thegenealogygirl


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My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Part Two

DNA Discovery

Still believing that the journey I was traveling was all about John Costello, I tested myself and my mom.  The results came back and John’s ethnicity was there – loud and proud.  My mom showed 25% European Jewish and I showed 10%.

The surprise of it all hadn’t worn off one bit.  I spent time trying to think through how this had been kept such a secret.  Did it start with John or generations before?  I was hungry to understand John’s motivations and more about his past.

My next steps were all about John.  I poured over mine and my mom’s match lists.  My mom’s brother and mother had both previously tested with Ancestry so I used all four of our results to isolate matches that had to be on John’s line.  I was creating quite a list of Jewish cousins.  Many were willing to help, but their own trees stopped so recently, they didn’t know what to tell me.

My hunger for answers propelled me to learn more about DNA and my options.  Among other things, I learned about autosomal transfers.  I downloaded mine and my mom’s raw data from Ancestry and uploaded it to My Heritage.  We had just a few matches.  Nothing too exciting.  A few weeks later I uploaded our raw data again – this time to FamilyTree DNA.

It was a busy week.  I uploaded the data and forgot all about it for several days.  The following Sunday evening, something reminded me to login and see our results.  I started with my mom’s results.  Those results shocked me even more than learning my Roman Catholic, Spanish-Italian great grandpa was Jewish.  There really is no preparing for something like this.

These are my mom’s top three matches.

 

Mom's DNA results

 

I am her closest match and correctly identified as her Parent/Child.

And then there was Bob*.

A name I had stared at so many times.  That only perfect Y-DNA match to my uncle.  Here he was again matching my mom as a possible – Half Sibling, Grandparent/Grandchild, Uncle/Nephew.

 

{Insert loooooong pause here.}

 

After swallowing a few times and opening my mouth to say something but then unable to speak, my eyes drifted down to match number three.

My grandmother’s first cousin was the next closest match to my mom.  I knew exactly who that match was by her name.  She is my grandma’s first cousin – that’s really closely related.  I have pictures of her.  Lots of pictures.  I have spoken to her on the phone about family stories.  This woman, this very familiar woman, was my mom’s next closest match.

My eyes just kept going back and forth between the numbers 1,652 and 465.  Those numbers represent the number of centimorgans my mom shares with Bob and with grandma’s cousin.  That first cousin of my grandma – that very familiar woman – matched my mom on 465 centimorgans.  Bob, a complete stranger to me, matched my mom at more than three and a half times the number of centimorgans.  That little bit of math, plus the words Half Sibling, Grandparent/Grandchild, Uncle/Nephew put me at a loss for words.

Once I could think again, I emailed my friend Deborah.  You may know her as the Genealogy Lady.  I sent her a few screenshots to show mine and my mom’s matches and just asked if she had any advice before I took my first step.  Her wise advice was to remind me that being at least one generation removed, I might be in an ideal position to help my family navigate these uncharted waters.  She then gave me the only reasonable suggestion – email Bob, start the conversation.

That night was Father’s Day.  I called my dad with no plans to mention Bob.  But as I spoke with my parents on speaker, eventually I just couldn’t keep it inside.  I told my mom.  She wanted to know what it meant.  What were the possibilities – every conceivable way Bob could fit into our family.

Based on Bob’s perfect Y-DNA match to my uncle, and how he matched my mom and myself, Bob is definitely the son of one of four men.  Bob’s biological father is either:

  • My great grandfather John Costello
  • My grandfather, John’s son
  • One of my two uncles, my mom’s brothers and grandsons of John Costello

That’s it.  No one else is the possible father.

If only I knew Bob’s age.  That crucial number would help whittle down the already short list in a hurry.

I got off the phone, took a deep breath, and decided I would email Bob in the morning.  After I slept on it.  I was about to rock someone’s world.  I wanted to be ready.

I got up the next morning and sent Bob an email.

What do you say to a previously unknown, very close, surprise family member?  Well, I’m not sure what someone else might say, but this is what I said:

Hello Bob,

I recently did a Y-DNA test on my mom’s brother to help solve a genealogy brick wall.  You were his only match of a genetic distance of 0, but you didn’t have a tree so I didn’t contact you.

