Photograph Showcase: Introducing John Baptiste Jerrain

John Baptiste Jerrain and Willow Jeane

John Baptiste Jerrain & Willow Jeane

Many years ago, my Grandma’s Maffit cousins decided to put together a book about their family.  It was quite an extensive effort.  Emails and phone calls went back and forth across the US as cousins tried to identify family members in old photo albums, recall family stories, and put the best information together that they could.  Somehow, I didn’t end up with a copy of that book.

Weird, right?

Well, ever since I found out about it – too late to get a copy – I have been trying to get my hands on the CD of photos that was created at the time the book was finished.  It has not been a fruitful effort.

But then.

Several weeks ago, I was at my parent’s home to help my mom for a few days.  She mentioned that the plastic tub sitting on the guest bed was some family history “stuff” from Grandma’s house that I may want to look through.  It sat for a few days before I got to it.  There were plenty of interesting items.  Partway through the collection, I came across a CD that was marked “SAVE” in big black sharpie.

At this point, I must interrupt myself to share with you, dear reader, that my Grandma was notorious for throwing away family treasures.  I will not subject you to the pains of rattling off a list of the items I know she tossed, or my speculation on what else may have been cast aside.  Except I can’t help myself.  Here is one small example – she had about 13 large tintypes that were not labeled.  She showed them to me and said she would be scanning them.  Somehow they ended up in the trash and if she ever scanned them, I don’t know where the scans ended up.  Her reasoning?  They weren’t labeled anyway.  Sigh.

So there I was, sitting on the guest bed, looking at a CD that Grandma had loudly labeled “SAVE” and hoping it was the CD of precious images from the Maffit family book.  I hopefully and joyfully added it to my already bursting suitcase.

Later that day, I mentioned to my Mom that I thought I had found a CD I had been hoping to get my hands on for years.  She tried to tell me I couldn’t take it.  Oh boy!  She hadn’t even looked in the tub, but when she thought there was something good, she wanted to hang onto it.  I just told her nope, I was taking it.  And I would share.  She couldn’t really argue.  Haha.

Finally last week I had a minute to download the photos from the CD.  It absolutely was what I thought it was!  Hooray!!


And so, I would like to introduce you to my 3rd great-grandfather, John Baptiste Jerrain.  Doesn’t he look dapper in his bowtie?


{Insert major genealogy happy dance here!!  🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉}


The photo is labeled with two names, John Baptiste Jerrain & Willow Jeane.  The person who shared the photo was my Grandma’s 1st cousin, Willow Jeane, great-granddaughter of Grandpa Jerrain.  That Willow Jeane was born 6 years after Grandpa Jerrain died.  However, he had another granddaughter named Willow Jeane who was born in 1904, 26 years before Grandpa Jerrain passed.  He also had another great-granddaughter named Willow Jeane who was born in 1929, 1 year before his death.  Based on the age of the child, I would imagine that IF this child is Willow Jeane, she is Willow Jeane Jerrain, born in 1904, daughter of Prudent Arthur Jerrain & Jessie Campbell Shirky.

What a treasure.

There are so many wonderful photos on the CD.  I am delighted!


But there is one more thing.  I almost hate to mention it.  But here goes.


The photos were scanned using what was likely the best scanning technology at the time.  Quite a long time ago.  Most of the photos are very, very small digital files.  Like very, very, very small.  This is one of the largest ones, by at least triple.  So if you are one of my Maffit cousins who happens to have any of the old originals of the family photos, how about scanning them again?  Or mailing them to this cousin to promptly scan and mail back to you?  I promise to share my scans.  🙂



Happy Monday, I hope a long sought for family treasure makes its way to you very, very soon!    xoxo



ps – Monday is not my normal day for a Photograph Showcase post, I have several other posts that are in varying stages of completion that were intended for today.  But I was so distracted by the joys of seeing my 3rd great-grandfather that I just had to share – TODAY!




Tuesday’s Tip: What to do when your FS change log presents you with a tangled mess.

