Thursday, July 6, 2017

CHAPTER 31: BREAKTHROUGH

Sometime in the middle of May, 2017, I woke up at 7.45 am and proceeded to go about my usual morning ritual.  Wake up my fourteen year old, turn on the shower for him, make coffee, re-wake up my fourteen year old and log on the AncestryDNA.  As usual I proceeded directly to the DNA match section and clicked on the "new" button.  I usually see the same list of 5-8th cousins with no attached trees.  These are useless to a researcher.  Occasionally I will ask someone for a look at their tree, or just a list of names and locations, but more often than not, these are the baron waste-lands of matches that were only interested in finding out their "ethnicity". There's nothing wrong with that; no judgement.  It just adds to the disappointment.  
This time, however, I was looking at something different.  So different that I had to refresh my browser.  There, right before my eyes was a new "1-2nd cousin" match.  Also known as the motherlode of matches when you have unknown parentage. The name of the match was "HK".  I immediately clicked on the profile and clicked through to where I could compare other tests that I manage.  My mother was not a match.  This was a Paternal very close match.  There was no tree attached to the results (no surprise), but the administrator of this test was a name that looked as though it was a reverse of her first and last name. I quickly sent off a casual, but keen message-

" Hi.  HK just came up as a new 1-2nd cousin match to me.  This is the highest match on my paternal side. Is there a tree I can peruse?
thanks, Julie"

If you've been following along you know that my next step was to go to Facebook and type in the name that I assumed was the administrator.  Bingo.  Up came a young lady named Naomi, from Melbourne, Australia.  Further examination showed that her partner, boyfriend, fiancee had the initials "HK".  Instead of immediately friend-requesting her, I hovered over my computer waiting for a response from my Ancestry message.  Keep in mind that Melbourne is seventeen hours ahead of Los Angeles.  That means it was around 1am where she was.  I realized that it would be several hours before I could reasonably hope for a response, so I proceeded to post updates of my good fortune on a couple of private Facebook pages that focus on using DNA for genealogy.  My story is somewhat known in those forums, so I was able to bask in the well wishes-as well as heed advice to "screen shot" the match in case it disappeared.  This is something that happens to adoptees.  We are often someone's "dirty little secret" and are frequently made to feel less than human- just by virtue of existing- and looking for answers that others take for granted.  

I spent the next few hours trying to remain calm when, suddenly, on my post in an Australian DNA genealogy page, there was a message from Naomi.  It hadn't occurred to me that she may be a member.  So much for keeping the "adoption" thing on the "down-low".  
The message said "Hi Julie.  I've sent you a message."  Eek!!

Naomi and I played text tag for a while.  After explaining that I am an adoptee (but mean no harm) she obtained permission from her partner's family to share his tree- and so it began!!

For the next several hours I constructed a "mirror tree".  This is, essentially, a replica of your matches tree.  Thankfully, Ancestry has a mechanism that recognizes names you are adding and gives you assistance by offering "leaf hints" from their data-base.  This made for pretty quick work as I have years of experience constructing trees and analyzing potential matches.  I completed the previous two generations, focusing on the siblings of my matches parents.  The amount of DNA we share, 378 cM's over 18 dna segments indicates that we are somewhere within the first to second cousin range.  At first it appeared that most of his dad's family was firmly rooted in Victoria (my home state), while his mother's side seemed to be solidly in New South Wales (next state to the north).  I spent most of those first few hours focusing on the dad's side as I was conceived and born in Melbourne- the largest city in Victoria.  My matches dad is only about ten years older than myself.  He does appear to have two brothers, but there was no birth information listed on the tree.  I asked Naomi if she knew their ages and she said that she would ask my matches dad.  While I awaited that info I began to focus on the next generation back.  My matches paternal grandparents each appeared to have an enormous amount (by today's standards) of siblings.  All of the males, five on each side, proved to be of an age that they could have fathered a child in 1964.  Open rabbit hole; insert self.
After a few hours it came to my attention that there was a great uncle who was a local mayor at the time of my conception.  He appeared to be married, with children, and was a life-long politician.  I noted that a potential political scandal could explain the secrecy surrounding my paternity.  Perhaps my mother had been convinced to name a different father so as to not further soil her reputation, as well as ruin a political career and break up a family?  It was feasible.  Even, I dare say, understandable....

Realizing that I wasn't sure what the next step would be, I posted for help in a group where experienced DNA searchers offered advice and technical expertise.  Eventually I got a response from an aussie detective named Rose who was more than willing to talk me through it.  Rose is "donor conceived" and managed to identify her biological family with a smaller match than I have.  I gave her editing rights to my mirror tree and she told me that I needed to go even further back and that she would help me.   You shouldn't blindly add suggested connections, but if a record match seems feasible and doesn't have any direct contradictory information than you already have, it's ok to build off of that.  "Mirror" trees should always be kept private and unsearchable as they are, for the moment, speculative.  
After a while, Rose suggested that I add my DNA results to "HK" in the tree.  It would take a few hours for Ancestry to search through the names in my tree to see if there were any name matches to other trees of people who are confirmed DNA matches to me.
All I could do was wait.