Checking my DNA matches was my obsession for years. It was the first thing I did in the morning, on my break at work, while eating lunch, and again as I walked to my car. I checked my DNA matches at Starbucks, at red lights while driving, while sitting in waiting rooms at doctor offices…you get the idea. I checked my DNA matches at least twenty times a day before I had a test that would tell me if my work was correct. Waiting for Mr Rootswebs-Potential-Second-Cousin’s test to process just kicked up my normal genetic genealogy OCD up a notch. My cell phone was at the ready. I was perpetually logged into to Ancestry.
One evening at work, about two minutes before I was handed a whole lot of time sensitive, extremely important tasks, I got something I’d never had before: a paternal,67 centimorgan, six segment match. For those of you well-versed in genetic genealogy, you’ll recognize this as a slightly, somewhat-goodish match. Nothing spectacular. But for me? It was pure DNA gold. A unicorn. A gift from heaven. In four years and at every DNA testing company, I had never generated a match this good. Naturally, there was no family tree attached to this DNA cousin.
I checked the shared matches…we shared a DNA match; one of the McBriartys from Allagash…and then I was buried alive in time sensitive work. About a half-hour in, I got a message from my friend Sara. I excitedly told her in hurried, staccato Facebook messaging fashion that I got a great-for-me match. “No tree. Can’t work it. Too busy. Ugh!”
“I’ll work it for you!” she replied. And she did. It was well passed midnight in her neck of the woods when she reported back a few family tree surnames she’d found associated with this match…”Thompson, Cogger…”
“Yes! Cogger. Does this mean something?” Sara asked.
“Yes! I think this is a direct William McBriarty branch match! OMG!”
It was a DNA match to branch I suspected was mine. Looking at the tree Sara created, if I was correct, this match would be a third cousin. Tentative validation. It was something to lightly bask in before Mr Rootsweb-Potential-Second-Cousin’s test completed. Which it did, about a week later.
Again, I was at work, closing up for the day. My co-workers, most of whom had sat through at least one of my white board explanation of the basics of genetic genealogy, were shutting down computers and turning off lights when I (once again) hit refresh on Ancestry. I had new match. It was Mr. Rootsweb-Potential-Second-Cousin.
His results were in:
I stood there, stunned. Completely speechless. Just staring at my cellphone in disbelief.
“Are you okay, Laurie?” my co-worker, Gloria asked.
“I was right. Oh my God. I was right! I was right! Holy shit, y’all. I’m a McBriarty!” I exclaimed loudly.
They all stared at me blankly. It was too complicated to explain to them in detail. I didn’t have a white board handy. Plus, it was 11:30 at night and they wanted to go home. And I wanted to scream from the nearest rooftop.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. Not a wink. I didn’t even bother getting into pajamas. Instead, I messaged everyone I could think of that had so patiently put up with me, talked me off the ledge, and supported me through this epic four year long ordeal:
“The results are in! Mr. Rootsweb is SECOND COUSIN! I solved my case! I (finally!) know who I am! I’m a McBriarty!”
Teresa and Sara were elated when they woke up and read my message the next day, but I could tell by their reaction that some of my genetic genealogy friends weren’t so sure about calling paternity confirmation on a second cousin match. I understood the hesitation. I had to explain why there was absolutely no other reasonable conclusion: Mr Rootweb’s father is Eastern European with recent immigration thus, the match must be generated from his maternal side and I’m generating matches directly to his maternal side. His maternal first cousins-once removed are the two McBriarty brothers. Any child of the McBriarty brothers would be Mr Rootsweb’s second cousins. All the Allagash DNA cousins, all the McCurdys and Kelly cousins, and all the MacInnis DNA cousin matches fit. Voila. Solved. Well, except for the part about not knowing which one of the two brothers was my father and which one was my uncle.
While waiting for my Mr Rootsweb-My-Second-Cousin’s results, I had researched both brothers and had found photos of them on the Internet. Both were still alive, retired, and seemed like fine, upstanding people. Neither were married at the time of my conception (Whew!). For the sake of their privacy, I’ll call the McBriarty brothers, McB1 and McB2.
McB1 is the older brother. He’s slightly older than my mother. Looking at his photos, I like him immediately. I can’t put my finger on why exactly but he’s got a twinkle in his eye which leads me believe he’s got a fun personality. I could definitely see my mother dating this guy in her younger days. McB1 has grown children and grandchildren. He’s got a lovely family but I don’t see much of a resemblance between myself to this fellow or his family. His wife looks like a hip lady that probably wouldn’t clutch her pearls if the existence of a nice, middle-aged lady from California pre-dated her marriage by a few years.
McB2 is the younger brother. He’s younger than my mother. Looking at his photos, he doesn’t appear to be as extroverted as his older brother but I notice that he almost always has an arm around the person next to him. I read this gesture as “warmth.” He too is married and also has a lovely family but I don’t see much resemblance among them with me here, either. McB2 spends a lot of time doing volunteer work in his community, a choice that is endearing to me. Although he scores huge points for social responsibility and kindness, I can’t quite picture him with my mom.
“Have you decided which brother you’re going to approach?” CeCe asked.
“Not really. I feel like I need to figure out for certain which one is my father first. I know that sounds nuts but I really don’t want to approach the wrong brother. I think I should tread carefully. I don’t want to cause trouble.”
“Is there one that you’re getting a gut feeling about?” she asked.
“Well…yes. I can see my mom being attracted to McB1. McB2 seems like a nice guy and all, but he’s not her type. Going with my gut, I’d say it’s McB1.”
“Send a letter to McB2, then,” CeCe replied. “When it comes down to brothers, most people’s guts are wrong.”
“Besides,” CeCe continued, “If your father had been your mom’s type, would she have have wanted to break up with him?”
“That’s a good point.”
It was time to sit down and think about what I wanted to say in this letter I needed to write. To McB2.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.