Many years ago when I first began my genealogy journey, one of the first strategies I learned about was collateral line research. For some people, the primary purpose of their genealogy research is to learn about their direct ancestors. Who were they? What did they do? Some researchers never move beyond this phase of investigating their family’s stories. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this approach. We all research (or don’t research) our family history for different reasons. For myself however, I wanted more. I strive to learn not only my direct ancestors’ stories, but who else populated the vast tapestries of their lives.
In the short hallway of my grandparents’ house in Centerville, Indiana, hung two handwritten family trees, one for each of my grandparents. My grandfather’s tree had one female ancestor named Mary. She was the wife of Jacob Troxell, an early settler of Fayette County, Indiana. I descend from the only child Jacob and this second wife, Mary. They both had children from their first marriages, and I can imagine Jacob and Mary’s rowdy household that included a dozen children, aged twenty something to infancy, in 1843. Sadly, Mary died in 1844 when my 2X great grandmother, Sara Ann, was one-year old. Because Sara was so young when her mother died, there wasn’t much information passed down about Mary. She became a launching point for me, or in other words, a reason to dive deep (and wide) into a rabbit hole. The only way I was going to learn more about Mary (and her branch of my family tree) was to follow her other children. In other words, to learn more about Sara Ann, I had to trace the lines of her older half maternal siblings.
Fast forward twenty plus years later…
My diligent research into the collateral lines of Sarah, Mary, and countless other ancestors, has proved extremely useful for my 21st century DNA research. When we find DNA cousins in our match lists, at a very basic level, these cousins are descendants of the collateral lines in our family trees. A common hurtle I have repeatedly had to overcome with DNA matches is the direct ancestor goggles. How many of us have matches with two surnames or perhaps only four surnames posted on their profile? Matches who have only searched their tree up (direct), and not out and down (collateral) may not be familiar with ALL the surnames that are connected to their tree. A direct line surname can change very quickly, especially with daughters marrying into other families. To combat the frustration of finding matches with limited trees or knowledge of their ancestry, I have turned to my database of collateral line research.
For many years, I tried to establish a link via traditional paper research from my ancestor Alfred M. Dicks to an Alfred Dicks in Guilford County, North Carolina. With the addition of DNA, I had a new tool to establish a connection. Through the estate documents of Nathan Dicks, who died intestate in 1833, I had a complete listing of Nathan’s minor children: Achilles, Alfred, Cornelius, Elizabeth, Esther/Hester, Rachel, Mary, Nathan, and Lydia.
Guilford County, North Carolina, Orphan’s Court, Petition of Eleanor Dicks, widow of Nathan, November 1833
With the exception of Rachel and Nathan, the remaining seven children had large families. If we assume my Alfred M. Dicks was the same man as the Alfred named as a child of Nathan and Eleanor, the following list shows their names, spouses, and number of children:
- Achilles, m. Sarah Ann Frost, lived in Clark Co., IL – eleven children
- Alfred, m. Ruth Reynolds and Nancy Hamilton, lived in Crawford Co., IL – eight children
- Cornelius, m. Eunice Blackburn, lived in Guilford Co., NC – twelve children
- Elizabeth, m. Alfred Story, lived in Guilford Co., NC – five children
- Hester (Esther), m. Levin G. Ross, lived in Guilford Co., NC – five children
- Rachel, m. Hugh A. Wiley, died soon afterwards
- Mary, m. Eli Hanner, lived Randolph Co., NC – nine children
- Lydia, m. William A. Weatherly, lived Indiana – eleven children
- Nathan, died young
Since Alfred and his siblings were born between 1815 and 1830, and they had sixty-one children between them, by the early 21st century, they collectively and potentially have a lot of descendants with many different surnames!
In three generations, a single surname from Nathan and Eleanor (Leonard) Dicks has increased to twenty-three possible surnames between their descendants, all before 1900. Imagine how many surnames there are in 2017!
Another tip to remember: Just because your direct ancestor did not leave the county or state where they were born, does not mean their children stayed there. Of Nathan and Eleanor’s nine children, three of them (Achilles, Alfred, and Lydia) left the south and migrated to Indiana/Illinois.
I recommend tracing out as many lines as possible to increase the likelihood of recognizing collateral surnames. When you are done, you can write a family history! So okay, maybe that’s just me…I love writing ancestor descendant lineages.
Over the years, I have found many online trees for DNA matches. Time and again, the trees are one or two generations short of our shared ancestor. By becoming familiar with all the descendants of a targeted ancestor, you will increase your potential for discovering the connection with a DNA match.
Using the Collateral Name List
My father has a fourth cousin match on 23andme. There is no tree, but the match provided a list of sixteen surnames.
Fourth cousin match, 23andme
Fourth cousin match’s surname list
Because I had done extensive collateral line research on the potential family of Alfred M. Dicks, I recognized the surname Hanner. Alfred’s sister, Mary, married Eli Hanner. I was able to focus additional research on Mary’s family. I knew how our families were connected when I contacted the match. It made for a much more productive and positive conversation. Additionally, since finding this match, descendants of Achilles and Lydia, as well as another Hanner cousin have all DNA tested. They match my father and me, further confirming a DNA link to Nathan and Eleanor (Leonard) Dicks, and proving that Alfred M. Dicks of Crawford County, Illinois, and Alfred Dicks of Guilford County, North Carolina, were the same person. Of course it didn’t hurt that I finally found a document naming Alfred M. Dicks and Achilles Dicks of Crawford County, Illinois, as grandsons and heirs of William Dicks, Nathan’s father…
© 2017 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/05/09/down-the-dna-rabbit-hole-collateral-lines/