The Virtue of Genealogy Patience

Gust Johnson

You know that Bible verse Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given to you, knock and you shall find?”  I believe it was really written for genealogists.  I would add to it – “though not immediately.”

In August, 2017, I sent an email query to a DNA cousin on Ancestry.  I recognized the surname, Chellburg, and knew immediately the relationship.  I was hoping to find a picture of my husband’s great grandmother, Louvisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson.  Louise had lived in the house my husband grew up in and when my husband’s parents were relocating, I claimed all the photos and letters that had been stored in a suitcase in the basement.  Of course they weren’t labeled.  We were able to identify just about everyone, however, and no photo was ever found to be of Louise.  Maybe she was camera shy or perhaps, when she moved in with another daughter the last year of her life, the pictures went with her.  I was really hoping the last scenario was the case.

Over the years, I’ve checked with all the closer relatives for a photo and no one had one so when the DNA match came up I immediately sent off a message.  Hey, I followed the Biblical directions – I asked and the email served as an electronic knock and then, well, I guess no one was home because I didn’t get a response.

Two years, two and a half months later I get an email back with the answer (paraphrased) – Sorry, I haven’t been on in a while.  I don’t have a picture of Louise but I have one of her husband, Gust Johnson.  I think another cousin, who’s 92, has the photos.  He’s got a lot but none our labeled.

Big surprise there – another box of unlabeled photos.  My husband had actually reached out to the older relative a few years ago but he didn’t respond.  Now I’m hoping that the DNA match can connect with him to find a photo.

I am many things but patient is not in my makeup so the waiting really is the hardest part of genealogy for me.


The Dark Side of DNA

Happy Dia Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  This year, for Halloween, one of my family members created two glow in the dark pumpkins and a skull and dressed a skeleton to look like Disney’s Coco’s grandpa, Hector.  Sneaky way to get little ones to learn about genealogy relationships!  It was quite lifelike, or should I write, really dead looking?  Two little girls burst into tears which was not my intention and I felt awful but the mom’s said they loved the movie.  I had to show the girls that it wasn’t real.  One little boy was so enamored he said he had questions for Hector and could he come inside.  I told him Hector wasn’t talking tonight and would want the boy to enjoy his candy collecting.  Ahh, children and genealogy, what an interesting mix.  Their reaction is just like adults – some run when you start asking about family history and others want all the details.  

Two weeks ago I wrote about DNA now being available from hair follicles.  Right after reading that article, I found another story that I suspect relates to it though the articles purpose is to bring up a controversial side of DNA and genealogy.  The Messy Consequences of the Golden State Killer Case by Sarah Zhang published in The Atlantic 1 October 2019 will give you a better understanding of why GedMatch and Family Tree Genealogy recently changed their policies. 

As technology evolves, past policies must be rethought.  I’ve blogged in the past about clients and colleagues mentioning that their returned DNA results were just plain wrong.  We all understand that DNA is a Pandora’s box of family secrets but it never crossed my mind that medical procedures acquired as an adult could skew the results.  When I read A Woman Found Her AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret also written by Sarah Zhang and published in The Atlantic on 13 September 2019, I was shocked by the findings.  I’m not going to give you a spoiler alert – you must read this article if you have DNA results that seem skewed.  Who would have thought this?!  Clearly not the specialists who first heard their patient’s stories.

Both articles are thought provoking whether you are a donor or are making the decision of sharing your DNA results.

The last DNA related article I’d like to share is a topic I’ve also blogged about in the past.  Accepting the foibles of your family history can be difficult.  Although the author, Ken Bradford, used DNA to build his tree, the old fashion research methods also provide the same results – acquiring the knowledge of the past sins of our forefathers.  Look What the DNA Brought In published in Notre Dame Magazine Autumn 2019 can be helpful if your wrestling with the dark side of your family findings.

All of this is quite spooky, don’t you think?  Happy Day of the Dead