The Missing Link

+10 votes
I have a little DNA related puzzle I need help solving. When I took my DNA test I found that I matched two ladies in the 2nd to 3rd cousin bracket on I don't know if I should say the names in public but they match my dad and my great-aunt. As far as their connection to me, one shares 388 cMs and the other shares 317 cMs. When I compared matches it's only with my dad and my great-aunt on the Ferraiolo side.

I ran these through and I found that they are in the 4th cousin bracket. After doing that, I sent both private messages so we could discuss who the matches were. The two ladies apparently are half-sisters sharing the same mother. Their grandmother was a woman named Luvia Mitchell b. Aug 13th, 1902 in Alburg Vt and died Sep 2nd, 1936.

The ladies claimed that Luvia had an affair with a Sicilian border. More on that in a second. Luvia was married to a man named Edward Mitchell and I guess cheated on him and the mom was born in 1935 or thereabouts.

Now she claims that we are first or second cousins. That is impossible and I'll tell you why.

1. My dad has no siblings.

2. My great-grandparents only had two kids. Nicolina and Marco (my grandfather.) .

3. Nicolina only had one child.

Now we get to the logistics of this. My great-grandfather came to America the second time in 1929. He and his family lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts. That is FAR from Alburg, Vermont. He worked on roads and stuff. I asked my dad about this and he isn't sure. Nicolina wouldn't know/remember. This lady was supposedly born in 1935 or thereabouts. At that time, my grandfather and his family were living in Haverhill.

So, then I checked to see who Vincenzo had for siblings. A guy named Paolo who lived his life in San Pietro a Maida. Same for his sister, Concetta.

I thus have a couple theories.

1. This may be a false match.

2. A brother of Vincenzo's came to Vermont and was a border and one thing led to another with Luvia. He took off back to Italy.

The story goes that a Sicilian border got her pregnant and that's where the mom came in. Funny thing, though. My family's not from Sicily.

So, what is everyone's take on this? What can I do to unravel this mystery? I haven't found much in the censuses. I DID find Luvia's death certificate and I found a Genealogyobituary file for the ladies' uncle. What else can I do? I am pretty sure my great-aunt does not know about this. Not gonna ask, either because she is not going to remember. Any suggestions for where I can go from here would be great.

in Genealogy Help by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (571k points)
reopened by Chris Ferraiolo
I can't help you with your DNA problem because all my study aids are at home and I can't think while I am at work.  But my first thought was that you are not Sicilian!  Maybe it wasn't a Sicilian, but a mainland Italian playboy; just like some people think all Asians are Chinese.
You wouldn't believe how often the Sicilian thing has come up. =) Someone had an ancestry tree with my grandfather as being born in Sicily. Same with my great-grandfather. That lie spread all over Ancestry and I had to tell people that he was not born there. It worked for the most part.

Now...Italian playboy, huh? Possible. I am comparing my dad's relationship with them via DNA painter. It went to great-grandparent of his or great-uncle for both ladies. That would be Marco Ferraiolo (Vincenzo's father).
This 317-388 cMs you share with them is more than what I share with my confirmed (by DNA and paper genealogy) half first cousin once removed. She and I share 171.9 cM. I would cast a suspicious eye upon Vincenzo. Yes, I realize Vermont and Massachusetts are a ways apart, and I hate to be crass, but men have gone farther in their search for that kind of action.
Mm. I compared my dad with the ladies and it says his great grandfather is the key. Weird.
A fun puzzle!

I recently had a similar exchange with a woman searching for her birth father. She had only his name and his father's, let's say James Smith son of John Smith, and a DNA match that showed we were second cousins on my father's side. In the family tree I was able to identify a John Smith, but it was puzzling because he was only a fourth cousin. Where did all the shared DNA come from?  

Eventually I added him and his parents to WikiTree, and that's when I realized he was related to me twice, which was totally unexpected. His father was related to my great-grandmother and his mother to the other great-grandfather on my father's side. These connections weren't obvious, because someone moved to a different region, plus in every generation the female side change their surnames. Anyway, I learned that one fourth cousin plus another may look like a second cousin, DNA-style.

Since the truth doesn't always involve romantic Sicilian lodgers, and your father had four great-grandfathers, I also wonder about the possible alternatives. For example, who was Edward Mitchell and did he have an Italian mother?  Who were Luvia's parents?
That is a very interesting story. No one ever said genealogy was cut and dry,, huh?

