Thursday, January 15, 2015

Waiting Impatiently

Just a brief word of reassurance to those who have devoted a lot of their valuable time and energy reading my blog and sharing my journey over these past several months.

I have not disappeared.

Let me first bait you a little bit and tell you, there is SO much more to this story! So, so, so much more. 

In the ten days since my last blog post, I have endured a two-day air travel nightmare that should have taken just a single afternoon. That alone could have been a blog post from hell. Since my arrival in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have been felled with the flu. I am typing this blog entry from a strange bed in a puddle of my own sweat whilst coughing up my left lung.

It has been a less than conducive atmosphere for writing.

Although I will be away from home until February 17, I had fully anticipated keeping you all on board for this crazy ride. I just have to ask your indulgence while the driver of this short bus takes a few extra days to recuperate.

Trust me.

It will be worth the wait.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Reunion, Part II: Telling My Mother

Part II of my mother's reunion with her birthparents follows thirty-two years after Reunion, Part I. (see Hoosier Daddy?: Reunion).

This part of the reunion was significantly different for a number of reasons.

Although not having personally been in the situation of giving up a child or being adopted (...although my mother often told me I was a foundling...), I think there is often a fundamental difference between the separation of a child from each of his or her birthparents. And that difference is well illustrated in my mother's situation.

Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller was an unhappily married woman with three children caught up in the tumultuous divorce proceedings from her first husband. Their marriage having soured years before, she had found the love she wanted and deserved in Frank Strukel. 

And she was pregnant.

Since the discovery of my mother's surprise mystery paternity in February 2014, I have had friends, relatives, and readers of the blog comment, "Oh, now it makes sense why she gave your mother up!" The flash of doubt obviously had to spark in Helen's head once she realized she was pregnant, but I do not think the answer, nor the situation, is as easily explained as people think it to be.

Perhaps Helen's uncertainty of Carol's paternity factored into her decision, but the fact remains that she very quickly convinced herself that the child was Frank Strukel's. And Frank went to his grave believing his eldest daughter was raised by someone else. Helen's first husband, Eldon Miller, threatened to take custody of the only child he was willing to let her keep, four-year-old Sandy, if she kept her unborn child. Frank Strukel, a recently returned veteran of World War II, still bearing the very fresh emotional scars from months in a German POW camp, was living with his parents rebuilding his life post-war. He loved Helen, and he wanted to marry her, despite the disapproving whispers of his staunchly Catholic family. But he was not in an economic position to take on a wife, a four-year-old stepchild, and a newborn baby. And an illegitimate child would further test the limits of the acceptance of his new wife to his Catholic family.

If there were doubts in Helen's mind, she never spoke of them. But it is unlikely these doubts forced her to make the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish her unborn child. Had circumstances been different, it is almost certain that Carol would have been raised Carol Sue Strukel, never doubting her paternity.

The fact remains that Helen did make that heart-wrenching decision. And she carried a child for nine months that she knew she would have to say good-bye to after its birth. The mother-child bond was already formed with every stirring and every kick of the child she would never watch grow up. And based on my mother's original birth certificate, she bestowed on my mother the first and middle names she carries today. Whether it was a name agreed upon by her adoptive parents is debated. They most likely had a say in it, although while both mothers were still living, they both claimed to have come up with her name. Nonetheless, the baby girl born in Goshen General Hospital that New Year's Eve might, had a name; and with each cry or giggle or coo, had a budding personality. But as Helen told the story, she endured my mother's childbirth with quiet, staunch stoicism, because she felt that she was not allowed the selfish luxury of showing discomfort and garnering pity. This pain she endured silently because she would be forever unable to feel any further intense emotion - joy, sadness, pain, pride, anger, laughter, love - with the daughter that would grow inside her, but be nurtured and flower under the care of someone else.

The mother-daughter reunion in 1982 was a tearful, joyous reconnection of that invisible umbilical cord that is never permanently severed when a mother loses a child.

Conversely, a birthfather's role in bringing a baby into this world can run a gamut of scenarios. There is no doubt that Frank Strukel relinquished the child he thought was his with emotional regret. When discussing baby names when Helen again became pregnant in 1948, he brought up the name Carol as a way to remember his first child. That daughter, Dianne, remembers overhearing a conversation as a child between her parents regarding an adopted baby, fearing that she was the adopted child they were discussing. Memories of the child born on the last day of 1946 was rarely far from either of their minds.

Very soon after discovering my mother's unknown paternity, and at the beginning of my search, I remarked to my cousin Lisa that I would now be blessed with FOUR grandfathers: my father's father, Dean William Lacopo, Sr.; the father of my mother who raised her with devoted love and affection and was the grandfather of my childhood; Raymond Ezio DePrato; the father of my mother who lived his adult life thinking he relinquished his daughter and loved her from afar in his own personal way, Frank Louis Strukel; and as then the yet-unidentified biological father of my mother that gave her life.

