Making A Connection

Sometimes, social media has worked in my favour.

I’ve used it for work and for making plans.

I’ve used it to sell a pair of side tables — and a cake.

But when it comes to genealogy, it’s been hit or miss.

After finding the obituary for Ellen’s former guardian in Montreal, I decided give social media another try, by taking my discovery to one of the parish genealogy groups I frequent on Facebook.

I’ve tried this before, with photos or queries about direct ancestors. People have generally responded positively, but rarely with “I know this person”, or “This person is my [insert relative here]”. But since it wasn’t a direct relation, maybe it would work this time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

On September 12th, I posted the obituary for Alberta Alexandrina Gilpin, along with a call-out to identify any of the names of Alberta’s nieces listed, if they were related.

One of the group’s members responded 90 minutes later.

That’s never happened to me.

While exchanging comments with him, a second member responded. Turns out Alberta was his great-great aunt. He’d been filling in his family tree, and I’d just helped give him more information.

(Side benefit of doing your own family research – helping unlock a door for someone else in the process!)

But back to the first member: he was from Brooklyn, but was out of town and was willing to help me out when he returned. He said he was visiting Toronto … where I live.

I told him this, and he suggested we talk by phone.

So the next evening, we had a phone conversation where I read him each of the nieces’ names … and he identified almost every single one of them.

He told me one of the nieces has a daughter who still lives in Montreal, who he promised to reach out to when he returned home …

And one of the other nieces in the obit is still alive, and living in Toronto.

Following our call, he called the living niece in Toronto. According to him, she apparently knew of Ellen, but couldn’t recall the full details. She had some information written down somewhere, but would look for it.

Hopefully my new acquaintance will follow up with her and find out if she’s been successful finding that information.

In the meantime, I’m trying really hard not to get excited, because the information could be related to someone else with the same first name*. It may not even be information about Ellen.

But deep in the pit of my stomach, the thought there might finally be a little more information about my great-aunt, has ignited a tiny ember of hope.

 

 

*When the group member initially responded to my message, he thought Ellen was related to his family, because he had a family member also named Ellen. I had to correct him and clarify what I thought my great-aunt’s connection might be to Alberta.

 

Another Test, Another Result

Apologies (once again) for the silence on my end. It was a very busy March, including a hectic work schedule that really didn’t leave me with enough time or motivation to write. But I’m back for the time being.

On the family research front, it’s pretty much at a standstill. My aunt went home to Jamaica in the new year, but she’s been dealing with personal stuff. One of my cousins went home last week for a visit. She’s currently still there, and I’m hoping she might have time to do what her mother hasn’t. I’m keeping my expectations low at this point.

Meanwhile, I decided to do an ancestral DNA test with another company to see if (a) I could get any more detailed results in terms of where part of my lineage may have come from, and (b) see if I would end up with the same result in terms of which maternal haplogroup I belong to.

There was a holiday special, so I bought an autosomal DNA test and a mitrochondrial DNA test (there’s a similar test for male family members, which traces lineage through the Y-chromosome).

Unlike the previous test – which involved spitting into a vial – for this one, I had to scrape the insides of my cheeks with a swab.

The autosomal test was ready in about four to five weeks. It was a longer wait for the mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA) test results – somewhere around seven to eight weeks.

I wish I could say that the results were worth the wait. It was a bit underwhelming and not that easy to understand.

The one thing I learned from my mtDNA results: My haplogroup matches the results from the previous mtDNA test I did – with one exception.

Attached to the haplogroup designation was a second set of letters and numbers. Did this allude to a specific region or subgroup?

It took me a couple of tries at digging for similar questions on the forum boards. From what I understand, it might be some sort of mutation in my DNA that doesn’t precisely match the sequence for the specific haplogroup I belong to.

Perhaps this means that technically, I don’t belong to the haplogroup, but it’s the closest designation for my maternal DNA? (Amateur genetic genealogists, feel free to correct me if I’m completely wrong.)

When I checked my genetic matches, there were more than half a dozen other people who had this same designation/mutation as me. In fact, one of those matches (who lives in Barbados) contacted me a mere two hours after my test results were emailed to me. He asked me about the haplogroup we belonged to and if I understood what it meant. Unfortunately I barely understood my results at the time and couldn’t tell him a thing. (I’ve since emailed him about our shared mutation, but I haven’t heard back from him.)

As for my ancestral DNA test, I checked the “origins” map, which put me at 89 per cent African and 10 per cent European. That part was consistent with the other test. The head-scratcher is the European portion of my lineage, which the test results place in … Norway. There was a blurb about how members of that particular cluster are kin to other Europeans of the north. Maybe it’s plausible. But – as with all these tests – certain things you have to take with a grain of salt.

The only thing I’m really disappointed with is the lack of clear explanation of what my results really mean. Unless I’m a novice member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, all the numbers and letters in my DNA don’t exactly make me salivate with excitement. Perhaps it’ll become a bit clearer with time and more internet research.

