Misattributed paternity. A phrase that makes a genealogist’s blood run cold.
Although, traditionally it has been the practice of family historians to study the male line, the all important ‘family name’ that is passed down to descendants, this may not be as reliable as we imagine. A study of blood type testing revealed that around 5% of children born in 1940s England could not have been the biological offspring of their fathers. Only around 50% of misattributed paternity will flag up as a suspicious blood type so the actual number is likely to be closer to 10%. Now that we have easily accessible DNA testing the true figure may be revealed to be even higher.
It was DNA that tore a limb off my family tree.
My Dad, I believed, was a posthumous baby. His father, Walter, died aged 33, five months before he was born leaving a widow Amy, two young sons and baby Derek yet to be born. Derek knew nothing about Walter, nobody ever spoke to him about his father, there were no photos and he didn’t ask any questions or even have any curiousity. Maybe that was the first clue.
When I started researching I found out some basic information about Walter, that he was born in Birmingham, England and that his family had been involved in the gold and silver trade and lived in the jewellery quarter of the city, then further back to the Worcestershire countryside and beyond.
Then several years ago I took a DNA test with Ancestry.com. A few distant cousins popped up and we were able to connect and share elements of our family trees.
Recently, however, someone stood out in my list of DNA connections, a young woman called JB. She was my highest DNA match and Ancestry estimated we were 2nd/3rd cousins. However, a quick glance at her tree showed no shared ancestors.
Ancestry pointed me to several other people who JB and I were both linked to, strangely none of those people had anyone in their tree who linked with mine, but they did with JB.
JB and I started corresponding and we both worked on our trees hoping to fill them out and find that elusive connection. However, no matter how far we went back there was nothing and going back wasn’t really the answer. This was someone not more that one or two generations away.
Then we worked it out using a process of elimination and triangulation. It would appear that Walter Sanders was not Derek’s father. Derek was actually the child of Reginald Currall who was also JB’s great granddad. JB and I are half first cousins once removed. When that link was made all the other family trees that were trying to connect with me via DNA just fell into place.
And with one email my Sanders line disappeared, my maiden name wasn’t even Sanders, genealogically speaking.
Along with the disappointment of the severed limb came the thrill of a fresh branch to explore. The Curralls. Reg’s Dad was Horace. Well he was for about a day, until I received an email from JB. She had been studying her family line and realised that Horace had died 18 months before Reg was born. I immediately sent for Reg’s birth certificate. Father unknown. Losing two families in as many days could be seen as careless.
Onwards and upwards I’ve been busy with more DNA research and I think I might have solved the paternity of Reg and it’s shocking.