Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finding Joy

It was the third full day of Olympic competition in Rio. In the pool Ryan Murphy had just collected a gold medal for the US in the 100 meter backstroke. Michael Phelps swam semis of 200 meter butterfly. Keri Walsh Jennings & April Ross had convincingly defeated the Chinese team of Wang & Yue 21-16, 21-9 on the beach. Although there was more competition on TV, I had had enough for the night and headed to bed. However, I walked past my computer and felt compelled to check my email.

There was an incoming message from a former colleague in California. I had renewed my acquaintance with Mary during a chance encounter in June at a restaurant in Morro Bay, CA, where we were having lunch with several friends and former neighbors. She walked in to the restaurant with a former genealogy client of mine and we got to chatting about using DNA in family history research. I had previously made a cameo appearance in her journalism class to discuss two aspects of intellectual property that I covered in my course “Ethics in the Information Age” – copyright and plagiarism.
Mary’s email said in part:
I bought your books and am reading and learning as fast as I can, but I don’t think I can find my sister in less than a year. You are so incredibly fast at this relative hunting do you think you can find her for me? I would be happy to pay for your time but it would never be enough.   She is probably 80 by now so time is critical.
Thanks for considering my proposal. I’ve visited more than 90 countries and now I’d just like to talk about the dad she never knew with this half sister. Her family never approved of my dad, the creative inventor, so pushed him away after only a year. Her name is Joy by the way.
I made sure I had the codes to access Mary’s recent DNA test results and went on to bed.

The search turned out to be easier than any of us expected. By the time Mary got up and checked her email the next morning, there was a message asking her to call me AND there were two pictures of Joy waiting in her email box. 

Before noon Nashville time Mary had used one of the phone numbers I had given her to reach Joy and they had talked on the phone for more than an hour and a half. This was to be the first of many, almost daily calls that have followed.

It is rarely this easy. Two years earlier when I had unexpectedly gotten an unknown 1st cousin DNA match, it had taken over seven months to figure out which sibling of one of my parents was responsible for my newly discovered cousin Jim being on this earth. That tale has previously been chronicled in this blog. As difficult as Jim’s search had been, even Jim’s search was easier than many.

Joy was literally just sitting there waiting to be found. She had positioned herself well. Both she and Mary had tested at AncestryDNA. Joy appeared on Mary's match list:

1,857 cM of shared DNA is far too much for a normal 1st cousin match. This almost certainly had to be the half-sister Mary was seeking. All that remained was to locate her.

I immediately left a message for this match in Ancestry’s proprietary process of contacting other members. However, because years of experience have taught me that this indirect method of contact is slow at best and often ineffective. It values the privacy of the matches over efficiency of making contact. It also does not always notify the match that a message is waiting online – particularly if the match has not maintained an ongoing Ancestry subscription.

Fortunately, in this case Joy had not made a serious effort to hide her identity. I was later to find out that she also had been searching for her half-sister off and on for a decade but there are lots of women named Mary out there.

Joy’s Ancestry login was a combination of her initials and married name --not so good for privacy but great for leaving bread crumbs for matches to follow. Joy had posted a brief pedigree chart on Ancestry which listed her as “Private” but outed her husband and included a picture of him. After searching several online directories of living people I found a recent address in Texas and three phone numbers listed in The U.S. Public Records Index. I was able to find accounts for Joy on LinkedIn and Facebook. While exploring LinkedIn, I got a popup suggestion of a person who might be able to introduce us. That person was a person very active in helping adoptees find their birth families. This led me to believe that Joy might be actively seeking her biological relatives – an assumption that turned out to be only partly correct. The pictures on Facebook matched the handsome fellow attached to Joy’s pedigree chart on Ancestry. 

This search was a little more complicated than that but not much. I’ll probably never have an easier case than this. 

Mary sent me a check with a generous tip added; but I’ll always treasure what was written in the memo section of the check more than the money. It said, “For Great Joy".

A big uniting event is planned for early November in Texas. Pictures to follow.

Dr. D. made another interesting find as he located the missing half-sister. It connects him to the sisters; but that is another story for another day -- sometime very soon.     

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