Proving a Parent-Child Link Using Ancestry DNA ThruLines and Documentary Research: Part 3

The final step in a research project is writing a source-cited report. Although that may sound intimidating, after you’ve worked through an entire research project, writing helps to clarify what you discovered and make connections. If you have to leave the research for a time, the report will help you remember what you did and the future research steps provide a starting point for the next project.

I’m working to prove a longstanding parent-child link on my Shults ancestral line using DNA evidence based on Ancestry DNA ThruLines and documentary research. In part one of this series I discussed doing the basic clustering for my DNA test-taker, Lucretia, using the Leeds method. Then I organized her DNA matches by diagramming the closest matches on the Shults line. Creating the timeline and analyzing the sources and the DNA matches followed. In part two of this series, I discussed the use of locality research and ethnicity, exploration of DNA tools, and creating the research plan.

The next steps in the Research Like a Pro with DNA process involve following the plan, logging the research, and writing the report.

My research objective follows.

Using DNA analysis and documentary research, test the hypothesis that Martin S. Shults was the biological father of Hickman Monroe Shults. Martin was born about 1800 in Sevier County, Tennessee, and died in 1854 in Johnson County, Texas. He married Sarah T. Rowden on 24 December 1814 in Rhea County, Tennessee. Hickman was born on 13 June 1821 in Alabama and died on 12 May 1899 in Falls County, Texas. He married Rachel Cox on 4 July 1848 in Navarro County, Texas.

9. Follow your Plan, Research Logging, and Writing as you Go

With a research plan created, I was set to tackle records of Bibb County, Alabama. Because I live near Salt Lake City, I planned a trip to the Family History Library and used the excellent selection of books there to learn more about my Shults family in early Alabama. An authored source on Ancestry stated that “Martin Shoultz was listed on a Bibb Co. Alabama Jury on Feb 1819 with Kinason Shoulsz, Martin Haggard, and Nosh Haggard.” The library had a copy of Martin Everse’s abstract of Bibb County court records that could save much time in the research. 1 I also wanted to check some county histories available at the library.

Having a research plan when visiting a repository takes the overwhelm out of the picture and I was able to quickly locate the books and identify pertinent information to scan. I’ve learned by experience to always scan the title page and front matter because the author or compiler often will give important information about the record collection, abbreviations used, or historical context. I also scan the index page for my family of interest.

I printed out the research plan and took notes for negative searches and what I found in my research notebook. I scanned all relevant records to my flash drive, then at home transferred the research to my Airtable research log. Reading through the scanned images and recording the data in Airtable helped me to organize everything I had located.

My Airtable research log contains the following headings: short description, person, role, date, website/repository, URL, locality, source citation, results, FANS, comments and next steps, and attachments. The Bibb County court records named several Shults men so after entering the records I grouped the log by “person” so I had a mini-research log for each man. This is one of my favorite features of Airtable. Below is a portion of my grouping for my ancestor, Martin Shults. Note that I linked to the FamilySearch catalog page for the book. If I need to review the information for my source citation, I have the link easily available. I created the basic source citation then copied it and pasted it into each cell and changed the specific page number. Then I abstracted the record into the results column.

As I completed each entry in the research log, I also add any FANs to that field so I can look for patterns among Martin Shults’ associates. The FANs field is linked to another table called FANs where everyone from my timeline and research log appears. The following screenshot shows a portion of the log. Airtable allows you to hide fields so just the most pertinent information can be shown. You can easily unhide them as well.

Grouping of results for Martin Shults in Airtable research log

The log entries reveal Martin’s residence in Bibb County from at least 1819 to 1823. He was drawn as a juror for the Superior Court, issued a license to keep a tavern and “retail spirituous liquors,” and to be paid one dollar for guarding a criminal. This was the documentary evidence I had hoped to find. Martin’s action in court records place him in the right time and place to verify the 1821 birth of Hickman Monroe Shults in Bibb County, Alabama.

I also entered negative searches in the Airtable log under the broad person heading of “Shults.” I don’t want to repeat any searches at the Family History Library for this objective. Adding the complete source citation makes it easy when writing the report to discuss what I hoped to find, but didn’t.

For the most recent template that we use for DNA projects, see the RLP with DNA 2022 Research Log, created by Nicole Dyer. You can explore the base and see how Nicole filled in the data. Then you can copy the base for your own use. Be sure to copy in the records so the formulas work. After seeing how the base works, you can easily delete the examples.

For the DNA portion of the research, I created a focus group of DNA matches for my key test-taker, Lucretia. I identified the seven best matches from her Ancestry DNA ThruLine for Martin Shults by using “list view” instead of the default “relationship view.” I selected a “best match” from each of Martin Shults’ children based on the highest amount of shared DNA. The matches ranged from 16 cM to 48 cM. I entered each best match into the DNA Match Details field of Airtable, diagrammed their connection in Lucidchart, then checked the relationship probability with the Shared cM Project.

