Jeni’s Family Reunion

Jeni's husband John, her father Thomas McKay, Jeni and baby Nolan, her sister Heather, and her brother Marc.

Jeni Reed was raised by her maternal grandmother and knew almost nothing about her dad Thomas McKay.  Yet we were able to find him!  I surprised Jeni with the news on June 16.  To add to the excitement, we discovered that Jeni has three sisters and a brother she had never met, plus a new aunt and two new uncles.  She was in shock when she contacted her dad.  He was delighted to hear from her! 

In July, Jeni got to meet many family members for the first time.  As she describes the reunion:

Well, the big meeting was this past weekend and it was so fun. I met my dad, one sister and my brother. We are all getting together again, plus more extended family and my other sister, in August. Here is a pic of us all. From L to R: My hubby John, Dad, me and baby Nolan, sister Heather, and bro Mark. 

What’s crazy is that we found out from 2006-2008 we were living right across from my cousin and didn’t know it. We even bought a blanket off of them at their garage sale before they moved away. My aunt Dori sold it to us and she vividly remembers us that day. Just crazy. Again, I just can’t thank you enough. My fam is so sweet and nice and it’s like we’ve known each other all along. Just amazing. 

On August 7, Jeni got to meet the rest of her family. She sent me more pictures. As she described the family reunion:
Yes, we had the party last Saturday and I’ve met most of the fam. It was wonderful; the common theme was “It’s like we’ve known each other all along.” and that I am 100% McKay! I still have one Uncle (Toms twin) and of course my sis Melissa to meet Aug. 31. So looking forward to it. Here are some pics. You may certainly use the photos and I’ll send more when I meet Meli. 

Over Labor Day, Jeni got together with her McKay family at Lake Tahoe for yet another reunion.  It seems the warmth they feel towards each other is drawing them closer than ever.   As Jeni says:
My dad is great, my siblings are awesome, and the kids are precious. So much more to learn about each other, yet we are all so comfortable. The Mckays are great people. As my cousin Patti said: “You find your family and get this one! You’re one lucky girl!” Ya, I won the cosmic lottery or something.:) My sweet Uncle Craig told me good things happen to good people.

The McKays over Labor Day in Lake Tahoe: Heather, Jeni, Dad, Melissa, Aubri and Mark



Posted in Finding Birth Parents, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maurice Conway

Andy and Colleen with Lorna Conway Burke, Maurice's Granddaughter

The best part of our projects is the good friendships we form with the people whose lives we  touch.  On our recent trip to Ireland, Andy and I visited with Maurice Conway and his family in Co. Limerick.  Maurice provided the DNA match that confirmed that the remains found in the wreck of Northwest Flight 4422 were those of his distant cousin Francis Joseph van Zandt.   During our time together, Maurice took us to the old Conway farm where Frank’s mother Margaret Conway was born and grew up.  We walked the road she walked with her sisters and brothers as they started from home for America.  And of course we paid our respects at the Conway family tombstone that played such an important part in solving the mystery of the identity of the Hand in the Snow. 

Andy, Colleen, and Lorna at the Conway Tombstone in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Askeaton, Co. Limerick, Ireland.

Maurice, Andy, and Colleen near the Conway home in Askeaton. The plant where Maurice worked is in the background.

Posted in Military Identifications, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maria the Bag Lady from Buenos Aires

My experience in locating people internationally is quite extensive.  I have located people on all continents except for Antarctica (too cold).  My most spectacular success was the location of a bag lady in Buenos Aires named Maria.  The woman had married a man from an influential Argentinian family.  She was uneducated and had been his nurse.  When the husband died nine years later, the family confiscated all of Maria’s inheritance, forcing her out onto the street.

However there was real estate in the US that had been forgotten, and had been escrowed by the State.  Since her husband was dead, Maria as the owner had to be located for it to be reclaimed.  When I found her, Maria was 68 years old, and had been living on the street for 15 years.  She lived in an apartment with no heat, no telephone, no electricity, and no water.  She picked up cardboad for a living at night.  And now she owned a valuable piece of land in the US.

Maria would never come to the phone to speak with me.  She was terrified.  I could understand her fear of her husband’s family.  They had probably intimidated her, threatened to kill her if she did not relinquish the rights to her inheritance. I could do nothing but turn over her contact information to the investment company that had hired me to find her.  I like to speak to every person I find to reassure them about who I am and to discuss why I have been searching for him.  But in this case, it was not possible.

I was never told by the investment company what happened to Maria’s property.  But I noticed that after speaking with her, my contact with the company was in an unusually good mood.  After thinking about this, I realized that I had innocently placed Maria’s life in danger.  If she sold the property for what it was worth, without means of depositing her money in a bank account, she would have been killed on the street for the cash.  If she kept the property, she could be killed by her husband’s family.  With her out of the way, the family would be the heirs to the valuable property.  Her only hope of survival would be to give the property away for just enough money for survival in the near future.

