04 April 2013

Identifying Papa's Father: The Final Chapter

Waiting for the YDNA results was like that tickle you get in your sinuses that makes you want to sneeze.  You can’t sneeze and you can’t itch it so you live with it until the tickle decides to do what it wants to do. The email from FTDNA said there wouldn’t be any test results until the 3rd week of March. OK. Wait. Twiddle thumbs. Re-memorize every name of each young man who was Pearl’s age in town. Check email. Log into FTDNA account. Twiddle thumbs.  Do it all again.  You get the picture.

The night of February 23rd was a tough one. I had recently had surgery for a torn left meniscus and my knee was giving me fits. After hours of lying in bed with no relief from ice packs, a painkiller and a thousand different leg positions, sleeping was not on the agenda, no matter how tired I was.  About 1 am, I grabbed my cell phone as a pain diversion.  Why I thought anyone would email me that late at night is beyond me but for some reason, I looked at my email.  Lo and behold, a message from FTDNA saying you have new DNA matches!

I flew out of bed, right leg almost running, left leg dragging behind. When I got to the living room, I think I scared my hubby and son who were up late, engrossed in an old movie. “Where’s my computer”? “I’ve got DNA matches”! “Maybe we’ll learn who Papa’s father was”!

Nervously logging into the account, I quickly learned I had 782 matches.  These were 12 marker matches.  The results were so broad I could probably learn my mailman was my cousin somewhere in there. It didn’t matter that I probably would not learn my great grandfather’s identity from this.  I was still excited.  Quickly, I began to scan the surnames and locations of my matches.  It didn’t take long to see a pattern. What was most surprising was where all my new “cousins” lived.  Many lived in England or Ireland. It gave me clues that my grandpa’s family came from the British Isles long ago. Most interesting of all? The rest of my matches were from the South: a few from Mississippi, Virginia and Alabama.  The majority seemed to live in North and South Carolina. Papa’s dad must have been a Southerner. With a few exceptions of some ancestors living in Virginia then heading to Canada, Ohio and Indiana, I was pure Yankee. Well, this Yankee girl had some deep Southern roots and I was pretty sure I knew why.

Several surnames repeated in those results. One of those repetitious surnames leaped out at me. It was about 2:30 am. My family had gone to bed. I couldn’t call my mom to tell her what I was finding. I sat alone in the living room absorbing it all. Proving Papa’s paternity through a DNA test was never guaranteed. It was a crap shoot. We could come up empty handed. Here I was on the verge of getting an answer to the biggest question in my life but for some reason, the feeling was almost one of sadness. Why? The tears started to flow.  I knew in my heart the identity of Papa’s father.

One week later, the 37 marker test results came in. There were 24 close matches on it.  The top 6 surname matches were just as I had imagined: the surname was Lawrence.  Presley Evans Lawrence, the young man who was working as a servant/laborer with Pearl Gordon in that duplicate 1900 census and soon after returned to his home state of Virginia, was Papa’s father. After all of these years, we had our answer. We were Lawrences. My grandfather was Walter Henry Lawrence.

(As a footnote, I want to address the concerns I previously wrote about contacting the family if Papa’s father was identified. We never wanted to reach out to them or cause them any pain. The Lawrence matches on my FTDNA were mostly private. Foolishly, I joined the Lawrence DNA Project, hoping to remain private. The project leader sent an email to me and cc’d the woman who was the closest Lawrence DNA match in my report because she does all the research on that line. I was sick with worry. After much thought, I sent a detailed email to her with our story, my concerns and telling her I would leave the project to prevent hurting anyone. My new cousin wrote back joking that as I researched the family, I’d learn we weren’t the only illegitimate branches on the tree and welcomed me to my new Lawrence family with open arms. I’m happy I made that foolish mistake).


  1. Oh, I remember Presley from an earlier post! I was betting on him (and you probably were too), just the way I "bet" on a character in a mystery story.

    I'm so happy for you . . . and especially happy that the Lawrence researcher joked with you that you weren't the only illegitimate branches. Really, there's no shame in it today in 2013, unless some family members are really "stuck" in the past. We have illegitimate branches in our family, and mixed races from slavery days at that. A few older family members shiver at the thought, but all the younger ones seem perfectly OK with it.

    Congratulations on your persistence and your courage!

    1. If it weren't for that duplicate census, we would be scratching our heads wondering why our YDNA results showed the surname of Lawrence based in the southern states. Thank goodness the Benjamin family included them!

      And, thank you, Mariann. I was stuck on how to tell this story for a few weeks. Should I mention all the names now that there wasn't the harm or hurting an unknowing family or should I continue keeping the individual name's semi-private? I took your advice to write the best part first and the rest just flowed.