FS change log mess


This video is most applicable to FamilySearch users who participate in the Family Tree.  But it also contains some gems that may help FamilySearch users who do not participate in the tree.  Here are the items covered in this video:

  • FamilySearch watch lists.
  • The change log in FamilySearch’s Family Tree.
  • Command/Control click – which I wrote about here.
  • Reviewing record attachments in FamilySearch’s Family Tree, detaching records, changing the focus person in the attachments screen and then attaching the record to the correct person.
  • Ancestry’s FamilySearch button.  Using it to link people in your Ancestry Tree to the same individual in FamilySearch.  Using it to add someone new to the Family Tree on FamilySearch.  Using it to compare the version of a person in your Ancestry Tree with the version of a person in the Family Tree on FamilySearch, and sending data between the two websites.
  • The FamilySearch internal messaging system.  Making a plan with another user.
  • FamilySearch record hints.



Remember to click the ‘HD’ button on the bottom right of the video.


I went on to spend some time updating both Annas.  If you are interested in viewing each woman in the Family Tree on FamilySearch, Anna Graf can be found here, and Anna Evelyn Shoffer can be found here.


Confusing changes and tangled messes are part of working in the Family Tree on FamilySearch.  Frankly, that is why many genealogists stay away.  If you choose to participate the Family Tree, I hope this was helpful for you.  If it was, please feel free pass it on to other Family Tree users.


Happy Tuesday, I hope you don’t come across any tangled messes on your genealogy adventures today!  😉




The Mess That Just Keeps on Growing

Whiteley - Hyde

Once upon a time, I drew that colorful – {both literally and figuratively} – flowchart.  I wrote about the matrimonial messiness in this part of my tree.  I followed that up with a post about Arthur Hyde who seemed to have left a family in England and then married his widowed sister-in-law while still being married to his wife back home.  That was followed by a post about the incestuous relationship between uncle and niece – Robert & Rosey Hyde.  Then there was the follow-up post reminding readers that we need to always click to the next image because I found even more details about that crazy mess up there on page 50 of a record.

This fascinating series of discoveries was capped off by a post all about Rosey’s Girls.  I had learned so much since I drew that first flowchart that I had to update it.

marrying mess

The crazy, twisty, utterly shocking journey did not end there.

DNA connected me with two of Rosey’s living granddaughters.  My finding-living-people-stalking skills led me to a direct descendant of Rose Elvera Hyde.  And my cousin bait – namely this blog – brought a living descendant of Arthur Hyde to my digital door.



That super colorful flowchart needs another update.  A major update.  So major in fact that I have to start from scratch.  I thought that last post about Rosey’s Girls was hard to write.  Ummm…these next ones are going to be even more complicated if you can believe that.

I just wanted to share a few tid-bit teasers and two BIG, FAT REMINDERS as a PSA to all my fellow genealogists.


Tid-bit Teaser #1

I wrote this about the men in Rosey’s life: “There are details that come from the nuances of the records that lead me to believe that Harry was the great love of her life, that Neil was a loving old age companion, and that Robert, well, Robert seems to be the villain.  I don’t know if that’s fair, but that is who he is becoming in my mind.”

Well.  I got that completely wrong.  It turns out Harry is definitely the villain.  So much so that Robert is starting to seem not so bad.  How’s that for a turn of events?


Tid-bit Teaser #2

A very long time ago I wrote about my Grandma’s adopted first cousin Sherry Hunter.  At the time I wrote about Sherry, I still didn’t know Rosey had any children.  But it turns out that Sherry is a descendant of Rosey, adopted by her biological 1st cousin once removed.  Sherry belongs to that crazy mess up there.  I did not see that coming.


Tid-bit Teaser #3

Muriel Grace Groome nee Hyde - cleaned up

This lovely photo made it’s way to me.  That is Rosey’s daughter Muriel Grace.  Isn’t she beautiful?


Now for the PSAs.


Big Fat Reminder/PSA #1

If you have not DNA tested – PLEASE DO IT!  I cannot believe the wealth of information that has come my way as a result of DNA testing and transferring my results to two additional companies.  Followed up by contacting my matches.  In fact, I’ve gotten so caught up in the deluge, that I have lots of matches I haven’t had time to contact yet.  What other goodies are waiting for me?


Big Fat Reminder/PSA #2

When you have a mystery, brick wall, dead end – write about it.  Leave plenty of cousin bait.  If you are a regular reader you have probably noticed that I mostly write about my questions and unsolved mysteries.  In fact, if you aren’t paying close attention you might think I never solve anything.  😉  I am putting out massive amounts of cousin bait.  And it works.  People email me after finding something I wrote about a family member we have in common and they fill in details that ONLY THEY can share.  Details that exist in photo albums or memories.  Details that answer some of my most unanswerable questions.  Like what the heck happened to Arthur Hyde and his first wife Mary?  Did he really just leave her and the children behind in England and marry Alice?  Why yes, yes he did.

