Testing a Guess with Teamwork!

This is a developing story about a Brick Wall I’ve had for 48 years. My mother was a BAKER, and I know her ancestry back to the “Gunsmith” BAKERs in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s. My mother’s brother did Y-DNA to prove this line. One ancestor in the line was Elliott BAKER c1775-1836 who married Keziah BROWN in 1801 Prince Edward Co, VA. Keziah named her father as Wilson BROWN, Dec’d on the marriage license. In the 1850 census she stated she was born in adjacent Buckingham Co, VA. Sure enough in the 1782 to 1792 Buckingham Personal Property Tax Lists, there was a Wilson BROWN. In the 1793 PPTL, Wilson BROWN Estate was listed – Wilson had died. Skipping  over a lot of research and steps, I know: no one else has Wilson BROWN in their Tree(except my line); there are several different BROWN Trees in Buckingham Co, VA; adjacent to Wilson in most PPTL listings was an Isham BROWN (some DNA Matches, indicating he was probably a sibling, but no genealogy help); Wilson BROWN left no Will (or any documents naming wife or children). No known male-line descendants for Y-DNA. Dead end – Brick Wall.

In January 2023 a small group of us, decided to dig in.

1. We found a hitherto unknown 1776 Will of a James BROWN in nearby Cumberland Co, VA [credit Kevin Baker]. Note: There is a point that Cumberland, Buckingham and Prince Edward counties all touch – this is now the focus location. James’s will named 16 children, including Isham and Wilson. BINGO! I could find no one with this James in their Tree, despite several of his children with given names that recur in BROWN Trees in VA, NC, TN, KY, etc. But I did find a lot of BROWN Trees that had other, undocumented Ancestors about this generation – hmmm.

2. Another important find was linking Isham BROWN to the BROWN Surname Y-DNA Project – Group 40! Some BROWN Y-DNA experts [credit Bill Davidson] helped us rule BROWN lines in and out of consideration . This included several BROWN lines in Buckingham and nearby counties.

3. Two of the 16 men in Group 40 list Isham BROWN, born 1749, as their Most Distant BROWN Ancestor. They were sure of Isham, but could not determine his father – hmmm – the recently uncovered James? I can almost guarantee that if the 1776 Will of James BROWN had been easily found, many would have latched onto his son Isham [please excuse my cynicism].

4. If Isham was a brother of Wilson, then Wilson, and his male-line descendants (none of them known at this point), would also be Group 40.

5. Within the BROWN Group 40 were several lines back to the 1700s, but brick walled – and most of them were in this general area of Virginia.  My experience with Y-DNA Projects (I’m an Admin for 3 of them) is that American Y-DNA testers who form a family group, almost always have a Patriarch in America. In other words, it’s my expectation that there is a Patriarch of Group 40, probably in Virginia [I suspect James].

6. At least two of the 16 men in Group 40 list Thomas BROWN, born 1773, as their Most Distant BROWN Ancestor. Ancestry lists over 2,000 Trees for this Thomas BROWN (and his wife Nancy LITTON). Most have additional generations back, but with very sketchy documentation – pre-Revolution War records are hard to find in these counties. Communications with several Tree owners (not necessarily DNA Matches) revealed that they were unsure of Thomas’s father…

7. As it turns out, I have already found over 30 DNA Matches to this Thomas BROWN – ranging from 8 to 26cM – and I’m not even halfway through the list of possibilities. These DNA Matches span 7 of the 10 known children of Thomas – a good indication that Thomas is a relative of mine.

8. Looking back at the list of 16 children of James BROWN, and putting all the clues together, I estimate Wilson was born c1752 (3 years after Isham); and he probably had 9 to 10 children before he died (probably unexpectedly, without a Will) in 1792. Their birth years would be roughly c1773 to c1791.

Putting all of this together, my educated *guess* is that Thomas 1773 was a son of Wilson 1752; or a nephew. As a son, DNA Matches from him (and Wilson), would be 5th cousins (5C) to me. As a nephew, we’d need to go back another generation (to James) and the DNA Matches would be 6C to me.

