The Unexpected Bounty of DNA Testing – Friends and Family of Heart

Bill and Sandie Lakner, with me in the middle.

When I first started with genetic genealogy in the year 2000, I was interested in proving (or disproving) specific stories about my Estes ancestors as well as learning more about as many family lines as I could.

I hoped that I would meet new cousins that perhaps would have information that I don’t, and who would be willing to share.

What I never imagined, and I almost hate to admit this, is that I’d find a whole new group of friends.

I have always been a rather solitary researcher, in part because I don’t live anyplace near where my ancestors did. There are no records where I live for what I need to research, so the local genealogy societies hold little allure for me. In fact, in my state, I AM the immigrant, more or less. The ‘more or less” part of that comment will have to wait for another day and has to do with my father being stationed nearby in the military.

Several years ago, when autosomal DNA was added to the genetic genealogists menu, I began to hear from LOTS and LOTS of people. In fact, so many that one of the reasons I introduced my blog and began to write educational articles was as a form of self-defense. Between the blog and the projects I administer at Family Tree DNA, I found myself answering the same questions over and over again, so writing a nice article with graphics where I could refer people seemed like a great idea. Never did I imagine the blog would actually increase the amount of communications, but it did!

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this for 17 years now, almost half of my adult life. I’ve met people at conferences and many have become friends. There are people I’ve been fortunate to find that have my back when I need help or am in some kind of pickle. I know just who to refer to for what topic and I’ve been the beneficiary of MANY excellent researchers and kind souls. I’m grateful to and for every one.

Project administrators and those of us with specialty skills try to help everyone, but demand has been increasing like a tsunami. Now, that’s the good news, because an incredible number of people are testing, but it’s also the bad news because it necessitates brevity sometimes and a standard reply to many inquiries.

Somehow in the midst of this swirl, over the years, I have found new friends that stand apart from the rest and are truly near and dear to my heart. Some have specific interests that are similar to my own, but others, for some reason, have simply become friends, close friends, near and dear to my heart.

I’ve even adopted a new brother, John, not to be confused with my half-brother John. (Yes, I now have my brother John and my other brother John.)

It’s like we were all destined to meet and have been waiting for this moment all of our lives. Once we do finally meet, it’s like we’ve always known each other.

If you’re one of those people, you know who you are. You are my family of heart.

Family of heart becomes increasingly important as your family of blood becomes smaller and smaller and is geographically distant. In my case, exacerbating the situation, I moved away. I’m not alone though, because many other people are displaced too, becoming effectively an immigrant family of one in a new community someplace with no family nearby. Those people are much more likely, I think, to develop family of heart relationships.

E-mail, Facebook and other forms of communications have made distant friendships easier. It’s easier for family to keep current with each other as well.

Bill and Sandie Lakner

Enter Bill and Sandie Lakner, several years ago.

I would like to tell you that I remember the first communication from Sandie, but I don’t. I do know that what began as questions about DNA results years ago has evolved into shared genealogy hunts, finds, discussions about children, grandchildren, pets, movies, gardens and Hurricane Sandy – not to be confused with Sandie.

Our topics jump around like neighbors chatting over the fence.

We don’t “talk” daily, but often and usually electronically.  We keep in touch and have for years now, defying the odds of internet friendships and short attention spans. We check on each other when we know something difficult is happening in someone’s life or bad weather is bearing down.

Then, last week, I received an e-mail from Sandie telling me that she and Bill would be passing nearby while returning home from a visit to Minnesota in the next day or so.

Could they meet us for coffee?

Could they?

I was so excited and was hoping the schedule would allow more than coffee. As luck would have it, our time was limited, but we made the most of it.

The Quest

What fun we had!

We immediately began discussing Bill’s “secret quest,” or better stated, his quest to solve the family secret.

Bill was hoping his trip to Minnesota would yield information, and maybe, just maybe, a descendent of each of the male children of Joseph Lakner (1876-1926) who is willing to DNA test. Yes, we were discussing paternal ancestry and DNA.

More particularly, which of Joseph Lakner’s sons is Bill’s father?

By the way, if you are the child, either male or female, of one of Joseph Lakner’s male children and are willing to DNA test, please contact me (and I’ll put you in touch with Bill) or simply order a Family Finder test through this link at Family Tree DNA.

Social Faux Pas

Genetic genealogists sometimes forget that our topics aren’t entirely mainstream.

As we sat at our corner table in the local Big Boy, excitedly talking, I said to Bill, “You remember, that was my brother who wasn’t my brother…..”

About that time, the server who was entering orders into a computer turned around with a slack-jawed, rather incredulous, look on his face. I think he had to see just WHO was having this discussion, because…you know…”old people” don’t discuss those kinds of things. These kinds of “things” and resulting scandals were invented by the younger generation…said with tongue firmly in cheek.

The server was standing behind Bill, so Bill couldn’t see, but Sandie and I could. I fought laughter, immediately lowered my voice and attempted to do some amount of social recovery, but in the midst of the next sentence that had something to do with my father being married to both mothers at the same time, the server’s head came whipping around again, this time, with him staring over the top of his glassed to garner a better view.

I mean, who *are* these rowdy people anyway, and did they escape from the facility down the street? They are clearly demented. Should I call someone?

Sandie and I both saw this entire exchange and both began laughing uncontrollably, to the point that we couldn’t speak to explain. The look on Bill’s face only made it funnier, and then the server turned around once again and asked if we were laughing at his shock. Then he tried social recovery, but ran out of words and finally just muttered, “Hmmm….” and shook his head.

The entire exchange left everyone laughing to the point of tears. My poor husband was looking around, hoping no one recognized him.

It felt so good to be laughing together – friends who had been friends “forever” but had never met before.

