Things That Need To Be Said: Adoption, Adultery, Coercion, Rape and DNA

doesn't add up

What happens when DNA results don’t add up?

Recently I wrote about how to distinguish genetically if two people are full or half siblings. Sometimes people who thought they were full siblings turn out only to be half siblings, and it’s a painful discovery.

What do people immediately assume when a father turns out not to be who he’s expected to be?

What’s the first thought that jumped into your head?

Somebody was cheating, yes?!!

And that somebody was obviously the female who became pregnant, right?

Now she’s caught thanks to DNA.

Hold on.

Not so fast.

Mis-attributed Parentage

I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about NPEs, Non-Parental Events, also known as mis-attributed paternity (MPE,) undocumented adoptions and probably other terms too.

In essence, when the expected father turns out not to be the biological father. I suspect that the uptick in discussion is a direct result of the significant number of people DNA testing today.

For the most part, when there were few autosomal testers, unless someone failed to match against the known close family members who had already tested, the situation remained largely undiscovered.

However, today with more and more testers, it’s common for people to have several close matches, which makes the absence of a first or second cousin, aunt, uncle, sibling or parent match stand out like a sore thumb – throbbing painfully and demanding answers.

And of course, when a child and parent don’t match, it’s immediately evident to all parties concerned. And, it’s excruciating.

When DNA test results arrive and reveal unexpected surprises, it can be quite uncomfortable and will throw your world into a tailspin. And that’s, um, let’s just say putting it mildly.

It’s disconcerting enough when you don’t match to a couple – which implies an adoption of some sort. When you match half of the couple, that’s a horse of a different color.

Typically, a half match will mean that you match the female’s side of the family, but not the male’s.

It’s particularly difficult when a father or grandfather is not who the family believes that person to be. You probably knew them and if not, other family members did.

The first thing that springs to mind is that someone was “cheating” on their spouse. And that someone was your mother or grandmother – another person you know and love.

To make matters even more awkward, one or both of the couple involved may still be living.


Infidelity is probably not the first thing that should be considered in situations like these. Let’s look at this from the other perspective. How might this have happened if the female wasn’t unfaithful?

I’ve worked with genetic genealogy cases, including these types of surprises for 19 years now, and the truth is sometimes quite different.

Aside from infidelity which is really the last possibility we should consider, there other scenarios that are at least as likely, in no particular order:

  • Infertility/sperm donation
  • Adoption, either legal (through the courts) or someone, possibly a family member, taking a child to raise
  • Sexual Assault – meaning rape
  • Coercion
  • Agreed-upon lifestyle

Furthermore, even if the event that led to the pregnancy was consensual, people can and do make what they later consider to be errors in judgement, especially when alcohol is involved. Anyone here never make a mistake? Didn’t think so.

Looking back, it’s difficult to be too harsh because you wouldn’t be who you are and your siblings wouldn’t be who they are if those long-ago events had unfolded differently. Our ancestors, including our parents, weren’t saints. Many women stayed in “bad” marriages which may have made an emotional respite look particularly attractive.

I try very hard to stay away from moral judgement without knowing the full story – and most of the time – that’s something we will never know for one of many reasons.

Let’s start out by looking at some potential reasons for a parental mismatch that don’t involve infidelity, meaning deception.

Infertility, Sperm Donation, Lifestyle and Adoption

Fertility issues have plagued couples ever since there have been couples. Adoption speaks for itself, but many adoptions were hidden from children and family members -and often remain so until a DNA result exposes the secret.

If the father that raised the person isn’t the biological father, the mother may or may not be the biological mother.

Some adoptions are uni-parental, meaning a step-father adopts the child. This happened often. Historically, this is especially prevalent in situations where the mother had the first child without being married and the family was attempting to protect both the mother and the child from the social condemnation and stigma of illegitimacy, or “bastardry” as it was called in the legal records at one time. It’s no wonder that no one talked about this and the situation was treated as a dark secret. Conversely, in some historical cases, I think that at the time “everyone knew,” but didn’t discuss it, and there was no reason to record the information.

However, when working with more contemporary adoption records, it may appear that both parents adopted the child, when in fact only one was not the biological parent. Michigan is one of those states. In order for the step-father to adopt a child, the mother must give up her parental rights and the couple adopts the child together. If you’re thinking this is going to play havoc with future genealogists, you’re right, it is.

Without that legal adoption information, genetically it “looks” like the mother is the mother, but the father isn’t the father – and a uni-parental adoption is NOT the first thing that comes to mind. Infidelity is.

If DNA results indicate that the mother is the mother but the man she was married to at the time is not the biological father, it’s certainly possible that sperm donation was utilized. The first successful pregnancy from frozen semen occurred in 1953, meaning the resulting children could be retirement age today.

Before “official” sperm donation, let’s just say that sometimes couples took care of the issue themselves, in the old-fashioned way. You may discover evidence of the result without understanding the situation. That’s just not something couples shared with other people for a wide variety of reasons – but I know of at least two separate situations where this occurred and was known within the immediate family. In one case, the mutually agreed upon “donor” was the man’s brother.

This also touches upon an open lifestyle situation – meaning that the couple agreed to have an non-monogamous sexual relationship of some form. “Key parties” in my parent’s generation are legendary – a form of adult spin-the-bottle. In my circle of friends, someone discovered this “recreational event” was occurring at their parents’ parties and let’s just say we teens discussed it endlessly. We vacillated between being horrified and entranced. Don’t expect to find grandma discussing this at the holiday table – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Our ancestors were human too. Customs and taboos revolving around sexual relationships are cultural and vary by time and place. “Rules” are created by people, and people are always breaking the rules. Some things never change.

The above scenarios represent a range of perfectly legitimate reasons why a DNA result may not reflect the parent of record but don’t represent wrongdoing or betrayal by either party. It’s just that today, we don’t have that background information – our only view is through the genetic results and we have to infer the rest.

Of course, there are other much more unpleasant scenarios that need to be considered too.


Rape is pretty straightforward, or at least it seems so on the surface, but even rape may hold darker secrets. Rape can be a violent crime, meaning the “in the alley” type of rape where a woman doesn’t know her assailant. However, that’s not the most common rape scenario.

In the majority of cases the female knows her rapist. He might be a boyfriend, or even more disconcerting, a family member. And she may not have been old enough to consent, even if the assault wasn’t overtly violent.

She may never have “told” because of fear, misplaced shame, she didn’t think she would be believed or for fear that her situation would become worse, not better. She may also have been threatened, implicitly or explicitly.

She may have been too young or naïve to understand that while she was “seduced,” she was not responsible and she was not able at her young age to give consent. Many adult seducers tell their underage victims that they love them and if they tell, they will both get in trouble for their “love.” Often the seducer aka rapist inflicts guilt on the young female for “enjoying it.” Often the rapist will “treat” their victim to make them feel special. Oprah Winfrey’s rapist, her 19 year old cousin, bought 9 year old Oprah an ice cream cone afterwards.

If just reading these words makes you uncomfortable, welcome to a peek inside the world of being a victim.


A middle ground is coercion, where the female doesn’t really have the ability to say no, or she was deceived or pressured into doing something she didn’t freely want, understand or consent to do.

The most poignant example I can think of is a slave woman. Could a slave realistically say “no”? If not, maybe she simply didn’t physically resist because resistance was futile and would only result in her being whipped as well. “Not resisting” under these circumstances is not at all the same as freely given consent.

I know women personally that have yielded or “agreed” to sexual relationships to keep their jobs, especially if they were raising children alone. That’s coercion, plain and simple, where one person holds power over the other. Most women (and some men) have experienced something similar.

In my own case, I refused the advances of an older male supervisor when I was in my 90-day probationary period at a well-paying civil service job (post office) when I was in college. The result is exactly what you might expect, I was let go before my 90 day probationary period ended.

Did I regret my decision? Not one bit, but I was also furious with no possible recourse. I did report the fact that the supervisor arrived uninvited and unwelcome at my home when my husband was working, along with his behavior, but of course, nothing at all was done – except me being punished by being let go. The supervisor denied everything. To be clear, I was not raped, but it was either “put out or lose your job.”

I was married with a child. I needed that job, but I was not entirely dependent on it for the family income. Not to mention, I’m incredibly tenacious (nice word for stubborn) and threatening me is exactly how NOT to get what you want.

What would have happened to an unmarried woman with a child who was entirely dependent on that job? This situation is not the exception and vulnerable women are often targeted and preyed upon.

Women also know and knew then that victims were often blamed, so women didn’t and don’t volunteer for a second humiliation on top of what has already happened. Justice is and was seldom served.


I know these are uncomfortable thoughts and rape is an incredibly ugly word, but the conclusion that your ancestor, a woman you know and love, “cheated” shouldn’t be considered simply because it’s easier to ponder than the fact that she might have been raped, coerced or been intoxicated.

Setting aside the topic of rape and coercion for a minute, the reality is that women drank socially – our mothers and our grandmothers. Even being raised Baptist, I did and drank too much more than once.

Men/boys know/knew that a woman who had a few drinks was much easier to seduce that one that was stone cold sober. The mother and grandmother you knew years later may have been somewhat different than a younger version of that person. Children are often a driving motivation to “settle down.”

When sexual relationships occur that result in pregnancy, whether it’s consensual or not, it’s always the female who physically carries the evidence in an undeniable way, and the associated societal burden as well. How many times have you hear about “fallen women” but never about “fallen men.” The stigma is unfairly place on women, and often women alone. For example, men are forgiven for being drunk and no one even gives it a second thought, but women are cast as harlots – especially if they carry the evidence publicly by being pregnant and then having an illegitimate child. That evidence lasts forever and is a daily reminder for all who would condemn and shame her.

Retrospectively, we should never, ever assume that a female chose to “cheat” as the first presumption. If anything, it should be our last consideration.

