Monday, October 6, 2014

Waiting, Sharing, Informing, Fretting

Helen (Timmons) Strukel, center, is flanked by her son
Ted Miller and his wife, Darlene. Her daughter Dianne (Strukel)
Moore and granddaughter Lisa Moore are at the extreme left and right, respectively. 
Elkhart, Indiana, c1984.

For those of you who have been astute enough to monitor the timeline of events, you can see that I contacted my uncle, Ted Miller, and my cousin, Michelle Herman, on 4 February 2014, with the urgent plea to donate some DNA for my research. My first blog post was 18 February 2014. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was in store for quite a bumpy ride.

As indicated in previous posts, I am NOT a patient person. I will spend hours of research time following genealogical lines that MAY be pertinent, when I know it might end up being a waste of time if test results indicate something else entirely. I had done research on the ancestors of Eldon Miller in the past, but I jumped back into the work with gusto after receiving results questioning my mother's paternity. The Miller kin are local families, and I have dabbled at researching them over the years, solely because I never was 100% convinced that my mother wasn't truly a Miller by birth, and not a Strukel. Now I was presented with the scientific proof that the latter was true, and I was just waiting for results to determine the former.

The only busy work I could do while waiting for test results was to expand Eldon Miller's family tree. Teasing my mother that she would be seventh cousins with my father if she were truly Eldon's child (both descending from Johann Casper Stoever, born in 1707) didn't help ease the anxiety I was feeling. And now I was presented with the possibility that Ted may have a different father as well. I told my mother if she had a different father, I would find him; but if Ted did, he was on his own! This was becoming a big genealogical mess. After the initial shock of the test results indicating that my mother and her sister shared different fathers, my mother teased me that I was likely more upset than she because one-quarter of my three decades of research was suddenly wrong. She was absolutely correct.

More immediately pressing, nobody had told Dianne the results of her test yet. New DNA tests were flying all over the country, and I was diligently searching into Eldon Miller's ancestry, and my mother's sister had yet to learn the results of her DNA test...and that her sister was really her half-sister.

And because the circumstances of these sisters were so different than that of the average family, I had no idea how Dianne would respond. I have always been one who just relies on the facts. Let the truth present itself, and I will adjust accordingly. After all, I am a doctor, a scientist. And I am a pragmatist. If I can't change a situation, I find a way to adapt to it. But I am a weeper too. I can cry at a well-crafted commercial. I've had exceptionally beautiful music, scenery, or people reduce me to a blubbering mess. But how would Dianne respond? I really had no clue, but I did not think she would be exceptionally distraught over the news, because I think she is equally as pragmatic as I. But my mother thought differently. 

Although my mother, Carol, and her sister, Dianne, had missed sharing a childhood together, they were reunited at the respective ages of 36 and 33. So they had now been sisters for nearly half a lifetime. My mother, raised an only child, grew up knowing that she had an older half-sister Sandy that existed somewhere in the world, and she longed for that sister to play with as a child and to serve as her mentor. Her desire to feel that connection was so strong that the first thing she said when presented with her sister Dianne on that emotionally-charged reunion night in November 1982, was "Sandy?"  But in Dianne, she found a younger sister she never knew she had, and a sister who supposedly shared both parents. She found the sibling bond that she never had the chance to experience as a child.

And Dianne, although possessed of three half-siblings, spent the bulk of her childhood without their presence. With Jerry and Ted being raised in California by their father, and Sandy essentially kidnapped by him shortly thereafter, she was in grade school when Sandy and Ted came back to Elkhart to visit their mother. Their refusal to return to California to their father, Eldon Miller, suddenly filled the household with new personalities. But Ted and Sandy Miller were nine and seven years Dianne's senior. It wasn't exactly like playmates had miraculously returned home. Although there were no significant animosities between the siblings and Ted was immediately protective of his youngest sister, there was no time for a sisterly bond to develop with Sandy. They had missed out on a childhood together, and Dianne was just ten years old when Sandy graduated from high school. She was only twelve when Sandy married and started a life of her own. Siblings existed, but they were somewhat out of reach of this only known child of Frank and Helen (Timmons) Strukel. Carol's return to the family in 1982 also gave Dianne a sister to bond with that somehow eluded her as a child.

I did not expect Dianne to explode into hysterics, nor did I expect her to collapse into a frightful sobbing heap. I put theatrics more into my mother's repertoire. But I did expect a certain degree of disbelief and shock. After all, for over thirty years I seemed to be the only one harboring doubt about my mother's paternity. Everybody else accepted the facts presented by their mother, Helen. After all, she is the one who should know the facts of her children's paternity, right?

Unlike my phone call to my mother immediately upon receiving the test results, my mother thought the news should be presented to her sister in person. And I was the one who should deliver the news, because I was more capable of explaining the science behind it. Ironically, the meeting date was set on 12 February 2014, the day Helen would have turned 97 years old had she been alive. And boy, did I wish her alive right now! Dianne was to come to my mother's that coming weekend, 15 February 2014, and she knew that part of the visit was to discuss her DNA test results. I don't think there was any suspicion or wonder on her part why this needed to be done in person, because as stated, few people had the doubts I did. It was just a way of her to review her results with me present, as I could explain the dynamics of DNA.

There was not a lot of time wasted once we were all seated in my mother's kitchen. Although I put little weight into the "Ancestry Composition" presented by any of the DNA testing companies, I showed Dianne how dissimilar hers was to my mother's to set the stage. But there was no dramatic pause for effect. I just stated that this was so because they were not full sisters, but half-sisters. Dianne's response was entirely what I anticipated. There was no tense drum roll to the big revelation, or theatrics after they were presented. It would have made for a great blog post, but instead it was met with a rather quiet mix of confusion, disbelief, and surprise. A little nervous laughter and jokes about wishing Helen were there for a good thorough grilling followed, but as Dianne stated, "You're still my sister, half or otherwise, and nothing changes that."

Three days later, I made my first blog post. Five days later, I received a notice that Ted Miller's DNA test had reached the labs of 23andMe. And as February dragged into March, I began weaving the story on this blog that was the story of my mother's entry into this world. A story that at the time had no ending. No answers. And lots and lots of questions.

And as I dabbled into the ancestry of Eldon Miller, I realized that nobody with any of his ancestor's surnames were matches with my mother in the 23andMe DNA database. Many of her matches had a strong southern presence in states no ancestors of Helen's or Eldon's had ever seen: Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas. As a genealogist, these southern locations were as foreign to me as having ancestors in Kazakhstan. And although Helen had one Virginia line of ancestry, I had significant doubts that all of these matches went back to these few families. I knew what I fearfully expected the pending tests to tell me, as much as that possibility had never entered into my head in the last thirty-two years. But what about Ted and his suspicions? As much as I preached the responsibility of the genealogist to tell the story of their ancestors, how much of Helen's story did I really know? How much did any of us know? And what secrets did she take to her grave that we will never know?

All I could do was wait. Waiting impatiently, knowing that the answers I would receive would likely result in bigger questions.


And fret.


  1. I hope it helps that you have a bunch of people waiting with you! I am so caught up in this story I can't believe it.Good luck to all of you and please don't make us wait to long.

  2. Yes, we're waiting with you! And I'm convinced you should be putting this into a book form--in your spare time.

  3. Looking forward to 'the rest of the story'

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