Episode 352 - Connecticut Man’s DNA Shocker and the Strange DNA Match That Could Have Led to the Wrong Conclusion, Ancestry’s Thanksgiving Gift

podcast episode Nov 23, 2020

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin with a salute to our veterans on this Veterans Day week. David then tells the story of the oldest living American vet. Hear who he is, his ridiculous age, and where and when he served. Next, a possible survivor camp for the early settlers of Roanoke may have been located. Catch the evidence for this intriguing site. Then, a man who obtained ten century old letters from an abandoned post office has gone to work to deliver them to living descendants. Plus, Psychology Today writes about why Americans are obsessed with family history… as if we need an explanation!

Fisher then visits with Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com, one of our show sponsors. Crista talks about how Ancestry.com is going to help us all through our socially distanced Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, with free access to stories about your ancestors. Hear how it’s done and how you can get to the information!  Crista Cowan, Ancestry's corporate genealogist, has worked at Ancestry since 2004. You can find Crista as The Barefoot Genealogist, hosting videos on Ancestry's social channels YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

Tom Kelly from Shelton, Connecticut joins us next. Tom received a Christmas gift a while back that gave him an odd ethnicity result. With the help of Legacy Tree Genealogists (also one of our sponsors) he learned the truth about his parentage. But the full story might well have been missed because of an unusual DNA match.

Paul Woodbury, DNA specialist at Legacy Tree, picks up Tom’s story and talks about the match that could easily have led to the wrong conclusion. Paul explains why it didn’t.

Then, David returns for Ask Us Anything. The guys first deal with a question about 19th century “dead mail,” and then another about military commissions.

That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 352

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 352

Fisher: And, welcome to America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well, greetings genies! It is great to have you back and we’ve got some great guests today. We’ve got one guy coming on who got quite a shock from his DNA test. The ensuing investigation led to some amazing discoveries. We’re going to talk to him about his experience. We’re going to talk to Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree Genealogists about the entire case because it was really quite unusual. So, that’s all coming up in about ten minutes or so. And if you haven’t signed up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter, yet, please do so. You can do it at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page. It’s absolutely free and you get a blog from me each week, a couple of links to past and present shows, and links to stories that you’ll appreciate as a genealogist. And right now it’s time to head off to Boston, Massachusetts, where standing by, I can hear him breathing. It is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. It is David Allen Lambert. Hello, sir.

David: Hey, I’m doing good and obviously I’m breathing. [Laughs]

Fisher: You are breathing. And you know, I think that’s always an exciting thing in this day and age.

David: It really is.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: Well, my grandmother used to say, it’s always good to get up in the morning and not read your name in the obituary column.

Fisher: Yes, yes. Well, first of all we’ve got to acknowledge Veterans Day and send out a thank you and a salute to all of you who have served our country over the generations, and boy, we’ve got one guy that just 111 not that long ago.

David: 111, yeah Lawrence Brooks out in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was born in 1909.

Fisher: Wow.

David: He was a private first class with a 91st engineer battalion, an African American veteran who stationed in New Guinea in the Philippines during World War II.

Fisher: And he looks to be in great shape too. There's a picture of him. He's still wearing his uniform shirt with some memorabilia on there and there were some young ladies from the World War II museum in New Orleans who went to his house and did a big salute to him. [Laughs] It’s awesome! Great picture.

David: It looks like he's in great physical shape, and he related a story in an interview in 2014 where he had been on a C47 cargo jet full of barbed wire and one of the plane's motor's went out, and to lighten the load, he had to throw much of the wire out as he could. I don't know if I'd want to be on the receiving end of barbed wire falling on me either, let alone the plane.

Fisher: Right.

David: But more power to him and I'll tell you, he's got five kids, five step children, 12 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.

Fisher: Wow! Wow what a life, 111!

David: Well, you know, going back a little further in Massachusetts we're working on the commemoration of the 400th arrival of the Mayflower this month, and there's an earlier colony we hear about all the time, even in grade school. You may have heard about Roanoke.

Fisher: Um hmm.

David: Well, there's new research, Fish. Looks like they may have found where some of the survivors went, and archeological evidence including English pottery dating from the 1500s to another site that also has a lot of mixed pottery from both Spanish and English origin that the colonists may have used. So, they may be onto something here. So that's great and it’s on National Geographic, but of course you can find it on ExtremeGenes.com as well to make it easier for you. You know what, in genealogy, one of the things I always love to do is find old letters, but wouldn't it be great Fish is all of a sudden someone gave you a letter that never arrived to your ancestor?

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs]

David: This is a great story and this is about a person that found an abandoned post office back in the 1990s and found a batch of letters. These letters date from 1902 to 1910 and one of them is written from a young girl talking about the “lickin’” she got from her teacher. She wrote to her aunt and told her all about what was going on at school and then threw her brother under the bus, revealing that he had gotten far more lickins from that teacher than she did.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: Funny stories like that. Then you get a sad story in regard to an Italian immigrant, a letter that his father sent him that he never received, where he wrote, "Dear son. Now I'm telling you that I would like in the month of May 1906 to come and see you on this earth if God will give us life." and adding "that I hang onto the fantasy to come to your land." He never got the letter.

