Genetic genealogy has dramatically expanded the resource landscape for genealogists. Today DNA testing goes hand-in-hand with other genealogical records such as census’, wills and land grants as we follow the journey to learn about the lives of our ancestors. Yet when it comes to DNA, it is far more personal.
For one of my family branches we only had oral history, for 3 generations, to support a relationship. Due to a short timeframe associated with this relationship, it fell between census years. The only document placing these two young people near one another was the 1880 census where they were found enumerated 9 days apart in adjacent counties in Kentucky. About nine hundred miles away from where I reside has made travel to the region both time and cost prohibitive. From courthouse fires throughout the years, to when the State mandated records and the fact that some records just simply may not be digitized, this lead to a decades old brick wall. No marriage license, no birth certificate, no church records. Enter DNA.
Although DNA testing was not done solely for answers to this specific line, but rather was done for the broader goals to discover the types and degrees of ethnicities and to connect with new cousin matches on this genealogy journey.
In a few short weeks indirect connections related to my ancestor started to appear. Cousins who connected back to brothers and sisters, as well as the father and mother. While our DNA confirmed our connection, it was not a direct DNA hit on my ancestor.
After several months passed a new connection appeared, bullseye! The DNA matched multi-generations tested and drew a direct path to the one ancestor that had by all record accounts alluded our family historians for over 30 years. Oh the joy, and the hesitation.
Rewind to pre-DNA records, when contact had been made with several cousins within this line and was met with mixed responses. You see my 2nd great-grandfather had a very short marriage with my 2nd great-grandmother which produced only one child, my great-grandmother. Oral family history had stated that my 2nd great-grandmother looked older than her years and married very young (estimated 14-15 years of age). They fell in love and she begged her father to allow them to marry, and so they did, although a date or documentation has yet to be uncovered. She became pregnant quickly and had a very rough pregnancy and delivery in August of 1881. Not much time had passed when my 2nd great-grandmother, for reasons not fully known wanted to go home to her parents. She was said to be having difficulties with her recovery and a new baby. Even though her husband, my 2nd great-grandfather, and his parents begged her to stay and offered their support my 2nd great-grandmother returned home. Not long after she moved back to her parents home the family up and moved from Kentucky to Arkansas. All contact and connections severed.
My 2nd great-grandfather remarried several years after his wife and daughter had left him. He had what appears to have been a good life with a new marriage, 11 children and a living carved from the land. He was blessed. I could only imagine the heartache and loss he must have felt in the parting of ways with his first wife and daughter, but I was thankful and felt a peace in my heart that he did find happiness in life.
From past outreach experiences before DNA the “scenario” of my ancestors and their child was most often met with doubt due to lack of proof, denial or occasionally the well wishes for luck in with research. Now holding this hot new data in my hands I would be able to reach out and connect to cousins, or could I? Instead I sat on the data waiting to see if I was contacted from this match or possibly another descendant from the family. Nothing.
With much consideration and prayer the time finally arrived when I felt that I needed to take that step and reach out. It had been nearly a year since the DNA match, and still no paper documentation had been discovered. I reminded myself of the degree of sensitivity associated with the matter. The Golden Rule came to mind. First I had to walk in the shoes of his descendants from his second marriage and try to imagine how I would feel should someone approach me with similar information on an ancestor I thought I understood and had closed the gaps of research. With a thoughtful heart, apprehension and hope I hit send on an email to the administrators of the family group.
DNA applied to genealogy can equal a different emotion each and every time it is applied. While the DNA connection above did lead to the undeniable proof of this family relationship brought peace and definitive answers to my family, to the other cousins receiving this “new” information the emotions had a wide a varying range. For the cousins I had corresponded with in the past there was a level of annoyance among some and others who were relieved I had now had the piece of the puzzle I was missing. In all there were 3 buckets of emotions after the dust settled. There were those who accepted it and welcomed the connection, even though they wondered how they overlooked data of a later census noting 2 marriages of my 2nd great-grandfather. Then there were those who still seemed determined to find evidence to dismiss the connection and those in the middle who remained neutral.
While DNA unlocked the past and confirmed oral history, the surname has not been mentioned throughout this post out of respect for my cousins, whether they accept this family connection or not. It is the journey in our genealogy research that is important. When using DNA evidence we should always evaluate the situation not only from a scientific position of a researcher, but also from a personal and emotional standpoint of others. Each application of DNA evidence will be unique due to the people, circumstances and emotions involved. The standard rule I have personally embraced and applied as a genealogist working with DNA evidence across all my family lines is, The Golden Rule.
©2016 Sondra Bass Hawkins