Category Archives: DNA

The Genealogy Nullification Rule

As the drive to pass along one’s bloodline and family name increases, so too does the unintended likelihood that many of the ancestors involved were adopted or the result of a union outside the official tree. AKA: The Macho Bloodline Conundrum.

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Having worked with many family trees, I can say without hesitation that this is more likely to be the rule rather than the exception. Behavior and decisions were much more easily overlooked or concealed in the past; DNA has eliminated many of these variables, especially in the last 4 generations of family. Through the span of history, however, every family tree tends to have many dead limbs and invisible branches.

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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When I posted this story, I didn’t expect the invisible mob to approach me. It’s easy to skip over my stories if you don’t want to see them. Anyone not wanting to read what I have to say can easily avoid it. For most people, I’m a forgotten planet on the edge of the universe. If you’ve found me and continue to find me just to gnash your teeth, you should take more effort to stop looking for me.

It was amusing to see people assume they knew who I was talking about. That underscores my insistence that people only see what they want to see. Their own preconceptions mislead them into assumptions. Their defensive responses based on these errors tell me a lot about how they are wired and what goes on in their heads versus the persona they present to us.

This story is not about my siblings. It’s not about my paternal uncle. If it were, I would say so, especially now that I was attacked for people’s wrong assumptions about it. To be clear, I’ve been guilty of the same type of jumping to conclusions. It’s driven me to cause a couple of people needless harm. I tried to make up for it. While they might have forgiven my stupidity, they probably remember that I was a jerk needlessly to them.

I’ve waited a while to share it.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier. As with anything personal, there will always be people who ‘know,’ ones you interact with who are running their own truthline in their heads as they talk to you.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life. It doesn’t mean they stories are always wrong, but it does mean that their blooming interest should be cautiously examined.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them. (People don’t generally argue with clowns or people with no credibility. They should stop and think about that before they start challenging or shouting at me.)

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. And some of the beauty. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity. People don’t want to take the time to examine their lives or write about it. I understand it, whether it is laziness or fear of the consequences. We cannot tell our own stories without stepping onto the fringes of other lives. It cannot be done.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is all of your family. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence. Children will grow up and do their own research and find the things we’ve concealed. It took 25 years to find out that my family robbed me of being with a sister I would have undoubtedly appreciated more than my other sister.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight you tooth and nail for no one to do a DNA test? Precisely because they knew you’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if people knew if my own Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that my Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was. My Grandpa Cook had his own skeletons, but he loved me when he was older. I didn’t know all those stories. The love he had for me was real. Knowing the truth does not change who they were. It might change who we are, though.”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done. We have to earn a reset when we’ve realized we were wrong and offered to make amends.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when another family member told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather that people not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me. I had some great moments when I was young. I’ve never said otherwise and grow tired of people saying I do.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why anyone did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Family preached that they were superior to black people and that anyone sharing their religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad tried to kill me and never faced the consequences of the law or even of family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good a good person and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness. We have to eclipe the shadow of the people who should have known better.” I waited.

I continued.

“Some of my family looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. They told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. They let my dad lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. They let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. They told people they were better than dark people. They used their jobs to hurt people who weren’t white. They said gay people were the Devil’s children. And as always, I have to reiterate that I had family members who did stand up sometimes and they were shouted down, too. Some tried. People forget that I acknowledge those people, too.”

“Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die one day and people will piously say he was a good man. And when he’s gone, I’m still be here, writing, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when people called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. People might not have snapped my bones with their own hands but their beliefs pushed them to allow others to do so. Had they ever realized they were wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like them rarely do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to share my story where it overlaps with my family. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of our ancestors, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Another DNA, Another Day

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I’ve always had my DNA set to ‘share’ on the sites I use. Recently, because of renewed interest because of the show “Genetic Detective,” I ensured that it was uploaded to GEDmatch for law enforcement use. I’d been a victim of my own procrastination, even after watching a season of “The Innocence Files” on Netflix.

Are there cons to this? For some people, yes. No pun intended with the use of the word “con.”

Are there advantages? Definitely yes.

I can understand why some people have objections to DNA sharing. I’m not entirely comfortable with it. There are legitimate reasons. There are also many unfounded reasons. The good thing about DNA is that only a portion of the populace needs to participate to map out everyone else – so even if you withhold your genetic map, it is likely another relative will divulge theirs and make your decision moot.

I’m that guy. I have to be. It would be immensely hypocritical for me to constantly tell everyone that privacy is both a leprechaun and unicorn while foolishly attempting to protect my invisible genetic blueprint.