We need to approach the memory of our ancestors, including our parents, with the presumption of innocence and an attitude of compassion. We also need to consider the distinct possibility of sexual assault. Rape.

Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault

The incidence of sexual assault is notoriously difficult to measure. Many times the shame or other surrounding circumstances prevent or highly discourage females from reporting rapes.

Before recent years when it was sometimes possible for a female to obtain work that paid enough to support herself and children, an unmarried or divorced woman was assured of both social rejection and devastating poverty.

To report a rape was to be ostracized from family, from church, and possibly from your spouse. People asked if you encouraged the rape or “asked for it,” perhaps by drinking or dressing “provocatively” – and what was deemed to be provocative varied with the culture and times.

1920s bathing suit

For example, this swimsuit was considered very provocative in the 1920s. Today, this outfit doesn’t even merit a second look in America, but in some parts of the world, women still can’t reveal their faces for fear of “provoking” men. In other words, if a man raped a woman who wore this outfit, it was HER fault for tempting him, not his fault for raping her.

Was this woman advertising that she wanted sex or “asking to be raped?” If she was advertising for sex, then why would a man even need to rape her? The logic fails here, but sometimes provocation is the justification for rape. That insulting to women and men both.

Victorian swimsuits

Here’s the google result for “provocative swimsuit in Victorian times.” While styles that are considered provocative have changed, the way women are perceived who would dare to be “provocative” hasn’t. There is no excuse for rape.

Full stop.

A Second Victimization

If you are raped and report the incident, you are interviewed (often by men) about the intimate details, asked if you enjoyed it and if you climaxed. The woman is always suspect.

Both spoken and unspoken words twice victimize the woman – then and now.

Until and unless you report the rape, no one but you and the rapist knows about the first victimization. After a woman reports a rape, everyone knows about the public humiliation – forever – that public humiliation and its aftereffects never go away. Once out of the bottle, that stinking genie is permanently affixed to the female. The males often go un-apprehended and when apprehended, only minimally punished. By way of example, hundreds of thousands of rape kits lay unprocessed in police departments around the country. Many have been misplaced and lost. If this doesn’t say, “We don’t care,” I don’t know what does.

In my own personal circle, a female child, and I mean a pre-teen, was blamed when her rapist lost his job in the school system as a result of her reporting the rape to the police and to the school. The rapist’s wife, amazingly, didn’t leave him, even though they had children the same age. It was widely known in the community that the rape had been reported. As a result, THE CHILD RAPE VICTIM WAS BLAMED by the rapist’s family and bullied by his and other children in the neighborhood and at school!

Then, to add insult to injury, the rapist wasn’t even convicted because the young victim became too terrified to testify after what happened to her at school, even though there was conclusive medical evidence. The rape victim’s family wound up selling their home and moving in order to protect the child from further damage.

If you think this is rare, it isn’t.

Another person told me about their step-father who raped them beginning when they were pre-kindergarten and continuing the entire time they were in grade school. He then began to rape his kindergarten age biological daughter as well. What did the mother do when the older child repeatedly told her what was happening? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This story isn’t rare either as I’ve personally heard various permutations from MANY women, not just one or two – although most are too embarrassed and humiliated even years later to discuss this topic with other than a trusted friend – if even then. I’m truly stunned at the overwhelming number of women (and some men) with horrible secrets like this in their past – and also at how they have survived and thrived in spite of what happened. Care to guess how many rapists of the many women who have shared their experiences with me were prosecuted? One. Just one.

It’s no wonder why adult women were and are very hesitant to come forth following sexual assault. A rape is humiliating and demeaning. The victim is physically forced into doing something they don’t want to do, don’t understand, or they are for some reason unable to consent to or refuse, such as being underage or drugged. They feel filthy and vile after the rapist is done with them. Unclean, unworthy. Sometimes the male thinks her humiliation is funny. Sometimes they take pictures and tell their friends, who think it’s funny too.

Rapists are seldom prosecuted and convicted and whey they are, the process is extremely traumatic for an adult, let alone a terrified child. When men are convicted, they often receive slap-on-the-wrist sentences, such as Brock Turner, a college student who received a 6 month sentence for 3 separate charges stemming from a violent sexual assault, but only served 3 months jail time – this as his father complained about the length of the sentence by saying that it was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of fun.” Seriously?

And that’s today, not half a century or more ago when sexuality was much more of a taboo subject. I distinctly remember being told that “nice women” only had sex to reproduce and that if you had sex before marriage, you were “tarnished goods” and no one would ever want you. Nice boys only married virgins. “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Any of this sound familiar?

Elizabeth Smart – “Better to be Dead”

Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, held and repeatedly raped for 9 months, said that she didn’t attempt an escape for multiple reasons. First, survival mode kicked in, but on a John Hopkins University panel on May 6, 2016, Elizabeth said that one of the factors deterring her from escaping was that she felt so utterly worthless after being raped. She told the panel members:

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who is going to want you after that?”

As a result, Elizabeth considered suicide after rape, because, “I felt it would be better to be dead than to continue living being a rape victim.”

On CBS News in 2018, Elizabeth said, “For years after I was rescued, I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened. … Truthfully, I think I was ashamed and I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to know that I’d been raped.”

And this was in the 2000s, not a generation ago, or two, or three or more.

For rape victims, there’s no undoing what happened. Just press forward and make the best of things. The only decision left is whether or not to subject yourself to either private or public scrutiny, possible rejection, disbelief and ridicule. If it’s bad today, it was worse when your mother or grandmother was of reproductive age. Women didn’t even have the right to vote a century ago, and very few if any women were able to support themselves without a man – either their father or husband. They needed to protect their relationships with men and their families, regardless of the personal cost. Many still do today.

When I asked a (now-deceased) women who endured repeated rapes by a close male relative in the 1940s and 50s why she never spoke out, she said, “What choice did I have? I had 5 children that needed to eat. My husband would have divorced me and I had no skills to get a job. He (the rapist) knew that and laughed about it. He delighted in the fact that I could do nothing and tortured me with it until he finally died.” I hope she danced on his grave.

If one of those children turned out to be the child of the rapist, the woman would never have known then because she was having sex with her husband as well. If discovered genetically today, it would look like she cheated on her husband – but she didn’t.

If you think this can’t possibly be your family, think again.

Sexual Assault is More Common Than You Might Think

Consider the following statistics:

  • RAINN, a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims of rape, abuse and incest states that 90% of rape victim are female. For purposes of genealogy, of course, males who are raped don’t become pregnant with the rapist’s child.
  • RAINN’s statistics don’t include children under 12, but they report that in 1993, 4.3 assaults per 1000 people occurred. If you extrapolate this to the 1990 census where the US population was 248,709,873, that means that 1,069,452 rapes occurred in the US that year, and of those, just under 1 million rapes occurred to women. According to the census bureau, in 1990, the US had 127,470,455 females of all ages. Looking at the distribution, it appears that if you subtracted both females under 15 and over 55, about half of the female population would have been between 15 and 55, or the prime rape ages. Assuming then that about 60 million women were the primary rape targets, and of those, 1.5 million or one 3% are raped every year, that means every women 15-55 has a 3% chance of being raped each year, assuming there are no women raped more than once. If you’re at risk from age 15 to 55, or roughly 40 years, at 3% chance per year, it’s no wonder that the rape statistics are so high. However, if rapes of females under 15 were included, the numbers would be much higher.
  • RAINN also reports that of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, so rapists remain free to rape again – and do.
  • RAINN says that sexual violence has fallen by half in the last 20 years, meaning that before 1998, women were even more likely to be assaulted.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NDVRC) says that one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Look around at 4 of your female friends or co-workers. If it’s not you, it’s one of them – and that’s just the women who report the rapes. Most don’t.
  • 80% of women know the rapist. That means that reporting the incident is going to cause drama within their family or social circle.
  • It’s even worse for children. Yes, I said worse. One in four girls will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 years of age.
  • According to the NSVRC, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. According to FiveThirtyEight, 77% are not reported to police. A 1992 report titled Rape in America, A Report to the Nation reported that 84% of rapes are not reported. Personally, from discussions recently among women friends, I’d say it’s well into the 90% range, which means the estimates of how many women are actually raped, extrapolated from the reported statistics, are significantly low.
  • This paper from February 2018 on the National Study of Sexual Harassment and Assault states that 51% of women report being sexually touched in an unwelcome way. 81% of women report some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 18.3% of US woman have been raped and 19% of college women have experienced sexual assault or rape. In Native American tribes the incidence is much higher. In 2012, the New York Times reported that in a report by the Alaskan Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages is as much as 12 times the national rate. Women in Alaska and among other tribes suggest that few, if any, female relatives or friends have escaped sexual violence.
  • The Justice Department reports in 2016 that 1 in 5 college women report sexual assault, with half being rape. 21% of female graduates have been sexually assaulted while in college. Of course, this doesn’t speak to anytime before or after college.
  • The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Assault Survey from the CDC surveys in 2010 and 2011 states that about 19% of women have been a victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.
  • The Department of Justice says that from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of unreported rape was 65%.
  • This article provides statistics about on-campus rapes and this article about rape frequency in general.

If you’re feeling a bit uneasy now, and you’re thinking of your own mother and grandmother and sister and aunt – and you’ve just realized that of those 4 women, chances are that at least one of them has been raped, and possibly more, you’re probably right. Just because they never told you, or anyone, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, if it did happen, it’s unlikely you ever heard about it, because they probably told NO ONE. Not then and they won’t now.

No one wants to think about that possibility. But if you wonder why a child was placed for adoption, why a child was raised by grandparents, or why a Y DNA test doesn’t match the paternal surname line, especially if the mother seemed so normal and there was no hint of a domestic or relationship issue – sexual assault in one form or another may well be the answer.