Last week I uploaded my mom’s and my raw Ancestry DNA data to Family Tree DNA.  Last night I checked her matches and was completely surprised that you are listed as her closest match after me.  It says you could possibly be related to her in one of these ways: Half Siblings, Grandparent/Grandchild, Uncle/Nephew.

On my match list you show up as being my possible: 1st cousin, Uncle/Nephew.

My first question is, are you looking for your father?  If so, I could definitely help you with that.  There are very few possible candidates.

All the Best,

Amberly

 

And then I sat back and waited.

 

 

Not patiently.

 

 

 

to be continued…

 

*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts will be changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  You can read the first post in this series here.

 

 


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My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Part One

DNA Discovery

Every DNA class I have taken, every detailed DNA blog post I have read, all contain the same caveat – You need to be prepared for the unexpected if you are going to take a DNA test.  For some reason, I never considered that this applied to me and my family.  But there is a reason that every good genetic genealogist regularly issues this word of caution.  No family is immune from secrets.  Including mine.

For the past few years I have been learning about DNA tests and DNA testing companies trying to figure out who I wanted to test and which company I wanted to use.  The big mystery I was hoping to solve was the mystery of my great grandfather’s family.  John Costello is my elusive, tantalizingly-close-but-oh-so-out-of-reach, great grandfather.  Earlier this year I selected my course of action and tested a handful of family members.

The first test I chose was a Y-DNA test for my uncle.  He is the son of John Costello’s son.  The results were a huge surprise.  My Spanish-born, Spanish-Italian, Roman Catholic great grandfather was ethnically Jewish.  You could have knocked me over with a feather that day I opened the long planned for and anxiously awaited results.  I had been warned that DNA results can bring unexpected information to light.  I was learning how true that statement was.  But even that surprise could not prepare me for the series of surprises that awaited me.

Looking back, all of the clues were there.  I could have at least seen an inkling of something.  If those moments were a movie, and the audience had been introduced to all of the players – that instant I learned I was part Jewish, would also be the moment the audience knew what was coming before I did.

What was this clue?  What was this foreshadowing of a surprising journey I would take a few months in my future?

My uncle had only one perfect Y-DNA match.  This one perfect match had no data – no tree, no surnames listed, no places listed.  He had only two items, his name and his email address.  Let’s call him Bob*.

Aside from being shocked to learn my great grandfather was Jewish, the other thought I had was this – Bob can’t help me.  He’s clearly not a genealogist.  He is an adoptee looking for his family.  He will not help me solve the John Costello mystery.

This thought was followed by a lot more shock and awe to learn I was part Jewish.

The clues were there.  But I was so distracted by the ethnic surprise that I didn’t see the real surprise that was literally staring me in the face.  The surprise that I correctly identified as soon as I saw it.  Bob, my uncle’s only perfect Y-DNA match, was an adoptee looking for his family.  A family he never knew.

 

My family.

 

 

to be continued…

 

*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts will be changed or omitted for privacy purposes.

 


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Photograph Showcase: Ronald Peterson, age 31

PETERSON, Ronald, 31 years old portrait

This is my Grandpa, Ronald Skeen Peterson, in 1957 at the age of 31.

Two years later he was hired by Utah State University as a counselor.  He would very shortly be made head of the department.  He taught abnormal psychology while running the counseling and testing department for the remainder of his years at USU.

Prior to his hire by USU, he worked as a counselor at the University of Oregon where he completed his PhD work in psychology.

I wonder if this lovely portrait was taken for the University of Oregon or on the occasion of his graduation?  I need to nail down the dates of a few things and I might be able to make a more accurate guess.

Either way – it’s a beautiful photo.  It has a rather large orangish-brown stain across his forehead and off to the side.  It cleaned up nicely in photoshop.  Ahhhhh photoshop, a photo preservers best friend.  😉

 

 


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Happy Birthday America

This is my favorite commercial ever created in the genealogy industry.  I love the concept and the execution.  In less than a minute, Ancestry.com managed to remind us of the importance of unity and freedom.

