Several years ago, when original birth certificates were made available to adoptees in his state, Sam learned the identity of his birth mother. She had been living in a home for unwed mothers in the early 1970s, and was barely 15 years old when he was born. Last year he found her (since married) on Facebook and sent her a message, which went unanswered. Now he wanted to find the identity of his birth father. Sam didn't want to upset anyone or cause trouble; he just wanted to know his name.
On my advice, Sam tested with Ancestry DNA and transferred his raw data to FamilyTreeDNA. In addition, he took a Y-37 marker test at FTDNA.
Two of Sam's top four matches on FamilyTreeDNA's Family Finder were at the 2nd-4th cousin level, sharing 143 cM and 93 cM; both traced their ancestry back to Patrick O'Malley and his wife Mary, who came from Ireland and settled in Wisconsin. They had several children and at least four of their descendants were on Sam's match list.
As for Sam's Y-37 marker results, the surnames of the testers and their farthest paternal ancestors were all over the map:
With his second Y-37 match, that percentage went down to 12.41%. With the second match, to find a common ancestor with a greater than 50% chance we’d have to go back 12 generations; well over 250 years.
No help there.
Sam’s Ancestry DNA results were more promising, but still took a great deal of work. Of his top six matches, at the 1st & 2nd cousin level, four of them had the last name of Michaels and none of them had a family tree. From previous research I knew that only one of these top matches was on his mother’s side; the rest were paternal matches. Of these Michaels matches, three of them had not logged in since last August.
The first paternal Michaels match shared 1018 cM; which seemed to indicate a strong first cousin match.
One of those Michaels friends had posted a “miss you dad” on February 23, 2017, with a family picture, obviously taken when his dad was still living. I wondered if February 23 was a significant date; perhaps a family birthday or wedding anniversary.
On to research several vital records databases for the state in question, and I found a 2016 death record for a Richard Michaels. I found a full obituary on Legacy; it listed his birth date as February 23, and named his deceased parents, deceased siblings (including Rosemary Kavanaugh), widow and surviving children. Interestingly, his mother was Bridget (O’Malley) Michaels, daughter of the same Patrick O’Malley I’d seen on FamilyTreeDNA. I looked up the obituaries for Richard Michaels’ deceased siblings, and sure enough, Rosemary (Michaels) Kavanaugh had a daughter whose name was Catherine (Kavanaugh) Wilde, possibly one of Sam’s top DNA matches.
Richard Michaels and his siblings all lived in the same city where Sam’s birth mother and her parents were living when he was conceived.
Since Richard Michaels’ deceased parents were named in his obituary, it was easy to research them and find their children and grandchildren; from that research I could identify two of the Michaels matches to Sam. At this point I began to suspect Richard Michaels who died in 2016 of being Sam's birth father. He had been married three times, with children from each marriage. Richard was ten years older than Sam’s birth mother and had married and had his first child the year before Sam was born.
I began to have a not-so-good feeling about this. At the age of fourteen, any pregnancy was the result of statutory rape, whether consensual or not. I began to wonder if Sam’s birth mother had been the family babysitter.
At some point in this research, Sam’s adoptive mother emailed me, saying that she was thinking about writing a letter to Sam’s birth mother. I replied immediately, saying “NO! Full stop. Sam is the adoptee here, and that’s his job. I would be glad to look over the letter before you send it to Sam, but in the end, it’s his decision whether to contact or not.”
When I was sure about Sam’s birth father being a Michaels, I sent an email to the Wildes through Ancestry’s DNA messaging system:
"I'm working with an adoptee who was born in ________; his birth mother was from _______. This adoptee is a 1st cousin match to you, along with ________, ________, ________ and ________. From other matches on FamilyTreeDNA, I've determined that he is most likely a grandchild of Bridget (O'Malley) Michaels..He is not seeking a relationship, just further knowledge of his ancestry."
There has been no response, even though they have checked their Ancestry DNA several times a month since then.
This story does not have an ending. The paternal cousins have not responded, and I don’t expect them to. Sam is content knowing his ancestry; he’s Irish on both sides of his family. And while genealogists are by nature curious (what was the story?), curiosity is no reason to wake up sleeping dogs.
Genetic genealogists must act in an ethical manner, and that means respecting the wishes and emotions of the living, who may be deeply impacted by the result of an unexpected DNA match.
The National Genealogical Society's Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others states:
"Genealogists and family historians are sensitive to the hurt that information discovered or conclusions reached in the course of genealogical research may bring to other persons and consider that in deciding whether to share or publish such information and conclusions." (Emphasis mine.)
So - research stops, and the deceased birth father's family are allowed to live in peace.