Sometimes a rape is the reason behind an adoption, and rekindling that trauma may be why some biological mothers don’t welcome contact with children. Those that do may not be willing to divulge the identity, if known, of the rapist for fear of being victimized yet again by the adult child being anxious to connect with the rapist. The rapist of course would deny the rape, so the mother once again has to risk disbelief and relive the trauma and issues she thought she put behind her decades ago. Who wants to know anything about a man that violated you decades ago – and very likely got away with it. Mothers who are not forthcoming aren’t always simply being obstinate – they may have very legitimate reasons.

Adoption wasn’t always the solution women sought. Many women raised those children inside of marriages, never revealing (at least not to the child) that they were not the biological child of their husband.

Today, with more and more people taking autosomal DNA tests, a biologically unrelated father or grandfather becomes painfully obvious pretty quickly to a genealogist.

While it’s extremely unpleasant to think what might have happened to your mother or your gray-haired loving grandmother when she was younger, it’s also wrong, dead wrong, to presume that she willfully cheated. Chances are at least equal that she had no or little choice in the matter. Many, many women who weren’t actually forcibly raped were heavily coerced or drugged.

What Do We Say?

So full siblings aren’t full siblings after all or the expected father isn’t the father.

Now that the secret has been revealed, at least to you, what do you say, and to whom?

There is no single answer, and no easy one either.

In part, what you say to whom depends of the level of investment of the person or people who tested. If they aren’t interested in the results, in essence, having tested “for you,” you may decide that in the interest of causing no pain and doing no damage, not to reveal the discrepancy.

Often people who ask someone to test will inform the tester in advance that the results can hold surprises – although no one ever expects they will be the one. Asking in advance if they want to know if “surprises” are discovered may also help direct your actions.

I never disclosed the information when I discovered that my half-brother was not my biological brother when he was terminally ill. Revealing that information would only have caused him pain, and there was absolutely no reason to do that.

I invested in genealogy, including genetic genealogy for fun, not to hurt anyone. My own personal guiding creed is “do no harm.”

Every situation is different and you will simply have to let the individual circumstances and your heart be your guide.

Having said that, how do YOU process this information which has the potential to be disturbing on several levels – not the least of which is that as a genealogist, you may have invested years in researching the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for that either. Some people reach out for counseling to help them over the rough patch.

The Benefit of the Doubt

I would suggest taking the high road and giving the female in question the benefit of the doubt unless you have actual evidence to suggest otherwise.

Please don’t pass judgement on her morality or character from the distance of decades when you can’t understand the circumstances, don’t have all of the information and she can’t defend herself.

If I have to make an error in judgement, let it be on the side of assuming the best, not the worst. Choices were few and none of them good for rape survivors. Our mothers, grandmothers and female ancestors did the best they could in the time when they lived and with the resources available to them at that time.

What she did or did not do then bears no reflection whatsoever on her love for her children, or you.

What your ancestors did or didn’t do also bears no reflection on you, today. Their actions and choices are not a curse that travels through generations.

If you loved them before, they haven’t changed. Continue to love them, with perhaps renewed or increased appreciation for their pain and the trials they faced in their lifetime.

What you discovered changed, not them. Be sure to place that discovery into historical and societal context and practice genealogical benevolence and kindness. What appear to be “lies” today may have been protection for the vulnerable then. Never assume and certainly not the worst.

Remember, you would not be here or would not be who you are if history had taken a different turn. And you’re awesome!

You, my friend, ARE the rest of their story.



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108 thoughts on “Things That Need To Be Said: Adoption, Adultery, Coercion, Rape and DNA

  1. I have a few NPEs in my ancestry. 1 was an ancestor being raped by a native American which we only know of cause she told her descendants. 1 was adoption by a family member. The third one is confusing and I only found it with my YDNA. My YDNA points to the Hill family. I believe my ancestor John H Thompson whom was born in November of 1859 is the NPE child. His supposed parents are Charles Thompson(born abt 1805) a preacher, and Nancy Marr(born abt 1826). Their child Mary Thompson(born abt 1845) was married to a William Hill(born abt 1827) in 1858. All of these people were living together in the 1860 census in Polk county, GA where Charles was a school teacher at the time and William a farmer. Unfortunately I can not find an adoption record, but John is in the 1870 census with Charles and Nancy as their kid. At first I thought John may be Mary’s child, but looking close at the age difference between Nancy and William, I am now of the opinion maybe Nancy is the mother.

    • Interesting… That’s quite a soap opera. However, you can’t be certain that William Hill is the father. It could be a family member with the same surname and Y chromosome… They would have known the extended family since they were living together. Any Hill relative could have popped in for a visit and created life.

    • And as Roberta pointed out, it could also be a case of adoption. Someone among the Hills’ extended family could have needed to place this child in safe, responsible hands. Perhaps the Thompsons, parents of Mary, wife of William Hill, were considered family, or just good solid, people.

      As Roberta pointed out, as a genealogist, it may be good methodology to exhaust all research avenues before jumping to conclusions. If the Thompsons adopted a Hill child, there could be records to be found. Or perhaps there was a tragedy in the Hill family where parents died, and the young child(ren) needed to be placed. I’m letting my imagination run wild here, but if you didn’t check how a Hill child could end up with the Thompsons, maybe you didn’t do a reasonably exhaustive research…

      Since you think that you may be a Hill instead of a Thompson, it might be worth researching William Hill’s family tree and learn about the lives of his contemporaries…

      On the upside, if William Hill slept with his mother in-law, then you know that you descend from him and her… Instead of losing all branches of that family tree, you’d only be losing the Thompsons. 🙂

      • Yeah. I do think this was a case of infidelity, especially reading a newspaper abstract for Charles Thompson.

        A Singular Case.

        Col. Henry D. Capers, who has been attending court this week, gave us a short history of a man who lives below Adairsville, which, if we could get all of it, would no doubt prove interesting reading. The story reads:

        Near Hall’s Station, on the Western & Atlantic railroad, there lived, in a miserable hut, a former minister of the Church of England, who gave his name as Rev. Charles Thompson. He had a wife and four children who have grown up in ignorance and poverty, though he gave evidence of culture and refinement, and appeared as if he had seen better days. When Col. Capers first visited the hut, the father was ill, and in January last died. The mother then told the Colonel that her husband had been drawing the interest on 500 pounds sterling from England, and engaged him to look into the matter for her. He opened a correspondence with relatives of the deceased in Nottingham, Eng., and found that an aunt, who was wealthy, had placed that amount at interest for him, and that at his death the whole should go to his children. Col. Capers is now in correspondence with the executors of the aunt, and thinks he will get the money for the children in short time.

        The singular part of the story is how came this man, who was well educated and with good connections, to be hid away in such a place, with an illiterate woman for a wife, dragging out a miserable existence in wretchedness and poverty. It is said by his wife that he once had charge of a church in Nottingham, but the whole of the story has not yet been told. –Calhoun Times.


        March 11, 1886
        Page 3

        The Hall’s Mill Story.

        In our last we copied a notice from the Calhoun Times, in which was cited a peculiar case found to exist near Hall’s Mills, in this county, as told to that paper by Col. H. D. Capers. Since the article has been published we learn that the old gentleman the article speaks of – Charles N. Thompson – belonged to the 6th Georgia regiment, and was well known to our fellow-citizen, Mr. A. J. Buford, who was kind enough to furnish us with some facts concerning that mysterious old gentleman. Mr. Buford says that Thompson was a finely educated man, and often told him, as well as others, his history. He claimed that at one time he belonged to the church of England, and was a minister thereof. He, for some reason, deserted this church and began preaching on his own hook, for which he was censured by his family and things were made unpleasant—so much so that he came to America. He soon settled down as a minister at Dahlonega and there he met and married his wife. She was a pretty, stout, blooming mountain lassie, totally uneducated and minus the manners and customs of high-toned society. It was purely a love-at-first-sight affair, as later developments show. As soon as the minister’s relatives over in England heard of his marriage they disinherited him, save an old aunt, who, feeling for the brilliant young man, placed 500 pounds sterling in the Bank of England for him, and from which he was to draw interest. Matter grew bad for the young man. Easy-going and clever, he gave way to the crude whims of his wife, and soon was a total wreck and almost an outcast. He, however, preached whenever he could, though opposed by his wife in doing so, and she, to prevent him would hide his best clothes very often. He would steal them out occasionally and enlighten an audience with grand eloquence, for he was smart, and the surrounding country was not long in finding it out. These are statements that we gathered from Mr. Buford, who seemed to know the man thoroughly as well as his interesting history.

  2. Roberta
    As usual, a thought-provoking post. One thing that has been bothering me a lot lately is when the birth mother refuses to talk about the father, and the adoptee/searcher finds the father. All hugs and kisses, at least in most of the feel-good stories. He didn’t know, always wanted a kid, you name it. But what about the rape/coercion cases? How many of these older men are getting a second pass and even a ticker-tape parade for being welcoming, when they created the trauma in the first place.

    I don’t know why my grandmother had three children with three different men in the Depression era. Was she a party girl (yes), a prostitute (who knows), a party girl who got date raped or coerced? Was she sleeping around to put bread on the table, or because she had been assaulted at a young age and that was her way of coping. Or because she really wanted to get married and believed the promises and was left in the dust once she was pregnant? All those things make me cautious about embracing the legacy of my grandfather.

    But back to the main point–if you are a searcher and find a father despite a mother refusing to talk, think about the ramifications.Perhaps she is still too ashamed. If she’s still “protecting” him, are you sure, or she protecting herself?

    • Food for thought – faced with same scenario. Mom had passed and not one word. Would shuddered when I asked. Now 90+ ok man is found thru DNA . I still have made no contact wondering . . .

