I wrote an inbox message addressed to Lynn, Val and (their sister) Janette. I guess I figured she may know something but had chosen to stay out of it- I don't know- I just did. I was very direct, but respectful. I explained that my 'advisor' had told me that there was something that was not right in the story and that it seemed as though they may be with-holding information. I said that I was a full grown woman- and that nothing could shock, surprise or disappoint me at this stage- and that it was simply not fair to have me thinking that my father was, in fact, someone who did not exist. I hesitated before pressing "send"- took a breath- and pushed it.
Before long, the responses came. From Lynne-"So sorry for unsettling times. I think Val may have seen or heard from her (Arline) since then but I cannot be sure of that either. I really hope you can get some closure soon. All that worries me is even if you find him he will not thank anyone. He never was that kind of person to worry about others feelings."
From Val-"I keep trying to think about if there is anything else . Also, I have looked in the rolls. Maybe the change of names have put on the wrong track. I really would like help you find more information."
So, that was that. It was, as they say, as it was. What now? Well. It was time to start testing the DNA.
At this point, I had been a member of Ancestry.com since 2010. I had been building my tree using their resources (as limited as they were for Australia) and had managed to go back several generations on my mother's side. The most obvious next step was to become part of their "DNA" database- though I knew that most of that database hailed from the U.S. It would at least be a start. Leaps and bounds were being made in DNA research every day- so it certainly couldn't hurt to invest $100.00 to receive a report of my "genetic make-up" and connect with possible relatives that were also in the database. Over the years I had signed up in several different "registries" as an adoptee searching for family. Nothing had ever come of it. In fact, at one point, my friend Christi got so excited when she came across a story that sounded freakishly similar to mine. She got so excited because she thought she had discovered something for me- until she realized that she was actually reading a story that I had posted several years earlier on this particular site.
In April of 2014 I entered the wonderful world of DNA testing. There are three major "genealogy" sites that offer DNA testing; Ancestry.com, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. I automatically chose the first option as I, as yet, knew little to nothing about the other options. There are three main types of testing offered by these companies, but for now, I will just talk about "Autosomal" testing. So as to not get too technical at this point, here is the explanation provided by "Ancestry.com" when asked "What is Autosomal Testing?"
"Autosomal DNA testing includes the other 22 pairs of chromosomes that aren’t the X or Y chromosome that determine your gender. Autosomal testing allows you to find family across all lines in your family tree. That means both men and women can take , and the results are not limited to just the direct maternal or paternal lines.
The AncestryDNA test analyzes your entire genome-all 23 pairs of chromosomes-as opposed to only looking at the Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA (which makes other types of tests gender specific). Both men and women are able to take this test."
Basically, you spit into a tube and send the sample to a lab and in a few weeks you get the results. I knew very little about the ins and outs of the study of DNA. Granted, I probably should have done some "DNA-101" reading while I waited for my results. To be honest, there is math involved. I do not like math. Allow me to expand on that. As soon as numbers appear on whatever it may be that I am reading, said numbers appear to elevate from the page (3-D style) and proceed to dance around the page in front of me. While I am relatively sure that I have rather severe ADD- I'm not sure if this particular phenomenon (or disability?) has a name. Suffice it to say, the last actual math class I took was in the Tenth Grade and I never looked back. I decided to wait for the results to see if they might be 'self explanatory"- after-all, I had no idea what to expect. Of all the "sites" Ancestry.com seems to have the most "user friendly" interface- so I had that going for me.
Approximately 6 weeks passed and I received an e-mail telling me that my AncestryDNA results were in. I quickly logged in to my account and clicked the icon that led me to my results. The first thing that came up was my "Ethnicity Estimate"
As you can see, according to Ancestry.com's estimate, I was 44% Irish, 30% Western European and 24% was divided up into "trace regions" eg. 7% Iberian Peninsula, 4% each of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Finland/Northwest Russia- and only 3% Great Britain.
Now, I have since learned that an "estimate" is just that. A broad analysis of how your DNA matches up with an existing DNA panel that was collected by Ancestry.com
"We create estimates for your genetic ethnicity by comparing your DNA to the DNA of other people who are native to a region. The AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0) contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions."
