Amberly Beck, blog author from the website Genealogy Girl, has shared this blog as part of our ongoing “How I Solved It Series”.

This blog explained how DNA opened a door to find out information about a family that was otherwise unknown until she compared family trees with DNA matches and actual records.


This DNA stuff is awesome. And I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

When I set out to test myself and several family members, my main goal was to find something, anything, about John Costello’s family. That has not happened. Yet.

But my second goal was to solve my next closest brick wall. My third great grandfather. He was born in France and came to the US as a child. Until last week, everything we knew about his life was post marriage. My sister started working on this portion of our tree about 15 years ago. We have records, photos, and some anecdotal evidence from family members. But all of it is post marriage.

Children didn’t just immigrate from France in the 1850s alone, but we couldn’t find any travel records. We couldn’t find him on the census. He seemed to have just beamed himself over from France, Star Trek style.

To complicate things, the only people in the entire US with his same surname, spelled the same way, are all his descendants. So… made up last name? Did his parents die when he was young, after immigrating, leaving him an orphan? What was going on?

I hoped DNA would help with this brick wall.

And oh boy, did it ever deliver!

Last week I was combing through my matches that are in this general area of my tree. I remembered something Diahan Southard said in a recent webinar. She said that your best matches are the ones that you have no surnames in common with. Those trees just might point you to the surname you are missing.

Well, I have two matches in this general area of my tree that have no surnames in common with me. They are fairly close cousin matches. I looked at their trees and while we didn’t share any surnames, those two trees did have one surname in common with each other. It looked like their end of line people with this name were one generation apart. I did a little digging and figured out how their two end of line folks connected to each other.

That still didn’t tell me how that surname connected to me though. So I did some more digging. I pushed their trees back another generation and I’ll be darned if I didn’t just find the sister of my brick wall!

I kept going.

Using the information about my 3rd great grandpa and his sister, I FINALLY found a ship manifest for the whole family coming over from France. That led me to the state and federal census records that followed their arrival.

No wonder I couldn’t find them!

The spelling of their surname makes phonetic sense, but it is a variant I’ve never seen before and one I hadn’t thought to try. Add to that that my 3rd gg’s first name is wrong on one record and recorded as simply an initial on the other, and it makes total sense that he seemed to be hiding. He kinda was.

I found several more records – a second marriage for my 4th great grandpa (which lists his parents names! squeal of delight here), a land record for that same 4th great grandfather, records about both sisters of my previous brick wall 3rd great grandpa. It was exciting!

I couldn’t find some important records I was hoping would help me jump the pond, so I dove deep into the FamilySearch catalog and exhausted everything I could find there. Luckily for me, most of the relevant microfilm are already digitized and available to view from home.

I have more to do. Lots more to do. Which is why I intentionally left out names, and other specifics here. For now.

All of this exciting searching led me to a brand-new-to-me website and a whole different set of discoveries. This part of my tree is in Illinois. My sister has done most of this research. I’ve only helped with the pre-Illinois part in Québec. This means I really haven’t spent much time with Illinois records or Illinois research in general. All of my exciting, new discoveries sent me searching for Illinois newspapers. I tried all of my usual stuff. One of the “list” websites pointed me to the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. What an awesome, free resource!

While I didn’t find what I was hoping to find, I did find a whole bunch of goodies about other members of my family in this general branch of my tree. In fact, I found so much that I had a genealogy first. I actually got bored processing all of my newspaper finds and had to take a break. The searching and finding wasn’t boring, but the downloading, saving, and cropping got boring after dozens of cool articles. 😉 Here are two articles that were particularly interesting.

MAFFIT, Orrin, 1906 burial article - crop

This article comes from the St. Anne Record, 30 March 1906. Mr. and Mrs. Seth Moffit are my 2nd great grandparents. This article details their travel from Chicago to Saint Anne, and the funeral and burial of their son, Orrin Seth Maffit.

BROUILLETTE, Nelson, 1919 Car accident article - crop

This article also comes from the St. Anne Record, 10 July 1919. It describes a minor car accident involving Nelson Brouillette, my 3rd great granduncle. What I love is all of the other names and connections this article describes. One that isn’t obvious is that Dr. Benjamin is Nelson’s son-in-law.

So. What is the point here?

First, DNA results are amazingly helpful to genealogy research. I LOVE genetic genealogy! If you haven’t dipped your toe in yet, join us. The water is fine. Mighty fine.

Second, if you have any Illinois ancestors, check out the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. A fabulous – and FREE – resource.

If you have a story idea or a blog that you’d like to share as part of this series, please let us know about it in the comments.

Amberly Beck
Amberly is a stay at home mom of 3 delightful boys who are 19, 15, and 5. Whenever she has a minute, she is at her computer researching. She has 19 years of genealogy research experience that has filled her tool belt with lots of tricks that made her decide to start her blog. As well as blogging and conducting her own personal genealogy research, she volunteers once a week at her local Family History Center and teaches classes at her church and center. She works with people young and old to help them learn how to research and build their family trees. Visit Amberly's Website
Amberly Beck

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