  3. I wish this was true of my great grandmother. But she ran off with another man after having children with one or maybe more when married to my great grandfather. In their case what came first, his insanity or her cheating. They were both broken people. My grandfather would never talk of either to my dad except to say that they were both horrible people. He seemed to hate them equally. I actually blamed my great grandfather when I found out he had been insane probably from absinthe as he was supposed to be a heavy drinker. But then my second cousin turned out to be a half second cousin. There are things we have no knowledge of after 120 years, but I am satisfied now that my grandfather had a reason. He was an abandoned child of the early 20th century in France. Although his life was consisted of being sent to one farm after another to work at for 10 years of his life, he did get a college education which he would not have gotten if he had not been abandoned.Of course after he finished college WWI came and his life consisted of first the military and later the Surete.

    • Oh man, guys (all of you regardless of gender) please stop with the woman shaming. Please. You were not there. As you said, there are many things you have absolutely no knowledge of, especially what your great grandmother was doing to live or cope with living, to survive. And yet, you accuse her of cheating. 120 years ago.

      So some things never change. It’s depressing.

      • Good point, but the oral history given by his grandfather is that both of his parents had problems… John isn’t assuming anything. He got it from the horse’s mouth.

        Let’s remember Roberta’s points, though… The great-grandfather couldn’t have been impossible to live with, and his wife may have been trying to snag another husband in order to escape from that marital situation. It’s hard to say what that life what have been like! Van Gogh was on absinthe, and he cut off his own ear.

        This being said, it’s hard to justify child abandonment. John’s grandfather became the hero of his own life! What a survivor!

  4. Thank you for this important reminder. I have seen strong evidence of assault or coercion revealed more than once during my genetic genealogy research.

  5. Our family too, has a NPE. In attempting to find a male descendant of my mother’s father’s side, I found a second cousin. He was the only person in the U.S. that would be carrying this family’s Y-dna. He agreed to take a Y-dna test. I was so happy I paid for the test and even did the Family Tree DNA Big-Y. When the results came back they were puzzling. This family came from Ireland. His haplogroup was not from Ireland at all. So, I had the autosomal test ran (should have done this first). Surprise! No relation to myself or my aunt. Hmmmm . . . When I gave the results to my second cousin, I back-peddled and mumbled something about undocumented adoptions and late arrivals to Ireland.
    The next surprise was when I was contacted by a woman who was custodian for her uncle. Her uncle and my second cousin were related (within a few generations). Turns out, her uncle’s father (maybe grandfather . . . we were talking late 1800’s) was a traveling stonemason who did visit the area of our family line.
    I just backed out of the whole issue but figure it was either an undocumented adoption or extra-marital affair. After reading Roberta’s blog post, there may have been other reasons.

  6. Roberta, this is a very thought-provoking piece. It says what needs to be said. And another little-discussed area that I suppose would be covered in most instances by rape and coercion, is incest.

  7. When I learned through Y-DNA testing that I was probably the result of an NPE, it was initially mind shattering. Researching the available data, I traced it back to what appears to be my second great grandfather born in 1823 was probably the “son” of the daughter of a couple with my given surname, but both the male and female were over the age of 45 at the 1820 census. This couple had no male children and two daughters, the youngest under 10 years old, the oldest over 16 years old. Believing it was possible but not probable that a woman over the age of 45 to birth a child, I assumed the child to be the offspring of the eldest daughter. According to that census, living on the same street, there was a man with my “genetic surname”. I immediately assumed that the eldest daughter either had an affair with this man, was a prostitute, or had been raped, neither of which made me feel any better about my ancestors. My next conclusion was that her parents raised my 2nd great grandfather, providing him with my given surname.

    It bothered me for quite some time, until I came up with another scenario. Perhaps the child was truly an orphan of a couple with my genetic surname, who could not care for the child and the couple with my given surname unofficially adopted the child. Now what had looked like an act of “immorality” turned into an act of kindness by an elderly couple. I can now live comfortably with both scenarios. I have since discovered several other men with my genetic surname, whom I match, one of whom may be as close as a third cousin, opening up an entirely new family to explore. DNA has made me somewhat more skeptical of my past, but also helped me be more introspective of what I discover.

  8. My grandfather, born in 1913, is believed by me through DNA results to have been born to the unmarried 17 year-old first cousin of the woman who adopted him in SW Georgia. My mother has several otherwise unexplained DNA matches who all have a connection to the same county in Kentucky, leading back to a family of German immigrants. This family had five children, two daughters who never married and three sons, only once of which ever left Kentucky. The one who did, moved to a town in Georgia about ninety miles from where my grandfather’s biological mother lived.

    The man in question was a prominent attorney and a member of the Legislature. The biological mother’s father was himself at various times an alderman, mayor and judge in his own small SW Georgia time. I cannot place the prominent attorney/Legislator in the same town on any occasion but have no other means of my mother matching with folks in this particular area of Kentucky and my mother’s half-sister also matches with a descendant of the German immigrant’s brother, who also came to America at about the same time.

    I have found the only living descendant of the attorney, other than her elderly mother, and offered to pay for the cost of a DNA test to prove or disprove my theory about us sharing a great-grandfather, who may have fathered a child with a teenager while married and in his forties in 1913. Keep in mind that this person never knew her grandfather and the only person who did was her elderly mother. I explained that I had no way of ever knowing the circumstances of how this older man fathered a child with this teenager and wasn’t interested in speculating or slandering the dead, but simply wanted to know whether he did. After providing the descendant with a detailed letter setting forth the grounds for my suspicion she called me back and we spoke for probably twenty minutes. She said that she would consider taking the test. Unfortunately a couple of weeks later, she sent me a letter explaining that after careful consideration, she decided not to be tested.

    Can you imagine my disappointment?

  9. Very, very powerful!

    Many years ago, a dna match was explaining his family dynamics by saying his female relative was married to an older man, and that she “strayed to the neighbor” and produced a NPE.

    Maybe. But then again, maybe the neighbor “strayed” to her barn as she was milking the cow; and he used his brand of “coersive persuasion” on her. Why did my match just automatically blame the woman?

  10. Great post, Roberta. I’ve discovered many cases of NPEs, both in my on family and with clients. In one personal case, I’ve discovered that my grandfather is not my (maternal) uncle’s father. He is 87 years old, and his children have asked me not to tell him because they don’t want to ruin his perception of his beloved mother (my grandmother). I, on the other hand, have considered the possibility of other scenarios – like those mentioned in your post – that could have resulted in his conception. I’m not going to jump the gun to assume she had an affair, although I do wish/hope there is some way that I’ll be able to uncover something of the “real” story.

    Thanks, again, for this post.


  11. Roberta, you have done it again – written a story that I want my nieces to read as they hopefully can re-think their opinion of my mother, their grandmother who loved them greatly. Love you as always,

  12. That’s an excellent article. Needed to be said and I’m glad I can pass it on to my family as well.

  13. Roberta:

    Thank you for this interesting, thought-provoking and humanely argued post.

    I find it relevant to one of the DNA matches to myself that has come up – a situation I believe I mentioned to you before in response to one of your earlier posts.

    With the highest matches that have come up to me we have in most cases been able to work out what the connection is. However, the second closest connection to methat has come up is a mystery. The quality of the match is 172.1 cM, 9 shared segments, 42cM largest segment. The only match closer than this that I have is a second cousin once removed, and I have several second cousin once removed matches that are quite a bit less close.

    In terms of defining the mystery match more closely I checked the shared matches. There are two of these, both considerably less close, but it happens that in both cases we have been able to work out what the family connection is – one a fourth cousin on my paternal grandmother’s side and the other a fourth cousin on my paternal grandfather’s side. The logical conclusion from this, barring some unlikely family coincidence – unlikely given that my ancestors came from different places – is that the mystery match is related to both my paternal grandparents. Given also that the match would be even closer than it is if she were descended from my father, the logical conclusion is that she would be descended from one of my paternal uncles or my paternal aunt – most likely a granddaughter or great-granddaughter.

    The match doesn’t respond to messages which is of course not at all unusual. It is quite possible that she has never received my queries. I have not gone into any detail in my messages, just simply asked if she has any clues about how we could be related. She has posted a tree going a generation or two back which hasn’t given me any clues.

    The mystery match is in USA and so far as I know neither of my uncles or my aunt ever visited USA. However, both uncles were involved in the second world war in distant countries and it would have been possible for them to have been involved in wartime liaison with others far from home which might have led later to the birth of children about whom they might even never have been aware. My paternal aunt’s daughter is the only one on that side of the family who did visit USA. This cousin was more than twenty years older than me and visited USA in her early twenties, so I guess some incident could have led to her having a child put up for adoption.

    Of course I cannot help my mind speculating on these possibilities, but I can see that any attempts to answer my curiosity might lead to unwelcome or painful revelations either to the match herself or the surviving acknowledged descendants of my late aunt or late uncle, and could put me in a difficult position of what to reveal to whom. Whatever the key to the mystery match is, those involved at the time could not have known what possibilities the development of DNA analysis could reveal years later.

    Best wishes,


  14. Roberta, Well done! I never post blog comments but I just felt this post was too good to just allow it to past quietly. I have had to caution folks in our genealogical society on many of the points you have raised. Again, well done Roberta!

  15. Unfortunately there will be cases found, due to increased use of dna testing, where people will find they are related to each other because of their female ancestors being the victims of a serial rapist. That would be so difficult to process, but not as bad as the poor women who suffered. I’m finding people that I share dna with but we have no common names that it crosses my mind if sadly something like this has happened.

  16. The article is great, but this simple sentence of yours is what we need to take away from it, in the main “Yes, and how we feel about these things is entirely up to us.”. Our ancestor’s stories may be fascinating or sad, but they are *not* ours by right. Knowledge is both powerful and dangerous.

