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

Bill and Sandie Lakner, with me in the middle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Sandie Lakner

Enter Bill and Sandie Lakner, several years ago.

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

Our topics jump around like neighbors chatting over the fence.

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

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

Could they meet us for coffee?

Could they?

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

The Quest

What fun we had!

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

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

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

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

Social Faux Pas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family of Heart

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

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

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

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

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April Fool Meltdown Thanks to William Sterling Estes – 52 Ancestors #154

You tell me, is this a good day or a bad day, genealogically speaking?

  • You discover that your father was married under an alias. Ugh, not probably good.
  • You discover the alias that your father was married under. That’s good, sort of.
  • …in a newspaper article about him going to jail. That’s bad.
  • Where his wife testified. Uh oh.
  • Before she divorced him. Ough.
  • Oh, that’s going to jail…again…according to the article. That’s really bad.
  • You discover that your father had yet another, earlier, alias too. Getting even worse.
  • And another, very young, wife. Holy chimloda.
  • Who he married when she was 15 and lied about her age. Not looking good.
  • Before he was arrested the day they married for having intimate relations with her a few days before they were married, according to her mother.
  • Who testified to send him to jail. Marriage didn’t save him. I don’t think his new mother-in-law liked him, at all.
  • A few months later, the young wife divorced him, for cruelty, while he was in prison…asking for her maiden name back…in 1939. Did they even do that in 1939?
  • You discover his prison number…#24884.
  • And cry, for all kinds of reasons.

Who says that ancestors cannot reach from beyond the grave to play April Fools jokes on you?

  • Oh yes, and did I mention I apparently have a half-sister too?
  • Who’s deceased…
  • Whose mother is neither wife above and appears to have been married to someone else when the half-sister (if she actually is my half-sister) was conceived. And yes, she still has two living children who would be candidates to DNA test. No, I have not attempted to contact them.  What exactly do I say, all things considered?
  • At the time my half-sister was conceived, my father was married to the first wife mentioned above. Maybe that’s part of why she testified against him in court???

If you’re saying Holy Smokes about now…uh, me too.

I swear, my family has given me a working example of every possible situation.  Maybe that’s the silver lining. It was already difficult enough to discover that my brother wasn’t my brother. Now this.

Um, I think my father might have been a scoundrel.

I have only one thing to say to my father as I try desperately to unravel and wrap my head around this.

NOT ONE DAMNED BIT FUNNY!!!

It’s OK if you’re laughing. I will be too, eventually, as soon as I get over the shock. But talk about rocking the world as you think you knew it. You know, it might have been easier to simply discover he wasn’t my father. But he is my father, warts and all.

My mantra has always been to “not judge” the ancestors, because you can’t walk a mile in their shoes and you don’t live in the timeframe and society they did.  But I never thought of my father as an “ancestor” in that sense and this would be a lot easier had I not known him.  He died when I was 7 and it’s easy to idolize someone who is gone. I never saw his warts up close and personal, only through others and painful revelations like this.

But look at it this way…you’ll eventually get one heck of an article out of this one. I believe in the truth and it wouldn’t be fair not to share this part of the journey with you too. And I must admit, it IS very interesting!

I’m considering titles for the new article(s):

  • Veritas (hat tip to Rosario)
  • Uncomfortable Truths (hat tip to Shannon)
  • Be Careful What You Ask For (hat tip to my husband who is even more confused than I am, even after the full explanation)
  • Rock My World
  • An Inconvenient Truth (hat tip to Janet)

Other suggestions? What do you think?

It’s certainly an April Fool’s Day I’ll never forget. I would have been happy solving a brick wall, you know, 200 years ago or so. Scoundrels are fun when you didn’t know them personally and you didn’t inherit half of their DNA.