I have waited so long to write what I am about to write. The funny part is, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to say it. It still feels so surreal.
As you may know from my last post ( “The Five Stages of DNA Purgatory“) I got the matches I needed to solve my mystery… But they were anonymous. I sent messages, and they never responded. In the beginning, I kept hoping maybe they were busy. Maybe they didn’t see it. Maybe they were still learning how to use the site. But every day that passed, the more hopeless I felt about it. What good is a match if I don’t know their name? What good is a match that I can’t trace? Eventually, my top match changed her name to “Lana B.” but as you can imagine, it didn’t do me much good and her son was still anonymous. By the time six months rolled around from when it popped up in October, I gave up trying to figure it out. My best match below the mother and son pair on 23andme was a measly 49cm and I had no idea, not even remotely, where it fit.
Then in January, a new match popped up on Ancestry. 90cm. It wasn’t as high as I would have liked, but it was nearly double my next highest match. I did a lot of digging. I made some mirror trees. I traced out every single branch I could find. I thought I had it narrowed down to one specific couple (perhaps my great-great-grandparents?), but try as I might, I just couldn’t narrow it down to any of their children. Something wasn’t making sense. I kept digging though. And then dug some more. And more. And finally, after nearly a month of this, I threw my hands up in frustration.
I was exhausted. I was depressed. I was frustrated beyond measure. I was desperate. I was sad. I was absolutely and utterly hopeless.
The odds of getting another high match like the anonymous ones that kept teasing me were low. And even if I did, how long would it take? A week? A month? A decade? My life was starting to revolve around these trees. Interpreting DNA and desperately trying to make sense of matches so small, most genetic genealogists wouldn’t bother with them; but those matches were all I had to work with. I had absolutely buried myself in DNA. It even invaded my dreams; I would have very long, detailed dreams about working on trees, pinpointing matches, and getting closer to an answer. I had to really focus to contain my jealousy, and my urge to throw myself on the floor and throw a tantrum, “WHY CAN’T THAT BE ME?” any time one of my fellow searchers found their family or was reunited with their birth family. I probably spent enough time on it to equate to a part-time job over the last year, yet I just couldn’t manage to get any closer. It felt like no matter how I tried, I just wasn’t allowed to have an answer. For me, there would never, be any resolution. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how patient I was, no matter what I did.
So, feeling especially sorry for myself, I decided I needed a break. I was tired of desperately refreshing my match pages every few hours, hoping something changed, when 99% of the time it doesn’t. It was making me crazy. I decided I would take one more look at all three of my match pages, and if nothing new popped out, or no new leads stood out, then I was going to take a break; indefinitely. For my sanity’s sake.
I logged into ancestry. Nothing new. Family Tree DNA. Nothing new. GEDmatch. Nothing new. Then 23andme. Nothing new… wait. Lana B.’s son now has his full name listed. And lucky me, it wasn’t a common one. My heart was pounding. I searched his name on Facebook. I found him immediately, I wish I would know more about Instagram, maybe he has pictures posted, I think I’ll start getting some Instagram followers and get the hang of it. I lucked out even more when he had all of his family member’s listed publicly in his “About Me.” And sure enough, Lana B. was listed as his mother. I rushed over to Ancestry and started building a mirror tree. It took some digging to find records, but I found them pretty quickly and within half an hour, I had a decently sized tree made for her. My goal, was to attach my DNA to her family tree and figure out which side of her family my other DNA relatives seemed to line up with. Then, once I figured that out, I would need to go back 2-4 generations and build out trees for each child’s spouse and see if anything pops out as familiar, or connected to my other DNA matches. Ideally, you want to find where your matches, unrelated to one another, intersect, because odds are, you are descended from the marriage they intersect at, not always, but there’s a good chance.
One of the things you can do while building trees is look at other member’s public trees to compare information. I do this regularly, just to double check and compare what other people have. While working on Lana B.’s tree, I pulled up someone’s tree that included one of her ancestors. I was confirming the information on one side, and just happened to glace at the other side and saw the name Woods. Well, it’s a common name, but after looking through the succession of Woods’ and the marriages, I realized pretty quickly that the other side of the tree matches my 90cm match’s tree exactly. I sat there in disbelief. Did this really just fall into my lap? Did I really just get that lucky?