Despite being a liberal, I’m in favor of never having another unidentified soldier, as well as ensuring that crimes involving DNA are solved. It would be ironic for me to be charged with a crime based on voluntarily-submitted DNA results. Mistakes do happen. If humans are involved in the process, things are going to go wrong. If the government can force me to sign up for the Selective Service, I don’t see much of a problem with us collectively expecting a genetic database to protect us all. Again, I recognize that this sort of thing can (and sometimes will) be abused. Using the potential abuse of a few to justify doing nothing different doesn’t appeal to me. No system is going to be perfect.

However, I’ve always believed that DNA (and other advances) are going to strip away generations of mistruths and ignorance about our ancestors. If this information assists law enforcement with doing their jobs, I’m for it. I have the same argument for fingerprints. As long as scientists have review power over the application of such evidence, I’m at no greater risk by others having it.

If I don’t trust the government, I’m already screwed.

Believe me, I have some problems with the government, especially under our current President.

As for the police? If you know me, you know I have a sideways opinion about several of them and systemic objections to the way they are operated. Focusing on these concerns, however, as an excuse to fail to help in the way I can, that would be a greater sin of omission.

The interesting thing about the show is that it beats the drum that even remote ancestors allow for research and triangulation toward suspects in crimes involving DNA. This means that my DNA could potentially come up in a criminal investigation. It’s possible that someone will knock on my door as a result.

I have relatives who I believe are capable of committing crimes, even crimes a generation ago. Many currently living certainly committed such crimes already. It’s not a question of debate. It’s true.

Though I have no proof per se, I also know it’s likely that family members might have fathered children during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I have only whispers to base my suspicion on. However, my other suspicions have been proven correct, too, even though I waited years for some of them to find confirmation.

For much of my life, I endured ridicule and hostility for some of the views about my Dad. Just a year ago, I found out that my suspicions were correct and that he’d fathered a child with a very young woman in the early 70s.

Such revelations, in combination with a checkered past for many of my relatives, paints a realistic picture that other shenanigans may have gone undetected, too.

I’d like to part of the solution to the problem.

For those thousands of people who’ll be reachable because of my participation, please accept my apologies.

It is my DNA, after all, freely given.

In the same way that some of my ancestors kept their foot on the closet door, gun in hand, in order to protect the skeletons in the family closet, I now stand on the other side, with the door wide open.

 

You’re Not Going To Believe This One (Read Until The End)

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This is true commentary. Some of it isn’t mine to share. I do no disservice to anyone by hitting the high notes of shame and secrecy. When I open up and share, sometimes people share stories with me. Some of them are stunning. Others are evil. A few are joyous. In a bit, I’ll share the general truth of one such story. I’ll do so by telling it anonymously. Whether it happened in Rogers, Arkansas, or Topeka, Kansas, it is a true story.

Throughout my life, I’ve been on the cusp of several discoveries. Some of have been personal, while others have been the sudden surge in my perception of the world. Given the outright ignorance that was mine to claim when I was young, I find myself surprised by who I am. My early life was cloistered and smelled of copper, whiskey, and sweat. Its soundtrack was a cacophony of shouts. I don’t think some of you truly take me at my word: my life was small for the first part of my life. I understood very little and my ability to grow to understand it was limited by the pathology of who I came from. Nature vs. Nurture lost a fight in my head.

An inquisitive mind took me places. DNA broke down doors. I was 52 before discovering I had another sister, one fathered by my racist Dad. While it was an accident, it would have not happened had I not insisted on following family questions over a long road. Revisionists shouted at me my entire adult life. Most wanted allegiance; when not given, they demanded silence. Failing that, they resorted to sustained anger. Their voices are fading though, leaving me to write the history of all the lives I intersected with. I was stunned to know that my suspicions about my Dad were right. DNA collectively slapped my naysayers in the mouth.

When my Dad fathered my sister, he didn’t know about DNA. He didn’t have an idea that it would expose his behavior 40+ years later. Unlike the news stories I found detailing Dad’s misadventures with crime and his DWI fatality, DNA lurked behind the scenes. I won’t share the details of my Dad’s case because they’re not mine to share.

DNA opens doors that people forget existed.

Which leads me to this inept segue…

Many years ago, a doctor told a young woman that her child died during or shortly after childbirth. The woman went home, heart-broken, and barely managed to move ahead with her life. She later delivered another child with the same doctor. That child lived to adulthood.

In secret, the doctor ‘gave’ the baby to a family who wanted children. The baby hadn’t died after all. This family ended up with two such ‘adopted’ babies. They were aware of the circumstances under which the baby was taken illegally from the mother and that the ‘adoption’ papers were forgeries. The stolen baby grew up with her new family.