As you can imagine- the first thing that jumped out at me was that I appeared to be almost HALF IRISH. Going back to Lynn's family tree, it appears that the majority of those ancestors hailed from England, Germany, with a smattering of Scotland and Ireland. Most of them arrived in Australia by the mid to late 1800's. I took this as a sure sign that my biological father must be close to 100% Irish. Ok, I'll work with that.
I then proceeded to the "Member Matches" portion of my DNA results page. My highest matches were Fourth Cousins- 8 of them. The Ancestry algorithm is estimating that these matches share enough DNA that we could possibly be third to fifth cousins. In a nutshell- we could share great great great great grandparents- or some variant of that making us several times removed and blah blah blah... It's not for the faint of heart or the mathematically challenged. In a perfect world everyone would have complete family trees that are available for all to see. The fact is, there are few amateur family genealogists who's trees go back beyond two or three generations. Many of them are incorrect and don't provide source citations and everyone thinks they are related to royalty. For example, one of my "fourth cousin" matches had quite an extensive tree- some of which went as far back as the 1400's. I counted back to what would be third great grandparents (we all have 32 of those by the way), knowing that I was looking for an Irish connection I zeroed in on someone named William Lewis Bryan. He was from Virginia- but going back further, it was discovered that these were the "Bryans" of Ireland. The Bryans that had fled back to Ireland when Cromwell was reforming the Church- and eventually were banished to Virginia. In fact, as an avid viewer of all that is historical fiction (and a fan of the TV show "The Tudors") I actually gasped when I saw that these people were descendants of Sir Francis Bryan- also known during the Tudor years as "The Vicar of Hell". He was the guy with the eye-patch......
What the heck was happening?? Surely it can't be this easy. The fact is- it can't. Knowing I was probably reading WAY too far into this, I called my friend Misty. Misty happens to be a genealogy buff. She came over and I showed her what I had uncovered and she tactfully laid it out on the table for me. Anyone beyond second-third cousins are going to have such a convoluted connection that the chances of finding a common ancestor- unless both parties trees are very detailed and thorough- are not likely. The best way to find matches are to find other matches and attempt to "triangulate" common ancestors. It's all very complicated. While Ancestry.com is very "user friendly" it lacks many of the tools offered on the other sites. 23andme and FamilyTree DNA have Chromosome Browsers. This type of tool allows you to see the exact amount of centiMorgans (a genealogy form of measurement that sounds made-up) you share with a match- and on which chromosome(s) said match occurs. While Ancestry.com has the benefit of being able to browse other family trees (if they are on the "public" setting)- it is probably necessary to to also explore the other services available as well. It's also important to have as many "known" relatives also test. In my case, having Lynn be in the database as well will help me to eliminate any of my matches that also match her- thus narrowing down the possible paternal matches.
The "pep-talk" from Misty helped to put things in to perspective. I needed to slow my roll and not jump to whimsical conclusions. I was, however, taking the "Irish Factoid" and running with it. I began to contact as many of my matches as possible-with varying success in getting responses. As I only knew of one surname from my Paternal line (I'll be using Campbell for the blog) I was sure to use that as a start when providing names to possible matches. People often will ask "How can I tell if we match if you don't tell me any of the other names?" As an adopted person, it's always necessary to explain that you don't know BECAUSE you are adopted, and that is precisely why you are searching in the first place. Of course, one must be careful when speaking about being adopted- particularly when one seems to be getting close to answers. People are protective of their family members and often won't respond to questions for fear of possibly revealing someone who doesn't want to be found. As it turns out, most of the people who responded in those first few days were kind and tried to be as helpful as possible. There are very few Australians in the Ancestry.com database- and none in my list of matches.
I knew that I needed for Lynn to take a DNA list. As I started to message her on Facebook something suddenly occurred to me. Lynn's husband John is Irish. Like "right off the boat" Irish. He still has an accent. I quickly added to my message to Lynn," I'm half Irish. Is there any chance John could be my father?"