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February 27, 2017

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When Story Proves Science

February 27, 2017

 

I recently ran my DNA on Ancestry.com. I'm not new to this. I ran my DNA ages ago, both with Ancestry and 23 and Me, back when commercial kits were brand new and you didn't get much bang for you buck. When I learned they'd upped their game in terms of percentages and locations, I was compelled to do it all again, even though I didn't expect any surprises. I've done a ton of family research and thought I had it all covered.

 

But, I was surprised when the results came back to see just how high my Irish percentage was. Irish? Mom's mostly Eastern European, and I know that speck of Asian is hers. Dad is Welsh, Cornish and a sprinkling of other stuff, but nobody had ever talked Irish ...

 

Unless, that is, I chose to believe the infamous story about my Great Grandfather.

 

Raised as Jasper Jones (Welsh) he was really supposed to be Jasper Purcell (Irish), but when his mother became pregnant with him, "they" were too young to raise him, so he was raised by his grandparents, rather than his parents. I chased down this paper trail long ago, dying to see if this story was true. What I uncovered certainly pointed in that direction. Jasper's mother was 20 the year he was born, which had me saying, "Hmm. That's really not that young, especially in 1902." But, when Jasper's "supposed" father, Clyde Purcell, turned out to be only 16 the year Jasper was born I went, "Ohhhh. Ok."

 

Obviously I hunted down Jasper's birth certificate, which indeed listed as his mother the woman who was supposed to be his sister (Margaret). No father was listed, so I had the evidence I needed of Jasper's true mother, but not exactly proof of his true father. Back to the story, then. Supposedly, once Clyde and Margaret became old enough, they married and went on to have a dozen more children. This indeed happened: Margaret Jones married Clyde Purcell and they had twelve more children. (I have to admit, I LOVED this part of the story. What kind of true love is that??) I still had no rock solid proof that Clyde was Jasper's father, though. All I had was circumstantial evidence ...

 

Until I ran my DNA. And there was that huge chunk of Irish, with no other explanation. It wasn't Mom's. It was Dad's, for sure. And there were no other people in the tree, no other stories, that included Irish. And I was left to conclude that indeed, this story about Clyde, Margaret and Jasper was true, I was right to list my great grandfather's parents as Margaret and Clyde as I had so long ago, and now I had the science to prove it.

 

But the glorious part of this tale is that, without the STORY, the Irish DNA would have made no sense at all. The Irish would've been a complete mystery that melted into the background of Dad's Celtic roots (Welsh, Cornish) with no shining star of its own.

 

So, I say, hooray for stories. I love science and nothing beats that solid paper trail, but ... without our stories, we're but mere outlines with no color, no substance, no soul. The DNA and the paper lay the groundwork, but the stories are the glue. Get them while you can, while your grands and greats and great-greats are still alive to spin you those yarns. It's definitely worth your time.

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