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Here I go again. The DNA junkie with another family mystery.

Countdown to 1940 Census

What do DNA, my family and the 1940 census have in common?

I can only hope that what they end up having in common is help in solving a mystery.

My brother and I have both done autosomal DNA testing. At Family Tree DNA, that’s the Family Finder test. (I’ve also done it at 23andMe where it’s called the Relative Finder.) Autosomal DNA testing is the kind that works across gender lines so you don’t have to find a direct male line from father to son to son (YDNA or Y-DNA) or a direct female line from mother to daughter to daughter (mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).

He and I only share one parent — he descends from our father’s first marriage; I descend from the second — and, as far as we can tell, our mothers had no ancestors in common other than, roughly, give or take a few generations, Adam and Eve.

So we know darned good and well that anybody we both match is somewhere on our father’s side of the family. And one of our recent matches poses a humdinger of a question.

Let’s called our match John Doe. His autosomal DNA results show that he matches my brother as a 3rd to 5th cousin, and likely 4th cousin. He matches me as a 4th to distant cousin. He was born in Chicago in the 1930s. That’s the city where my grandparents settled1 after they emigrated from Germany in 1925.2 John’s parents weren’t married. As a young man, he was told only that his father was European and that he was a car mechanic there in the Windy City.

And oh boy… do John and I ever want to find out just who in my father’s family turns out to be John’s father! John, of course, hopes to close the book on this central mystery of his life. Me, I just think it’d be too much fun to find out about yet another womanizing scoundrel in the family.3

The genetic relationship isn’t close enough for the culprit to be my father, who wasn’t nearly old enough or smooth enough to pass for a car mechanic around the time John was conceived anyway. Think skinny baby-faced junior high schooler here. It isn’t close enough for my grandfather either. And I do realize that because of the way recombination affects the way DNA is passed from generation to generation, this match could end up being farther back, even much farther back, than estimated.

But oh man… there was a whole passel of cousins from this German family rattling around Chicago at the time who might have, could have, maybe were…

Cousins A and B, brothers to each other, are my prime candidates.4 A child of theirs would be a third cousin to my brother and me. Both would have been in their 20s at the time, and I know they were living in Chicago then. The hitch is that I can’t find this family at all on the 1930 census so I don’t know what either of them might have done for a living then (and they may still have been in school in 1930).

Cousins C and D, brothers to each other, and Cousin E were all first cousins to my father. A child of theirs would be a second cousin to my brother and me. So they’re less likely than A and B, but not out of the realm of possibility. C and D were the oldest of all of these cousins, in their late 20s or early 30s and living in Chicago. Neither held a skilled job in the 1930 census and either of them could easily have gone for skilled training as the Depression deepened and so been a mechanic by the time of John’s birth. E — like A and B — would have been in his 20s, and though I can find his family on the 1930 census, he wasn’t listed as holding a job.

So… 42 days to go to the 1940 census.5 I’m feverishly hunting around in Stephen P. Morse’s fabulous One-Step utilities to get the 1940 enumeration districts for the candidates’ families and reading through the materials that the National Archives has posted about 1940 census records.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that the 1940 census is some years removed from John’s birth. And yeah, yeah, I know it’s possible any one of these families, maybe even all of ’em, could have been missed in that census. And yeah, I know that somebody who was looking for some fun on the side might have lied about what he did for a living. I even know that maybe this match’s father won’t turn out to be any of my candidates but will be a more distant relative.

I’m not looking for absolute proof here. Just for one of these five men to show up on that census as a car mechanic. That’s not too much to ask, is it?


  1. See 1930 U.S. census, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 16-598, p. 18B (penned), dwelling 155, family 386, Hugo E. Geissler household; digital image, ( : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 441.
  2. See Manifest, S.S. George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped), lines 4-6, Geissler family; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  3. See “Friedrike, how COULD you?,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Jan 2012.
  4. You’re not really looking for a citation here, are you? C’mon, folks! We’re talking out of wedlock stuff here!
  5. Federal law restricts access to the census for 72 years. See 92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978 ( : accessed 18 Feb 2012).
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