Fisher: Uh oh.

David: The nice thing Fish, is that these letters are now being sent to the descendants who rightfully will be excited to know that they even existed to begin with.

Fisher: Yes, absolutely. This is going to be a real treasure for those families.

David: You know, it makes you think about eBay and how many letters are out there that are for sale everyday that actually belong to somebody.

Fisher: Yeah. No, that's true. And you know, really, when you think about it, it is a lot like the dead letter section of the post office to have all those old letters on eBay. You can find a lot of things. Better chance of finding an ancestor letter there than from the post office.

David: That's very true. And this is a post office that closed and they just left them there. So, you never know what you're going to find, so stay tuned genealogists. Psychology Today has written up a thing about why Americans are obsessed with genealogy. Psychology and genealogy, I never would have thought of all of these combining, but it kind of makes sense.

Fisher: Sure.

David: Talks about the early interest in American genealogy, the author, François Weil spoke about our connection with the British aristocracy and people having coats of arms in their homes and stuff like that, and then the Revolution happens and we kind of break from that, then Americans trying to reconnect with their past after that disconnect of the Revolution, then genealogists in the 19th century. My own organization starting in 1845 was an influx of people trying to learn the past of early New England families. Fast forward 175 years and people have computers, they have DNA, we have the internet and it just shows that people are still pushing forward and I think the late 20th century, personally, with both the bicentennial and with the TV show, Roots, really helped that push and I think it’s been a steady stream since then right through to Who Do You Think You Are that's on TV now and other shows.

Fisher: And David, we're going to get to an amazing DNA story, coming up next. You hang on and come back here at the end of the show, so we can do Ask Us Anything, all right?

David: I would love that. And don't forget, after 175 years, wait, you're not a member yet? Go to AmericanAncestors.org, we'd love to have you join and you can save $20 with the coupon code "Extreme".

Fisher: Thank you so much, David. Coming up next, we're going to talk to a gentleman who got some shocking news from his DNA results and then what a journey to find out the truth and a happy ending. We're going to talk to him in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 352

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Crista Cowan

Fisher: Well here come the holidays and it’s going to be a very different holiday season this year.  Hey it’s Fisher from Extreme Genes, and I’m really kind of pleased and excited about one of our sponsors, Ancestry.com, and what they’re doing this year about helping us to have that family togetherness that we’ve come to expect at Thanksgiving time. Crista Cowan is on the line with me right now from Ancestry. How you doing Crista?

Crista: I’m so great. How are you?

Fisher: Awesome! I am so looking forward to this because you guys on Thursday, on Thanksgiving Day, are giving us a way to kind of be together and feel that family warmth and togetherness.

Crista: Yeah, for sure! It’s so interesting. This year has just been crazy and a lot of us are going to have to be physically apart during the holidays, and Ancestry is doing something this year to bring families together no matter how many people are seated at your table.

Fisher: Yep. And it’s free, and that’s what I like about this. And this is why we have to share it with everybody. You have a recently new feature on the site, and it’s called “Story Scout.” And it’s absolutely amazing to me what computers can do and you and I were talking off the air about how you almost feel guilty about how easy it can be these days in finding things we used to take weeks to find. But with Story Scout, it’s going to be available starting Thanksgiving, running all the way through Cyber Monday, so it’s what, five days?

Crista: Yup! Yup!

Fisher: And it’s absolutely free. And all you have to do is go to Ancestry.com and they’ll have a link right there on the home page, you don’t have to have an account, and you just pop in the name of a grandparent!

Crista:  Yeah! You just put in your grandparent’s name and a place where they might have lived and you could be given a rich, visual story about who your ancestors were and how they lived and the challenges they overcame and ultimately how that story led to you!

Fisher: So talk about how this technology works because I think it’s absolutely fascinating.

Crista: Yeah, it is pretty fascinating. With just that little bit of information, Ancestry’s Story Scout tool can quickly sift through millions of records and curate stories about your ancestors that help you make meaningful discoveries with no research needed!

Fisher: So people who listen normally to Extreme Genes know that I’m really big on time lines. And essentially what that means is you put them (ancestors) in a place at a certain time and you also match it up against time lines for what’s happening in a certain place at the same time, maybe with a smaller scope. Like what’s happening in somebody’s town, what’s happening in somebody’s state, what’s happening in their country, what’s happening in the world! And you compare those with the family history records of that individual and from that you can create a story. Well this technology is taking all of this material, putting it together and handing you the story, which is unbelievable!

Crista: Yeah, right?! Yeah, there’s so much richness involved in connecting historical documents like census records, or draft cards, or immigration records with the macro stories of what was going on in the world, and in the country and in local communities at the same time.

