April 28, 2017

Adoption DNA Match Strategy: Combine DNA Test Types

Combining DNA test types can give you a better picture of your overall genealogical relationship to someone else. Combine your autosomal test results with the results of your mitochondrial DNA or YDNA test to make some amazing connections today!

combining DNA test types

My family recently visited the Jelly Belly Factory in northern California. Of course at the end of the tour, they funneled us into their gift shop where we felt compelled to buy jelly beans and other sundry treats. My favorite part of the big box we bought were the recipes on the side. We could turn the already delicious variety of flavors into even more pallet-pleasing options. Who knew!

This got me thinking about DNA, of course!

Combining DNA Test Types

Specifically, I was thinking about the power of combining multiple test types to get a better picture of our overall genealogical relationship to someone else.

If you recall, there are three kinds of DNA tests available for genealogists: autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and Y chromosome DNA (YDNA). Much of the focus these days is on how to use the autosomal DNA in our family history research. This may be because the autosomal DNA covers both sides of your family tree, so it is seen as a catchall for our family history. While it is a very powerful tool for our research, it can also be a bit overwhelming to try to determine how you are related to someone else.

Let’s look at an example from my own family history. My mom matched with Tom at 23andMe. Their predicted genealogical relationship, based on how much DNA they shared, was second cousins. To begin, we need to understand which ancestor could be shared by people who are genetic second cousins. To figure it out, you can count backwards like this: people who share parents are siblings, sharing grandparents makes you first cousins, and sharing great-grandparents makes you second cousins.

matches for combining DNA test types

Image credit: Diahan Southard.

So, if my mom and Tom are true second cousins (meaning there aren’t any of those once-removed situations going on, but that’s a subject for another time), then we should be able to find their common ancestor among their great-grandparents.

Each of us has eight great-grandparents. Because we can’t usually narrow down shared DNA to a single person, but rather to an ancestral couple, we are really just looking at four possible ancestral couple connections between my mom and Tom. My mom doesn’t have any known ancestors, as she was adopted, so we can only evaluate Tom’s line. Tom was kind enough to share his pedigree chart with us, and he had all four of his couples listed. But how do we know which one is the shared couple with my mom?

Narrowing Down the Results

Now, for those of you without an adoption, you will have some other clues to help you figure out which of the four (or eight, if you are looking at a third cousin, or 16 if you are looking at a fourth cousin) ancestral couples is shared between you and your match. Start by looking for shared surnames. If that comes up short, evaluate each couple by location. If you see an ancestral couple who is in a similar location to your line, then that couple becomes your most likely connecting point. What then? Do genealogy!! Find out everything you can about that couple and their descendants to see if you can connect that line to your own.

However in my mom’s case, we didn’t have any surnames or locations to narrow down which ancestral couple was the connection point between our line and Tom’s. But even if we had locations, that may not have helped as Tom is very homogenous! All of his ancestors were from the same place! But, we did have one very important clue: the mitochondrial DNA. Remember mtDNA traces a direct maternal line. So my mom’s mtDNA is the same as her mom’s, which is the same as her mom’s etc.

At 23andMe they don’t test the full mitochondrial DNA sequence (FMS) like they do at Family Tree DNA. For family history purposes, you really want the FMS to help you narrow down your maternal line connection to others. But 23andMe does provide your haplogroup, or deep ancestral group. These groups are named with a letter/number combination. My mom is W1 and we noticed that Tom is also W1.

combining DNA test types on pedigreeThis meant that my mom and Tom share a direct maternal line – or put another way, Tom’s mother’s mother’s mother was the same as my mom’s mother’s mother’s mother. That means there is only one couple out of the four possible couples that could connect my mom to Tom: his direct maternal line ancestor Marianna Huck, and her husband Michael Wetzstien.

Now you can only perform this wondrous feat if you and your match have both tested at 23andMe, or have both taken the mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA.

Just as a Popcorn Jelly Belly plus two Blueberry Jelly Bellies makes a blueberry muffin, combining your autosomal DNA test results with your mtDNA test results (or YDNA for that matter) can yield some interesting connections that just might break down that family history brick wall.

combing DNA test resultsLearn more about DNA test types with these helpful guides:

Don’t go it alone with DNA. My quick reference guides will guide you through the process in easy to understand language. You’ll get more out of your DNA test results with these guides:

A Train Ticket and Popular Novel Solved this Adoption Mystery

Genealogy for adoptees can be a difficult journey. A train ticket from 1856 and one of our most popular Genealogy Gems Book Club titles helped one woman solve an adoption family mystery. Here’s her story.

