Joanne's Journey – A Genetic Genealogy Case Study

If you have had your DNA tested by Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com and other consumer testing companies, it's very likely you will see names of people you have never heard of before.

In fact, most likely anyone who falls into that "3nd Cousin" category and beyond will be someone to whom you had no idea you were related.

What's more interesting is finding someone you match at a higher level. I've found two second cousins (2C) – Shari and Joanne – since I first tested in 2014, and when I tried to determine how both were related to me, based on information I could find on Ancestry and elsewhere online, I hit dead ends.

That's because both of them had been adopted. Using traditional searches on Ancestry and elsewhere wasn't going to tell me this; all it could give me was information about their lives post-adoption and information about their adoptive parents and families. Had neither of them tested with Ancestry, I would never know they existed.

Fortunately, in both cases, because I have built many of my family lines down to the present to find living cousins (for sharing information and photos, if possible), I could use the "shared matches" feature and determine that Shari was related to me on my maternal side and Joanne on my paternal side.

Down the road, I'll talk about Shari's case, but for this series I will focus on the processes I used to identify Joanne's biological father.

Joanne and I matched at 248 cM; my sister, Patti at 291 cM; my sister, Paula at 224 cM. Additionally, she matched several of my known Codling-side matches: . Though my sisters' matching didn't give me which side, Joanne's matches included several of my known paternal matches: my dad's cousin John at 461 cM; cousin Mark, dad's great-nephew, at 109 cM; and my half-niece, Melissa, dad's granddaughter from a previous relationship, at 47 cM. (That's another story all to itself. lol)


Making Contact

Back on March 17, 2018, I sent a message to Joanne through my Ancestry account:

"Hey, cousin! You come up for me as a strong second-cousin match! How are we related? I have Codlings and Hacketts in Michigan in my tree."

That same day, Joanne replied:

"I believe I have Codlings in my tree. I am very new at this."

A day later, Joanne asked if we could talk over the phone. I happened to be at a local antiques mall when her call came, but seeing it was a Michigan number, I picked up and walked back out to the car for our chat.

I remember that call very clearly, because for nearly 10 minutes, Joanne was too emotional to speak. Why? Because, at age 72, this was the first time in her life that Joanne was speaking to a blood relative. Even though she'd tested at Ancestry, she really didn't believe she would ever be able to find anyone on her father's side.

Fortunately, Joanne had been told the identity of her birth mother – Lavica Mae Jackson, born in 1920. I knew that name. Lavica was a daughter of one of my great-aunts, Gertrude Codling, who had been married three times. (One day, I'll write about Gertrude, who I'm pretty sure had a very sad life.)

Lavica was Gertrude's daughter with her second husband, David Jackson. who, it turns out, was full Chippawa. I never knew this, but it became a key piece of information during the search.

In the 1940 census for Midland, Michigan, she was listed as 19 and single, living with her mother and step-father, Wallace Slater, Gertrude's third husband. There is no one else listed for that household. Four years later, in December 1944, Joanne was born. She was adopted at birth; her adopted mother died after her 9th birthday, and she was raised by her adopted father. Joanne says it was a lonely childhood, growing up without a mother, but she is grateful that she was very much loved and had a happy family life.

In 1949, Lavica married Errol A. Schroeder, who had two daughters from a previous marriage. The couple did not have their own children. Joanne had tracked the sisters down, but even though they seemed open to talk with her at first, they shut down communications. Who knows why. It happens, sadly, and probably the fact that Joanne wasn't blood-related to them, maybe they just didn't want to get into it all.


Getting Started


So, it took a couple of phone conversations to explain to Joanne the significance of having taken the DNA test, which had been a Christmas gift from one of her best friends. She honestly didn't understand that her DNA – and a lot of hard work – would reveal the story about the family she never knew.

But, I had already started building a speculative tree for her case by investigating her list of matches for the "low-hanging fruit" – her closest cousin matches who I could determine were not related to me or my Codlings. It can be a time-consuming process, particularly if there are no matches closer than third cousins. However, as I have honed my skills, it's taking less time; plus, there are many more tools available for this research today than back in 2014, when I tried to work my first case.

Two of her closest paternal matches, who went only by their Ancestry usernames, matched her at 163 cM and 108 cM.

In the next post, I will explain how I was able to determine the identities of these two somewhat anonymous matches.

Until then, happy hunting!