It’s been about thirteen years ago when an old friend of mine looked me up on Facebook and in reconnecting with each other I discovered one of my greatest passions: unpuzzling my family history. My friend built a family tree for me on Ancestry and it was incredible to go through it. I was amazed at all she had uncovered, all from entering in a small bit of information here and there and pointing and clicking with the mouse. Seeing all the different names and the different branches and lines of the tree, seeing all the locations where my ancestors and relatives had been, and seeing actual images of documents and photos and maps started a fire inside me. I had to have my own subscription to Ancestry and I had to learn how genealogist use evidence to make the claims that they do. Some of the claims made in my tree were really hard to believe and I had to find out for myself.
So in 2006 I started learning how genealogists look at primary and secondary and tertiary sources to identify facts that can be used to rule out certain possibilities and support others. I started up my own family tree doing what professionals do, and I looked at documents, mostly images of documents that were scanned and uploaded to the internet. I looked at documents created by researchers who used primary sources in their research. I also looked at documents created by researchers who used secondary sources for their research. It’s been a fascinating journey but it’s been a journey of small steps, and one with lots of breaks in between.
After several years I was able to delve into genetic genealogy when I was able to have my DNA tested. I used a company called FTDNA and they provided a great number of services for genealogists to be able to use their genetic test results to compare and match with other test results and connect with other researchers and relatives.
Through FTDNA I’ve been able to learn about my Haplogroup for Deep Ancestry research, learning about ancestors who existed on this planet long before the origins of civilization, long before humans settled down to plant, long before the origins of written human languages, long before the origins of spoken human languages. I’ve also met plenty of cousins through FTDNA, fellow family history fans and researchers.
After a few years of toying around on FTDNA, looking at GEDMatch, Y-Search (which is, sadly, no longer online), Mito-Search (also, sadly, no longer online), and various DNA projects, I had a much more interesting experience.
About two years ago a man contacted me who claimed to be related to me according to genetic testing, and he had done his testing through Ancestry, which didn’t exist when I had my DNA tested. This man didn’t know how we were related, but his DNA profile told him we were a match.
Soon after this “cousin” explained that he was also related to a woman who I had already met through Ancestry, another cousin, so this indicated we shared a common cousin. I was related to this woman through my mother. She is either the Great granddaughter or the granddaughter of my mother’s mother’s mother, my great grandmother. I knew and still know very little about my great grandmother or this line (my mother’s maternal line).
So I learned a bit about my great grandmother, the mother of my grandmother who I was very fortunate to get to be around quite a bit, especially after I moved close to her right before I started high school. I learned about my great grandmother from my new cousin, the female cousin, who knew my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and my great grandmother’s sister, who was this cousin’s grandmother, I believe. My cousin also knew the mother of our great grandmothers, our great great grandmother.
The male cousin who contacted me also contacted my female cousin, but none of us really knew exactly how we were related. I figured it had to be through my mother’s mother’s line because of the connection with my female cousin. What it turned out to be was far more amazing.
I started asking more questions of this new cousin — where was he living, was he married, kids, what was his age, what was his occupation, what were his hobbies? I learned that he was in his early 50s. He lived in Connecticut. He was married. No children. He worked with grants for organizations, a financial job. He played guitar in jazz combos professionally. He liked to cook. I also learned he was adopted.
This new cousin of mine was adopted, and his parents, after he reached a certain age, told him about his biological mother and gave him the name of the “home for unwed mothers” where she gave him up for adoption. He went on a search, and part of that search involved having his DNA tested and attempting to contact his matches, like he did with me.
I looked at photos of my new cousin. I saw him with his guitars. I saw him in a kitchen, sautéing something on the stove. I pondered his age and figured out his birth year and possible time when his mother would have known she was pregnant. I thought about myself: I love music and love playing guitar. I love to cook and have worked in restaurants nearly all my life. In his photos it seemed to me he looked like my grandfather, Simmie, who I didn’t really get to know because he wasn’t around much when I was a child and died before I reached the age of eight. I thought: what if he was the son of my grandfather with another woman? He was married five times. But some things didn’t fit.
My cousin and I discussed our searches through messages, and I was flipping through photos. I started pulling up photos of my uncle, my mother’s brother, Simmie’s only son that I knew of. Donnie was beloved by my mother. She thought of and spoke of him often in her life. Before my parents were married Donnie was killed in a horrible car accident in his MG.
I looked at the photos of Donnie and the photos of my new cousin. I thought about Donnie’s age before he died and noticed that my new cousin was born before or around the time Donnie died. Donnie was a musician too, according to my mother. He played drums real well. And it seemed to me that my new cousin looked even more like my Uncle Donnie than he looked like Grandpa Simmie. I sent my cousin photos of Donnie and shared my suspicions after he took a look at them and said “That is my father!”
Well, soon after this conversation my new cousin had introduced himself to many other family members on my mother’s side through Facebook friends I assume he found through my page. And soon we both learned from Simmie’s sister as well as his second wife that Donnie did, indeed, father a child before he died. The child’s mother was sent away to that “home”, gave birth, and had to move on. We now had her name and heard the whole story. I had no idea that Donnie had fathered a child. My mother never told me. My aunts never told me. None of my cousins ever told me, and I don’t think they knew about our cousin.
DNA testing had (“re”?)connected me with the son of my Uncle Donnie. DNA testing had (“re”?)connected my new cousin with family he didn’t ever really know for sure he ever had. He eventually met our other DNA cousin on my mom’s side. He even eventually found and met his biological mother and then was happy to meet his newly found biological sisters, daughters of his own mother. It’s truly an amazing gift that this technology brought to all of us: the gift of knowing who we are after knowing where we came from and the gift of knowing our family and our pasts.
Now this, of course, is a special outcome of DNA testing. Not everyone can have their DNA tested and immediately discover lost worlds like our new cousin did. However, what are you missing out on by waiting to have your DNA tested or deciding it’s not that important or just putting it off as something silly or extravagant or a waste of time? Other than the cost of having your DNA tested, or perhaps you are worried about security and privacy, what is it that concerns you?
I’m curious to know.