Genealogy for adoptees

Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Adoption Mystery: Solved

I recently read an article that I just had to share! Julia Park Tracey’s two-times great grandfather, William Lozier, was adopted. She wanted to trace his family history. Her only clue was the receipt for a train fare from New York’s Home for the Friendless to Oberlin, Ohio that William had. The ticket cost $7.50 and was dated 1856.

With a little bit of easy math, Julia realized that William would have been a three-year old at the time. Can you imagine? Julia was intrigued by the finding, but didn’t think much more about it until she read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. This piqued her curiosity about Williams’s story and she started researching. What she found was an astonishing story of family struggling to stay together during the hardships of 19th century life.

Along her research journey, Julia learned that William’s mother was widowed in upstate New York in 1848. Consequently, the woman lost the family farm and needed to give up her two oldest boys to an orphanage. She managed to hold on to her oldest daughter and baby William while she worked as a seamstress. Sadly, she still couldn’t make ends meet and ended up placing her last two children in an orphanage as well.

Julia explains in the article: “Martha was undaunted; she worked and saved, and eventually wrote to ask for her children back. The orphanage did not respond. In those days, a child’s moral and spiritual welfare were tantamount, and a single mother was seen as not fit to parent. Nevertheless, she found her way to her daughter, and at least one of her middle sons, if not both. Martha lived the rest of her life with her married daughter and her grandchildren. She died between 1900 and 1910, [but] she never saw nor heard of what had happened to Will.”

With these new pieces of information, Julia was able to trace the line back through time and generations. She even learned a little more about her unexpected DNA results! I am sure it was very satisfying to finally piece together the story of the old train ticket and William’s family story. Even the smallest clues like the old train ticket can lead to long-forgotten stories that add to our family history tapestry. Genealogy is all about persistence, and much like a detective, the smallest piece of evidence can make all the difference!

More on Genealogy for Adoptees

orphan train Christina Baker Kline genealogy book clubIf you’ve been a Premium member for a while, you’ll recall Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It was one of our first Genealogy Gems Book Club selections—and based on feedback from you, it’s been one of our most popular choices. If you haven’t listened to Premium episode 121 which includes our interview with Christina, I encourage you to go back and listen. In that conversation, you’ll learn about the history of the orphan train riders in the U.S. and Canada and how the author researched it.

Learn more about the Orphan Train and it’s riders in this post: “Road Trip Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum.

See what else we’ve read by clicking: Genealogy Gems Book Club

 

Adoption and Genealogy: How to Create and Navigate an Adopted Family Pedigree

Adoption and genealogy often cross paths. More and more genealogists are having to navigating between both birth family and an adopted family pedigrees. Our easy, step-by-step instructions will show you how to merge these two pedigree charts into one with FamilySearch Family Tree and Ancestry.com.

adoption genealogy family pedigree chart

Creating a Birth and Adoption Line with FamilySearch Family Tree

Anyone can create a family tree at FamilySearch.org for free. You need to create your free account first. If you need more instruction on how to get started with a family tree on FamilySearch, click here.

For those of you who already have a FamilySearch family tree you work with, here is how to include both a birth line and adopted line.

In this example below, James Donald Woodard was raised by Robert Cole and Goldie Witt, but is the natural son of Elmer Woodard and Margaret Cole.

Step 1: From the pedigree view, click on the person you would like to have two pedigrees for. Then, choose “Person” to get to the individual’s person page.

adoption genealogy family pedigree

Step 2: At James’ person page, scroll down to the “parents and siblings” section. Here, multiple sets of parents can be added by clicking on “Add Parent.” We can also indicate what type of relationship the parent has to the child (choices include: biological, adopted, guardianship, foster, and step) by clicking the little pencil icon at the right of James’ name under the parent couple. Lastly, whichever couple is marked “preferred” will be the parents that will show up in your pedigree view.

add parents to adoption genealogy pedigree

Step 3: Add a second set of parents for James by clicking on the “Add Parent” icon and follow the prompts to add the new parents by name.

Step 4: You will have James appearing as a child under each couple. Now, indicate the type of relationship James has with each couple.

choose adopted father option in adoption genealogy

Find James in the list of children under Robert and Goldie.

