(Part 3 of a series on building out Michael’s maternal family tree, read Putting it all together Part 1 – Our biggest brick wall breakthrough so far started with a forgotten tweet, a LOT of work, and migraine on Super Bowl Sunday and Putting it all together – Part 2: The brick wall starts to crumble)
In the months after that Super Bowl Sunday Felice and I talked a lot about sharing what we suspected. We talked to her Mother “Susan” to gauge if she wanted to know if we found troubling results. She was hard to read. Susan seemed pretty indifferent, but it also seemed like she was increasingly uncomfortable with discussing the topic.
The cousin with the very high centimorgan match with Susan also had a deep interest in Felice’s family history. “Charles” is the son of “Ann”, but he’d focused more on his Mother’s side when he was doing family research. At the time, he was the only DNA test we had to reference for his Father Luther’s decedents. We started working with Charles getting his test into GEDmatch and leverage their tools to confirm our “3/4 Sibling” theory.
We also started building out Luther’s family tree, and ordered the Birth/Marriage/Death records of himself, his siblings, parents, and children. After Luther and Ann split in Mississippi, she moved to Milwaukee and he moved to Hartford, CT. Luther started a second family with a woman and they had 6 children together.
The work to move Charles’ test into GEDmatch had fallen off (as we began to question if we would continue using GEDmatch for our African American family). In the meantime we were surprised by two new DNA test matches for Susan. Two of Luther’s children from his second marriage tested with Ancestry, and they matched both Susan and Charles as half-siblings. That sealed it. We didn’t need to do a deeper dive into their chromosomes. There was no doubt that Luther was the father to the 2 new siblings, as well as Charles and Susan.
It was time to talk to Susan, especially because we needed to understand from her how we could proceed and if we could share this information with anyone but her. Felice and I talked to her early in the summer of 2019, and she didn’t show much reaction. She was pretty calm about it, and we weren’t quite sure if they believed it or not. In the end, proving how she matched the children from Luther’s second marriage settled it. Susan was ok with us sharing this with whomever we wanted, and we decided that we’d talk with Charles next. As a fellow family historian, he was most interested, and he’d know how to approach his mother Ann about this.
We had a few more conversations with Susan, giving her time to change her mind. But she was fine, and about 6 weeks later we setup a time to have Charles to talk.
He brought his brother “George” with the next Friday and we laid out everything we knew. They were speechless. We talked it through a few times, and they understood that we’d found the truth: Susan was not just their cousin but their sister as well, and that their Father had been with their Aunt at least once.
At the end of it all, George calmly said “You know, all these years and Patricia was right. She said dad was Susan’s dad and I just brushed it off. But somehow, she knew…she was right!”. This just rocked our world.
Patricia was their baby sister, and we are close to her. She was our first family history interview subject and had been a valuable source. Pat loved to share stories about the family and bound everyone together for us. Pat was one of our first family history interviews and we had asked her who might be Susan’s Father. She was the first person to share “Big James” as the most likely candidate, but now it appeared this deep family secret wasn’t secret to her. Pat just hadn’t shared it with us.
As soon as the brothers left, we called Pat and left a message asking her to call us back. Our voicemail explained that we had some information we’d come across and we wanted get together the next day. It had been too long since we’d talked to Pat, and we loved seeing her so we were excited. Plus, it sounded like she was going to help fill in some of the gaps on this major family twist.
Unfortunately, we’d never get to discuss these findings with her. We received a call from Charles the next morning that she had passed away unexpectedly overnight. Not only were we grieving the loss of one of our favorite family members, but one of the keys to unlocking this mystery was now gone…just a few hours after we found out she held that key. We were stunned.
This turn of events would only bring more family pain to the surface, even as the last pieces of this mysterious family tree fell into place.
Check out the next in the series: Solving Our Family Tree Mystery Opens Old Wounds