Wednesday, March 22, 2017

23andMe and Our Growing Family Tree

My nephew Dan recently sent in a sample of his DNA to 23andMe to have it analyzed. The results showed that he had a close match (of the 1st or 2nd cousins variety) with Emily, a woman in Montreal, Canada. How could that be? They exchanged emails. It turned out that Emily's mother, Cynthia, was born to a single woman named Erie in 1947. Erie never married but took the last name of her daughter's father even though she'd lost contact with him and I assume never heard from him again. Emily told me that they were always told the name of Cynthia's father was John Gilmore. My father's brother Jack also went by John.

From what Emily has told me about her grandmother, Erie was a strong, independent woman having served in the Women's Army Corp during WW2. She taught veterans job skills at a vocational school after the war in Brockville, Ontario, a city some 2+ hours southeast of where my father and his brother Jack grew up in Douglas, Ontario. I've learned that my father also took office management vocational classes in Brockville around the same time Erie taught there.

It's not known if John/Jack knew of Cynthia. Erie left Brockville in 1947 and moved to Kingston when the school closed. Within a few years of Cynthia's birth John would move to California, raise a family and retire there. John passed away many years ago as did his wife more recently. I know so little about Jack and his family because my father was reluctant to ever want to talk about his family. His childhood was difficult and none of us siblings ever pushed him for details.

Erie raised Cynthia to be a strong woman, forbidding her to learn typing for fear those skills would lead to a job with her "working for a man". Cynthia would marry, become a successful attorney and raise two children.

When I was first shown the photos of Cynthia I was stunned! In some of the photos of her I saw my sister Claudia but in one in particular, the photo to the left, I saw my father. It was a "wow" moment for me. There is no question that there's a family resemblance. Her smile and her eyes I've seen before, more times than I can count in my father's own face. The photos I have of my dad at a similar age as Cynthia in the photo show some resemblance but probably not so much to someone who didn't know him -- here, here and here.

Before I learned that Emily always knew her grandfather's name to be John, I was contemplating the idea that Cynthia's father was actually my father especially when I learned that he was in Brockville at the same time as Erie. But then I dismissed the idea.

This is where it gets interesting. I received an email from Emily tonight where she explained the breakdown of DNA for me. I'll use her words because it's somewhat technical and I'll lose something in the translation otherwise. Emily wrote:

"I’m attaching a histogram which shows how close the DNA match is for a large group of people who are known second cousins (which Dan and I should be if Jack was my grandfather). The numbers along the horizontal axis express the DNA match in units of centiMorgan (cM)… the higher the number, the closer the match. My match with Dan of 9.56% can be equivalently expressed in units of cM as 650 cM, which is way higher than the upper limit of 522.9 on the horizontal axis. Our match is “off the charts”, so to speak, for second cousins."

Credit to The Shared cM Project for the histogram data.

So, I'm sorta-kinda back to thinking that there's a real possibility or probability that Emily and Dan are indeed 1st cousins and if they are then that can only mean one thing -- that my father was actually Cynthia's father as well. I'd like to have my DNA tested to see how closely it aligns with Emily's. It would also be helpful if one of my cousins on my father's side could submit their DNA for testing to see whose aligns more closely with Emily's family. Whichever side matches more closely would tell us with some certainty (I would think) whether Cynthia's father was Jack, as was believed or my father.

I find this all so fascinating.

Some additional information: Erie Medora Boyd was born Jan. 19, 1921, in Elgin County, Ontario (on the north shore of Lake Erie). Erie was one of eleven children, and all except for possibly one have passed away. Her parents died when she was around fourteen, and five of the younger children, which included Erie, were taken into foster care by the same family. She died June 9, 1982 in Hamilton, Ontario of lung cancer from smoking.

Cynthia passed away at the much too young age of 66 on May 20th, 2014 from Multiple System Atrophy. The photo to the right is Emily and her mother, Cynthia.

I'll close with a beautiful tribute to Cynthia written by her friend:

A Reflection by Gloria Nardi-Bell

No comments: