Chasing Cousins in DNA Tests


A map of Europe cerca 1600 AD, courtesy of the United States Library of Congress.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to buy a DNA beta test from

Since I had already convinced my dad to do one, I figured I should jump on board as well.  My kit showed up, I spit in a test tube, and sent it back.  A month went by—an agonizing month—before I got the results back.

It was an excruciating wait for the results.  This was an autosomal test, so I would be getting hints on my full ancestry.  I wondered what the results would tell me.  Would it show those ever-elusive Native American genes? How large a percent the UK plays in my genetic makeup? Oh, the questions were endless!

Finally I got a message in my inbox: the results were in.  Talk about tantalizing excitement!  The first thing that popped up was a chart of my genetic ethnicity.  Largest percentage was British Isles at 55%.  Not a real surprise, but my friends and family figured it would have been larger.  Next was Central European at 24%; must be the French and German. Then came the odd one: Eastern European 20%.  Huh, could that be the German and Prussian?  There was a lot of movement back and forth across the borders.  And 1 percent came back as uncertain.  Well, that was that.  No Native American princesses in there for me. Now what?

Ancestry has a service in which they will match you with suspected cousins.  If they are close enough, and have a tree on, they will even reveal how you are related.  Well that’s snazzy!  I spent a long while scrolling through potential 3rd and 4th cousins, learning all the ins and outs of the system.  It was interesting to read their interpretations and conclusions of ethnic breakdown.  So far, in my research, my mother’s families are all from the British Isles.  My dad, on the other hand, has family from Switzerland, France and several Germanic areas.  I wanted to see where these links would lead.

First up, I had two 3rd cousin hits.  One had a tree and one didn’t.  I wrote to them both, hoping to make a connection.  Boy did I!  One of them has written me back.  His second Great-grandfather is my 3rd Great-grandfather, Jerome Brothers.  Jerome was born in January 1825, in Kentucky, and died March 22, 1905 in Daviess County, Indiana.  He married Elizabeth Minerva Cassell on Dec. 30, 1845, and they had 7 children.   My line is through his eldest daughter, Rose Ann, and my new cousin’s family is through her younger sister, Josephine Helen Brothers.  I looked at his line a little further, and noticed that his Grandmother was an Arvin.

Oh boy, an Arvin! We just have to be related there too.  Arvin is not a common surname, and when you live in Southern Indiana, there are higher than normal odds that you’re all from the same family.  My 4th Great-grandfather, Henry Arvin moved from Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland to Washington County, Kentucky and then onto Daviess County, Indiana.  Many of his children, siblings and other Arvin relatives made these moves with him.  Some stayed in Kentucky, but my line through his son Augustine finally settled in Indiana.  My new cousin’s family tree shows that his 2nd Great grandfather was born about 1811 in Charles County, Maryland.

I think I have a new mystery to solve.

Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.

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6 thoughts on “Chasing Cousins in DNA Tests

  1. I’ve been really excited about the latest AncestryDNA test, too. In fact, I’ve gotten a test done by my aunt, and am about to order one for her son.
    My genetic ethnicity results were puzzling to say the least, however. My genealogically known ancestors are from the British Isles on my father’s side, and Germany and Switzerland on my mother’s side, with a tiny bit of Swedish/Finnish. Yet I am told I am 81% Scandinavian and 13% Central European! None of the modern-day countries they list for the latter have anything to do with Germanic heritage. But perhaps my situation is like yours, since we know we have some Prussian. My mother’s sister, on the other hand, has the Scandinavian, plus British Isles and Central European, despite there being almost no British ancestry on my mother’s side. And she has Middle Eastern, which we can’t understand at all!
    We were very excited to find a near cousin as you did, but the person never responded to my message, so that was very disappointing.
    Keeping your success in mind, I’ll keep plugging away at our matches and hope as more people are added to the database these things become much clearer!

  2. Keep checking and plugging away. You never know when I cousin will decide to take the genetic testing plunge. Good Luck!!

  3. I also did the DNA test with Ancestry & was very disappointed. It showed 87% British Isles & 13% unknown. I know for sure there are other nationalities in my background, especially German.
    The closest cousin was 4th to 6th & looking at their results it didn’t seem that there was any connection. I was in touch with a couple of them & they also felt as I did, that it really didn’t tell them much at all.
    I must say I’m not impressed!

  4. Gail: Did you do the Beta version too? It seems that they are continuing to update and improve on it. Have you tried another testing company? You can insert other companies’ data into Ancestry to help find more matches. It may be worth a look to see if you would be more satisfied with another type of testing service.

  5. I’m not a beginner genealogist. I don’t know anything about DNA. I want to know everything about how to read a DNA report. I want to understand an X and a Y for both maternal and paternal sides of my family. I want to learn a whole lot about DNA before I order a kit because I don’t even know what questions I will have. Where is there a course online that I can take.

    My case is complicated since I don’t have any brothers but I do have a first cousin on my father’s side.

    So, I’m not a begiinning researcher but I’m a novice when it comes to this DNA science. Can anyone tell about such a course.

  6. Hi Shannon,
    I bought my first edition of Family Tree magazine this past weekend. I enjoyed your article and was pleasantly surprised to find the Coomes name and it’s variations mentioned. My husband’s grandmother was a Coomes, Mary Christine “Teen” Coomes Allen Her 4x great grandfather Thomes Coomes came from Charles Co, Maryland, a place called Coombs Purchase. Later generations would also end up in Daviess Co, KY. Teen traced her lineage during the 1970-80’s when it was much more difficult to find records. She proved her line and was accepted as a Daughter of the American Colonists. Teen passed away in 1996. I am fortunate enough to have recently received her notes. Could be you are related to my husband.

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