Ancestry ThruLines is an incredible new tool, but anyone who uses it needs to do so with caution.
Like Shared Matches, or Shared Ancestor Hints, it offers compelling evidence for how you are related to someone. But in every case, these clues are just that until the evidence becomes overwhelming and you have proof.
That’s true for many reasons: (1) you can be related to someone in more than one way, (2) you may descend of a population that has endogamy or cases of intermarriage, (3) you may share DNA from unknown ancestors further back in time and the paper trail may not go back far enough, even if you do have known ancestors more recently.
That said, with every one of these tools, you are satisfying one basic requirement: you ARE related to these people. Just the fact they’re a match is important. Next you have to triangulate, check chromosome segment data if possible, and get as many people to test as you can to be sure.
ThruLines in particular, for all of its benefits, has its faults. ThruLines tries to predict how you are related to a DNA match, narrowing down to a specific branch & trying to find the most recent common ancestors. It does this by utilizing trees in its database, its enormous set of records, and of course, your tree, which you should try to complete as best you can for maximum results.
But there are problems with ThruLines. One glitch is some people don’t list a death date for distant ancestors, when they don’t know one, so distant ancestors sometimes appear as “Private.” A larger issue is that ThruLines is only as good as the family trees in existence. But user-generated trees, some from serious researches, some not, are bound to have mistakes; and unfortunately, it is common for some to copy & paste data from other trees without verifying – this leads to the proliferation of bad information.
Here’s a real-world example from my own tree. Either Ancestry just smashed through one of my brickwalls, or it steered me in the wrong direction, and at the moment, I don’t have a sure answer just yet.
Ancestry suggests I am a direct descendant of a Michael Holleran born about 1760 in Ireland. It identifies Michael as a 4th great grandfather of one of my uncles.
ThruLines traces the link through my brickwall ancestor Catherine Hartney, born 1819 in Ireland, who died in Canada. Her husband was from County Galway, and Ancestry thinks she is the Catherine Hartney who was baptized in Rahoon Parish, Co. Galway in 1819, the daughter of a James Hartney and Bridget Holleran. So far, seems reasonable, right? Hartney is NOT a common name.
But Catherine’s husband Patrick Killeen was born in 1809 in Eyrecourt, Clonfert Parish, a good distance from Rahoon Parish (77km), which is near Galway City. There are Hartneys from very near Eyrecourt, just over the border in Birr, Co. Offaly (Kings). And also in Co. Roscommon – this is a tri-county border area.
Patrick served in the British Military. There are Hartneys from Co. Offaly listed in registers near his name. And DNA has proven that Catherine Hartney is kin to Patrick Hartney, the barackmaster born about 1754 who settled in York (Toronto), Ontario, Canada – where Catherine herself lived for some time with her husband.
So I’m just not certain the Catherine Hartney born in 1819 in Rahoon Parish is her. She could have been baptized in Co. Offaly before records begin.
The complicating matter in all of this – for a while, I thought it must be her, so my own tree reflected that. This was years ago, and many trees copied my tree. So there are several trees out there that have her parents as James Hartney and Bridget Holleran. This must be confusing for ThruLines.
Now let’s get to the ThruLines suggestion. Not only does it believe her parents were James Hartney and Bridget Holleran, it believes Bridget Holleran’s parents were a Michael and Bridget Holleran.
And Michael and Bridget Holleran are listed as the common ancestors with this DNA match. Just a single DNA match, mind you, and for only 12 cM. That alone makes it a bit suspect. Not a sure thing by any means.
Let’s look at the match’s side of the tree. ThruLines says Michael and Bridget Holleran had another daughter, Catherine Holleran, born about 1789. She married a John Joyce. This couple (apparently) *did* live in Rahoon Parish, Co. Galway, where a Catherine Hartney was born in 1819. Michael and Bridget Holleran also has sons who had children in Rahoon Parish.
But then ThruLines takes another twist that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. It says that Catherine Holleran and John Joyce had a Hannah (Nora) Joyce in about 1833. Her mother would have been about 44 at that time, not impossible but perhaps questionable if there is not a definitive baptism, marriage or death record linking them. I couldn’t find one.
This match is a 2nd great-granddaughter of Hannah Joyce who settled in Wisconsin.
So this could be a slam dunk find. It could prove that I am a Holleran descendant, that I have roots in Rahoon Parish, and that I can take my tree back two more generations.
It could also be misinformation, and if I put it in my tree as fact, it could spread further. So I have to use caution here.
What I really need is at least another match, hopefully multiple, that links back to this Holleran couple from Rahoon Parish. And so far, I can only find this one.
Given that this match didn’t have Hannah Joyce in her tree at all – ThruLines traced her tree back to her -, some trees don’t list parents for Hannah, and my Catherine is not definitively a daughter of James & Bridget… I’m just not so sure. Call me a skeptic. But it’s definitely another piece of potential evidence for my toolkit.
I reached out to this match to see if she would consider uploading to Gedmatch, so we can see if the segment data offers any clues. No response yet, but we will see what happens. Until then, I’m stashing this way for now and keeping an eye out for new evidence.