  17. Great post about sexual assault, etc. but it reminded me of a situation in H.S. when a classmate was absolutely delighted to come to my house because hers was just so hectic. It was full of younger “siblings”. After she left, my mom asked me if I knew who her mother was related to and of course I didn’t. It turns out my mom knew the family and knew quite a bit about the extra children. My friends’ parents were her actual parents, but her mother wasn’t able to have any more children after she was born. Mom was also the daughter of an internationally recognized and lauded individual. This man had a number of children, and one of the other daughters was what was then considered a “wild child”. They didn’t believe in birth control or abortion and her many children were unofficially adopted by my friends’ parents. The few times I did visit her place I was pretty much in awe of the home with its double staircases, servants quarters, etc. But I was more overwhelmed by the sheer number of children! All well cared for and certainly loved. Obviously my friend knew her mother hadn’t been pregnant when a new baby showed up in the middle of the night so she knew something was up. Years later I ran in to my H.S. friend and asked her if she was ever told where all the other children came from. She said she was told they were her aunt’s children but that her aunt had no idea who the father’s were. Even today it would be difficult for those children to discover who their fathers were, but imagine if this situation had happened 100 years ago, with all those siblings listed on the census records as children of these parents…a genealogical nightmare made especially so if the reason for that nightmare was never disclosed!

  18. Excellent, much-needed post. I’ve thought about these scenarios a lot, knowing the prevalence of sexual assault. (I know so few women, myself included, who have not been sexually assaulted).

  19. Can we please stop using the term “Non-Parental Events”?
    The only being to come into the world in that way will be one totally gestated in artificial surroundings from synthesised DNA. I’m sure someone is working on that, but it hasn’t happened yet.
    Everybody has parents.
    “Not the Parent Expected” is correct, works and is non-judgemental.
    MPE is judgemental and stands for M-AP, with the “E” vestigial at best.
    The initials “NPE” are everywhere and they work.

    People remember Not the Parent Expected in a complex world of strange new terms for them. Why make it harder?
    There are enough people already throwing up their hands and saying its all too hard.

    • The original term was NPE – Non Parental Event, which is why I used that term, among others that have also been used. So everyone could relate.

  20. Thanks for this. That’s what I really wanted to say. I have pushed this line for a long time, but it’s been hard to find an expert saying it. Now I have something to point to.

  21. One NPE is evident with a marriage and the arrival 5 months later of gt gtandmother. Maybe a generous man or arranged marriage then the move to another shire where his wife would be unknown . No other children and with her strict religious attitude it makes you wonder

  22. I am only sharing because not all members of my bio-family are aware of their real parentage.

    I am adopted. Last year at this time I discovered a DNA first-cousin. The Holy Grail as far as I was concerned. More importantly, she was on my paternal side. Now, about the paternal side. I had always been told my birth-father was Italian. DNA showed he was Sicilian AND Native American. I was able to isolate the Native American by testing a maternal half-sibling.

    The first cousin told me we shared a Native American (from Mexico) grandfather. That meant my grandmother was the Sicilian. But wait, my supposed birth-father (not conclusive yet as he has a brother and my bio-mom was intimate with both) carried a Sicilian surname. ‘Splain! Well it turns out my bio-NA immigrant grandfather and wife lived across the hall from a Sicilian immigrant couple. The Sicilian wife was my grandmother. My birth-father’s parentage, said the first-cousin, was well-known throughout the family but never discussed. NOT the end of the story.

    Well, initially I supposed this was an isolated ‘affair’. My supposed father was the second of five children: girl, bio-dad, boy, daughter, boy (died as a toddler). All are deceased with he exception of the second boy who is now 87 years old. When contacting the family of the living son I spoke solely to his wife. It was during our initial phone conversation that I realized they knew nothing of the ‘secret’ of the brother’s parentage. Also, the wife said the oldest daughter, her sister-in-law, revealed that she too had been fathered by the neighbor. Ironic in that her best friend was this man’s daughter AND her half-sister. I met with the children of the youngest daughter and one agreed to a DNA test.. He showed NA as well. So, now three of the five show the neighbor to be the father. We will never know about the youngest. The living brother, the one I now feel IS my bio-dad, is forbidden by his son to test for several reasons. He doesn’t want another sister, ME. Did I mention this fellow is irrational?? He doesn’t believe in DNA and that it’s a hoax. His children aren’t interested in knowing they have Native American blood. He thinks I only want to prove we share the same father so I can scoop up my share of the family fortune. The father, on the other hand, is in shock. Sicilian mothers are put on pedestals. How could his mother give birth to children fathered by another man? I am in shock too. There is a story there but we may never know what it is. I do know my grandfather was in all of the lives of the ‘Sicilian’ children and their grandchildren until his death in 1976.

    As to the Sicilian father, he died in his late 30’s when his oldest daughter was 9 and the youngest a little over a year old. He carried the secrets with him to his grave.

      • About infertility and informal adoptions, I have a scientific question for you, Roberta!

        One of my ancestors look like she could be a half-native child given to an infertile couple (because of the mother) in the early 1700s. This child is a girl, so there is no Y chromosome to test in the descendants.

        This happened in French Canada, where we have a founder effect, and we are (probably) all related to each other in some way. In other words, it would be normal for me to share traces of DNA with the whole village where I was born if DNA tests could go beyond 6 generations accurately.

        Is there any way to determine if this child was given to this couple by the supposed father’s cousin (on the paternal side) and his native wife?

        The reasons for the suspicion are as follows: (1) the supposed mother had no other children in a long marriage, but her husband had many children with his second wife; (2) this child’s supposed parentage is known through her marriages, but she lacks a birth record AND a death record. Both are unusual in New France, especially together.

        I remember that you mentioned a case of NPE that was pretty far back in history, from your own tree, and I was wondering how it was possible, but your subjects were men.

        Am I right to think that the only thing to do is to believe the single document in which her parents are named? The mother could have become infertile early. She was around 30 when she got married.

        • Oh! The thing that I should add is that I have genetic memory of one of the supposed father’s ancestors. I know that because I had an intense (and weird) experience before I built my family tree. The cousin’s family tree involves a wall, but unless the cousin’s tree goes back to that same ancestor, of whom I have genetic memory, then I would think that I **should** descend from the supposed father. I just have that nagging doubt.

        • If the half-Native child’s Native ancestry was on her mother’s side and the child had daughters, you might be able to find someone who carriers her mitochondrial DNA today to test. Those results would confirm maternal Native ancestry.

          • Ah! Good to know. She almost certainly does. I imagine that it would require quite a bit of effort to figure it out, though, and quite a few cousins to find the most definite matches…

            To give you an idea, I have 3 proven Native ancestors, all of whom are women, from 3 of my grandparents. This could potentially be a 4th and would include my 4th grandparent in the metis line-up. On a Web site that checks family relationships between you and famous people with French Canadian ancestry, I have at least one common ancestor with every celebrity suggested. In several cases, I have at least 3 shared ancestors with them. The function doesn’t give a total count of overlaps between our trees. That’s the reality of genealogy in Quebec. It’s a good thing that we (usually) have such great records!

  23. When you decide to research your Family you must first decide if you are prepared for surprises that may change your life. I did have some notice from Mother when I began. She told me that the paternal Grandfather who I knew and loved was no relation! He was, in fact, Grandmother’s second husband. My Father’s Father was another man altogether. It was a shock but at least I was warned. It took many years before I discovered my blood Grandfather, a man I never met and who had died years before I even heard of him. I have since found him in the census and with him, my Father’s two brothers, sons of my “real” grandfather and the grandmother I knew. I have also found a relative who discovered me through the Ancestry DNA test and she passed on a line of Swedish ancestors that went back a few generations. So, now I know and, thanks to Mother, it wasn’t a total shock. When I began researching my family I expected surprises but, I did expect to find them further back in the line – Lol!

  24. Roberta – Thank you for this powerful post. It should be read by every member of Congress who will be voting on the Violence Against Women Act.


  25. As good ol Dr Phil cautions us, we owe no one the benefit of the doubt. While I understand the point of the post and the explanations provided that may give someone hope in the face of life changing news, I think it is important to point out that out of the considerable number of NPEs I have spoken to and the postings of thousands more in groups I belong to, the scenarios you describe as possibilities are applicable in a very small number of cases. I would limit this assertion to the last 2/3 generations because beyond that, there is simply no way to come to the same conclusions that we can on these situations that have happened in the last 2/3 generations.

    Ofcourse everyone makes mistakes and perfection is for fairy tales. Making a mistake and then compounding it with a lie when it comes to paternity demonstrates that not only is there a lack of real remorse but it demonstrates a real lack of understanding of a fundamental fact. The fundamental fact that I refer to is that every child regardless of the circumstance of their conception or birth has a fundamental right to the knowledge of who made them and how they came into this world. The social morality/acceptablity of a certain time period does not obsolve anyone from telling the truth. I would agree that at times it is best to leave the truth until a child is legal age but in ALL cases, the truth belongs to the child and the very person who is supposed to love a child the most, owe the child that. We as a society would never say “He robbed a bank but it was many years ago so it doesnt matter” but we find it almost too easy to say “it was a different time, its understandable why my mother stole my biological identity”

    I had a child at 18 after getting pregnant at 17. I was briefly married to the father. I moved halfway around the world. It would have been so easy to lie to my son and allow him to believe that the man he grew up with was his father. It would have made my life so much easier and i would not have had to ever deal with the man again. He was a terrible husband but he proved to be a wonderful father. It never entered my mind that it was my right to assign him the father I wanted him to have instead of fostering a relationship with his true father. Following that road doesnt make me any better than women who chose differently but it certainly does mean that I never have to fear the truth being exposed. I lived the truth as hard as it was.

    Another reason that the social morality of the age is not any sort of excuse and being a victim of rape is not an excuse is that in the last 50 years the social acceptability factor has changed dramatically and yet it is not my experience that the changing times meant that mothers would be honest suddenly with the children they lied to for years. In the vast majority of cases the shame of an adulterous pregnancy or out of wedlock conception transforms over time into an inability to be honest because of the length of time that the person has been dishonest. In all of these scenarios, it is as if somehow the feelings of the mother are more important than the truth a child is entitled to.