Correct. My dad had four great-grandfathers.  We can cross out two on the Carrabs side as the ladies do not match his first cousin who also has a test on Ancestry. No biggie there. We can also cross off Tedesco, too, because again they don't match any of the Tedesco matches I have on Ancestry. And I have a lot. Nothing for Forgione as well. The ladies match my dad, me and my great-aunt. My great-aunt has Tedesco in her as her mom was a Tedesco.

Edward's parents were Lewis Mitchell and Jennie Gordon: Decidedly not Italian. And they ladies are sure Eddie wasn't the father.

Luvia's parents were Fred Mitchell and Carrie Houston:

Again decidedly non Italiano.
What's the saying?  When you have eliminated the possible options, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Seems maybe you have helped two ladies find their birth family! Which is delightful after you get over the Oh Grandpa moment.
Yes, just give me a cape, cowl, tons of money and issues about my parents and call me Batman. =)

I linked the ladies to all Laura found. I hope it helps them out! Dunno about this "Oh, grandpa" thing but whatever. That part remains to be seen. Might be the great-grandpa. We don't know.

4 Answers

+6 votes
Best answer
If this were a "made for television" episode (which it isn't) one would expect that the first/second cousin would ask for some sort of favor. Money maybe. Or a job at the widget factory. Or maybe in government.

Fortunately, none of these things are going to occur, Chris Ferraiolo. You are too smart.

And this is real life.
by Dorothy Coakley G2G6 Pilot (175k points)
selected by Chris Ferraiolo
I could sell this plot to a movie studio, change the names and reap the profits. I'd make a fortune!!

I hope they don't ask for a favor. This ain't the Godfather. Or Sopranos for that matter.  If they ask for money, I have a block button handy. =)
+10 votes
Well, I was born after a 41-week gestation and... Wait. Oh; sorry. From the title of the question, I mistakenly thought you were talking about me. <cough, cough>

The two women are almost certainly not false positives. I say "almost" only because I gather the info is only on AncestryDNA, where we can't see anything but the total amount shared and the number of shared segments. If we could get the detail on the matches--from an upload to FTDNA or GEDmatch, for example--we could confirm it absolutely. Generally speaking, I've never seen a segment over 30cM that didn't turn out to be half-identical by descent and that would survive trio phasing (actually over 25cM, but I'll hedge my bets).

At 317cM and 388cM on Ancestry, at first glance I would say that she's probably more correct than not: that's an unusually large amount of shared DNA for 3rd cousins. It's even well over the Shared cM Project's max-range for 3rds, and that's crowd-sourced data that includes all kinds of family trees, pedigree collapsed and not. Looking at the numbers only, I put the probabilities at 2nd cousin, 1st cousin 2x removed, or the less likely (generationally) 2g-grand-aunt/uncle or 2g-grand-niece/nephew.

You didn't mention how Ancestry reports the two ladies' matches to your father and your great-aunt. The percentage of consanguinity between any two individuals decreases fourfold as the most recent common ancestor recedes one generation, so if they match you as nominal 2nd cousins (expected average sharing 212.5cM), and if they're truly on your direct Ferraiolo line, then they would be expected to share about 850cM with your father if 1st cousins, or about 425cM if 1C1R.

My only recommendation would be to try to see if they would be willing to put their data at a service where you can view the chromosome and segment details. Then, if you haven't already, begin compiling your own chromosome maps--spreadsheet or DNA Painter or Genome Mate Pro, whatever you like best--so that you can ferret out which segments seem to be reaching you (and your father; having his results is a huge benefit) from whom and when. If there's pedigree collapse in play somewhere, the total amount of shared atDNA won't tell the whole picture. Contiguous segment length still tends to (mostly; generalizing here) break up with each birth event; if pedigree collapse isn't in immediate generations (i.e., parents or grandparents) the largest segment sizes may tell as much of the tale as the total amount shared. But you can't get that detail from AncestryDNA.

Looks like an interesting mystery! Have fun!
by Edison Williams G2G6 Pilot (351k points)
Firstly: LOL. What?! I suppose I could have made a more creative title. I'm surprised no one made Bigfoot references. C'mon, people. WORK WITH ME!

They aren't on gedmatch. I wish they were. I'd ask them if they could download the DNA and put it up. But, I don't think they know how. Hmm.

As far as my great-aunt goes, I don't have access to her test.  I can only compare my relation with her. As far as my dad and those two go, the DNA painter goes to the great-grandparent or great uncle box.  That would be Vincenzo's father, Marco. So, there's that.

They shared with him.....537 and 518 cMs. Great-grandparents or great-uncle again. Huh.
"The Missing Link" works for me, Chris.

