By Lethbridge Herald on November 30, 2018.
Entertainment means different things to different people. For some, it’s lacing up skates and grabbing a hockey stick, for others hitting a movie or a live music performance. For others, it’s sitting in front of a television watching Netflix — which I just got hooked on thanks to my son — and for others, it’s studying geneology.
Say what? I hear ya. To me, searching family history, even with the Internet, was a labourious and fruitless effort and kind of boring. Then along came DNA testing.
Several companies offer the service for varying fees so people can find out who they’re related to and maybe grow some branches on their family trees.
My grandpa Harry Bieber (that’s how he legally spelled his name) never talked to anyone about his family history so we kids who visited him and grandma Molly in Bellevue never had a clue about him except he had asthma, was good at cribbage and his beloved cat Petey hated everyone except him. (I think Petey was reincarnated as my dog Rio.)
So out of curiousity this year I decided to do a DNA test, giving my credit card number to Ancestry and ordering a kit. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I would find out but the price was right so I went for it.
The test itself is simple but kind of gross. You spit in a tube til your goober reaches a certain level, mix in some chemical, shake it and then send it back to Ancestry in a pre-paid box. I’ve got a weak stomach so the spit thing really was tough — it took forever to fill the tube because I was intermittently gagging off the back deck. Sure hope nobody nearby was barbecuing.
You then go to the Ancestry website and submit a 15-digit code that came with the kit so Ancestry can let you know when the results are in.
I got mine on my birthday, and voila, saw nearly 100 cousins listed from second to fourth, with a ton more listed as distant.
One third cousin in Vancouver had my grandma Molly listed on a family tree for the Whitelaw clan, which was her mother’s maiden name, so I knew the thing was legit.
Through her tree, I managed to connect a lot of dots on that branch.
While using the Ancestry database, I learned Harry had multiple spellings of his name but they all linked him to Wolseley, Sask. where he was born. I learned the name of his first wife, who died in Bassano of cancer after the birth of her third daughter, and managed to find his mother through various records and confirm the relationship through cross-referencing.
But oddly, there was no trace of his father. None.
I still haven’t found a connection except to a guy his mom married sometime after Harry was born, whose name was Blackley from Medicine Hat or thereabouts, a man my dad remembers meeting many decades ago.
I did meet, however, a fourth cousin who had a Bieber branch on this family tree. Edward Allen, who now lives in Pincher Creek, may be remembered by various medical clinics in southern Alberta through his work as a pharmaceutical rep. I’ve met Ed a couple of times when he and his wife have visited Lethbridge, and he’s not only an incredibly nice guy but a geneology wizard and without a doubt, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life.
Thanks to Ed, I’ve learned much about the Bieber tree but we’re still trying to track down Harry’s father so I’ve ordered a DNA kit for my elderly dad in Calgary, who is all gung-ho about this stuff. But with his bad hearing, I will probably have to Facetime him and loudly say “Spit, not. . . .”
Dad was skeptical about the whole thing until I showed him the family tree I’d manage to build for his mom’s family. And I’ve connected with his great-niece Karen, the daughter of my first cousin in Lac La Biche, whose mother was dad’s half-sister.
It’s really enthralling stuff. I’ve met a third cousin from Romania, who told me he had Slovak roots but wasn’t sure how or where. The only possible connection is through my mom’s side — perhaps the Mikulasik clan, the family of her grandmother Mary Hovan who lived in the area of the Crowsnest Pass known as Riverbottom or the Vohradsky family, my great-granddad Vince being one of those who died in the Hillcrest mining disaster. I’ve come to dead ends — so to speak — tracing both those family lines, though.
The testing does have its pitfalls because not everyone may be thrilled to learn about new family. I found this out with a new second cousin who had a European sounding Ancestry handle which prompted me — and you’d do this, too — to type a greeting really slowly in case he or she didn’t speak English. Heelllooo, therrree.
The response of the person — a native Albertan — was a chilly “this is really provocative!” End of discussion. Well, as Ed Allen said, DNA doesn’t lie. So welcome to the world of DNA where skeletons are known to tumble out of the family closet when you least expect it. Since this person also has a DNA tie to cousin Karen, I’m thinking he or she is a connection to Harry’s mysterious past.
For those sleuths willing to pay for a test and accept the results, trust me, following the strands of DNA can be true entertainment. Can’t wait for dad to get on the DNA bandwagon — when the mail finally arrives. In the meantime, I’m going to stay glued to Netflix.
VAN CHRISTOU SHOW: I got an email this week from John Savill at the Trianon, saying The Herald’s coverage of the photography exhibition now running at his gallery, being responsible for a good showing at its opening. The exhibit runs at the downtown gallery until Dec. 15.
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