Based on what I was seeing, there was no endogamy. I had to be descended from where the family of Lana and the family of my 90cm match intersected. I almost squealed I was so excited. One of that couple’s grandsons was my father! ONE OF THEIR GRANDSONS WAS MY FATHER! I couldn’t believe it! Now, just to figure out which grandson. From what I could tell, there were three. Two brothers with the same last name, so the same father, and their cousin. The home person on the tree was one of the two brothers, so I started looking into his father’s line. At this point, I felt pretty deflated. Nothing was familiar. Nothing really matched. So, it had to be his cousin, right?
I sent the tree owner a pretty vague message, asking about the daughter of his grandmother and what her name was, along with any siblings. Then we talked briefly about DNA. He said “assuming you aren’t adopted” in his message and I felt comfortable enough to come clean with him about what I was doing and I asked about his cousin;
“I am not adopted but my father is unknown. My mother never told the father. I wonder if perhaps your uncle had any sons? I would be looking for a man likely born in the 60s, likely in the military, and in Alaska in early 1988. That’s literally everything I know, unfortunately, and Margie and Wesley’s lines intersect with both of my closest matches on either side.
I am quite young. 27. So if your uncle has a child it is possible! But my 3rd cousin matches through Wesley and my second cousin through Margie. I’m not sure how likely that is to be fluke!”
At this point, I was really hoping this man would help by giving me more information on his uncle and whether or not he had any sons and who their mothers were. If I could get that information, I could search for more matches and see what fits. Instead, he responded with this;
“Well… Wow. At first I was thinking it could be my uncle’s son, but…
My brother was born in 66 and stationed in Anchorage Alaska in the late 80s. What is your mom’s name? He was married to a woman (first marriage) who already had two children, but it was short lived and no children between them (to any of our knowledge – maybe not even his). I can’t remember if they met in Alaska or not.
So my brother would be WAY more likely to fit this scenario than my Gary’s son.
If this is true…this would be crazy. :)”
Wow! Just wow! I could barely compose myself. He asked if he could call me and despite my extreme aversion to phone conversations with anyone but my grandma and my husband, I agreed. We talked for an hour. Turns out that he and his brother had the same last name, but different fathers, both with the same name. Unrelated, just coincidence. After doing a little digging, I was able to track down the brother’s father’s lines. Sure enough, a few 4th-6th cousins matched up down his paternal lines. His brother sent me some photos. I couldn’t believe it. He looked so much like me, and his daughter could have been my twin when I was the same age.
This was it. I found him.
The next few days, I worked on expanding the tree. My uncle continued to help me find information. He also told my aunt. We facetimed, which again, was a huge deal. I don’t video-chat with anyone but my grandma and Alinda. Sometimes Chelsea. She was so excited and couldn’t get over it. At this point, my father was unaware. I was afraid to tell him. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was really worried about upsetting or disrupting his life. I didn’t want that. And with how many times I have had to have that uncomfortable conversation, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it again, especially since I knew I had found my answer. I was happy just knowing. His brother and sister were bursting at the seams though, and insisted that he would be happy about it, so I agreed. Why not jump in feet first? I have already worked for this for ten years! Let’s do it. They conference called him and told him.
My daughter had star-student of the week. I went to her school to have lunch with her. When I got home, my husband looked at me and said “Do you want to call your dad? He called twice while you were gone.” My heart just about exploded. “Call my dad?” CALL MY DAD?! I never, ever, in my life, imagined that I would ever get to say those words. Something so simple, but so powerful at the same time. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
I called him, and I could have sworn he could hear my heart just slamming against my ribs while we spoke. He was nice. Funny. Excited. And really, really, friendly. And even more interested than he was friendly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I hit the jackpot. No doors slammed in my face. No threats. No one telling me to get lost. Every bad thing I have ever prepared myself for, or imagined and feared… It was the complete opposite.
I spent the next two weeks feeling like it was all a daydream. I would rush down to the computer every morning to triple check and make sure it wasn’t another taunting dream. I couldn’t stop re-checking, re-evaluating, re-confirming. I was re-checking my work a million times a day, terrified and paranoid that somehow, I made a mistake. Did I get something wrong? What if I did? Maybe I should check again. I even cross-checked it with people more experienced in genetic genealogy than me me, even having some pretty well-known expects take a peek. Everyone came to the same conclusion. Over and over again. No matter how many times I checked it. This was it.