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DNA Cousins Mystery Solved

March 20, 2016

GenesMany people wonder if DNA testing for genealogical purposes is a gimmick/novelty, or is incredibly useful, or is something in between.

The answer is usually “something in between,” because many apparent matches aren’t actual matches, a point I hope to get to in an upcoming post.

But for now, let’s focus on the “incredibly useful.”

I can’t claim to be a genius but I did have the foresight to test both my paternal grandfather and one of his cousins several years before they passed away, both in 2014.

As their kit manager, I was contacted by a half-brother and half-sister who both showed up as first-to-second cousins to my grandfather and his cousin. I could see the overlap was mutual so the two half-siblings shared their grandparents as ancestors.

I know who almost all my third cousins are, and even many of my fourth, so this created a bit of a mystery. But because of their location and dates they were born, I was able to work out that my grandfather’s first cousin, who was a medical student at the time, was a very early sperm donor who was the biological father of both my new cousins.

The child of my grandfather’s cousin, my second cousin once removed, was very obliging and volunteered to test, to verify the theory. Bingo, theory proven.

Long story short, my new cousins have met members of the family and now know who they are. But this couldn’t have happened without multiple people testing, and without someone knowing the basic genealogy.

I’m very pleased to have my new cousins, and to have been able to help them. Success stories like these are possible for donor-conceived children and adoptees, as well as people just looking to verify their family trees. So let’s celebrate the “incredibly useful,” even if it takes a little luck, before I get into the not-so-reliable aspects of testing in a future post.


Bermuda Triangles, continued

March 19, 2016

PennsylvaniaDeathRecordLast time, I wrote about Ireland as a sort of Bermuda Triangle for genealogy. What I didn’t say is you can often hope to get some leads if you visit the island, simply by finding people in the area you’re interested in – assuming you know where that is – and asking around.

Be warned, though, that the famous Irish rain takes its toll on gravestones, and so cemetery visits might not be as productive as you’d hope. (I plan to write about gravemarkers soon, stay tuned.)

North America has its share of black holes, too. Sometimes these are just areas where there was little or no organized government for quite a time, or where records were destroyed (such as in the US Civil War); but in other cases, it’s the legislative environment today that puts the kibosh on research.

Until a few years ago, for example, I just couldn’t get much information from Pennsylvania, especially vexing since my third great-grandparents lived in Philadelphia from 1925 until their deaths in the 1930s and 1940s. Then, a few years back, the Pennsylvania Senate introduced a bill to make vital statistics from the state much more accessible. The bill passed in late 2011, opening a floodgate for researchers interested in the state.

This is why areas with little information aren’t always Bermuda Triangles. Often concerted efforts to lobby governments, digitize records, photograph and transcribe gravestones, etc., is all that’s needed to make genealogical research not only possible but also pleasurable.

Bermuda Triangles

March 17, 2016

Most of us have heard about the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the Atlantic where ships and planes are supposed to go missing for unexplained reasons.

It turns out that there’s not really any good evidence such an area exists. At the same time, most of us have felt that there are Bermuda Triangles in genealogy, areas we just can’t get good records from.

Sadly, such areas do exist. Not every nation or smaller government body kept good records, and some of those that did have since lost them in fires, floods, wars, etc.

Other areas have records, but they’re very hard to get at because of poor organization, language barriers, or high cost.

It being St. Paddy’s Day, it’s probably the time to mention that Ireland is not an easy place to do research. Often it’s North Americans and Antipodeans trying to trace their Irish roots, but for the most part they don’t even have a county of origin to go by.

Irish records were not kept regularly until well into the 19th century, and even then, many were lost in 1922 in the  Battle of Dublin.

So, perhaps instead of referring to black holes or brick walls or Bermuda Triangles, we should really complain, “Damn it if I haven’t hit a shamrock while following this line!”


March 17, 2016

How “compleat” is your genealogy?

None of us knows —or can know—everything about our family past, but this blog is dedicated to going that extra mile in family research, whether that means overseas archives, DNA testing, or something else.

This is no easy thing in the Internet age, when misinformation spreads at the speed of light (or is that darkness?).

So I’ve used the 18th-century spelling of “compleat,” a reminder of a time when people were probably just as wrong about things, but at least took the time to research them.