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How A DNA Test Helped Shatter Our Brick Wall

Our Brick WallThe origins of our Hawley line in Delaware County, New York, were a mystery that eluded three generations of researchers. Some thought we descended from Joseph Hawley of Stratford, Connecticut, but no evidence had been found to support that connection. By the time my interest in the family history was piqued, the internet had dramatically increased access to census data and other reference materials of use to genealogical researchers. Of even greater value, as it turned out, was the emergence of DNA testing as a tool in such research. The Hawley Society had begun a project to persuade descendants of Joseph Hawley of Stratford to take a DNA test so they could sort members of the society into family groups. Given the supposed connection of our family to Joseph, I decided to take a DNA test thinking it would either prove or disprove that theory. The results could hardly have been more different from proven descendants of Joseph of Stratford, so any link to him was quickly ruled out.

However, my results were closely matched with three other people; David Holley, Richardson Allen and Terry Allen. David Holley reported that his earliest known ancestors were Thomas Halley and Penelope Stone who settled in Prince Georges County, Maryland, in the late 1700s. Unfortunately, neither David nor I could trace his line beyond Thomas. Richardson Allen reported his earliest known ancestor to be George Allen who emigrated from England in 1635, and died in Sandwich, Massachusetts, in 1648. While searching for information on this George Allen, I discovered that Rose Allen, his daughter, had married a Joseph Holly. Favored spellings of this couple's surname soon became Holley and Holway. That discovery made the Allen connection of more than passing interest.

The Allen-Holway Connection

An Allen DNA project coordinator revealed that our test results were not even close to members with solid paper trails back to George Allen. The obvious conclusion was that neither I nor Richardson Allen descended from George Allen. Richardson Allen then shared a suspicion that one of his ancestors, Judah Allen, was not an Allen by birth. Having disproved any link to Joseph Hawley of Stratford, and with this possible link to Joseph Holley and Rose Allen, I had the clue that every genealogist seeks. Joseph and Rose were early settlers of Sandwich, Massachusetts, and the trail quickly led from there to Dutchess County, New York, where their great grandson settled in about 1740. That is where Mercy Holloway Lewis, my 3rd great grandfather's sister, reported being born on the 1855 New York census. A simple DNA test gave us the clue we needed to solve the mystery of our origins. We just had to find the records that would validate the hypothesized move of our family from Dutchess County to Delaware County in New York.

About DNA Testing

If our story tempts you to rush out and order your own DNA test, we suggest you do your homework first. There are lots of options and choosing the wrong one will likely lead to disappointment. The test that led to our breakthrough was a 67 marker Y DNA test from Family Tree DNA. There are other companies and many other tests, but if you are working on your paternal line, the Y DNA test is probably what you want, and the more markers you test the more confidence you can have in any matches that turn up. FamilySearch offers a short tutorial on DNA testing and a list of testing companies at