Monday, November 10, 2014

A Fork In The Road

Kenneth Eugene Ryder, c1959
Niles, Michigan

On 27 March 2014, I received my DNA results for Paul Aaron Robinson, of Smiths Grove, Kentucky. And just like every time before, and every time to come, as I hit "Return" to see the statistical comparison of DNA from the immediate target person to my mother, my heart races, my cheeks flush, and I can feel the metallic taste of adrenalin surging through my entire being. I desperately want to see the results, and yet I also feel like squinting my eyes, because like a gruesome slasher film, I don't want to see it either. And every time I feel somewhat like I want to vomit.

Paul Aaron Robinson and my mother Carol Sue Crumet shared absolutely no DNA in common with each other. Zero. None. Zilch.

Although disappointed, I wasn't entirely surprised. The Ryder side of the family had been local to the vicinity my mother was born since the turn of the century. The Robinsons were recent southern transplants. But since my mother had several genetic matches with people whose ancestry reached back to Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas, I had to consider a southern connection like the Robinson family. Up until this time, I had no identifiable ancestors in the deep south. And since it was a 50:50 Ryder:Robinson toss up, the first taker got the DNA test. The fork in the road had been encountered, and the road sign now said RYDER.

Presuming my initial hypothesis was sound, Nora Lee (Robinson) Ryder was not the vessel from which Brian Ryder and Briana Rieman got their DNA in kind with my mother. It likely came from her husband, Rollie Joseph Ryder, Jr. And as mentioned before, I had already reached out to Rollie's brother Kenneth Eugene Ryder with no response.

I had not actively chased Ken Ryder, nor had I even sent a second email. Once Paul Robinson agreed to be tested, I figured I would just sit and wait. Hey, I am not a full-time veterinarian anymore. I chase dead people for a living now. This means that gleefully handing out autosomal DNA tests at $100 apiece willy-nilly to all who may hold the answers to my plight is no longer within my budget. I have established in previous posts that I am not a patient person. But unfortunately I have to waylay expediency and immediacy for cost effectiveness.

But it was now apparent that I needed the saliva of Kenneth Eugene Ryder immediately, and I wasted no time in obtaining it.

I had no idea what to expect from Kenny. Although he was Brian Ryder's great-uncle, he was roughly the same age as Brian's father. Brian had indicated that he had never known Kenny, and that his father had not spoken to him in quite some time. Briana Rieman indicated that from her family's discussion, she thought Ken Ryder was in jail.

It was a logical assumption.

Kenneth Eugene Ryder was born in Niles, Michigan, in 1942, the youngest child of Rollie Joseph Ryder, Sr., and his wife, Emily (Scharich) Ryder. His mother was forty-two years old at his birth, and his eldest sister was just a few weeks shy of her twenty-fifth birthday with children of her own. Kenny grew up on Pine Street in Niles, Michigan, surrounded by relatives, having more in common with his same-age nieces and nephews than with his much older siblings.

Kenny's father, Rollie Ryder Sr., died when Kenny was fourteen years old. And perhaps the lack of a father, and a tired widowed mother who had raised eight children, contributed to Kenny's propensity for trouble. Or maybe he was just a teenager that loved the rush of danger. But the photograph above of teenage Kenny Ryder shows a young man quite confident and sure of himself. His first brush with the law came at the age of seventeen, when he unlawfully drove away in an automobile that was not his. While waiting for sentencing, he was arrested again with two other teenagers for entering a vacant house and vandalizing it. In return, Kenny got two-years' probation and a slew of fines.

Although a lot of things can be attributed to the stupidity of youth, Kenny Ryder needed to grow up, because shortly after his eighteenth birthday, he got married and started a family.

But marriage and children didn't have a calming or settling effect on Kenny. A six-month jail sentence for unlawfully using an auto in 1964, was followed rapidly by a four-to-ten-years sentence in 1965 for burglarizing a gun shop in Niles with a buddy. He was divorced in 1967, and out of jail by 1969 when he was arrested again with two escaped convicts from Florida. A handful of other brushes with the law continued to be part of Ken Ryder's life through the 1970s.

Ken Ryder, 2011

This was the man whose DNA held the answers I was looking for. This was the man I needed to bend to the desperate pleas of a stranger.

