Wow.

So I haven’t been as prolific with writing as I’ve been promising. But I do have a small development on the family tree front, and I didn’t even lift a finger.

A few days ago, I got a message through 23andMe from a DNA relative, wanting to share ancestry reports.

Sometimes it piques my interest, because I’m always curious to see who contacts me and how much we’re actually “related”. But I’ve always tempered it with the fact that our DNA matches are usually less than 1 per cent. So I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt.

Last Thursday was different.

When I opened 23andMe and looked at the DNA comparison, it wasn’t less than 1 percent. It was just over 4 percent.

It still doesn’t sound like a lot. But considering the only other family member to submit a sample – and score much higher percentage-wise – was my brother, I wasn’t going to dismiss this.

I agreed to share my ancestry results, then took a look at some of her information. One of the family surnames in her profile – Jenkins – belongs to my maternal grandmother. That provided a bit more proof to me that we were related. But to what degree?

I showed the result to a co-worker (who’s also of Jamaican descent and currently obsessed with untangling her family roots). She showed me this really cool thing that I’d never heard of, called DNA Painter, where you take the number of shared DNA material (measured in cM), plug it into a box, and it tells you what your probable relation is. It gives you a number of possibilities – so it’s not exact – but it guesses as close as it can, based on the information. It’s a really cool tool!

This morning, my relative sent a message. She mentioned how surprised she was that we matched with such a percentage. She’d also looked at my information, and said what I already thought: we were related through the Jenkins family line. But then she mentioned the name of her grandmother (which tweaked something in my brain, and I have to confirm that with my mom), and named the town her grandmother was from.

Oh, we are DEFINITELY related, I thought. So I responded, and told her my grandmother’s name.

Bingo. My grandmother’s name apparently has come up in conversation with her family.

So our grandmothers were sisters — we’re second cousins! (Or half-second cousins, if DNA Painter is correct, since I don’t know who my relative’s grandfather was.)

She lives in Philadelphia, and one day very soon, I’m going to give her a call.

I guess it all just goes to show you that when you’re doing family research and you have a long lull or hit a brick wall, once in a while, something – or someone – reminds you that it’s worth it.

Family, Lost and Found

The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the running joke with respect to my family is that, yearly, I either (a) meet new relatives I didn’t know I had, OR (b) “find” cousins I met – and lost touch with – long ago. 

It turned out to be the latter, when the phone rang last Sunday evening.

As the walls in my folks’ house tend to be quite thin, I overheard my mom pick up the phone in the kitchen and start talking to someone named Christine, unsure of who it was …

Followed by the “Oh my God!” and the increase in the volume of her voice when she recognized who it was. 

And I must admit, I was taken aback as well.

The last – and first – time I saw my cousin Christine, she was nine years old and skinny. I was only six, probably equally as skinny, and visiting some of my mom’s side of the family for the first time in my entire little life.

I don’t know if we were as thick as thieves when my mom, little brother and I visited for those three weeks, but from what little I can remember, we certainly ran around a lot together in that short period of time.

And to this day, there’s one story my mom will never forget, nor let me live down:

Picture it: Jamaica, the summer of 1983. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was huge. Kentucky Fried Chicken was still edible. And one day Christine and I decided to have a little fun with my aunt’s cat.

Keep in mind, the cat in my aunt’s house wasn’t so much there as a pet as it was to help catch the mice.

I don’t remember the details which brought this about,*** but one thing led to another and we decided to take the dear Cat With No Name and put him somewhere special.

Namely one of my mom’s big, tan suitcases.

My mother found the cat later on in the afternoon, in the suitcase, in the closet. We didn’t completely zip up the suitcase, so the poor thing – understandably petrified – had shat over most of the shoes in the closet and inside the suitcase.

To say she wasn’t amused was a GROSS understatement. Needless to say, I’ve never done anything like that again or since.

Incidentally, I also really like cats.

But I would never see Christine again. I heard dribs and drabs about her through the years through my mom, who would get news about her whereabouts from time to time through my uncle Ucline.*

Fast forward about 25 years, and I now know she’s alive and well. Speaking to her briefly, I found out that she’s now in Connecticut (probably Hartford where, from the sounds of it, there’s a sizeable Jamaican population, which includes relatives from my dad’s side**), with three kids, working as a legal assistant while waiting for her green card (don’t ask me how this works – I’ve no idea).  

And the strangest thing? About three weeks before she made the phone call to our house, she and a co-worker were having a conversation and ended up on the subject of cats … prompting her re-tell the very story that brought us together in the first place.

That Sunday evening, she mentioned that her phone call was prompted by the fact her own kids are getting older and starting to ask questions about where they came from, and who their family is. 

If I could talk to them, I’d say, good for you. Not just because I think family should be one of the most vital things a person should know about him or herself. But because you’re helping people like me rediscover and re-connect with people I shouldn’t have lost touch with in the first place.

Fingers crossed she gets her green card, so that maybe one day I’ll get to see her again and make up for lost time. 

 

*His real name is Harold. If you’re from a West Indian family, you know most people have two names … or you know this if you’re from a culture where a lot of family members get a “second” name.

**A prime example of what I’m talking about. I didn’t really know about them until I met some of them last year.

***Christine says it was because either she or I wanted to take the cat with me back to Canada …