That man was Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty.

In 1946, this man was known as Jim Daugherty. Whereas Helen had to carry her child, hold her after her birth, arrange for another couple to raise her, and tell her goodbye; Jim's function in my mother's creation was likely limited to one physically gratifying encounter with my grandmother. He never knew of his child's existence. He didn't even have to sign away paternal rights to her adoption. He lived his life from that pivotal moment in the spring of 1946 blissfully unaware.

That does not make him any less significant in my mother's existence, and therefore in my own. I tend to be prone to deep introspective thought, and I get my mind blown by deep existential reflection of the fate of my very being had that random encounter not occurred. And as a genetic genealogist and a medical professional, I am fascinated by the parts of me, physically and emotionally, that are "Daugherty". In the "nature versus nurture" debate, I firmly believe there is an enormous amount of nature involved. And so who Jim Daugherty was, who he is, where he came from, and what makes him tick are subjects vitally important to me.

And these things I believe are also vitally important to my mother. But early in my search, her interest was primarily academic. By identifying that her paternity was not what she had been told thirty-two years previously, I changed her story. I altered her perception of her creation. And so a new story had to be written, but this time the actors of the original script were gone. Helen could answer no questions. She could confirm no doubts. She could not be asked to recall any stories. And whomever the man was that also entered the stage in 1946 was likely gone too. The story would be mostly conjecture. As a genealogist, I was compelled to refill my emptied family tree of one-quarter of its previous inhabitants. And as a son, I need to answer the questions I had now laid before my mother.

Since the early assumption was that my missing grandfather would be approaching 100 years of age, there was no anticipation of meeting the man who was her father. And even on the infinitely small chance that I would find a living being, my mother was decidedly disinterested in meeting a man who had no emotional ties to her mother and had no knowledge of her existence. The question was mostly raised when discussing the possibility of finding half-siblings, but again, she felt there would be nothing more than a biological connection. She could see no reason to insert herself into anyone else's lives and create the potential for emotional upheaval. But there was curiosity about what this man may have looked like. Where was he from, and what did he do? Questions that were mostly biographical and mostly based on curiosity.

As my DNA research dragged on, my mother's interest waned even more from the beginning mediocre curiosity. She held little interest in hearing my news of autosomal DNA match percentages . She saw more of a failure to identify a man with each test, rather than the pathway it was creating to  confirming the identity of her father. When the path led to a family unwilling to help us in our search, who selfishly responded that they thought the search was "useless and futile," my mother was even less interested in knowing the truth.

Even my excited phone call to my mother while driving to Dayton, Ohio, outlying the surprise discovery of two Daugherty brothers, one of whom was likely her father, met with little outward emotion. I had made numerous phone calls like this before, discussing candidates to test, and how they seemed to be a good match to be her father. All of them ended with no answers. Perhaps the perceived closeness of the AncestryDNA connection didn't really sink into my mother's mind during that phone call. After all, I had been babbling about DNA continually for much of the preceding year.

"Just let me know when you know something."

At 12:59 p.m., on the afternoon of Wednesday, 22 October 2014, I shot a brief, shocked email to Donna, who had been my contact to Brighton Daugherty, informing her that the profile she created revealed that he was my grandfather.

At 1:09 p.m. I called my mother.

In preparing to write this blog, I called my mother and asked her about that fateful afternoon phone call. Frankly, after the exciting culmination of an enormous amount of time, money, and effort, I had no real recollection of it. I can tell you that my phone indicates that we spoke for thirty minutes and twenty-two seconds.

I don't recall shouting, sobbing, wailing, laughter, crying, comforting, or any cork-popping champagne moments. Nor does my mother.

Oh, I was excited. My heart was beating wildly, and my brain was processing rapidly, but still woefully behind on sorting all the miscellaneous data I had accumulated in my head.

The agreed upon consensus between my mother and myself was that the overriding emotion of the phone call was shock.

"Mom, it's me. Remember the AncestryDNA match I told you about the other day? His data just finished processing on the other site I needed to use to understand how he is related." 
"He's your father. Harold James Daugherty is your father."
"And he's alive."

Silence. Shock. Processing.

"I need to meet him. When can I meet him?"

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Centimorgans or Percentages?

Average Estimated cMs for Autosomal Testing Comparisons. click to enlarge
Kristina Gow Dunnaway, ISOGG Facebook Page, 2014, used with permission

I will take a moment away from the narrative to answer the most commonly presented question put to me by readers regarding autosomal DNA matching.

And yes, I just heard that audible group sigh from all of you chomping at the bit to hear about my mother's reunion with her father. All in due time. All in due time. 

