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Putting together the family jigsaw puzzle

February 12, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Nearly six months after I had my DNA tested through the company 23andme, more clues to a lost family continue to emerge.

I signed up for the service hoping to learn more information about my ancestry, the Finnish side in particular. That was before 23andme ran into some difficulties with the federal government and discontinued the health analysis portion of its DNA testing service. I don't know whether the health analysis was really accurate, but identification of possible family members certainly is accurate. So far the service has put me in touch with people I know are actually related to me: my maternal grandfather's first cousin and a third cousin on my father's side, as well as more distant relatives who share identifiable ancestors with me.

But so far I have not learned anything solid about my Finnish great-grandfather. I know that he was from Finland but little else, including the names of his parents, where he was from in Finland or even whether he changed his name before coming to the United States. He vanishes from all the records after about 1922. However, I do carry a bit of his DNA and that is what I have pinned my hopes on for finding out more about the man who has been the family mystery for nearly 100 years.

Trying to figure out family connections with so little information has been a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The Finnish population is also so homogenous and the sample pool so small that many Finns are identified as relatives and may show up as more related than they truly are. But some Finns are more related to me than others. Though progress has been slow, 23andme also has enabled me to compare the DNA of those "DNA relatives" from Finland and try to determine which of us match in the same segment on the same chromosome. Two of those people, identified by 23andme as possible third cousins, match me and each other in the same segment on the same chromosome. They are also far less related to the Finnish relatives I know more about, which makes me think they might well be relatives of my great-grandfather rather than relatives of my Finnish-American great-grandmother and her family.

Will this help me learn who my great-grandfather was and where he was from? Maybe not, since any connection is 100 years in the past and the relatives are third and fourth cousins. I don't know much about my third cousins or their relatives and most other people don't either. But it does give me a place to look, now that I know my great-grandfather was probably from northern Finland, from a city near Turku. It has also given me several new Finnish cousins to visit if I ever travel to Finland.


Article Comments



Mar-06-14 6:19 PM

Still no luck with the Finns but other long lost relatives keep coming to light. One of the things I find interesting is the way DNA seems to be passed down. 23andme claims that grandson of one of my great-grandfather's half sisters is my fourth cousin. He'd actually be my father's second cousin in the half blood and my second cousin once removed in the half blood. I would assume half siblings are more closely related than cousins but obviously less so than full siblings. There really isn't a word to define my exact relationship to this fellow, who I didn't know existed and who lives in Canada. My grandfather's half siblings were all so much older that they weren't in contact with our family.


Feb-17-14 1:23 PM

I was lucky to be born the youngest child of the youngest child on my father's side. Also, my grandmother was 40 when she had my dad and he was 40 when I was born so I knew her (she lived to be 105) and Dad had a wealth of information about her family. I even met my great uncle John from Norway once. Unfortunately, things are a bit murkier on my mother's side of things and she does not really have much information which I find odd. I'm very interested in the 23andme idea just to gain more knowledge of my grandmother on my mom's side. Keep up with your updates. It's fascinating!


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