Family of Heart

By the end of our very short hour or so, we were left wishing we were those neighbors who could visit over the fence. If we lived near each other, Sandie would know where everything in my kitchen is kept and vice versa and the guys would know how to start each other’s lawn mowers. Our kids would know each other, and our pets would greet each other like family. We had met our family of heart.

The field of genetic genealogy has truly blessed me in ways that I never expected and could never have imagined. Not only does DNA connect us across the world, literally, the topic of DNA connects us to one another as well.

Initially Bill’s search was to find his paternal family, specifically which Lakner male is his father. It’s a story to rival any soap opera, is still not solved and Bill would love to find the answer.

But never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine that through this process, we would become family of choice. Sometimes it’s the human part of the connection that is the most important and not the genetics. Sometimes our family of choice is the best family of all!



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19 thoughts on “The Unexpected Bounty of DNA Testing – Friends and Family of Heart

  1. Family genealogy can be a lonely hobby, particularly if there are no immediate family members that have caught the bug. As one state historian said to me, “At family gatherings, some relatives are just bored to tears when it comes to family history and research. The kindred spirits I’ve encountered will always be cherished.

    On a lighter note, Ancestry connected me to a 3rd cousin through records research. Later, atDNA tests confirmed the relationship. This cousin has traveled within our region to meet several DNA matches, including myself. We both found it humorous that her adult children are concerned that she may be at risk of meeting a DNA match at a Dunkin Donuts, that is a serial killer out of a Stephen King novel.

    It’s good our adult children are concerned about our personal safety on the research and discovery trail. I wish I could get them equally excited about helping me map our chromosomes. LOL

  2. Today’s blog I am sure struck a chord will all of the genetic genealogy practitioners. Personally, this spring, I have been privy to what I am now call my DNA novels. Of course they are not novels, but reality. The backgrounds were made of family lore, undisclosed adoptions and the like. While the mysteries were unfolding and the information disclosed, I could not get myself to watch TV or read anything, because all of it seems so bland in comparison.

    But the difficulty I now have, is of course these stories are not mine, even if I was instrumental in discovering the truth. Not everyone wants to share what they dug up.

    My advice to people who are not sure if they want to be tested is: go ahead, but be warned that you may find things you were not looking for. If your initial reaction is “but these results don’t make sense”, they probably do – they may depict a reality that you were not aware of.

    • An elderly cousin of mine often uses this quote when her contemporaries shudder, wince, or object to her enthusiasm about genetic genealogy.
      “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
      George Bernard Shaw
      Irish playwright

  3. Roberta teaches how the availability of records online, the ability to create and share family trees, the usefulness of DNA testing to connect family trees and living persons, the use of social media and email all come together to further our success in our genetic-genealogy work. This time she shows how all these things can result in our having some FUN!! A good blog article for the summer: right now many of us are wanting to take some time off–to connect with friends and family, and just enjoy our lives! Time is limited, she reminds us, but that having meaningful relationships is what it’s all about–and not to be afraid of having a bit of fun in the mix! Thank you for another good article, Roberta!

  4. Beautiful story and so true. The meeting story gave me such a laugh as I’ve had this happen too. Non genealogists t

    Went to a out of town family members baby shower yesterday and when the parents and grandparents of the father to be found out he did the autosomal test they all wanted to test and his dad even was able to identify some family surnames of his sons matches. Step Father in law brought out his grandfathers family tree. As a project admin I normally keep kits and take them with me but never thought about taking them to a baby shower.

  5. Roberta, you are a sweetheart. This is your best article ever. It’s the journey, not the destination. Something sailor’s say…

  6. L O V E . Thank you!
    You have brought me back to the days when I was a child visiting my next door neighbors, listening to the grown-ups chatter over coffee while us kids play Old Maid card games. Now, my “grown up” neighbors are gone, and us kids are grandparents.

  7. Another great article Roberta. I wish I had discovered your blog a long time ago, especially since we are researching some of the same ancestors.
    I suppose every family has a family mystery like Bill Lakner. We convince ourselves that I’m the only one that has these roadblocks. I have two, and have previously mentioned them to you, but let me reprise them briefly for the benefit of your readers.
    My own soap opera is whether my paternal Great-Grandfather changed his surname from Kay to Mason and if so, why? So far we’ve only been able to trace back to him and his possibly Kay father. No further. I hope the Y-DNA test results will help solve the mystery.
    The 2nd is just a good detective mystery. My maternal 3rd great-grandmother’s name on her marriage license was Vianna Rich, and she married my 3rd great-grandfather, George Rich. Of course the mystery is why her maiden name was already Rich, and who were her parents?. So far, I’ve not managed to use my mom’s mtDNA results to help. But I hope to eventually crack this nut.
    One more item even more important. I’ve been helping my stepdad with his genealogy research on his father’s side. Some things didn’t look right to me, but eventually I was able to show through documented records that what he thought his paternal line was completely wrong and I documented his true line. It did take years for me to do that, but it paid off. He once told me that he really appreciated my help. He said that it was fun to research his genealogy, but he knew it was work for me since we weren’t related by blood. WRONG! First, I enjoy doing genealogy anyway and often help less experienced researchers. Second, we are all a product of both our DNA and our upbringing. His genealogy is just as much mine as it is his. In truth, I learned more of my values from my stepdad than my biological dad, although I love them both dearly.
    Finding new friends online or in real life is one of the most rewarding things about genealogy.
    I hope your upcoming trip is as productive as you would like it to be. Have fun.

  8. Roberta, thanks for sharing this idea of “family of heart”. It resonated so strongly with me as I have over the last few weeks coined a similar term “heart friends”. I have a friend I have known only a few years but I feel she is a special kind of friend I have a “heart” connection with. As the kids say: “same!”

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