DNA Helps Break Down Brick Walls

Research Had Come to a Dead End

The most exciting DNA matches, for me, are the ones that help break down a brick wall. The first one that comes to mind is that of my great grandfather James Miller Ireland. He was born in Scotland according to my grandmother’s birth certificate and this document gave him a calculated birth year about 1846.¹

James Miller Ireland death cert extract - DNA Helps Break Down Brick WallsFrom his death certificate, I calculated his date of birth as 1844, 2 years different. He died on 6 December 1926 at Wellington, New Zealand and was buried at Karori Cemetery in Wellington on 8 December. His death certificate states his place of birth as Edinburgh, Scotland. As the informant supplying this information may have based it on something he said such as “I came from Edinburgh”, meaning he lived there prior to coming to New Zealand. I need additional proof for his birth location.

Worse though is that the first names for both this parent are missing from the death certificate making it impossible to eliminate documents where the parent’s first names are clearly incorrect.²  In summary, the vital records give contradicting facts and miss out important hints.

There are a number of other difficulties researching my Ireland line such as with a surname like Ireland, it is hard to avoid the country Ireland when searching online. Or the naming patterns used in Scotland means that there can be many persons with the same name. So yes I have found a number of persons called James Ireland however none with the middle name Miller.

So I had left this branch aside in preference of following up other lines in my family tree. What I needed was a different methodology from traditional research to progress this branch of my family tree.

DNA Helps Break Down Brick Walls

My DNA cousin noticed our match back in April 2017. After checking out my public tree on Ancestry he made contact. He shared some details about his James Ireland, a possible common ancestor. His James Ireland had disappeared from UK records and I had very little evidence for my James Miller Ireland prior to his time in New Zealand. Cross over information was very sparse. A few things in our traditional research looked to support they were the same person. His James Ireland was born in Edinburgh in 1848. Possible same city but another birth date. His mother’s maiden name was Helen Miller. I have Miller as his middle name. He had done an apprenticeship as a baker and my James Miller Ireland worked as a cook on ships.

My DNA cousin is looking for a signature that we to compare. So far I have not located a will or other document that might supply one.

My GGF appears in a newspaper notice reporting that he got married to Mary Scott McDonald. I cannot find any church or registry records to support this event. So still no record of his parent’s first names or other helpful details found on New Zealand marriage certificates.

Over time further discoveries have supported the possibility that James Miller Ireland is our common ancestor.  For example, my DNA cousin located another person’s will and probate documents. These were forwarded to an address in Wellington New Zealand. My research with New Zealand electoral rolls had previously located the same address as the residence for a son of  Mary Scott McDonald’s and her first husband, Frederick Jeffries. It is quite possible James Miller Ireland was using a step son’s address for mail while he was working on a ship at sea.

Quality DNA Cousins

While we check the closeness of our DNA cousins by the number of centimorgans and DNA segments the cousin’s preparedness to share does increase the value the possible relationship. I am fortunate that my DNA cousin does quality research, comparing different sources. When he finds something that I may be interested in he sends it to me. We remain in regular contact. I know that without this DNA match helping me find my DNA cousin it would be much harder to close the link between what I do know and possible parents for James Miller Ireland, my GG grandparents.

I have a pile of photocopies and sources that I can review to help me prove the common ancestor relationship and take my tree back some more generations. Now while my cousin has been researching much longer than me and I openly admit he is probably more qualified and experienced than me I still wish to check the sources.

It is the DNA match that connects us to DNA cousins. This and traditional research methodology will help break down brick walls.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog are my own.


1. New Zealand Births, Deaths & Marriages, Birth Certificate for Olive Constance Beatrice IRELAND Folio 1887/1478, Ref No. 20080169445.

2. New Zealand Births, Deaths & Marriages, Death Certificate for James Miller IRELAND Registration no. 1926/8457, Ref No: 20090117108.

Thanks for sharing on social media.

DNA helps break down brick walls


4 thoughts on “DNA Helps Break Down Brick Walls”

  1. Sounds fascinating and complicated! This must be an all-consuming passion which brings a lot of satisfaction when you solve a piece of the puzzle. Good luck with your quest!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes. It’s time consuming too so I didn’t realise I had not replied to your comment. Sorry.

    1. Anne, finally got to look at your post. As per usual it’s comprehensive and well written. I love how you write such interesting detailed posts. I’m just a lazy blogger. I so enjoyed the recent England trip too.

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