I’m sure that you’ve seen the commercials about DNA testing and people finding out all sorts of interesting twists about their family. Although it is a dramatization, it does happen. I can guarantee you that if you dig hard enough into your family’s background, you will probably find some skeletons. With the advent of DNA and matching algorithms, people that test find out all sorts of things.
Here’s a positive example. In June of 2016, I was looking for a hobby that I could do while caring for my wife with Alzheimer’s. Since most of genealogy work is done online now, it seemed the perfect fit. My mom had done a bunch of family research back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Heck, our family even had someone make a book about one of our relatives, George Fisher. That book contained most of the genealogy for my father’s side so I figured I knew most everything already. I was watching a commercial for Ancestry and thought, let’s do this. I ordered kits for my wife and myself. As soon as I did that, I also started an account with Ancestry and started to recreate my family tree.
The first thing I did was add my mom and dad. I noticed this little green leaf thing next to my mom’s name. I clicked on it and I see this –
This was a picture of my mother at 1 year old. The note on the back was written by my grandmother Peggy (Carly Ethyl Clack) to a J.B. & Cleo. I had no idea who they were or who this person was that had this photograph. The note on the back was talking about my mom and asking if they knew if “Harry” was well. Harry was my grandfather (Harry Andrew Austin) and he had disappeared while my grandmother was pregnant. The note was filled with pain and I just had to learn more.
I contacted the person who had posted it and it turns out I have a whole bunch of close family I never knew anything about. My maternal grandfather had a brother James Austin that went by J.B. His son was still alive and he had two adult children. His granddaughter Julie (my 2nd cousin) had scanned that photograph and posted it.
This was a wonderful example of what can happen when you start on this journey. Julie and I have met in person and I’ve talked with her dad numerous times. We’ve grown very close just over the past few months.
Here comes the word of caution. DNA is rigid and unyielding. We may not always get all the answers from DNA we want but generally it doesn’t lie. If you can’t take all the news that comes, both good and bad, then don’t test. You could find out that your parent is not really your parent. You could find out that you’re adopted and were never told. You could find out that members of your family have done things you’d rather not know about. You could find out that you’re the product of rape or incest.
Here’s the bad example. I have a substantial number of DNA matches with people that are mostly African-American. It is clear that a lot of those situations came about due to slavery and my ancestors being slaveholders. It’s not easy to face that truth, but it’s there regardless. The nice thing is that I’ve become friends with a bunch of my cousins as we search for common ancestors and how we became related.
Genealogy and genetics are truth finding exercises. If truth bothers you, I’d suggest matchbook collecting or some other hobby.
You’re still here and reading. I guess I haven’t scared you off…good. My next post, I’ll cover how to get started, how to pick a DNA testing company (if you are going to test) and a neat app that you can download now to give you a sneak peak at what awaits.