Connecting Cousins through DNA

Something very interesting has happened in the past few months thanks to having my DNA processed through AncestryDNA – I’ve gained a new cousin.

I know, it’s not a huge stretch for your DNA to match someone and then figure out that you are cousins. What makes this new relationship special is the back story and why we ended up getting far closer than either of us expected.

My new cousin Jennifer lost her father, much the same way that I lost my mother, far too young and without many answers about his history. What made it more difficult was that her father was adopted and never made any effort to find his birth parents while he was living. At least I was able to get to know my grandparents a little bit and to hear more about the family through other relatives including a great-aunt and a great-uncle that are still alive and have great memories. I am blessed in that regard.

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Jennifer’s father Douglas was born in 1944 in Galt, Ontario, Canada
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My mother Marlene (Elizabeth) was born in 1950 in Galt, Ontario, Canada

When she showed me a picture of her father, I nearly fell over. I thought he looked like he could be the brother to my mother and her one sister – similar nose, high cheek bones and expression when they smiled. I cannot imagine not knowing your history. Not understanding where your features come from or the names of your relatives or even where in the world your family came from before they got here – because let’s face it, nearly everyone in Canada came from somewhere.

Slowly Jennifer and I started chatting and revealing more about ourselves. She lives about a half hour away from where I live but her father was born here in Cambridge (formerly Galt). She and her husband had a dog before thinking about having children. She got the family history bug and has become obsessed with researching all that she can. We both love our nieces and nephews, adore old houses and are constantly scanning realtor.ca for any new (old) homes to dream about, among countless other things we have in common.

The more we talked, the more I wanted to help my new cousin unlock the mystery that is her heritage. And so, through the power of our DNA and mutual matches, I became completely absorbed in trying to determine how we could be connected. Here is my thought process.

  • Step 1 – Outline all of the mutual matches that I have made through my DNA with Jennifer and her brother.
  • Step 2 – Determine if any of these mutual matches have a family tree
  • Step 3 – review each match to see if there are any details revealed regarding last names and connections within my family tree
  • Step 4 – compare the match results for Jennifer and her brother to see if there are any discrepancies
  • Step 5 – Use the data collected by reviewing each mutual match to figure out any common threads in the family tree we all share.

And through a strange and roundabout series of spreadsheets and handwritten notes, I was able to determine that we are all related to people on the McNeilly family and on the Marcy family. Therefore, the best conclusion that I could draw was that Jennifer and her brother also descend from Jared Marcy, 1850 – 1905 and Sarah McNeilly, 1856 – 1938 – most likely from one of their children.

This means that we are related through one of the children in the family portrait I posted last March.

The information Jennifer has from the adoption records includes such small amounts of information, it’s nearly impossible to figure out who could have given birth. Things get even harder when you consider that the person we could be related to is not her father’s mother – which means we will have an even smaller chance of trying to figure out the names of Jennifer’s grandparents.

All we can do now is encourage others to get the ancestryDNA test done which we hope will solve this mystery once and for all and in the meantime, I’ve gained a cousin as well as a friend.

Looking Back at the History of Me: Wedding Planning

10 years ago today I was sitting in my parents kitchen to set plans in motion that would change my life forever.

James Harris proposed to Corina Harris in the middle of the bridge during the Simcoe Festival of Lights 2006

12 days previous my boyfriend of over 3 years had gotten down on one knee and proposed while we were visiting the lights in Simcoe, Ontario. According to him I made him wait for an insane amount of time before answering, when in reality I had taken a couple of seconds to soak in that exact moment. I wanted to breathe in those few seconds as I knew it would never happen again. Marriage, to me, is forever and I wanted to be able to soak in what he was saying, the look in his eyes, the darkness of the night with all the Christmas lights around us. When I said “Yes!” I swear he didn’t hear a word as he asked me several times after if I had even answered at all. It seems that I said the words and instantly pulled him to me for a big hug and a kiss. It was a magic moment.

 

Driving home after he asked the question involved me asking a million questions. I wanted to know if anyone knew he was going to ask (yes, he had told his sister.) I asked if he had gotten my dad’s permission (he did not) and if anyone in my family knew (they did not.) I asked if I could tell someone as I was bursting at the news, and he gave me permission to call my best friend since kindergarten, so Devon got a call before anyone else in my family because I couldn’t hold it inside. But then my new fiance had another card up his sleeve.

“We aren’t planning anything until at least the new year.”

He made me wait. I was allowed to research, but I wasn’t allowed to decide on anything until the new year had dawned, and thus why we ended up sitting at my parents table on January 2nd, 10 years ago.

My parents were happy to talk to us about our plans. I am the youngest of four children and it had been a long time since they had helped any of their children plan a wedding. I was older, living on my own with my partner and my parents were more than happy to give us advice and to stand by us in whatever we wanted.

