Sunday, August 3, 2014

Methodology Monday with Elizabeth Shown Mills, the FAN club, and DNA

No, I will not retrace all the steps of Elizabeth Shown Mills's argument in the June National Genealogical Society Quarterly, "Testing the FAN Principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi." But the article is significant in more ways than size (23 pages):

* It builds on previously published hard-won research. Two of the five generations discussed here were documented in previous articles. Most of us begin with some woolly family lore and work from there. That is the first step, and Mills does discuss family lore here. But building on prior research is what scholarly disciplines do. And it will become increasingly prevalent in genealogy as DNA evidence becomes ubiquitous.

* As the title says, it uses both documentary and DNA evidence. At least six previous NGSQ articles using both kinds of evidence were published in:

June 2012 (Warren Pratt, "Finding the Father of Henry Pratt of Southeastern Kentucky," vol. 100:85-104), 

June 2011 (Judy Kellar Fox, "Documents and DNA Identify a Little-Known Lee Family in Virginia, vol. 99:85-96),

September 2009 (Daniela Moneta, "Virginia Pughs and North Carolina Wests: A Genetic Link from Slavery in Kentucky," vol. 97:179-94),

March 2008 (Daniela Moneta, "Identifying the Children of David Pugh and Nancy Minton of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee," vol. 96:13-22), and

December 2005, a themed issue on genealogy and genetics (Anita A. Lustenberger, "David Meriwether: Descendant of Nicholas Meriweather? A DNA Study," 93:269-282; Donn Devine, "Sorting Relationships among Families with the Same Surname: An Irish-American DNA Study," 93:283-293 with a brief September 2007 update 95:196). 

These earlier articles used Y-DNA (male line). As far as I know, Mills breaks new NGSQ ground here by using evidence from both mitochondrial (female-line) DNA and autosomal DNA (the 22 chromosome pairs that recombine with each generation).

* Mills builds an intricate documentary case with indirect evidence that Zilphy was actually "Lucy" (the name "copied from an old family record") daughter of Judith and Rev. John Watts, and that Zilphy's daughter Nancy was the mother of Elmira Parks -- based on approximate dates, multiple associations, multiple name duplications, and an analysis of handwritten L and Z in this time period. If you want the details, join the National Genealogical Society or visit a good genealogy library.

* Mills does not ask or answer the question, "Would these relationships be proved if we did not have the DNA evidence?" She assembles the documentary evidence, then the DNA evidence, which confirms it. THE DNA EVIDENCE COULDN'T EVEN HAVE BEEN COLLECTED WITHOUT DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE SUGGESTING WHO TO TEST. The question of how DNA evidence functions within the Genealogical Proof Standard is for another day. Enough examples of this quality may render the question academic. The specific uses of DNA evidence in these articles is already under discussion among genetic and documentary genealogists.

 Although much genetic genealogy is necessarily shrouded in confidential situations, there are plenty of good publishable cases that have yet to be written up. Seven articles in nine years isn't enough! The more high-quality peer-reviewed articles we have, the easier it will be for us to learn more about how these two streams of evidence can converge. We need more people crossing the documentary-DNA line from both sides.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Testing the FAN Principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 129-152.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with Elizabeth Shown Mills, the FAN club, and DNA," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 August 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

occassia said...

January-March 2014, Derbyshire Crossroads: A Wilcockson DNA study, Jane E. Wilcox and Lisa Wilcox. Employed Y DNA analysis and the FAN research model.