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September 15, 2014

DNA Gave My Husband a Completely Different Great Grandfather

A few months back I wrote about a surprising DNA match with my husband in a post called DNA Results Leave us Gob-Smacked! 
DNA Gave My Husband a Completely Different Great Grandfather
Comparison of hubs' mother's DNA with Alice
Hubs and another man were a .64% match with a predicted relationship of 2nd or 3rd cousin. I don't have permission to use his name so I'll call him John. John's family tree showed no surnames that matched hubs. Emails to John revealed that he was born in the same small town as hubs and his ancestors had settled there many generations prior, just as hubs' ancestors had done. 

A 2nd cousin match meant that John and hubs probably shared a great-grandfather, while a 3rd cousin match meant they shared a 2nd great-grandparent.

I was puzzled, as we had researched hubs' genealogy several generations back without seeing any link to John and his lines. John also had done extensive research on his lines several generations back. We knew who hubs' and John's great and 2nd great grandparents were - and they were not the same. 

John was as intrigued as we were, so our next step was to have John's mother and hubs' mother tested. We also tested hubs' father just in case the match was on his side. The DNA results were in - hubs matched John's mother (let's call her Alice) with 3.00% shared. Because we had also tested hubs' mother and father, we knew if matches were on his maternal or paternal side. It was conclusive - it was on his maternal side. 

A look at the matches for hubs' mother showed that she matched Alice (John's mother) with 6.9% shared and was estimated as a 1st or 2nd cousin. First cousins share grandparents, while 2nd cousins share great-grandparents. 

Comparison of hubs' mother's DNA with John

Since DNA doesn't lie, I had a closer look at John's family names, especially the names of his great-grandparents on his mother's side. John's great-grandparents were George Cooper & Sarah Jane Jickling. Suddenly I remembered a little tidbit of family lore that had passed on from hubs' grandmother on his mom's side. His grandmother had always claimed that hubs' grandfather Bert Holden was not really the son of Bristol Holden because Bert's mother Elsie Phyllis Markham had been "fooling around with the hired man named Cooper" If this were true it meant that hubs' great grandpa (his mother's grandfather ) was not Bristol Holden but someone named Cooper. 

Bingo! It looked like that family rumour might be true. I began researching the Cooper family in and around St. Mary's and found lots of supporting evidence for the rumoured parentage of Bert Holden. 

At the time Elsie became pregnant with Bert (August 1917) one of George and Sarah Cooper's sons lived beside Elsie Markham's brother Albert. One of George and Sarah's sons and a nephew lived beside Bristol Holden on his farm just outside of town. Who better to be "a hired hand" on the farm of Bristol Holden than either the son or the nephew?

Elsie married Bristol Holden 7 months before Bert was born.  She was 19 years old and had only arrived in Canada from England 4 years earlier. Her only family was two brothers one of who was killed 10 days before Bert was born.  Elsie was orphaned at 6 months of age and passed from relatives to strangers until her oldest brother (who was a Home Child sent to Canada at the age of 11) saved enough money to send for her in 1913. 

It seems very likely that poor Elsie found herself pregnant, either from the married son of George and Sarah Cooper or (more likely) the unmarried nephew, who according to John's mother Alice, was a known "rogue". Given her situation she no doubt was happy to marry Bristol. Did he know the baby was not his? We will never know. Elsie may have told him. Or she may have initiated some intimate moments with him, then told him she was pregnant. He would of course assume the baby was his. 

In the end it doesn't matter what the details are. We cannot blame Elsie. It was 1917 and she was a  pregnant unmarried girl. She had few choices. By all accounts she and Bristol had a happy marriage and she was a good mother. In the end that is what matters.

But back to the nephew. If he was Bert Holden's biological father, then Alice and hubs' mother are 1st cousins twice removed. Allice's grandparents were George Cooper and Sarah Jickling and this same couple would be hubs' mother's 2nd great-grandparents. 