As I created the diagram, I used my Ancestry tree to quickly build the descendancy down from each of Hickman’s siblings and verify the links. Because ThruLines had suggested the relationships, I used the associated trees to get clues if necessary. The diagramming also revealed two DNA matches who are one generation closer to Lucretia who I could ask to share their DNA results with me! The following diagram shows my DNA tester, the anonymized DNA matches, and their connections to Martin Shults.


With the research completed, I next needed to start writing the report.

10. Correlate Findings and Write the Research Report

There is something about writing that orders the various pieces of the puzzle we’ve been acquiring in our research. In the study group, we encourage everyone to begin writing from the beginning. I already had my objective, limitations, genealogical background information, and DNA background information completed. I had also entered timeline information into Airtable for both Hickman Monroe Shults and his hypothesized father, Martin Shults, so it was fairly easy to write a narrative section.

I added some maps, snippets of documents, and historical context for the individual’s life in Texas and Arkansas. Then I discussed the Alabama research findings and the DNA work. I concluded that the documentary and DNA evidence confirmed my hypothesis that Martin Shults was indeed the father of Hickman Monroe Shults. Here is my conclusion.

This project successfully confirmed Martin Shults as the father of Hickman Monroe Shults through documentary evidence and evaluating DNA matches. The research found Martin Shults residing in Bibb County, Alabama, in the early 1820s when Hickman was born. The 1830 and 1840 census enumeration for Martin Shults revealed his migration from Alabama to New Madrid County, Missouri, then to Pulaski County, Arkansas. Those censuses contain placeholders for a male born about 1821 that would be Hickman. Additionally, Hickman and “heirs of Martin Shults” received Texas land patents under the Mercer Colony, likely migrating at or near the same time between 1840 and 1847.

DNA matches to Hickman’s third great-granddaughter through each of his proposed siblings provide evidence of a genetic connection to Martin Shults and Sarah Rowden. Identifying and verifying additional DNA matches can strengthen the genetic evidence.

The research report concludes with ideas for future research. I compiled the following list.

Documentary Research

  • Explore Tarrant and Parker County, Texas, records for Hickman Monroe Shults from 1850 to 1870.
    • Land records
    • Tax records
  • Research Martin Shults
    • War of 1812 service record is attached to his profile on FamilySearch, but it is for a Maryland Militia and is likely for a man of the same name.
    • Tax records for date of migration from Rhea County, Tennessee, to Alabama.
    • Research the M Schultz who served in the Mexican War in 1845/46 from Texas. Is this Martin Shults or another man of the same name.
    • Research the siblings of Hickman Monroe Shults
    • Discover their migration pattern and proximity to Hickman in Texas.
  • DNA Research
    • Continue to identify and verify DNA matches to Lucretia Becker Neill through each of Hickman Monroe Shults’ siblings.
    • Continue to build out the descendancy tree for Martin Shults and Sarah Rowden.
    • Use DNA to prove Martin’s father as Valentine Shults.

You can read my report to see additional details. and how I correlated the various pieces of evidence.

Martin S. Shults DNA Research Report – Anonymized

11. Finish the Report, Publishing, Privacy, and Copyright

With the research report draft finished, the next step is doing the final edits. In the study group, we have peer review and we receive good feedback on the writing. We are often so involved with our research that we don’t realize any holes that need filling.

We also think about what we’d like to do with our finished product. I decided to upload my report to the profile of Hickman Monroe Shults and tag Martin Shults so it will appear on both ancestors’ pages. I also added sources to back up the report. I anonymized the DNA matches respecting their privacy and considered copyright issues for any of the images that I used in the report.

12. Productivity and Further DNA Education

The final study group assignment is to make a plan for incorporating efficient research habits into our work. Also, we create a DNA education plan for going forward.

I use the Getting Things Done method by David Allen to organize my life but am always looking to tweak my methods. I recently started using Trello so want to evaluate how that’s working and see if I’m using it appropriately.

For DNA education, I’m planning to finish watching the recordings from the East Coast Genetic Genealogy Conference and I am signed up for Blaine Bettinger’s course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh titled “Advanced DNA Evidence.” The course lectures look amazing and I’m excited to learn all the latest and greatest developments in the DNA world.

I also get to teach a four-session course at Brigham Young University’s Education Week in August on using DNA in genealogy research. We all learn best by teaching, so I’m excited to develop some new material to help people get off on the right foot with their DNA.

Throughout the study group, we keep a reflection journal with our thoughts on each assignment. For my final reflection I wrote:

I was thrilled to get this project completed and written up. There seems to never be enough time for my own research so working along with the study group forces me to work on a complete project. It is amazing how just doing a little bit each week resulted in a completed report!

I’m already thinking about what project I want to do in the Fall RLP course that will be the foundation for my next DNA project. Maybe a return to Cynthia Dillard? Maybe something brand new?

My cousin Lucretia just took the mtDNA test so it would be neat to use that for my brick wall ancestor Mary Clemsey Cline. I need a hypothesized ancestor for her father so I can trace his descendants and find another mtDNA tester to compare.

As you can see, our research is never done! If you’ve enjoyed this series, I hope you’ll consider joining us in one of our study groups or our independent study courses. Working through a project by assignment is a wonderful way to complete a research project and make progress on your genealogy.

Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!