Cousin bait is your friend.  Make sure you are leaving it out to attract the cousins you need to find.  Your beautifully researched, perfectly reasoned, tidy little genealogy stories will attract cousins too, but usually not the cousins who bring more toys to the party.  You solved those ones.  Go ahead and write them up, but don’t let your mysteries languish in a stack of notes.  Those glittery little bits attract the distant cousins who just might answer some of your burning questions.  You may not like the answers – after all, there is a reason you haven’t been able to solve it with traditional research – but they are usually very fascinating answers.


Are you excited for my new flowchart?


I am!  Now, I just have to figure out how to fit all of the crazy connections on one page.


Maybe I need to go buy a posterboard…




My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Conclusion and Tips

DNA Discovery

Finding Bob’s* birth mother and father was such a privilege.  I learned a lot, and felt like I was on a rollercoaster.  Because we were successful, I thought I would reemphasize the biggest lessons and tips that I gathered along the way.


DNA tester's warning

First – Please go into the DNA world with your eyes wide open.  There will be surprises.  Possibly, surprises that are upsetting.  Like, it turns out your favorite Grandpa isn’t your Grandpa after all – at least not biologically.  Or, you have a half-sibling you never knew about.  Or, one whole brach of your tree is completely wrong, genetically speaking.

For me, the surprises were not unwelcome.  That is not always the case.  So please, if you choose to DNA test, or ask someone else to DNA test, be open to surprises.  (People have been having babies outside of marriage for like, ever.  It bears repeating: There will be surprises.)


DNA Discovery, lesson one

Luckily for us, Bob had already tested with FamilyTree DNA and 23 and Me – three total tests.  Additionally, my uncle had Y-DNA tested with FTDNA and autosomal tested with Ancestry.  Having multiple tests in multiple places was really the key to finding Bob’s parents so quickly.

Most people can’t afford to test with every company.  As the person working with Bob’s matches, I can tell you that each one of those 5 tests played a crucial role in the process.  If even one of them hadn’t existed, we wouldn’t have gotten our answer.  Well, at least not so quickly and easily.

So what do you do if you are an adoptee and can’t afford multiple tests?  Learn about autosomal transfers so you get the most bang for your buck.


DNA Discovery, lesson two

I know this one is easier said than done in many cases.  For adoptees, they have a whole bunch of matches that they can’t differentiate.  They have nothing to work with.  There are plenty of cool science-y things you can do.  If that speaks to your soul, and you have the time – by all means, learn the cool science-y DNA tricks that barely register in my pianist/dreamer/reader/artistic brain.  If that is not you, pull up a chair and let me give you a few of my sneaky detective tricks.

Study your closest matches – up to third cousin.  Look to see if they have a tree.  If you are looking at matches in Ancestry, please note that just because there is not a tree attached to someone’s DNA results, does not mean they don’t have a tree.  Here is an example from my matches:

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 3.13.43 PM copy

This is a match I have been working with over the last few weeks to help solve some long standing mysteries.  She has not linked a tree to her DNA results.  But if you look at the very bottom left, I have the option to “Select a tree to preview” with a drop-down arrow.  After clicking the arrow I see the tree she does have.  If she had more than one tree, they would all be listed here.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 3.13.52 PM

Her tree is quite small, because she had a dead-end she was trying to solve.  I have been able to help her, and she has been able to help me.  Win-win!

Okay, let’s get back to the point here.  Compare the trees of your matches and look for the closest common ancestors.  Everyone will fall into two camps – maternal and paternal matches.  If you can group them based on common ancestors you will be in better shape.  Try to connect your matches.  There are connections – find them.  Pay attention to names, but be careful, they could be maiden or married surnames.  Pay attention to dates and places.  You are looking for patterns.

Use the tools in the DNA service you are using to look at matches you share with your matches.  This tool can help you separate your matches into two groups.

Look for a match who is really into genealogy, they love to help!  Even if they are a little bit more distantly related, a 3rd cousin say, they probably know a lot about their tree and can help you narrow things down.

In my case, it was easy.  I already knew which of Bob’s matches belong to my side of his tree.  I was just looking for common ancestors of the remaining matches.  All of these matches were from his birth mother’s side.  Each of them added a clue or two that helped me identify Bob’s 2nd great grandparents as the common ancestors of his closest matches.  From there I had to switch to descendancy research.


DNA Discovery, lesson three

What is descendancy research?  I’m glad you asked.  I happen to have an info graphic handy that answers that very question.

gg defined- descendancy research

I know that is super tiny and not the least bit reader friendly.  Just click on the image and it will take you to the original post.

Completing descendancy research on the common ancestors of your matches, will help you build a tree filled with your family members.  You may not know how you are related, but you do know that you are related.  Building that tree will lead you to living family members who may be able to help.

Remember – you can switch any trees in Ancestry and FT DNA to descendancy view.  This will help.  Don’t overlook those living people who are marked private.  They still show gender.  I actually looked at Lucy in someone’s descendancy view, I just couldn’t see any data other than her gender.  She and her siblings gave me a pattern to look for – a family with a certain number of sons and daughters.  That key obituary for her brother, backed up the pattern I had already discovered.

By the way, there is a delightful bit of serendipity I left out of my previous posts.  Lucy’s brother who died?  He has the exact same first name as Bob, spelled the same way.  I know there is only one way to spell Bob, but there are several ways to spell Bob’s actual name.  Bob’s given name was chosen by his adoptive mother, who did not know that Lucy’s brother had that name.  I hope that was a tender and helpful thing for Lucy in her journey.  ❤


DNA Discovery, lesson four

Once you have built the descendancy tree of your common ancestors, start adding living family members by searching for obituaries.  Recent obituaries can often be found by simply googling someone.  Learn how to do targeted google searches to help with this.  My favorite tricks are putting quotation marks around a name, like this, “Ronald Skeen Peterson”.  If I search google with that phrase, I’ve just said to google, please bring me things about a person with this EXACT name.  Be careful though, not everything uses a full name.  So I should also try, “Ronald S Peterson”, “Ronald Peterson”, and “R S Peterson”.

Ronald Peterson is a super common name, so I can make my search even more targeted by adding additional facts.  Use operators like OR, AND, NOT, etc.  So if I wanted to find an obituary for my Grandpa I could try something like this: “Ronald Skeen Peterson” AND “1997” AND (death OR funeral OR obituary).  I’ve just told google to only bring me results that include the exact name Ronald Skeen Peterson, and the year 1997, and one of these three words: death, funeral, or obituary.

These google tricks can help you find LOTS of goodies.  Of course, remember to use variants.  In fact, if I want to get reeeeeaaaaally fancy I would do this: “Ronald (Skeen OR S OR ?) Peterson” AND “1997” AND (death OR funeral OR obituary).

If you can’t find obituaries using google, consider trying GenealogyBank or another newspaper website.  Many libraries or Family History Centers have subscriptions to such websites that you can utilize in their facility for free.

Once you find an obituary, update your tree with all of the people mentioned.  Even if you only know their first name.  Get everyone linked together and make good notes so you remember which obit added which people.


DNA Discovery, lesson five

Now if you are thinking to yourself you just did that when you found some obits, you are correct.  But what I mean here is you need to learn how to find contact information for living people.  This is where we get into creepy stalker territory.  This is where my particular skill set goes into the danger zone – that area where some people may use the skills for good, like me, or for not so good.  So I will be a bit on the vague side here.  If you know me and need personal pointers, and I know you will be using your powers for good, shoot me an email.  If not, well – shape up creepy stalker!  😉

I will just point you to my three main websites for finding living people: Facebook, the White Pages, and Family Tree Now.

If you don’t have luck finding people on Facebook, spend a little more time learning how to search it effectively.  Use a name but also add a city or state.  And so on…

The White Pages are good for people who still have a landline.  However, they are constantly tweaking their website hoping to make money off of you, so there is less info here now than there used to be.

Family Tree Now is a hackers dream come true.  I urge you to go there and get you and all of you family members off of their website by “opting out”.  However, you can track down those living people you found in the obits on this website because hardly anyone has opted out yet.  This website is free, but scary!  It definitely could be used for evil.

I know I said I was only going to mention three websites, but I should also mention that High School yearbooks helped me identify Lucy.  You can find many at  But, you can often find them in local libraries online.  I found them in both places and found Lucy in them.


DNA Discovery, lesson six

I know it doesn’t always feel this way, but people are good.  There are always helpers in every family.  If your first, second, third interactions are discouraging – keep trying!  Don’t you quit.  You will find someone one day who will be happy to help.

