Wednesday, August 2, 2017

And DNA Makes Six...

Or "In Which Wendy Receives a Most Unexpected DNA Match"

Once upon a time, there were five of us - Andy, Bryan, myself, April, and - five years later - Danielle:

And DNA Makes Six...
Bryan, Wendy (me), Andy & April

Five first cousins who got together for summer breaks and the occasional Christmas. 

And then DNA changed our world.

Initially, I took my DNA tests in hopes of breaking down a specific brick wall. I won't repeat Emma Anna Murphy's mystery here, as I've already shared it often. But she is my great-great grandmother, the one I've chased for almost 25 years.

Emma had only one child that we know of: my great-grandfather, Harrison Clifford Shaw, born 9 May 1889 in Middleborough, Massachusetts. Harrison married Nina Gertrude Blake on 28 January 1912 in Middleborough. Together they had 7 children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood:

1. Herbert Clifford Shaw (1912-1982) - no children

2. Inez Adelaide Shaw (1915-1915)

3. Alice M. Shaw (1916-1916)

4. Robert Henry Shaw (1918-1979) - three children

5. Kenneth Linwood Shaw (1921-2006) - three children

6. Barbara Estella Shaw (twin; 1923-2006) - four children

7. Laurence Bartlett Shaw (twin; 1923-1927)

Of course we know all of our first cousins, right? Most of us grow up around them. We certainly thought we knew ours, anyway. Just the five of us...

My grandmother Barbara was married twice and had four children. With her first husband, Dean Burleigh Jennings, she had:

1. Jon Bartlett Jennings (1945-1983) - no children

2. A daughter - mother of Andy, Bryan and Danielle

With her second husband, Vincent Allen Wood, she had:

3. Lawrence Allen Wood (1951-2001) - no children

4. A son - father of me and my sister

What came to me via DNA testing did not turn out to be a connection to an ancestor, but to the present.

A Surprising New Match

As of this week, I had been able to work every single close DNA match, except for one. I knew she didn't match my mother or any of my maternal relatives who tested, so I could narrow her down to a paternal relative. But our paper trails do not meet. So I set aside the mystery of the woman with whom I share 245 centimorgans on 15 segments for a while.

On Monday, I noticed eight new matches. My immediate assumption was that they would fall into the 4th cousin-to-distant range, but you never know. I skimmed over my first page of results, not expecting to see a fresh face.

But there she was - a fresh face we will call K.

Ancestry predicted a first cousin relationship based on 395 centimorgans shared over 19 segments.
My maternal first cousins match me at 904 and 759 centimorgans respectively, so I figured this was a second cousin match or a first cousin to one of my grandparents. But my Nana's (maternal grandmother) first cousins match me at 215 and 190 centimorgans each. Interesting.

First, I checked our shared matches and saw that she was not a maternal relative. Great. That narrowed things down, but also made it more difficult, because I had only one confirmed paternal relative to check her against. And she did not match him, which seemed to rule out the Wood side of my family.

But, interestingly enough, she was a match to my other close mystery match.

Hmm... Okay, then. I looked at her family tree, wondering if any of the five names she had listed in it were familiar.

"Interesting," I told myself. "Her father has the same name as my uncle. She must be a Wood after all."

My latest speculation about my other mystery match revolved around my paternal great-great grandparents on the Wood side, so it made sense. However, she doesn't match my known Wood DNA match either.

Naturally, I sent this new match - K - a message with the names of my grandparents and all four of my paternal great-grandparents - Wood, Wood (no, that's not a typo), Shaw, and Blake. I told her where they were from and asked if the names rang a bell.

Her response came swiftly:

I was born in 1969 to Jon Bartlett Wood "Woody" from Middleboro, MA. I know he went to BU and was in the Coast Guard and had 2 brothers and 1 sister. 
I was given up for adoption two months after my birth because my biological parents did not want to get married.
I was able to track down my biological mother, but because my biological father died in his early 20's I couldn't find much about his family.
Does that name sound familiar to you?

If you've ever had an experience like this, you can imagine how I felt as I tried to respond.

Uncle Jon? A daughter? My beloved uncle, whose untimely death when his ship - the SS Marine Electric - sank in 1983... Whose death shook us all... He had a daughter? A part of him still living in this world?

I probably came across as a crazy lady in my response to K:


You're Uncle Jon's daughter? HE HAD KIDS? OH MY GOD. SERIOUSLY.

K... Oh, we should talk on the phone! My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. I can tell you all about my Uncle Jon!

Yes, the dreaded all-caps. But I was absolutely shaking. I had to know how this was possible.

For a few minutes, I paced back and forth and cried tears of joy.

I was always open to this sort of surprise, as well as the possibility of a mis-attributed parentage somewhere in the past or present. Always open to unexpected babies and Maury-style "he was NOT the father" discoveries.

Open, but not prepared for the tidal wave of shock and joy to know there was someone totally unexpected out there. A close relative none of us had ever known about.

The phone rang and in a rush of joy and excitement, K and I exchanged our stories, punctuated by "oh my god" every so often.

This woman, only 5 years older than me, was my first cousin. There was no doubt about it.

After that, I enlisted my sister's help. First we had to inform our dad and our aunt. This was their dearly departed brother's child, after all. Then we had to give K a chance to see the father she had never known.

Emails flew back and forth as I provided most of the genealogical information and what few photos I had.

At the close of every email, I told K if she needed space, we would give her space. And if she wanted to know more, we would give her more. We were excited, but we weren't about to push an insta-family on her. I wanted to respect her journey as an adoptee discovering her biological father's family.

Likewise, she has shown the utmost respect for us as a family unit who always knew a very specific set of people. 

Fortunately, and as I predicted to K, the responses of our family were completely positive. My father told my sister he is not surprised - he always thought Uncle Jon had a child out there somewhere. My uncle (speaking for my aunt, as she has been dealing with health issues) affirmed that this is very exciting and said, "We embrace her." He said it was only a pity we didn't know sooner.

I spent Monday in a haze of joy. My arms wouldn't stop tingling. I don't know how I managed to write those initial emails. I didn't fall asleep until close to 2 a.m.

But it was so worth it.

Being genealogists, we often want to help others find information. I always hoped that someday I could help an adoptee along their journey, because I know what it's like not to grow up with at least one parent.

I just never thought that adoptee would turn out to be someone so closely related to me.

Once upon a time, there were the five of us - Andy, Bryan, myself, April, and Danielle.

But now there are six.


Remember the mystery match who shares 245 centimorgans with me - the one I just can't connect to using a paper trail?

Because of K, I can rule out my dad's paternal ancestry which, interestingly enough, brings my focus on that match to only two likely sets of shared great-great grandparents: 

Edward Blake and Ada Gay or 

Erastus Shaw and - I bet you guessed it - Emma Murphy

I think it's safe to say that this story is To be continued...

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

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