Genetic Genealogy the Hard Way

In Ancestry DNA and the Awful Feeling of Awfulness I found that I had a fairly close genetic relative with Elmore in their username. Since our Y DNA is Elmer and I’ve targeted the Peoria Elmores as our likely family, finding an Elmore was pretty exciting…until the whole “hidden tree” thing came up. That led me to an ongoing series of posts that I’ve wanted to write for a long time about the dark side of genetic genealogy and the conspiracies to conceal information (intentional and unintentional).

It has been said, and I completely agree, that there are only two things you need in genetic genealogy: Where does someone match you on your chromosomes (and who else matches them there) and a match’s family tree. The first thing really requires a tool to compare all your matches on a segment to each other. The second thing requires sharing information, normally from the level of great grandparents on up.

It has been my experience that getting both of those items you need for genetic genealogy is the greater struggle. Finding relatives is the easy part…actually getting the information to work with in the first place is hard.

If you’ve been waiting for me to have the post about not being disappointed, about the stars aligning and the invisible hand of fate and random dumb luck pushing me into the right direction again, then this is that post.

When Life Hands You Lemons…

You crush those lemons and squirt the juice into life’s eyes.

I was just at the edge of calling it on my search for the Elmore connection. My friend Peg and I had run down the Elmore family and we actually could not come up with a good candidate for my great grandfather or good candidates to test. Not everyone in the Elmore family had children. I didn’t have a smoking gun pointing to one man, just a lot of smaller evidence that generally pointed to an entire family. You can see links to the numerous posts researching the connections from my Thompson branch to the Elmers and Elmores on the Elmore page.

I felt good about the connection to the family as a whole but I couldn’t get past the missing information from my great grandfather or make sense of half of our genetic relatives at various companies.

Looking at Things from a Different Perspective

As I often do, I switched gears back to working on my aunt who has a similar issue, but closer in time as she is not related to my grandfather.

A few things sort of came together when I made my trip out to AncestryDNA to “check the traps” for my aunt. First, it turned out my first cousin (a paternal cousin who is my only Thompson Y match) had decided to purchase an AncestryDNA test. So there he was as a 1st cousin match for my aunt. Because she is a half sibling of our fathers, she appears as a first cousin instead of her proper placement as our aunt. So she appears one generation more removed because she is a half sibling and she shares half the DNA of a normal match in her position.


The second thing is that the revelation of my first cousin appearing in the match list for my aunt, made me switch directly to my AncestryDNA account and check on my Elmore match there. In the past Mr. Elmore and I had no shared matches and although he didn’t match with any of my mother’s family at AncestryDNA, I couldn’t definitely say he was related to my dad.

The only match Mr. Elmore shared with me was my paternal first cousin’s new test. So now I could say he’s definitely related to my dad.


The third thing I noticed was that several more relatives (3rd cousins) related to my dad’s mother had also decided to converge on ancestryDNA so I could say that, to the best of my ability at Ancestry, I could not find a match with my grandmother for Mr Elmore.

There is still the awful matter of the hidden tree and refused or ignored contacts.

Using other Features of AncestryDNA

Doing a bit of time travel here, I had in the past learned a few things about searching AncestryDNA matches. One is that if you search for surnames or locations, even hidden matches will appear in the search results. Much like searching family trees will produce private trees as well as public trees. So I searched my matches for “Elmore” and “Peoria, Illinois”.

elmore and peoria search brings up biggest elmore match

At that point, I began searching for all the secondary names of the Peoria Elmores I knew from my research. All the wives and second wives..etc. I came back with lists of other matches who shared those surnames but none were Mr. Elmore. With just 60 people in his tree I had to assume that most of the people listed were private and recent. There is obviously an Elmore from Peoria, but not any of the secondary families I know of.

So I went out to a website that listed the 1000 most popular names in the United States and searched for each of those and marked down which ones would produce Mr. Elmore’s tree. It took several days. Separately I searched for all 50 states to see which States would produce his tree. Then I combined my two hit lists and searched for each found name with each found state. Although I thought myself very clever, this was not helpful at all.

I now had a random list of surnames and matching states with a 1 in 60 chance of figuring out which one might go with an Elmore…or not depending on how many of those 60 people are living, I may never find a matching spouse. Anyway, I filed that information away and moved on to other things.

One question I had, with my first cousin’s results in hand was “Why doesn’t my Elmore ringer (The descendant of Halsey Orton Elmore who I asked to test) show as a shared match with my cousin?”

Since we shared results, I decided to view things from his perspective to see what he sees. It turns out that not all shared matches show up as shared matches from every perspective. When I “became” him and looked for my Elmore ringer…she was very definitely among his matches. Even more amazing, from his perspective I was showing as a shared match with her even though he was not a showing as a shared match with her for me.

elmore relative shared match

I don’t know if that is because it takes some time to synchronize these things or what, but it made me think that if you notice someone missing who you think should be a shared match, it’s a good idea to ask them what they see. It may be different than your shared match list. That was more a point of curiosity since I know that my Elmore ringer is genetically related to my dad and that my dad and his brother share both of the same parents. Still nice to see things in order though!

Putting Things Together

This may be obvious…or maybe it should have been obvious, but it really did require some time for me to put together. I expect that my grandfather’s father is an Elmore. That means if he has any siblings, they will be half siblings. Like my aunt and my father, with my aunt showing as a cousin. That means that my second cousin on his father’s side would look like a third cousin. Mr. Elmore, my “third cousin”, knows who my great grandfather is, because we share the same great grandfather. He’s really my second “half” cousin.