    I think the benefit of the doubt is not owed to anyone but it is usually freely given to women who aside from this particular issue have been excellent mothers who are loved and respected by their children. When a mother has proved less than wonderful, it is far harder to give that benefit. There is a way to treat people with kindness without compromising the demand of honesty from our mothers and without giving unilateral benefit of the doubt. These situations were created as a result of dishonesty. If the truth was the most important thing, we would never see another of these situations created.

    • These situations were in many cases created by others for women who had no agency over either their lives or their own bodies. In many cases, she did what she needed to do to survive, and for her children to survive. Judging her harshly now only propagates the shame.

      • We are going to have to agreee to disagree on “many” as it pertains to children of the last 2/3 generations. I believe that the instance of infidelity or out of wedlock intercourse are far more common than rape and coercive tactics. Telling a woman that she owes her child the truth regardless of what that truth is is not shaming her. Ofcourse a child must speak to the mother and not jump to conclusions but at the same time, how is that child to believe a word she says when the child has been lied to and the truth came from a test tube. If we practiced full disclosure and put a premium value on the truth, these situations would stop happening. Rape and coercion are awful, I have experienced one of them myself. It still would not have given me a pass to lie to a child had one been conceived. There is no circumstance that could ever exist or that has existed that make it acceptable to alter or attempt to alter the biological truth of another human being. DNA testing and the aftermath of an NPE event bear this out. Most often, it is not the circumstance of the birth that causes the devastation and hurt, its the lie.

        • Alison
          I feel for you about your experiences, having been through that as well. But we live in a different time. Not many years ago, the shame would have been overwhelming. We cannot tell the women in our past how they “should” have done anything. Even now, the pressure from families is intense and only the people involved can make these decisions. Yes, truth should be paramount but are you willing to lose family, job, everything? Yes, women today lose jobs over very private matters.

          • You and I will have to agree to disagree as well because I firmly believe that a child has every right to tell their mother that they should have been honest with them regardless of the stricter and more unforgiving moral code of days past. The truth is not subject to the discretion of any woman. I advocate for honesty with the child only, the woman owes no explanation to anyone else.The truth belongs to the child regardless of how that child came to be, not the mother. That is my belief.

            My primary issue with the article wasnt making a victim of rape tell the child they were conceived in that way, my principal argument with the blog posting is that while certainly rape and coercion are factors to consider, they are true and relevent in far fewer cases than infidelity and conception outside of wedlock. And then I go on to make the case that rape and coercion are not excuses to lie TO THE CHILD. If the women who do lie for whatever reason were told at the time of creating the lie that within the lifetime of their child the truth would be easily and scientifically proven, you can bet that far fewer lies would have been told. It was easier to lie about paternity with complete impunity and its far easier to cry rape than to be honest about your sexual past. Its up to the child to decide what to believe.

            If you are an NPE and your parents are both dead and your biological parent is also deceased, I do not believe you can dismiss rape and coercion but I also think that it is simply false to tell someone that the rape scenario is more likely than infidelity.

        • After the sexual revolution, births before marriage have been more common. I got married with the father of my child when she was about 2 years old. We were living together when I got pregnant. We stayed together for 16 years. This scenario is probably far more common today than in our grandmother’s time. Times have changed. What’s acceptable now wasn’t acceptable then.

          This being said, I live in Denmark, and it’s worth keeping in mind that certain families tend to repeat the same pattern of behavior over generations. There are genealogists here (in DK) who constantly hit walls because of unknown fathers, going much further back than 2-3 generations, and the assumption isn’t that someone got coerced into anything. The family culture just isn’t to follow the Christian path, and they know that. They assume it too!

          The sad thing is that not knowing who one’s father is, or having a whole series of unknown ancestors, actually seems to be a problem for someone’s identity. Sure, they didn’t grow up being judgmental about this phenomenon, but they are looking for their ancestors, aren’t they? Children do need to know who their parents are, both of them, and it should get recorded.

          I’m all for giving ancestors the benefit of the doubt when analyzing data. In writing an article or summary of that person’s life, it’s important not to jump to conclusions, not only because it would be judgmental, but also because it would be unscientific.

          In some families, however, if a pattern emerges and continues for 5-8 generations, the apple may not fall far from the tree.

  26. Thank you for your well researched and thought-provoking article. This has needed to be said for a long time. I hope people take the time to consider all you have said.

  27. My German 2nd great grandfather was an early volunteer, joining the Union Army when the Civil War began. Like many of those soldiers, he died from disease rather than injuries. Three months after he died my 2nd great grandmother, Mary, gave birth to a daughter. I did not question paternity, just assumed that his unit was close enough to home for him to visit from time to time. So I was dismayed to learn that descendants of this youngest daughter felt she was not his child. They believed her birth date was actually one year later.. As they said, “you know the implications of that”
    In order for Mary to receive pension money for this child, she had to go to court and provide what must have been very humiliating testimony concerning when she gave birth and who the father was. I accept the sworn statements which were made, but my male cousin seemed concerned that she might have lied. I told him to remember that Mary and her family were living in a war zone She could have been raped or called upon to do whatever was required for their survival. If that is what happened and she lied about it, I don’t blame her. He hadn’t thought about that.

    Somehow Mary and three of her daughters survived the Civil War in Missouri. One of those daughters, Susan, was my great grandmother. If she hadn’t survived I wouldn’t be me.

  28. Thanks for this great post, Roberta. Not suspecting anything to the contrary, I found a close NPE in my own family. I discovered that my paternal grandfather was not who I had always known as a grandfather. I’m happy that I discovered it after all of the involved parties had passed away. Knowing my grandmother, and the history of the family helped me to develop another scenario other than rape or cheating. My grandparents and my parents were all married for more than 60 years. I’m not saying that there weren’t problems in the marriages. For an explanation I had to look at the time period involved, the social history of the families, etc. I came to the conclusion that it might have been a brief affair that started out innocently enough. My bio grandmother had lost a child to the measles in 1917, my father was born in 1919. When I had all of these matches that didn’t match other cousins (1 or 2) I began to look elsewhere. I began researching these unknown 1 and 2nd cousins, all with different surnames to find the common ancestors. Several of them I found where possible connections could happen. The families had similiar migration patterns: Nova Scotia/New England, same town in Connecticut, to Ontario and Chicago, to Detroit, to a small town on the Lake Huron shore, back to Detroit. I identified the bio father, as a grocer (not the milkman) who lived within a couple of houses from my grandparents. He had lost his 1st wife in 1917 and was left with several small children. Now my bio grandmother and her husband were known to help other relatives, take in their children, during hard times, especially the depression. DId they offer to help this family too. I do know that my Dad; family did move from Detroit to Louisville in 1920 for about a year, was that because of an affair or just that my grandfather got a good offer to work in a Chrysler dealership? The bio father remarried and moved his family out of the neighborhood in 1921, and my grandparents moved back to the same house. The lived in a duplex with my grandmother’s parents who were elderly and both died within a week of each other in 1923. Was it an affair or just people comforting each other when faced with a loss?

    • I like your theory. Sensual heeling sounds like a valid theory, and putting some physical distance between the lovers would be a smart move. “Loin des yeux, loin du coeur” : that means that we stop loving someone (romantically) if we don’t see them. 🙂

  29. Thank you for this article. Two of my ancestors worked as housekeepers and had children fathered by their employers. One couple later married. The other did not, but she continued working for him for many years, and I established the child’s paternity by DNA testing.

  30. Good blog post, reminds us all that the one left holding the baby is not necessarily “guilty” of anything, and even if so, don’t judge. My family has an 1863 NPE which was quite a surprise, husband was in Civil War. I hope, so much, that she found solace with a neighbor, and not that she was raped, but there is no way to know. It took me a while to adjust to this, learning that we were not who we thought we were, but it was much harder on my dad’s cousin, who had 30 years of genealogical research invested in the Boatright line, only to discover we were not Boatrights at all. As I remind her, we have plenty of other family lines to pursue, and we do. I donated all the research to a library in the county where the real Boatrights lived, and where some of their descendants still do.

  31. A very excellent article. It is sad that infidelity seems to be the first thought when a relative is found to have a different father, and I hope that someday soon, we’ll all get past that and not let it be the first immediate reaction/thought.

    Maybe if we get more columns written like this one, that someday will happen even sooner!

    • At one time, I did the same thing – but I’ve learned so much and now I think differently. Thank goodness we can learn.

  32. Well said. I’ve a situation in hubby’s family where I have wondered if that could be the case. All of the male neighbors are suspect from the teenaged boy to his dad. I’ve got to do a WATO to figure out which path is most likely. I’ll admit that my first choice was the sweet-talking dude that spent time in jail twice for bigamy. But she didn’t marry till the boy was about 5 … and all the descendants believed that she married the baby daddy, but not only can I find no evidence of such a marriage, the child bore her maiden name as his own throughout his life.

  33. At Ancestry, in a few cases, it has been obvious that the match’s tree could not not be their bio tree because these were close matches and did not sync with any portion of my tree which I have good reason to believe to be correct.

    In only one case, did I contacted my match to question his tree. He said, yes, quite a few others had contacted him with the same question. I never heard from him again but guess he learned there was a NPE in his tree.

  34. Great post. I never knew about Michigan’s quirky step-dad adoption law, though I’ve lived her for 20+ year. Thanks for this important post.

  35. Okay, I am a man, and my male ancestors, those from whom I inherit my once revered family name, left me a legacy of shame and outrage. The stories were never written, an accounting never taken.