When the doctor started his nefarious endeavor, DNA wasn’t a calculation. Paperwork could be falsified, lies told, and an impenetrable cloud of confusion could conceal what he’d done.

The doctor? He wasn’t an average doctor. He was respected, known, and had access.

He earned a rich living, had children of his own, and probably excused away his monstrous behavior by convincing himself that the stolen children would have a better life.

This isn’t a new story. It still happens. DNA makes it more difficult to conceal.

I wonder how many of you knew this doctor, or unknowingly knew the mother robbed of her child? Or went to school with the doctor’s children? What would the doctor’s children think of him if his crime were shared with the world? If you’re reading this, it’s possible you’re related to the doctor or know someone else who had their baby stolen from them. It’s one of the reasons I repeatedly tell people to get DNA tests.

Human behavior covers a wide swatch of possibilities. Doctors, midwives, and churches have all taken turns robbing young women of their children.

Because I’ve run across many variations of human deceit, I know statistically that many people out there aren’t related to the people they think they are. Some, although in increasingly smaller numbers, live a life absent a startling truth, one which DNA can help expose.

In this case, the adopted baby girl grew up used DNA testing to find her biological family. She reached out to her birth mom, the one who’d been told she was dead. I try to imagine the shock and horror of getting such a call – one from the adult daughter you’d mourned. I imagine the further horror of realizing that she’d risked having another baby girl stolen her by having her second daughter delivered by the same doctor.

The adopted baby, now an adult, and the mother who suffered a stolen baby attempted to confront the doctor, who still practiced. They confronted him decades after the fact.

How many times can you imagine the doctor stole babies from young mothers?

Did I mention that this is a real story?

The doctor never discovered the agony of being charged with a crime. He didn’t face public shame by looking out the window and seeing a news crew pull up in the parking lot, knowing his crime had been exposed and his face shown on the nightly news.

I wrote a long post about it but didn’t have permission to tell it to the world. I did enough research to discover that the salient points were easily substantiated.

So, I leave you with this doubt: are you SURE you know who your parents are? I’ll say it again. Because of my personal involvement with other cases, I say with full confidence that some of you are living without the truth.

Love, X

 

The Curtains Must Open

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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.

DNA and the Golden State Killer

In regards to the Golden State Killer being identified by using genealogy indexing, this is an area where I have experience. I’ve written so much about privacy over the years that I forget that people have an unusual and mistaken perception of their own privacy. DNA is the universal math of identification. Like our fingerprints, we leave it everywhere we go and transmit it through our intimate family web. To believe that we will one day not have a database of every living person’s DNA is to ignore the pull and push of history. The same arguments against DNA indexing are the same as those once used to push back against fingerprinting.
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In those cases where I have tracked down missing fathers and absent family members, DNA would have immediately unlocked those doors.
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I don’t ‘worry’ about my genetic profile being misused because I understand that it is already something out of my control, much like my identity and credit history. Before you accuse me of it, I will agree that I’m decently ignorant about some of the ramifications.
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DNA unlocks the lies and misconceptions we have about our own family trees and the mechanics of our biology. Genealogy was already sufficiently fascinating for me prior to the DNA component; now, it is ethereal and scientific magic, opening doors and both answering and asking questions about what we think we know.
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For years, I’ve predicted the scenario such as the Golden State Killer breakthrough.
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For anyone related to me, you can relax. They already have our entire genetic code. Like with most puzzles, a relatively small sample size of the populace is enough to identify everyone. Even if you don’t ‘choose’ to share your DNA profile, statistically it is almost a meaningless decision on your part. It’s difficult to be able to piece together the math and science of this truth and even more frustrating to find a way to like it if you find yourself in disagreement.
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The services I used don’t sell or transmit my genetic profile without my consent, which is more than I can say for other companies I’ve dealt with. Most people are unaware just how often they might consent to DNA indexing or sharing, especially when dealing with clinics, hospitals, or insurance companies.
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When the Facebook hyperbole surfaced, I cringed at people’s over-reactions. Google, for instance, maintains massively larger databases about all of us, yet receives much less press for it. During the data breach at Equifax, most people simply didn’t understand what had happened. It certainly didn’t stop Congress from rewarding Equifax with an exclusive contract with the federal government.
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Your DNA, like your fingerprints and credit history, is already ‘out there,’ beyond your control.
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I have several concerns, of course, but know that my personal opinion won’t divert the trends already beyond my reach. Right now, I am grinning a satisfied grin, knowing that what I predicted for years finally happened.