For an idea of the ranges of DNA shared. Here is my second cousin one time removed related to my paternal grandmother. We share two of my second great grandparents (her great grandparents):

chris 3rd cousin 136cM

Here is my shared DNA with a second cousin two times removed. We share two of my third Great grandparents (his great grandparents):

phillip shared 85cM

Here is what I share with Mr. Elmore my suspected half second cousin sharing only one great grandparent:

112 cm shared with mr elmore

I don’t want to draw way too many conclusions from this but you’d have to imagine that a full second cousin sharing two great grandparents would be a larger match. This match is more like my second cousin one time removed…where one generation is missing, or like my aunt who shows as a cousin, one half of a mated pair.

As that idea gathered strength, that this person knows who my great grandfather is and that he’s a living person in the 21st century, I decided to go hunting again and googled his username.

Following the Digital Trail

Okay. Here is the thing. Every discovery I make about my genetic relative is against his will. He does not want to share information with anyone, especially someone like me. I think that, since some of these are my relatives too, I deserve to know the basic summary information about them.  I have to try to respect his anonymity, but I cannot respect his wish to keep me in the dark (assuming he made a conscious choice, which may not be the case). From this point out, what he and his family chooses to share with the public is fair game for me to use as a stepping stone.

Enter Google. I reuse login and account names all the time so maybe this guy does too. I had searched in the past with little luck, but “try, try again”. This time when I searched I found something.  A Pinterest account with the same user name and some generic interests. Nicely the Pinterest account was connected to a facebook account with an open friends list. Great. People are often friends with family members. I’ve used facebook friends lists in the past to get my bearings on a family and try to figure out where they lead. I’m not interested in them specifically, (no tearful reunions here…I’m not really game for all that) but I need to figure out some clues that will get me back far enough to search Ancestry again. Basically, I’m always looking for ways to get back to at least 1940. So I looked for the oldest Elmores I could find in the friends list. A few men appeared to be in “father” range for Mr Elmore on facebook (guessing by his picture) and had ties to Peoria Illinois (now we’re getting somewhere). I focused my attention on them.

This is where facebook stalking gets a bit dark.

On several of the public profiles I learned about a death. Sadly, that person’s death is my lifeline to my family. I saw a picture of the person who died, but not their name. It’s sort of gruesome following recent obituaries, but obituaries are great sources of information. Not always correct, but close enough usually to get you somewhere. So I searched for obituaries for someone named “Elmore” who died within a day of the facebook condolences and found a public obituary with a picture matching the pictures on facebook.

That obituary led me to another death a few years before and again another public obit that then validated what I had seen on facebook of the “father” level Elmore men, listing them by name. This final public obituary belonged to a man who is probably my grandfather’s half brother. He outlived my grandfather by a few years, and I’m sure had no idea we even exist.

His obituary also had a picture that matched pictures from facebook and led me to his parents, both from the early 1900s…which is really the information I needed in the first place.

I had names. Maurice and Goldie Elmore. I returned to and searched for them in the 1940 census. I found them in Chicago, which gave me approximate birth dates. From there I turned to search ancestry family trees and found only two, both of them private. When I clicked on the first one in the list I saw that it belonged to Mr. Elmore. So I had come full circle and now had the person I had been looking for all along. Maurice Elmore born in Peoria Illinois.

maurice elmore ancestry search

Lest Ye be Judged

Think whatever you like about the method, but realize that my match and I could have just shared this summary information and been done with it. I could have moved on from there and helped him find the path back even farther. I didn’t need or want to know this much about the immediate family. It’s all public knowledge, but I guess I feel like I am burdened with it. It’s strange to say, but I’m burdened with unnecessary information that is not helpful to genetic genealogy because we couldn’t simply share the basics with each other and I don’t want to be kept in the dark anymore.

In a sense the hidden tree and lack of communication defeated it’s own purpose, instead of keeping me at arms length, it pulled me in and made me a witness to a family’s public grief. I would have rather been the hero, swinging in to the rescue with hard won genetic genealogy experience and loads of new information, but instead I’m a peeping tom, staring into every window in the neighborhood looking for clues that lead to the cemetery and heartache and suffering.

Instead of basking in the glow of knowledge and laughing at the circumstances that are clearly beyond our control, this interaction became yet another turn down a dark alley of missed opportunities. There will be no warm and happy AncestryDNA success story here.

In the end, dumb luck and random circumstance led me to Maurice Elmore born in 1906. There must have been sunspots or abnormal radiation from space that night that everything fell into place. Trying to retrace my steps just an hour or so later produced a series of speed bumps with issues finding the obituaries again, searches gone awry and facebook friends lists that were somehow no longer open to me. As the magic window that had given me a glimpse of the path seemed to be closing down, I turned to screenshots of open web pages to serve as the record of my findings. Most of the trail, I cannot reproduce here with any definition. As I said, I need try to respect the privacy of my genetic matches and their families. They’re living people after all and I don’t want to cause them any more pain.

I wish I could say that I spent the appropriate amount of time thinking about privacy and right and wrong, but any issues I had with the trail I followed were soon put aside. One burning question replaced it all. Who was this Maurice Elmore from Peoria and why hadn’t I seen him before?



One Comment

  1. I loved this post, Mike. You put into words the thoughts and feelings that I have had (some of them subconscious) when doing similar cross-referenced searches for specific family lines. I am impressed that you were able to reconstruct so many steps of the search, since, as you noted, many of the “stepping stones” tend to be ephemeral or hard to remember. Your post has also given me some good ideas on how to search for family lines more thoroughly!

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