    In antebellum Virginia, a collateral relative carrying my name, a son of just one of the family’s several enslavers, a man using compulsion and force, not once but more times, raped an 18-year-old black woman over whom he held ultimate power. Her four children lived to hide “her shame” from subsequent generations, realities to be revised into smoothed-over oral histories and empty or false family trees.

    And then there is my paternal grandfather, growing up in the years of fading Reconstruction and rejuvenation of white supremacy, a man who fathered four children by an acquiescent black woman, all before he married my grandmother and fathered my own and aunts and uncles. Was there love? Caring? Coercion? Abuse of power learned from previous generations and tolerated by white society? The antiseptic terms for out-of-wedlock paternity (NPE or MPE) perpetuate the illusion of propriety. There was none.

    The whispers—if there ever were any—and the secrets were intentionally lost to history until DNA testing confirmed many realities. Puzzle pieces in the genealogical record now seem to fit, the picture of families linked through slavery and immoral and illegitimate behaviors becomes clear. But the darkness of lies is starting to abate as reconciliation among living descendants has begun.

    As a passionate genealogist and seeker of the truth, I hold facts that some deny, some don’t want to know, and others do. “Do no harm” is a commendable mantra, but where does one draw the line? Maybe worse harm is keeping secrets when truths should be told. Isn’t that my duty? “Do the right thing.” It’s hard to determine at times and harder to live up to, but that’s my north star.

    • Tim, in terms of “do no harm,” I wasn’t referring to historical relationships, but current ones, like my brother. Some people rush to share information which is ultimately damaging, many times without any redeeming qualities. Families have been torn apart by people sharing without thinking of the repercussions to others. I have no qualms at all about unearthing “truths” about historical ancestors – but I would still suggest that we not presume anything about their behaviors and motivations without evidence. I used the example of a slave woman on purpose in the example of coercion. Yes, in some cases there could have been genuine love and caring between those two people, but we’ll never know because of the long cast of the shadow of coercion. Evidence is evidence.

    • Tim
      Deeply compelling. Thank you for not hiding the data. It is difficult to protect the living if they suffer umbrage at things that happened more than 150 years ago (as does one of my cousins).

  36. Excellent article – well said. You laid out very clear and reasonable reasons to look at options to a NPE. Thank you!

  37. I agree with the things written about in the article…I am happy and legally married in a same sex marriage. I myself have a daughter whom is 3 she was conceived out of a rape from someone whom I knew very well. I was going to have an abortion but my wife forbid it…she wanted the baby regardless and told me this child was a gift from God. So I decided to keep the baby at first for her because I could not emotionally tie mud of to what had happened and not that I slammed the baby but it was a reminder of what the baby came I let my wife name her which resulted in her carrying my wife’s last name. Well one and a half years later after growing to put it behind and being a happy family, someone whom had assaulted me felt that they were intitled to be a parent, they petitioned the courts to take away the presumed status of the child’s parents status (my wife)…and award the parental status to them instead. Because there constitutional rights were violated by the courts allowing my wife to adopt and name the baby. Even though I stayed under penalty of perjury this was a result of a rape I never made a police report because I was scared for my life this person was a gang member and I was in fear so we just never said anything until my daughter was born. But still never made a police report just told courts when my wife adopted the baby. because society is how they are today…..I immediately was blamed and accused of lying about the rape and was accused of alianating another parent from their child. A DNA was done and came back he was the father my daughter was taken from me for abuse and my wife status as a parent was stripped from her and they awarded this rapist gang member rights to my daughter…oh I didn’t mention that my marriage was not recognized because society says it’s I had to hand over my daughter to a rapist I refused and in return was charged with kidnapping. In the end he left baby home alone and was arrested in another country for guns and drugs and my daughter was found the next day home alone so they took from him and even though I fought and am still fighting they placed my daughter up for adoption…and I have been somehow all to blame for everything. No one respected or believed me when I refused to go in court room to be faced by him. I was called a list and hummiliated. So I understand what.I wrote about but even more so I was adopted I was left in a car at 16 months old and forgotten about I was told my mother was a prostitute and my father wanted nothing to do with me probably because he had another family either way I’ve never met either of them…and still seek answers throughout this DNA proccess…but I never know what the circumstances are for other people and just what you hear or just because I read it or someone told you doesent always mean what u find out is always the truth..
    Kelly Melyn Williams, aka Michelle C Moya

      • I was sharing my experiences so that people can see from a perspective of how things can be twisted into different situations and no one including the adopted child would understand when they look for answers. How long will my child look for her family under my wife’s name whom will come up no blood connections to her and be even more confused… And how people would normally blame the mother when in fact it’s not the situation here. The same with me I can’t blame my mom because I was not there I don’t know what happened and I might never but I was mad for many years because I found out she was a prostitute but that may not even be why I was concieved it could have been love who knows besides her and my father whom ever he is. . .I always read your post but don’t comment but this one I felt strongly about so thank you

    • What a horrible situation. I am very sorry you have had to endure all that. I wish you peace and a positive resolution to this.

  38. Very thought provoking article, Roberta. Imagine another scenario…a young man, to pay for college, contributes to a sperm bank and becomes an anonymous bio-dad to several children. Maybe then a few years later, he marries and has his own family, keeping his prior sperm-donor job a secret. Decades later, the sperm-donor children become interested in family history and get their DNA tested. They not only could match with other sperm-donor children, but with the bio-dad’s children. And, with bio-dad’s cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, etc! Oh – what a can of worms that would be! So many people would have to explain, so many secrets would have to be revealed! So many lives turned upside down! All because a new technology enabled an infertile couple to become parents!
    I thought of this because when I was much younger, I attempted to have a baby using a sperm bank. We planned NOT to tell anyone. Well, I never did get pregnant, but if I did I could’ve been part of such a tangle!

  39. Very informative and heart-felt article. I am currently stuggling with the opposite scenario: I recently found out that I have a half-brother on my father’s side. Apparently, my dad impregnated a married woman, and she raised him along with her other children. My half-brother is convinced that my father must have raped his mother because she was a God-fearing woman who would never “cheat”. Having been raised by the man, this is a scenario I cannot accept. He was never violent or sexually inappropriate (that I know of, anyway). I believe it was probably a too much alcohol scenario, in which 2 people engaged in behavior they would not have dreamed of, otherwise. I would never DREAM of assuming negative things about his mother; I wish he could do the same about my father.

    • Pain is a big motivator in what we believe isn’t it. I’m sorry for yours. Considering alternatives and reaching conclusions are two different things. Unless they are still here, no one even has the possibility of knowing.

      • Exactly. Both his mother and our father have passed away, so we will never know for sure what transpired between them. Given that, I choose to believe the best about both of them…2 lonely people looking for comfort.

        • To be clear, this is a decision I have come to after much agony. For months after I found out, I considered all the possibilities, and wracked my brain trying to find evidence that would support each. In the end, the evidence was simply not there. We will never know. So, for my own peace of mind, I decide to believe the best-case scenario.

  40. Roberta, thank you for this. It’s a battle I’ve been fighting ever since DNA appeared on the scene. In my own personal case, I suspect the doctor who turned out to be my dad’s father may have used artificial insemination and his own sperm to impregnate my grandmother who was married almost ten years and desperate to have a child. This was in 1904, long before AI became a preferred method to “cure” male infertility. She may not even have known the “simple procedure” he performed actually resulted in her pregnancy. The grandparents I knew were loving parents to my dad, an only child. And if she had an affair in order to get pregnant, that’s OK too. The result brought joy to everyone, regardless of how it came about.

    • LOL! If you read Roberta’s examples, it’s actually an eye opener that before AI, people did find creative alternatives to infertility… even though they may otherwise have been God-fearing people. As long as the community doesn’t know, right?

      If someone could sleep with the neighbor to get pregnant (one real-life example given here), isn’t it possible that a deal could have been struck with the doctor, especially if the doctor checked (scientifically) if the husband’s boys could swim? In that case, your grandfather may have known about everything. It’s actually less extreme than giving his wife a hall pass to actually sleep with somebody.

      On top of that, you have a good chance that your kid will have the doctor’s smarts. It doesn’t get much better than this. 😉

  41. Roberta, thank you for this article. We really need to be as objective and non-judgemental as possible about these NPEs. I have another family mystery that I am trying to unravel and it involves Henry Jasper Lovett’s mother. I want to say up front, that our Granny Linnie loved us and did as much for us as she could. I am thankful to each of my ancestors. Without them I would not exist. I have has a good life. If you feel that my post is not appropriate because I haven’t disguised the names, please delete it. I will understand.

    When I was very young, whenever we visited Floyd Armstrong, I noted that my Dad called him “Floyd” rather than “Dad” or “Daddy” like I called my father. I was maybe five years old, so I asked my Mama why Daddy called him “Floyd” and she told me to never ask again because, “We don’t talk about that.” She almost always answered my questions with good valid information, but this one area was blocked for me. When I started school there were other children named Armstrong in school and several of them and some of the adults made a point to tell me and later on my younger brothers that, “Y’all aren’t really Armstrong’s.” But no one would give me any information about who we really were. So being the dutiful, obedient daughter that I wasn’t, I went back to my mother and told her what the children and adults at school were saying and she gave me some of the information I wanted (demanded) to know. She told me that a cousin of Daddy’s, Robert Cockrell, was visiting with Mama and Daddy shortly after they were married. Daddy had already gone to bed when Mama asked Robert to tell her about Daddy’s father. Robert told her that Willis Brock was his father. He elaborated that once when Robert and Daddy were at a cattle sale together, Daddy had pointed out a man and asked Robert who he was. Robert told Daddy that that was his father, Willis Brock. Robert told mother that Daddy’s response was to say, “Well, I don’t have anything for the son-of-a bitch.” Pardon the language, it was my father’s reaction to seeing his father.

