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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Part of Me: How DNA helps solve the mystery

A part of me was missing. There was an empty branch on the family tree hanging on my office wall. I've done genealogy research for 30 years, but the beautiful ancestral document looked lopsided each time I passed by.  My mother was missing a grandfather. 

This was more than a search to fill in the blanks on a paper pedigree, it was the research I needed to do to fulfill a promise I made in honor of my mother and her father who both missed out on important people in their lives. That loss changed them, made them different than they would have been with a complete family and that difference was passed down through generations who may not have realized the empty space but were missing a part of a complete family. That loss has consequences, less confidence and sense of self...

The finding of names and dates of ancestors does not make up for not knowing them in life, but it helps complete the circle. We know better where the parts of our inner selves came from and who helped make up our DNA, where we got our blue eyes and crooked smiles.

For more than 20 years I read every document on Illinois genealogy and Scots-Irish ancestry I could find. In the early days, I mailed letters asking for information and waited by the mailbox for replies. I traveled to repositories and called every historical society, Church, or governmental agency that might have any information that would lead to the Lost ancestor. With the advent of the internet, I spent hours in the middle of the night searching and then emailing and then... DNA...

Running to the post office with the test kit and waiting for the day the answer would come with who we were related to was not the reality. It took several years of learning the methodology of DNA analysis and contacting distant cousins with whom I shared ancestry, building family trees, and comparing them to try to find the missing link.

And then last Saturday like a wave speeding towards the shore and raising up out of the ocean about to crash onto the sand- I could feel it about to happen. Those last few minutes of anticipation before I turned the final page and years of research and analysis of reams of data crashed all at once.

My mother has a grandfather. It's too late for any change in her life. The ripples throughout the family generations are already in motion and truthfully just knowing a name and a date would not have given my grandfather a Dad, but now I know where he got his blue eyes which he passed on to his daughter and then I passed to my oldest son. And we know we are related to Daniel Boone and many Illinois pioneers and Scots-Irish ancestors who will fill in the blanks of my beautiful family tree. If it weren't for their lives,  there wouldn't be me. I am no longer missing a part of me.