It was worth a shot.

All The Names

IMAG0665Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet, looking for something specific, only to have a bunch of objects come tumbling out (and occasionally hitting you in the face)?

I think, figuratively (or is that metaphorically?) speaking, that’s just what happened to me.

When I recently found my great-aunt Ellen’s birth date on a genealogy Web site, I ended up uncovering some things I didn’t intend to.

According to my mother, her father (the maternal grandfather I know about) was one of six children.

Weeeell … the internet showed me another story … one that included the names of two other siblings – sisters – that I’d never heard of.

Turns out my mom had never heard of them, either.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake. But the parents’ names were exactly the same. I mean, what would actually be the chances of having two families in the same village, with two sets of parents with the exact same names? It didn’t make any sense.

Not to mention, there were three other names that looked suspect. Like they could also be siblings.

Before I go further, a bit of a rewind:

A lot of the records on the Web site had scanned images of various records, such as birth certificates. The catch is, while one can search to one’s heart’s content, in order to see said scanned images to confirm hunches and suspicions, one has to create an account.

Until this point, I didn’t create an account. The terms and conditions I had to agree to, if I started creating a family tree on this site, left me uneasy.

But as I continued to revisit the site, the curiosity increasingly ate away at me like a dirty penny immersed in a glass of pop.

I had to bite the bullet. So I created an account, for the purpose of being able to fully conduct searches, and returned to those records.

One by one, I checked out the birth certificates for the kids I knew about for sure.

And then I checked the others.

Holy shit.

My grandfather was one of ELEVEN.

So what happened to the other five names? I searched the site, and couldn’t find any other information. My best guess is those unlucky souls didn’t make it out of childhood.

Perhaps they died as babies or young kids, of crib death, illness or unfortunate accidents. But that’s how secretive families (mine included) can be.

Then, things took another weird turn.

A recent Google search for the village my mom’s paternal relatives are from, coughed up a result for a reverend with a last name far removed from my own.

Seems that – with the help of his grandson – he’d done some genealogical digging on a scale much grander than my own. I’d landed on a detailed document detailing six generations of one descendant of his family.

Some of those descendants are my mother’s relatives.

A number of them have long since passed. But the ones my mom recognizes, she and her sister knew them, or were cared for by them, perhaps in the summers between school.

So. I’m having a bit of trouble fully processing the information.

I suppose this type of thing happens is unavoidable when digging into one’s family history.

But so many names at once?!

For now, I’m putting these discoveries aside and will try focusing on two searches:

(1) What happened to my great-aunt

and, if I’m successful

(2) Trying to find out about my long-dead paternal grandfather, a rolling-stone railway worker, about whom tiny specks of information were divulged to me while preparing for my father’s funeral in February.

If my mother’s family was secretive, my dad’s people sounded like Fort Knox.

I hope that vise-like grip will loosen when I go to visit some cousins and uncles for several days, later this week. One of them is throwing a 21st birthday party for his step-daughter. And, from the sounds of the equipment, planning and logistics required, and the party itself, it’s going to be a Big Deal. (If someone doesn’t fire off fireworks, I’ll be surprised.)

Wish me luck.

 

My Personal History Project

So. I know it’s been a very long time since I’ve last posted.

If you’ve seen my last entry, then you know the reason why.

It’s been a bit of a tough, depressing time, to be honest.

But in addition to losing my father, I also moved into a new apartment. Which, apparently,  are two of the most stressful things that a person can go through.

There have also been job cuts at my workplace. Fortunately, I’m safe, for the moment. It merely means that I have at least one thing that’s resembles normalcy this year so far.

And now, we’re barrelling into summer. And with no major trips planned – only one short one, but more on that later – it seems like it’s going to be relatively sedate.

In some ways, that’s fine. But I’ve been bored.

And that boredom got me thinking: beyond what I do for a living, who am I, really? What am I?

I’m of Jamaican parentage. But if you know the island’s motto (“Out of many, one people”), then you know there’s a bit more to it than that. It’s been a question that’s taken up residence in a deep corner of my brain for at least the last couple of years now.

So, it was late on a Saturday night roughly a couple of weeks ago, that I decided I would start trying to find out.

I ordered a DNA ancestry test online from one of those companies in the States and mailed back a saliva sample, just to see what they’ll find.

Now, let’s be clear: I don’t in any way, shape or form think this test will magically tell me everything I need to know about my genetic makeup. It’s not necessarily going to tell me where specifically my lineage came from, or from what side of the family. Not unless I’m willing to shell out more money and start begging family members to pay money to swab their cheeks or spit into plastic vials.

But it would be nice to have some sort of clue.

I probably won’t find out for at least another couple of weeks. So in the meantime, I’ve taken up another mini-hobby …

One that’s led me in a direction I didn’t intend to go.