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Use Every Tool to Solve a Family History Mystery

The clock is ticking for me to solve a DNA match. Let's open the toolbox.

I want to show them their connection.
I want to show them their connection.
It's been about 2 years since I discovered my parents share some DNA. I want to figure out their connection while they're still able to get a laugh out of it.

Here's what I do know.
  • Every branch of my family tree came from one region in Southern Italy.
  • Each family came from a small town of no more than 2,000 people.
  • All their towns were pretty close to one another.
  • Endogamy was the name of the game. That means nearly everyone in town married someone else from their little town. Or maybe the next town.
Those intermarriages are the main reason this puzzle is still a puzzle.

Hoping for a Needle in a Haystack

My family tree has more than 20,000 people. At least 17,000 are 17th–19th century Italian countrymen and women. I hoped to find a marriage between someone from one of my dad's hometowns and someone from one of my mom's hometowns.

But there are too many people. And my parents aren't getting any younger. I needed to use some tools.

DNA Matches

My parents have both tested. I've got their results on AncestryDNA and GEDmatch.

On Ancestry I can see that my parents share a few DNA matches, not counting me. Two of those matches have family trees with a couple of familiar last names. I know these names come from my paternal grandparents' hometown in Italy.

I spent a few days working on both of the DNA match's trees until I connected them to my tree. The key last names are:
  • Zeolla
  • Pozzuto
  • Zerrillo
  • Piacquadio
They're in my tree now, but there's no known connection to my mom.

The Leeds Method

I used Dana Leeds' color-clustering method last November. I bent the rules a bit and added color blocks for the matches of my matches.

Doing this, I found 3 DNA matches who seemed to have a link to each of my parents. The key last names from this experiment are:
  • Zeolla (again)
  • Pozzuto (again)
  • Basile
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter shows where my mom and others intersect on my dad's chromosomes.
DNA Painter

The first time I used DNA Painter, I hadn't done my homework. I painted 92% of my chromosomes, but I didn't have anything there to answer my key question. Where do my parents intersect?

Then I realized I should be painting my dad's DNA, not mine. Most of the DNA matches I see are from his side of the family. So what if I paint my mom's DNA onto my dad's chromosomes and see what that looks like.

Instead of painting every DNA match, I chose 3 people with the last name Zeolla. Two of them are almost a dead-on match for my mom! The 2 Zeollas and my mom share the same segment of my dad's 6th chromosome.

That can't be a coincidence. Now I've got 3 methods hitting me over the head with one last name:
  • Zeolla
There is one other fascinating match on my dad's 9th chromosome. There's an overlap between my mom and the brother-in-law of my dad's aunt. He's my cousins' uncle. It's too funny.

That match adds 2 more key last names to the list, but probably on a different branch of the family tree than the other names:
  • Paolucci
  • Polcini
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
DNA Painter also helps me estimate my parents' relationship.
The Zeolla Factor

I haven't found my parents' shared ancestors yet. But I didn't have to go too far to find the intersection of the names Zeolla and Pozzuto. My 4th great grandparents on my dad's side are Nicolangelo Zeolla and Giovannangela Pozzuto.

My mom is actually a pretty decent DNA match for my dad. They share 37 cM (centiMorgans) across 4 segments. AncestryDNA estimates they are 4th–6th cousins.

DNA Painter also has a tool to show me what type of relationship 2 people sharing 37 cM may have. Some of the higher probabilities are:
  • 3rd cousins once removed
  • 3rd cousins twice removed
  • Half 3rd cousins once removed
  • Half 3rd cousins twice removed
Third cousins share 2nd great grandparents. So my dad's 2nd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla, may be the key. He had 2 wives. What if he had a child with his 2nd wife who somehow connects to my mom?

Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
Everything seems to point to my 3rd great grandfather, Teofilo Zeolla.
After trying all these tools, I've got my big assignment. I have to find all Teofilo's children. Then I have to find out who they married and who their kids were.

Please, please, please let one of the kids marry someone from one of my mom's hometowns!

If you've got an important DNA puzzle to solve, use every tool you can. They can steer you in the right direction.

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