Currently there is a television program called, "Who Do You Think You Are? that is gaining in popularity as more and more people become interested in the stories of their ancestors. The Family History Librarian Kim Farah says genealogy is the fastest growing hobby in the World.
As early as I can remember I was always listening to what the elders of my families had to say. I was so excited to hear any tales of their deceased relatives. However, I was a little bit tuned in more when my grandmother mentioned that she wasn't for sure who her paternal grandfather's name was. So for her birthday I decided to learn what I could of her progenitor and present it to her as a gift. From that moment on I would always be looking for relatives, dead or alive.
I have researched both sides of my family for over thirty years and felt pretty confident and sorta cocky that I didn't just think, I knew who I was. But then, my cousin received his DNA test results.
From this moment on in this story the names have been changed to protect the family members from history that hasn't been knowledge to all.
The surname on the birth certificate is Adams but my grandmother had divorced him when my mother was three years old and soon afterwards married a man by the surname of DeSpain. Because she was too young to remember the Adams husband and she has used the DeSpain name her whole life, it was easy to overlook the discrepancy. There were no pictures and the only reference to Adams was made when she was about fourteen years old and her Daddy had just died. Grandmother told me that Adams was a handsome soldier who she married on a bet before he went back oversears to France. A couple of years later she fell in love with DeSpain and my mother was born. Then she and Adams divorced. Even on her deathbed, 20 years later, she assured my mother she was a DeSpain.
The DeSpain ancestry her been traced back to 18th century England, I then organized a Depain family reunion, and named my son Richard Depain Weeks. Last week we learned that we don't have even one single tiny drop of DeSpain blood in our veins. I wonder if grandmother used wishful thinking to determine our paternity or didn't really know herself. Many families in Genealogy have this same situation. Either way, it doesn't change the love we have for our parents or family. But we sure are curious about our biological grandfather.
The next logical step is determine if DeSpain actually was her father. I am working on her lines of paternal now. But, you have to be very careful when contacting strangers over the phone or through the internet and ask such personal questions. Are you invading their privacy, upsetting current family dynamics, or revealing a child no one knew about? Will you be perceived as having ulterior motives, such as seeking inheritance? Fortunately, I was lucky enough to quickly connect with a DeSpain and Adams historian who has none of these reservations and understands my only desire is to know the identity of our biological grandfather. He was willing to take a DNA test if necessary.
There are currently three DNA test to choose from. The yDNA test is for men. It traces father to son (direct paternal) through hundreds of years. My cousin took this test and found that he descends from 500 BC Vikings. mtDNA is for women. We pass mtDNA (direct maternal) to our children. Both the female and male child receives mtDNA but only the female passes it on. Because a women commonly change last names when marrying, mtDNA is more difficult to track. The final and most immediately helpful DNA test my brother took. It only goes back a few generations but it covers both paternal and maternal ancestors.
The most popular DNA testing facilities are Family Tree Maker's Family Finder and 23 and Me. David and I used Family Finder as it is more genealogically based whereas 23 and Me is primarily medically directed. There is no blood or needles involved -- just a cheek swab two mornings in a row with Family Finder. The Kit is mailed to your home with a postage paid return envelope so it is all very easily and professionally done. Each test has a different price point but the autosomal DNA kit cost around $160. A few weeks later your report is posted on the Family Finder website and you are emailed a kit number and password to view the results. That's when the fun begins.
I know Grandmother was a pretty, popular, and rebellious teenager with an adventurous spirit and a determination to be independent. If it turns out DeSpain is not her biological father, and that certainly is a possibility, then we are left to wonder who is. As my mind searches for clues, I recall Grandmother saying she once had cocktails in Memphis with a little-known local singer named Elvis...Who knows, "Who do we Think We Are?"
I welcome comments, queries, and suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Ms. Genealogist, P.O. Box 504, Harrisburg, AR 72432.