Thankfully that email arrived very late and I was really tired. I replied that I would be delighted to help. Bob* immediately emailed me his usernames and passwords to his FTDNA and 23 and Me DNA accounts. I drifted off to sleep wondering if it was even possible to track down Bob’s birth mother.
Let’s review what information I had to work with:
- Bob’s birth date.
- Bob’s possible birth state.
- Bob’s possible adoption city.
- Bob’s birth mom’s possible age at the time of Bob’s birth.
- Bob’s birth mom’s possible first name – we’ll use Lucy*.
That is not a lot to go on.
But the other very important, absolutely essential, data we had to work with were Bob’s DNA matches with two different companies.
I logged in to each account and took a cursory look at his matches. Right away I could set aside several that I knew belonged to my side of Bob’s family.
I looked at his close cousin matches – 1st through 3rd cousins. There was a small handful of people to try to connect. On the surface there was no obvious connection. Several of those matches had absolutely no information to work with aside from their name.
Luckily, one of his close cousin matches had a rather extensive tree including descendants. After comparing the scant clues between all of these people, I was fairly certain that I knew exactly who Bob’s 2nd great grandparents were. They seemed to be the common ancestors for all of Bob’s close cousin matches that weren’t part of my family.
One important thing to note here is that the only clue connecting some of them to the common ancestors was their surname – not the surname of the common ancestors, but surnames that matched some of their other descendants. This isn’t a perfect indicator, but a good possible clue.
So I had a family to comb through. I was looking for descendants of this specific couple who lived in the right place at the right time and that had a family member named Lucy.
Luckily for me, this couple, the common ancestors, were immigrants. They settled in one state and their children lived in that state and the neighboring state. But still not the state Bob was possibly born in.
I moved down the tree to the grandchildren of the common ancestors. This is where it gets sticky. Some of these folks are still alive and not viewable in any online trees. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t find them, I did, but it took some of my genealogy street smarts.
I wish I could show you the steps that I took. But out of respect for Lucy, her privacy, and being sensitive to her experience in all of this – we will have to keep this all theoretical.
Her father is a grandson of the common ancestor couple. The only grandson to live in the state of Bob’s birth. He raised his children in the city Bob was possibly adopted from. He died in that city. His wife, children, and grandchildren still live in that city.
All, except for his one son who died a few years ago. That young death generated an obituary. In that obituary I found the name I was hoping to find – Lucy. She was listed as his sister, along with her husband and children’s names.
I found Lucy in old High School Yearbooks. I found her and the nexus of her family on Facebook. She was the right age, in the right place, at the right time. All told, I found Bob’s mom in about 40 minutes.
It happened so fast that I wasn’t sure what to think. Did I really find her?
Did I just find the birth mother of my newly discovered first cousin?
He is in his early 40s and has been searching for years. Did I just solve his life-long mystery? In 40 minutes?!
I retraced my steps again and again. I thought about something Tom Jones always says about puzzle pieces only fitting together one way even if there are a bunch of missing pieces. My puzzle pieces were only fitting together one way.
I had found her.
What followed will, again, remain private out of respect for Lucy. But needless to say, I was able to confirm my work. Lucy is Bob’s birth mother.
And once again, in less than a week’s time, I was able to do something I never expected to be able to do in my entire life. I was able to tell Bob who his birth mother is. Let’s take a moment and let that sink in.
Wow, wow, wow! Seriously, WOW!
I felt like some strange and fantastic genealogy combination of Santa Claus and Wonder Woman, and I loved it. I love it. There is really nothing like it. I totally want to do it again.
I was able to give someone the gift of knowing where they come from. In this crazy and delightful world of genealogy, I am constantly searching and learning more about who I am. But the core of who I am – who my parents are, my grandparents – I’ve always known. I have no earthly idea what it feels like to wonder who you are. To have a completely blank slate. No understanding of your family’s history. At all. No knowledge of your ethnic, religious, and cultural background. No idea if your family is filled with recent or long ago immigrants. I, who constantly seek more understanding of my past with a real hunger, have no idea what it feels like to be an adoptee with no knowledge of my past. I was able to use a very tiny list of possible facts, DNA, and my super-hero like genealogy skills and find someone’s mother and father.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over how cool it has been.
So, so, so, so cool.
Coming Monday, one last post to wrap it all up with a few more lessons learned, as well as some tips. I hope you will join me and share with anyone who is searching for their family. Maybe this story will help them make their own amazing discoveries. I hope so!