Is Michael James Courtney of Iowa associated with my Courtney family?

Last year my first cousin tested for me at AncestryDNA, her father was my mothers brother, another great grandson of our missing George Courtney.  He had tested for me at other DNA sites but was not on AncestryDNA having died before being able to test there.  I lived in hope that my cousins results might give some additional clues given the extensive database at AncestryDNA compared to other sites.

When her results came though I quickly analysed them and using her closest matches allocated them to her four grandparent groups. Through this process I came up with three additional ‘unknown’ groups.  It was impossible to tell which side they belonged to so I researched all three to see if I could find any genealogical connections within each group for clues.

One group (U2) held particular interest as I found that several members of the group shared the ancestry of Michael James Courtney born c1865 in Bluffton, Winneshiek, Iowa and his wife Anna Agnes O’Brien also born in Iowa in abt 1868. This was very promising, but were these matches on my cousins maternal or paternal side?   Her ethnicity is 62% Irish, based on her fathers results only about 25% of that is likely to have come from him.  

All three unknown groups were predominantly Irish and whilst from my examination of the matches I concluded that the other two groups were probably not on the Courtney side, the remaining group was still unclear.  The size of the segments in this group ranged from 24cMs down to 9cMs which suggested the connection could be many generations back.  Both Michael and Anna were said to have ancestors from Ireland, but the absence of records in Ireland made the task of identifying them even more difficult.  Our DNA matches were descended through two of their children, James and Terrance.

Ancestors and Descendants of Michael Courtney of Iowa

Could they finally be a clue about George’s identity?  He is suspected to have some Irish ancestry.  I was hopeful but really I needed more evidence.  Some unanswered questions:

  • Were the matches were on my cousins paternal side, with her high percentage of Irish ethnicity it was highly possible the matches were on her mothers side and should therefore be excluded from my Courtney research;
  • Michaels father Patrick Courtney was from Ireland and came to the United States sometime before 1856.  He had at least two brothers James and Matthew.  What part of Ireland did they come from?  Did he marry his wife in Ireland?  He's the right age to be a brother of our George, or could he be a cousin of some kind as George was believed to have been born in Middlesex, England.
  • Michael's mother Mary Gilmore also had two younger brothers Thomas and Patrick.  Some records suggest she was born in Iowa but others suggest her brothers were born in Ireland so I suspect she was too, but what part of Ireland?
  • We needed more matches further back to confirm that the matches were on the Courtney or Gilmore side, or were the segments coming from the O’Brien side?
Anna Agnes O'Brien was born in Iowa but her father's family were from Cavan in Ireland.  It is said that her father came to the United States as a young man and brought out his parents and 5 siblings some time later.  He married Ellen Elizabeth McConnell in Iowa in 1867 and they had 13 children together.  

Cavan is close to Fermanagh where my Cassidy family comes from, in fact one of our Y-DNA matches is connected via Cassidy's from Cavan.  One match in the group also has an unidentifiable Mary Cassidy in their tree, but I could not find any more connections.

I wrote to many matches in the group asking for more information on their ancestry and to upload to GEDmatch or another DNA site so we could look at the chromosome data but without success.  I concluded I would need to wait for more matches.

A few days ago AncestryDNA released a new beta feature called 'SideView™' where algorithms predict parental sides for each of our matches. 

Revisiting the unknown group of my already identified 38 matches, I found I had not allocated any new matches to the group since my initial analysis, the group still numbered 38.  However, 34 of the matches were now showing that SideView™had allocated them to the paternal side of my cousins tree, which was great!  3 were unassigned and one was suggested as a potential maternal match. 

Was it time for a happy dance?!  I've inched a step closer and based on what I'm seeing about the accuracy of  SideView™predictions I was comfortable that the group was probably connected on our shared side, connected via my cousins father (my maternal uncle).  

However, I could not shake the feeling that perhaps even though it was a paternal group for my cousin and on our shared grandparents side, it might not be via my grandfathers Courtney side at all, what about the O'Briens?   Our grandmother was predominantly Irish whilst our grandfather was mostly English and George was on our grandfathers side.  I did more research on Anna's family.

Ancestors and Descendants of Anna Agnes O'Brien of Iowa

We had known her paternal grandparents were from Cavan but knew little about her maternal McConnell side.   This time, over a year later, I was able to get a little further back in Anna's tree.  I discovered her maternal grandparents were Thomas McConnell of Fermanagh and Anna Malady McGee of Devenish, Fermanagh.  The heartland of Cassidy Country.

It was time to interrogate the shared matches once more, looking for more clues.  By drilling down with each match I discovered one of our 18cMs matches had a shared match with a Male Cassidy who had no tree.  This Cassidy shared 62cMs with my cousin, plus also shared with 5 others in the Unknown (U2) group with the 18cMs match.  

Interrogating his matches further clearly suggested he was connected to my Cassidy family, but none of the matches in the U2 group appeared in his shared match list with my cousin, which is probably why they were never classified as potentially belonging to the Cassidy family group.  I can only conclude from this that he shares <20cMs with them so they did not appear in his shared match list with my cousin.  However, because he shares more than 20cMs with my cousin he appears in the shared match list for her matches that are <20cMs.  Shared matches can be confusing, this cheat sheet I developed attempts to show when and where you can find them.

The moral of this story - don't just classify the matches to groups, but drill down further to find other less obvious shared connections!  Needless to say this match doesn't respond to messages either, so I don't know exactly where he fits in yet.


I am now of the opinion that this previously unknown, potential Courtney group, is not a clue for my missing George Courtney at all.  The evidence is clearly weighted more towards the group being connected via my Cassidy-Sweeney line.  I would dearly love to have access to some segment data to be able to confirm this.

It was wonderful to have the clues generated by SideView™ make me re-visit this group.  I must admit it was disappointing that it has not led to new clues about George's identity.  He remains my nemesis.  

It does however provide more clues about my Cassidy family that now need further research.   

At the Cassidy Clan Gathering, Devenish Island, Fermanagh 2017

Back to the drawing board for George.....


This blog is dedicated to finding my second great grandfather Arthur 'George' Courtney c1841.   To see a summary of my research click here.  

If you help with any of questions raised in this post, please contact me using the contact form on this blog or send me a private message via WikitreeAncestry or Facebook. 


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