When DNA cousins play musical chairs

I check my account on Family Tree DNA  every week to see if I have a new daddy, brother, sister or first cousin. I never know who will pop up on my DNA lineup.

A couple weeks ago, I sat up straighter when I saw a new dark-haired fellow at the top of my list of matches. He is a “second to fourth generation” cousin and he occupies the No. 1 spot on my list, meaning he’s the closest relative among all my matches. Whoa! Brandon bumped cousin Susan out of the top spot. Susan had been perched at the top for months. Susan and Brandon both live in California but they don’t appear to be related to one another.

Of course, this new match intrigues me. For what it’s worth, Brandon matches me for a solid stretch of 41 pieces (cm) of chromosome 12. I Googled Brandon. I checked him out on Facebook and LinkedIn. I viewed a cute dog video he uploaded on YouTube. We exchanged friendly emails. Like many of the other cousins I’ve contacted, Brandon has no idea how we are related. Sigh.

If I were to guess, I would say Brandon and I are related on my mother, Lillian’s side.

He is related to another cousin, a distant cousin who’s a genealogist. Sharon put together a family tree for me based on what she knows about Lillian’s side of the family. But I can’t rule out the possibility that Brandon and I are linked on my dad’s side. After all, my father and mother could be distantly related to one another, which would not be as odd as it sounds.

Brandon appears to be in his 30s or 40s, an approachable-looking guy and apparently a dog lover. His approval rating went up in my book when I saw his video, featuring a sweet little dog fetching a tennis ball in a stream.

Our predicted relationship is third cousin, according to Family Tree’s chromosome browser, but I think Brandon is probably a second cousin once removed. That could mean one of his parents’ grandparents could be a sibling to one of my grandparents. But which grandparent and from which side of the family?

I took a DNA test to find family on my bio dad’s side of the family. So far, the mystery remains just that. I have no idea who he is (or was), whether he had other children, whether he even knows I exist.

That's me checking the latest DNA matches
That’s me checking the latest DNA matches

And the truth is I have done next to nothing lately to uncover my father’s identity. Adoption searches are exhausting and they suck up time. I work, I’m raising a teenager and I have two dogs who need me for daily walks and affection. I’m married, too. I don’t want the search for lost family to come at the expense of the people and critters who love me.

Still, my imagination goes into overdrive every time I open my Family Tree account. What’s tantalizing and frustrating is seeing the names and photos of matches on my screen and knowing that some of those people knew my father.

Of course, they don’t think of him as “Lynne’s father.” (I am sure my dad does not know about me or if he does, he’s pushed my existence out of his mind. I’ll bet he never told his wife/wives about me.) Maybe my DNA cousins know him as goofy Uncle Jim, the one who drank too much and told off-color jokes at family parties. Sorry, dad, I can’t picture you being a model citizen. You’ll always be a rogue in my imagination.

Every time my DNA cousins change places on my match list, I think of musical chairs. It’s not a breakthrough for an adoptee looking for bio dad and family but it keeps the DNA game interesting.

7 thoughts on “When DNA cousins play musical chairs

  1. Hi Lynne! Lynn here! I am also seeking my biological father and understand all too well the time constraints and how easily the search can overtake your life if you let it. I’m taking a little break although I’m fortunate my husband and my 7th DNA cousin, plus a genealogist friend help me. They have given me great advice on DNA and searching in general. I have put my DNA into all 3 places: Ancestry, FTdna and 23 and me– better to fish in more ponds. I know many adoptees who have had close cousin or sibling matches and have solved their mysteries. My birth mom is not talking so it’s looking like DNA may be my only hope. There is a way to tell if your parents were related by DNA but I’m not sure exactly how to know that. I recently added my adult son’s DNA to 23 and me hoping for some more matches/clues. Have you transferred your DNA to Gedmatch? I recommend it as you can match people on the X chromosome as well and have access to other people who have tested at other dna testing sites. Good luck and I hope you find answers very soon!

  2. *sigh* I know how you feel. No idea who my bio father is and my mother was adopted. She refuses to talk about my bio father and her bio parents. Makes searching so hard, I often feel like I am a cul-de-sac with two houses (me and my mother) someday I hope that I can connect my cul-de-sac to a road that will lead me to more roads and maybe where my ancestors are from. I don’t need to know who my bio father is, I need to know who I am.

  3. Hi, Lynne. You and I are matches on FTDNA, too (43.9 cM), but I don’t see a connection yet in your surnames. I did an “in common with” comparison and a known 5th cousin to me pops up with Clark (VA?) and Maxwell (prob. NC) connections. I have no IN roots to speak of, but my MD roots are deepening thanks to DNA matching. Please have a look at my tree, if you wish. Thanks for your time.

    Toby Petzold

  4. Hi Toby. Thanks for contacting me. I cannot tell how we are related on my FTDNA account but I will spend more time on it this weekend. What prompted you to do DNA testing? Are you also adopted? Lynne

  5. Hi, Lynne. I only realized after I commented that your situation as an adoptee might mean you don’t (yet) have a tree to compare to, so I thank you for your gracious reply. I am not adopted. I’ve been my family’s historian since I was a teenager, so testing has been a natural extension of my curiosity. Lots of brick walls are coming down, but as I am learning, I also have lots of skewed results bec of my Ashkenazic ancestry. It’s pretty miraculous so far. Anyway, you and I look to be maybe 5th cousins or even 4th, so there may be new answers for you soon! You’re almost certainly Scotch-Irish, anyway! 😉

  6. DNA is amazing isn’t it? Toby, are you Ashkenazi on your mother’s or father’s side? Knowing that might help me figure out how we’re related. My autosomal DNA test says I’m 100 percent European and as far as I know, no Askenazi ancestors in recent history. I know nothing about my father or his ancestors. As far as I know, my Irish and Scotch background comes from my maternal ancestors. Lynne

  7. Well, I am kin to you through Momma, even though she is the source of my Ashkenazicity, if that’s a word. 😉 I figure you and I are Scottish somehow. I’ll email you some information in a moment. Thanks for your interest. Genealogy is one of those religious pursuits that has now reached an historical point of revelation. It’s a blessing to witness and benefit from.

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