Finding John Lee: Part Two – Show Me the Centimorgans!

In this second post in a series, learn about how DNA broke down a major genealogical brick wall for two families. Featured image: 8 of the 11 children of Louis B. Atlas and Susie Lee Atlas.

It was a sunny Wednesday night during June 2016. I was in Burbank, CA sitting at my laptop, wrapping up a last review of my slides for the next day’s presentations at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. Like most nights, I decided to take a peek at my DNA test accounts before shutting down the computer. There’s a hope that drives me each time I see the screen load with the newest matches – a hope that maybe one or more of my new family members will open up some doors research wise. Tonight though, my hope became reality.

I didn’t even have to scroll.

I didn’t have to yell “What do you mean ‘No family tree?!?” for a close match.

I didn’t have to imagine what my newfound cousin looked like as a descendant of the Gray Shadow People of Pink and Blue Land (the default photo for those who take DNA tests but don’t upload a profile picture. LOL)

There she was, in all her beauty. And her tree had just enough information to send my gut into a rush.

She had the same first name as my mother. Her father’s name? John Lee.

Wait. This is ENTIRELY too good to be true. How in the world did I get a DNA match whose father had the same name as one of my most nerve working ancestors, my elusive second great Grandpa John. Head into my internal dialogue for a second.

*Clicks on Cousin B’s father’s profile*

“Ok…Not much information on her John Lee, but it’s a start.”

*Message indicator turns to show a blue bubble with the number 1 in the top right hand corner of the screen*

*Checks inbox*

“OMGosh!!! Did she just send me a message? No stinking way!!!”

*Reads message and then proceeds to scream when I find out she’s sitting in the same county I’m sitting in as I’m reading it. And there’s a phone number in the message to boot*

That’s EXACTLY how it happened. Literally. LOL

Show Me the Money!!! (or Centimorgans)

Here's my grandmother, Annie, holding her just received family tree in Memphis International Airport in July 1985.
Here’s my grandmother, Annie, holding her just received family tree in Memphis International Airport in July 1985.

After a string of messages, a couple phone calls, and of course several presentations at Jamboree, I had more info to work with. Cousin B, as I’ll refer to her, said that her father was born and raised in Lake Providence, LA and that she didn’t know much about his side of the family. As she talked, I recalled hearing my maternal grandmother, Annie Ruth Atlas, say the same things about Grandpa John. Unfortunately, she had passed away just two weeks before. There would be no way I could share this potential discovery with her in person, but I knew she was there in spirit hearing it all.

I could have easily said “Welp, she’s got a John Lee, so that’s the end of my search,” but a good researcher knows that this type of thing isn’t the end of the road. It especially is not the end when you’ve got two families who know they are connected through DNA but there isn’t paper proof of their relation and they have mysterious ancestors.

Narrowing Down the Relation

The next step was to confirm if Cousin B’s relation was on my maternal or paternal side of the family.

Cousin B.’s profile on AncestryDNA. They projected that we were 4th cousins at a very high confidence level.

AncestryDNA estimated our relationship to be 4th cousins or sharing one or more great great great grandparents. My theory was that Cousin B matched on my maternal side, through my maternal grandmother Annie. Annie was the granddaughter of Grandpa John through his daughter, Susie Lee Atlas.

I quickly eliminated my paternal grandfather’s side as the source of our connection. This was because I had already tested one of my father’s first cousins on that side on AncestryDNA. Cousin B didn’t show up as a match for the first cousin on the “Shared Matches” screen but I still had one more step before I could cement this as a fact.

Annie Ruth Atlas, 1916-2016
My beautiful maternal grandmother, Annie Ruth Atlas.

Cousin B then uploaded her raw data to GEDMatch. This was key because I had tested my mother and maternal grandmother Annie on 23andMe and had already uploaded their raw data, and mine, to GEDMatch. I had also uploaded my father’s first cousin’s raw data there as well, so comparing Cousin B’s kit to that first cousin would serve as extra confirmation that the match was not through my father’s paternal line.

*Compare Cousin B’s kit number to my father’s first cousin* No DNA shared. Cousin B also didn’t match my father’s first cousin on his mother’s side either. This meant I can could eliminate my father’s side as the source of our connection.

