Here's the pretty graphic:

Another possibility is that Johannes is Johann Peter's nephew. Sticking another generation in there would bring Johannes' age down. Clearly more research is needed to determine which hypothesis is correct, if either.

The next step for Pat was to find these potential siblings of Nathan Myer, as listed in the baptism records above. She set about doing this and located a woman named Abigail (Myer) Etling in Wayne County, Ohio, whose birth date exactly matches Johannes' daughter's. One hurdle is that most Ancestry trees list her as being born in Washington County, Pa., instead of Lehigh, which is at the opposite end of the state. Conventional wisdom can be wrong, however.

To me, one unsolved mystery here is that FTDNA predicted Pat and I to be 2nd to 4th cousins. We share a total of 49 cM, with nearly 31 cM being in basically one big segment. In reality, though, we are actually further than 5th cousins. My question is: Is it possible for this massive chunk of DNA to be passed down, unbroken, through seven generations? It's more than one percent of my genome! If you are a geneticist, help me out here!

DNA triangulation is clearly going to be one of the most powerful tools in the genealogist's toolkit in the future. Pat now has a chance to break through a brick wall that has been plaguing her. And it is helping me to learn more about my ancestors' families as well.

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