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.