Fisher: Y’know it’s funny you mention the draft cards, because I remember, gosh it was probably eight or ten years ago now that the World War I draft cards started coming out and I remember looking at the draft cards of both of my grandfathers for the first time and just being absolutely awestruck because I was familiar with their handwriting and to see their signature from at that point almost a hundred years earlier and to see a physical description and when they signed up and who’s the next of kin and I just thought “That is so amazing!” and now it’s just y’know, one of those normal things you stumble across when you do your research. But for people who haven’t done this before, here’s a great opportunity to get together with everybody, maybe even do it on a Zoom call, and go on to Ancestry for free and click on the Story Scout and see what kind of information you can find on your people. And I guess we’re not just limited to grandparents either, are we Crista, because let’s face it there are some circumstances whereby you might not have enough information for it to generate what you’re looking for, but you could go back further or even closer, right?

Crista: Yeah, yeah! Great grandparents, maybe a favorite aunt or uncle that you or someone around your virtual holiday table remembers.

Fisher: And sometimes this is going to generate photographs as well.

Crista: Yes! Yeah! There are a lot of opportunities there for photographs. Like you said those descriptions, physical descriptions, off of draft cards. Sometimes you can see those physical descriptions on passenger lists, and details about occupations from census records, and as a genealogist we all get mad about this stuff! [Laughs]

Fisher: Yeah, we get kind of geeky, don’t we, yeah?! [Laughs] Well and when somebody like Rob Lowe gets geeky about this, you know it’s something pretty good and he’s been involved in this. Tell us about Rob and what’s his involvement with this special five days.

Crista: Yeah, you know, Rob has been a family history enthusiast for a while. In our holiday campaign he’s brought his sons in and is sharing that information with them and those stories. And then also just using Ancestry to reach out and connect with cousins. You mentioned those photographs and sometimes we’ve got cousins who have photographs and stories that have been passed down in their branch of the family tree that never quite made it down ours and Ancestry provides a great opportunity to reach out to them and connect with them to share some of that information.

Fisher: Wouldn’t that be something to find out Rob Lowe is your cousin? Y’know, it’s like “Well I’m going to hold back on the pictures til you send me five SIGNED pictures!”

Crista: [Laughs] Well, I don’t know about that!

Fisher: So he’s done a video for you guys, where can they see it?

Crista: You just go to Ancestry.com on our landing page again for that Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, we’ll have links to all sorts of fun things.

Fisher: This is awesome! So once again it’s called Story Scout, it’s free. You go to the home page at Ancestry.com, it starts like first thing… probably in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving day, right Crista?

Crista: Um… It’ll probably be early morning, yeah, middle of the night the night before Thanksgiving.

Fisher: OK. So it starts then. So if you can’t sleep, get up, get on, and check it out. And then it goes all the way through the holiday weekend, through Monday, which is Cyber Monday. So if you’re shopping for stuff, and you get done with all that and you haven’t done it yet, remember Monday’s the last day and you can do it for free and then it can spit out a story and you probably never would have imagined you could do something like this!

Crista: Yeah, yeah, and then that opportunity to share that with your family members. It’s not just this solitary experience. We hope people will, as they discover those stories, use the tools on the site either to share them out over social media or gather people around and share what they’re finding.

Fisher: Really? So you can actually click on a link and then either connect it to an email address or some of your own social media?

Crista: Correct. Yep!

Fisher: Ooh! I like that! It’s like starting your own social media site for a family history page. And, y’know, people talk about it but never usually get around to it, but that would be a really great use of this material.

Crista: Yep, absolutely.

Fisher:  Y’know, as we’re talking about this, Crista, I remember the very first question in my very first family history interview I ever did. Yeah! It was at Thanksgiving, it was in “New Joisey,” and it was in 1967, and my Dad brought me over to this little old lady and said, “This is my aunt. This was your grandmother’s sister.” Now my grandmother died in 1930 of tuberculosis and I was awed immediately ‘cause this woman was nearly 90 years old. And so my first question to her was very probing, very deep… and I said, “Was my grandma nice?” [Laughs]

Crista: Ooooh.

Fisher: That was it! Yes! And she said, “Yes, she was very nice!” So I immediately wrote it down that my grandmother was nice, so now I knew. But that’s how it all started. It was over the holidays we were able to have an experience like that. And now with this kind of material you can put together a much richer more detailed interview, you know?

Crista: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, some of my favorite memories for family history are centered around the holidays. Going to my grandparents houses of course we had lots of food traditions in our family. And sitting with my grandmother and her pulling out the shoebox of photos and just going through them and telling those stories over and over until they just became a part of the fabric of my life.

Fisher: Isn’t that the way it always is? We always here, “Ugh, we gotta hear those stories again!” But at the end of the day everybody’s so happy they do because that oral tradition is such an important thing to do. So, Crista, great to talk to you again, it’s been a long time.

Crista: Yes.

Fisher: And very excited about what’s going on here because I think it’s going to introduce an awful lot of people to what’s possible through the technology now. And again it’s free. Ancestry. Thursday through Monday, Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Thanks so much!