Scene opener: Panoramic view of Mediterranean countryside. Bicycle careening down hillside dirt road. Skids to stop at roadside mailbox where cyclist eagerly tears open letter, extracts written DNA results...
Haha! Nice. Freeze frame and record scratch.

"You're probably wondering how I got here...."
This is a great story and one we would all love to see the end of.  You might try posting it to a great Facebook page I belong to.  It is all about dna questions and a lot of people love to solve ones like this one.  It is headed by Blaine Bettinger who is one of the best dna people I know.  Here's the link:
I'll check it out. I do want to get this solved. I already conducted some experiments on my main tree on Ancestry. I basically created dummy profiles leading from Vincenzo to where the lady supposedly is and got 1st cousins once removed. Didn't seem to make sense given what I know of the cM count.
Posted. We'll see what happens next!
+5 votes
I created a basic tree. Their mom is private for the moment.
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (571k points)
While she is - uh - private, is she flipping through photographs in search of her Sicilian boarder papa?
Wow. I didn't even see this reply. Umm...Nope. I haven't shared any pics. Pics were shared with me, though. The ball is in my great-aunt and her daughter's courts. I am no longer the middleman here.
+4 votes

Update: I talked with one of the ladies and she shares 1,181 cMs with my great-aunt.

by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (571k points)
Is that 1 point 181 or 1 thousand, 100 and 81 cM?

If its the second,  then that's between 12.5 and 25% which is pretty substantial!!

My charts say they have to be aunts or neices and if they are older then probably aunts, great aunts or half aunts maybe?

One of them may even be a grandparent or a great grandparents if there was an NPE involved...
One thousand one hundred and eighty-one.
That number is not on any of my charts so I cannot interpret what it might be. I only know what it is not!!
It seems to be half cousin on DNApainter with grandparent or great-grandparent as a possible father.

That's almost certainly too high for a half-cousin unless there was pedigree collapse among the parents. A half-cousin, like a 1C1R, would share about half the amount of autosomal DNA as a full cousin, so around 6.25%, or 425cM. It's exceedingly rare to see that reach even into the 700s.

Based on 1,181cM, there really aren't many possibilities. Half-sibling, full niece/nephew, and full aunt/uncle won't drop that low, and half-cousin/1C1R won't climb that high. Leaving:

  • Full 1st cousin
  • Half-niece/nephew, half-aunt/uncle
  • Great-niece/nephew, great-aunt/uncle

Here's my best guess given current info:

  • Your grandfather had at least two children with a woman other than your grandmother. These are the two matches you've found, the "new cousins."
  • Your great-aunt, being your grandfather's sister, would be half-aunt to the new cousins (consistent with the 1,181cM sharing).
  • Your father is half-cousin the the new cousins (consistent with his sharing 537cM and 518cM with them).
  • Your new matches are your half-1st cousins 1x removed (consistent, somewhat, with your 388cM and 317cM sharing...though of them all, your numbers are the ones that would then be toward the highest end of the range).
Certainly enough to cast a side-eye at Vincenzo, huh? Wow....

It's amazing. Every week I manage to get a story together for the Weekend Chat Laura Bozzay hosts. Man, have I got one this week and it's only Wednesday. I should get a screenplay together and sell it to Hollywood. What do you think, Edison?

I always thought it was a little odd that Vincenzo and Maria didn't have any kids in America together. It was Marco and Nicolina. Usually Italian families are huge. Let's put it like that. The Carrabs side had six daughters. One was born in Italy and the rest born in Haverhill.  On the Ferraiolo side of things it was different.

Who knows how many kids Vincenzo had. Am looking at my matches and scratching my chin like "Hmmm...."

Thanks for your help. I guess I can bring the tree down to them on Ancestry? Dunno how I can tell Aunt Nicolina....

Operative word from my post was "guess."  :-)  Don't go takin' it to the bank; it's just my shot in the dark based on what DNA info we have so far.

But building out the tree on that assumption and continuing with the segment painting should ultimately fill-in--or contradict and correct--the jigsaw puzzle. If the theory is right and the new cousins have children of their own, that would put you and their children at the same generational level, so half-2nd cousins. If they've tested, I'd expect them--given your sharing amount with the new cousins--to share around 110 to 150cM with you. If that happens, I'd say the hypothesis becomes pretty bankable.

But hey: a complex tree means an interesting tree...and more cousins!

Hope they don't want money! LOL!

Thanks for your help. Your shot in the dark may be accurate.

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