thegenealogygirl


17 Comments

Photograph Showcase: Grandpa Costello & His Guitar, aka Photo Heaven ❤️

COSTELLO, John playing his guitar, November 1960

John Costello, November 1960. Photo courtesy of Barbara Costello.

In May of this year, I shared my joy at finding 7 seconds of video of my great grandfather, John Costello.  In that post I shared that I have exactly 5 photos of my great grandfather.

Guess what?

That is not the case any longer!!

 

{Insert major genealogy happy dancing & celebrating right here.}

 

In July, my sister visited our grandaunt Barbara.  Barbara is the widow of Dan Costello.  Dan is the son of our great grandfather, John Costello.

Aunt Barbara sent my sister home with a lovely chalk drawing created by John’s wife, that I shared last week.  She also sent her home with a small, but very precious, bundle of photographs for me to scan and return.

This photo of Grandpa Costello was among them.  My heart is bursting with joy to see Grandpa Costello in – what I am guessing is his living room? – playing his guitar.  He didn’t like having his picture taken, so each photo is extra special.  Here is, as a 67 year old man, still playing his guitar.  Be still my heart.

❤️

 

Have you been blessed to have photos shared with you, photos you weren’t expecting to ever see?

 

 

ps – Thank you!! for all of the input and advice about my letter collection.  I really appreciate each of your comments, emails, and poll answers.  Between all of you and some conversations with family, I think I have made a tentative plan.  I think.  The part I know for sure is that I will not be sharing the letters here.  My goal is to be ready to begin sharing them with family in January.

As a side note, my sister talked me through every possible way of sharing, all of the issues to consider – both for those who are deceased and those who are living, plus the time required for each avenue.  In all of that discussing, she helped me have an interesting and very valuable a-ha moment.  There are letters missing.  I know this for sure.  There are also letters that have been edited by scissors or permanent marker – by Grandma.  That leads us to believe that she definitely destroyed many letters, leaving no trace, and that the ones that remain that were marked “destroy”, were either too special to her to destroy or she changed her mind about their fate.  We can’t know for certain, but it has impacted our position on how to handle those letters.  One thing all of this has caused me to reflect upon, is what my own wishes are for my personal items like journals and letters.  Hopefully I can make my wishes clear so one day my granddaughter will know exactly what I would have wanted her to do.

 

 


24 Comments

Photograph Showcase: Grandma Costello’s Art

COSTELLO, Mary, 1939 sailboat art - smaller

This lovely little sailboat was created by my Great Grandma Mary Brown Young Costello in 1939 using chalk.  It appears to be an oil chalk.  My great aunt recently gave it to my sister who brought it straight to me to scan.

What a little treasure!  Grandma Costello was very talented.  She crocheted, cross-stitched, tatted, arranged flowers at a flower shop, and apparently created beautiful chalk drawings.

Aunt Barbara said that Grandpa Costello didn’t like her to draw.  I’m curious about that.  I wish I had been there to ask a few follow-up questions.  Like, did he dislike her art or the time she spent?  Or did she go somewhere to take a class and maybe that was his issue?  Expense, time, or a handsome art teacher?  😉

I am so happy my sister has a new family treasure to love and that she allowed me to capture a high quality scan so we can all enjoy Grandma Costello’s art.

 

Do you have any artists in your family?  How do you preserve and share their work?

 

ps – This drawing is framed under glass.  I did not remove it from the frame because of it’s age and the fact that it was created with chalk.  I scanned it on a high quality flat-bed scanner at my local family history center.  It turned out great!  I scanned it as a .tiff at about 1200 dpi so that family members could print the image in whatever size they prefer.  I sized it down and saved it as a .jpeg to share here.


41 Comments

DNA Happy Dance & A New-To-Me Resource

dna-3d-2146389_1920

Guys!

 

This DNA stuff is awesome.  And I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

When I set out to test myself and several family members, my main goal was to find something, anything, about John Costello’s family.  That has not happened.  Yet.

But my second goal was to solve my next closest brick wall.  My third great grandfather.  He was born in France and came to the US as a child.  Until last week, everything we knew about his life was post marriage.  My sister started working on this portion of our tree about 15 years ago.  We have records, photos, and some anecdotal evidence from family members.  But all of it is post marriage.

