Paper Trail vs. DNA

The primary reason why I had DNA tests at done for me and my uncle was to help solve the problem of who are the parents of his maternal grandfather, James Henry Myers. It’s been about two years since getting the results, and in that time I’ve learned exactly nothing from them that would help me solve this problem. Until now.

I thought I had this thing solved. On paper, I did. I found a 1910 Census record for a James Myers that placed him in a poor farm in Missouri.1 The age and marital status lined up. That record placed him in a county that had a James Myers in a family that worked out almost exactly. I added that family to my tree and announced I’d solved it. Then I waited for the DNA results to confirm my findings. But, like with life, even when I manage my expectations, things rarely turn out the way I think they will.

Not long ago I got a 3rd cousin match that could only be for a Myers. It led to an entirely different family. I contacted the cousin and we corresponded for a time. She didn’t know enough about her Myers line, so I built my own tree for her family and tried to learn more, but quickly saw why her Myers line was incomplete. I couldn’t shoehorn her Daniel or his son Jacob Myers into my paper family. I let it go.

Then announced a new Beta program called Ancestor Discoveries. Crista Cowan did a video on it last week. Now that they have 800,000 people who have taken the test, their researchers have been able to find new ancestors for people using their results. Fast-forward through my period of skepticism about this to the point where I do the work on the two ancestors they found for my uncle.

Ancestor Discoveries

These two are a married couple. That improves their chances of being a real match, but @Ancestry (on Twitter) told me that married couples could still be collateral. Then I told them that the man (James Hezekiah Collins) was also on my results as a discovery. They said that greatly improves the chances this is a real ancestor.

There are two parts to the information they give you with one of these new potential ancestors. Part one is an aggregate collection of information compiled from multiple trees where this person appears. Part two is a DNA circle that shows the other people who are related to both the ancestor and my uncle (and me). I needed both parts to make sense of this.

It became apparent rather quickly that I needed to build my own tree for James Henry Myers using these new ancestors. I started by clicking on the pointer to James H. Collins’ 16 children. I opened the “Child Detail” on the oldest child and started clicking through the list of people who have her on their tree until I found a tree that appeared to have the best information, and got to work. Now to part two: the DNA circle of relatives. This is what I found:

Cousin Name Ancestor Predicted Relationship Confidence
Jones Elizabeth Nancy Collins 4th-6th for both Extremely High for uncle; Very High for me
Dent Malinda Caroline Collins 4th-6th for both Extremely High for uncle; Good for me
Cross Lorenzo Dow Collins 3rd Cousin for uncle 4th-6th for me Extremely High for both
Wright Lorenzo Dow Collins 5th-8th for uncle only Good for uncle; none for me
Carder Eveline Madeline Collins 5th-8th for uncle only Good for uncle, none for me

How can these people be cousins with that high confidence if we don’t share at least one common ancestor? (By the way, I’ve found 3rd cousins who show up as 5th-8th/good confidence–it’s all about how much DNA we inherit.)

Looking at the children of James and Roanna Collins showed me that only one of them was old enough to be the parent of our James H. Myers: Elizabeth Collins. She would have just turned 16 when she got pregnant. The other daughter would have been a month shy of her 15th birthday–that’s pushing it. Unless there’s a child no one knows about, this is my starting point.

James Hezekiah Collins was most likely born in Lewis County, Virginia in 1816. His presumed father Isaac Sanson Collins appears in the 1820 Lewis County, Virginia census. So does Daniel Myers, the presumed ancestor of that Myers 3rd cousin (and two others I’ve found in my matches).2 That’s promising. I found Beniah Maze in that census, too. He’s believed by some to be the father of Roanna Maze. They’re all three in the 1830 census as well.3 I haven’t found Daniel in the 1840 census yet, but I did find a James Mires age 15-20 in the Lewis County, Virginia census who already has a family that includes a male under the age of 5 three lines down from Hezekiah Collins.4

1840 census cropped

Could this boy be my link to this family? Too soon to tell.

In 1845 part of Lewis County, Virginia became Gilmer County, Virginia (then became West Virginia). In the 1850 Census for District 17, Gilmer County, Virginia James Myers is the head of household #5235 and Hezekiah Collins is the head of household #526.6 James appears to have started a new family and there is no sign of that under 5 male. Elizabeth is still living with her family in 1860 and is unmarried.7 She finally does marry in 1865 and appears to have 8 children with her husband. There is what looks like a daughter born in 1859 living with them. In 1900 it is stated that she had 9 children, 7 still living.8 In 1910 it is stated she is on her first marriage and had 10 children, 7 still living.9 Is our James one of those 10?

Daniel Myers, meanwhile, has moved to District 29 in Putnam County, Missouri, along with Henry and Wesley and Jacob, believed to be his sons.10 Daniel, Henry and Wesley migrated south to Arkansas right about the time we believe our James H Myers was born. Jacob stays in Putnam County, Missouri. He died in 1888 and is buried in Worthington, Putnam, Missouri,11 just 20 miles from Unionville, Putnam, Missouri, where my grandmother was born about 10 years later. That’s it; that’s as close as I can get to this family.

In all of this there is no sign of my James Henry Myers in the census that corresponds to this family. And none of this lines up with any of the information we have for him. Not one bit of it. Even still, I removed the paper family from my tree in the hope that someday a Myers ancestor discovery shows up.

Are they collateral, or are they direct ancestors? I’m leaning toward direct. There’s a nice amount of circumstantial evidence. There could have been a liaison between Elizabeth Collins and this unknown Myers during the correct time period. It might be another two years before anything comes along to pin it down. It’s a start. Paper Trail vs. DNA? I guess the DNA wins, but wow, this is messy. Without the tests, though, I might still be climbing the paper trail tree.


1 1910 US Census, Missouri, Callaway, Saint Aubert, ED 39, pg 4A, ln 49

2 1820 US Census, Virginia, Lewis, pgs. 4,11,11 (alphabetical)

3 1830 US Census, Virginia, Lewis, pgs. 232 ,248, 246

4 1840 US Census, Virginia, Lewis pg 167

5 1850 US Census, Virginia, Gilmer, pg 37A, ln 26

6 1850 US Census, Virginia, Gilmer, pg 37B, ln 3

7 1860 US Census, Virginia, Calhoun, pg 61, ln 25

8 1900 US Census, West Virginia, Calhoun, Sherman, ED 25, pg 7a, ln 2

9 1910 US Census, West Virginia, Wirt, Spring Creek, ED 113, pg 7A, ln 49

10 1850 US Census, Missouri, Putnam, District 29, pg 127B, ln 38

11 Find-A-Grave


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