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Conflicts Between Family Trees and DNA


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A few years ago I did a DNA test through ancestry.com. In addition to telling me what countries my ancestors comes from, it lists other people who have taken the ancestors.com tests and have DNA that is similar to mine. It guesses what our relationship is based on how similar the DNA is. Most of my aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins have taken the tests also, and it is satisfying to see that I share the appropriate percentage of DNA with all of them and that the ancestry.com database was able to correctly guess what these relationships are.

I recently got a notification that a new relative has been added to the database. This one was a name I didn't recognize. This individual, who we will call Sue Smith, loaded her complete family tree into the database, and I didn't recognize any of the names on it.

I did some digging on this, and noticed that Sue's mother died in the same small town where I have some relatives. Specifically, my grandmother's brother, who we will call "Uncle Joe" is from there. My aunt called up one of her cousins from that side of the family and asked if she knew who Sue Smith was. The cousin said, "Sure. That is the daughter of dad's (uncle Joe's) secretary. Why do you ask?" 

Uncle Joe is long dead now, as is his secretary. The events that lead to this are ancient history now. But the secretary's daughter is a blood relative of mine. 

Two questions come to mind. First, is there any value to reaching out to this stranger and introducing myself? Or is it just an awkward thing we should ignore?

Second, does the Church have a mechanism for recording such messy relationships in its genealogical records? For example, can it list both your biological father and your legal father?

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37 minutes ago, Analytics said:

A few years ago I did a DNA test through ancestry.com. In addition to telling me what countries my ancestors comes from, it lists other people who have taken the ancestors.com tests and have DNA that is similar to mine. It guesses what our relationship is based on how similar the DNA is. Most of my aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins have taken the tests also, and it is satisfying to see that I share the appropriate percentage of DNA with all of them and that the ancestry.com database was able to correctly guess what these relationships are.

I recently got a notification that a new relative has been added to the database. This one was a name I didn't recognize. This individual, who we will call Sue Smith, loaded her complete family tree into the database, and I didn't recognize any of the names on it.

I did some digging on this, and noticed that Sue's mother died in the same small town where I have some relatives. Specifically, my grandmother's brother, who we will call "Uncle Joe" is from there. My aunt called up one of her cousins from that side of the family and asked if she knew who Sue Smith was. The cousin said, "Sure. That is the daughter of dad's (uncle Joe's) secretary. Why do you ask?" 

Uncle Joe is long dead now, as is his secretary. The events that lead to this are ancient history now. But the secretary's daughter is a blood relative of mine. 

Two questions come to mind. First, is there any value to reaching out to this stranger and introducing myself? Or is it just an awkward thing we should ignore?

Second, does the Church have a mechanism for recording such messy relationships in its genealogical records? For example, can it list both your biological father and your legal father?

People, then and now, were involved in sexual immorality but in a more quiet and secret ways. It really serves no purpose to publish the indiscretions of long dead relatives and such revelations can cause more hurt than anything else. As you insightfully realized, you are all total strangers. Other than except for the intrusive nature of technology, you have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I suggest that there is nothing to be gained from reaching out to strangers to say: "hello, by the way we are related through...(adultery, sexual abuse, unmarried sex... of my great-great uncle on my grandmother's half-brother side?) Why bother?

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10 hours ago, Analytics said:

A few years ago I did a DNA test through ancestry.com. In addition to telling me what countries my ancestors comes from, it lists other people who have taken the ancestors.com tests and have DNA that is similar to mine. It guesses what our relationship is based on how similar the DNA is. Most of my aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins have taken the tests also, and it is satisfying to see that I share the appropriate percentage of DNA with all of them and that the ancestry.com database was able to correctly guess what these relationships are.

I recently got a notification that a new relative has been added to the database. This one was a name I didn't recognize. This individual, who we will call Sue Smith, loaded her complete family tree into the database, and I didn't recognize any of the names on it.

I did some digging on this, and noticed that Sue's mother died in the same small town where I have some relatives. Specifically, my grandmother's brother, who we will call "Uncle Joe" is from there. My aunt called up one of her cousins from that side of the family and asked if she knew who Sue Smith was. The cousin said, "Sure. That is the daughter of dad's (uncle Joe's) secretary. Why do you ask?" 

Uncle Joe is long dead now, as is his secretary. The events that lead to this are ancient history now. But the secretary's daughter is a blood relative of mine. 

Two questions come to mind. First, is there any value to reaching out to this stranger and introducing myself? Or is it just an awkward thing we should ignore?

Second, does the Church have a mechanism for recording such messy relationships in its genealogical records? For example, can it list both your biological father and your legal father?

This sort of discovery is happening more and more frequently; I'm hearing it from many people I know. I'm certain the incidence will increase. I highly recommend the book by Dani Shapiro, "Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love Knopf, 2019 ISBN 978-1524732714". There are professionally-recommended ways of dealing with the various scenarios that can pop up. Empathy is crucial.

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10 hours ago, webbles said:

Familysearch handles this.  They have multiple types of parental relationship: Adoptive, Biological, Foster, Guardianship, and Step.  You would use the "Biological" relationship for the biological father and the "Adoptive" relationship for the legal farther.  You could put a comment to indicate that the "Adoptive" isn't a true adoption but more of a default assumption of fatherhood.

This is good info. Just adding there's also the default option of no tag at all. Using Adoptive or no tag + note, people will understand who's what to who. Besides the tag comment there is a section to add notes about the relationship (and a section to provide documentation, where appropriate).

To the larger Q of "Should We Detail This Relationship In Church Records?":  What gets entered in FS depends on consideration for the living - because FS has the ability to impact more people, than any personal relationship can. The answer can be No today but will be Yes eventually, as relatives pass on. Given that, there's no need to rush things.

Edited by Chum
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10 hours ago, Analytics said:

Uncle Joe is long dead now, as is his secretary. The events that lead to this are ancient history now. But the secretary's daughter is a blood relative of mine. 

Two questions come to mind. First, is there any value to reaching out to this stranger and introducing myself? Or is it just an awkward thing we should ignore?

If no one close to you finds this relationship painful, I think you're free to choose what you want. My default advice is to go for it. The odds are in your favor it'll be rewarding.

Speaking from the new family perspective:  Genealogy led me to two long-lost sisters and the 3 of us have a better relationship than I do with my v.1 family. More recently, Ancestry DNA led the son my sister put up for adoption to reach out to us. Once all the contact info was shared, he just disappeared - so I have no doubt he's one of us. Whenever he's ready, we'll happily fold him in - or whatever he wants.

Also thru Ancestry: I've made contact with cousins I didn't know and their adult kids. I also found my last living aunt and got to visit her before she passed.

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10 hours ago, katherine the great said:

I’ve wondered how many marriages have been ruined by these DNA results.

It's been my experience that DNA reunifications tend to happen later in life, when marriages have a lot of years and when spouses are less likely to be shocked.

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Of course reach out to her.   It isn't her fault her parent and your relative didn't behave okay (or that she was raped).   And it is what it is.   I have recorded my children's birthparents lines in family search, even though they are sealed to us, so yes, the records are flexible to accommodate different things.

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My wife's sister got pregnant in high school, and they raised the girl as basically another daughter (even though she's technically a niece, she's always functionally been like one of the aunts). They always assumed they knew who the father is because of a strong resemblance to one of the boys she was having sex with when she was conceived. This girl was fortunately raised in the Church as one of the children, and has a temple marriage and family of her own. She learned through one of these DNA tests that she is a half-sister through her father to a girl in California, not who they had always assumed was the father. She came into contact with her and they are on good terms. The girl told my niece to have nothing to do with her biological father --- he has children in many states and propositions many of his daughters (including herself) all the time. 

My wife's best friend left the rails in high school (sex and drugs). Shortly before we were married, she called my then fiance and reestablished contact (I was with her when she called) and told her that she was the only one who had stood by her. She now has five children, has named a daughter after my wife, and I did most of the baptisms and baby blessings. Her husband was baptized and they have been sealed. He just found out this summer, through being contacted through these DNA testing services, that he has another daughter in Colorado he didn't know about --- from before his oldest was conceived (this girl is around 26 or so). The girl reached out, and they've visited, but it didn't go very well and probably won't lead to future contact. He is a completely different person now then back then. 

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7 minutes ago, bluebell said:

My mother got pregnant out of wedlock with me when she was 20, and the father didn't want to have anything to do with the whole situation.  She married my dad a couple years after I was born.  I've never met bio dad and have no desire to, though I know his name and he lives in the same small town my parents do.  My mom--a nurse--has treated his kids (who are much younger than I am) from time to time at a walk in clinic. 

Bad biodads are bad biodads. At least mine had the courtesy to move away and create another family to ruin. It would have sucked for him to stay within reach. I'm sorry yours did.

12 minutes ago, bluebell said:

I don't know if his kids know about me and I don't want to freak anyone out.  I also don't care to have any contact with them or that biological side of the family and would be very uncomfortable if they reached out.  I have no ill will towards him but from my perspective, he doesn't exist.  

I can't know the dynamics of this family but in general I find folks get more sanguine and pragmatic as they age. Being grateful to know you as family might become more likely as time passes.

23 minutes ago, bluebell said:

As for this illegitimate relative, I'd probably let her make the first move (or not).  She should have the same info you do so she should see it eventually, if she hasn't already.

As a compromise, maybe give it a year. If she doesn't reach out then send her a note that if she ever wants to make contact you'd be happy to talk to her but will respect her wishes regardless.

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I have never thought about this till this thread.  My brother was an addict and alcoholic.  I have always wondered if he had children we didn't know about.  I wonder if some day we will find out this way.

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12 hours ago, Analytics said:

Uncle Joe is long dead now, as is his secretary. The events that lead to this are ancient history now. But the secretary's daughter is a blood relative of mine. 

Two questions come to mind. First, is there any value to reaching out to this stranger and introducing myself? Or is it just an awkward thing we should ignore?

With everyone dead, and living descendants who remember them being grown adults, the risk of hurting feelings and opening wounds and whatnot tends to be lower.  It's the same philosophy for doing temple work for people who aren't directly related - waitt a while after they die.

Sue Smith took the test and uploaded her details into a genealogy database - she didn't do that because she isn't looking for her ancestors.   There should be no harm in offering a brief contact, and letting her reply if she wants.  If Sue wasn't already aware of things, the DNA test has broken the news to her.  Give her the opportunity for some answers if she wants them.

 

My sister is the genealogy bug of the family.  She gets a huge kick out of stories like this, and has been able to share many of them with related folks.  I don't think she's ever ruffled a feather.

Edited by LoudmouthMormon
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So what is the definition of "family" in the phrase "Families are Forever"?

I went to the funeral of the mother of my best friend a few years back. She had become a widow at about 40 and was remarried to a widower with several young children whom she raised. These children considered her their mother. The second husband spoke at the funeral and talked about how his wife of 4 plus decades was now reunited to her first husband to whom she was sealed, a man to whom she had been married to for about 20 years. So now my friends mom is with her first husband and is only sealed to him and the kids she had by him. Her second husband is still sealed to his original wife to whom he was only married for a few years and his kids by that first wife are sealed to her even though my friend's mom raised them.

 

A cousin of my wife discovered he had an adult daughter that he never knew existed. He has fully embraced her as his daughter even though she was raised by another man and her biological mom to whom she is sealed.

How does "Families are Forever" work here?

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I LOVE the TV Show , "Long Lost Family" I only watch the UK version though. They have some riveting stories about families and different circumstances. I'd love to do a DNA test to find out more about my German side of the family, my Dad's brothers kids and whatnot. We have a ton of genealogical info about people who have died but nothing about people who are still alive. A few years ago the Canadian National Archives opened their Military files and so if you had a relative in a war prior to WW2 you could check out their service file. We found out some stuff! My Grandfather's cousin got gonorrhea in WW1 and was upset because they cut off his pay whilst he was in hospital. He never married and had no kids, and that may be why-maybe someone told him don't plan of having a family or he may have just never met anyone he fancied. My Mom's Uncle though, he was also his cousin was an admitting clerk at a VD hospital in Etchinghill, England, also called "Itchinghill................" anyways, we wonder if their paths ever crossed! 'what are you doing here? I work here now! and you? ah......................................ever been to Paris?........................................................................."

 

I love this story though!

 

Edited by Duncan
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23 minutes ago, Chum said:

Bad biodads are bad biodads. At least mine had the courtesy to move away and create another family to ruin. It would have sucked for him to stay within reach. I'm sorry yours did.

I can't know the dynamics of this family but in general I find folks get more sanguine and pragmatic as they age. Being grateful to know you as family might become more likely as time passes.

As a compromise, maybe give it a year. If she doesn't reach out then send her a note that if she ever wants to make contact you'd be happy to talk to her but will respect her wishes regardless.

No reason to be sorry.  I truly have no feelings towards this man.  If i've ever seen him in person I didn't know it.  He's a non-entity.  I was born into a loving extended family who adored me and my mom, and my dad is amazing and everything a father should be.  Bio dad did me a favor by bowing out at the beginning.

I don't let people into my circle easily and I don't need the circle to be any bigger.  I have no desire to know these people or do the emotional and mental work it would take to incorporate them into my life.  My step siblings are over a decade younger than me and I wish them the best life.  I'm glad they got the dad they needed (at least it sounds like they did) and that he grew up eventually.

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Sidebar: I strongly believe in allowing our mistakes to subside into the past. However, I get that organic consequences can sometimes prevent that from happening. The unintended outcomes of genealogical DNA testing are creating some of those consequence. On balance, I think this is okay; it falls under 'crap happens'.

In contrast are artificial consequences, (eg: credit reports, criminal records), that serve to inflict repeated punishments for already paid-for transgressions. They are reasonably perceived as a natural enemy to the law of redemption and in this are indistinguishable from evil.

If we want people to deal with their organic consequences responsibly, creating artificial consequences to crush them isn't a brilliant way to get there.

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21 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

How does "Families are Forever" work here?

Seal 'em all and let God sort it out.

Okay I think it's the family members who sort it out in the eternities but on Earth we try to seal everyone we can.

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16 minutes ago, bluebell said:

I don't let people into my circle easily and I don't need the circle to be any bigger.  I have no desire to know these people or do the emotional and mental work it would take to incorporate them into my life.

Reasonable.

I still feel like that mostly. However as family fell across my path I found I was happy to have them. That happiness feels weird.

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31 minutes ago, Duncan said:

We have a ton of genealogical info about people who have died but nothing about people who are still alive.

Sort of. In the US, it can be trivially easy to find records between 1850-1945. After 1945 it can be unexpectedly hard.

I've found some amazing pre-1850 records in Europe but little in the US.

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38 minutes ago, Duncan said:

A few years ago the Canadian National Archives opened their Military files and so if you had a relative in a war prior to WW2 you could check out their service file.

Nice.

A 1973 St Louis fire wiped out much of our service records. We have whatever bases didn't ship to the archive or what had been shipped to local VAs.

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14 hours ago, Islander said:

People, then and now, were involved in sexual immorality but in a more quiet and secret ways. It really serves no purpose to publish the indiscretions of long dead relatives and such revelations can cause more hurt than anything else. As you insightfully realized, you are all total strangers. Other than except for the intrusive nature of technology, you have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I suggest that there is nothing to be gained from reaching out to strangers to say: "hello, by the way we are related through...(adultery, sexual abuse, unmarried sex... of my great-great uncle on my grandmother's half-brother side?) Why bother?

A few years back, all the black and white descendants of Thomas Jefferson got together for a great family reunion, and the story was even carried on TV.  After a few generations have gone by, people find it much easier to deal with such relationships -- even to celebrate them.

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