The Results Are In! – Part 1

I have received my DNA results from, and while there were no significant surprises, based what I have seen so far, I am thrilled by the results. In several places, it provided validation to some branches that I had considered working theories in need of proof. The new consanguinity (a fancy word for cousinship) connections revealed on one particular branch on my father’s side that alone made the atDNA testing more than worthwhile.

The DNA sample that I submitted to AncestryDNA was used in an Autosomal DNA Test (atDNA). It is a type of test best used in a system that allows for matching one’s genetic data with others and then comparing the genealogical data that has been collected and hopefully well documented. This process enables us to identify close relatives, including immediate family and “cousins in the third degree” (a fancy phrase meaning 1st to 4th cousins). And while it is possible also to identify 5th cousins and beyond, at a certain point, the amount of shared DNA between yourself and those potential members of your extended family significantly shrinks to the point where statistics do not support the likelihood of an actual connection.

The limitations to this type of testing are based on the simple fact that we have inherited DNA from no more than ~120 of our ancestors in any given generation.50% of our DNA comes from our mother and the other half from our father. Our four grandparents each provided 25% of our DNA, but the actual range can vary from 20% to 30%, with some grandparents providing a little more than others. In each generation, the number of ancestors increases exponentially by 2n. When we go back six generations, in theory, each of us has 64 unique ancestors, from each of whom we would have inherited around 1% of our DNA. I say “in theory” because some of those 64 ancestors might be the same person due to cousins marrying one another, thus causing “pedigree collapse.”

Once you get into the seventh generation, where there are in theory 128 unique ancestors, eight of those ancestors would not have contributed to any of your DNA, meaning that there will be no matches to any of their descendants. The details of this are naturally complex and well above my pay grade as a non-mathematician/nonscientist. Still, it is sufficient to say that autosomal DNA test results are pretty good at identifying fifth cousins and below, provided adequate genealogical data allows the system to make accurate comparisons with the genetic data.

For reference, 5th cousins are people with who you share one or more great, great, great, great grandparents – folks who were born about 200 years before you.

Through the work of others and my research over the past 25 years, I have built up a genealogical database of over 7000 individuals. In my database, I believe I have accurately identified all 16 of my great great grandparents. In the 5th generation, 24 out of 32 of my third great grandparents are known by name. Eight of my 3rd great-grandparents are what genealogists like to call “brick walls.” They and four other ancestors in the fifth generation, whom I consider working theories, represent areas of my genealogical database that will benefit from breakthroughs when my genealogical data is mapped with the genetic database, and my DNA results are matched to the DNA results of others and their genealogical database, either directly or through triangulation.

So far, I have seen in the results of the atDNA test several branches in my pedigree that call out for scrutiny, but two instances really stand out. The first one jumped out at me because the matches appear to prove a long-standing theory that I and others have had about one branch of my father’s family tree. A second example, which happens to be on my mother’s side, illustrates a problem that many genealogists face when there is long-standing controversy regarding a particular surname or family tree.

The first one I alluded to is the one revelation that made this test all the more worthwhile, and I considered it a significant milestone in all the years I have been doing this research.

In my book, Gathering Leaves, is a section in one of the chapters titled The Mystery of Cordelia Pickering. In this section, I tell the tale of my great great grandmother, Cordelia “Della” Pickering (1840-1868), who died a young woman about a month after giving birth to her first and only child, my great-grandmother, Della Gaume DeBacker (1868-1923). Until a few years ago, we knew very little about this ancestor, who married our great-great-grandfather Francis “Frank” Gaume and was the mother of my dear great-grandmother and mother of my paternal grandfather, Dr. Leopold J. DeBacker.

Every census record that lists her daughter, states that Cordelia was born in Pennsylvania. From the paperwork filed in the 1910s when Frank was in his 70s to guarantee that his second wife, Justine, received a Civil War widow’s pension, we know from more than one affidavit that Frank and Cordelia were married in Wisconsin sometime in 1867. In that same paperwork, we learn that she died and was buried near Louisville, Ohio in June 1868. We did not know when she was born, and although some records state she was buried at St Louis Cemetary in Stark County, Ohio, she is not listed in the official records from that Church.

{Not that it really has anything to do with Frank’s first wife, our Cordelia,… the paperwork for Justine’s Civil War widow’s pension request was probably necessary because the government was questioning Frank and Justine’s marriage. They had lived apart for nearly 20 years plus, there was a significant age difference between them. Frank was 28 years old when he married the 14-year-old Justine in 1871. Yet they did have seven children between them and Justine was surely more than deserving of a widow’s pension after having put up with my great great grandfather.}

And that was all that we knew about Della Pickering until about 20 years ago when a cousin of mine made an important discovery in a book published almost 120 years before. According to the information that my cousin found in Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania by Rhamanthus M. Stocker (initially printed in 1884), Della (Cordelia or Cordilla) Pickering was the daughter of Corbett Pickering of Gibson, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. According to the scant mention of her in the book, she was married to a “Frank Guam” and died in Michigan. In addition, the Pickering family had previously lived in New York State and was descended from Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts.