Look for the helpers, there are always helpers.


Here are a few last tips:

Contact your matches.  Remember that people like reciprocal relationships.  They love messages that say things like, “Hey cousin, I see that we are a DNA match, I have some family photos I would be happy to share.”  Now.  An adoptee can’t say things like that.  So come up with something that invites that same type of reciprocity.  Be creative!  Maybe you are willing to help fund other family members DNA testing or something like that.

If your matches don’t respond, try again.  Be nice.  VERY nice, low-key, low-pressure.  Keep your messages short and open.  Try to deal with only one question or issue at a time.  Think like you would if you were texting someone who you know is really busy.  Once you get a feel for the other person’s interest level and time, adjust your message length and content accordingly.

Learn about DNA.  I barely know anything about DNA research, all the crazy cool, ultra-smart and nerdy charting and phasing and segmenting and so on, but it would have been the next step if my genealogy skills weren’t so robust.  Find ways to learn, watch Legacy Family Tree webinars, find Facebook groups for adoptees and DNA research, read one of Blaine Bettinger’s books, attend classes at your local Family History Center/Archive/Library, attend a genealogy conference and go to DNA classes etc.


A few closing thoughts:

I began my journey with a very clear goal – find matches that would help me learn more about my great grandfather John Costello.  I did not set out expecting to find a first cousin who was adopted at birth.  That wasn’t anywhere on my radar at all.  And yet, that is what I found.

The journey we took together was overwhelming, emotional, exhilarating, surprising, and of course had a few hiccups.

I will forever be grateful and humbled that I was able to help Bob find his birth parents.  That is a distinct honor and privilege that will hold a special place in my heart all of my days.  I hope to do it again one day.  Although… hopefully not for the same uncle.  😉

I imagine that John Costello is smiling down on all of us, a bit like a puppet master who somehow managed to keep his pre-marriage life a secret so that I would go looking at our DNA and find his long lost great grandson.

Well played Grandpa John, well played.



Isn’t genealogy cool?!  Isn’t DNA cool?!  But the combo – WOW, that is a powerhouse combo!



Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  A lot of you have been reading along.  In fact, a lot more than normally click on over to my little corner of the genealogy blogosphere.  Thank you for sharing your own stories both here and through email, text, and FB messages.  I am inspired by how many of you have a personal connection to Bob because of your own experiences or the experiences of your loved ones.  You are awesome!



*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts have been changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  Previous posts in this series found here – Part OnePart TwoPart Three, Part Four, and Part Five.


My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Part Four

DNA Discovery

I was up earlier than normal that Saturday morning.  I didn’t want to call my uncle since I knew he had gotten home so late the night before.  Mid-morning I got a text from my aunt saying to call when I was up, my uncle was anxious to talk to me about Bob*.

The second I read the text, I called.  My uncle was super cool about the whole thing.  He was positive that he wasn’t the father, but not opposed to learning the truth.  Can we just take a pause and consider what he must have been feeling?  Genetically, Bob can only be his or his brother’s son.  If we were just talking straight odds, not accounting for any other factors, he was facing a 50/50 chance that he had a son he never knew about.

But, with courage, he faced it head on.  I explained the fastest two options we had.  Option 1 – I could walk him through downloading his raw data file from Ancestry and uploading it to Family Tree DNA.  Option 2 – He could make me the administrator of his Ancestry DNA account and I could do everything.  He happily went with option 2.  It took us about 10 minutes to complete the steps needed to transfer administrator rights to me.

I very methodically downloaded his raw DNA file and uploaded it to FTDNA.  I was so nervous that I triple checked every step.  Because I had previously completed a Y-DNA test on my uncle with FTDNA, I uploaded his raw ancestry DNA to the same account.  I didn’t know if Bob would be on top of it all enough to be checking his matches or not, so I changed my uncle’s profile name to a different first initial.  I thought my uncle should know first if it turned out he was the father.

The default email that is generated when you make an autosomal transfer to FTDNA tells you that your first matches will begin to show up as early as an hour later and before 24 hours has passed.  The thought that I might be waiting for 24 hours was a bit much for my nerves.

I tried to keep myself busy with other tasks for about 45 minutes.  And then I began the obsessive refreshing of my uncle’s FTDNA page.

