Saturday, May 18, 2019

Family Rumors Beget A Genetic Conundrum

Who was my grandfather Frank's mother?

Two long-simmering family rumors offer conflicting stories. With none of the parties still alive, it's no longer possible to question anyone who had firsthand knowledge.

Charles and Angela raised Frank as if he were their own child. But was he?

While it's true that Angela was married to Charles, recent DNA testing confirmed that Frank was not his son.

Perhaps DNA could offer clarity nearly ninety years after Frank's birth and almost three decades since his passing.

Let's take a closer look at the two rumors.

Family Rumor #1


The first family rumor was that Angela had an extramarital relationship with a man named Sam, and that Sam was Frank's biological father.

A granddaughter of Angela and Charles remembers her mother saying that Charles, "slept in a separate room from Angela because of the affair and that Frank's biological father was some guy that worked on the water reservoir by their house."

Another granddaughter remembers signs of estrangement between Angela and Charles. She recalled that, "Charles slept in a separate room from Angela, first in the smaller room upstairs and then in the basement when they finished a room in that area."

Family Rumor #1: Frank is the son of Angela and Sam

DNA testing (both autosomal and Y) has confirmed that Charles is not the father and that Sam (or one of his brothers) is the father (see A Family History Mystery Revealed). The nature of the relationship between Angela and Sam remains a mystery.

Family Rumor #2


Both granddaughters also remember a second rumor, which conflicted with the first.

In this story, Frank was allegedly the son of Julia - a daughter of Charles and Angela.

At the time of Frank's birth, Julia was just 16 years old and already married to a man named Earl. Julia and Earl had lost a baby a year and a half before Frank's birth when she was only 15 years old. 

Family Rumor #2: Frank is the son of Julia and Sam

Distilling Truth From The Paper Trail


Frank's original birth certificate hints at the validity of Family Rumor #1.

Shockingly, Frank's surname matched Sam's and not Charles'.

But there were also possible attempts to obfuscate the truth perhaps in a bid for discretion.

The father's first name was listed as a diminutive of Sam's middle name.

Also, the first name of the mother was listed as Agnes instead of Angela, and the mother's surname was Angela's maiden name not her married name. Was she trying to afford herself some cover for the birth of a child outside of her marriage?

The mother's age at last birthday was listed as 37. This matched Angela's age when she conceived, but she was actually three months into her 38th year when Frank was born. In any case, it seems unlikely that a hospital registrar would mistake a 38-year-old woman for a 16-year-old teenager.

Frank's birth certificate also included the prior number of children born to the mother: four total but only three living. This correctly matched the number of children Angela had given birth to and lost.

Lastly, an address was provided for the mother. It was Angela's home address.

Genetic Conundrum


While the paper trail hinted at a preferred family rumor, I wondered if I could eliminate Family Rumor #2 as a contender.

The best way to pinpoint Frank's mother would be with DNA.

Family Rumor #1 by the DNA

Three of Frank's children have completed autosomal DNA tests. Charles and Angela had a son; a daughter of this son has also tested. If Family Rumor #1 was true, Frank's three children would be half first cousins to this granddaughter of Charles and Angela.

Alleged family relationship per Family Rumor #1

How did their results compare? Let's have a look.


Curiously, there was quite a spread between Frank's three children and the amount of centimorgans they each shared with the granddaughter. 

Across the board, they were all below the average amount of shared DNA commonly seen with half first cousin relationships (per Blaine Bettinger's Shared cM Project). However, all three fell comfortably within the range of shared DNA for this relationship level.

Takeaway? Family Rumor #1 was genetically possible.

Family Rumor #2 by the DNA

If Family Rumor #2 were true, Frank's three children would be first cousins once removed with the granddaughter.

Alleged family relationship per Family Rumor #2

How did their shared amounts of DNA compare with averages for that relationship level as tallied by the Shared cM Project?


Across the board, the amount of DNA they each shared was below the average for first cousins once removed. Once again, the amount of DNA they shared fell within the range for the relationship level of Family Rumor #2.

Takeaway? Family Rumor #2 also appeared to be genetically possible.

Dueling Rumors Linger


I hoped for a more definitive answer that would knock Family Rumor #2 out of the running, but it seems I cannot comfortably do that on numbers alone.

The birth certificate adds credibility to the first rumor, but was it possible that Angela could have had her name added as the mother's to spare her daughter marital angst and public shame? I don't know when, where or by whom the birth record was completed (although it was signed by a Dr. Felix affirming he attended the birth of the child). If it was at the hospital then that lends credibility to Family Rumor #1. If not, a gap opens up where Family Rumor #2 could slip in.

How else might I resolve this genetic conundrum and finally settle which family rumor was fact?