This great experiment that is America, survives and thrives by our willingness to be united in supporting the freedom and rights of every human being.  I hope our experiment continues for generations to come.  I hope this lovely commercial can serve as a reminder that there is always more that unites us than divides us.  We are stronger when we are one.

Happy Birthday America.

 

Thank you Ancestry.com for reminding us what we celebrate on this day.

 


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Family Reunion Bingo Games!

Reunion at Lagoon 1926

Isn’t this photo awesome?!  This Family Reunion photo was taken at Lagoon* in 1926.  The family gathered are the descendants of my 2nd great grandparents Frederick William Ellis and Susan Kaziah Davis.

My family still holds three different reunions today.  They look a little something like this.

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Great Grandchildren of Ronald & Margaret

I really love family reunions but one of the main challenges is getting everyone talking to each other.  It’s easy for the siblings and first cousins, but second cousins and cousins from different generations?  Not so easy.  Everyone experiences the same silly obstacle – they feel dumb asking people’s names.  We always have name-tags available but hardly anyone puts one on.

Well, last summer I was in charge of the Rulon and Naomi Peterson Family Reunion.  Rulon and Naomi are my great grandparents.  This reunion is held every summer in late July or early August and includes 4 generations of my family.  I love to see and visit with my Grandpa’s younger siblings.  His brothers remind me so much of my Grandpa that it takes my breath away for just a minute, in a good way.

But all those younger cousins, understandably, gravitate to their grandparents, parents, and first cousins.  I wanted to shake that up and get people interacting more and remembering our family members who are no longer with us.

So, I made two bingo games that required asking people questions.  I had good prizes too.  There were lots of little party favor type prizes for Bingos like stretchy frogs, bouncy balls, suckers, lip balm, packs of gum, etc.  Then I had a few big prizes for the first 5 or so people who earned a blackout – a cool water gun, two $10 gift cards for lunch, and a few other items I’ve forgotten.  In all I spent about $90 from the budget.  And every penny was worth it.

This was the easy Bingo game:

RulonNaomiPetersonFamilyBingo

As soon as I explained the game to the first children to arrive, they instantly starting running around asking everyone the answers.  The adults who were trying to remember things, had to talk to each other about it too.  Lots of good family conversations were going on.  After several kiddos exhausted this Bingo board, they moved on to the harder game.  This one was about our deeper family history.  This entire side of my family are LDS, so you will notice that reflected in both games.

PetersonSkeenFamilyHistoryBingowoutanswers

I really loved the conversations that both Bingo games generated.  We heard some family stories and facts that I had never heard before – and that is saying something!  There was an awesome feeling during this whole reunion as we had dinner and talked, and filled in our Bingo cards.  Our focus was on our family members and we all felt their love and presence with us that night.

After dinner I wrapped things up by sharing that I had recently come into possession of a large collection of family letters including a box of letters written by Naomi.  This is a special treasure for all of us because she died very young, with one child still at home, and left no journals or personal history.  But those five years of letters she wrote to my Grandpa include so much of her heart and life.  I read this little story from one of her letters:

From a letter dated Friday, October 13, 1944, written by Naomi Peterson to Ronald Peterson:

“I must tell you about Janice and Marilyn.  We went in to Lienhardt’s to get the candy last night and when we came home Marilyn’s new robe was over the back of the chair by the telephone.  It looked wet and on further examination I found a pool of water under the chair.  This morning Janice stated to laugh saying she had never seem anything so funny in her life.  Marilyn had filled the bath tub for her bath.  She and Janice were standing by the mirror.  Marilyn says things just to make Janice angry – rather smart you remember.  Janice gave her a disgusted push and sat Marilyn in the tub robe and all.  Her feet were hanging out and her head against the soap dish.  Janice said she went in very gracefully.  Marilyn says there is going to be a big splash one of these times.”

What a treasure.  It was a joy to see everyone’s eyes light up as I told them about the letters and shared this story.  It was a great reunion with a very simple set of activities.

