Sunday, April 22, 2018
Crossing Paths With
Our Ancestors' Descendants
I've been dealing, lately, with a mind obsessed with crossed paths. What I uncovered this week, in my relentless pursuit of ancestors, grabbed me with this notion even tighter.
It's only because I've been bombarded with distant cousin matches on all my DNA tests—yes, I've been that obsessed researcher who has tested at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and MyHeritage—that I've been left with the quandary of wondering, "Who are all these people?"
My solution was to spruce up my family tree a bit: go back to my ancestors and enter all their children, not just my direct line. And then, enter all those children's children. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I call it quits on a line when I reach seventh cousin, mostly because some companies will show matching cousins up to the level of fifth or sixth cousin (and one goes up to eighth). Reliably, of course, some paper cousins won't show at those levels on DNA tests, even if they are blood relatives because some genetic material from our third great grandparents may simply not make it down all the generations to reach us. Since we don't know, ahead of time, which relatives that involves, I decided to trace them all—and then some.
All that to say, there are a lot of cousins out there, still needing to be added to my family tree. So I plod onwards.
This week on the paper trail, I ran into some cousins who actually ended up living in the same city as I do, and at the same time that I've been here. I had no idea at the time, of course—but then, I'm talking about sixth cousins. One could hardly be expected to keep tabs on that extended relational reach...until the advent of genetic genealogy.
That brings me back to my occasional obsession: wondering, whenever I travel, what the chances would be that I would cross paths unknowingly with someone who turns out to be a seventh cousin. Forget that, maybe even a third cousin. It might be the person sitting next to me on the plane, or the one behind me in line to buy coffee. I am awed at the possibilities of how we all relate—and how we don't even realize it.
So, I keep working on those descendants of my multiple-great-grandparents. And those trees grow bigger. Not because I'm pushing back to incredible reaches in history, but because I'm throwing my net wide and capturing all those distant cousins, in hopes I'll recognize them when they show up in my DNA matches—maybe even if they show up at the dinner table at my next genealogy conference.
The past two weeks surprisingly yielded some research progress, considering how difficult the time has been. Perhaps there's a solace in the routine research of adding names to a family tree. There sure is that family-talking-to-family sort of gathering, when we lose a loved one, just comparing family notes and reminiscing—and remembering that we forgot to add that new baby, or that new spouse.
For my mom's tree, that meant jumping 172 entries to land at a tree size of 12,903. For my mother-in-law, that gained her tree of 14,746 another 107 entries. For my dad's tree and my father-in-law's tree, each gained only one entry apiece, but they now stand at 501 and 1425, respectively.
Yet, as fast as I try to build those trees, the DNA matches seem to roll in faster. I'm up to 2,989 at Family Tree DNA and 4,305 at MyHeritage. AncestryDNA seems to have given up counting, once the matches exceed 1,000, so I don't even know how many I have there—and those are just counting fourth cousin and closer. As for 23andMe, it's a rare biweekly count when I don't lose matches from my count, but this is one of those times: I now am up five to 1,036. And I really can't complain there, since one of the new matches actually contacted me—now, that's a switch!—and the bonus is that she is apparently related to my on my father's side. Perhaps it will even be on my paternal grandfather's side—that man who claimed he was an orphan and unofficially changed his name and zipped his lips concerning the reasons why.
My husband's matches are piling up almost as fast as mine. He's got 1,915 at Family Tree DNA and 3,007 at MyHeritage. He hasn't hit that thousand-mark ceiling at AncestryDNA yet, but he's over halfway there at 549. For once (can you tell I'm jealous?) he actually saw his count go backwards at 23andMe, dropping six to level off at 1,072. But because I have his mother's tree so full of cousins, it seems much easier to figure out the matches to his DNA cousins.
As I travel this research pathway, I'm constantly surprised to spot coincidences and crossed paths—everything from distant cousins marrying, to relatives moving from their home turf in Ohio or Alabama or Florida, all the way out to the corner of the country where I thought my own family was well hidden away. And yet, we have ended up driving down the same streets where our ancestors' descendants decided to live. How does that happen? More to the point, how does that happen and we don't even realize it? Our invisible networks and connections, once brought to light, can indeed be unexpected and fascinating.