RLP DNA e-course Part 5: Locality Research and Ethnicity

If you’re like me and overwhelmed by DNA and this new wealth of information for genealogists, I am going through my experience with the Research Like a Pro with DNA e-course to help those looking for a way to get started! This is the fifth post in the series.

In the fourth step of the RLP with DNA process, Analyze Your Sources and DNA Matches, I went through the traditional genealogy records I had collected previously and analyzed the sources as original, derivative, or authored; the informant of the source as primary, secondary, or undetermined; and the evidence in the source as direct, indirect, or negative. I also revisited my Lucidchart diagram and added the shared cM, the hypothesized relationship, the average cM they should share based on the Shared cM Project, and the relationship probabilities for each match. This helped me realize that quite a few of the matches were not showing up as very likely for the relationship I was hypothesizing and that the shared cM I was getting for some matches was significantly different than the average amount of shared cM expected for the relationship.

Now that I have analyzed my sources, both traditional and DNA, I am ready to start my research! As it is taught in the Research Like a Pro process, the best way to start research is by learning about the locality of your project.

Note: For my e-course project, I am using the autosomal DNA of my mother-in-law, Lesley Kotter. She has permitted me to use her name and DNA in the project and these blog posts. Her matches will be privatized. 

Choose a Place and Time Period

During this process, I have had to keep reminding myself that genealogy work with DNA is still genealogy work at its core and that I don’t need to change everything I’m used to about my process. When I first saw that I needed to do locality research for my DNA project, I was at first confused as to what it would entail, but as I started going through the lesson, it became clear to me that I just needed to choose a locality the same way I would for a traditional genealogy project. 

So, it was time to ask myself, “What locality will most effectively help me with my research objective?” My research objective for this project is: 

The objective of this research project is to use DNA and genealogical records to determine the biological father of Mary Ella Parker born on 22 August 1877 in Baldwin County, Alabama. Mary Ella died on 28 December 1950 in Columbus, Muscogee, Georgia. The test taker is 3 generations from the research subject and atDNA will be applicable, however, 3rd-4th cousins may not share very much DNA which could make verifying the exact relationship difficult. The community of the research subject also experienced pedigree collapse, so there may be multiple MRCAs with the test taker. mtDNA is not useful in this case as it is not an unbroken maternal line and Y-DNA is not useful in this case as it is not an unbroken paternal line.”

The current sources available to Mary seem to point to her being born in Baldwin County, Alabama, in 1877. While there is no direct evidence for this fact, it seems most likely based on multiple pieces of indirect evidence. As the objective of this project is to identify her biological father, I decided that the locality I would focus on would be her hypothesized birthplace: Baldwin County, Alabama.

In the e-course, they suggest creating a locality guide for a place your research subject lived and then even suggest creating other locality guides for the most recent common ancestor (MRCA). So for my project, my research subject is Mary Ella Parker, born in Baldwin County, Alabama, and I am trying to determine with DNA whether William Edward Parker or Mr. Barnes is her biological father. William Edward Parker was born in Galveston County, Texas, (according to his son’s death certificate). There is not much known about Mr. Barnes, but Zilla’s other children through him were born in Covington County, Alabama. Therefore, I decided to create a locality guide for Baldwin County, Alabama, Galveston County, Texas, and Covington County, Alabama. This may seem like a lot of work, but I really wanted to make sure I was covering my bases, and I also wanted to practice creating a locality guide more efficiently as that is one of the steps in the process I occasionally get stuck on. 

Creating a Locality Guide

Baldwin County, Alabama

To easily and quickly get acquainted with the locality I am researching, I always start at the FamilySearch Wiki and read the wiki page for the locality of interest. Doing this for Baldwin County, Alabama, I immediately learned that the county is located in the southwest of the state and borders Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. It was created in 1809 from Washington County, Alabama.

“Baldwin County, Alabama”, FamilySearch Wiki, (https://ift.tt/3xeMnRM accessed 1 June 2021), image 3.

Unlike many other counties in the south, Baldwin County has had no known history of courthouse disasters and many of the major records date back to the creation of the county: 1809.

Notice, however, that birth records were not kept in the county until 1886, 9 years after the expected birth of Mary (1877). Along with that, there is a note that statewide registration for births did not begin until 1908 and general compliance was not until 1927. This information tells me that it is unlikely that I will find a direct birth record for Mary Ella Parker.

Along with the FamilySearch Wiki, one of my other favorite ways to learn about a locality is by reading county histories. Through the FamilySearch Wiki, I found a county history for Baldwin County, Alabama that was published in 1893 titled Memorial Record of Alabama. It had information for each county in Alabama, and in the section about Baldwin County, I learned that a very important industry in Baldwin County at the time was the lumber industry. This was interesting as William Parker’s occupation on the 1880 U.S. Census in Baldwin County, Alabama, was “chops logs.” It seems that the Parker family was taking part in this important industry in the county. The county history also noted that some of the wealthy businessmen in the county would travel between Baldwin County, Alabama, and Galveston County, Texas for business. The Parkers do not appear to have been wealthy, however, this does show a connection between Baldwin County, Alabama, and William Parker’s birthplace, Galveston County, Texas.

Galveston County, Texas

When researching Galveston County, Texas for William Parker, I learned it was basically an island on the east side of Texas bordering the Gulf of Mexico. It is surrounded by Harris County, Texas, Brazoria County, Texas, and Chambers County, Texas. 

“Galveston County, Texas”, FamilySearch Wiki, (https://ift.tt/3xeMnRM accessed 1 June 2021), image 3.

There was also an interesting note about record loss on the FamilySearch Wiki for Galveston County, Texas: “In September 1900, Galveston suffered what is to this day the worst United States hurricane disaster in terms of loss of life. That storm, known as the Galveston Hurricane, killed over 6,000 people. The hurricane also for all practical purposes swept the island clean, although some structures did survive. Therefore, unless the record or a duplicate copy or another item that recorded the same data was moved to an inland area prior to September 1900, it is likely the record was destroyed in the hurricane…Galveston county courthouse records were spared from destruction as they were kept in a vault that did survive.” This information is vital to know as I search for records in this county.

I also learned that Galveston County, Texas was not formed until 1838, and before that, almost no one lived on the island as it was virtually uninhabitable. In The Early History of Galveston by Joseph O. Dyer, he explains that Galveston County was a “hell island” as it was constantly victim to tropical storms, infested with snakes, and a battleground for wars happening with Native Americans and for wars happening between Mexicans and Americans. William Parker was born around 1844, so if he was from Galveston as his children claimed, he grew up in some pretty rough conditions as the county was trying to become a livable area.

Covington County, Alabama

When researching Covington County, Alabama for Mr. Barnes, I learned Covington County is a very rural county in south Alabama on the border of the Florida panhandle. Many residents of Covington County, Alabama in the mid-1800s had come from Georgia and South Carolina to take advantage of the land that was left by the Indians after the Indian Removal Act in 1836.

“Covington County, Alabama”, FamilySearch Wiki, (https://ift.tt/3xeMnRM : accessed 1 June 2021), image 3.

Unfortunately, the courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1878, and then again in 1895, and as the family had moved from the county by this point, no courthouse records of the family exist. I learned on Genealogy Trails that the farmers in this area mainly harvested lumber and “floated along the principal streams to the markets of the Gulf”. Another difficulty of records in this area is that the majority of people living in south Alabama at this time did not know how to read and write. As such, there was no newspaper available in Covington County, Alabama until the early 1900s. After the civil war, many residents of Covington County migrated to the Florida panhandle to take advantage of the land and the untapped resources.

It appears based on this information and what is known about the family, that Zilla and Mr. Barnes were married and had some kids in Covington County, Alabama. It is possible that Mr. Barnes served in the Civil War and then died leaving Zilla widowed with two kids. The sources then suggest that she moved with her family to the gulf after the war and got remarried to William Parker.