    When I was a child, I remember a man coming to our house and telling Mama that he was Daddy’s father. Daddy was at work and Mama told the man that he had no reason to be there and made him leave. I had never seen this man before. I don’t know if he was Willis Brock or Fred Cagle (or Fred’s twin brother, Ed, for that matter.) I do know that he was not Floyd Armstrong because Dad would take us periodically to visit Floyd. They seemed to have a good relationship. When I was about twelve-years-old, Daddy (he had taught me to drive) let me and my younger brother, Jimmy, drive to the nearby country store. A man named Cooper was there and he decided to inform us, in front of everyone in the store, that we weren’t really an Armstrong. This was the first time that my brother had heard this. Jimmy started asking me to explain what the man meant. I drove straight back home to Mama and she gave him the same information she had given me. I think she told my baby brother, Tommy, at the same time.

    When my husband and I were married in 1970, we were given a beautiful Family Bible with pages for a family tree. I started filling it in and was able to complete the maternal side for both of my parents without difficulty. I completed my mother’s paternal side for several generations back. But my father’s paternal side remains blank to this day. This is what started me on my quest to find out who his father was. My mother insisted that we not ask Daddy because it would hurt him to be asked about his biological father. My greatest regret in life is that I didn’t disobey Mama. I wish that I had asked my Dad about this. My Dad had a hot temper but he was not abusive and would usually talk with us about anything, after he calmed down. Since that time I have learned much more and now we are using DNA to verify what we believe we know.

    Mine and my brothers’ surname is Armstrong, but that was the name of our Dad’s step-father whom my Grandmother married when Dad was 4-years-old. There was no adoption–my father just started going by the Armstrong name after they married and after a half-sister and half-brother resulted from the marriage. My father’s birth certificate lists Fred Cagle as his father. Fred Cagle was a 19 year-old who stated that he was 21 years-old on his marriage license to my Grandmother Linnie Inez Lovett (aged 14 years at the time of application) who also stated that she was of age to consent to marriage on the same license. (Granny Linnie and Floyd also lied on their marriage license application by stating that theirs was a first marriage for both of them.) In the early 1990s I talked with Fred Cagle’s sister, Evie, about Granny and Fred’s (both were deceased) relationship. She told me that the last time she saw my Grandmother was one morning when she watched Granny walk across a field going back to her parent’s home because Fred had finally figured out that Granny’s pregnancy was further along than it should have been based on their marriage date. Fred and Granny had argued about this and separated as a result. They were still married but not living together at the time of Daddy’s birth. Other Cagle relatives of Fred have stated that they separated because Fred said that she had sexual intercourse with his twin brother, Ed. I believe her greatest sin was in seducing Fred into marrying her when she knew that he was not her child’s father. He never remarried and was an alcoholic.

    Our Grandmother often told that Daddy was born premature and had no fingernails or toenails and very little hair. As a nurse, I knew that she was embellishing the story because I have helped deliver many premature babies. They are covered in a thick, fine layer of hair called lanugo and they have fingernails and toenails. The lanugo disappears as a fetus reaches full term and is almost completely gone with a full term birth. Her father, Henry Jasper Lovett, became angry with Granny one day. He started bumping her leg with his knee and told her, in the presence of our mother, that Granny “needed Willis Brock a hold of her.” According to our Aunt Earline Lovett Fowler, Granddad Lovett once said to my Dad, “you Willis Brock looking so-and-so.” Aunt Earline said that my Dad became so angry that he began to hit Granddad Lovett and she had to intervene. My Dad was one armed but he had a hot, firecracker temper. My brother Tommy and I have the same temper, but Daddy worked with us to help learn to control it. When he was about 15 year-old, Dad lost his right arm at the shoulder in a grist mill accident involving a corn sheller while working for Granddad Jasper Lovett.

    Fred Cagle died in 1990 as did our Grandmother. Dad had died in 1984. Willis Brock had died in 1969. His wife had died also. My brothers and I took Fred Cagle’s obituary to our mother and told her that everyone that could be hurt by this was dead and we wanted the truth about Daddy’s father. She called a close friend of both her and Daddy, Nell Garrison. Nell was a relative of Willis Brock’s wife (Viola Webb Brock.) Nell disclosed to us that Viola Brock stated that our father, Odell Armstrong, was the natural child of her husband. Dad was born before Willis and Viola were married. Willis and Viola were married when Daddy was about 4-years-old. Nell also told us that Willis had asked to be allowed to rear Daddy himself, and Viola was willing to take Daddy, but for whatever reasons, my Grandmother would not agree to this arrangement. My Grandmother’s sisters confirmed to us that Willis Brock was Daddy’s father. About a week later Nell came back for another visit and brought Marie Brock Fowler (Dad’s half-sister) with her. Marie had a picture of her Dad, Willis Brock, holding a young toddler in his arms. No one knew who the baby was. The picture had been found in Viola Webb Brock’s Bible. We believe the baby may have been Daddy. Daddy was born December 11, 1926.

    The depression started with the stock market crash of 1925. My Great-Grandfather Henry Jasper Lovett farmed and all of the men (Cagle and Brock) had worked for him around the time of our Dad’s birth. I am not making any excuses for my Grandmother’s behavior, because I really don’t know what prompted it. She and each of her sister’s tended to exploit men for whatever they could get from them. I don’t know their reasons, but I have my suspicions and it involves possible abuse from my Great-Granddad Henry Jasper Lovett. My Granny and her sisters were pretty women and I think that Great-Granddad Lovett may have used them in lieu of money to pay the hired farm workers. I cannot prove it. If I tried to broach the subject with the great-Aunts, they neatly evaded the issue. I do know that my Dad never allowed us to be alone with Great-Granddad Lovett. Great-Granddad Lovett and my Great-Granny Lovett (Mathilda Jane Weaver Lovett) were separated and never lived together during my lifetime. I don’t believe they were divorced. I haven’t found a record of a divorce. She once stated to my Mother and Dad that she wondered who had signed her name to the deed for the farmland that Great-Granddad Lovett had sold, because she did not sign it. I believe the property had originally come to her from her parents. I need to look that up. She and my Dad were very close and she petted us too. Great-Granddad Henry Jasper Lovett had at least one admission to Bryce Psychiatric Hospital that I know about.

    Meeting Marie led to meeting each of Dad’s half-brothers and sisters. At that meeting we shared information and pictures. Ruby Brock Smith burst into tears when she saw a picture of Dad sitting in his recliner. She showed us a picture of Willis Brock sitting in his recliner. The resemblance was very strong. Ruby and I are close in age and our children went to the same school. I taught Wallace’s daughter in nursing school before we met them. I have a picture scanned of Willis Brock as a child. The resemblance of Willis to my father and brother, Jimmy, is breathtaking. Ruby recently gave me a picture of her Dad, Willis Brock, in his WWI uniform. He favored my brother, Jimmy, so much in that picture.

    After we had met and gotten to know the Brock’s, I had a student come to me and tell me that we were kin to each other. She said that her great-Uncle Fred Cagle was my Dad’s father. I told her what we had found out about Willis Brock and my conversation with Evie Cagle, Fred’s sister. Her reply was, “Do you just like them better than us?” I told her that it was not a matter of like or dislike but a matter of knowing the truth. Some of the Armstrong’s want to claim kinship now. When my brother, Jimmy, died in 2012, I introduced my Dad’s half-brother and half-sister, Buddy Lee Armstrong and Bobbie Jo Armstrong Davenport to Dad’s half-brother and half-sister, James Wallace Brock and Ruby Brock Smith. They had a good conversation. After Jimmy’s memorial, we scattered his ashes together.

    I am 69-yers-old. My younger brother Tommy is 64-years-old. Our middle brother, Jimmy died in 2012. My brother and I wanted to know whether a genetic relationship between our Dad and Willis Brock exists. We were also prepared, based on our Grandmother’s behavior, (she eventually had a third marriage and several affairs,but no more children) that there might not be a genetic relationship between them. FTDNA has returned nine matches for my brother’s Y-DNA. Two of the matches are Brock’s with a genetic distance of zero. Two other matches with a genetic distance of zero have the surnames Taylor and Holder. There are three matches with a genetic distance of one; surnames are Davis, Taylor and Brock. There are two matches with a genetic distance of two with both surnames being Brock. I submitted Wallace’s DNA for testing and comparison. He and Tommy are exact matches on their Y-DNA. I also had the Family Finder test run on their DNA (autosomal and X.)

    We were born and reared in Haleyville, Alabama. Family ties go back to Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina for Daddy’s family. Mama’s family can be traced through Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and possibly Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Indiana and Ohio. I apologize for the length of my reply, but this is my story and I seem to have a need to tell it.

  42. Very well said!
    Another possible scenario could involve one, or both parites, having diminished mental capacity. Prior to modern vaccines and births, babies and children could be adversely affected by birth complications and diseases/fevers. These children, as adults, may have been a bit less intelligent, and thus more susceptible to sexual abuse or manipulation. The fact that one’s ancestor may have had somewhat diminished capacity may not be obvious or it may not have been passed down in stories. They very well could have lived seemingly normal lives because no records exist to suggest otherwise.

  43. I have an NPE in my paternal line. DNA says my grandfather was his mother’s son by a man not her husband. When I discovered it in 2005 after years of researching this family back to 1780, I was devastated. Recently, with help from a search angel from, we have identified candidates for my bio great-grandfather.

    I’m about to try to contact some living descendants, to try to get them to test. I can’t possibly guess at what happened between my ancestors, and am not one to judge them, but the explanations offered here either can be ruled out, or reflect badly on my great-grandmother or on the men whose descendants I need to persuade.

    The post, however, has convinced me that the best course in talking to my potential cousins is just to omit what I know about the NPE, at least to start, and focus only on the incomplete and partially circumstantial DNA evidence that links us. To say only “Unexplained DNA links me to your family. Can you help me find out why?” It’s less than candid, but is it dishonest? What else can I do?

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