Sole DNA Project Update

By Linda Butler

This article was published in the December 2023 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

Maureen Storey and I have spent the last couple of years exploring ways in which autosomal DNA may help resolve some of the brick walls we face in our research. We were spurred on by the success we had in proving that the family of George Sole of Bradford, Yorkshire, were descendants of Valerie Sole of Thriplow, Hertfordshire (Soul Search, December 2021).
Unfortunately to date only 14 Society members with Sole (and variants) ancestors have had their DNA tested, covering only a handful of the hundreds of families in our database. As yet, their matches have not provided any breakthroughs. In addition to only having a small pool of testers, the problems are twofold: despite the large Ancestry database, it still only covers a tiny fraction of people, and there will be no testers from many of our families; and, even when people do test, they don’t always link their results to a family tree, so we have no way of knowing whether there is a Sole match or not. But we remain hopeful of making progress through DNA as we have identified over 200 Sole descendants on Ancestry who have taken a test.
While keeping an eye on new matches which are popping up all the time, we have tried a new strategy to see if we can find any useful information by searching public trees on Ancestry. To keep the task manageable, our initial research has focused on ‘orphan’ families i.e., those that appeared in a location where there were no earlier Sole records that related to them, and for which we had little or no information to identify where they came from. We concentrated on families that appeared in the late 1700s/early 1800s in the hope that DNA matches might eventually give us some answers. In the meantime, we looked for what trees on Ancestry might tell us about them.
We all know that trees on Ancestry can be very inaccurate and misleading, but not all are. You can get a feel for how reliable they are likely to be by looking at what sources they cite, and also how active the tree owner is. Trees that merely copy someone else’s information can also be fairly easy to detect. Despite these concerns, the trees can provide additional information and also some pointers to avenues that might be worth pursuing. After all, we all tend to put in that extra bit of time and effort when we are researching our own family.
What can be found is best illustrated with a few examples.

  1. Family of William Sole and Sophia Fairhall:
    William Sole and Sophia Fairhall married in Broadwater, Sussex, in 1846. William’s father is said to be Philip Sole, shipwright. The Society records include Phillip Sole (b 1779), shipwright, who had a son William (b 1807) with his first wife Maria Winton. However, that William married Mary Ann Sanders in Portsmouth in 1831, so he would have been a widower when he married Sophia but is described as a ‘bachelor’ in the marriage register.
    There were 20 trees on Ancestry that contain this couple. Those that show parents for William do indeed identify him as the son of Phillip Sole and Maria Winton. None of them mention an earlier marriage for William – did the researchers not find it or did they disregard it?
    One thing to note is that William and Sophia were together in the 1841 census, with their eldest son Robert, but they weren’t married until 1846 after all their children were born. Could they perhaps have been waiting for William’s first wife to die? One of the trees provided a copy of the baptisms of his children, which weren’t carried out until 1851 – something definitely going on with this family, below.
  2. Family of William Soules (b ca 1876) who died in Cardiff, Glamorgan in 1908
    William Soules and Emma Ford married in 1898 in Lydney, Gloucester. The marriage certificate says his father’s name was George Soules and it was thought he was probably William Herbert SOUL, the son of George Soul and Sarah Packer (GBG) baptised in Binton, Warwicks, in 1872. However his age on both death and marriage is a couple of years out (which is relatively unusual by 1898/1908).
    41 trees exist on Ancestry and one of these seems particularly well researched. It included the railway employment record for William which specified he was born in August 1872. This strengthens his claim to be the son of George Soul and Sarah Packer, as claimed in this particular tree. Incidentally the employment record shows he was a carman.
  3. Family of William Sole (b. ca 1788) and Margaret Prescot
    Ancestry is not always helpful. William Sole and Margaret Prescot married 1809 in Nonington, Kent. It has been suggested that this William was the son of William Sole and Ann Arnold, who married in 1787 and whose children were baptised in Nonington between 1788 and 1797, but there isn’t a big enough gap between their children for them to have had a son William in the right time frame. If the age we have for him (from his burial and census entries) is a year or two out, William (b ca 1788) could have been an illegitimate son of Ann Arnold, who later used the Sole surname, but if so he may not have been William Sole’s son. Ancestry has 21 public trees containing this family, but none contain any details for the parents of William Sole (b. ca 1788).
  4. Family of Thomas Sole and Ann Whiffen
    Thomas Sole and Ann Smith Whiffen, married 1803 in Rochester, Kent, but lived and worked on the Isle of Sheppey. We found 11 trees on Ancestry for this family, but they only added to uncertainty about Thomas’s parentage as two different sets of parents were commonly given: John Sole & Ann Batt or Thomas Sole & Sarah Scutt. No sources to justify either of these choices are apparent from the trees, though perhaps if the tree owners were contacted they might have additional information.
    While many of the trees we identified on Ancestry don’t provide any help on taking our “orphan” families back in time, they do sometimes provide a lot of information on descendants of those families that we had no knowledge of – so our database continues to grow.