DNA and Genealogy

January 4, 2015


While it's become trendy to have your DNA tested to find new cousins or determine your ethnic background, genetic genealogy is helping hundreds – if not thousands – of adoptees circumvent a legal system that often is stacked against them.


Some states, like Ohio, are more progressive with allowing access to adoption records, but many still have laws in place that seal adoption records even from the adoptees themselves. My personal opinion is that this is wrong. I believe everyone has the right to know something as basic as who their parents are.


Adoptees had absolutely no say in their own fate. Usually, when they start asking questions, they are blocked by these laws. If they are lucky, they might receive scant details about their parents. They might find out their mother's or father's age and hair color, but nothing further that might identify either of them. 


Find out about each state's adoption laws here.


So, when I got my results from AncestryDNA, I was surprised to find the name of a woman predicted to be my second cousin. I will admit, most of the names of my cousin matches are foreign to me and it will take a lot of research to find our common ancestors, because the majority are predicted to be third or fourth cousins, or beyond.


But I only had two people who matched at the second-cousin level. One was a man with a surname I immediately recognized. The other was a woman whose name rang not a single bell. 


Of course, the more closely you are related as cousins, the fewer generations back your common ancestors are. As my second cousin, this woman and I likely connect back to two of our great-grandparents. Looking at the names of cousins AncestryDNA said Shari and I have in common, I concluded that our link is on my mother's side. If that's the case, I believe our most recent common ancestors are William and Permilla (May) Wherry, my mother's paternal grandparents.


This means that one of their grandchildren (my mother's aunt or uncle) is a parent of my new-found cousin, Shari.


Shari was born in 1943. She was born and adopted in Kansas City, Missouri. The only information she was given was that her mother had dark, curly hair and was about 20; her father had blonde hair and was about 23.


Shari, at one time, hired a researcher who, because of privacy laws, was unable to give her any identifying information, but hinted that her birth mother was from Ohio.


For several generations, most of my mother's family has lived in Van Wert County, Ohio, or just across the Indiana state line in either Adams or Allen counties. 


Using a spreadsheet, I entered all of my mother's aunts' and uncles' names and their dates of birth to calculate how old they were in 1943. I found a female candidate and a male candidate. My gut tells me that the female candidate is our best bet. The male candidate, unfortunately, did not marry and has no known descendants to contact.


So, I have tracked down other relatives who are descendants of this female candidate, but have not yet made contact. This, most likely, will come as a surprise (or possibly a shock) to them, as these situations usually were kept very much a secret among the adults who knew. My oldest maternal cousin was born about the same year, so he has no recollection of Shari's situation. He was as surprised as I was. So, I will proceed carefully, keeping in mind that they might reject this information completely.


And that brings me to my favorite caveat for anyone considering having their DNA tested: Be prepared, because you just might find there's a secret in your family, too. If you don't want to know, then you don't want to test. 




In three days, I leave for my third trip to the genealogist's Mecca: Salt Lake City. This will be my third year attending SLIG: The Salt Lake Institute for Genealogy.


I am even more excited this year for several reasons. First, thanks to social media and my involvement with the Association of Professional Genealogists as the editor of their monthly electronic newsletter, I will know so many more people this time around.


The first year it was kind of lonely. If you know me, this may surprise you: I am an introvert. If I am uncomfortable or in a place where I don't know a lot of people, I hold back and try to hide in a corner. It works well for being a newspaper journalist, because I am very comfortable being an observer. But it doesn't allow for nearly enough fun. So watch out, everyone! You may find you prefer the "observer" me. 


The second reason for my excitement: It is just so energizing and exciting to learn with and talk to other genealogy hobbyists and professionals. 


Third, and most importantly, I am fortunate enough to have a spot in the Advanced DNA course, which starts Monday, 12 January. It was a long, windy road to get there, but instructor and class coordinator Angie Bush agreed a few weeks ago to open the class to allow those of us still on the waiting list to get in.


God bless her. 


I'll be tweeting and Facebooking from Utah and, if time allows, posting another blog entry. Until then, Happy 2015! It's gonna be a helluva year.

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