By: Georgiann Gibson

Using mtDNA and Group Projects, a customer traced her maternal lineage back to one of the King’s Daughters.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in finding the missing piece that completes a puzzle. My mtDNA journey provided me with many moments of joy, astonishment and gratitude following years of frustration and disappointment. The result was finding an extensive branch of family I could never have imagined.

A Brief History

After many years of searching, these were the only bits of information I knew about my great-grandmother: her name was Mary Gonya. She had lived in the small rural town of Elmira, Michigan, around 1883 when my grandmother, Mabel LaFrancis, was born. I found this information on my grandmother’s Social Security application. Mabel thought she had French-Canadian ancestry but knew nothing more specific. I estimated that Mary was born about 1860. No birth, marriage, or death record for her has been found to date.

Mabel La Francis, a grandaughter of the King's Daughters - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
Mabel LaFrancis
Mabel's Social Security Application - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
Mabel's Social Security Application

A census record showed that by 1900, Mabel was living in Illinois with her father, her stepmother, her biological siblings, and four step-siblings who had been born in 1888 or later. From that information, it seemed likely that Mary may have died some time before 1887.

1900 census record for Mabel La Francis - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
1900 census record for Mabel La Francis

Pandemic Perk

Fast-forward to 2020 when I had plenty of “pandemic time” on my hands to focus on genealogy. It finally dawned on me that I had a valuable resource that was “unmined”; notably, the autosomal DNA matches that were showing up regularly in my Ancestry account for myself and my mother, Mary O’Malley. There were literally thousands of matches, but I didn’t know what to do with all the information. So, I set a goal to learn as much as I could about DNA.

I attended a group of DNA classes at a virtual RootsTech conference early in 2021 and did a lot of reading. About that time, a friend suggested I try an mtDNA test. I was skeptical that it would help because female lineage is notoriously difficult to trace. But I had nothing to lose, so I ordered a FamilyTreeDNA mtDNA kit, and, as they say, the rest is history.

In-person Research

Later that fall, my husband and I had a trip planned to Michigan to visit family. Having found no evidence of records online, it seemed a perfect time to research in person. Prior to our departure, I contacted the Catholic Diocese of Michigan, and some very helpful people gave me the names of three possible churches where I could look for records related to Elmira, Michigan.

I couldn’t find a baptismal record for my grandmother Mabel at any of those churches, but at one of them, I most unexpectedly found a baptismal record for her younger brother Robert.

Robert’s baptismal certificate from1885 listed his parents as Charles Francis and Mary Gonyer, and his godparents as Napoleon Gonyer and Elisabeth Gonyer. Finally, I had verifiable evidence of Mary’s existence, and I was overjoyed! A picture of that page is shown below (names are written in Latin).

Robert's baptismal record from St. Thomas Xavier Catholic Church - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
Robert's baptismal record from St. Thomas Xavier Catholic Church

Traditional Research

I returned home reinvigorated by my findings, and now, having some basic DNA knowledge, I began my search again.

Reviewing my Ancestry DNA matches, I found two women of interest who shared DNA with my mother, Mary O’Malley. I used Mary’s DNA matches because she would share more DNA with matches than I would. One woman, Sandra B, and another, Karen D, shared 127 cM’s (centimorgans) and 101 cM’s, respectively. I searched both of their trees for relevant information.

1870 United States Federal Census for Mary Gagne - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
1870 United States Federal Census for Mary Gagne

Both Sandra and Karen’s trees were well documented and included people with the name Gagne (alternate spelling); some lived in Michigan and descended from ancestors who had lived in Canada.

I found that Sandra’s great-grandmother, Ida Gagne, had a sister named Mary Gagne, born about 1860, and a brother named Napoleon Gagne, whose wife was Elisabeth Gagne. Subjectively, I was quite sure this was the right family, but I was skeptical because the census that included Mary had their last name listed as Gann (see census below). To me, that bore no similarity to Gagne. However, the family members matched other censuses and Sandra believed it to be correct.

This is where an mtDNA test could provide a definitive answer. By now, I knew my Haplogroup was C4a1a. Because Sandra’s Gagne connection was through her father, an mtDNA test for her would not be useful. However, Sandra had a cousin named Daphne who descended through a mother/daughter female line, so she was a perfect candidate for an mtDNA test.

When I contacted Daphne, I found that not only did she share 127 cMs with Mary, but she had already taken an mtDNA test and knew she was in the C haplogroup. This supported Mary’s place in this family.

Visual Organization

To understand the “big picture” of how these three families might fit together, I used Ancestry’s ThruLines and Shared Matches to construct a chart showing the amount of DNA each person shares with my mother, Mary O’Malley, as well as their pedigree.

The colorized chart below shows the autosomal test takers I found for each family. The chart is read from left to right, with the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) in the first column. Each subsequent generation descends to the right.