It was apparent by now that Ken Ryder had a Facebook account, but he seldom used it. The message I sent to him on February 24 had gone unread. As mentioned previously, I personally find the written word far more powerful than the spoken word. This may not be true for everyone, but when writing, I can clarify complex issues, summarize information, and make requests clearly. When speaking, my brain works faster than my mouth. What usually spews forth is a lot of nonsense.

But three days after my negative results from Paul Robinson, I picked up the phone and called Ken Ryder seeking his DNA. I was buoyed by the ease and enthusiasm in which Paul Robinson and his son had responded, hoping even an ex-convict could be softened by my search for a missing father and grandfather. But what if his rough youthful exploits and legal wranglings of years past had produced a man in his seventies bitter with the world around him? There was only one way to find out. I dialed.

Ken answered the phone immediately, and I explained the situation as best as I could, briefly and succinctly. I presumed that a cold call from a person seeking your DNA could quickly be met with a dial tone, so I laid out all the facts as quickly as possible.

The man that responded to my breathless, garbled, angst-filled babbling was one of the most pleasant men I have had a phone conversation with in quite some time. And remember, as a veterinarian I spent a lot of time on a telephone responding to a whole variety of dilemmas and questions. Despite the hours logged on the device, I still always feel awkward on a telephone. I can lecture to hundreds, but I lose my words on a phone. Perhaps I rely too much on visual cues to gauge the response to my delivery, and more importantly to my requests. Was he lost and confused on the DNA issue? Did he fully comprehend what I wanted from him? A furrowed brow can tell a lot. A telephone silence is harder to interpret.

But Ken Ryder made it easy, and he agreed immediately to my request. And on the following day, 31 March 2014, I hopped in my car for the one-hour drive to Benton Harbor, Michigan, to retrieve some of Ken Ryder's saliva.

The man that greeted me was not a hardened criminal, but a warm, open man who laughed easily and welcomed me to his modest home. A kitten was climbing around in the garage knocking things off shelves which only made Ken laugh. We chatted about the Ryders and about his grandmother's siblings, the Daughertys, who all lived on Pine Street in Niles, Michigan, where he grew up. He reminisced about relatives long gone, and I filled him in on details he may have forgotten. Believe me, I had already committed many, many hours to Ryder genealogical research before this visit. We moved from chatting in the driveway to inside into the kitchen. As Ken reached for his cup of coffee, it was my cue to interject, "No drinking! You have to spit first!"

My Ryder DNA was secured.

Ken and I chatted for a short time longer. None of it was forced or uncomfortable or rushed. He wished me well in my search, and asked me to keep him updated regarding my findings. And although I had no idea how he would fall into my family tree, I really thought I'd enjoy Ken Ryder as a cousin, even if it were distantly.

Black sheep can still be warm and woolly and fuzzy.

And as so many future posts will end..... I then impatiently waited for results.


  1. "When speaking, my brain works faster than my mouth. What usually spews forth is a lot of nonsense." Yep, that's me. I cannot wait until your next installment. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. You're killing me........I'm not patient either.

    1. Hey there, mistress of Genetic Genealogy, I wasn't aware you were still following along! I am sure you of all people love a good genetic genealogical mystery! By all means, point out any errors I may make in my statements along the way. I want to tell a good story, but I want researchers to know DNA is not a tool they need to be afraid of using.

  3. I tend to babble on the phone too. So glad you finally made contact with the elusive Ken, I'm now waiting impatiently as well.

  4. Totally agree with chapter please?

  5. Very Interesting, as Ken is my biological Grandfather- can't wait to find out what the results may reveal. Wishing you all the best luck in your search!

    1. Then perhaps you're my cousin! You'll have to keep reading to find out the results of the DNA testing!

  6. Working my way through the entire blog in a couple days and enjoying the story and particularly the procedural aspects since I've been on a similar journey recently. Also liked your succinct explanation of the various types of dna and their utility (a few entries back) - I may plagiarize a few lines as I struggle to explain this stuff to my elderly (and not-so-elderly) relatives. Perhaps you've already thought of this but your readers might benefit from examples of the email messages you've used to request help from your potential cousins - I suspect they are well crafted and would be great models.