Crista: Thank you!

Segment 3 Episode 352

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Kelly

Fisher: Well, DNA is always an adventure, and especially when you get surprise results. Hey, it’s Fisher here from Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and I’m talking to Tom Kelly today. He’s from Shelton, Connecticut. And Tom got one of those head scratching results from his DNA results. And Tom, first of all, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you.

Tom: Thank you. Nice to be talking to you.

Fisher: So, when did you get your DNA kit? 

Tom: I got it for Christmas a few years back at the age of 70 years old.

Fisher: Oh wow.

Tom: Yeah. I was in no hurry to send it in because I knew my genealogy. My mother was Irish-Irish. My father was Irish-German.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: I was raised Irish.

Fisher: You’re an Irishman.

Tom: Right.

Fisher: And then what happened when you saw your ethnicity results?

Tom: Well, it came back and it said that I was a large part Italian with about 11% Middle Eastern. One of my friends told me that all Sicilians have Middle Eastern because of all the wars fought directly across the Mediterranean over the ages, and they all have Middle Eastern in them.

Fisher: Yep.

Tom: So, I went out and bought another kit from a different company and I sent it in because I figured I don’t believe this.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And it came back exactly the same. [Laughs]

Fisher: Um hmm.

Tom: And then I went online and I looked up genealogy research companies and I read the reviews and I picked Legacy Tree and I called them and I hired them.

Fisher: And off you went on your wild adventure. What were you thinking when you saw this? What did you think it meant before you even talked to anybody then?

Tom: Well, obviously I was starting to believe that it was true. And I just didn’t know how it could have happened.

Fisher: Sure.

Tom: And the first thing Legacy Tree told me was that the father that raised me was not my biological father.

Fisher: How did that impact you Tom?

Tom: I was very upset at first to be honest with you.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Tom: I was very upset at first. But then you know things happen. My mother, she was a partier. Things happen. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know if she knew my father wasn’t my father. I don’t know if my father knew. They were both gone. So, I just had to have Legacy Tree dig deep and find out what happened. 

Fisher: How long in between the time that you figured out these results and then you hired Legacy Tree and Paul Woodbury to work on this case?

Tom: Probably three months.

Fisher: Three months. So, during those three months you were just kind of sitting on all this and your head must have been just processing it.

Tom: Yeah. My wife said, “Why do you care at your age?” But I just kept feeling like I had to know who I am, you know? 

Fisher: Yeah, your identity. And you’re not alone that way. So many people feel the same way especially when they get surprise results. I bet there were some nights where you just didn’t sleep well.

Tom: Absolutely, absolutely. And I felt like I’d been lied to my whole life, and how could this be right, and you know, I was just glad that I had Legacy Tree working on it. The first thing they told me for sure after my father wasn’t my father was who my grandparents were and they were from Sicily. It was John and Grace, Giovanni and Grace to be more specific. And they emigrated here from Sicily.

Fisher: Wow. Did they have pictures for you?

Tom: They had pictures.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: And then they narrowed it down to two of their sons; one of the two was my father.

Fisher: Now wait a minute, how many sons were there to begin with?

Tom: There was a lot.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: But there were three older sons.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: One had no kids. And the other two were the right age.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: And then they had like five daughters, and then they had a couple more sons. But the younger sons wouldn’t have fit in. So, they were sure it was the older sons, either Michael or Lewis.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: And Lewis was a world champion boxer. He boxed in the Olympics in the 30s, won gold medals.

Fisher: Wow!

Tom: Yeah. And Michael was a doctor, a surgeon.

Fisher: Ha!

Tom: So, it was Michael and Lewis and what happened was that Legacy sent me all the contact information for all the family members they could find on Michael and Lewis’s side.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: And I wrote an email heavily edited. I really tried to make it sincere. I said, “A few people think I’m nuts. Call Amber at Legacy Tree. Here’s her number. Here’s her email. And she’ll verify that I’m honest and I’m just looking for my family.” And all of them were skeptical except one, Carla.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Tom: A cousin Carla, from Lewis’s side. She is the sweetest thing in the world. And she just got a hold of the rest of them and said, “Look, I talked to this guy. He’s sincere. He’s a nice man. We have to help him.” [Laughs]

Fisher: Right.

Tom: If it wasn’t for Carla, none of this might have happened.

Fisher: Yeah. All they’ve got to do is spit, right? I mean just spit.

Tom: Right.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: That’s right. You know, My Heritage actually sent free DNA kits to all the family members of my new family. And she got them to send them back. And now, they overlaid the paternal DNA of Michael and Lewis and I was sure it was Lewis because I had seen pictures. My kids thought a picture of Lewis was me. 

Fisher: Oh wow.

Tom: And so I was sure it was the boxer. But as it turned out, when they overlaid with Michael, who is my half brother, it was a 100% match as a half brother and I was definitely the surgeon’s son, not the boxer. 

Fisher: Now, this is really interesting because the surgeon as I understand would attend the fights of this Lewis, right?

