Sunday, January 31, 2021

In Fits and Starts


While most of the country is still shrouded in winter gloominess, we in northern California emerged from our "atmospheric river" at the end of a drenching week to enjoy a moment in the sun. Everyone, it seemed, took the opportunity to discard all care for stay-at-home orders and grab a cup of coffee—or even brunch—on a patio near their favorite hang in town.

In the meantime, despite enjoying my own guilty moment in the sun, I couldn't help but think about genealogy—genetic genealogy in particular. It seems those DNA test matches come in fits and starts any more. Yes, it does seem that, in the pandemic doldrums over the winter, more people have chosen to while away the time by building out their family tree. But as for more people springing for a DNA test, it doesn't seem that social distancing and stay-at-home fever has made one iota of sales influence. The chill factor of the Golden State Killer case still seems to linger.

Yet, in the lull while I await clearer skies and sunnier weather—the better to usher in those fresh tomatoes from the garden—I have been tending to my meager crop of new DNA matches. Some of them seem to be inspired to test on behalf of a family member who was adopted or had an (almost) unknown parent or grandparent. People still do yearn to fill in the blanks on their pedigree chart; that need to know who we are based on our family history is a strong motivator.

Some recent test takers seem to be genealogy enthusiasts, judging from the tree they have already posted at the DNA site they chose to utilize. That is encouraging to see—not to mention, easy for me to tag that person in my own tree, often with little extra work on my part. I do try to add descendants to all my collateral lines, a habit for which heartening agreement was expressed often during last week's SLIG course. Laying that ground work in the past and keeping up with the process over the years sometimes does pay off.

But there are those other fresh DNA matches which still puzzle me—the ones for which I scratch my head and wonder, "Who are all these people?" Some of them may be people for whom a slight mistake made in building their own tree may have caused a wrong turn down the line in that pedigree chart. When curiosity gets the best of me, I may try my hand at building the trees of those mystery matches. But until the rest of my thousand-plus DNA matches are all situated in the right place in that family tree, I doubt I'll be taking on that added research burden.

Yet others are those for whom a family secret—perhaps an unknown parent—keeps us from assuming we know how we match. Using "in common with" tools (at Family Tree DNA) or "shared matches" (at Ancestry DNA) may bring me to that ah hah! moment. But maybe not. Once again, a DNA match to set to the sidelines, when there is so much left to work on with other matches.

But the most enticing of those DNA matches still to conquer on that long list are the newest matches to arrive. Perhaps they are the most recent batch of holiday gift-giving, and for that, I am thankful. It seems my match count still goes up by only a handful, when I check the numbers every two weeks. 

Of all the matches, the ones I covet the most are my "Goldilocks" matches: not too close, yet not too far away. Third to fourth cousins are just the right fit for me. Those are the ones who potentially hold the clues to family secrets—like my paternal grandfather's origin in Poland, which secret opened up to me in this past year, thanks to DNA testing. I've got a few more puzzles in my family's past that I'd love to piece together with some genetic genealogy help. There is only one thing missing, though: it takes two to make a match, and if those mystery cousins don't decide to test, I can't figure out those problems.

In which case, maybe it's a good thing we've got a few more weeks of winter ahead of us. All those family history fans hunkered down with their genealogy programs may be collectively helping the rest of us find some answers—at least, when they conclude that testing might help them arrive at answers they couldn't find any other way.


  1. Replies
    1. Oh, believe me, Far Side, I did grab that momentary blip of sunlight. But it's back to clouds and, hopefully, the rain we need...and more time indoors to research that family tree!


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