The Meale Mystery

The earliest record that I have found for my paternal Great Great Grandfather, John Meale, is his marriage to Elizabeth Hemblen in Auckland, New Zealand on 13 June 1854.  The marriage record states that he was 33 years old (therefore born around 1821), born in England, son of Samuel and Elizabeth Meale.  When John died on 7 January 1889, his son stated on the death registration that he was born at Leeds, son of John Meale, a shoemaker.  Over several decades of trying, I have not been able to find a likely John Meale in Yorkshire records, with a father named Samuel or John.

I was therefore very happy when my third cousin, Murray, a Meale / Hemblen descendant, appeared in my Ancestry DNA match list.  As a third cousin he and I should only share DNA inherited from either John Meale or Elizabeth Hemblen, eliminating all of my other paternal lines.  I immediately looked at our 29 shared matches, in hopes of finding a Meale connection in earlier generations.

As I had previously researched exhaustively the descendants of John Meale, it was straightforward to identify the ten shared DNA matches who are descended from John Meale and Elizabeth Hemblen (highlighted in blue in the chart below).  Thanks to their trees being public on Ancestry, I was also able to identify five shared matches who are descendants of Elizabeth Hemblen’s siblings (highlighted green in the chart below).

But Murray and I also share DNA with eight people who are related to me on my maternal Gleeson line (highlighted yellow in the chart below).  Murray does not have any Gleeson ancestry, so why do these people show up as shared DNA matches to Murray and myself?  Further investigation revealed that Catherine Lowry, Murray’s great grandmother, was a sister of Julia Lowry, who married a Gleeson cousin of mine.  To be clear – I share DNA with these people through my Gleeson line and Murray shares DNA with them through his Lowry line, but not the same segments of DNA.  The relationships are shown in the chart below.

This accounts for 23 of the 29 shared matches, but what of the other six?  Three of them had detailed public family trees, one had a small public tree and the other two had no public family tree attached to their DNA test profile.  None of the public trees include the surname Meale or variants Meal or Mele.  But the four who have public trees all have Yorkshire ancestry.

I looked at the shared matches between myself and Len, the closest match of the six, and found that all of them shared DNA with Len and I and there was one additional shared match – Rick Taylor.  Len, Delma and Rick all share common Yorkshire ancestors, Sydney Hirst and Mary Sykes.

Ancestry only shows shared DNA matches down to 20 cM, and all of the above matches were barely above that threshold, suggesting that there may be additional shared matches, who share less than 20 cM of DNA with me.  By applying various other filters to my DNA match list I was able to find two additional descendants of Sydney Hirst and Mary Sykes with whom I share DNA.

This has not solved my Meale mystery, but it has identified that John Meale’s descendants do share DNA with several people with Yorkshire ancestry, and in particular we share at least one common ancestor with descendants of Sydney Hirst and Mary Sykes.  Progress has been made at last, and I hope in the near future to be able to share further success in this search. Meanwhile there are some useful takeaways from this story –

  • To maximize the value of DNA testing, make sure that you have researched your family tree as broadly as possible, to help in understanding how you are related to your DNA matches.
  • If you do an Ancestry DNA test, make your Ancestry family tree as detailed as possible, and link your DNA test to yourself in the tree. Ancestry’s automated Thrulines tool can then suggest likely paths of descent from a common ancestor.
  • The people shown as shared matches of you and another tester, share DNA with both of you, but not necessarily DNA from the same ancestor.
  • Checking your DNA matches is not a one-time event.  Additional people take DNA tests with Ancestry and the other testing companies every day, so check back often.

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