Tom: Exactly. They were very close in age. They were like Irish twins [Laughs] and my father who raised me was the general manager of the Convention Hall at Atlantic City, an avid, avid boxing fan. And he would have seen all Lewis’s championship fights and I’m positive they met the family. And when my father and mother and sister and brother moved to Brooklyn and left that job, they bought a house right near this Italian family about a mile away. And as it turned out, my biological father actually was the surgeon in the hospital I was born in, in Brooklyn.

Fisher: Oh wow. [Laughs] I mean what a story.

Tom: Isn’t that unbelievable?

Fisher: Yeah. It really is. And you know, not every surprise story gets a resolution like this. I mean, they’re all unique. Everybody’s story is completely different. Now, as I understand it, you had one DNA match that came from Carla. I guess she came in as if she were 96% likely that she was your half niece, which kind of pointed to Lewis right away, right?

Tom: Right. I call her my cousin. 

Fisher: Well, she is.

Tom: She’s Lewis’s granddaughter, so.

Fisher: Yeah. Yeah so she would be a first cousin once removed.

Tom: Right.

Fisher: But the interesting thing about this is, is there was only like a 4% likelihood that she was a first cousin once removed because you had such a high amount of shared DNA with her. This is something we don’t often see obviously because it’s like 24 to one that you get these kinds of mixes. So, how remarkable.

Tom: I didn’t even know that.

Fisher: Well, there you go. I kind of got a little of the background from Legacy Tree. Fill me in now on what has happened. You’ve met your half brother now?

Tom: I talked to my half brother on the phone many times, and his wife Liz. And we decided let’s have a reunion of the two families. My half brother and his wife, and my Aunt Janet from Lewis’s side, and Carla and her husband all came down to the Fort Lauderdale Marina. There was a covered area by the pool that we reserved. And my daughter, Cara, actually flew down with her two daughters just for the day. This was that big a deal. My sons flew down from New Jersey, both of them, and my wife and I. And it was emotional. We were hugging and kissing and crying [Laughs] and we were talking about how this could have happened, and about the boxing connection, and everything else. And we just had a wonderful few hours and then we went out and had a wonderful dinner together at a seafood restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. And since then, my brother Michael and his wife have been to my summer house, my winter house in Stuart a couple of times. I’ve been to their winter house in Marco Island with my wife for a number of days. I’ve been to their house in Breezy Point, Brooklyn for a number of days. 

Fisher: Wow.

Tom: They’ve been to my house in Connecticut for a number of days. And Carla, who started all this, invited us, my wife and I, and Michael and Liz, and everybody else to a family feast at her brand new house in Breezy Point. Beautiful house.

Fisher: Ooh.

Tom: And I met more cousins. I met an uncle.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: Carla’s mother told me all about my biological father. How he was. And then the next day we had breakfast with my half sister Kathy. So, yeah, it’s been wonderful. The bottom line on it Scott, is that my brother Michael and I are like two brothers. We love each other. We text and talk on the phone almost every day. I hope to see him next week when I go to Florida.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Tom: We have so much in common you’d think we were raised together. We got the same sense of humor, we got the same power fix, we like the same movies, and we like the same music, and it’s just unbelievable how close we have become the last couple of years.  

Fisher: That’s awesome. So, would you say that this has added to your family? Because I’m sure a lot of people who go through this, I mean, finding out your dad wasn’t your dad, I know for me that would be a horrible revelation. And then of course, you’ve got the questions for mom. And how has it affected your thoughts about your mother and your dad, how have you been able to put that back together again because I would imagine you feel more like you added to your family than taken away your dad’s side.

Tom: Well, that’s exactly true. They’re both gone. My mom and dad are both gone so I can’t ask them. I know I was raised with love. I know that my mother especially…you know it’s funny, I’m named after my mother not my father.

Fisher: Ha.

Tom: So that’s the other funny part. Her name was Anna Thomas Anderson. My name is Thomas Anderson Kelly. I thought that was another funny thing. But I don’t even know if my father knew. I don’t even know if my mother knew. If she was still active with my father, if she went out and had a one night fling with the doctor.

Fisher: Sure.

Tom: I mean, these things do happen in life.

Fisher: Of course.

Tom: I don’t hold it against either one of them. I am still very appreciative of the way I was raised by them. And now I have a whole new family of wonderful, wonderful people. And they’re just great, great people, and they’ve welcomed me with open arms. They truly love me. I mean it’s amazing, and my wife Carol. And it’s been a great experience after the initial shock.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Tom: Yeah, after the initial, “What?!” You know?

Fisher: Oh, I can imagine.

Tom: That’s why probably I let it go for a few months to decide what I wanted to do. But then I said I have to know.

Fisher: Well, you know, it’s interesting you say this because I think the overwhelming majority of people who do find an unexpected birth family wind up generally with a positive experience like this. With people I’ve helped, and it’s not nearly as many as Legacy Tree has [Laughs] I’ve found many people have had that experience and they have connections, and half siblings, and reunions, and the shared history, and it’s just an amazing thing. Tom congratulations. It’s obviously a life defining and changing experience. And I wish you happiness and great times ahead with your family. 

