The Curtains Must Open

murphy 5th great-grandfather

Absent pedigree collapse, which occurs when the same genetics overlap in one tree due to noodling between relatives, I have 126 5th great-grandparents. Pedigree collapse is why our family tree pyramids are amazingly flatter than we would conventionally expect. Historically, about 80% of all marriages involved 2nd cousins or closer, due to geographical limitations. Most children resulted from people living inside a 5-mile radius. Modern people cringe at the idea, but proximity inevitably leads to relationships.

Life will find a way, as Malcolm said, whether it’s dinosaurs or people.

Because of the thousands of people in my main family tree and the fact that I’ve been using DNA for many years to trace my lineage, my DNA trail is remarkably old for some of my family tree branches. (And demonstrably absent for other alleged branches.) Occasionally, I encounter tree owners who hide or keep their ancestry tree private, which might be useful or warranted for current generations to protect their privacy. Still, it is 100% pointless to do it past one’s grandparents. Even if you’re not willing to pull the curtain back, the statistical likelihood that another descendant will do so approaches 100%.

The number of people using DNA results exponentially grows past three generations. Whereas paper trails and family history can be manipulated, expunged, or hidden, DNA is the math that draws a map directly to one’s ancestors. As more participants share their DNA, the tapestry of everyone’s relationships becomes incredibly detailed. Our ability to use algorithms and computers has rendered secrecy to be moot.

In the case of the example pictured, my DNA and family tree draw me through 7-8 generations, with multiple confirmations across hundreds of people. For whatever reason, I have a gap with my 4th great-grandfather Murphy, thanks to those who think hiding the identity of the person to be valuable.

Due to DNA, however, I can easily ‘ignore’ the missing 4th great-grandfather and jump up to the next generation with my 5th great-grandfather Murphy. This happens because of many people related to the cousins and siblings of my unidentified 4th great-grandfather having shared their DNA results. Using census, marriage, and other records, it is straightforward to use the process of elimination to identify the ‘secret’ ancestor. If it is someone unexpected, such as the mailman, it is likely that multiple DNA sources from other family lines have identified their overlap.

Given a large enough sample, no one currently alive escapes multiple points of intersection with our living DNA map. In case you’re wondering, it takes only a small percentage of people to finish a complete DNA map for every person alive today.

In other words, as I’ve said many times before, DNA will always ‘out’ a person’s intention to keep their family secrets hidden. People might not talk, but DNA is the hidden voice that lies in plain sight.

Unlike many, I find this to be a comfort. It’s probably a good thing, too, if for no other reason than I am powerless to do anything about it, regardless of my opinion.

DNA, in combination with my insistence on personal transparency, led me to discover a new sister. It didn’t allow me to force my search onto her; it allowed her to make the same choice and meet in the middle. Using my example, it is possible that one of her children or family members eventually would have come forward anyway, resulting in a similar discovery of new siblings. It just would have happened later or after my death. Whether we are comfortable with the idea, our DNA roadmaps are subject to the whims of those we’re related to, as the Golden State Killer famously discovered.

Yes, of course, DNA information can be abused. Using the possible negative consequences to justify a knee-jerk reaction is more a symptom of our inability to be responsible citizens and govern ourselves maturely than it is of a warning against using DNA at all. You leave DNA everywhere you go. Even now, your body is shedding your entire genetic structure into the air, on the floor, and on almost everything you touch.

My DNA experience also confirmed that some of my aunts and uncles had reason to be fearful of my dedication. Though most of them are now departed, their harsh demands about the silence of some of our family history are soon dispelled. Some of the secrets seem tame now. Others belie something unsettling. Their demands actually created a stronger desire to find out what all the fuss was about. Thanks to them, I have a specific list of questions that strike directly into their concerns.

People with nothing to hide also tend to welcome sunlight. If someone seems overly concerned, you should always assume it’s a sign you’re looking in the right direction. It’s not always the case. It is, however, logical.

Regardless of how we interpret uncovered facts, they don’t alter the truth they reveal. It’s an ongoing fascination of mine to observe the reluctance of some people to see their stories mapped and visited by other eyes.

For me, for now, forever, I embrace the universal nature of DNA.

May the curtains be forever opened.

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