I would just like to point out that if my psychologist Grandpa were alive and reading this – he would likely be somewhat concerned about my mental state.  Deservedly so.  This was a lot to handle – a lot of emotions, a lot of pressure, a lot of holding multiple people’s futures in the palm of my hand.  Kind of like this:


At minute 60, I clicked refresh again with no updates.  My heart sank, was I going to have to wait a full 24 hours?

At minute 61, the waiting ended.

My brain had a really hard time processing what was finally in front of me.  Was I reading this all correctly?  Suddenly I felt like I didn’t know which column was which.  I called my husband over and made him listen as I tried to explain what I was reading.  I thought his eyes and mind would likely focus better and help me process correctly.  I was wrong – he didn’t get it and tried to tell me I was reading it wrong.  🙂  Suddenly, I was back.  I knew what I was looking at.

My DNA tested uncle was also Bob’s uncle.  Not his father.

My first call was to my uncle.  He wasn’t a bit surprised.  I let him and my mom take it from here for a while.  They knew that their brother had a child he didn’t know about.  Once again, I thought that was a conversation better had with a sibling than with a niece.

From here, I was able to do something I never expected to do in my entire life.  I had the distinct privilege of telling Bob who his father is.  Let that soak in.



My DNA tested uncle called his brother and told him the news.

Arrangements were made for contact between father and son.

I felt like Santa Claus.

There was just one problem.  Bob wanted to know who his birth mom was.  In a perfect world, the story would be one of teenage love, being too young, or something along those lines.  But that is not our story.  My uncle did not know who Bob’s mother might be.  He was, shall we say, a bit on the promiscuous side.

That got my nerves all in a tangle once again.  But this wasn’t my journey.  It was Bob’s.  I was just helping him find answers.

We had our first answer.  We knew Bob’s father.  I sent more pictures and shared some cool and unique facts about my uncle.  He is quite well known in a specific sporting history.  In fact, famous, is actually a better word for it.  I hoped connecting to that cool history might soften the blow of not being able to hand Bob details of a teenage romance, and the name of his birth mother.

A few days passed.  Father and son spoke.

And then late one night I got this email:


Subject line:  Any interest in looking at my 23 and me and info and seeing what

Message:  Info you can figure out?  Maybe mom side stuff?



You have come to the right place cousin!



This Santa Claus definitely needed to turn Wonder Woman and find Bob’s mom.


But how…?



to be continued…


*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts will be changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  Previous posts in this series found here – Part OnePart Two, and Part Three.


My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Part Three

DNA Discovery

I really should have showered before I sent that email.  Once I clicked send I obsessively checked for a response for hours. In between clicking refresh, I googled Bob’s* name.  His email address is his first name, middle initial, and last name.  Using just those clues I found Bob online.

At least, the person that I thought might be Bob.  Even though I know better, I analyzed every bit of his face.  I found him, and his wife, and his mother on Facebook.  More analyzing.  Was his mother his birth mother or his adoptive mother?  Could I tell from a photo?  (Of course not.)  All the while I obsessively clicked refresh over and over and over again waiting for a response.

Monday came and went.

No email from Bob.

Tuesday came and went.

No email from Bob.

Wednesday was slowly dragging on while I – yep, you guessed it – obsessively, if not quite so frequently, refreshed my email hoping for a message from Bob.

Mixed throughout these days were conversations with my mom talking through what we would do once we knew.  One thing she felt certain of – if Bob was the son of one of her brothers, they didn’t know anything about him.

Finally, at 1:18 pm on Wednesday afternoon, I had a response from Bob:


Thank you for reaching out to me.  I have been hoping someone would be able to help me someday.

How can we go about figuring it out?  I did both family tree and 23 and me, hoping someone would reach out!

Any help is appreciated.


Finally! Step one accomplished.  We have contact.

At this critical juncture we need to interrupt the story telling to talk about lesson one.


DNA Discovery, lesson one



Bob had tested with Family Tree DNA and 23 and Me in early 2015.  My grandma and uncle had both tested with Ancestry DNA at about the same time.  If Bob had also tested with Ancestry, he would have found his family two years sooner.

The reality is that most people can’t afford to test with every company.  So if that describes you, test with the companies who don’t allow you to transfer your data from another company, and then transfer your data to the companies who will allow that.  To understand this option more fully, read about autosomal transfers.


Now, let’s get back to the story.

I was so excited to get a response that I had a really hard time slowing my eyes down to really read and understand.  It took a few times through those scant lines of text to absorb it all.

