Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Using Sponsored DNA Tests to break through Brick Walls

A big thank you to Linda Horton for this guest post about the value of sponsoring Free DNA Tests for people from the "home countries" and how this can help you in your own genealogical research. Linda offered Free DNA Tests for several of her ancestral surnames and as a result made major breakthroughs in her own research. Below she discusses four Case Studies, each using a different approach and methodology. These examples may help you in your own research. Read on ... 

Y-DNA test sponsorship as a way to find cousins in other countries
By Linda Horton

Genetic genealogy hobbyists enjoy the opportunity to meet cousins and thus learn more about their extended families. It is particularly exciting to make contact with DNA matches in other countries. With autosomal DNA testing such as AncestryDNA, the FamilyTreeDNA FamilyFinder, and 23andMe, however, it can be difficult to identify the Most Recent Common Ancestor.

Those of us whose ancestors migrated to the British American colonies many years ago will have few matches in the old countries. All my ancestors migrated from Europe to North America before 1760, coming from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. While I no doubt have many distant cousins in these countries of origin, the common ancestors are very far back, and considering the distance in relationship it is unlikely that few European cousins and I share the same segment of autosomal DNA from a shared ancestor.

Because of the relative stability of Y-DNA going back many centuries, and because of cultural practices that associate a patriline with a surname, Y-DNA testing offers a way to locate cousins in other countries. Kinship can be shown with certainty, when two men who have tested not only are close Y-DNA matches, but also share a surname. And there is no question about the lineage in which the Most Recent Common Ancestor will be found—it will be on the patriline for that surname.

I have four success stories to share about how I found Y-DNA cousins in other countries. In each case, the Y-DNA match/cousin became a friend. In hope that this information is helpful to others, I asked that it be published on the Genetic Genealogy Ireland blog in advance of the upcoming GGI/Back to Our Past conference in Belfast on 14th-15th February 2020, where free kits will be available for men with certain surnames. In 2018 I attended the first GGI/BTOP Belfast conference, and I will be there again this year. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about genealogy and to meet interesting and nice people.

Case Study 1 - Sproule/Sprowl: locate a close cousin to test and then post on the ISOGG website an offer to sponsor Y-DNA testing of men in the country of origin with the same surname (or variants).

2018 in Florida: Ed Sprowl,
the author's mother's half 1st cousin
a. My close cousin who Y-DNA tested at my request is Ed Sprowl, my half 1st cousin once removed—my mother’s half 1st cousin, as they had the same Sprowl grandfather but different grandmothers (he had remarried after his first wife’s death). In 2017, I posted several offers of free kits for men with certain surnames, including Sprowl (various spellings) on the Free DNA Tests page of the website of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG).  The offers I published applied to men with the surnames Bryan or Keele or Sproul/Sprowl in the UK or Ireland. (Recently I added offers for men in the UK or Ireland with the surname Braxton, Cochran/Cockerham, Owings/Owens, or Richmond). I knew to look for Sprowl cousins in Ireland and Scotland, because my mother had long ago explained that our Sprowl ancestors were Scots Irish (Ulster Scots).

b. In 2017, an Irishman named Ivan Sproule was doing genealogy research and came across my offer on the ISOGG website. We corresponded, Ivan tested, and he matches my cousin, Ed, on both Y-DNA and FamilyFinder (autosomal testing). With results upgraded to Big Y 700 and analyzed by YFull, Ed and our Sligo cousin are among a growing set of men of this surname (Sproul, Sproule, Sprowl, Spruell, etc) whose Y-DNA results match in varying degrees. Participants live in the USA, Canada, Ireland (mostly Northern Ireland), and Australia. The surname project is blessed with highly skilled and energetic administrators. It is hoped that men of this surname in Scotland will test, especially those whose origins are in the region south of Glasgow (Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire).

Ivan Sproule, Sligo & Roy Sproule of Castlederg, Co. Tyrone
c. While in Ireland in 2018 for the first GGI/Back to Our Past conference held in Belfast, I was able after the conference to meet Ivan Sproule in Sligo, where he lives on the farm owned by his great grandfather, and his family. Another Sproule cousin—Roy Sproule—had driven my daughter and me from Belfast to Sligo, stopping along the way at sites of genealogical and historical interest (further details in this previous blog post). Roy lives in Castlederg, County Tyrone, and is a Y-DNA match with Ivan, my Florida cousin Edwin, and many other men with this surname including Joe Sprowl of Delaware, the very capable lead surname project administrator. I subsequently have made free DNA kit donations to other Sproule men in Northern Ireland.

Case Study 2 - Horton: ask the surname project administrator to post an offer to sponsor Y-DNA testing by men with a given surname who reside in the relevant country of origin; counties can be mentioned.