Tom: Thank you. And I thank you for listening to me. And I could never thank Legacy enough for doing this for me.

Fisher: Yeah. They do great work.

Tom: They really do.

Fisher: And of course, they’re one of our great sponsors and I’m happy to share this story. So, thanks for coming on. And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree. He is the DNA specialist who put this whole puzzle together and you’re going to want to hear what he says about dealing with a likelihood of 96% that didn’t come in. We’ll explain it all coming up next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 352

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Paul Woodbury

Fisher: All right, part two, of Tom’s story with Paul Woodbury from Legacy Tree Genealogists. And Paul, it is great to have you back on the show. My head is still reeling around this and I think anybody who has ever done genetic genealogy and has either found a case and solved it for themselves or for a friend, or a neighbor, or something, there’s an enormous satisfaction in putting that story together and solving a mystery that typically has been inside somebody’s head for a long, long time. And I can only imagine with a story like this you must have gone to bed with a smile on your face when this got resolved.

Paul: Yeah, I did and it was a lot of fun to research this case, and to discover stories that wouldn’t be possible to uncover without the assistance of genetics. The stories that come up as we engage in genetic genealogy are just fascinating. I’ve done a few cases of multiple identities. I’ve done many unknown parentage, adoption cases, and it’s fascinating to learn about the mysteries and the stories that we can uncover that way.

Fisher: So, I think, the thing that crosses my mind first and foremost about this case is that with one test, you thought you had a half niece because it was at the 96 percentile that this was the relationship. And I think, for most amateurs like myself who would do something like that, you look at it and go, ah, ha! I think we’ve got this. But you kept going and you actually found that this relationship was part of the 4% that wasn’t the half niece. So, talk about that a little bit. What goes through your head when you see 96%, I would imagine initially you think just like the rest of us, ah, ha, let’s just go do our due diligence and now and get rid of it. How often have you seen this kind of thing happen?

Paul: You know, it’s interesting because working as a genetic genealogist, a lot of the cases that I get to see are the challenging ones. The ones that come to us after it’s already been through several hands, whether the client then solves with their friends, or others that have taken a look at it on a volunteer basis, or maybe they’ve hired somebody else to also look at it, and so, really, I think the main element here that comes to my mind as a professional genealogist, just because I have been burned in the past. You know, I have said, this is your dad and then it comes back and you say, oh, nope, just is just an outlier in terms of how much DNA this individual shares with you. So, I think, for me, I am very conservative and I really try to disprove my hypothesis.

Fisher: Um hmm.

Paul: And if I come across a situation and it really looks very promising, then yeah, I run with that. But, I always kind of keep the question at the back of my mind, is there another possibility? Is there something else that I need to be ruling out? And that I need to make sure that I address, because someone makes up that 4%. In this case, we had, through genetic genealogy been able to determine that Tom had to descend from a particular tied in couple in New York. But I think that couple had eight descents that could have been the correct age to have been the biological father.

Fisher: Wow.

Paul: So, for me, it was just, we need to explore all of those possibilities. We immediately jumped to those that were most likely, those that were about the same age as Tom’s mother that might have had more opportunities for contact and for a liaison there. But, in looking at those candidates we had to set up tests of hypothesis and when we tested the first hypothesis that Tom was a biological son of the grandfather of this individual that we invited to test. She came back sharing 800/900 centimorgans, which is exactly what you’d expect for a half niece relationship.

Fisher: Right, allowing for her age.

Paul: Yeah, allowing for her age. But, there was just this slight possibility that she could also be a first cousin once removed, about 4% probability. And yeah, in normal situations we would kind of go with that and say, yeah, this is probably who the father was. Fortunately for us, I think we were trying to be efficient and so we tested both candidates at the same time. So, it wasn’t like her test results happened to come in first and I said, well, let’s just wait for the other test results before I actually make a decision on this.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: And I’m glad that I did.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Paul: Because it was very clear that our other testing candidate was Tom’s half brother.

Fisher: Right.

Paul: And while there was no possibility that he could be anything else besides a half brother, there was this slim possibility that the other first testing candidate could have been a first cousin once removed. So, that was a unique discovery and an exciting discovery to find, hey, we have a 4% case right here.

Fisher: Wow. Yeah.

Paul: And this really shows, you have to be careful in making those assumptions and drawing those conclusions based on genetic evidence.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: For me, I try and get as highest percentage probability as I possibly can because I deal with so many cases that just by chance there’s going to be some of those that I get wrong if I’m too liberal in what I accept as acceptable proof of the argument.

Fisher: Right. So, let me ask you this then, if the bio-father hadn’t had any other children other than Tom and you had nobody to test from that line, or that would have been the other possibility that the children were all deceased.

Paul: Yeah.

Fisher: Let’s just say that he had no other children. What would your conclusion have been? What would you have told Tom at that point?

