The drama a DNA test brings to a family tree

Four years ago, I thought it only would be a dream to know the maiden name of my paternal grandfather’s mother. He didn’t even know her maiden name.

So I was beyond thrilled when a researcher solved the mystery by digging through census and birth records. She was successful with just having her first and middle names, birth year and general area where she was born.

I posted on genealogy forums looking for relatives of my great-grandmother. Some distant cousin must be out there researching the same family when she was one of 9 kids.

It took two years for a cousin to contact me after seeing my posts. His great-great-grandfather was brother of my great-grandmother.

The enthusiasm for finding each other has hardly died down two years later. We continue to exchange family information and write to each other on a regular basis.

A few months ago, I finally asked the DNA test question. He wanted to do a test but couldn’t afford one. With the Russian ruble crashing, spending money on a DNA test was a luxury.

Thanks to the $69 Family Finder test sale at Family Tree DNA over the summer, it was the perfect time to confirm our relationship.  I counted down every day for a month until the results were expected.

The first day the results were expected, the status changed to a delay of two to four weeks. I checked the next day whether the status had changed again. The matches were available. I was excited and nervous.

My cousin had 259 matches, compared to my 209 I’ve accumulated over 5 years. I wasn’t sure about how our relationship would be identified.  I wasn’t the closest match as I had expected.

With that shock, I didn’t have the patience to scroll through 9 pages of matches. I searched for myself by my last name and our common surname.

I was nowhere to be found. This had to be a mistake. To my annoyance, it took until the next morning to get his raw data file. I immediately uploaded his file to Gedmatch to get a second opinion on this DNA testing disaster.

Not one pinch of us matched by DNA, disappointing on so many levels. But I should have known better with doing DNA genealogy for 5 years.

changes-of-finding-a-match

Image from Family Tree DNA

Family Tree Maker designates us as 3rd cousins 2 times removed. I could have increased the chances of matching with his family by having his father take the test.

The most annoying part of this experience was the message from Family Tree DNA that the results were available. The message was sent 27 times. Apparently, this is supposed to be the haha moment.

I am not worried that my cousin isn’t my cousin. A researcher documented the family tree and my cousin has an old family tree that is backed up by family documents.

DNA doesn’t have the precision of documents. As DNA data gets passed down to each generation, there isn’t a magical formula to guarantee certain DNA from each ancestor. Documents don’t change over time, just fade.

Previous related posts:
New Russian cousins found again!
Wondering if my family tree is about to grow

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When family letters about daily life are a cover for the truth

evdokiatyuinaletter10001Over the years, I have been handed letters my grandfather wrote to my father and letters my great-grandmother wrote to my grand uncle. I didn’t appreciate the importance of family letters until recently.

Two letters were overlooked from my grandmother’s house. My mother and I didn’t recognize the handwriting. I was about to throw out the letters because I could tell that there wasn’t “any useful” information for researching the family.

Once I read the names on the two letters, I knew I hit the jackpot. My two great-grandmothers from my mother’s family were writing letters to each other.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was mid-1950s. One was living in Kiev, Soviet Ukraine, and the other in Berlin, Germany. Talk about a big no-no during Soviet times.

My mother read the two letters and learned her grandmothers were writing as if they were friends. It doesn’t make sense unless you understand restrictions of Soviet times.

The only way my great-grandmother could know about her son’s new life was through the “friends letters”. Soviet postal workers would have blocked these letters if my great-grandmothers wrote as relatives, exchanging family information.

My mother’s father was the only one in his family who left the Soviet Union. He was an escaped POW of the Germans. The worst thing a Soviet soldier could do was give in to the enemy. Soon after he returned home from the POW camp, he, his wife and my mom left for the quiet countryside of Germany.

That meant my grandfather and his new family could never see, call nor write to his family in Kiev ever again. My great-grandfather died 4 years after my grandfather left and couldn’t come back for the funeral nor send condolences to his mom.

I later learned that my great-grandmother got pictures of my mother and uncle while they lived in Germany. She cried as she held the photos and wouldn’t say who were the children to the family with whom she lived.

I didn’t understand until now how it was possible that she could get the pictures because contact was “ended” after my grandfather left Ukraine.

It took two crafty grandmothers to come up with a plan to fake a friendship so they could tell each other about their families.

It was quite a risk for my mother’s paternal grandmother. Her husband was born a peasant, got trained as an architect and helped construct grand buildings in Kiev. That resulted in a very comfortable lifestyle in Soviet times, even with having six kids.

My other great-grandmother came from a modest family of German cloth makers, married a tailor and was living very simple in war-torn Berlin. But she was the lucky one who could get on a train to visit the grandchildren, whom the other grandmother would never see nor hear from ever again.

The simple gesture of writing letters gave one grandmother comfort that couldn’t be bought.

Related posts on Soviet life:
When family “wild stories” are nothing but reality
Meet your friendly Soviet repatriation officer