Cold-Call DNA

DNA. Sure, I learned about that in high school biology with Mrs. Persing but … that was a few years ago. Well, honestly, that was more than forty years ago. Should I be surprised that now, it is like trying to learn a language where the alphabet looks like a pretty design? When I first heard of the exciting potential of Genetic Genealogy, I knew that I wanted to be included.

I was referred to FamilyTree DNA by a few professional genealogists whom I respect. I bought two kits, one for my husband and one for myself. As a female, I took the mitochondrial DNA test, the test of my DNA passed from my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother.   I was less that surprised when I received my results … a near-perfect 100% northern European… Dutch?!

What I really wanted to learn was on my father’s maternal side. I needed to find the oldest living male with that surname in my extended family. I looked back and then looked side-to-side until I found one male without a death date. He was a descendant of my great grandfather’s brother. I was able to find a mailing address for him without much difficulty but…then what? How does one approach a stranger and ask for a swab from his cheek? That was the question that I muddled over in my head for the next few days.

I drafted a letter and included a copy of “our” family tree which showed the links between both him and myself.   I assured him that I would cover the cost of the test. I then held my breath as I dropped the envelope into the mailbox. Within 48 hours, my telephone rang and it was him!   The toughest part was about to begin.

My newest “cousin” repeatedly asked me the toughest of questions; “how do I know that you are the person that you say you are?” He had question after question for me. He claimed that his daughter had warned him about impersonators who preyed on helpless old people so he had prepared questions that I should be able to answer.   It was during that barrage of questions that I learned that he had a friendship with one of my father’s brothers!   The questioning continued, day after day as Cousin Al would telephone me with more questions. On one of those days, Cousin Al asked me about a memory of his, one that truly stopped me cold.

Many years prior, Cousin Al and his wife had been visiting Michigan when my Uncle asked them to accompany him to a funeral home. He did not remember the town but he did remember that the weather was absolutely terrible. The snow was piled so high that they could not see cars approaching from the other directions. Cousin Al could not remember the person that they visited in the funeral home; he mostly remembered the piles of snow, everywhere.   He said that he joked with my uncle that no one would be able to bury that poor fellow until spring!

Following that call, I went to my collection of family items to get the answer to his question.   I pulled out the funeral visitation book for my father and there found the signature of Cousin Al and his wife.   I scanned the image and emailed it to him. We officially became cousins.

Our chats continued through the summer until I had to return to my life overseas. Sadly, that winter, Cousin Al passed away. We never met face to face but I am so pleased to have been able to spend time with him that summer. He did consent to the DNA test and wished me well; the results arrived after he had died and were shared with his children.