Children didn’t just immigrate from France in the 1850s alone, but we couldn’t find any travel records.  We couldn’t find him on the census.  He seemed to have just beamed himself over from France, Star Trek style.

To complicate things, the only people in the entire US with his same surname, spelled the same way, are all his descendants.  So… made up last name?  Did his parents die when he was young, after immigrating, leaving him an orphan?  What was going on?

I hoped DNA would help with this brick wall.

And oh boy, did it ever deliver!

 

Last week I was combing through my matches that are in this general area of my tree.  I remembered something Diahan Southard said in a recent webinar.  She said that your best matches are the ones that you have no surnames in common with.  Those trees just might point you to the surname you are missing.

Well, I have two matches in this general area of my tree that have no surnames in common with me.  They are fairly close cousin matches.  I looked at their trees and while we didn’t share any surnames, those two trees did have one surname in common with each other.  It looked like their end of line people with this name were one generation apart.  I did a little digging and figured out how their two end of line folks connected to each other.

That still didn’t tell me how that surname connected to me though.  So I did some more digging.  I pushed their trees back another generation and I’ll be darned if I didn’t just find the sister of my brick wall!

I kept going.

Using the information about my 3rd great grandpa and his sister, I FINALLY found a ship manifest for the whole family coming over from France.  That led me to the state and federal census records that followed their arrival.

No wonder I couldn’t find them!

The spelling of their surname makes phonetic sense, but it is a variant I’ve never seen before and one I hadn’t thought to try.  Add to that that my 3rd gg’s first name is wrong on one record and recorded as simply an initial on the other, and it makes total sense that he seemed to be hiding.  He kinda was.

I found several more records – a second marriage for my 4th great grandpa (which lists his parents names! squeal of delight here), a land record for that same 4th great grandfather, records about both sisters of my previous brick wall 3rd great grandpa.  It was exciting!

I couldn’t find some important records I was hoping would help me jump the pond, so I dove deep into the FamilySearch catalog and exhausted everything I could find there.  Luckily for me, most of the relevant microfilm are already digitized and available to view from home.

I have more to do.  Lots more to do.  Which is why I intentionally left out names, and other specifics here.  For now.

All of this exciting searching led me to a brand-new-to-me website and a whole different set of discoveries.  This part of my tree is in Illinois.  My sister has done most of this research.  I’ve only helped with the pre-Illinois part in Québec.  This means I really haven’t spent much time with Illinois records or Illinois research in general.  All of my exciting, new discoveries sent me searching for Illinois newspapers.  I tried all of my usual stuff.  One of the “list” websites pointed me to the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.  What an awesome, free resource!

While I didn’t find what I was hoping to find, I did find a whole bunch of goodies about other members of my family in this general branch of my tree.  In fact, I found so much that I had a genealogy first.  I actually got bored processing all of my newspaper finds and had to take a break.  The searching and finding wasn’t boring, but the downloading, saving, and cropping got boring after dozens of cool articles.  😉  Here are two articles that were particularly interesting.

MAFFIT, Orrin, 1906 burial article - crop

This article comes from the St. Anne Record, 30 March 1906.  Mr. and Mrs. Seth Moffit are my 2nd great grandparents.  This article details their travel from Chicago to Saint Anne, and the funeral and burial of their son, Orrin Seth Maffit.

BROUILLETTE, Nelson, 1919 Car accident article - crop

This article also comes from the St. Anne Record, 10 July 1919.  It describes a minor car accident involving Nelson Brouillette, my 3rd great granduncle.  What I love is all of the other names and connections this article describes.  One that isn’t obvious is that Dr. Benjamin is Nelson’s son-in-law.

 

So.  What is the point here?

 

First, DNA results are amazingly helpful to genealogy research.  I LOVE genetic genealogy!  If you haven’t dipped your toe in yet, join us.  The water is fine.  Mighty fine.

 

Second, if you have any Illinois ancestors, check out the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.  A fabulous – and FREE – resource.

 

 

Happy Tuesday, I hope you make a fantastic brick wall breakthrough very soon!  It feels awesome.

 

 


17 Comments

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 Classmates.com.  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.


20 Comments

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.

Why?

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.

 


23 Comments

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.

 

 


36 Comments

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.