Click on the little pencil icon in his box. A new window will pop-up. You will click on “Add Relationship Type” and then choose the appropriate relationship from the pull-down menu. When you are finished, click “Save.” You will need to do this for both the father and the mother.

You can see that James’ name appears under Robert and Goldie with the relationship noted. (When the relationship is biological, no notation appears.)

guardians on adoption genealogy pedigree

James now has two pedigree options. We can easily switch between the pedigrees for James by clicking the preferred button on whichever couple we would like to view. You can change the preferred couple whenever and how-many-ever times you want!

Creating A Birth and Adoption Line at Ancestry.com

Step 1: First, add one set of parents for the individual. You can do this in the pedigree view. Click on “Add Father” or “Add Mother” and fill in the fields for name, date of birth, etc.

adoption genealogy tree at Ancestry

Step 2: Add a second set of parents for Jason Tennant by clicking on Jason’s name and choosing “Profile.” This takes you to a new screen that looks like this image below.

relationships on adoption genealogy pedigree

Step 3: This is Jason’s profile page. You can see his newly added parents, Mason Tennant and Megan Adams. Click the edit button at the top right of the screen and chose “Edit Relationships.”

Step 4: A pop-up window for relationships will appear. Here, you can mark the type of relationship between Jason and Mason. The choices are biological, adopted, step, related, guardian, private, and unknown. After you have chosen the appropriate relationship for the first father, click “Add Alternate Father.”

add alternate parents to adoption genealogy pedigree

Step 5: Add the name of the second father and choose the appropriate relationship. You will then be able to choose which father you want to mark “preferred.” Do the same for the mothers.

If we want to see Jason’s birth or adopted family tree, we need only go to his profile page, click “Edit Relationships” at the top right, and mark one set of parents as “preferred.” Then, that couple will show up in the pedigree view.

Adoption genealogy certainly has it’s challenges, but creating a pedigree chart that includes both the birth and adoption lines, doesn’t have to be one of them! Let us know in the comments below how you have included both your birth and adoption lines into your family history. We love to hear from you.

More Adoption Gems

DNA for Adoption Research: Nice to Meet You!

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 178: CeCe Moore Talks about Genealogy and Adoption (Listen for free)

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Advice from Your DNA Guide

New Netflix Documentary: Twins Separated at Birth Reunited by Social Media

A new documentary on Netflix tells the story of twins who were separated at birth–sent to different countries–who rediscovered each other through YouTube and Facebook. Become inspired and learn the remarkable story of how they were reunited by social media.

Twins reunited by social media

A new Netflix documentary on twins separated at birth is getting great reviews–and it’s a great story. We’ve all heard about twins being separated at birth before, but these were sent halfway across the world from each other. They only reconnected because a friend of one twin saw the other in a YouTube video.

I first read this story in the Irish Mirror. Anais, now a college student, grew up in France. She always knew she was adopted and that her biological mother was a single woman in Korea. One day, a friend sent her a YouTube comedy sketch performed by someone who looked just like her. She watched the video over and over. There was no contact information on it. Eventually, the same friend spotted the mystery girl again in a movie trailer. Suddenly, Anais was able to learn more about her from the IMBD database. Her name was Samantha and her birthday was the same as her own.

Anais reached out to Samantha on Facebook, saying she thought they were twins. Samantha replied with a copy of her adoption paperwork—from the same clinic. Three months later, they met in London where Anais lived. Each young woman took a DNA test and traveled to Korea to attend an adoptee conference together.

Throughout it all, Samantha had the video camera running. She’d already been on-screen in Memoirs of a Geisha and now she took a shot at directing herself and her sister as they were getting to know each other. The result is Twinsters and it’s on Netflix. The show is getting some awesome reviews from critics and audience members alike. If you’ve got Netflix, check it out!

This unlikely reunion started entirely on social media: YouTube, Facebook, and Skype. Just goes to show you the amazing power of these technologies to bring family members together!

More Stories Like This One: Reunited by Social Media

siblings reunited by social mediaScottish Birth Siblings Reunited: “When You Are Fostered, You Don’t Know Who You Are”

Twins Reunited 78 Years After Separation at Birth

YouTube for Family History: Documentaries You’ll Love

TLC Renews “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Long Lost Family”

TLC Renews Who Do You Think You AreGenealogy is coming back to TV. TLC has renewed “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Long Lost Family” for additional seasons.

