Writer’s Workshop: Relatives I Never Met

Describe a time or moment when a stranger helped you.

I’ve had a very interesting 48 hours here (it’s Wednesday afternoon as I write this).

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have from time to time dabbled in the dark art of genealogy. Both the Ancestry and 23andMe genealogy sites offer DNA testing, and both Mary and I have sent in our spit to be tested. Mine really yielded nothing more than I already know: I’m practically entirely Irish on both my mother’s and father’s side. Still, I thought it would be a good idea to start building the family tree for my father’s family. My aunt Alice (Mom’s sister) has done quite a bit of work on their side of the family, and I started on Ancestry tracing my roots, as it were. One of the things I learned was that Grandma Holton had a brother named Sylvester that I had never heard of, and assumed that he died young or wandered off somewhere.

That all changed this week when I was contacted via 23andMe by one of “Sylvester”‘s daughters, Roni, who said that his name was actually John Sylvester (as was his father) and that she had eight siblings, one of whom was still living. In other words, they’re two of Dad’s cousins that I never knew. We’ve exchanged information, and I’ve found a new interest in tracing my roots. Her information has helped me flesh out some of the details I was missing, and suddenly I’m finding a lot of the information that had me stymied.

More importantly, I found family I never knew I had. Neither Grandma nor her sister or brother that I knew had spoken of their family in more than general terms, or (more likely) I never thought to ask them. That’s my fault: I should have asked, but you know how it is, none of this means anything until they’re gone. If there was one bit of advice I could give, it would be don’t make that mistake. What kills me now is learning they all lived in the same neighborhood as we did, and we never knew it.

24 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Relatives I Never Met

  1. I purchased an Ancestry DNA kit last year and I have not sent it in yet. I do have a branch on my family tree that just cuts off. I cannot find anything on them. Maybe if I send in the DNA I can find someone on the branch. Your story gives me hope!

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    1. You might also want to do the DNA test with 23andMe, not necessarily because it’s better, but it doubles the chance you’ll find someone. Even then, it’s a slow process. But worth it!

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    1. What it’s shown me is that if I put enough time into it, I’ll get a lot of surprises. I found someone else who’s related to another great-aunt, who had a picture of her. She looks like Grandma…

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  2. Wow, John, that’s wonderful news, I’m so happy to read you’ve found family members through the process of 23 and Me. Enjoy the new discoveries and stories you’ll share!

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    1. I was working on the family tree yesterday and found another relative, this time someone related to my grandmother’s oldest sister. Pretty amazing. I’m finding all these people I’m related to that I never knew existed. It’s fun.

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  3. Whoa! You found long lost relatives, that’s amazing!! I love the genealogy stuff too, but stopped my searching when ancestry.com wanted me to pay a monthly fee for access. I got far enough! πŸ˜‰

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    1. I had paid the fee initially, and when I hit a dead end I stopped, but now that this has happened I restarted the membership. Mary wants to know about her family now, which isn’t going to be easy because all her grandparents are from Lithuania, but evidently Ancestry has access to records from other countries. I’m not sure I’ll get far with her, anyway, because a lot of records were held in churches and the Communists basically destroyed them… but it’s worth it.

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  4. Hi John – that’s great isn’t it … my uncle was the great communicator – and thankfully another cousin gave us a book on that family … while my Cornish roots are around in the genealogical sites that are around. I expect someone with kids will garner that lot of information together … it’s accessible … but we don’t have children … so there’s never been a need. So pleased you’re getting yours … lovely and sad surprise – cheers Hilary

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    1. We don’t have children, either, but I have my nephews and niece and a whole lot of cousins and once-removeds that might be interested at some point. As I said to someone earlier, it’s like these people come back to life when you start looking for them.

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  5. Hubby did the 23 and Me recently. His Dad had a wife and kids and he also had Hubby’s Mom and several kids and took care of both. Hubby didn’t even know this until 1999, when a half sibling contacted him. One of his youngster sisters fathered also by the same man, needed proof, so he did the 23 and Me and she did, too. She’s satisfied now, But funny thing, Hubby’s Mom claimed to be a fair Italian of North Italy descended from Jews who turned Catholic to avoid persecution, but the 23 and Me proved Hubby is mostly Irish and his Mom a fanciful liar. (Which he already pretty much knew.)

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