The line of descent would then be:
  • George Cooper (1843-1922) & Sarah Jickling
  • George's son Herman Cooper (1873-1958) & Caroline Martin
  • Herman's son Gordon Alfred Cooper (1899-1970)
  • Bert Holden
  • Hubs' mother
  • Hubs
 Our theory is that Gordon Alfred Cooper was the biological father of Bert Holden. We are continuing our research to try to prove or disprove this theory. We may never find out whether it was George or one of his uncles or his father but we do know that George & Sarah are direct ancestors of hubs' mother.  We have eliminated some sons and grandsons of George & Sarah as being too young or too old. We have narrowed the suspect list to those with the closest proximity and who might have been "the hired hand" on the Holden farm in 1917.

One last item is that we have seen a photo of Gordon Alfred Cooper's legitimate daughter and there is a striking resemblance to hubs' mother at the same age. Just one little tantalizing bit more to add to the puzzle.

I would love to find some descendants of Caroline Martin's parents George King Martin & Hannah Robinson, have their DNA tested and see if they match hubs' mother. That should tell us if Bert's biological father is indeed Gordon Cooper or if we need to eliminate him and look at his uncles again.


Michael F Harris said...

I wonder how many trees DNA could affect like this.

Dana Leeds said...

Wow! DNA can sure uncover some family secrets! But, I find it interesting that you'd already heard the family story, but now DNA is proving it!

GeniAus said...

What a fascinating story, Lorine. As more people are tested there will surely be more cases like this.

Anonymous said...

I simply must tell you that I am a huge classic film fan, and 2 of my faves are Gary Cooper and William Holden. Needless to say, this family is just my cup of tea!

Amy said...

Amazing story! I had one sort of similar. A DNA test showed no match between someone we believed to be a third cousin and my brother. I was really disappointed. Then I learned that family lore said that the cousin's great-grandfather had been adopted by the great-great-grandfather, our mutual ancestor. A little research into German birth records, and I found that in fact the great-grandfather had been born out of wedlock to the great-great-grandmother before she married the mutual ancestor. No family secrets are safe with DNA testing!

HoolaHoops said...

Hi, I have a similar situation in my family tree. Its a fascinating challenge, I have enjoyed reading about how you are untangling things.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Amy you are so right! We have discovered yet another secret - a huge secret - that I do not yet have permission to talk about. I hope to do so one day

Michael I suspect there would be many affected

Dana Me too because all too often family lore is dead wrong or very mixed up. I have since connected with another descendant of Bert who says her family was told that Bert's father was a native Indian. Hmmmm

Jill There are a few such cases going public. I am sure more will be discovered. The one I found that I cannot discuss (yet) had major ethical ramifications and it was a very difficult case to decide - tell the person? Not tell the person? What was my responsibility since I made the discovery? What might the ramifications be? It was not easy to make a decision but after much agonizing I did. I hope to blog about it one day - it might help others who find themselves in the same situation

Patti Thanks for the smile!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I too found out through DNA 1that not only were the rumors true, that my ggrandmother had had one child outside of marriage, but that her second child, my grandfather, was also fathered by the same man, despite the fact the child was named after her husband the official father.

Unknown said...

From a strange synchronicity..... my natural 1st cousin shares DNA with your husband and my adoptive family is the Cooper family. Please connect, would love to share some info.



T said...

Was the second mystery revealed here?

Wendy Callahan said...

I loved reading this, because DNA has also led us to the realization that the man my grandfather was told was his father, well, isn't! The same goes for the other man who MIGHT have been his father (who is actually named on his birth certificate). Not the father!

However, DNA has led us to a family group that seems to hold the key.

In a way, it's very exciting, especially since we aren't at all surprised or shocked. My mother's reaction is, "Who am I?!"

But in another way, I'm finding it difficult to let go of the family lines I've put so much time into researching over the decades. Even though these are people neither my mother nor I ever knew, I took the initiative to reach out across time and space to get to know people I thought were my ancestors. So it's definitely a bittersweet moment to realize the people we've gotten to "know" aren't family, per se. In some emotional way, though, they still are. :)

Then there's excitement, because my mom and I now are on the path to answering the questions the family has asked for such a long time.