DNA: a recovered past

I've been away for nearly a month on a wonderful adventure with my family, and I have lots more to write about my Genealogical Research System (and photos will be posted on my art blog)..... but all that will have to wait until I get over jet lag and clear the backlog of stuff  that always accumulates after a trip.

I do want to share an amazing thing that just happened, though.  Just before I left, my father agreed to submit a DNA sample to see what we could learn about the deep history of our paternal line.  When I returned, there was an email saying the results were in, and oh, by the way, you have an exact match.  I was pretty excited, especially since this line is a fairly common surname and represents my "brick wall."

So (jet lagged or not) I contacted the match, asking if we might be related, and she responded almost immediately with a resounding YES!!! As it turns out, Carol is my second cousin once removed, and while we didn't resolve our brick wall, now there are two of us working on it, and it doesn't seem like such a lonely job anymore.

But the real wonder and miracle of this is Carol's story.  You see, she never knew her blood-surname.  There was a family dispute in her grandparents' generation in which one parent betrayed another, and the betrayed one vowed never to have anything more to do with the other.  She took the children, forbade the father from ever having contact with them, and changed their surname.  How she managed that in the small town they lived in is a mystery to me, but Carol's father grew up not knowing his family, although they surrounded him silently, unable to reach out.  Years later, when he learned the truth, he discovered that one of his aunts had even been his school bus driver.

Carol and I spent a long time on the phone, sharing our family stories.  I was startled, but not surprised, to hear that deep blue eyes are a strong feature in her family, because that's something that stands out in my family, too.  As we talked, it was clear that for Carol, making this connection was more than just finding another name on the family tree -- this was about personal identity and belonging.

One reason I am so passionate about genealogy is because family itself is so important.  Knowing our family -- for better or worse -- places us in a context.  The "I am" statement cannot exist in a vacuum.  Things we think of as ours alone (that singing talent, the academic propensity, even our blue eyes...) more often that not are rooted in our genes.  We pursue those deep genetic ties because we realize that at some point, we are all related, we are all one family.

Post Script:

I sent this post to Carol to read before I published it, and she replied with a poem she had written a few years ago:

Daddy said he loved me as he held my hand.
He told me to always remember my family and never forget who I am.
I said, I will never forget Daddy.
He smiled at me and we walked.
Mommy said she loved me as she moved a stray hair from my head.
She told me to be brave and always look for goodness and never forget to forgive.
I said, I will never forget Mommy.
She smiled at me and we walked.
They died that day, on that walk.
But I never forgot.
I never forgot.
I looked up at the sky and smiled as I walked.

Carol Ehrenreich