Finding Family – Ancestry and AncestryDNA provided the tools to determine my biological father and half-siblings.

By Don Taylor


Determining my biological father and discovering new half siblings is, by far, the greatest success I’ve had in my genealogical activities.  Thanks to Ancestry and AncestryDNA, I have been successful in answering lifelong questions regarding my paternity and my ancestry.
Don with step father's 1964 Olds Dynamic 88, the car he learned to drive on.
Don [Matson] Taylor with step-father’s ’64 Olds Dynamic 88
(The car in which I learned how to drive – c.1965)
Note the white sidewall tires — “Budgar” had to have them.
My quest started when I was sixteen and I needed a copy of my birth certificate to get a driver’s license.  That is when I learned that the man I thought was my father not only didn’t die in a car accident when I was a baby, but he wasn’t my father either. I had used his surname (Larson) for 12 years after which I used a new step-father’s name (Matson) for four years. Now, after sixteen years,  I had a completely new identity.  My biological father’s name was completely unknown and the surname on my birth certificate was completely made up. (That’s another story.) I adopted my birth surname then and have lived with it ever since. My mother gave me some hints as to possible friends of my biological father that I might be able to contact and learn my father’s name, but following those leads were never successful. My frustration was high but I’d go back to searching and seeking over and over again.
In 1994, a here-to-unknown half-sister, Glennis Peterson, who had been put up for adoption, found her birth mother and I suddenly had a new half-sister. Glennis didn’t learn she was adopted until she was in her 20s and had been searching for her birth mother (and a known older brother – me) for nearly 20 years. (That is another story but it is her story to tell – I think it will make a great book and she is a writer.) Anyway, her finding her birth family was a major impetus for my expanding my genealogical activities. First, I wanted to support her in learning about her new family (our shared Brown/Montran line), but also her finding us meant that maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to figure out who my biological father was. For the next few years, I retraced my previous efforts making sure I hadn’t missed anything. Again, to no avail.
In 2008, Ancestry offered a Y-DNA test and I took it.  Through that test, I learned that my closest Y-DNA matches all had the same surname, “Roberts.”  The problem was all of the matches were many generations away (eight to ten generations or more); there were no close matches. Although I tried, I was unable to find any of these people having a Roberts ancestor who had descendants in the place at the right time as my conception.

In 2011, Ancestry knew they were going to eliminate their Y-DNA testing and concentrate on atDNA testing. They sent me a free “Beta” test package, so I could be included in their atDNA database. My results weren’t very exciting, most matches were known distant relatives on my mother’s side. There were a few paternal matches, but they were very distant and never had any Roberts surnamed individuals.  I was disappointed and frustrated.  I even worked on someone’s tree for a while looking for potential matches on another person’s tree that the three of us shared a segment on the same chromosome.  Still no luck. Then the wall came tumbling down.
In December 2015, I had a new match – 1st to 2nd cousin.  Wow.  And that person had a tree on Ancestry.Com.  I looked at her tree and found her grandfather’s surname was Roberts.  Could it be?  If we were second cousins we would share a great grandparent, so I used Ancestry to learn about her great grandfather’s life.  I then used that information to further understand his children. He had three sons and one of them was in the right place (Detroit, MI) at the right time (Nov. 1949).
I decided to post two stories on my blog about my findings so far.  First, I wrote about “My Paternal Brick Wall and how I believe it to be shattered. A couple weeks later I wrote about Compulsive searching – Bert Allen Roberts (1903-1949).” It was my intent to examine and explore this family line more and more until I knew if it contained my people. 
A couple weeks later, I was contacted by Melody Roberts Jackson. She was Google searching her grandmother’s name and came across my “Compulsive searching…” article. Melody read it and “My Paternal Brick Wall” post and was amazed. These were her people that I was writing about. After exchanging a few emails we chatted at length on the telephone. She said she would contact one of her cousins, someone I suspected might be a half-sister.  The potential half sister, Beverly Roberts, then called me.  And we chatted for a long time. I indicated that the only way we’d know for certain was if she took an atDNA test as also.  She agreed. AncestryDNA sent to test directly to her and she sent it in.
Hugh Eugene “Gene” Roberts
Photo Courtesy: Tom Roberts
Then the agonizing wait.  AncestryDNA says six to eight weeks, possibly longer.  We were hoping for six weeks, but it took the full eight weeks. When the results came in, we learned that we share 1593 centimorgans of DNA across 58 DNA segments.  The DNA doesn’t say we are half siblings but gives clues to possible relationships.  The only relations we share that much DNA with are grandchild, niece/nephew, aunt/uncle, or a half-sibling.   I am older than BR so I can’t possibly be her grandchild. Her oldest sibling is younger than I am, so I can’t possibly be her nephew. Her (our) grandfather died fourteen months before I was born, so I can’t possibly be her uncle. Simple logic eliminated all potential relationships except one, that of half-sibling.  Which means I finally determined who my biological father was, Hugh Eugene “Gene” Roberts. From discussions with my mother over the years, I am pretty certain he was never told of my existence.
Sadly, Hugh Eugene “Gene” Roberts died in 1997, so I’ll never have a chance to meet my biological father. However, my new found Roberts family is excited to have a new family member.  I now have five new half-siblings and a passel of new cousins. There is a whole new line to explore genealogically. But best of all, I am looking forward to meeting my new Roberts family in person later this spring and I really feel they are excited to meet me too.

ENDNOTES

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Book Review – Finding Family

Book Review – Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA

by Richard Hill

Review by Don Taylor

I don’t often read books for entertainment. I read a lot of magazines and articles on the Internet, but not many books. Therefore, when I do read a book it better be good or I put it down.

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA by Richard Hill was one I couldn’t put down. I have a half sister who was put up for adoption as an infant; she didn’t find her birth mother and family (including me) until we were both in our 40s. In addition, my best friend from high school was adopted and was in his 40s when he finally discovered his birth mother. Also, I’ve never known who my father is and have used DNA as a tool to try to determine a paternal connection. Consequently, finding birth parents has always been interesting to me.  When I saw Richard Hills book about how he pieced together his origins through a mix of detective work and DNA, I was very intrigued. Could I find new techniques in my research buried in his story?

Finding Family reads much like a novel, however, we know what the ending will be. I was sure that the author would determine his birth parents before I opened the book. So, the ending of the mystery isn’t the important part, it is his path to solving the mystery that is the compelling story. We want to know how does he find out that he was adopted? What are the challenges he encounters during his journey? How does he overcome them? Those are the important notes in the story.

Hill does an excellent job of navigating the twists and turns of his search. His character development is very good. I found that I became interested, not only in his story but in the stories of the other individuals who both helped and hindered him along the way. I think he does a good job of not speculating on the motives of other people’s actions, but rather describing their actions.

The story does a great job of bringing us along through his process from simple investigative work, generating hypothesis and then trying to find corroborating evidence for those hypotheses He then brings in standard genealogical processes and learns more. Then initial Y-DNA testing leads him to new conclusions. Finally, modern autosomal DNA (atDNA) changes his original conclusions.

I enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it for anyone using a blend of genealogy and DNA to determine family connections. I think I’ll send a copy of it to my half sister. I hope that she will take it as inspiration for her to tell her story of locating her birth mother and other family. She is a great writer and also has an amazing story.

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA by Richard Hill

 Paperback: 260 pages
 Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 17, 2012)
 ISBN-10: 1475190832
 ISBN-13: 978-1475190830

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