July 24 is Cousins Day, and to celebrate we’re sharing some real-life cousin stories courtesy of AncestryDNA. These are folks who met cousins they never knew after contacting a match that appeared in their AncestryDNA results. An AncestryDNA match is determined by how much DNA you share with another individual.
Names can change, but DNA doesn’t
For Melyssa, it started with a question: “Who were my father’s people?” Melyssa had been researching for more than 30 years after she learned that her mother had been married before, and that she and her younger brother had joined her current family when she was three years old.
Initially, Melyssa’s mother explained that she had indeed been married before, then divorced. But, she said, her first husband had subsequently died and had no living relatives. After a few months of contemplating this, Melyssa decided that wasn’t enough, and she set out to find out who her birth father had been and his ancestors.
Eventually, hours of researching left Melyssa convinced that her father might be alive. More researching and phone calls left her with leads on two possible fathers: one in Florida and one in Pennsylvania. A visit with the Florida candidate provided a few more pieces to the story and eliminated him as her possible father. That left her lead in Pennsylvania, who didn’t want to pursue a possible connection. She tried several times over the years but got nowhere. Finally, two years ago she turned to DNA testing on her own to see what she could find out.
“My results clearly showed I am Norwegian, a region I never in a million years would have expected. My mother’s side is Irish,” Melyssa explained after viewing her ethnicity results. Then she turned to her cousin matches, focusing on the area where the man she thought might be her father had lived when she had contacted him last. Sure enough, by searching around New Castle, Pennsylvania, she found Claudia, a 4th-cousin DNA match, who used to be a Richards, her suspected father’s surname. She immediately contacted Claudia, explained a little about what she knew, and asked if she knew a David Richards. Claudia said she did and that she and David were cousins and had gone to high school together but didn’t know each other well.
Claudia shared her own research on the Richards family and helped Melyssa get into contact with a possible half-brother.
When they all met in Pennsylvania last summer at Claudia’s mother’s 85 birthday party, Melyssa’s potential sibling took the AncestryDNA test, which confirmed that he was in fact Melyssa’s half-brother.
Her father never did seem interested or wasn’t ready to meet. By time he found out that DNA had confirmed the relationship, he was very old and sick. He died just a few weeks ago.
“While I never got to see my birth father face to face, I have been able to meet my brother and other relatives, including my grandmother Richards, who passed away just months after us meeting,” Melyssa explains. “I received information on grandparents and great-grandparents and have successfully taken my ancestry back to Norway — with photos!”
Melyssa attributes a lot of her success to Claudia, the cousin she met through AncestryDNA. The one who was able to hold her hand, help answer her questions about the missing links in her family — and ultimately change her life.
Power of DNA: helping cousins connect to their past.
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About Anna Swayne
Anna Swayne has 9 years of experience in the DNA genealogy world. At Ancestry, she leads efforts in developing education to help our community maximize their experience with AncestryDNA. She believes there is real power behind DNA and the story it can unlock for each of us. When she is not talking DNA you can find her hiking or cycling in the mountains or cooking at home.