The week after Christmas, I had used some time to do some research into different venues around and had made up some spreadsheets with pricing and ideas that I had. All the different options were swirling in my head and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I hadn’t thought of colours, or how many people we were going to invite. I knew who my bridesmaids were (with two sisters and a best friend it was a no brainer) but wasn’t completely set on anything else.

This mad hatter cake was designed by The Cake Box, flowers by Zehrs, letters by Corina

“Have you set a date yet?”

 

Was the first question asked. I answered that we hadn’t. That I looked at the calendar and figured since we most likely needed a year to plan a wedding, that we would be looking at a spring wedding for the following year.

That was about the last thing I got a chance to say.

My mom grabbed the calendar and they started looking later into the year and nearly every weekend had a problem except for one specific date – September 29, 2007. It was the last weekend in September, not a long weekend and not someone’s birthday. It wasn’t the same date that other friends who were getting married in September had picked and it was open and free.

I sat back in my chair completely gobsmacked.

“How could this be happening?” I thought to myself.

They looked at me and said “What do you think about that date?”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“You don’t like the date?”

“No. That isn’t it.”

My husband and I had met on a website called emode.com. Emode had a series of fun tests and personality tests that they ultimately turned into a dating site. They matched people on the site by their personality type and told them if you would be a compatible match. For fun I had taken a “Wedding Date Predictor” test on the site. Long before I had even met my husband to be, it had predicted that I would get married on September 29, 2007. And here were three people that I loved agreeing that it was the absolute perfect date for us to get married.

Gobsmacked. No other way to describe it.

Once that was decided, then it came time to look at my spreadsheets and the information that I had compiled. I presented the information and then sat back as the following discussion happened.

Wedding flowers, Wedding cake, I Do, orange and brown wedding
The backyard wedding of my dreams was planned by my parents and my husband on January 2, 2007.

Fiance: “I’m just not sure which option is the best one.”
Father: “Well I think you should just have it right here. Have it in the backyard. If you do, I’ll pay for the tent.”
Fiance: “That would work.”
Mother:“You can get married at the top of the hill and we can line the aisle with mums.”
Father: “I’ll build something special for you at the top.”
Fiance: “Yeah that sounds good.”
Father:“And your mode of transportation can be the wagon. I’ll talk to Mr. Nichol and see if he’d let you do pictures at his house. That way you can have the ceremony and the reception in the back yard.”
Mother: “If it rains you can still get married on the hill but we’ll keep all the guests in the tent.”
Fiance:“Yeah this is a great plan.”

 

I sat back listening as all the plans were made around me. The basis for my entire wedding was planned at that small round table in my parents kitchen with me barely saying a word. It was a foreshadow of the entire wedding planning. I picked my dress, but my bridesmaids chose the colour sash on it (taupe). I had a say on the bridesmaid dresses but they picked the colour (dark brown). I did help out with the tuxes but my husband had a huge say on the colours and who wore what (brown and cinnamon).

The entire wedding planning process came down to some advice my grandmother had given me years before I had even met my soon-to-be husband. “Something is going to go wrong. How you handle it, is what everyone is going to remember.” She was essentially saying to not sweat the small stuff. Go with the flow and just enjoy your day and everyone else will enjoy it too.

Corina on her wedding day

Oh sure, I fought my battles along the way. I figured out the things that I thought were important and stuck to my guns. I wanted to wear sneakers, and sure enough I walked down the aisle in my brown and white Chuck Taylor’s. My husband loved the idea and wore a pair of brown and cream Adidas. I wanted a Mad Hatter cake, and sure enough we got a cake designed by the best cake designer in the region (although my husband-to-be insisted it be more symmetrical than I wanted it to be.) For my borrowed, I wanted to walk down the aisle to Ave Maria as my mother and oldest sister did and I certainly did. I got to choose the caterer and most of the menu. I selected the florist and what was included in my bouquet but trusted my sister Lisa in her judgment on what the bridesmaid should carry.

My wedding planning involved a lot of compromise, and a lot of trust in each other and our family and friends. It ended up being a fantastic party with lots of dancing, lots of food and memorable touches everywhere. Having it at my parents house made it so much more personal and allowed us to relax a bit more.

 

Was I stressed out and frustrated during the planning process? For sure. Did things go wrong on the day of? Absolutely. Did I care? No.

I let other people handle things. People came to ask me questions and I would just defer them to someone else to figure it out.

I laughed. I hugged people. I thanked everyone for coming because I knew everyone there. It was my wedding and even though the planning wasn’t all me, it felt really good to be surrounded by people that I loved and to finally marry the man that loved me.

10 years ago my life changed, but I am so glad it did. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents and all they did to help plan my wedding and I’m still madly in love with the man that I married, even if his “Groomzilla” status will forever be etched in my mind. Family is where it all began, and family is what we are now. 10 years. What a wonderful ride this has been!

On September 29, 2007 Corina married James on an “unseasonably awesome” day, as James has ordered the day the date was chosen.