Genealogy success story: DNA finds a surprise family member
“My Jewish Roots” Workshops, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Orlando continue in April with the workshop: “Analyze Your DNA Results.”
In February of 2015, my husband Mitch decided to search for his birth mother. Adopted as an infant, he had always been very committed to his loving adoptive parents and saw no need to look for his birth family. But, after the death of his adoptive parents, he came to realize that he would like to know about his birth family after all.
Since Mitch had been raised in Philadelphia, we contacted the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas there. To our amazement, we quickly heard back via a letter. It supplied information that included his mother’s name, her birth date and birthplace, her religion and occupation, and, unfortunately, her date of death. The letter also provided the name his birth mother had given him, which his adoptive parents chose to keep, both a first and middle name. It also showed his date of birth, where he had been born, as well as his doctor’s name. There was no information regarding his birth father as his birth mother said she was unable to supply any information. No medical information was given. This led me to an online search via Ancestry.com, and I was able to find census information on Mitch’s mother’s family, including her parents (Mitch’s grandparents), his mother, her one brother, as well as some additional information about the family. After much searching online through a variety of websites, but mainly Ellis Island, and guessing about possible spellings, through Ancestry.com I found the original ship manifest for her father which gave me what I thought then was the original family name and the country they came from. We applied to Vital Records in the City of New York and were able to receive Mitch’s birth mother’s death certificate as well as a copy of the Physician’s Confidential Medical Report. I was able to track some information about Mitch’s birth uncle but found that he, too, is deceased. One record on Ancestry provided the name of the funeral home that assisted with his uncle’s burial. I called there and asked if they could contact his family to see if they would talk to Mitch. Unfortunately, we were advised the family refused contact. This was most disheartening.
After much thought, in August 2015 I decided I would have a DNA test done. Mitch said he would as well. A month later, we received the results. Soon I began receiving requests from people exploring their DNA results for possible links to me as cousins. Some seemed remote, but others actually had names I recognized from my family. So, it was a reunion for me of sorts.
No one, however, responded to my attempts to contact people with potential links on Mitch’s DNA report. I tried Facebook and found a family with a name similar to his birth name, but their information came strongly from well inside Russia while Mitch’s family clearly was from Romania. They knew of no one in their family from Romania. So, we discontinued our search for his family and for a long time, nothing happened.
In early December 2016 I received an inquiry through Ancestry DNA from a woman claiming a close match. I assumed she meant to my family. She asked if we knew anyone from South Carolina. But we did not. In follow-up correspondence, we tried to find our connection. During the following week, she stated that her information showed that we are first cousins. That floored me, as I felt I knew all my first cousins very well. By January she shared that her mother had been in New York City in 1943 when she was conceived. She was convinced that I was the missing piece to the puzzle of her birth as she did not know who her birth father was. The only people I knew in NYC were my grandmother’s brothers who had settled there, but they were much older than her mother and had died, as had most of their children.
As we went through this process, I came to feel close to this woman and accepted her as my cousin and that one of my uncles apparently had an extra-marital affair. As she shared information about her life and family, I did as well. When I learned that she is bi-racial, I admit I was very surprised. As she shared her mother’s history, I shared my family’s. I learned about Jewish slave owners in the South—something that had never occurred to me before. I also told her why our family had emigrated from Eastern Europe.
We decided to speak by phone. During the call, we talked about all kinds of subjects ranging from her son’s early death at age 49 to her work in human resources and love of bowling. After the call though, I realized that while I’d seen her DNA information, I had not yet checked mine to corroborate. When I did check, there was NO correlation! I didn’t know what to think. Then I decided to try my husband’s results page and sure enough, there she was as first cousin, her daughter as second and her granddaughter as third! We were stunned! It was not me, but my husband to whom she was related. I called her very excited to let her know that I’d made a huge mistake. She was very kind about my error and said it was okay, not to be concerned, but she wanted to know all about everything Mitch and I had learned. So now she has all of Mitch’s family information that I had researched, including the name of her birth father, my husband’s birth uncle.
Mitch has had to process that he finally has a birth relative, though one he never expected, and it’s a wonderful feeling. We are staying in touch almost daily and planning to get together in the summer. And, I have a feeling that Mitch may have other relatives out there yet to be found!
You can learn how to access many important resources at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando’s (JGSGO) “My Jewish Roots” workshops. The next one is “Analyze Your DNA Results” when genetic genealogist Diahan Southard returns to explain how to analyze your DNA results after having it tested. It will be held on Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. at the Central Florida Hillel, UCF, at 3925 Lockwood Blvd., Oviedo. The workshop is FREE and open to the public. Bring your own laptop to participate in the lab portion. It is also possible to attend via the Internet. Pre-registration is required. Pre-register for either in-person or online participation at http://www.jgsgo.org/MyJewishRoots.