Paul: You know, if we didn’t have any options at that point, I think probably what I would have told him is that even in this case it’s most likely that the other brother was your bio-father. If we didn’t have any candidates that would have been really hard and that does sometimes happen.

Fisher: Sure.

Paul: You find this family and there’s several candidates within that family but none of them had descendants. And you’re kind of left wondering, okay, which one of these brothers could have been the biological father? Or which one of these children could have been a bio-parent.

Fisher: Yeah.

Paul: We might not even know which parent, if it was the father or the mother. So, when you run into those situations where we have to turn to what’s left to ask, which is the document trail, to find out as much as we possibly can about where those people were at the time of the conception.

Fisher: Right.

Paul: And try to figure out who was closest, who was in an appropriate area to have been the bio-parent and you know, that’s always the case with genetic genealogy.

Fisher: Yes.

Paul: DNA is only one type of evidence and we have to rely on the document trail to help us bring context to that genetic information.

Fisher: I’ve had a couple of cases here in the last couple of years among friends who I was trying to help them solve a problem, and like you say, we got down to one where there were three possibilities. We eliminated one and now we’re left with a boy and a girl. So, we don’t know if this man’s grandfather was the child of the girl or the boy. So, obviously what we would like to do is try to find the other genetic network and develop one candidate there then you’re naturally eliminating the other, but, boy, what a case that you just had with this one. I’m sure it’s one of those that will stick in your mind for a long time. [Laughs] I imagine you can’t keep them all in there because you do so many.

Paul: Yeah. [Laughs] Sometimes, I get questions about cases I’ve done previously, and I say, did I do this?

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Paul: Things come across my desk so often and I solve these cases, but I don’t know, it’s kind of fun to read through some of my old reports and the things that I’ve done and be able to say, oh yeah, I did do this, oh yeah, I do remember this family. It’s like meeting an old friend again.

Fisher: Sure. Well, each case has so many moving parts, right, or it wouldn’t have landed on your desk in the first place. And it would be very difficult to remember everything that was involved in that. I can’t imagine.

Paul: Absolutely. But it’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy the opportunity to really solve these mysteries and to bring some meaning into really interpret all of the information that we have available to us to arrive at some really solid and proved conclusions.

Fisher: Well, for a man like Tom obviously it was a shock to him to learn that his dad wasn’t his biological father. But obviously, he’s overjoyed with the new family that he’s met as a result of your efforts and that’s got to be enormously satisfying.

Paul: It absolutely is.

Fisher: Paul Woodbury, thank you so much for coming on again. It’s always great to have you on the show and congratulations.

Paul: Thank you so much for having me.

Fisher: Sleep well over this one and move onto the next case. I’m sure there’s a great story waiting there for you. 

Paul: On to the next adventure!

Fisher: [Laughs] Talk to you soon. Thank you, sir.

Paul: Thank you.

Fisher: And coming up next, David Allen Lambert back for another round of Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show in three minutes.

Segment 5 Episode 352

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, it is time for Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here with David Allen Lambert, the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. And David, we have a question here from Jolene Beranski from Trenton, New Jersey and she says, "I'm new to genealogy. I'm curious why ads in the newspaper show that the post office has letters for my ancestors. Why didn't they just deliver it to their home?" Interesting question.

David: [Laughs] Well that is an interesting question and I can kind of understand what she's talking about, because you would think smaller towns and back then you probably could just go door by door. The idea of rural mail delivery really didn't come into America until the 20th century. In fact, that's one of the reasons why if you look in the census, there were no numbers on houses on rural streets, because, well, that's where the Fishers lived and that's where the Lamberts lived, everybody knew that.

Fisher: Yep.

David: You get numbers starting to be assigned in urban areas more likely, because if you have multiple families living in a particular building, so sometimes you even get ABC, but the reason, because they just did not deliver the mail to these houses back then or apartments. You had to go to the post office. And so, like you know, you sometimes forget to go to your mailbox for a couple of days and it builds up. So, a picture of the post office has a lot of mail that you haven't picked up, not that you had a P.O. box, I'm sure they had like probably pigeon holes where they kept the letters in for people alphabetically, and periodically, they would put ads in the newspaper and then the newspaper would say, "There's a letter for David Lambert" or "Scott Fisher. Please come to the post office." and guess what, if you didn't pick it up that month, they might run that ad again in another month. It could mean a couple of things. I mean, obviously what comes to mind first? The person's dead.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: Or they may have moved or maybe they are out at sea or maybe they're at war.

Fisher: Or they're incapacitated. Really, there are lots of things that can cause this, but you know, it could be an indication of something. The nice thing is, David is, if your ancestor had an unusual name, obviously it wouldn't apply to somebody like John Smith, but if they had an unusual name and you could find there's a letter waiting for them at a post office in a newspaper ad, a digitized newspaper, then that can give you a direction of where to look in your research as to where somebody might have moved to.

