By 2015, it was becoming clear to me that more people were testing at Ancestry than anywhere else. And I was kicking myself for failing to get my mother’s DNA in that database. Prior to our dad’s death, my brother Steve agreed to DNA test for me. I had asked him to test as I could use his DNA matches to help me sort my DNA matches, maternal from paternal. If someone matched both him and me, I could safely chalk up the match to my mother’s side. It wasn’t as good as having my mom’s full DNA contribution to compare with mine, but it was much better than nothing. The kit I bought for him sat on top of his refrigerator during the time our dad was dying. I had no interest in pressing him to test. Our dad’s impeding death was swallowing us whole. At Christmas, a few months after our father had passed, when I asked him if he was still willing to test, he had changed his mind.
“I’m sorry, Laurie but I can’t do it. I loved him so much and I can’t handle thinking that he’s maybe not my dad. I don’t want to know if he isn’t.”
I wasn’t angry at Steve. I understood. Fully. There was no reason to think that Fred wasn’t his dad but emotionally, he had a full plate of grief already and didn’t need to consider the possibility of more. A few months later, he called me. “I’ve been thinking about it and you can bring over a DNA test. It doesn’t matter if I’m not his biological son, Fred’s my dad. He’ll always be my dad. And I want to help you.” I keep a couple of DNA tests on hand so all I had to do is drive over to his house, get his sample, and pop it in the mail. When his test results came in, I called him. “Congratulations! Fred’s your father!” He laughed, “Well, I figured he was but it’s good to know for sure.” “Yes, it is,” I replied. “Your test will help me so much. Thank you!”
And his test did help. Immensely. I was thrilled to be able to sort my matches paternal from maternal, but I was a little sad to see it scientifically proven, that Steve and I were only half-siblings. I knew this already of course, but still. The validation stung a little.
Even beyond the official Ancestry designation, “Close family-1st cousin,” it was readily apparent that we weren’t full siblings as he had well over 2,000, 4th cousin or closer DNA matches due to Fred’s endogamous French-Canadian line. Meanwhile, I was plugging away waiting to reach the milestone of a mere 150, 4th or closer matches. “Where are my people?” I wondered.
As the number of genetic genealogy testers began to take off, I started to suspect that something unusual was going on with my paternal side. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions but how could all those people on CeCe’s Moore’s, “DNA Detectives,” Facebook page keep getting such good matches when I wasn’t? They weren’t all the product of endogamous populations. These were regular folks who had ancestors that came to America (by and large) in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. By mid-2015, people were starting to pull 2nd cousin matches, or sometimes better, more frequently. Cases that used to be solved in about six months or more were starting to get solved in a just a couple of months, or less. People were posting their success stories and photos with their new-found families with captions that said things like, “Don’t give up! It took me three months to solve this!”
“Three months?” I thought. “Are you kidding me?” I was happy for them but truthfully, I felt jealous, too. I had been at it for years and all I seemed to be accomplishing was creating a family tree for every living soul with roots in Allagash, Maine. And those perplexing McCurdy matches…ugh. How did I fit in with them? I still couldn’t find where these families met up on anyone’s published tree or in any records that I could find. Did my biological father have an Allagash mother that married into these Canadians? Or was it the other way around? Maybe his family didn’t leave Canada at all or did so recently. That would explain my lack of close DNA cousin matches. I had exhausted any connection to Sarah Gallagher with the daughters of her second marriage so I decided that I needed to test a McBriarty person with a direct DNA connection to Sarah Gallagher that still lived in Canada. I found one. He was a third generation grandson of the immigrant couple, James McBriarty and Sarah Gallagher. His sister-in-law, a cracker-jack genealogist in her own right, had created a very well documented and researched tree for him. He had not DNA tested but was willing to test for me. Fabulous. I sent the price of a kit to the sister-in-law via PayPal and she purchased the kit. He tested for me and I waited.
Not a DNA match.
I wanted to throw something out of a window.
I knew in the 4th cousin range, I’d only have a 50/50 chance of DNA matching him but I was so hoping this test would lead to a solid direction. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of it. I figured it meant that needed to keep concentrating on the Allagash cousin matches.
I was wrong.
One night while just googling names found in my matches trees (a desperate move, for sure), I stumbled on a cemetery record for a tiny, mostly forgotten cemetery in New Brunswick, Canada called, Cromwell Hill Roman Catholic Cemetery. Only a handful of people are recorded as having been buried there. The person who originally recorded the graves reported that most of the headstones were unreadable, broken, or entirely missing, with only footstones to notate the deceased initials. The Catholic chapel that once occupied the same plot of land is long gone. But, there I found listed William McBriarty, son of the immigrant James McBriarty and Sarah Gallagher, his wife Bridget McDermott, and in one of the plots nearby, was the 3x-great grandfather of one of my McCurdy matches, a familiar name: Owen Mullaly. One of the daughters from the Kelly/McCurdy union had married Owen Mullaly. I still couldn’t figure out how I could be DNA related to both of these families buried in this old, tiny cemetery but at least I could find a connection to both families, to a place.
Springfield Parish, Kings County, New Brunswick.
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.