Friday, January 5, 2018

Desperately seeking Susan: Part 5

(Continued from Part 4)

Holy smokes!

Bonnie's* birth father had already tested with AncestryDNA, and he definitely wasn't Italian (remember my working hypothesis that Bonnie's Italian DNA came from her maternal grandfather Carlo* Jr, Grace's* father and Bridget's* paternal half-brother). His family was from North Carolina and Tennessee. To my horror, I woke up to discover that in her excitement Bonnie had made contact with his daughter (the match admin) immediately, before I had a chance to research him. Fortunately my panic was unfounded as he and his family took the news remarkably well and have been kind and receptive.

In SEPTEMBER 2017 Bonnie met with her birth father and paternal siblings in person.

Unfortunately her father couldn't remember much from the time of Bonnie's birth, but he did think of one person who might be Bonnie's birth mother. Her first name was Sue. We tried to find Sue by name alone, but that is easier said than done when more than forty years have passed and her surname could have changed more than once since then. I realized fairly quickly it wasn't going to work, and she may not even be Bonnie's birth mother anyway. After the excitement had worn off, it was back to the DNA drawing board for me.


Bonnie's closest match in her maternal grandmother's line (i.e. not shared with her father or maternal Italian matches) only shared 70 cM at AncestryDNA. Her test was managed by someone else, and she didn't have any ancestry information visible on her profile. To make matters worse, based on their shared matches she appeared to share French Canadian ancestry with Bonnie, which means endogamy, which means she could be even more distantly related than the shared cM suggested due to multiple connections.

The French and Polish matches had ties to Massachusetts, the French part came from Canada before that, and the Polish part came from recent immigrants. They came in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the area's thriving jute mills. Ironically, along with Irish immigrants, they gave New England a strong Roman Catholic presence. (According to Bonnie's non-identifying information, her birth mother was Roman Catholic.)

I was not optimistic about finding Bonnie's birth mother. I kept plugging away at Bonnie's Massachusetts matches on and off, thinking it was impossible but going through the motions anyway. I gave up a few times, checking Bonnie's AncestryDNA match list every day for a new close match that would put me out of my misery.

I worked all the clues the matches offered, grouped the matches based on shared matches, built trees for them, and found shared ancestors with shared matches for a few (this process is called tree triangulation or pedigree triangulation). I added all the bits and pieces I could find to separate "islands" for connected matches in my single research tree space – puzzle pieces of Bonnie's own family tree.** I built the lines of shared ancestors forward and looked for any connection to the other puzzle pieces or to Albany, NY. Working backwards most shared ancestors with Bonnie would have lived in the old countries, which often makes the task of finding connections impossible, and working forwards many tree lines fizzled out as people left Massachusetts for greener pastures and their trail went cold.

One day, while working on a French Canadian branch I had previously thought too close to the 70 cM match for their shared DNA, I happened upon an obituary dated 1959 some kind soul had uploaded to their public tree which mentioned a surviving son who then lived in Albany, NY. Other sources revealed he was married to a woman of Polish descent. Paydirt.

I used obituaries, city directories, newspaper articles, and other sources of information on living people to flesh out his children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, who was a toddler in Massachusetts in the 1940 census, had a daughter Gail* who fit the description of Bonnie's birth mother recorded by the adoption caseworker. Her first name wasn't in the same vicinity of the alphabet as Susan, but Bonnie's birth father confirmed he had in fact known someone with her name. To my amazement, based on shared ancestors in multiple lines and circumstantial evidence, that 70 cM match I once scoffed at appeared to be Bonnie's full second cousin once removed (which is statistically possible). Her grandmother was the sister of the man who had moved with his family to Albany, NY by the 1950s, now believed to be Bonnie's great-grandfather.

In NOVEMBER 2017 Bonnie wrote a letter to her putative birth mother Gail and received a prompt reply confirming that she was in fact the right person, and she was happy to be found. Their relationship has been confirmed by further DNA evidence, and Bonnie will soon be reunited with her birth mother in person.

Birth parents and siblings are not always happy to be found. Bridget's and Bonnie's searches had many twists and turns, but the responses and assistance from members of their biological family including Grace, who tested and shared her DNA data, have more than made up for it.

*This is a true story. I have permission to blog about the people who asked me for help but have not used their real names for the sake of their privacy. I have tried to limit my writing here to information pertinent to their DNA searches, but have shared other details I found with them in tree format.

**I build private and unsearchable speculative research trees on Ancestry's website. More often than not I can find the information I need to build trees for matches without anyone contacting them, which is a frustrating and risky process. I usually temporarily add a match as a new child of any existing person in the tree, then edit relationships in their profile removing the temporary relationship without removing any people from the tree overall. Later on I can link them up to the puzzle wherever they actually fit. I use two different symbols in the name suffix field to denote shared ancestors and paths to them.

{Related resources can be accessed via ISOGG's Wiki page on DNA testing for adoptees.}

(Continued in Part 6)