Monday, November 2, 2020

Once More, Just to Make Sure


It was the Theory of Family Relativity™ at MyHeritage which opened my eyes to the possibility that some—a very few—of my DNA matches actually led the way to solve a family mystery. All my life, I had struggled with getting someone, anyone, on my father's side of the family to explain where we came from. My father refused to shed any light on the matter, and his father before him—for those of my siblings and cousins who remembered him—certainly wasn't any more cooperative.

That left me with the impossible task of finding records in New York City on a man with a name as common as John McCann. Believe me, those in my generation were quite eager to help, once they became aware I had taken on that family history dilemma as a project. Bit by bit, we assembled shreds of information, and dredged our collective memories for any glimmer of a hint. We shared photos, dug out old scrapbooks, looked through newspapers published long before our time, hoping all the while to reconstruct the story of one man's life—the story he, himself, refused to tell.

Along the way, one of my cousins—well, technically my first cousin once removed—discovered that, surprise, surprise, we were not Irish as we had always been told, but Polish. That discovery, itself, triggered further volleys of forgotten family stories and gave us a toe-hold on finding further documentation.

Online access to digitized documents has boosted this search greatly, of course, but further help arrived with the announcement, almost two years ago now, of Genetic Affairs' development of the AutoClusters device, which MyHeritage added to their tools under the clever name, the Theory of Family Relativity™.

When I first ran the tool at MyHeritage, my mother's extensive colonial American heritage generated several large colored boxes of connected matches, which was not surprising. Somewhere in the midst of all these obvious clusters, though, was an easy-to-overlook speck of color for a different set of matches. They turned out to belong to my paternal grandfather's family.

Of course, the tool didn't come right out and say that; I had to figure it out. Even now, having looked at the evidence from every possible angle, I still have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not imagining the wrong conclusion. Perhaps that's why I hesitate to pull the trigger and shoot this now-extended family tree of related DNA matches into my own tree.

The matches all circle around a woman who was often at the periphery of family memories, as told by my older cousins and siblings. Her name, as I always heard it, was Anna Krauss. She was the mother of a woman my dad and his sister were brought up to call Aunt Rose—but whether she was an aunt by virtue of blood relationship, or by the customary American device of teaching children to accord respect to close family friends, I couldn't tell.

Over the years, I've spent a lot of time researching Aunt Rose. I've found a lot about her, but despite all the diligence, I still can't locate anything as simple as a death record for her. Following Aunt Rose led me to valuable details on her mother—almost, but not quite, enough to help me understand just who Anna Krauss really was.

I've written about Aunt Rose before, as well as her mother. After stumbling upon the shocking news of her mother's death, I sent for the woman's death certificate—which did nothing but add further confusion to the story.

Despite all the twists and turns, I did manage to get one report—which may or may not have been correct—that Anna's maiden name had been Zegar.

Wouldn't you know it, but the several DNA matches I've discovered since that breakthrough, thanks to the MyHeritage and Genetic Affairs collaboration, all point back to women who happened to claim their maiden name was Zegarska. Close, but could it actually be the same? I find no other way to connect with these lines. 

I had first written about Aunt Rose and her mother Anna five years ago. After the DNA breakthrough, I again took up the topic in posts here almost exactly a year ago. Since then, I have yet to muster the courage to just plug these matches into my family tree. In the meantime, even more matches are showing up, at more than just that one company. It's getting to the point where, when I spot those surnames related to that line, I feel like I'm reading about family.

Just one more time, though, I want to make sure I've gotten this connection correct. There's something that just makes me hesitate when I come to the point of adding a relative to a family tree without any of the usual documentation. All I have, at this point, is the confirmation of DNA. We'll need to step into the world of that private, unsearchable tree I set up for this precise research question, and make sure we can assemble all the documentation possible to at least connect each match with the others in this new family constellation.

In the process, hopefully, we'll finally discover what became of the couple whom I've added toward the end of my list of the "Twelve Most Wanted" of my ancestors: Anna Zegar and—maybeThomas Puchała.

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