Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Pondering the Leap

Making the proverbial leap "across the pond" is usually an exciting milestone for genealogical researchers. Having diligently followed the generally accepted sequence of finding evidence and properly analyzing it, when that trail leads logically to that ancestral hometown across the ocean, it feels very rewarding. That sense of accomplishment, however, comes to those who have duly followed the sequence.

What, on the other hand, is the plight of the researcher who did not earn those wings to fly across the continents? After all, in researching my mystery grandfather's origin, I didn't exactly start at the beginning of the trail; there was this impenetrable brick wall in my face. And then, suddenly, I was handed the final step in the process: a conclusion to the matter, thanks to the results of six individuals' DNA tests. All of a sudden—and at warp speed—I've been transported backwards in time possibly two or three generations prior to any paper trail I've assembled. Where does "step by step" fit into this scenario?

Of course, if I hadn't been so insistent on taking a trifling class in Virginia genealogy at SLIG next January, I could have tackled this problem with (Broyles distant cousin) Karen Stanbary's course, "Meeting Standards Using DNA Evidence." Then, I would have known what to do. Instead, I'm left feeling like the genealogical floor has just been yanked from under my feet.

Instead of starting from the present and working my way backwards in time, I've been instantly transported to a village of four hundred people in Pomerania where a woman with almost the right maiden name has married a man with almost the right surname and produced a son with the Polish equivalent of my grandfather's given name in the same month and year which he, later in New York City, claimed was the time of his birth. It's almost too much to believe.

And yet, there is the proof: the DNA matches, with pedigrees stretching back to this exact village and the sisters of this same mystery parent. I'm just lacking the paper trail.

So how do I fit this into the Genealogical Proof Standard? First I have to find the records that would qualify as acceptable sources of this person's existence. Then, through diligent search, I'd need to demonstrate the true identity of this mystery baby—was he, indeed, my grandfather? Or was he another person with the same name who just happened to be born on the same date? I'd also need to clarify those incidents of similar but not exact surnames, finding any explanations for the variances. This would likely lead to examining Polish customs on name changes, which apparently happened enough to come with their own terminology.

Finding some of these sources of information will be challenging. After all, those DNA cousins all landed up in Wisconsin, not New York—and I am unaware of any connections between the families post-immigration. No letters between the families, no clippings of a sibling's faded obituary tucked in the back of a jewelry box, no other trail leading me back to convincing proof of a connection—but if I could find any, the GPS would demand that I cite those sources. Oh, that I could find sources to cite!

You know I've been worrying this research problem like a dog with a bone. I keep coming back to gnaw on the dilemma. The biological proof has already been presented to me; it's the genealogical proof that requires a convincing write-up. Once again, I tell myself to set this one aside—no one likes watching genealogical research get dissected any more than watching sausage being made—but then I find myself picking the subject back up again to write on the agony of not finding the answer.

Let me put this one to bed yet another time. Hopefully, the subject will remain under wraps until I uncover enough of significant value to drag it out again and gloat over the discovery.


  1. An interesting and challenging dilemma. I assume you're going to "work on" the missing generations while you ponder...good luck!

    1. Oh, you know it, Randy! That work is always ongoing, behind the scenes. Conquering this one will explain one of our family's longest-standing research dilemmas. No surprise to see that DNA may be providing the answer when all other routes fell short.


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