Raymond Horton, author's brother
a. At my request, my brother Raymond Horton did Y-DNA testing. He matched several men with the Horton surname and, for these matches, in this well-documented colonial Virginia family it was easy to identify the Most Recent Common Ancestor such as a 5th great grandfather born in 1717. One of these Horton cousins told me about several known Non Paternal Events in the early 1800s, resulting in men living today who match Hortons but have different surnames.

b. In addition to these known NPEs, my brother matched men with a variety of other surnames, including Patterson, Reaves, Williams, and Whitehead. Several of these fellows trace back to a common ancestor with the surname Patterson, born in 1825 in South Carolina. One of my brother’s Y-DNA matches insisted that our Hortons are “really” Pattersons. To help resolve the question of what is “really” the surname of this cluster of Y-DNA matches, I asked the administrator of the Horton surname project to post on the project’s website an offer from me to sponsor Y-DNA testing of Horton-surnamed men in England, and particularly in Yorkshire. Lucky me, I only had to sponsor two tests. Although the first Horton-surnamed Yorkshireman to test—my now friend, Richard Horton—did not match my brother, his fiancée referred to me another Horton-surnamed Yorkshireman named Kris Horton, whose testing I sponsored, and whose test results DO match my brother!

2017 in Yorkshire, Kris Horton
c. Richard Horton had come across the Horton surname project website while doing genealogy research. This experience shows that, in addition to posting a Y-DNA scholarship offer on the ISOGG free kits page, it is useful to make a Y-DNA scholarship offer on the relevant surname project website. During my 2017 trip to Yorkshire and Edinburgh with two sisters and a cousin, Richard Horton spent a day driving us around to various sites associated with Horton families in Yorkshire. Also, we met both Kris Horton, my brother’s Y-DNA match, and his Horton grandparents, Barry and Sylvia Horton. These grandparents live less than 15 miles from the church in which our immigrant ancestor Isaac Horton was baptized in 1611. He migrated to Virginia colony in 1636. The Most Recent Common Ancestor between Kris’s family and mine likely lived in the 1500s. My theory is that the common ancestor was a John Horton (1552-1617) of Halifax, Yorkshire. Considering the date of my Horton immigrant ancestor came to America, my brother’s match to the Yorkshiremen provides strong evidence that, regardless of surname, the matches whose Y-DNA results lie between those of my brother and of our Yorkshire cousin are also Hortons.

2017 in Yorkshire: Linda's sister Laurel with Sylvia and
Barry Horton, Linda and her 1st cousin Carol Horton Graf

Case Study 3 - MacKay: locate a close cousin to Y-DNA-test, study their matches seeking to identify ones in other countries, and make diligent efforts to establish contact.

2017 in Kentucky: Linda and 3rd cousin 
Archibald C. McKay II
a. The first two examples describe instances in which men with certain surnames found my free kit offers on a website, either the ISOGG Free DNA Tests page or a surname project site. Sometimes you get lucky and a match falls in your lap without effort or expense. Here is an example.

b. To learn more about my great grandmother Lizzie McKay’s ancestors, I contacted my 3rd cousin who lives in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Lizzie was born in 1850. Her great grandfather Richard McKay had migrated to Kentucky from St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where our McKays from the far north of Scotland landed in about 1660. My 3rd cousin, Arch McKay, was happy to hear from me, met with me the next time I was in Kentucky, and agreed to do Y-DNA testing as a way for us both to learn more about our shared McKay ancestry. This was in 2013.

2017 in Edinburgh: Laurel, Linda and Robin Horton with Hugh MacKay
c. Imagine my delight when my Kentucky cousin’s only match, at 67-5, was to a man with the same surname, spelled MacKay, and with an email address that strongly suggested residence in the UK and employment at a law firm. Unfortunately, several emails to this Nigel Hugh MacKay went unanswered, and internet searches failed to locate the correct individual. I gave up the search. But when I was planning the trip to Scotland in 2017, I contacted a surname group administrator who helped me locate a street address in Edinburgh for the Scottish match of my Kentucky cousin. I typed and posted a letter in which I provided my email address as well as my travel details and information about the Kentucky Y-DNA cousin. One week later I received an email from a very excited Hugh MacKay. He confirmed my hunch that, after doing Y-DNA testing with FamilyTreeDNA in 2010 (and having no matches at that time), he retired from the law firm, and it did not occur to him to provide FamilyTreeDNA with his personal email address.

2018 Kentucky: the author, Beth Wilder of the
Jeffersontown (Kentucky) Historical Museum,
 Arch McKay of Bardstown Kentucky and
Y-DNA match Hugh MacKay of Edinburgh
d. My Scottish MacKay cousin invited me, my two sisters, and my cousin to stay in his home when we reached Edinburgh. We did, and we all got along so well we invited him to visit us. So in 2018 Hugh flew over for a four-week road trip around U.S. southeastern states, with driving shared by my husband and me, my sister Robin, and my son Jonathan.

e. In Alabama, Jonathan and Hugh participated in an 80th birthday celebration of my brother-in-law Stephen Ho, the brother of my first husband, Henry Ho (1937-1987), father of my children. Hugh said he enjoyed meeting my Chinese American family and spending time with my son! (My daughter and I missed the celebration because we needed to be at her son/my grandson’s family weekend in Michigan.)

f. Then in 2019 my daughter, grandson and I stayed a couple of nights at Hugh’s home in Edinburgh.

g. Y-DNA cousins Hugh MacKay of Edinburgh and Arch McKay of Kentucky have met twice, first in Kentucky as part of Hugh's road trip (see photo) and then, in 2019, when Arch and his brothers Lud and John traveled to Scotland and got together with Hugh while in Edinburgh.

h. In 2017, the Y-DNA tests of both Arch and Hugh were upgraded to Big Y. Their matching variants, shown above, resulted in a new haplogroup assignment for both men, and a new McKay/MacKay twig on the Big Tree!

This twig can be found below the MacKay/McKay twig, found in the center of the image of below, part of a display pertinent to men whose haplogroup is P312>Z290>L21>DF13>Z39589>DF49

I believe that the common MacKay ancestor was back in the 1500s or possibly a century or two earlier. I theorize that my 10th great grandfather Aodh Mackay (1510-1572) is the Most Recent Common Ancestor of Hugh and me. Hugh hit a brick wall with his 3rd great grandfather, John MacKay (born 1765 in Bighouse, Sutherland) and we cannot easily bridge the 200+ year gap back to Aodh. 

Case Study 4 - Cochran/Cockerham: post a story on your tree describing your interest in sponsoring Y-DNA testing of a man of a certain surname, sharing with you a certain ancestral line.

a. This example is not yet a success story, but I am hopeful it will be! Here I need to credit the ingenuity of my 4th cousin, Bella Garstang, who shares with me ancestors with the surname Cockerham, often simplified to Cochran. Two years ago, I returned from the Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference in Belfast and told Bella I had given away two kits to men in Northern Ireland who planned to regift them to Cochran-surnamed men they knew there. However, I needed to find an American male cousin with the surname Cockerham or Cochran for this testing of Irishmen to be worthwhile. Bella offered to post on various Cockerhams on her tree a story containing the plea “I AM LOOKING FOR LIVING MALE COCHRAN/COCKERHAM—PLEASE CONTACT ME THROUGH ANCESTRY.” I thought this a great idea, and soon the entire Cockerham branch of my tree had a host of Ancestry green-leaf hints announcing cousin Bella’s new posting. Soon she was contacted by a woman whose maiden name was Cochran, and who shared the same Cockerham ancestry as Bella and me. The woman’s father was elderly and, with his daughter’s help, tested. William W. Cochran is my 3rd cousin twice removed, and on autosomal testing he matches two of my siblings as well as my father’s first cousin, whose grandmother was a Cockerham, strengthening the case that we succeeded in finding a Cochran American male in the same family. Unfortunately, the two kits for Cochran males that I gave away in Ireland have not been used.

b. To increase the chances of finding a man in Ireland or Britain with the surname Cochran to do Y-DNA testing, I recently added this offer to the ISOGG Free DNA Tests page: 

I am hoping that, behind the ISOGG table at the upcoming Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference in Belfast, there will be a large poster listing surnames for which free kits are being offered. Perhaps a Cochran man will come up to the table and accept my offer of a free kit. And maybe he will match William, my cousin.


I expect that some of you reading this post will wonder about the expense of sponsoring Y-DNA testing as well as the travel I have undertaken to meet cousins identified through such testing. I admit that the testing and the travel do get expensive, and in closing I will share a few ideas to help defray the cost.

Sometimes surname projects collect donations to go toward testing of men in origin countries. Perhaps, within a family, several members might be willing to contribute toward the testing of potential cousins in other countries. One economy I use is to always purchase kits, with only the bargain FamilyFinder autosomal test included, when FamilyTreeDNA is holding a sale. During a sale, a kit with FamilyFinder is generally priced at $49. The sample can be collected and the kit sent to the FamilyTreeDNA lab. Then when Y-DNA tests go on sale, I can order Y-DNA upgrades for male test-takers. I maintain a priority-based wish list of tests I wish to upgrade when sales occur and the family budget can tolerate the expense.

I tell people that genealogy is the perfect hobby—it involves history, it involves science, and it involves US! One of the greatest rewards from the investment I have made in this hobby is meeting cousins and forming lasting friendships.

I hope my real-life examples will be helpful to others seeking cousins in other countries. And perhaps I will see a few of you in Belfast!

Linda Horton, a Kentucky ex-pat living in Maryland
January 28, 2020

If you are interested in sponsoring a Free DNA Test, please contact Maurice Gleeson at mauricegleeson AT

1 comment:

  1. Ervin L. Horton Jr.5 February 2020 at 16:53

    Congrats to Linda Horton for her great and informative article.