Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Incredible AncestryDNA Story

A few weeks ago, I spit in a tube and mailed it to No, really. It's part of their new program, now in the beta stage, called AncestryDNA. I won't go into the details because their website does a much better job of it here. It's just become available to the general public for $199 or to subscribers for $129. The test traces your genetic code back hundreds of years. I am not in any way compensated for my promotion of AncestryDNA, I simply find it a very worthwhile investment. My results were, to say the least, shocking.

Screenshot of my actual AncestryDNA results. Click to enlarge.

I'm almost three-quarters Scandinavian! If you'd have asked me before I took this test, I would have told you I was three-quarters British and one-quarter German and who knows what else. As you can see on the map, sixteen of the ancestors in my family tree were born in the UK and two in Germany. Everyone else that I know the birthplace of was born in the United States or Puerto Rico.

As baffling as this was at first, it has come to make a certain amount of sense. Over the last thousand years, Scandinavians made various invasions into the rest of Europe. The most likely scenario is that my ancestors were Scandinavians that migrated into central and southern Europe, married the locals, and then moved, as many people did, into the UK in later generations. It seems a colossal coincidence that they then married other people of Scandinavian descent, particularly once they made it the US, but it's not impossible. I hope to get my parents and grandparents to take the DNA test as well to get a more detailed view, as my DNA contains only a selection of each of theirs.

Now, I promised you an incredible story and although so far it's been a strange and unexpected one, I wouldn't call it incredible. The real story here is in another feature of AncestryDNA, which shows you a list of members that share genetic markers with you and are likely to be your cousins. They're sorted by the estimated distance of the relationship. My very first result was a user named Terry_Cott. I didn't even think twice about his name until after I clicked on it and Ancestry suggested that, based on our trees, we shared a common ancestor - Joseph Cott.

Joseph Cott has always been something of a mystery to me, and someone I thought I'd never know the full truth about. That's probably still true, but in the past week I have learned far, far more about him than I ever thought I would. So, a little background is required. Joe was my great-grandfather - my mother's mother's father. We knew him as Joseph Cott Bubadias, a truck driver. He was my great-grandmother's second husband, and they had six children together before he abandoned the family. He moved to north Jersey, changed his last name to Cott, and had another family, including two daughters. I knew from my research that Joe was married to a woman named "Kath" after my great-grandmother. I knew his birth year varied depending on the record, as did his birthplace - sometimes it was Oklahoma, sometimes Puerto Rico. On one record, he even indicated his race as Cherokee. I was hopelessly lost in contradicting information. I felt like he was laughing at me from beyond the grave, as if he had intentionally muddled the trail to stop me from knowing the truth.

We thought that was the end of the story until Terry got back to me. As it turns out, Joe's birth name was Jose Cott, and he was born in Puerto Rico. Terry is Joe's grandson through his first marriage, a marriage that my family didn't know anything about. His father is my grandmother's half-brother. He is my mother's first cousin. Terry and I are still exchanging emails and photos. It will take some time for both of us to adjust to knowing one another. Maybe someday we will meet.

For now, this is just the incredible story of how my DNA connected my grandmother and the brother she's never met.

My grandmother Phyllis in 1952.

My great-aunt Shirley in 1953.

Terry's father Allen Cott in 1943.