TLC announced on June 9th that the network will have additional seasons of both “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Long Lost Family.” Both series averaged over 1.8 million viewers.

The two-time Emmy-nominated WDYTYA follows celebrities as they take a personal journey of their family tree. Recent celebrities included Bryan Cranston, who uncovered an ancestor’s heroic dedication during the Civil War, and Molly Ringwald, who learned about the dangerous conditions of her coal-mining ancestors.

The “Long Lost Family” series features the emotional and touching stories of people who have had a separation from their family. The show reunites these individuals and shares their stories of adoption, mystery, and questions. This past season reunited several family members, including a mother and daughter who worked together and did not realize they were related. “Long Lost Family” is hosted by Chris Jacobs and Lisa Joyner, who also share their own stories of adoption.

Ancestry will be teaming up with TLC again as a sponsor for both series. As part of the sponsorship, Ancestry provides the family history research to help make discoveries possible on both series.

Are you a fan of these genealogy-themed shows? We’d love to hear which stories have touched you the most. Please leave a comment below:

How and Why to Create an Alternate Family Tree

alternate family treeUse an “alternate family tree” to emphasize unique or interesting patterns in your family history, such as eye or hair color, birthplace, age at death, or adoption. Here’s how to do it–and WHY.

Alternate family trees are popping up all over social media and genealogy blogs. Have you seen them? Some trees emphasize the age at death, cause of death, or birthplace for each individual.

There can be tremendous value to creating trees like these. Recognizing patterns can help tear down brick walls. Imagine a pedigree chart with birth places instead of names. It’s a new way to see migration patterns. I also love the a-ha moments I have! For example, the time I realized my hair and eye coloring likely came from my maternal great-grandmother who I have a special connection with.

I can share these quick “did you know” revelations with my relatives on social media (totally shareable images!) or at family reunions. Images are often more powerful than words because they are easy to glance over. Your family won’t be able to resist taking a look, and most importantly, sharing your tree images with other family members. Shared images can generate new information when shared with the right relative. Hey, here’s an idea: you could even blow up your alternate family tree to poster size for the next family reunion!

Take a look at these examples of my own alternate family trees for age at death (left) and birthplace (right).

Alternate_Trees_1 alternate family tree Alternate_Trees_2 alternate family tree

 

Other alternate family trees may focus on occupations, schooling, or color of eyes or hair.

I was inspired to create an alternate family tree that had significance to my own immediate family. We have a lot of adoption in our family tree. My three children are adopted, my husband is adopted, and several of my great-grandparents were raised by other family members. This is a unique perspective. Blood lines are important, but even more important are those people who influenced my family the most as caregivers.

I created a pedigree that indicates who, if anyone, the father and mother figures were. Take a look:

Alternate Family Tree

Did you notice that every set of my great-grandparents had one or more parent die or abandon them? I was shocked to see this significant ancestral dynamic. I had never considered the likely effect of such a family tree. It was fascinating!

How to Create an Alternate Family Tree

The easiest way to create an alternate family tree is to use a genealogy software program. I use RootsMagic. RootsMagic is a genealogy software program for PC and Mac computers. (Note: To use RootsMagic on your Mac computer, you will need to use the MacBridge add-on.) You can purchase the full version of RootsMagic for $29.95 or you can use the RootsMagic Essentials for free!

There are two ways to make an alternate family tree using RootsMagic. You can start from scratch or use the wall chart report.

Starting from Scratch

To start a new pedigree, click the “blank sheet of paper” icon at the top left. Name your tree with a title that will indicate its purpose. (Example: Age-at-Death Tree)

Alternate Family Tree

Instead of using the names of your ancestors, use whatever alternate pieces of information you wish in the name fields.

Now, you simply click “Reports” across the top and choose “Pedigree.” You can generate the report and print out your new alternate tree.

Using an Existing Tree

If you already have your tree on RootsMagic, you can use the Wall Chart feature to create trees with unique data.

As an example, if I wanted to create an occupation family tree, I would first need to enter that data for each person by clicking on the individual and then “Add a Fact.” From the drop-down list, choose “occupation.” Type in the occupation in the description field at the right and click “Save.”

Alternate Family Tree

Add the occupation to each individual and when you are ready to print your alternate family tree, simply take the following steps in the image below.

Alternate Family Tree

After taking these six steps, it is time to “Generate Report.” You will be taken to a new screen where you will see your creation.

Alternate Family Tree

Once you have completed your alternate tree, it’s a great idea to print it and lay it out in front of you. You might ask yourself, “What does this information tell me?” The interpretation of the data will be unique for everyone. Maybe your “Cause of Death Tree” will make you think, “Oh no! I should really be watching my heart health!”

I hope that you will take the opportunity to create an alternate family tree or two today. Genealogy Gems Premium website members who like this idea will also want to listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast #136, due out later this month. In that episode, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard goes in depth on the value of gathering family health history.

shareHow does this view of your family tree make you feel?
We love to hear from you so leave your feelings or comments below,
and please feel free to share your alternate family tree on our Facebook page!

 
More Family Tree and RootsMagic Gems

RootsMagic 7 Uploads Family Tree Maker Files Directly

What are the Politics of Your Family Tree?

Family Tree Hopscotch: Fun at the Family Reunion

DNA for Adoption Research: “Nice to Meet You!”

dna for adoption research holiday tableAs a daughter of an adoptee, this season I am grateful I can use DNA for adoption research. Seats at my genetic holiday table are gradually filling, even if some place cards are just penciled in.

At this time of year when many of us are spending more time with family than we otherwise might, we often reflect on the empty seats at our table. We think of those who weren’t able to travel to the family gathering, and back to those who have passed on. For some however, a long empty seat has been filled this year, thanks to the assistance of a DNA test.

Earlier this year we related the story of Mary McPherson and her cousin Dolores Washington-Fleming who discovered a common connection through Peter Edward Williams. Mary is a descendant of his wife, and Dolores through his slave.

Mary and Dolores welcomed this new connection and shared information about their common ancestor.  As they reunited for the first time, perhaps they talked about what life might have been like in the 1850’s in the south, and how their ancestors would’ve never guessed that the two of them would be gathered around the same table.

DNA for Adoption Research

As word spreads of the power of DNA testing to reveal the secrets of the past, many adoptees are flocking to genetic genealogy testing companies with the intention of filling the empty seats at their holiday tables.  The New York Times reported a touching story of Khrys Vaughan who felt her identity crumble when she found out she was adopted. Turning to DNA testing, she was able to connect with cousins and feel a biological connection she didn’t know she had been missing. Even though she still has many open seats at her table, she felt that filling even one meant that she was no longer biologically adrift, but could now look at someone and say, “This is my family.”

A similar story broke recently out of California. Just days old, Jen Chervin was found outside a hospital in Yuba City, CA. That was 40 years ago. But this year, Jen used the power of the genetic genealogy database in combination with some serious genealogy work to find her parents. While neither is in a position to openly embrace her as a daughter at this time in their lives, Jen now has a name card to place at seats of honor around her holiday table, all thanks to a simple saliva test.

This has been a landmark year in my own family. In one seeming miracle after another, I have added the names of maternal grandparents and great grandparents to my family tree as DNA testing has helped my mom fill in some of the missing pieces in her life. We have had a true Texas welcome from some of her paternal second cousins, and an outpouring of kindness from a maternal second cousin. While our place cards for mother and father are only tentatively penciled in, I know as I look around our genetic holiday table that I am excited about the new faces I see and I can’t wait to learn more.

DNA shopper

How to Get Started Using DNA for Adoption Research

If you want to get started filling seats at your table, there is no time like the present to give yourself (or someone else) the present of DNA testing! (Remember, before you get started, make sure you’re emotionally ready for the unexpected. You never know what “surprises” you’re going to unwrap when you start genetic testing.)

My Getting Started quick reference guide will guide you through the process and act as a reference tool along the way. It will tell you that the first rule in DNA testing is to test the oldest generation. So parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles should be first on your list. If you are that oldest generation, then pat yourself on the back and get swabbing!

The savvy shopper begins with the AncestryDNA test for all interested parties, and the YDNA 37 marker test from Family Tree DNA for all males. Then sit back and wait for the results to roll in! As they do, check back here at Genealogy Gems for tips on how to use that data to fill seats at your holiday table next year.

More Inspiring Gems About DNA for Adoption Research

Orphan Train Book ClubA Life-Changing Find at the National Archives

When You Are Fostered, You Don’t Know Who You Are: Scottish Siblings Reunited

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Paul Dobbs Story

 

 

Newly Published! Free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 186

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 186Inspire your holiday season with tips on interviewing older relatives, using DNA for adoption research and more in the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 186!

Kathy Hawkins Genealogy Gems podcast episode 186

Kathy Hawkins, Therapist and TimeSlips Creative Storytelling Master Trainer

The free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 186 is now live. This month, we celebrate upcoming holiday family time with relatives with a special interview. Guest expert Kathy Hawkins shares suggestions and encouragement about capturing memories from our oldest relatives. I especially appreciate her insights about understanding the memories of those who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Also in this episode, our resident genetic genealogy expert, Diahan Southard, offers her thanks for DNA connections that are helping her (and others) fill holes left by adoption in her family. Don’t miss her stories!

You’ll also hear about:

  • a great new resource from MyHeritage for connecting with other researchers,
  • family history poetry from two of our Gems listeners,
  • letters from the Gems mailbox and
  • an excerpt from our new Genealogy Gems Book Club interview, which will appear in full later this month in the next Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.

GGP thanks for sharingClick here to listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 186! If you enjoy it, thank you for sharing it with your friends and family by email and through your social media channels. We appreciate it when you help us spread the word about the free Genealogy Gems podcast and website!

FED UP with Family Secrets!? Adoption and Genealogy

Do family secrets make your genealogy research more difficult? More intriguing? Here’s how one listener feels about the secrets in her husband’s family history (and a nice resource on adoption in Ireland).

brick wall family secretsRecently we heard from Kate, a longtime Genealogy Gems Premium member. “Our first visit to my husband’s family was in 1998. I was eager to learn about who is who in the family. We were told that a woman was raising her sister’s child who was born out of marriage, but we can not talk to anyone about it. The daughter supposedly did not know she was adopted. SHH! We were told other things we must keep quiet about. We did our best to do as they wished.

Today on Facebook an old photo was posted with my husband’s paternal grandmother. Again, curious, I asked who is ???????. Was messaged in a private message. ‘(She) was adopted by my husband’s grandparents.'” Neither Kate nor her husband had ever heard of this person. Her father-in-law had never mentioned this person.

“My husband’s father left Ireland in the late 1920s,” she explains. “This may have happened after he left but he communicated with his family. He did not go back to visit until about 1956. Maybe that is part of this.”

But she thinks “there must be more to this” than just a secretive family culture. She “looked up Irish adoption and found legal adoption is relatively new to Ireland.” She shared this overview of Irish adoption policy and hopes it will be helpful to others.

“This secrecy is so difficult to deal with.  How do you deal with this issue? This was very common in my mother’s generation. How long do we maintain these secrets?”

Unfortunately, Kate’s frustration is all-too-common. Family secrets can feel like brick walls our own families build that keep us from understanding them. My experience is that it’s not usually about us as researchers. I think pain or protectiveness toward a loved one are often behind someone’s desire to keep a story out of the limelight.

Everyone’s perspective may differ slightly–there is not “one right answer” to this issue. And the need to reveal secrets for someone’s safety or well-being may at times trump all other considerations. But generally, here’s what I do when someone trusts me with a secret from the past. First, I thank them. Then I ask what I may do with that secret. Are they ready for me to help tell the story now (even to a small audience)? Are they ready to write it down (even in a sealed letter to be opened at a later date)? I try to understand and show respect for their reasons and feelings, even if they’re different than my own.

Over time, my respect and patience will pay off: in my relationship with that person, in my ability to understand the family better, and maybe–eventually–in that person’s willingness to let the story be more widely known. Many people reveal stories in stages. Telling it to me may be an important step toward full disclosure. I may continue to encourage (but not nag) them to share the story.

That may never happen. If that’s the case, I have to redirect my interest to family stories that can be told without risking relationships with loved ones. It’s hard sometimes. As descendants, we want to know the truth. As researchers, we are hungry for answers. I’m glad the “fruit” on my family tree ripens at different stages. There’s always a ripe family story or memory ready to be harvested. Meanwhile, I’ll keep an eye on that family secret–the unripe fruit–so if it does ripen, I’ll be there to harvest it.

Additional Resources

Family Secrets in Genealogy: Crystal’s Story in the free Family History Made Easy podcast (episode 44)

Annie Barrows Talks Family History and “The Truth According to Us

Family Tree Etiquette: Online Private v. Public Trees

thank you for sharingThank you for sharing this post with others who care about family stories, family secrets and what-to-say-when. It’s one of our trickiest challenges, that’s for sure!