Once it had sunk in, I responded with this:


Hi Bob,

I was so glad to hear back from you.  You are in luck, I happen to be the resident genealogy expert in our family and I have spent a bunch of time learning about DNA the last few years.

Based on how you match, I am fairly certain that one of 4 men has to be your father.  I actually think I might know which of the four it most likely is.  I also think, he doesn’t know about you.  Because of that, I want to get as much figured out as I can before I speak with him.

Here are a few questions that would help:

  1. Were you adopted?  Or do you just not know who your father is?
  2. Do you know anything about the circumstances of your conception and birth?  Like, where is your biological mother from, how old was she when you were born, etc?
  3. When and where were you born?  I would completely understand if you don’t want to share your birthdate, but your age and birthplace are essential to helping us figure out your parentage.

No matter how exactly we connect, you are without a doubt part of my family – a very closely related part of my family.  I’m so happy to know about you and can’t wait to find out more about our shared story.  I imagine you are having lots of emotions.  Take your time.  We can work on this as quickly or as slowly as you like…

I then shared with Bob a few links to blog posts I’ve written about this side of our shared family.  I also told him a few of the names in this part of our tree.


At this point our correspondence gets quite specific.  It’s not for public consumption.  Bob’s next response answered my questions.  He knew only a few small facts.  His birthdate, possible birth State, possible city he was adopted from, and a possible age for his birth mother.

Based on Bob’s age – only a few years older than me, which by the way means I was not the firstborn grandchild after all – he has to be the son of one of my mom’s brothers.


Because of the Y-DNA match, we have four possible fathers to work with.  John Costello, his son, or one of my two uncles.  John Costello died many years before Bob’s birth, so he is ruled out.  John’s son, my grandfather, had a vasectomy after the birth of his youngest son, many years before Bob’s birth.  He also lived several states away, eliminating the possibility of a reversed vasectomy and subsequent parenting of Bob.  So, one of my uncles had one more child than they previously knew about.

That is heavy information.

I called my mom.  I didn’t think the, “You might have another child, can we use your DNA to figure it out?” conversation should come from a niece.

Luckily for all of us, one of my two uncles had previously tested with Ancestry DNA.  This meant we could download his raw DNA data and upload it to Family Tree DNA where Bob had also tested.  This would give us the fastest answer.

I updated my mom and asked her to call the DNA tested uncle.  She called him right away.  The problem was, he was in Europe for work.  Understandably, he wanted to talk to his wife, my aunt, before he turned over his DNA account to me.  It was Wednesday, he would be home at midnight on Friday.  I had to wait until Saturday for answers.

I knew the wait would be excruciating.  That’s a ridiculous word to use, I know.  There are much worse things going on in the world.  But I felt like the weight of the entire situation was resting firmly on my shoulders.  I had a previously unknown first cousin – FIRST COUSIN! – who wanted to know who his biological parents are.  I was the key to helping him learn the truth.

To help fill that space, the waiting space, I sent Bob an email with a bunch of pictures.  I was able to write sentences like this, “These are our grandparents…”, “These are our great grandparents…”, “One of these two men is your father and one is your uncle…”.  I felt like I was giving someone a huge gift.  There really aren’t words to describe the feelings that accompanied the composition and careful photo selection of that email.

Bob and I exchanged info about our immediate families and he sent me lots of photos of his children.  Again, even though I know better, I poured over their faces trying to see who their grandpa should be.  I imagine he was doing the same thing, only trying to guess who his father should be.  {By the way, I totally found the right Bob when I first went looking online.  Sometimes I scare myself.}

The days crawled by.  I was antsy.  I was worried.  I was trying to imagine the ramifications.  But most of all, I realized that this journey I originally thought was all about John Costello was about so much more.

My sister said something so profound – “If you had found John Costello before now, you never would have spent all of this money on DNA tests and you never would have found Bob”.

So true!

She went on to suggest that maybe John Costello was making sure I couldn’t find him, until I found Bob first.  Fascinating.  Entirely likely.  Completely wonderful.  I have been actively, anxiously, and sometimes desperately searching for John’s story.  Instead, I found Bob.  A cousin I didn’t know to look for.  A cousin I didn’t know was lost to us.


Saturday could not come fast enough.


I wanted to be able to tell Bob who his father was.



to be continued…


*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts will be changed or omitted for privacy purposes.  Previous posts in this series found here – Part One, Part Two.



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,



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.