From the History of Susquehanna County: “Jotham and Phineas Pickering, brothers, settled in New Milford [Pennsylvania] from Massachusetts, in 1793. Five years later, in 1798, they settled in Gibson, the latter at Gelatt Hollow. He had sons,-Augustus, Joseph and John B. The former, Jotham, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, resided on Gibson Hill and died at about fifty years of age. His children were…Corbet (1796-1876), father of John D….Corbet, fourth son of Jotham Pickering, married Tamar Denny,…Corbet resided for fifteen years after his marriage in North Gibson, and in 1833 settled on the Tunkhannock, a mile below South Gibson, where he erected a saw-mill in 1835 and a grist-mill about 1848. Here he spent the remainder of his life, running his mills and managing his farm. He served in the War of 1812, and went as far as Danville. Both himself and wife were members of the Baptist Church and attended at Gelatt Hollow. Their child are… Cordilla, was the wife of Frank Gaum, and died in Michigan…”

A “Great Mystery,” Indeed.

It was nearly twenty years ago that my cousin said that this is “our next great mystery to solve.” Corbet Pickering’s daughter appears on the 1850 census for Gibson, Susquehanna Co., Pennsylvania as “Cordelia,” age 10, and in the 1860 census, she is listed as age 18. Beyond that we have only the affidavits from acquaintances in 1917 who knew Cordelia 50 years before.

As for Della’s (or Cordelia’s) daughter, my great-grandmother, Della Gaume, the U.S. Census of 1870 for Stark Co., Ohio, shows Delah Gum, age 2, living with her grandmother, Eliza Gum. The U.S. Census of 1880 for Stark Co., Ohio, shows Delly Gaum, age 12, living with grandmother Elise Gaum.

Following the line back from the Pickering brothers, Jotham and Phineas, who were settled in Pennsylvania after the Revolutionary War, it was easy to trace the family back through various sources to one John Pickering, who settled in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 1630s. He is a 9th great grandfather (see Pickering House (Salem, Mass)).

This is the branch I wrote about and spoke of recently in a blog post and a YouTube video entitled Sacre Charlemagne. While I cannot use DNA to trace back 1200 years to Charlemagne, the results of an autosomal DNA test should match me to descendants of John Pickering provided the genealogical paper trail is accurate, and the DNA matches are sufficient in quality to make an accurate mapping.

Using’s ThruLines feature, when I look in my database at my second great-grandfather, Francis Gaume, and my second great-grandmother Cordelia Pickering, it tells me that I have 18 DNA matches for both. Upon closer examination, I see that these are all close first and second cousins, for whom our common ancestor is actually Della Gaume. The matches point to Cordelia because we have all recorded in our databases that Cordelia Pickering is Della Gaume’s mother. At this point, we have not proven that Cordelia is related to Corbett Pickering. Also, other genetic cousins may belong to this group but are hidden from us – they either do not have a genealogical tree, or their tree does not contain the same data that the other matches have.

It is in the next generation that connections to siblings of Cordelia Pickering occur. When I look at Corbett Pickering (1798-1878) and his wife, Tamar Denny (1802-1890), I see that for both of them, I have 31 DNA matches, 18 of whom are my close cousins and the remaining are descendants of siblings of Cordelia Pickering. Therefore, our common ancestors are Corbett Pickering and Tamara Denny.

Going back further, one generation to my fourth great grandparents, I have listed John Denny and Esther Corbett as the maternal grandparents of Corbett Pickering and his paternal grandparents, Jotham Pickering and Alice Pickering (first cousins). I have 29 DNA matches for the first pair, and for his father’s parents, there are 30 DNA matches. Of the 30 DNA matches for Jotham Pickering, 23 of those matches are for cousins descended from Corbett Pickering (fourth cousins and below). The remaining seven in this group of matches are fifth cousins, and all of us recognize Jotham Pickering as a common ancestor.

In the next generation after that, I have identified six out of eight of Cordelia’s great-grandparents:

Jonathan Pickering + Elizabeth Hunt: Through him, I have 22 DNA matches, and with Elizabeth, I have zero matches. This discrepancy is probably caused by either no one else but I recognizing Elizabeth Hunt as an ancestor or for some other reason; AncestryDNA ThruLines cannot match what everyone else has and what I have listed for this union.

Edward Pickering + Abigail Chase: 22 DNA matches each.

Richard Denny + Aseneth Booth: 24 DNA matches each

When examining these matches, I see where at this level, I added three sixth cousins.

I consider The Mystery of Cordelia Pickering to be solved. And like I said, the validation of this one branch has made priceless the results of the atDNA test.

As I mentioned, I want to share a second example, one on my mother’s side, and I will write about that in part two of The Results Are In!.

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