 

If you have a family reunion coming up, I wholeheartedly suggest you consider making your own version of Family Bingo.  Everyone loved it and they were used again at a smaller reunion for one of my Great Uncles and his family.  I also emailed copies to everyone who couldn’t attend including answers for the second Bingo card.

 

If you would like to use my docs as a starting point to make your own, here they are:

PetersonSkeenFamilyHistoryBingowoutanswers

RulonNaomiPetersonFamilyBingo

And if you are related to me and are curious about the answers, here is the copy with answers:

PetersonSkeenFamilyHistoryBingo

 

I will just add one more tip – I did not put a limit on the number of prizes.  I also didn’t worry a lot about the prizes.  The kids knew I had created the game, they would come to me and show me their card and I would send them over to choose their prize.  Some kids made a serious haul, but it kept the conversations going all night.  Plenty of adults and teenagers played too – and took prizes.  I made sure I had a Costco sized bag of High-Chews as backup in case we ran low on prizes, we did use the High-Chews and got very close to running out of everything.

 

Have you ever been in charge of a Family Reunion?  What activities have you enjoyed at Family Reunions?

 

 

*Lagoon is an amusement park here in Utah that started out as a place for bowling, dancing, and eating.  The first thrill ride was added in 1899.

 


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Photograph Showcase: Finding the Original of a Favorite Photo

PETERSON, Ronald as young boy in front of house - smaller

I LOVE this darling little photo of my Grandpa from 1931.  I love his happy smile, that jaunty tie, and the cute little tip of his ankle.  I’ve seen this photo in several places – my dad’s Book of Remembrance created by his mother, my Grandma’s Book of Remembrance, and in bundles of favorite photos that my Grandma made copies of for loved ones.  This is a well known photo for me.

I was sooooo delighted to find the original of this precious photo.  The color difference was a bit hard for me to adjust to.  So I played with a few filters in Photoshop.  Which do you like best?

PETERSON, Ronald 1931

The original – there is some discoloration seen throughout the photo.

PETERSON, Ronald 1931 - b&w

This filter is called “Black and White Beauty”.

PETERSON, Ronald 1931, pw b&w

This filter is called “Pioneer Woman Black & White”.

PETERSON, Ronald 1931 - l&e

This filter is called “Lovely and Ethereal”.

I don’t normally use photo filters on old family photos.  But something about the state of this photo seemed to call for a little editing.  Which do you like best?  How do you feel about filters and old family photos?  Are you a photo purist?  I like to edit out scratches, tears, dust, and other damage, but I usually leave the color alone, unless it is orange from an old magnetic album.  The orange is too much for me to leave alone.

 

Happy Thursday, I hope you make a delightful photo discovery today!

 

All filters are courtesy of the Pioneer Woman and can be found here.

 

 

ps – You may have noticed my absence in reading, commenting, and responding these last few weeks.  I have been on a WILD and rewarding DNA ride that I hope to be able to tell you all about one day.  Let’s just say, when they warn you that when you DNA test you might find a family secret – well, I can now attest to that being completely true.

 


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Major Milestone Right Here!

FullSizeRender

IMG_7881

Last week I filed and filed and filed letters.  Do you know what a treat it is to open letter after letter and see your grandparents handwriting?  To touch the pages they touched?  To hear their sweet and enduring love for each other?  It was completely joyful for me.

I am soooooo happy to say that I filed every single letter for the 5 1/2 years they wrote to each other!  Ten Hollinger boxes filled with letters.

(Of course, I still have the letters from the 1960s when my Grandpa was in graduate school.  But we won’t even think about those yet.)

As soon as I finish scanning Aunt Vera’s scrapbook – these letters are next on deck for scanning.  I think they deserve their own blog.  Maybe this fall.  😉

IMG_7886

These four boxes were mostly full on Wednesday when I started.  They look so beautiful empty, I might just leave them on my table for a day to enjoy their tender place in my heart.

 

Happy Monday, I hope you conquer a special genealogy project sometime this year – it is an incredible feeling!