NOTE: The genealogical chart at the end of this article may help to understand the relationships and hypothetical family links mentioned in the text.
When I first took a DNA test (with AncestryDNA) in 2016 I half suspected most of my findings would be connected with my dad’s maternal (i.e. English) forebears. For various reasons, genealogical research and DNA testing for genealogy purposes are not all that popular in Spain and Italy, where my mother’s and paternal grandfather’s ancestors came from. So it was logical to expect there to be a substantial amount of genetic cousins among my DNA matches with a connection to the UK.
Among the sea of English cousins – some of whom proved to be very useful in my own family research and highly experienced genealogists in their own right- I was pleased to find I had a match with a lady in America called Marilyn, whose story I narrated some time ago. To recap, Marilyn seemed to share genes with me, my Mum and my Mum’s only surviving paternal aunt, with Ancestry estimating that she is somewhere in the range of our 4th-6th cousin. This implied that Marilyn and I were related via my grandfather’s family, who came from the Spanish coastal city of Ferrol, a major port with long-standing connections to the Spanish navy. Without the aid of a chromosome browser, there was little I was able to do other than try my luck at finding my and Marilyn’s common ancestor. Sadly, none of the surnames among our recent ancestry matched, so there was little hope of a “eureka” moment without digging deeper.
One ray of hope came when we researched the family of Marilyn’s grandfather, who came from Ferrol. Coincidence? The man had been born illegitimate in 1904, but his father’s name was relatively easy to find out thanks to an old family legend that the father’s family owned a coach company. Ultimately, Marilyn’s grandfather’s baptism certificate, which I was able to locate, contained a side note correcting the omission of the father’s name, and confirming our suspicions that the boy had indeed been fathered by whom we’d suspected all along. As the man’s family came from another part of Spain with zero connections to my own family, I safely accepted that Marilyn and I must thus be related via her great-grandmother, Josefa.
Marilyn’s great-grandmother’s name was traceable thanks to her son’s baptism certificate, but frustratingly she too proved to be illegitimate. Sadly, neither Josefa’s birth nor her baptism certificate have been found, so there is little chance of finding anything via traditional records. Census returns showed that she had been born around the year 1882 in Ferrol. The street where she lived, the Calle de las Ánimas was literally two minutes away from the house where my great-grandfather’s uncle lived in 1887. Coincidence?
Let’s not jump to conclusions. All I knew at the time was that Josefa had been born illegitimately in 1882, so there was a serious possibility that a man in my family was her biological father. But who? Judging from my family tree, there was a (relatively) limited number of males who could have “done the job”. Here is a bit of information about each “candidate”:
- My own great-great-grandfather Nicolás, born in 1834, had been married to his wife, my great-great-grandmother Baltasara, for over twenty years. Their union had been blessed by the birth of ten children, but by 1879 they had welcomed their final child (my great-grandfather Guillermo), Baltasara having turned 40 by then. Perhaps Nicolás has got the wandering eye, met Josefa’s mother and got her pregnant…? Well, it’s a possibility.
- My great-grandfather’s eldest brother Ramón, who was Nicolás and Baltasara’s eldest son. Although he was single and a young man of 20 at the time of Josefa’s birth, I find it unlikely that he was the girl’s father, since Josefa’s mother was nearly 40 at the time. Of course, an difference in age proves or disproves nothing, but rather more damaging to Ramón’s candidacy to Josefa’s real paternity is that he was very probably in Cuba by 1882 (the same place where my own great-grandfather would temporarily emigrate to a few years later), so I find Ramón the least probable of all candidates. His younger brothers are equally excluded for being too young to sire children within the correct time frame.
- Baltasara’s only brother (and therefore Nicolás’s brother-in-law), Juan Antonio, who in 1882 was a wealthy bachelor of 36, very much available and (as seen above) living a stone’s throw away from where Josefa’s mother lived. His eventual marriage (to his niece, no less!) and the arrival of two daughters would have covered up any trace of debauchery in his previous existence.
I soon became convinced within myself that candidate number 3 was the man who had sired Josefa out of wedlock, but without documentary or genetic proof there was little I could do. I then decided to recruit a few additional relatives and see if with their DNA I could get any closer to the truth.
My first candidate was obviously a descendant of Juan Antonio’s. I have been in touch with this cousin of mine for many years, and share a common interest in history and genealogy – which is why I was surprised to see she was actually not interested in taking a DNA test, because of (allegedly) privacy reasons. Disappointed but far from outdone, I looked for another relative (in this case a descendant of the aforementioned Ramón). The results duly came in, which showed that both Ramón’s descendant (who belongs to the same generation as me) shares the same amount of DNA with Marilyn as I do. This to me, although not fully conclusive given the random way in which DNA is inherited from our parents’ forefathers, seemed to indicate that Ramón was not Marilyn’s biological great-great-grandfather – or else she and Ramón’s descendant would share a slightly higher proportion of DNA than Marilyn and I do.
Without other relatives eager to test, I felt like I had hit a dead-end. That was until I recently got a new DNA match with yet another lady in America called Yvonne. Again, I was confronted with not knowing how Yvonne and I were related, but we seemed to share a common link to the city of Ferrol. Coincidence?
Fortunately, and unlike in Marilyn’s case, Yvonne knew full well the name of all of her great-grandparents, and was even able to provide the full name of her great-great-grandmother, Carmen López Pereira, born (according to the census) in around 1846 in Ferrol. This small detail rang bells with me instantly, for I knew that my own ancestor, Andrea Pereira (the mother of my great-great-grandfather Nicolás, mentioned above) had been married twice, her second husband (m. 1843) being a man called Mateo López. If they had any children (which I do not know), they would have had the combined surnames of López and Pereira, and so could easily have been the parents of Yvonne’s great-great-grandmother Carmen. Coincidence?
My theory about how I was related to these two ladies, albeit via the same line in my family, focused on two separate branches: on the one hand Marilyn was allegedly descended from Juan Antonio; on the other, Yvonne was allegedly descended from Nicolás’s mother. Juan Antonio and Nicolás did not share any DNA with each other (something which obviously cannot be said about Nicolás’s descendants, all of whom were related to Juan Antonio, him being their mother’s brother), so the next step was obvious: I had to check if Yvonne and Marilyn had any DNA in common with each other. If they hadn’t it would reassert my theory that, although both related to me, they were not related to each other, and they descended from different lines of my family tree. The result was very encouraging, since Marilyn and Yvonne share zero DNA between them (and this from people who could only have been, at most, 4th cousins).
To summarise matters, although I have not yet solved the mystery of how I am linked to Marilyn and Yvonne, I am pretty confident that by process of elimination and the evidence shown by our DNA matches will soon prove that the above is correct. Time will tell!