Long lost relatives…

A couple of years ago, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. Although some people think there’s a privacy risk in doing genetic testing, I was curious to know more about my origins. So was Bill.

It turns out I am over 97% British and Irish, and about 2% German, which doesn’t really surprise me. I was surprised to find traces of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian genetic heritage. I thought I’d have more Native American DNA, but my test only came up with .2%. The rest is all white.

Bill, on the other hand, had a bit more variety in his DNA. There was even a trace of Nigerian ancestry in his, which really surprised us. He looks like a poster boy for Ireland, and of course, has an Irish surname, which he passed to me. It replaced my original English surname.

Goshen Pass.

Although the genetic tests aren’t really necessarily accurate– the results default at a 50% confidence level– they have been fun to explore. One really good thing has already come out of having done the test. One of my first cousins on my dad’s side is also on 23andMe, so now I have absolute proof that my dad was really my father. My sister can never again try to tell me she thinks I was the result of an affair (she actually did this on the day of our grandmother’s funeral). I now have proof that our dad was my father.

Another interesting thing that has come up is that I found a new relative. My paternal grandmother, affectionately known as “Granny” to almost everyone who knew her, had nine brothers and sisters. They all grew up in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I was among the last of Granny’s grandchildren, so I really never knew her siblings. A couple died before I was born and some died when I was very young. I did know one of her sisters, my hilarious Aunt Estelle, who was everything Granny wasn’t. My grandmother was very ladylike and patrician. Her sister was raucous, outrageous, and very funny.

Granny used to tell me that her mother was a bit bawdy. She’d go around reciting dirty poems. Here’s one:

Men, men are sons of bitches/ Have to undress or shit their britches/ Women, women what a blessing/ They can shit without undressing.

Here’s another:

If you want to shit with ease/ place your elbows on your knees/ put your hands under your chin/ let a fart and then begin.

I never knew Grandma Barger, because she died a few months before I was born. However, I heard stories about her. She was eccentric, and used to smoke cigars, go fishing, and split railroad ties. Or so that’s what my Uncle Brownlee used to tell me.

Goshen Pass.

Anyway, I recently got a message from someone on 23andMe. She lives in Maryland. She wanted to know if I was related to Edward Barger, Sr. I had to look it up on my family tree to confirm that yes, in fact Edward Barger, Sr. (who was actually Edward Barger, the second, since his father was also named Edward), was my Granny’s older brother. I never knew my great uncle, Edward Barger, since he died six years before I was born.

Well, it seems that Edward had a relationship with a young teacher named Christine, who worked in Natural Bridge in the 1920s. He got Christine pregnant, but for whatever reason, they didn’t get married. Christine put the baby girl up for adoption in Roanoke, then moved back to her hometown of Farmville, Virginia. Farmville happens to be where I went to college. It’s where Longwood University is… and I’ll bet Christine was also a graduate, since Longwood was once known as the “State Teachers College”. Edited to add: Turns out I was right, although my new relative’s bio grandma did not go back to teaching when she went back to Farmville. Instead, she worked on a tobacco farm.

A couple adopted Edward’s baby girl and raised her in Roanoke. She grew up and had her own daughter in 1945. And now, her daughter is contacting me. It seems that she got to know a lot of her biological grandmother’s relatives, but didn’t know any of the relatives she shares with me. And boy, is she in for a shockwave… because the Bargers, like the Tolleys, have been in Rockbridge County and Natural Bridge for many, many years. I am probably related to a most of the people who have lived there for any length of time. It’s not a big place, but there are several families who have been there for at least a couple hundred years.

It’s interesting to find this connection now, when I am physically so far away from my family and emotionally and mentally feel kind of “divorced” from them, too. I used to spend a lot of time in Natural Bridge. I’m glad I was able to have long conversations with my grandmother, who was really the only one I knew, since the others died when I was a young child. Granny, by contrast, died just after my 35th birthday. She was about six weeks from turning 101, and she was sharp as a tack until the end.

The family church.

Incidentally, Edward Barger did go on to marry. According to what I’ve been able to dig up, he married a woman named Julia and they had a son named Edward Barger, Jr. (the third?), as well as a couple of daughters. Unfortunately, the younger Edward died when he was about 23 years old.

It’s amazing the information that one can find on the Internet with just a minimum of effort. I’m surprised that more of my family members haven’t done 23andMe, although as I mentioned before, our pedigree is pretty boring. The earliest ancestor I found was a man named Johann Tolley. He came from Hamburg in the 1700s and landed in Virginia, which was at that time part of England. Johann Tolley would not be my new correspondent’s relative, as Johann was on my paternal grandfather’s side. But I bet if I keep digging, I’ll find more interesting genealogy nuggets. It’s really fascinating stuff… and it helps take my mind of things that trouble me.