Analyzing DNA Auto-Clusters with Pedigree Collapse: Paternal Super Cluster A

I’ve been playing with a few of the newest DNA clustering tools this winter, hoping they could give insight to my paternal family. My father’s family has a high-degree of pedigree collapse, and his parents were likely first cousins, once removed (1C1R). Other branches of his family tree also intermarried often, resulting in DNA results that are challenging to interpret.

I ran Genetic Affairs’ auto-cluster tool on my father’s AncestryDNA test with range set to 50 – 250 cM. The tool returned 206 matches, ordered below by cluster. I have also identified “super clusters” and labeled these areas A-D:

Paternal “Super Clusters” as interpreted from results of Genetic Affairs Auto-Cluster Tool, run date of 3 Jan 2019

Genetic genealogist Dana Leeds has a series of blog posts about analyzing super clusters, so I’m taking a cue from her and breaking my analysis into these smaller, more manageable chunks. Today, let’s look at Paternal Super Cluster A.

Continue reading Analyzing DNA Auto-Clusters with Pedigree Collapse: Paternal Super Cluster A

James Monroe McKaskle: Surprise at the Masonic Lodge

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is SURPRISE.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


Have you ever been inside a masonic lodge? As a child, I often went with my parents to vote at New Hope Masonic Lodge in Liddieville, Louisiana. The lobby was occupied by the familiar faces of community members, nice ladies from church manning the polls, and those huge, aqua voting machines that made a satisfying “cha-ching” when my mom let me pull the lever. But anything beyond the lobby and behind the big wooden door was off limits — part of the building’s secret purpose.

I’d been away from the community many years when a current Mason told my dad about an old photograph he saw on the wall. It was hanging in their inner room, and he thought the man could be an ancestor of ours. During my Christmas 2017 visit home, the Mason met me and my father at the lodge and allowed us beyond that secretive door. Inside that room awaited one of my best genealogy surprises: a photo of James Monroe McKaskle, my 2x great-grandfather.

Photo of James Monroe “Jim” McKaskle, hanging at New Hope Masonic Lodge, Liddieville, Louisiana; dates stipulate years he served as Worshipful Master
Continue reading James Monroe McKaskle: Surprise at the Masonic Lodge

9 Nov 1863: McKaskle Brothers “Left Sick” at Camp in Monroe, Louisiana

Was any American family untouched by the Civil War?  No, most likely.  Among my ancestors, my McKaskle family was especially affected, the oldest four sons of George Washington McKaskle, Sr., and his wife Mary Jane serving on the Confederate, Union — and sometimes both — sides.  On November 9, 1863, two of my McKaskle fourth great-uncles were left sick at camp near Monroe, Louisiana, by their their Confederate unit.  It’s a fascinating story, rediscovered through military records and studies of their unit, the 28th (Gray’s) Regiment, Louisiana Infantry. Continue reading 9 Nov 1863: McKaskle Brothers “Left Sick” at Camp in Monroe, Louisiana

What a Tangled Web We Weave: Exploring Color Clustering with My Complicated Family

Like many users, my AncestryDNA match list is filled with testers without trees.  Over the years, I’ve built trees for matches I know in real life and those I communicated with online.  Sleuthing skills helped me fill in the gaps on some unresponsive matches.  But even after all my efforts, about a third of my closer matches (2nd – 3rd cousins) remain a mystery.

Then Dana Leeds introduced her color clustering technique to the Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques Facebook group.  I was eager to try it, especially on my father’s side where I have a couple long-standing brick walls.  My paternal side also has quite a bit of intermarriage among four key families, and I hoped color clustering might prove a nice way to illustrate our complex family.

I followed the instructions for clustering 2nd – 3rd cousins (those matches sharing between 90 – 400 cM) on my paternal side, and my result was not four nicely sorted columns.  I expected it to be a little messy — but 10 columns was more complicated than I anticipated:

Color Clustering - Traditional
Result of Leeds Color Clustering method on my paternal DNA matches (clustering from highest-to-lowest shared CM)

I sought Dana’s advice at her presentation to Houston Genealogical Forum’s DNA special interest group earlier this month.  While she hasn’t extensively tested this method with endogamous populations or families with pedigree collapse, Dana suggested flipping the match list and clustering from lowest to highest shared cM.  I tried her suggestion, and the 12-column result was unfortunately just as confusing:

Color Clustering - Backward
Result of Leeds Color Clustering method on my paternal DNA matches (clustering from lowest-to-highest shared CM)

I had some success on my maternal side by removing the “problematic matches”  — those testers who match me in more than one way — and then clustering.  However, the problematic matches on my paternal side are 80% of the list.  From both attempts, I can clearly identify the clusters related to my 2x-great-grandfather Joshua Lawrence Horne, but all the other families — Johnston, Smart, McMurry, and McKaskle — are extremely mixed.

To illustrate, I prepared this simple family tree of my Johnston, Smart, McMurry, and McKaskle family and the intermarriages among these families.  I then plotted my top AncestryDNA matches on the chart and realized seven (!!) of my top ten are involved in this tangled web.  No wonder my color cluster is a big blob!

Johnston-Smart-McKaskle-McMurry Intermarriage
Intermarriage of Johnston, Smart, McKaskle, and McMurry Families (highest AncestryDNA matches plotted with dotted lines) [download PDF]
As I’ve reflected on my color clustering results, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • Clustering will likely be difficult because of my grandparents’ shared Smart family connection (unknown relationship).
  • Close matches that would typically be helpful in sorting/filtering/clustering have multiple shared ancestors, eliminating them as useful “constants” for comparison.
  • Because of intermarriage, testers who only match my father through one ancestor couple likely exist at the 4th cousin level or greater.  Unfortunately, up to half of 4th cousins will not share enough DNA to show as a match according to ISOGG statistics.
  • I may not have enough testers on desired family branches to be helpful in clustering.

Next Steps:

  • Pursue DNA testing of these family lines:
    • Descendants of William Silas Johnston & Harriett Johnston (Johnston double-cousins)
    • Descendants of James Monroe McKaskle who did not intermarry with other family lines — Nancy Bell McKaskle, Willie Keiffer McKaskle, Sr.
    • Descendants of “lost siblings” of John McMurry from 1860 census.
  • Attempt a 4th cousin-only color cluster.  Capturing data from cousins “less intermarried” may result in clearer clusters.