This story is a perfect example of how important it is to investigate thoroughly and how DNA can tell the real story, regardless of what the documents and family members tell you. I was helping a woman named Sherry. Her mother, Nancy, was adopted. Nancy has passed away, but Sherry wanted to find out about her bio parents. She had some information about the bio father, but that's about all. We still don't know all the details about the adoption, but I did find out a whole lot. It's definitely unusual. New information and additional twists and turns are still occurring. Try to follow this madness...
Nancy's bio father was supposedly a man named William Hill from Tuscaloosa Alabama. Sherry knew he had two other children, a son named William, and a daughter named Gloria Jean who were both older than Nancy. All the children supposedly had the same mother and were adopted out of the family for some reason. Sherry was able to find some information about William Hill online. His full name appeared to be William Burley Hill, born 1917 in Tuscaloosa Alabama. Before even looking at DNA matches, this seemed like a no-brainer on the father's side. I simply did a search on Ancestry for William Burley Hill in Tuscaloosa. William Hill is a very common name, and there were many of them. His unusual middle name made it easy though. I found all kinds of data for him. He was indeed from Tuscaloosa Alabama. His name, age and location all made perfect sense. On the 1950 census shown below, we see William B. Hill living with his wife Sara and two kids, William Jr and Gloria Jean in Tuscaloosa. We found him, right? WRONG !!!
Well, if that's not the right William Hill, then that means, there's another guy with same name, in the same location, the right age and has two children with the same names... REALLY??? Seems highly unlikely, doesn't it? Take a look at this 1930 census from Flint Michigan. We see a young Willie L. Hill living with his parents who's names were Elba and Ather. Believe it or not, that is the correct William Hill. Here's the story of how that was discovered, along with a whole lot of other surprises.
Let's switch gears and look at the mother's side of the family. Who's the birth mother? I examined Sherry's DNA data and matches and was able to find Nancy's mother, Frances Buchanan. Frances was born in 1923 in Tuscaloosa Alabama and died in 1984 in New Orleans Louisiana. There's no doubt about Frances. Everything worked out perfectly with the DNA. Here's where it get's crazy... There were no DNA matches to the Hill family at all. Nancy's bio father is clearly someone from the McPherson family. What about Mr. Hill? Someone must have gotten that name from somewhere, right?
Luckily, Sherry had a DNA match to a woman named Jeanne. Jeanne did not know who her father was, but I was able to tell from the DNA data how Sherry and Jeanne were related. They are half first cousins. They have one grandparent in common, Frances Buchanan. Jeanne let me view her match list. I knew her grandfather couldn't be the same as Sherry's. Jeanne had many DNA matches to people from the HILL family. This seemed to make sense at first, it meant that Frances must have had some children with William Burley Hill, right? No, still wrong!
I did some research on William and traced his family back several generations. Below is an image from the Find-a-grave website showing William's parents names. I traced those families back as far as I could go but nothing matched up with the names I was seeing on Jeanne's match list. William did live in Tuscaloosa, and did have children with the right names, and everyone was the right age, but it all came back to another guy. William LOUIS Hill.
The 1930 census shown earlier shows Elba and Ather as the parents of William LOUIS Hill. They were easy to research and I found that Ather's maiden name was Ather Lee Mason. Her parents were Mason and Pennington. Elba's parents were Hill and Gerner. All those names were appearing in the trees of Jeanne's DNA matches. All the DNA worked perfectly and I could say with 100% confidence that Jeanne's grandparents were Frances Buchanan and WILLIAM LOUIS HILL. What about his children??? Did this William Hill really have two children named William and Gloria Jean, just like the other William did? Amazingly... YES! It only gets more strange from here though. Here's a 1950 census showing William Louis Hill. His wife's full maiden name was Minnie Pearl Mace. We see him living here with his wife, mother-in-law, and two children. Notice the children are not named William or Gloria Jean though. He's also living in North Carolina at this time. Strange eh? I'll explain that in a minute.
This is where the confusion really begins regarding Frances. Frances also has a Find-a-Grave page (Shown below) with her obituary posted. In the obituary, it lists her children who she put up for adoption, including Nancy. We don't know why or how much contact she had with the children after their adoptions, or why they were even adopted in the first place and we were surprised to even see them listed. Not many people have children they've given up listed in their obituary. The two other children listed are William, and Gennie (who's real name is Gloria Jean). So, we know for sure, there really were two William Hills who had children named William and Gloria Jean. I also found records showing both Williams did live in Tuscaloosa Alabama in the 1940s. They definitely are not the same guy. This really did happen. So, someone had the wrong father completely for Nancy, and the wrong William Hill for Gloria and William. We have no DNA matches to Gloria. We can't say for sure who her father is. It's assumed to be William Louis Hill also, but who knows.
As an added bit of confusion, I noticed something very unusual about William Louis Hill. A great source of information on the Ancestry site is WWII military draft cards. William filled out two draft cards with falsified information on them. He provided an incorrect age on each card. His two cards are shown below. Notice the birth dates, March 13th 1918, and March 13th, 1922. We know these cards are for the same man for several reasons. One lists his mother as next of kin, Ather Lee Ferguson (his mother did remarry to a Mr. Ferguson). The other card lists his sister, Pauline. Pauline appeared with him on the 1930 census. Most importantly, look at the signatures. They are identical.
So, what is his real birth date? It appears to be March 13th 1921. Same day, but different year than shown on both cards. And there's more weirdness. William was not drafted. He enlisted in the army and served for the entire length of WWII. So, why is he even filling out draft cards in the first place. The two cards were filled out in 1942 and 1943 while he was in the military. Below are three more pieces of information I found. Military records showing his dates of service, and a headstone application showing the same dates. A marriage record is also included, just to show his parents and wife's name.
• Sherry's grandfather isn't anyone named William Hill.
• Jeanne's grandfather is a William Hill, but not the one we expected.
• William Louis Hill has falisified military information out there. Who knows why???
• DNA tells the real story when you're just not sure. Sometimes documents can't tell the full story.
UPDATE... while looking at all the DNA data, I discovered Frances had a forth child who was adopted out of the family and is not on record anywhere. I'm still looking into that one. Time for more investigation.
Next we'll look at how to determine relationships with centimorgan numbers.