The number of cMs shared with Mary O’Malley is listed in the final columns. The family at the top of the page, starting with the green columns, who descend from Mary Gagne and Charles La Francis, are my half aunts and cousins.

At this point, my family’s earlier generations were unknown and are represented by question marks. Sandra (SB) and Daphne descend from Marguerite Desnoyer and Louis Eusebe Gagne; that family is represented in purple. Karen (KD) descends from the L. Gagne and Zoe Robert family, as shown in Pink.

Colorized Relationship Chart showing test-takers, amoutn of DNA shared, and their lines of descent. - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
Colorized Relationship Chart showing test-takers, amount of DNA shared, and their lines of descent.

With Robert’s baptismal information, the autosomal DNA information in this chart, and the fact Sandra and Karen both had significant documentation that their 3x great-great grandparents were Marie Gagne and L Gagne Bellavance, it looked very reasonable that my great-grandmother, Mary, was a daughter of Marguerite Desnoyer and Louis Eusebe Gagne and sister to Ida Lydia Gagne.

Autosomal DNA Analysis

Compact Segment Mapper - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records

Sandra, Daphne, Karen and I found that we had all previously uploaded our DNA to a site called GEDmatch ( Knowing that, we were able to use a tool called the Compact Segment Mapper to analyze our DNA chromosomes, looking for triangulation among them. Triangulation provides evidence that people share a common ancestor.

Below is a screenshot of the chart comparing chromosome overlap for Mary O,Malley (the gray lines), Sandra, Daphne and Karen. So, for example, if you look at chromosome 11, you can see that Sandra, Karen and Mary have significant overlapping segments indicating a common ancestor for each of the three families. Referring back to the Colorized chart, that ancestor appears to be Marie Anne Gagne.

The Crowning Achievement

Perhaps the most astonishing discovery of this endeavor was found through my mtDNA matches at FamilyTreeDNA. My test results showed 10 total matches:

  • Five people with a genetic distance of 0
  • Two people with a genetic distance of 1
  • Three people with a genetic distance of 2

I contacted all of the people at the genetic distance of 0 but received no response. My biggest mistake was not even considering contacting any of the other matches because I thought they would be too distant for me to glean any meaningful information.

Luckily, I was contacted by one of them, a man named Richard, who had found me as a match; he was one of the genetic distance 2 people. He suggested I join FamilyTreeDNA’s French Heritage DNA Project because it might help us find our connection. As you will see, a match at genetic distance 2 provided the key to my ancestral history.

I contacted the Project Administrator Denis Beauregard. Coincidentally, Denis is researching the C4a1a haplogroup as it relates to a group of 768 women known as the “King’s Daughters” who settled in the Quebec, Canada, area between 1663 and 1673.

The short story of the “King’s Daughters,” or “Filles du Roi” in French, is this: In his attempt to settle French Canada, King Louis XIV (1638-1715) recruited women, many of whom had fallen on hard times, who were willing to move to “New France.” King Louis paid their passage and a small dowry in the hopes that these women would marry soldiers stationed in New France, thereby settling his colony. Indeed, most women did.

The King's Daughters - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records
Jean Talon, Bishop François de Laval and several settlers welcome the King's Daughters upon their arrival. Painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Through Denis’ research I learned that Richard, Sandra, Daphne, Karen and I all descend from one of the “King’s Daughters” named Catherine Guyard.

Georgiann Gibson's Direct Maternal Line - Granddaughter Finds Her Roots with mtDNA and Historical Records

Catherine was born in 1639 in Ile-de-France, France, voyaged to Canada in 1665, married, and settled in the Montreal area. She and her husband had five children. In 1689, 1500 Mohawk warriors launched a surprise attack on the small settlement of Lachine at the upper end of Montreal Island. During this attack, their youngest son, Jean, age 11, was captured and killed.

Catherine’s female descendants carry the mtDNA haplogroup C4a1a. Her well-documented lineage traces down mother through daughter all the way to Mary Gagne and ultimately to me.

Knowing my mtDNA haplogroup designation helped me in so many ways to connect deeper into my ancestry and my “herstory.” I found a family for my great-grandmother based on my initial hunch, DNA, and traditional research. Yet, with my mtDNA results and Denis’ French heritage research, I not only found verification for my great-grandmother Mary’s place but also that of my 9th great-grandmother and her small part in the history of Canada.

Georgiann Gibson - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

About the Author

Georgiann Gibson

Retired School Psychologist

Georgiann was born and raised in the Chicago, Illinois area. She moved to Idaho as a young adult where she raised two sons. She loves travel, experiencing different cultures, hiking and cross-country skiing.

Georgiann has been an amateur genealogist for many years and truly loves the puzzle-solving aspect as well as learning the historical context of her family history. She is fortunate to have visited many of the places where her ancestors lived. Finding a very dear friendship with a distant cousin who lives in Australia has been one of the benefits of her genealogy research.