A locality guide is a living document that you keep adding to as you find information. When I first started RLP, I had a really hard time moving onto the next step in the process because there was always more to learn about an area! I have since learned to give myself a set amount of time and to focus more on finding good resources to answer my questions as they come up instead of trying to learn everything to know about a county! Other information you’ll want to include in your locality guide is online research guides, maps, timelines, migration routes, laws, libraries, archives, genealogical societies, record collections, reference books, and more. (To learn more about creating your locality guide read Location, Location, Location: Putting Your Ancestors in Their Place).

Look at Relevant Locations from your DNA Matches’ Trees

After you have researched the localities you are focusing on in this project, you’ll want to look at your DNA matches and track the locations coming up in their trees. This is particularly helpful for matches where you have not identified your MRCA. You can track locations to see which ones are similar to the line you are researching.

As I did this exercise, if I found a locality in my matches tree from the panhandle of Florida or the surrounding Alabama counties, I was pretty quickly able to figure out which line we were related on since I have done a lot of research on the side of the family that came from that area. However, some matches did not have any localities I was used to. Many of the matches I was not able to find the MRCA with had localities in Texas. Particularly, I had multiple matches with Harris County, Texas in their tree, and from my locality guide, I learned that Harris County, Texas borders Galveston County, Texas – where William Parker is supposed to be from. I didn’t find the Parker surname in these trees, but it is something to note and look into further as I continue my project. 

Ethnicity and Migration Patterns

Another step of locality research with DNA research is looking at the ethnicity estimates listed on each website. As you do this you will notice that the exact estimates will vary from website to website. However, you can use these estimates as you analyze your DNA matches. If they have an ethnicity in their result that does not show up in your ethnicity report, you can narrow down which side of their family you want to look at for your MRCA. Ethnicity results can be complicated and confusing, but luckily there are many resources to help you understand them. (Try reading Are Your Irish Roots Showing? Understanding Your Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Results)


Looking at my mother-in-law’s ethnicity report on Ancestry, it seems that she is mostly from Scandanavia and the British Isles (with a little bit of German in there as well). This matches what has been learned about the family through traditional genealogy work. One of her grandparents was the daughter of a Norwegian immigrant, and as such, she has the highest percentage of Norwegian showing up in her estimate. This is on the side of the family I am not currently researching, so it appears that the parents of my research subject, Mary Ella Parker, must have descended from British/Irish immigrants. This is confirmed as I look at the matches who I have identified as being descendants of the Parker family and many of them have little to no Norwegian in their ethnicity estimates.

Ancestry has also sorted some additional communities based on my mother-in-law’s tree and the trees of her matches. One of these additional communities is “South Alabama & Florida Panhandle Settlers”. When I go to this page, it shows DNA matches that also belong to this community, the history of the community, and ancestors in her tree that belong to this community. On a matches page, Ancestry will also note any birth locations that are the same between your tree and the tree of your match. All of these tools can help you narrow your search as you try to find the MRCA between you and a match.

Overall, there were a few more steps to locality research in a DNA project than a traditional project, but I learned so much about the localities I’m working with in this project, about what locations are consistently showing up in the matches’ trees, and how I can use the ethnicity report to help my research. I felt like this was a very important step in my project and I am excited to keep working on this puzzle as I learn to Research Like a Pro with DNA!

Some of the resources that helped me the most with this phase of the project were:

Where in the World Has My DNA Traveled? DNA and Locality Research

Locality Research in a DNA Research Project

Create Your Own Research Guide

Other posts in this series are: 

Assess Your DNA Matches and Analyze Your Pedigree 

Organize Your DNA Results and Create a Research Objective

Source Citations for DNA and Traditional Sources

Analyze Your Sources and DNA Matches

Source: Family Locket https://familylocket.com

Posted On: June 10, 2021 at 12:51PM