Dad’s Family Dilemma

When DNA solves a family mystery and confirms family rumours, that’s great. But what do you do with that information?

Who was my paternal grandfather?

Although my dad was fairly sure who his father was, he wasn’t listed on his birth certificate and dad never met him. I’m not going to use the man’s full name in this post, but I grew up knowing him as Billy.

Many years ago I searched Ancestry for Billy and discovered that he had had several other children, one of whom was active on the site. I found photos of him and his children, and though I thought I could see a resemblance I couldn’t be sure.

Along with the photos, I also found information and stories about Billy. I learnt that his mother lived in the next street to my great grandparents and that he my gran were a similar age. They also both worked in the local fishing industry, Billy as a fisherman and my gran as a fishpacker. But all this showed was that they could have known each other.

My gran’s sister told me that Billy had left town before my dad was born and that (as far as Aunty Margaret knew) he had had no more contact with my gran. My research showed that Billy had indeed moved away. The trawler he worked on was requisitioned by the War Office in 1939, and Billy had subsequently enlisted in the Royal Navy. Still, this only meant that gran’s friend had joined the Navy and left town.

Can DNA solve this 80 year mystery?

Last year I took an Ancestry DNA test, mainly to confirm that I was on the right path with the research of my maternal family, and in the hope of finding out which branch of the Holyhead Williams family we belong to. But I also thought it could help solve once and for all the question of whether ‘Billy’ was my grandfather.

I created a private, unsearchable family tree on Ancestry and added Billy and his ancestors to it. I then set this tree as my DNA tree. After a few days I had matches from all of them. I suddenly had second cousins, with shared great grandparents appearing on my DNA marches, all linked to Billy’s parents. So it would appear that great granny Kate, Aunty Margaret and Aunt Carri had all been correct – Billy was my dad’s father.

But now what? What do I do with the information?

Billy died over 20 years ago, but he has living children who presumably know nothing about my dad, who have no idea they had an older brother. Their parents married in a different part of the country, 6 months after my dad was born, so it’s likely their father didn’t cheat on their mother. But still, I’m not comfortable with the idea of one of them taking a DNA test only to find a niece appearing in their matches.

But it’s more than feeling awkward for Billy’s other (real) family, it’s about how I feel. At first it was exciting. I delved deeper into researching my ‘new’ paternal family, but the shine soon wore off. I feel no connection to any of these ancestors, and for reasons I can’t explain it feels wrong to be researching them and adding them to my family tree.

I find myself unexpectedly angry with Billy.

My gran would never talk about him to my dad, it was his gran and his aunts who did that and they weren’t complimentary. To them he was the scoundrel who knocked up their daughter and sister then vanished. Which maybe unfair, there’s a chance he didn’t even know my gran was pregnant. But there’s a part of me that wonders, did my gran write to him, did she see him when he was home on leave? She would certainly have seen his parents and siblings, they lived 5 minutes away from each other in a close knit community. Did he know she was pregnant but wanted nothing to do with her? I know I’ll never find out the truth.

At first it was interesting to research. It was a ‘wow, Aunty Margaret was right’ and ‘if only dad had known’. But now I think it’s better dad didn’t know. He always suspected that Billy knew his mother was pregnant and I think it’s better he didn’t know that his father went on to have 6 more children. What good would it have done?

Dad had a father figure, his gran’s husband ‘Uncle Benny’. By all accounts he was all the dad that my dad could have wanted.

So I’ve removed Billy from my tree. I still have the research I’ve done on his family, but there’s no connection there other curiosity being satisfied.

One mystery was solved, but in solving it so many more questions that can never be answered were raised.

Family research can be complicated.

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