Filling in your family tree is like a viral infection, growing exponentially over time. I use this analogy during these shut-in times of self quarantine, affording the opportunity to work on my genealogy hobby. What initially started with my birth name, Jerry Lee Bannister, has now grown to over 23,000 connections on multiple branches. It’s all part of my search for answers based on genetic data linking me to thousands of strangers that have have each somehow had a role in my life. Some of them I’ve actually met face-to-face, while communicating with others by phone or through message centers. On 23andMe, for example, I’ve identified 39 close cousins and marked each on my tree with a green DNA Match label. With, I’ve done the same with 183 more relatives, including a half-sister connection. 

On Ancestry there are over 86,000 confirmed DNA matches for me, but most are very distant cousin connections. 23andMe offers nearly 1,400 more, but includes duplicates like me that submitted samples to both companies. There are hundreds of other websites that offer genetic analysis, but I don’t have the financial resources or motivation to do more comparative testing. Besides, even in retirement, I wouldn’t have time to figure out exactly how each relates to me. Every match requires a considerable amount of detective work, utilizing public records, newspaper articles, obituaries, social media sites, and other family trees that are often based on speculation. In some cases, only initials are provided to identify the sample, while others openly include a picture, birth date, sex, family names, and locations. As a result, my tree contains lots of arguable connections, but my goal is to find patterns of DNA matches as they relate to my birth parents – close is good enough! 

I have yet to make contact with my birth mother, but she is still alive and approaching her 87th birthday. My birth father died 9 years ago, but at least I have met his family. They were, of course, surprised that I existed but could see the strong resemblance. It was a surreal experience! I know that my birth mother and her family were equally shocked by my inquiries, but have elected not to respond. I don’t see any point in pushing it, even though I have many questions. I’ve discovered many answers through adoption records and DNA patterns to confirm that my information is correct. Without their help, I will continue to investigate new matches that pop-up every day on these websites. For example, Ancestry shows over 700 new connections, as more and more people submit saliva samples every day. 

The past few days of our governor-initiated-stay-at-home-order here in Oregon have included many hours of family tree trimming. I’ve uncovered connections with several close cousins including Elsa Stigdon-Schneider and her daughter Bethany Jurs, Ronald Barnes, Steve A. (Alexander), Marie Hamilton, and Pat Barnard. I also sent a message to a woman named Rayne Hubbard in nearby Canby to see if she could help clarify a mutual relationship with Terry Grimshaw. Terry was very helpful in providing birth records and census identification on my bio mom as I began my search years ago, but we’ve yet to find a common relative despite sharing DNA. Unfortunately, only about half the messages I send get any response, as people are often reluctant to get involved with a stranger, despite our common genetic backgrounds. In the process, I’ve spent a lot of time in a chair in front of the computer expanding the Jerry Banister Family Tree. After sitting too long, I’m once again developing all the familiar symptoms of what I call Banister Butt! (See Post #619).