Y those surnames?

See, I’m already running late for #52Ancestors. I mulled over the Week 2 prompt, “Challenge,” trying to decide how best to approach it. Genealogy is nothing if not a challenge. After all, our ancestors like to hide from us behind metaphorical brick walls, built of myriad research obstacles such as courthouse fires, missing censuses, and egregious misspellings.

Genealogists investigate mysteries based on careful analysis of documents, developing and exploring hypotheses, and what we called in my past life “old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting.” But sometimes the tried and true methods need a little help — from DNA. DNA testing can help prove or disprove a line, reunite relatives, reveal secrets. Learning to work with it can be challenging, but worth the effort.

Once the DNA bug bit me, I started buying kits like crazy. One of my goals has been to leave some bait out there in hopes of catching a cousin who might be descended from an unknown child of a great-great grandfather who disappeared. (For any non-genealogists who stumble onto this blog, yes, “cousin bait” is a thing. In addition to DNA results, it includes public family trees, internet forums and blogs like this one!) Autosomal DNA, which is the type tested by Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder, is most likely to catch that cousin — if he or she even exists — because it can reveal relatives along all ancestral lines, up to a point. Test-takers can be male or female. But this post is not about that missing ancestor.

One of my other goals is to learn more about my Sansbury line, which I’ve mentioned before. I bought my father a Y-DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA in 2016. Only men can take Y-DNA tests, which reveal information about their father’s direct paternal line. This test can be helpful, for example, for male adoptees looking for a birth father because it can quickly narrow down the search to a certain surname. But, to my dismay, the surnames of the initial matches to my father’s test showed no Sansburys. None. Their names were Gibbs, Yeager, Galbraith, Easter, Easter, Ash, Daugherity, Dietrich, Dubois, Lowe, Haywood, Galbraith, Miller, Davis, Galbraith, Galbraith, Sintes, Galbraith, Elkington, Mayo, Lowe, Leheup, Stockdale, Falk.

I started wondering if maybe we weren’t Sansburys after all. Were we Galbraiths? But then where was the break in the line? We have a strong autosomal match whose common ancestor is my great-great grandfather John Nelson Sansbury, so it had to be prior to him. Also, my father had tested at the 67-marker level, but these matches were only at 25 markers, so I knew none of them were very close. Still, I joined the Galbraith DNA surname project at FTDNA, where I learned there were so many variations in my father’s DNA markers that any Galbraith connection would be far beyond a genealogically relevant timeframe.

I didn’t have the money to seek out other Sansbury men for Y-DNA testing, so I had to set the question aside for a while.

Just a little more than a year after those first results came back, I saw a notification of a match at the 37-marker level. I felt a little genealogy adrenalin rush as I logged in and saw a familiar surname: Sansbury! After some correspondence back and forth, it became clear the common patrilineal ancestor is Daniel Sansbury of pre-Revolutionary War South Carolina.

sansbury y-dna match

Whew! It appears I’m still a Sansbury! (Although I’d feel a lot better if I could see a few more Sansburys in my dad’s Y-DNA match list.) I still have a challenge before me because much work remains to be done to extend that line further back into the colonies or across the pond. But now I have much stronger evidence my paternal line has carried the Sansbury surname for several hundred years.

If you have a Sansbury line, I’d love to hear from you!

#52ancestors #genealogy #sansbury


5 thoughts on “Y those surnames?

  1. I still don’t have any “0” matches for my dad! And, the lack of common surnames confused me, too. But, I now have two matches that are from Pennsylvania with the right surname and the right timeframe – late 1700s – as my brick wall. I hope I can work with them and we can figure out not only how we’re related, but break through our brick wall!


    • DNA can be such a waiting game! (Unless you do targeted testing.) If mine had had a close match from the beginning, I may not have asked some of the questions I asked. So I’m glad it has unfolded the way it has so far.


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