How to figure this out? Use Teamwork to Test a Guess!

IF the relationship is “Thomas is son of Wilson,” then my DNA Matches to descendants of Thomas would also descend from Wilson and be about 5C to me. Going the other way, those DNA Matches should also have nominal 5C Matches to other descendants of Wilson, like my ancestor Keziah who married Elliott BAKER and had 8 known, surviving children with descendants who have DNA tested.

So I’ve asked such a DNA Match to please go to their AncestryDNA Match list and search for the surname BAKER, and see if some going back to Elliott BAKER (or any BAKER in Prince Edward Co, VA – there were several generations of this line there) show up as Matches.

An alternative is for me to list my 30 DNA Matches under Thomas. We expect to Match about 10% of our true 5C. So I’d expect any DNA Match from Thomas to also match about 3 of the same Matches. I have. A different DNA Match through Thomas should also match 3 of my Matches, but probably a different 3.

No need to go through the process of “Target Testing” when we already have a lot of known testers…

Testing a Guess With Teamwork!

This is a concept I’m working on – teamwork. I know it’s hard to get Matches to respond, so I’m hoping that a very clear, short objective, coupled with a relatively easy test process, would encourage a cousin to get involved. Particularly if the result would indicate new, more probable, Ancestor for them.

BOTTOM LINE – Form an educated *guess* and think of it as a given relationship. Then get widely spread DNA Matches from that added branch to look for DNA Matches in your branch.  Using daughter’s married Surnames makes this test even more precise. If you can get several to do this, and find their Matches in your branch – this would be very powerful evidence of a genealogy link. It seems to me that this is a particularly good process for common surnames, like BROWN. If you could also find Matches with DNA segments, you’d probably have a few Triangulated Groups – but that’s another story;>j

Wilson BROWN is my Ahnentafel 98 Ancestor. I plan to update this Brick Wall story as it develops.  Think about trying to get 2,000 folks to change their Trees…

[23-98Ma] Segment-ology: Testing a Guess With Teamwork! by Jim Bartlett 20230310

8 thoughts on “Testing a Guess with Teamwork!

  1. Jean, Good feedback – thanks. No one knew the father of my Ancestor Thomas BARTLETT c1733-1804 who lived in Fauquier Co, VA during the RevWar years and moved his family to Harrison Co, (W)VA in 1785. Thru the Y-DNA Project, I identified his father in 2003 – it took little time for almost everyone to add him to their Tree, and then conflate him, incorrectly, to other lines and Ancestors. I’ve posted many messages and Tree comments, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too. I think the mass of Matches can compensate for the smaller segments – if done carefully. Even if we say half of all our smaller Matches are false and/or beyond a genealogical timeframe, that still leaves a lot of cousins. I don’t believe that our Matches somehow go from 4C Matches to too distant. No! I believe we have more 5C Matches than 4C; and more 6C Matches than 5C. Somewhere after that, the distribution curve starts to drop off, but it doesn’t plunge to zero. Yes, it gets more difficult with each additional generation, but that doesn’t mean those cousins aren’t in our Match lists. Jim


  2. My husband has some of the same Brown’s in his family tree. Also husband is descended from 12 American Revolutionary Patriots. Florence Amelia Brown GGM 1851-1934.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again, a great article which reflects my own practice.

    “Think about trying to get 2,000 folks to change their Trees…”

    I had a situation where there were many online trees with the wrong ancestry, all copied from a hypothesis in my tree, which ended up being wrong when I found the correct record, supported by DNA matches. I could not bear knowing that the error would be perpetuated, so I went to the trouble of placing a comment in every tree. Then people who looked at the tree would know, even if the tree owner did not update their tree. I am pleased to say nearly all trees did eventually get updated. I cannot recall how many there were, but it was less than 50.

    But 2000 trees? Wow. Maybe you need to recruit helpers to make comments.

    Liked by 1 person

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