David: Oh right. I mean, the other thing that's really kind of fun with that whole thing is that, a lot of places there are not city directories or it’s in between a census year. You could use this as sort of a census substitute if you will. Speculating that the person would in, say, six months may have lived in the community that they knew that the person was there. It’s interesting to think of how would the post office know you lived in the town, period? I mean, someone could send a letter to me in Boston, Massachusetts. I don't live here. I work here back, say, in 1870 and maybe that's the reason I didn't pick it up, because well, I don't live here. Why would I have a letter there?

Fisher: Sure.

David: It would have to be care of. And maybe these people misdirected a letter perhaps, you know. They put the wrong town that it was supposed to be or the wrong state. I mean, there's Boston, Kentucky as well as Boston, Massachusetts. So I mean, I can see where confusion could happen and letters misdirected or the wrong name on it.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: It’s a good mystery, but yep, that's why they just did not do delivery to house to house back in those days.

Fisher: Well, it’s kind of fun. Sometimes I've looked at that and I've seen a letter to “Oliver Secord” or whatever and I think to myself, "Agh! What I would give!” You feel so close to be able to actually obtain the letter and read what it said and who was it from and what was it about. And your mind kind of goes crazy on that, but you know, that's the fun of genealogy is trying to put these mysteries and these puzzles together and newspaper ads for letters that haven't been delivered can be another great clue. And perhaps you'll figure out that that's part of the timeline, and as everybody knows, I'm really big on putting together timelines for people. That's a great question. We appreciate that, Jolene. And coming up next, we'll take another one as we continue with Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 6 Episode 352

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Fisher: All right, next up another question on Ask Us Anything on Extreme Genes. I am Fisher, that's David Allen Lambert in Boston from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Dave, this question is right up your alley, "At a museum, I saw military commission from the 1700s. My ancestor was an officer in the Revolution. Where can I find his commission?" And it’s from Rance Oldham in Columbia, Missouri. Great question, Rance. What do you think, Dave?

David: Well, I'll tell you, it’s really interesting, because these military commissions, like into your high school or college diploma, these were actually large certificates usually signed by a governor with maybe a colonel or a general, etc. that was connected to the commission itself. So, essentially, you'll be getting this document, it would be signed, sealed and delivered and you probably would frame it at home or have it rolled up or whatever. That was it. There is no duplicate copy generally. So, these museums and even NEHGS here in Boston, we have dozens of these old colonial military commissions that in the archives, in the colony your ancestor got the commission, there's probably something in the governor’s papers, at least what I find in Massachusetts where it says that Samuel Ordway received a Commission of Captain on this day in 1725, signed by the governor and its written in the governor’s records that these commissions were given out, but that's it. The funny place where you're going to find these things could be at a historical society or a yard sale or a flea market.

Fisher: Oh, jee!

David: Or better yet, even eBay, depending on who is the person signing the commission determines the value. So if it’s a very famous colonial governor that may have been later a signer of the Declaration of Independence, it’s worth 1000s of dollars. Some of them you can pick up for 50 to a couple of hundred dollars. I have one from the 1720s that somebody gave me years and years ago with the idea that I would eventually do some research for them in return. Well, they passed away. I never got a research request, so it sits on my wall, so I may find it as a donation back to the local historical society where this veteran came from. But right now, it looks nice on my wall at home.

Fisher: So we're talking about a state archives governor’s records, but you know, we keep going back to eBay. Isn't it amazing how much stuff is there! I just recently picked up, David, a document that was rebating taxes to a widow in Fairfield, Connecticut at the very end of the Revolutionary War from 1783. It was actually written out in the month that the British evacuated New York City. And it’s from Fairfield, Connecticut, not far from where I grew up in Greenwich. And the guy who signed it was Thaddeus Burr who hosted, oh, George Washington at his house before it was burned down by the British who actually hosted the wedding of John Hancock and his wife. As I've researched this document a little more, I've come to realize that Thaddeus Burr wrote the entire document. And if you're all wondering how much money would one pay for something like that, in my case, $38 for a Revolutionary document.

David: Wow!

Fisher: Yeah, I mean it’s just an amazing, amazing thing. And there are others out there too. There are a lot of things that are under $100. This doesn't relate directly to any of my ancestors, although I had a Revolutionary soldier who came from Fairfield, so that was kind of my interest and what made me look in that direction in the first place and I stumbled on that and I thought, "Wow that would be a really neat piece to keep!" And you can pick up musket balls that are online from various battles. I mean, there's so many Revolutionary trinkets that might relate to your ancestor you can pick up for a song. I think you'd be really shocked if you got down deep in the weeds in eBay.

David: It’s amazing.

Fisher: It is absolutely amazing.

David: You just never know.

Fisher: All right, David. Thank you so much. And thank you to you Rance for the email. And of course if you have a question for Ask Us Anything, you can email us at [email protected]. Well, that's the show for this week. Thank you so much for joining us. If you missed any of it or you want to catch it again, you can listen to the podcast, it’s on iTunes, iHeart Radio, ExtremeGenes.com, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, we are all over the place. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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