Sunday, May 24, 2020

Mirror Trees:
Now we Like Them, Now we Don't

Mirror trees have always seemed like a viable yet last-ditch effort for me. It's not that I'm an adoptee in search of my birth parents, but I am in search of the birthright of my heritage. Thanks to some likely-excusable but now-bemoaned reasons, my paternal grandfather never felt the freedom to share his ethnic roots. Now, two generations after the fact, I and my cousins can understand what he was up against, but still we wish he would have felt freer to share that story.

Still, we have a recourse. DNA testing has opened up possibilities for many people who never knew the true story about their roots—yes, including adoptees. Because I'm almost in the same boat, I keep a close eye on what people in that situation do to untangle the mystery of their past. I've since moved from that tentative position of finding two, maybe three, matches who likely belong to my paternal grandfather's side of my family tree to finding nearly a dozen matches. And though my matches families' trajectory didn't include a stop in New York City, as mine did, they all came from that same tiny village in the northern reaches of Poland. It's time to see how our trees collide.

And collide it might be. Last time I mulled over possible research approaches, the favored advice for adoptees was to build what is called a mirror tree. Plenty of researchers were plugging the technique, from the experts to the motivated-yet-avocational to those marketing to the avocational.

Then, suddenly, the word on the street was that mirror trees were no longer in favor. There were other tools which some thought might be more helpful. Among them is the AutoCluster tool from Genetic Affairs, which, when coupled with their addition of an automated tree building service, can target specific potential connections for an adoptee. And although itself—boasting the largest database of DNA test participants—once suggested adoptees visualize their family connections using a chart-generating program like Lucidchart, it turns out one of their own recent product developments, which they dubbed ThruLines, may have been the very tool which saved adoptees from computer-assisted contortions.

Of course, the downside to ThruLines is that I need to add in my mystery grandfather's suspected parents to my tree—and then a match needs to have that in his or her tree, as well.  After all, ThruLines™  is based on connections traced from information provided on Ancestry subscribers' trees. No correct information, no correct match intel. Simple as that.

Right now, the only match connected to my mystery grandfather who shows up in my DNA results is my brother's daughter, who likely grabbed that information on our grandfather from my tree. Not a very helpful hint. And, face it, if I put my hypothesis about my connection to those many Wisconsin Michalski cousins on my tree, if everyone else copied it as confirmed truth, guess what would likely show up on our ThruLines results? In a way, the results from this new tool lead us back to that same dilemma, creating a new kind of "mirror" in the feedback loop of everyone copying everyone else's tree.

The surest way to overcome such dilemmas is to bite the research bullet, brush up on my Polish language skills, and dig into those Pomeranian records online to see how those Michalski cousins actually do connect with my Puchalski forebears.

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