But let's start out the new year right. It is important for all genealogists - novice and experienced alike - to start 2015 with a cheek swab or a vial of saliva. And if your response is that you have already done so, then you need to start 2015 getting your older relatives, who are regrettably finite resources, to spit or scrape. Remember that DNA testing benefits both you, the researcher, and those out there desperately looking for a match. Take a lesson from what you have read in my blog. My path to Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, my grandfather, began with my mother's relatively tiny 0.52% match to Brighton's first cousin, thrice removed: Brian Joseph Ryder. 

Brian's great-great-grandmother, Bertha Daugherty, was a woman who died at the age of thirty-six years: sixty-three years before Brian Ryder was born. He never knew the woman. He never knew her name. When he started to poke around into his ancestry at the time of his 23andMe test, she became a passing fill-in-the-blank on his family tree. But Bertha's brother, Ira Daugherty, was my great-grandfather, and Ira's son was the man I spent 2014 searching for.

If Brian Ryder had not tested out of sheer curiosity, I would not have had the starting point for my search.

The larger the various DNA databases become, the more helpful they will become to the genealogist, the adoptee searching for his or her birthparents, the foundling with no history at all, the millions of children born of sperm and egg donations that have made modern-day genealogy so technologically baffling. DNA testing helps everyone.

Do it. Do it now.

So that takes me back to the question I am asked most frequently.

When I discuss relationships and DNA matching, I often do so in terms of percentages. It is one way that 23andMe lists their genetic matches, and the mathematics makes more sense to me and my analytical brain. I have posted a graphic with my blogs indicating how known relationships should theoretically match each other by percentages. Siblings match each other by 50%. Half-siblings match each other by 25%. First cousins match each other by 12.5%. And the biggest revelation for my search came when my mother matched Ken Ryder by over 4%; and I knew second cousins match on the average of 3.125%.

But not all DNA sites list percentages. And the total amount of DNA tested by each company varies slightly, as well as how they report it. Additionally, the percentages by which different sexes match is skewed a bit by counting the matches on the X-chromosome, as women have two of these to the man's one. Roughly, the centimorgans of DNA you match with another person divided by 6800-7100 should give you a ballpark percentage.

What the hell is a centimorgan anyway?

Wikipedia defines it this way. "In genetics, a centimorgan (abbreviated cM) ... is a unit for measuring genetic linkage. It is defined as the distance between chromosome positions (also termed, loci or markers) for which the expected average number of intervening chromosomal crossovers in a single generation is 0.01. It is often used to infer distance along a chromosome. It is not a true physical distance however."

Confused? Don't be. What I wanted to point out by this definition is that a centimorgan is not a tangible distance, such as an inch or a centimeter. It does infer a length of segmentation along a chromosome, and as genealogists we can think of it as a "sort of distance." All DNA testing companies report the amount of DNA you share with a match in centimorgans.  When you upload your results to, the many user tools also show matches in centimorgans and not percentages.

Oh, and when I say you should all get autosomal DNA tested in 2015, that automatically means you have to follow up with an upload of your results to If you are only going to test through one company (cheapskate), you can still compare your results to others on who have tested through other platforms, and who have also uploaded their results to this site. It's free. Free is good.

Do it. Do it now.

So I am presenting you here with a chart similar to the one I have posted before in which the percentages of DNA are shown that you have in common with known stated relationships. This chart I give you today shows you the theoretical average of shared DNA you have with known stated relationships in centimorgans. This handy chart was made by Kristina Gow Dunnaway, and she gives permission for its reproduction and personal use. If you publish a book with this chart included and make a ton of money, that's another story, but I will leave copyright law to Judy Russell at Home - The Legal Genealogist.

You will see that the chart uses 6800 cM of autosomal DNA (atDNA) as its base figure for total DNA measured per person. This is the amount tested by FamilyTreeDNA. A more detailed discussion regarding the numbers game, the testing companies, and counting the pesky X-chromosome can be found at the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)'s wiki page at Autosomal DNA statistics - ISOGG Wiki. I have visited this page so often my browser recognizes it as soon as I type "au" only.

And remember, Mother Nature does not follow the rules set out on either one of the charts that I have given you. These are averages. The numbers are based on a purely theoretical assumption that DNA is passed perpetually in a tidy 50:50 split every generation. It is not. The only true 50:50 split you will ever get is a child compared to his or her parents.

The key to remember is that the larger the number, the more reliable the relationship assessment should be. I knew at the beginning of my search that my mother's father was not the man she thought he was, because she matched her sister by only 26% (1935 cM). There is no way you can make an argument for that being a full-sibling relationship. But as the numbers become smaller and smaller, the known relationship gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Additionally, remember that if you have cousin marriages in your ancestry or come from a highly admixed population that may have had limited choices for marital partners, due to say religion or perhaps geographical isolation, the numbers become wonkier and less defining. The more families intermarry and their common ancestors' DNA is "reinserted" into their offspring, the more of it will be passed to the present generation. The numbers will be larger than expected.

Remember when I said life was messy?

Get busy setting up the 2015 budget, and make sure there are ample resources set aside for DNA!