52 Ancestors: Week 15 DNA

My adopted daughter’s biological mother had named one man as her father at birth, but a later paternity test showed that was not the case.  She named a second man at that time, who was not tested, but signed over parental rights.  Both men had Spanish-sounding surnames.  It seemed like she was unclear on who was the biological father of her baby.

The bio mom had told my daughter she was 100% Puerto Rican, but I realized this could not be the case (unless there were recent immigrants to Puerto Rico). Ancestry DNA insisted that there was a migration to the Gaspé Peninsula in her family’s past. I noticed that there was a lot of French in her admixture (see the percentages above).

DNA showed a Close Family-1st Cousin match with a French Canadian surname .  At  1,703 cM across 47 segments, this could have been a cousin, an aunt or a grandmother.  There was no public tree attached to the account, but I was able to find her in Holyoke, Massachusetts on beenverified.com. Based on the age difference, I suspected this was her paternal grandmother.  I had trouble linking her definitively to a parent or child, although I was able to find a partner whose last name she sometimes used. Her name was linked to other people with the same surname, but when I built out their trees, I could not identify where she fit.  Other than voting records, I was unable to find many modern records for her at all. 

My first breakthrough was when I tried her name and the addition of the partner’s surname on Facebook.  I was able to find a profile and from some public posts was able to identify a few people who regularly posted pictures of children she called her “grandbabies.”  Using the clues from Facebook I began to build a second family tree for this woman (who I was still not sure was the same as the DNA match). 

This process was complicated by two things.  People tend to make multiple Facebook profiles over the years.  An emotional break up, a decision to quit social media or just wanting to clear out their friends list would trigger them to start afresh.  Additionally a number of people seem to go by a variety of nicknames.  Often the profile photos would help me identify who was who, but matching them to legal names was a challenge.

I was able to identify at least one person she called her son.  There were several people who he referred to as his brothers, but that may have been a term of endearment and not a description of their biological relationship.  Through comments on photos and status updates, I was able to build out the son’s tree up to his paternal great grandparents, but unable to identify any familiar names.

I knew the bio mother was Puerto Rican.  The DNA match list showed signs of endogamy with many 3rd cousin matches.  Using DNA Painter, I was able to identify three clear groups of segments.  The largest was the Puerto Rican group, but there were also two other groups: one French Canadian, to which that close DNA match seemed to belong, and one African American from the southern states, particularly Georgia.  The segments for these two groups did not seem to overlap at all.  I hypothesized that these were paternal matches, and that the two groups connected recently, likely within one or two generations.  There were so many Puerto Rican matches that it was possible that there was some of that DNA on the paternal side as well, but teasing it apart from the maternal was challenging.

The southern group seemed to have the most DNA matches with trees and it was not long before I noticed some patterns in surnames, and was able to build up a tree of my own, fusing the records of others.  I also built up a skeleton tree on What Are The Odds to try and pinpoint where my daughter fit within the tree.  The tool calculates the odds of every identified hypothetical relationship.  The odds there were pointing to a particular branch. 

In building out the trees, I noticed that many of the hints on Ancestry were photos contributed by a user who was a third or fourth cousin match to my daughter.  I looked at his tree and it was clear that he was passionate about documenting his family.  So I zoomed into the branch of his tree I had identified on What Are The Odds . The names on one segment matched a branch of the tree I’d made from Facebook data! The exact connection to his tree was marked “private” but most of her children did not have birth/death info so were not hidden from view.  One of these was the one I had identified as a possible grandfather.

I reached out to the tree’s owner to confirm whether the name on my Facebook tree matched the “private” person on his tree.  He wrote back and offered to connect us via email.  I will be honest; I hesitated here.  Combing through Facebook had given me a mixed perspective of the family.  It was clear there were drug and alcohol issues, and problems with the law.  One of the candidates for father was in jail.  But then I looked at the adorable possible cousins or siblings and the potential great grandmother’s profile – she had this joyful smile.  And I thought, “how can I deny my daughter the opportunity to have a relationship with these people?”

Before long, I was talking to my daughter’s biological great grandmother.  She put me in touch with her daughter in law, the biological grandmother, who confirmed she was that original DNA connection.   They had no idea my daughter even existed. They met us for dinner, along with one of my daughter’s (many) bio half-siblings. I am hopeful that this will be a lasting connection.

Visit Amy Johnson Crow’s website for more information on 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.