My DNA Breakthrough and Looking for a Needle in a Haystack

For those of you that follow me online, you will have no doubt seen the post I made on Father’s Day, about the amazing DNA breakthrough that I made on my Family Tree, to say that I was excited is the biggest understatement of the year!!!

To give you some background, after I started researching my Family Tree, I quickly discovered that one of my Great Grandparents, Marguerite Longland Lukes had an ‘Unknown Father’ and this remained the case for around 20 years.

I left that in the ‘Too difficult to do box’!

Fast forward 20 years.

Like many Genealogist’s, I decided a couple of years ago, to take the plunge and take a DNA test with Ancestry. You can follow this series of earlier blogs here to flow my whole DNA journey.

DNA Part 1

DNA Part 2

DNA Part 3

DNA Part 4

DNA Part 5

What I discovered was that I was left with a string of results that I couldn’t make head nor tale of and two years later, after one of the steepest learning curves I have ever had to climb and I am slowly working my way through the maze of DNA Matches.

So how did I make the breakthrough and piece it all together?

Well initially it felt I was looking for a needle in a haystack, only I didn’t even know which haystack to start looking in! So I needed some inspiration, something to make the whole task a lot easier, that magic ‘lightbulb moment’.

It was whilst writing one of my #52Ancestors blogs that it suddenly hit me, like an express train! I had often wondered, with such an unusual middle name of ‘Longland’, was this in fact the Surname of our mystery Father? Easy to surmise or guess at, but how can I prove it?

So I decided to search on my Ancestry matches, for anyone with the surname Longland in their tree, it was worth a shot, results zero matches. So I left it for a while, then remembered that I had persuaded my Paternal Aunt to take a test for me, so I checked her matches with the name Longland, bingo five matches, with some decent size trees built between them. All the matches appear to descend from the same branch of Longlands, all from the Yardley are in Northamptonshire, not very close to Gravesend in Kent, but you never know.

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 13.48.05

So I sent off a message to all of the matched people with my questions.

One very kind lady in Canada, replied immediately and we exchanged a few messages and emails and between us we started to work our lines back. The difficult part was placing a Longland on her line, somewhere near Kent in 1883, of course there might not be anyway of doing that, or proving that. So systematically between us we followed all the male descendants going back to a James Longland born in 1732 in Yardley, it seems this line, like many of my other lines, was full of people that never left the confines of their own Parish!

I began to think this was a waste of time and maybe our match was. a red herring and on a totally different line and name, but my new ‘Cousin’ wasn’t giving up the fight that easily. One by one we eliminated them as best we could, until I found a possible candidate named Arthur Robinson Longland. Interestingly the family had a tradition of naming children with the middle names of the Mother’s maiden name! Not quite the same as my theory, but something that I latched onto, in the early stages of ‘clutching at at straws’! So I added Arthur to my tree, as the Father, to see what Thrulines would give me. An agonising 24 hours later and nothing absolutely no new matches, I was deflated, again thinking I was barking up the wrong tree. So once more I left it.

I must admit that I trawled online trees on Ancestry for weeks, looking for that one piece that would put it all together.

The next day I looked into this family line a bit further, don’t ask me why, but I had a look at the three brothers of Arthur and then by a massive slice of luck I struck Gold!!!

John William Longland Born in Yardley, Northamptonshire married in 1885 in Grays in Essex, two years after Marguerite’s Birth and literally a stone throws and the width of the Thames, away from Gravesend, the marriage even took place in the actual Church that I myself was Baptised in!!!! Serendipity overload!!

Could this finally be my Man!!!

I had to wait an agonising 24 hours again for Thrulines to kick in, the longest wait ever, then on Father’s Day of all days, Thrulines links me to 4 new DNA Matches all on this line!! So after a 20 year wait I now have a new Great Great-Grandfather, John William Longland and finally I have 16 out of 16 Great Grandparents.


So if you are a doubter as to what DNA can bring to the table, it can prove or disprove a theory and can open doors that a paper trail could NEVER open.

Only a Genealogist can feel the excitement that I felt this weekend. Its taken 20 years, some dogged determination, a great deal of luck as well, but I managed to find my first ever needle in a haystack!!! Let me know if you have discovered your own ‘needle in a haystack’.

