Monday, July 15, 2019

Snowball in July

Perhaps you've heard of Christmas in July. Well, I'm not talking about that, but I do want to talk about snowballs. In July. Metaphorically. So don't think of how quickly they would melt; that would spoil the comparison.

Imagine, for a moment, that we are magically transported to the side of your favorite mountain in the thick of winter—which, if you are in New Zealand or Argentina or anywhere in the southern hemisphere, would actually be right now. Think, on that hillside, of scooping up some snow in your mittened hands, pressing those flakes tightly together, and then rolling that tiny ball downhill in the snow.

As you may remember, that first small wintertime step led to something much bigger. That's how we kids used to make a snowman.

Something quite similar is what is happening with my metaphorical snowball of DNA: I've scooped up one genetic sequence on a handful of chromosomes. It glommed on to the exact pattern from some other people's DNA, leading to some hints from those genealogists' trees. And before I knew it, that hodgepodge of names I couldn't recognize became a runaway blockbuster, breaking through some impenetrable brick walls in the process.

Of course, I'm elated.

The main reason I'm mentioning this right now is that, thanks to the DNA links to several Michalski lines—including those in Wisconsin, a place I've never been—those hits just keep on coming.

I've been going back to some old correspondences from earlier DNA connections—you know, the kind which say something like "I don't know how we are connected, do you?"—and doing the "surprise!" routine (and instigating a few genealogy happy dances in the process).

This weekend, I reconnected with a DNA match I hadn't contacted for two years—ever since we both admitted being thoroughly puzzled about how we could match. It turns out she, too, had connections to this Michalski name—a name which, finally, I recognize.

Actually, to be clear, she wasn't a match to me; she matched my brother, whose DNA account I administer. Although we could plainly see that the connection had to be on my father's side—specifically, his father...oh, groan—we had never been able to push the line back to any convincing nexus. And gave up the chase.

At this point, it would be a good time to emphasize the helpfulness of even testing siblings, for one brother may carry genetic material that wasn't passed down to another sibling. That is the case here. If I hadn't asked my brother for his kind indulgence in doing both the autosomal DNA test as well as the Y-DNA test (after all, we both were wondering where our grandfather really came from), I would never have discovered this particular DNA match.

This match, as it turns out on second glance, contains a branch of that Michalski line which didn't end up in Wisconsin. I'm curious to learn the timeline of this ancestor's journey, because it did, for a brief span of time, end up in the vicinity of New York, where my family settled. Could my mystery grandfather have known that he did, after all, have relatives who lived nearby?

Of course, telling those of my siblings and cousins complicit in this quest for my grandfather's roots evoked more memories. One of my cousins shot back an email upon receiving the news, to tell me he remembered that my grandfather's best friend always called my grandfather by the name Teddy, even though his name was supposed to be John—at least, according to all the records I've found under the name we all knew him by. Teddy, I'm guessing, is a throwback to my grandfather's prior existence as a man by the name of Theodore J. Puchalski.

Between re-reading old correspondence with DNA matches, testing siblings as well as those more distant relatives, and keeping up-to-date those relatives interested in the results, I'm gathering more and more details to confirm my original guess of how my grandfather's descendants connect with a surname whose descendants ended up in Wisconsin. Like that snowball rolling downhill, each fact that gets packed on to the original assumption is adding weight to what's turning out to be a viable hypothesis.

While that's all well and good—and exciting—there still are some additional details that need to be heeded before I fall head over heels in love with what is really still just a hypothesis. I need to mind my Ps and Qs about decently constructing a proof argument for this case.

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