Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Brian, Briana, the Ryders, and the Robinsons

Briana Rieman, 2014
Great-granddaughter of Rollie J. and Nora L.
(Robinson) Ryder
(photo courtesy of Briana Rieman)

Briana Rieman responded on 28 February 2014, about two weeks after my initial email. Although she had little to add to her family history, she confirmed that she and Brian Ryder were cousins. It was at a family gathering that both had discussed doing a DNA test to take a peek into their shared ancestry. Knowing only that she had a strong German background, and a supposed touch of Native American blood reported further back in time by her grandmother, Briana purchased a 23andMe test kit for both her boyfriend and herself.

Briana Gabrielle Rieman was a twenty-five-year-old southern California native studying biomedical engineering. Although I was correct in assuming her father's Niles, Michigan, roots, Briana had never spent an appreciable time in the Midwest. Her father, Stephen, while in Hong Kong with the Navy, met Briana's mother, Ginger, who was visiting there as a foreign exchange art student. That meeting was followed by letter-writing which was followed by marriage in southern California, where Stephen Rieman was then stationed. Briana is their eldest daughter.

And although Briana was one generation removed from her cousin, Brian Ryder, and probably several generations removed from a common ancestor with my sixty-seven-year-old mother, she shared more DNA with my mother than Brian did. She shared 0.89% of her total DNA with my mother to Brian's 0.52%. But a facet of this number game that fascinated me was that Briana's and Brian's match to me was 0.70% and 0.51% respectively. The point being that from all the jumbling and recombining of DNA that occurred between my parents to produce me, the bulk of my mother's paternal DNA shared with these two people was also given to me almost in full. I had plenty of my missing grandfather's DNA in me and a similarly strong connection to these new far-flung cousins.

Of course, the most profound ramification of the match between Brian Ryder, Briana Rieman, and my mother, was that they most likely all shared the same common ancestor. And the fact that their families hailed from nearby Niles, Michigan, made it all that more exciting. I was picking up more breadcrumbs on that trail to my missing grandfather!

But upon closer inspection, there was a problem. My mother's matching DNA segments with Brian Ryder occurred on Chromosomes 3 and 11. Her matching DNA segments with Briana were on Chromosomes 1, 4, and 17. So although my mother matched the both of them, they did not match each other... at least not at these specific locations.

What is the significance of this? Previously I discussed the need for a triangulation to help me in my search. A triangulation would include three (or more) people who have matching DNA segments at the same location. These three people would therefore presumably have the same common ancestor who gave them all the same chunk of DNA. And although Brian Ryder and Briana Rieman were known first cousins, once removed (and the percentage DNA they shared with each other confirmed such), they did not match my mother at the same locations. This was not a triangulation.

And so what does this mean? It could mean two things: firstly, there was so much DNA upstream from a common ancestor that each measured participant got a little bit of something genetically from that ancestor, but each got something different. Or...

... secondly, that my mother was genetically related to Brian Ryder through a common ancestor, and she was also genetically related to Briana Rieman through a completely different common ancestor. This would make interpreting these results far more difficult, and it would subsequently dilute my excitement for finding these two people.

I had no other choice but to follow the first assumption. It was the only lead I had to go on.

Rollie Joseph Ryder and Nora Lee (Robinson) Ryder, center,
holding their great-granddaughter, Briana Rieman, flanked by their
daughter, Linda, and their grandson, Stephen, and his wife Ginger, 1988.
(photo courtesy of Briana Rieman)

The common ancestors for Brian Ryder and Briana Rieman where Rollie Joseph Ryder and his wife, Nora Lee Robinson. Rollie Ryder, born in 1924 in Dowagiac, Cass County, Michigan, was the fourth child of Rollie Joseph Ryder, Sr., and his wife, Emily Scharich. Dowagiac is a small city incorporated in 1848, which lies about twenty-five miles north of Elkhart and South Bend, Indiana; and about fifteen miles northeast of Niles, Michigan. The Ryder family and a variety of their relatives and in-laws had established themselves in this area by the turn of the century.

Rollie Ryder had moved to Niles, Michigan, and in 1943 at the age of eighteen, he married sixteen-year-old Nora Robinson. They raised two children in Niles: John (Brian Ryder's father) and Linda (Briana Rieman's grandmother). Unlike Rollie's local roots, Nora was a Tennessee transplant, having come to Niles as a ten-year-old. Although many of her southern kin also made the migration north, there were far more relatives who remained in Tennessee and in the southern United States.

If my mother shared DNA with Brian and Briana, she also presumably shared a significant amount of DNA with their common source. And that common source was either Rollie Ryder or Nora Robinson.

But which one was it? The strong local geographic connection made the Ryder DNA seem the better candidate; but the obvious connection to many unknown individuals in the DNA databases with southern ancestry made Robinson DNA a strong consideration as well. And what did it matter anyway? Rollie Joseph Ryder passed away in Niles in 2006 at the age of 81 years just three days short of his sixty-third wedding anniversary. His widow, Nora Lee Robinson Ryder, outlived him by five years, but she too was gone, dying in Niles in 2011. If they shared DNA with my mother, the point was moot. They were not around to be tested.

Was my mother a Ryder or a Robinson?
Brian's and Briana's connection is shown, 
as is the presence of the two men living
who could supply me with answers.

But, as luck would have it, there was a singular Ryder and a singular Robinson who could help me. Although Rollie and Nora were gone, they both had one remaining younger sibling living who held the key to my further search within their cells. There was one Ryder and one Robinson I needed to find, but only one of these men likely shared the much larger quantity of DNA in common with my mother.

The next step was simple. Locate the current whereabouts of 81-year-old Paul Robinson and 71-year-old Ken Ryder, explain to a couple of elderly strangers why you needed their help, ask them to spit into a test kit and freely give you a sample of their DNA, and walk away with a handshake and a smile.

Well, perhaps it was not that simple.

But I was hot on a trail. And these were small details I would not let deter me from my quest.

I had a grandfather to find.


  1. This has been a fascinating series and so educational! Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Such a great story. I am enjoying it a great deal.

  3. I am so hooked to this series! Can't wait to read the next installment.

  4. Keep them coming, Michael. You're a great storyteller!

  5. Michael, you are doing such a fine job. The jigsaw puzzle part of this is so well done!

  6. This is such a great story and so well written. It just keeps me coming back for more and I will be there to the end of it. Can't wait to the next part.

  7. I do believe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be quite proud of you, such a sleuth.

  8. Good Job Sir. Did you ever get ahold of Uncle Kenny?