*Compare Cousin B’s kit number to mine* BOOM. 77cM shared. This number was something new to me. The amount of DNA that me and Cousin B shared was underestimated on AncestryDNA – it was a difference of 27cM and was missing a segment. Looks like they’re conservative in their estimations.

Then, it was the moment of truth.

*Compare Cousin B’s kit number to my mother’s* BOOM. 86.5cM shared.

*Compare Cousin B’s kit number to my maternal grandmother Annie’s kit* BOOM. 172.7cM shared.

Based on the ranges provided by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) (1), Cousin B shared enough DNA to be at least a second cousin once removed with my maternal grandmother Annie. This would mean that my maternal grandmother and Cousin B’s father John were second cousins or shared the same great grandparents. WOW.

 Narrowing Down Further

Geneatography by Nicka Smith
My maternal great grandparents through my maternal grandmother, Annie Ruth Atlas. Louis Balfour Atlas, Sr. and Susie Lee Atlas.

But I still wasn’t done. Since I knew Cousin B matched my maternal grandmother, I had to make sure the relation was on the side of the family that matched my theory. Thankfully, a first cousin (C.L.) and several other family members on both sides of my grandmother Annie’s family had taken DNA tests.

If I was going to narrow down the source our connection even further, I had to keep something in mind: our chromosomes are split into pairs – one half coming from our father and his ancestors and one half coming from our mother and her ancestors. This is why it’s wise to test particular members of your family. Autosomal DNA testing allows you the ability to isolate which DNA comes from specific ancestors based on the ancestral relationships you share with those who have tested and match you. So, if you know those relationships already, and have verified them through traditional genealogy, you basically get a shortcut in narrowing down relations for newly discovered DNA cousins. For more on this, visit this link.

While both Cousin B. and C.L. have DNA that overlaps in the same area on chromosome 4 with my grandmother, Cousin B. and C.L. didn’t share any DNA with each other. This meant that Cousin B. shared DNA that came from parent and C.L. shared DNA that came from the other parent.

I had already verified the relation of C.L. with traditional genealogy and DNA. C.L. was related on my grandmother’s father’s side. I knew that if Cousin B didn’t match him, she wasn’t related on the same side of the family and thus, Cousin B had to be related on my grandmother’s mother’s side.

In the space of a day, I discovered that me and Cousin B were descendants of a yet unknown set of ancestors who birthed Grandpa John. While I still had no other paper documentation on Grandpa John or verification that he was in trouble with the law as per part 1, what lay ahead proved to be even more amazing. Enter Edward Lee, Cousin B.’s grandfather and his father, Asberry Lee, Cousin B.’s great grandfather and brother of Grandpa John. To be continued. 🙂


(1) “International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki ISOGG Wiki.” Autosomal DNA Statistics. N.p., 6 June 2016. Web. 17 July 2016. <>.

5 thoughts on “Finding John Lee: Part Two – Show Me the Centimorgans!”

  1. I have a John Lee in my family . IN Arkansas an’s Louisiana . Maybe you can inbox my cousin Hazel Jacobs on FB . I have been into genealogy since 1977 , but I never got too deep into it because no one in my family was interested in it . THere is a dentist in Kansas City named Phillip Brockington who won’t give me info on his grandfather Ferdinand Brockington . All I wanted to know was if his grandfather had any siblings and who his parents were . I couldn’t find him until 1910 . My great grandfather’s name was Phillip Brockington in Morrilton. Ferdinand was to be the first black man to be hung since 1910 for killing a cop in Kansas City, Mo. Sentence was overturned . HE died in a mental hospital. Have spent thousands of dollars on research. On my paternal side ,great grandfather William Clemons was listed with last name Dolphus . SO that is a dead end . I hope Hazel can help you with the Lee’s in Lousiana . I have a cousin who is in Shrereport who has some pictures of a John Lee .

    1. Oh wow! Thanks for writing Ms. Della. I will definitely check to see if I can connect with Hazel regarding our potential connection. Stay tuned!

  2. Pingback: Finding John Lee: Part Three - Right Under Your Nose - who is nicka smith?

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