All My Blogs For Family Tree Magazine in one Handy Place

46 thoughts on “My DNA Breakthrough and Looking for a Needle in a Haystack

  1. Good job! Persistence and patience pays off, sometimes. I’ve got two great-great grandfathers unknown, so need to get to work on them. I have a good match who lives in Germany, who is probably related to one of them. Thanks for the inspiration to start digging in on that one!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Congratulations 🎉🎉🎉
    I can imagine how happy you must be to finally identify him. It will be the icing on the cake if you find any further evidence of him living in the Gravesend area. It was fortunate that you had a relatively unusual surname for the potential father and most other family members were not in the vicinity, but your perseverance paid off.
    My great grandfather had an illegitimate half sister who was baptised with the middle name of Hunt. I have one or two possible Hunt candidates for the father in the area but she died without any children so no DNA clues unfortunately.
    Thanks for sharing how you made this breakthrough – it’s inspiring! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Jude, have to say the unusual name helped, plus they lived in a different area, so the chances of them turning up in exactly the same area that I was looking for was also a bonus. The final helpful thing was the family tradition of using married females maiden names as middle names.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a wonderful discovery Paul, congratulations. I loved your post. Your excitement was obvious and I read quickly right to the end to get the full story.
    I too have a missing branch in my family tree. Your story gives me hope that I can eventually find it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the blog post – good work! I have pursued the same strategy four times and it’s worked out.

    The first one is my 2nd great-grandfather who was adopted as an infant in New York, born in 1839. He is identified as Devier J. Lanphear in a Wisconsin name change document and his adoptive father’s will and his legal name became Devier J. Smith. There is an Isaac Lanfear with many children in the next town from where the Smiths lived, and I figured that Devier was probably a grandson of Isaac and his wife. But which son or daughter of Isaac was the parent of Devier? I still don’t know, but when I added a placeholder for the parent, added her to my Ancestry tree, and added Isaac and his wife and their known children, I got five DNA Thrulines on Ancestry and two on MyHeritage. The real challenge is identifying the other parent of Devier.

    But, and it’s a big but, I haven’t proved any relationship through accepted genealogical research using the US genealogical proof standard. I have evidence of a common ancestor somewhere in my line through Devier, but it could be from some other couple in my ancestry and in the ancestry of those 7 DNA matches of mine. I would have to research each of those DNA matches trees to show that the Lanfear connection is the only possible connection. And it’s the same with the other three DNA match connections I have for other ancestors. I have evidence, but no proof. I have hypotheses but no conclusions. It has been very helpful though to narrow the search! I went from “no idea” to “probably this” on all four of my connections.

    It’s the same with your “find.” It’s almost impossible to “prove” the DNA match relationships to the accepted level of proof that BCG or RQG requires.

    Goodl uck with your research! — Randy in California

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Randy for sharing your story which is very similar to the process that I have gone through. You reach the point where you can only prove a point ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. My next thoughts are to try to trace the family forwards and try to find a direct descendant on this line to see if they will take a test, a lot of things will need to happen before I get to that stage, but it will help with proving my facts.


    1. Thanks Sally! I think we are blessed in the Genealogy community with some wonderful people that are so kind and helpful. Great to see you guys carrying the forum forwards and hopefully this will grow into a really useful resource for everyone


  5. Congratulations on your discovery! I saw the news on twitter but it’s great to read the story behind it. Weren’t you lucky to discover that determined cousin in Canada…fabulous to have some company with you on the trail. Serendipity plays such a role in our discoveries, it’s as if it’s our reward for stubborn searching. I’m still waiting for a hit beyond my 2xgreat grandfather from Ireland but at least I have a couple of known cousins to compare as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words and you definitely need a slice of luck plus the help of others again if you’re lucky to get cousins involved. Serendipity does definitely play a part and makes you wonder if somebody gives us a help in hand sometimes

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been wrestling with this issue in assembling my family tree this year. DNA has helped, but there’s still a big mystery–illegitimacy hush-up in the mid-18th century, I think–that I can’t seem to get past.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really enjoyed reading about your voygage of discovery, Paul. It seems that a lot of families used maiden names as middle names – and that tradition certainly helped me to find and extend the paternal side of our tree. They did it on both the paternal line and the maternal/paternal side.

    I have used excel for a long time (learned it at work!) but for some reason I never thought to use it to organise the DNA matches… so thank you for that idea! Since I am looking after half a dozen dna tests now (on my side and my husband’s) it would be really useful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Elaine, I think that DNA has been a steep learning curve for a lot of us, we have had to grow and adapt to keep up with the rate of change in DNA testing within the genealogy community. Additional tools and websites such as DNA Painter have been a revelation and have provided is with so much help to assist us with demystifying the DNA matches that we discover


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s