As I approach 20,000 entries on my Jerry Ban(n)ister Family Tree, I find myself going backwards rather than forward. Most of the DNA connections that I’m now finding are very distant relatives, designated as 5th or 6th generation cousins. In each case, I start in the 1700’s and follow the trail to more modern times. Ancestry maintains privacy for those still alive, so as I move into the 1900’s there is little identifying information. I often discover how we are genetically related, but know little about them personally. Only in a few cases have I actually met these members of my “family.” The majority are simply strangers that have a distant connection to the circumstances regarding my adoption. As a result, I remain clueless on the answers I seek. 

What am I looking for? I ask this question every day as I continue to explore the names or initials that have even a slight DNA connection on Ancestry or 23andMe. I then try to see how they fit into the tree and mark them with a green “DNA MATCH” label. Many of my newest discoveries are actually offspring of 2nd or 3rd cousins that were labeled earlier in my research. However, DNA science is a relatively new technology and only my generation was given the opportunity to voluntarily provide samples to be tested. Slowly but surely new names appear in the database, but they tend to be younger, perhaps seeking answers like me. The closest I now find are third or fourth cousins, as my generation continues to die. 

It seems a bit morbid but the only new information I now get is in the obituaries of my peers. They list living family members that only show up as “private” on Ancestry records. It’s unfortunately the only way to fill-in the holes on my family tree. Someone has to die to reveal the family secrets that are hidden from the public. This is especially true for me because I don’t know these people that are my relatives. I didn’t grow up with them or attend reunions to meet their parents or children. 

It’s a sad quest, especially knowing that my 86-year old birth mother is alive but unresponsive along with her children who ignore my inquiries. It’s as if I’m prying into their lives, when I should have the right to answers. The family tree research exercises I go through every day are futile attempts to know the people who gave me life. She probably gave me a better life through adoption so I’m nothing but grateful. However, without her acknowledgment of our relationship, I will always probably remain clueless.