Blog Image April 10, 2024

Today I'll be sharing a real life story that shows how a simple DNA match can turn into a very unexpected relationship.  If you've been following along with my posts, then you know I often talk about "perfect" and "in-between" matches.  A "perfect" match involves a match who has a centimorgan value that gives you a clear view of the relationship.  For example, a person who is one generation older than you with a match of about 1800 centimorgans should be your aunt or uncle.  If the match were lower, like 1200-1300cM, you would have to question the relationship more.  That's a bit low, but still possible to be an aunt or uncle.

A woman named Kelly was trying to find out who her bio father was.  Her mother would never tell her.  Kelly had several good DNA matches.  I thought this would be pretty easy.  Many people on the list connected to a guy named Glen Martin.  Glen was married several times and had several children.  We also found out he was a truck driver and were told he may have other secret children in various parts of the country.  Maybe this wouldn't be as easy as I thought.  Based on age, Glen appeared to be old enough to be Kelly's grandfather.  His known sons seemed to be the right age to be Kelly's father.  Could Kelly's father be a child of Glen and one of his wives?  Or could he be a child of Glen and some unknown woman?  Or, maybe Glen is even her father.

Kelly's best DNA match was a guy named James.  Unfortunately, James had no family tree made and didn't respond to messages.  James had a "perfect" DNA match though (970cM).  He was a little younger than Kelly, but not by much.  A reasonable assumption would be, James and Kelly are first cousins.  Why?  Well, 970cM is too low to be a half sibling and too high to be a half cousin or first cousin once removed.  Also, while examining the DNA matches, I noticed James was matching everyone on Kelly's father's side.  He seemed to be related to both of Kelly's grandparents.  Great!  If we find out who James' father is, then one of his father's full brothers is the guy we're looking for, right?

As I mentioned, James didn't respond to messages.  Other DNA matches helped us out though.  Someone told us that James' father was Glen's son, Robert.  Robert's mother was Glen's second wife, June Eriksson.  Wonderful!  This must mean that Kelly's grandparents are the same as James', right?  Glen and June!  Well, not so fast...   This is where everything fell apart.

Ethnicity can help solve DNA mysteries.

I don't normally use ethnicity when solving DNA relationships because it can sometimes be wrong.  It's only an estimate.  However, there are certain cases when it can come in handy.  I did some research on Glen's wife, June.  Her family wasn't hard to find.  I quickly learned that June and her parents came to the US from Sweden.  She certainly has a Swedish last name, and when looking at James' ethnicity chart, he was exactly 25 percent Swedish.  It would make perfect sense that he'd have one Swedish grandparent.  Kelly's ethnicity made me question everything though.  She's entirely English and Scottish.  Zero Swedish.  Is it wrong?  My feeling was, no.  I've seen ethnicity be questionable at times.  For example, someone who is Southern Italian, may show up as Greek.  This makes perfect sense though since Greece is so close to Italy.  There's bound to be some kind of connection there.  I don't believe the website is going to confuse English and Swedish though.

I started thinking of different scenarios that could make all this work.  One thought was, perhaps Glen is actually Kelly's father.  That would make James one generation younger than Kelly.  He could be her half nephew.  It would mean, Kelly is related to Glen, but NOT June from Sweden.  If you can follow that, it would make sense, except for one problem, I mentioned that James is matching everyone on Kelly's father's side.  I see no connection to any Swedish people on Kelly's list, but I see some matches to another family named Robinson.  None of those people are matching to Glen's family at all.  So, Kelly has connections to a whole group of people who appear to be related to her unknown grandmother.  So, how can James be related to Glen, a Swedish person (June), this unknown Robinson family, and have enough DNA in common for all this to work?  James seems to be related to too many families.  Something isn't right.

Without getting into all the crazy DNA analysis, I'll just tell you what I found.  I figured out who Kelly's father was, and confirmed how everyone is related.  Below is an image of both James' and Kelly's correct family trees.  Take a look.  It's an unusual one.  See if you can answer these questions.  I'll put the answers below the tree.

How would you describe James and Kelly's relationship?
What is Robert's relationship to David?
What is David's relationship to Jane?
What is Robert's relationship to Jane (besides husband and wife)?

Examine family trees to help solve DNA mysteries.

Do you see why this is so strange?  This is actually the first time I've seen this unusual relationship.  So, what do you call James and Kelly's relationship?  A first cousin is someone who has two grandparents in common with you.  James is related to Glen and Mary, and so is Kelly.  However, a first cousin is also your parent's full sibling's child.  That is NOT the case here.  Kelly's father, David, is a half sibling to BOTH of James' parents.  How weird is that?  I would describe the relationship as Double Half Cousin.  Kelly and James have two grandparents in common, but they are on different sides of James' family.  Does the DNA work?  YES!  Someone who is your half cousin (one grandparent in common) will typically match in the 400-500cM range.  So, in this case, double it.  James' match of 970cM is perfect.  And finally...  Robert and Jane have another relationship besides husband and wife.  They are not biologically related.  They are step-siblings.  As you can see, Glen married BOTH of their mothers.

Next we'll look at visualizing relationships using family trees.

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