A year later, I received an email from a woman looking for Maria, probably for the same reason.  She had read a posting I had placed on a bulletin board, asking for information leading to Maria’s whereabouts.  I explained to the woman that any attempt to find her could lead to her murder, but she did not understand and begged me to give her Maria’s contact information.  I refused.

Posted in Unclaimed Property | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

23 and Me Male and Female Haplgroups

I just spent the evening reviewing the male and female haplogroups of Benjaman’s 23 and Me matches that are predicted to be at the 3rd and 4th cousins levels.  I was hoping to find a geographical pattern that might indicate his origins. 

Unfortunately, the haplogroups of his matches do not reveal too much information because of their variety.  His male haplogroups are mostly R1b1b2a and its downstream subclades, with one I1* [European], one Q1a3a [Native American], one E1b1a8a [African America], and one G2a [Turkey and the Mediterranean].  His female haplogroups are quite varied.  These include HV0 and various subclades of H1, H5, and H7, also subclade U2, various subclades of U5, one T1, two T2b, one L3e5, and subclades of both K1 and V.  It is curious to me why his male haplogroups should be relatively similar, but his female haplogroups should consist of such a wide variety.

Posted in Benjaman Kyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Benjaman’s Powell and Davidson Matches

In February 2009, Jim Barrett, Group Administrator of the Powell Surname DNA Project, contacted me regarding 34/37 marker matches Benjaman Kyle had with members of the study.  For about a year, I researched how these Powells might be related to Benjaman.

In the Spring of 2010, however, while I was reviewing Benjaman’s matches in the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Y-database, I noticed a 27/28 marker match with a Davidson that I had not taken too seriously.  This match did not appear to be competitive with the matches with the Powells. But on closer examination I discovered the Davison match was just as important because of the way Sorenson scores its markers.  Whereas DNA Heritage and Family Tree DNA score each component of a multicopy marker separately, Sorenson counts them as a single marker.  This normalized the Sorenson match to 33/34, with a single mismatch on DYS458, one of the fastest moving markers on the test panel.  The Davidson Y-DNA results were very different from other Davidsons who had been tested.

The Sorenson site does not give you information on living family members, but the pedigree of the Davidson who matched Benjaman indicated that he was a descendant of Thomas Davidson who came to the US with a group of other Scottish LDS converts in 1852.   Very few members of the family moved away from Utah.  One of the exceptions was John McNeil Davidson, who moved to Wyoming in about 1905, then to Idaho, and finally settling at least between 1912-1915 in Central Point, OR.

When I compared the Davidson history with the history of the Powells, I found that both families were in Western Oregon in about 1915.  The map shows the locations of the two families around this time.  They were not that distant from each other along what is now I-5.  Further comparison of the families indicated that the Powells are descended from three Powell brothers who were preachers along the Oregon trail in the 1850s, about the same time the Davidsons were making their way west to Utah.  The story of John, Alfred, and Noah Powell can be read here.

Locations of Powells and Davidsons in about 1915

There were many opportunities for the Davidsons and the Powells to be in the same area, so that it is possible that there was a nonpaternity event where a genetic Powell carried the Davidson family name.  A nonpaternity event can be an illegitimacy, an adoption, or a name change.  So far, we have not been able to determine when such an event occurred, but it is the most logical explanation why Benjaman matches a Davidson who is closer to Powells than he is to people with the Davidson name.

To illustrate the relationship, see the cladogram on the right.  Yellow circles represent a Y-DNA haplotype (profile).  The larger the circle the most people with that haplotype.  The lengths of the lines joining the yellow circles are proportional to the number of mismatches between those haplotypes, and the red lables are the markers these mismatches occur on.

Cladogram Showing the Relationship between Benjaman Kyle and his closest matches.

The cladogram has been constructed on the bases of 32 markers because this is the number of markers the Sorenson database overlaps with that of FTDNA.

Posted in Benjaman Kyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Hand in the Snow

The Hand in the Snow

Our blog would not be complete without a mention of The Hand in the Snow.  This was our first big military identification case with the Armed Forces DNA ID Laboratory, performed with a dream team of top forensic scientists.  Our successful identification of the frozen arm and hand found in the Alaska glacier as belonging to crash victim Francis Joseph van Zandt was featured in 300 newspapers worldwide, and will be published as a feature article in  Scientific American in the next few months.

Posted in Military Identifications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Attendees at the Memorial Service on Yap Island, July 2010

Identifinders has been assisting History Flight and Missing Air Crew in their efforts to locate family references of MIAs for DNA identification. On July 24-28, U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia Peter A. Prahar travelled to Yap State to participate in the dedication ceremony of the Ensign Joseph E. Cox Memorial, named in honor of a U.S. naval pilot whose F6F-5 Hellcat fighter plane was shot down over Yap Island on September 6, 1944.  Thanks to the efforts of Identifinders, members of the family of Howard Holding were present; Holding was killed during the same mission.  Identifinders located his niece, Terri Trick, who with her brother Brent Jacob, traveled to Yap to attend the ceremony.  To read the Press Release issued by the Embassy of the United States of America Kolonia Public Affairs Section, click here.

Posted in Military Identifications | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment