Blasting Through Brick Walls with DNA Hints

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 
Week Fourteen "Brick Wall" Brick wall is a phrase that strikes fear in the heart of many a genealogist. Who is a brick wall ancestor for you? Who is one that you broke through a brick wall to find? How did you do it? You could also interpret this more literally, like with a family photo of a brick house or an ancestor who was a bricklayer.
Week Fifteen "DNA" DNA is a powerful tool in genealogy research. What is a discovery you've made using DNA? What ancestor do you think can be found with genetic genealogy? Of course, you can take the prompt in other ways. Do you have an ancestor whose initials are D.N.A.?

Constance Hornora Maloney (l) & Anastasia Elizabeth Maloney, first cousins, helped me blast through some brick walls, using DNA hints

I’ve fallen behind a few weeks in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. That has proven to be serendipitous for Weeks 14 and 15. Week 14’s challenge is: Brick Wall. Who is your brick wall? Who is an ancestor you broke through a brick wall to find? Or maybe you take the prompt more literally and consider an ancestor who was a bricklayer or mason. The gauntlet laid down for Week 15 was: DNA. What ancestor have you identified using DNA? Which one would you like to find? Or be creative—perhaps an ancestor with the initials of D.N.A. You decide!

For these challenges I decided to break down the brick walls my dad ran into with his research, which left bare branches on our family tree. Using DNA is just one of many online tools that are more sophisticated and accessible than the ones that were available to him. As a result, I’ve been able to add more foliage to his original trees.

Dad would often use snail mail to contact cousins he knew to help break through his brick walls. But now I’m able to break through them by contacting cousins I’ve never met, or even heard of, by using DNA. And, in return, I’m sometimes able to help my newly-discovered cousins break through their brick walls. Here’s some of my experience with that.

I look for high-confidence DNA matches that turn up on Ancestry for me. Then I look for shared matches with other relatives from those results, to help determine which ancestry line we share. By using that tool and the family trees of my matches, I can usually locate a common ancestor. If it turns out to be one of my dad’s brick walls, I can break through it by using that shared match’s family tree to fill in missing information.

However, there is a warning that goes with this. I don’t just take others’ information and transfer it to my tree. I use their information as clues and a springboard to do further research to confirm the accuracy of their information.  Genealogy tools like the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), Find-a-Grave and censuses help me do this. Birth records, marriage certificates, death certificates and property records also hold valuable information. Finally, I link what I find to the new relative I’ve met through DNA, and the ancestor we share in common, to find out where their lives and mine intersect.

The family tree tied to Eileen Jacubinas
Recently I found a match from a surname I didn’t recognize—Eileen Jacubinas—that showed we shared a common ancestor through my father’s paternal branch of the family—Maloney. I looked through the branches of our family tree, but there was no hit for any Jacubinas. Luckily, this match was also connected to a public family tree. A branch on that tree named a Maloney that was on our family tree, but it had only one leaf on it. Apparently, Anastasia Maloney was one of Dad’s brick walls, because the only information listed for her on our tree, besides her parents and siblings, was her birth year—1908. 

Using the initial family tree attached to my DNA match, Eileen Jacubinas, I learned Anastasia Maloney married Henry Jacubinas. Eileen was their daughter. However, the family tree where I found this information had no dates attached to it. I began looking for more records to tie Anastasia and Henry together and to tie Eileen to them as their daughter. So, I tapped into other family trees and found clues that led me to additional records, many with more details than the first ones I found. Still, I continued running into more brick walls. I could not get two or more records with overlapping information to conclusively confirm their connections to each other, as well as to my Maloney family. Eventually, though, the more I gathered, the easier it became to determine which records to keep and which ones to toss.

I made confident conclusions using this marriage certificate
One of the trees recorded the couple’s wedding date as July 20, 1934 in Hudson, Wisconsin. I live in Minnesota, but the county courthouse holding marriage records for Hudson is just across the border, a mere four miles from my home. That’s where I found Anastasia and Henry’s original Certificate of Marriage, which recorded their marriage date as July 15, 1935—off by a year in the other tree. Remember that warning about using information from others’ family trees only as a clue to confirm family tree data is accurate? This is one of those instances. The document also revealed when and where they were born, who their parents were, who performed and witnessed the marriage, and that they lived in Superior, Wisconsin. 

Later I found Eileen Jacubinas identified as the daughter of Henry and Anastasia Jacubinas in the 1940 United States census for Superior, Douglas, Wisconsin. Thanks to that marriage certificate, I confidently concluded who Eileen was and added her to the appropriate branch of my Maloney tree.

A week-and-a-half after I received notification from Ancestry about my DNA match to Eileen Jacubinas, I received this message in my 23 and me account: 

Hi Mary, I was just re-reading our messages to one another and I noticed you said your father did quite a bit of family research. I wonder if you know where in Ireland your Maloney ancestors originated. The town or area would be great. I have Maloney and Collings (maiden name) ancestors, but I don’t know where in Ireland they lived. My mother, who is 95, is wishing we knew more about the Maloney line. I have a number of County Kilkenny ancestors and they originated in Thomastown. /s/ Best regards, Don 

Don Borelli had first contacted me about our DNA connection in January 2017. It was now April 2019. I confirmed with Don that my Maloney ancestors came from County Kilkenny, but I didn’t know the specific town. Subsequent correspondence between us led me back to my Ancestry account where both Don’s and his mother’s DNA results had recently been posted. I used the Ancestry tool to check our shared matches. All three of us had one relative we shared in common—Eileen Jacubinas. However, his mother, Mary, and I shared another relative in common—Michael Flanigan.

I went back to my Maloney family tree, but didn’t find him there. Yet, when I checked Michael’s public tree, I could connect the dots of our relationship, because his grandfather, who was on my tree, had married Constance Honora Maloney—Anastasia Maloney’s first cousin.

Eventually, as Don and I continued communicating, we hit another brick wall. Our DNA connection shows we are related through our third great-grandparents. Both our Maloney trees only go back as far as our second great-grandparents. We agreed our conversation had gone as far as it could. We both continue working on our trees, trying to break through the brick wall to find our third great-grandparents and will update each other on any progress we make.

This experience has left me with some speculation that I will keep in mind as I go forward to do this. Here’s the theory about all of this that I shared with Don after comparing family trees: 

Hi Don, Both Eileen Jacubinas and Michael Flanigan are connected through two Maloney men who were all sons of my second great-grandfather, Patrick Maloney, who came from Ireland in 1844, when he was only four-years old. The only brother I’m aware of for Patrick was Dennis, born in 1818. He never married. I'm wondering if your second great-grandfather, Thomas, may have been Patrick's and Dennis' brother. If, somehow, we could nail down that connection, it may lead us to our third great-grandparents. Even if it didn’t lead to them, making a brotherhood connection would confirm a third great-grandparent connection. /s/ Have fun as you continue to climb your family tree, Mary. 

My dad, who instilled a strong sense of wonder in me, would be astounded we can travel back in time to find blood connections by merely spitting in a tube today. Is that what you'd call a "back to the future" exercise?


  1. Intriguing. I know Patrick Maloney had a brother Dennis and a brother Martin. I always thought the Maloneys may have hailed from Clare. How did you establish the Kilkenny information? Also, I thought Patrick was born in 1836, according to the death certificate. Fascinating stuff.


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