Recently ethnicity was a major factor in figuring out the family of the mystery father of an Australian women of mixed heritage: Chinese, Italian, and English/Irish. We still need some help, so any Australian readers please read to the end.
This case is unusual because for those of us with primarily European ancestry, the ethnicity predictions from the various DNA test companies are not accurate enough to be a significant aid with figuring out unknown parentage situations. For one thing, our ancestors moved around more than you might expect, and for another, the science is just not exact enough yet.
Too often I get a panicked email or comment from someone who is worried that Daddy is not their dad, or perhaps grandad is not, because their ethnicity predictions show no German or French or Bulgarian which he was and where is that Norwegian from? To which I respond, check your matches, if you have matches to cousins from his family, all is well, it’s just the inaccuracy of ethnicity predictions. North Europeans and South Europeans are fairly distinct from each other, but countries as we know them today did not exist in the far past.
In Elana’s case, having East Asian and Southern European in addition to the usual Australian British mix, actually gave us some different and potentially useful data to work with. Her mother seemed entirely English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, a frequent blend for an Australian. She remembers that Elana’s father said he was part Maori and that his name was Bob. There is no Maori in her results shown above (it usually looks Polynesian), so likely he was just trying to make himself seem exotic and interesting.
Since Elana’s mother tested also, we could see that Elana had no close matches that were not listed as “Mother’s side” on Ancestry which made the search very difficult. Her paternal matches consisted of only one 3rd cousin, an American of Italian ancestry, and lots of 4th cousins, quite a few with trees, and most of the closer ones were of Italian descent, in spite of only 7% Italian listed in her Ancestry ethnicity.
One possibility for so few paternal matches was related parents. We checked that by uploading to GEDmatch.com (click here for my post on related parents) and that was not the case. The other more likely explanation was very few of her father’s relatives had tested. For example, Elana had only one very distant Asian match in spite of her father clearly having half that heritage.
Since we could see both Elana’s ethnicity and her mother’s it was easy to tell that Elana’s unknown father was half Chinese/Korean with an Italian (great) grandparent. These were her initial percentages before the recent update at Ancestry:
65% England/Scotland/Wales (so her father will have about 15%)
16% Korea and Northern China
One interesting piece of information from her 23andme test was that her X chromosome has no Asian ethnicity at all. How is that possible since her father was half East Asian?
Since men give sons a Y not an X, the way that she would get no Asian in her X would be that her father’s father was the Chinese/Korean individual.
After the recent update at Ancestry Elana’s Italian went down to 1%, but 23andme shows 11.9% Southern European and they are often the most accurate on this. So my theory was now that Elana had an Italian great grandparent. Ancestry shows the total of Greek, Portuguese, French, and Italian at 7%. So what part of Italy has that mix? Sicily is the crossroads of the Mediterranean…
Normally we look for where the family trees of the different cousins on the father’s side converge, with so few matches would it be possible to use ethnicity? The plan is to look for a man with an East Asian father and a mother with one Italian descended parent and the other of Australian English descent.
So I asked Elana to star all the paternal side matches to make it easier to use automation (click here for my post on that). The idea was to use Genetic Affairs (GA) to cluster just her matches on her dad’s side and show some trees for common ancestors. More recently, GA has added some rule based ways to select matches but both people have to be shared with the account being used.
The next step was to run a DNA2tree which has the option to gather the matches which are “not in common” with the first favorite. Thus adding a star to her tested mother let us use that option. A very large number of her more distant 4th cousin matches were descended from a Thomas BUGDEN 1811-1898 so I had DNA2tree build that tree for our search. This looked like her dad’s Australian side.
The plan was to build that tree down until we found a Bugden descendant marrying an Italian and their daughter marrying an East Asian man. DNA2tree only lists the children with DNA match descendants, of which there were five, so I had to add the other 12 children, one of whom was likely her ancestor. Time to recruit some help. I got Peter O’Brien, a search angel in Australia who had helped me before, to go to work on that tree. Building a tree of Bugdens with that many branches was going to be quite a chore.
Often in these cases it is better to start with the common ancestor with fewer children, so perhaps the Italian side? Another useful technique is, if you have the surnames from the one side, to look for them in the other side’s trees. Our Italian helper, Rocco Joseph Hindman, said look for the surnames RUSSO or Tesoriero. He had looked at the Mollica common ancestors found by DNA2tree but closer study showed that in that Mollica family there were two related Russo spouses. Endogamy also seemed to be a factor among those Sicilians.
Peter found a Bugden descendant who had married a RUSSO! And their daughter Lyla married twice, once to someone named Robert Kwan, who was born in China to Shu Pung Kwan and Shui Fa Dong. Robert and Lyla lived in the greater Sydney area and had two sons in about the 1950s. The problem now is to find them. One of them is Elana’s father. I can supply their names and likely birth years to anyone who wants to help, but my policy is never publish the names of the living without permission.
It is much harder to find people who are alive, especially in a country I am not familiar with, usually it is via obituaries of their parents. If I have any Australian readers who can help with this, please contact me. A closer cousin, that Elana is in now in touch with, thought that one of those sons is an actor. All clues and ideas are welcome!