I’m going to assume you’ve already spent some time researching your ancestors in America. Hopefully, you know the name and place of residence of your target ancestor. If you do not have this information, please check out my adoptee guide, which may be useful to anyone looking for unknown relatives.
Now, it’s time to cross the ocean and visit your ancestor’s village of origin. This is a step many people fail to take, especially those of mixed ancestry. Some find it easier to follow the previously-forged paths of their other grandparents than to tackle the task of figuring out great-grandpa Dömötör’s birthplace.
If you’re looking to verify your DNA link to great-grandpa Dömötör, or are puzzled by a batch of 3rd cousin matches from New Jersey, you’re going to need to travel back in time and across the ocean. The next section will focus on how we do this, but for now, I’ll address why we need to go so far back.
I have created dozens of family trees for people from Burgenland, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Prussia, Italy, (and probably a few other places I’m forgetting at the moment). I’ve also created trees to link people back to American ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. No matter where your forefathers and foremothers came from, you’ll need to go back an average of 25 years per generation to find them.
This means, if a 3rd cousin shows up on your match list and you hope to figure out how you’re related, you’ll need to go back to your great-great-grandparents. Then, you may need to figure out who your match’s great-great-grandparents are, if they haven’t shared a detailed tree.
Let’s say for example you were born in 1950.
If we go back 25 years for your parents, it brings us to the year 1925.
And another 25 years for their parents (your grandparents), and we’re at 1900
And another 25 for their parents’ parents (your great-grandparents) and we’ve gone back to 1875.
We’re time-traveling and Doc Brown isn’t even there to help us.
If we go back another 25 years, it’s 1850, right about where we can expect to find the birth records of your great-great-grandparents. This site offers a helpful chart to illustrate this concept. Adjusted for couples marrying younger in previous decades, their estimate is 1860 for the birth year of the great-great-grandparents of someone born in 1950.
As an adoptee-helper, I start out with no family tree for the adoptee. Instead, I create trees from the DNA matches and see where they cross each other and then work forward to find people who would have been the right age and at the right place and time to be the parents.
This is similar to the technique non-adoptees can use to figure out their own DNA matches. If your tree accurately lists a direct line out to your 4th great-grandparents and you find a match whose tree is equally complete, finding your relationship should be as easy as comparing your trees side-by-side (assuming both trees are genetically accurate) and seeing the same name(s) listed on both trees (MRCA). With the tools available on this site and all over the internet, building a tree back to the early 1800s is an attainable goal.
And If you’ve followed Dömötör and taken the time to identify his parents as Ágoston and Borbála, don’t be surprised to see that very same couple on your match’s tree, with Dömötör’s brother Gergely shown as your match’s great-grandfather. You and your match share great-great-grandparents Ágoston and Borbála, and congratulations, you’ve found a 3rd cousin!
If this concept seems confusing, rest assured. It is confusing. That’s why I’ll be explaining this process in greater detail throughout several posts.
Note: The occasional and inevitable non-paternal event, or NPE, (a secret adoption, extramarital affair, etc) will render even the best family trees “biologically” inaccurate.