Sunday, April 8, 2018

DNA - What does it matter?

Growing up I got used to hearing, "What does it matter?" from my mother when I would ask about my father's family.  He had used an alias for much of his adult life and I wanted to know why.  I wanted to know when they got married and why my brothers had a different last name.  I wanted to know but Dad died young and Mom wouldn't talk about it at all.

Dad with either my brother Jim or
Floyd. Why was this photo cut?
Was someone intentionally cut out?
In January, I spit into a tube and found out.

DNA has played a pivotal role in my life in the last three years, ever since a grandson was born with an extraordinarily rare genetic defect.  That led me to research the topic and write a book about it.  Things got a lot more personal when I turned the search toward my own DNA.

Through simple records searches, I and a few family members found some answers.  But Dad had intentionally obscured his family line, and when real names and dates are unavailable, it is much more difficult to search documents.  DNA changed all that.

After nearly seven decades of knowing next to nothing about my father's family, I have unearthed his line back into the 1700s, at least.  I have located a few not-so-distant cousins, but unfortunately, most of my aunts, uncles, and first cousins have all died.  I still have a few to track down, but I don't hold out much hope of finding them alive.

In the last year, this took on new urgency for me as I lost both my remaining brothers, my only siblings. I felt the press of time and have devoted more effort to this than may seem necessary to some.  At one point in recent years, I decided to just make up a narrative about my family as the truth was so elusive, but this is so much more satisfying.

I only knew my dad for seven years.  I knew him to be gentle but a stern taskmaster.  I knew he expected me and my brothers to toe the line, do things right, to not cut corners, to be honest, and live right. I now know that stemmed from his own early life of crime and deception, a fact he left out of his narratives. For while he tried to instill in us these virtues, he did so with lies and with subterfuge. Whether he did so out of shame or fear that telling us the truth would burden us with his sins, I will never know.  What I do know is that this cost me and my brothers a family we might have had.

Most of the death dates I have found on close relatives are within the last 30 years.  I might have met them.  I might have liked them.  They might have had stories to tell.  But it is too late now. I believe I may be the only person left who knew my dad, who cares.  And it still matters to me.

1 comment:

  1. this is fascinating. Of course it matters, it's part of who you are, genetically and personally. Keep hunting. someone might show up.