Thank you, Tony!
We call it serendipity in genealogy.
Those moments when the stars align or the fates dictate or somehow things just happen.
And yesterday was one of those days.
Those of you who’ve been following along this week know that I had the great honor and privilege to be a keynote speaker at RootsTech yesterday, and used a couple of family stories to explain why it’s so important to pass down our history both purposely and accurately.
And like so many families the problem with mine is that a good number of stories that get passed down purposely are… well… let’s just say that my family never lets the truth interfere with a good story.
Case in point: the purported descent of my thoroughly-Virginia-based Baker family from an Alexander Baker who came to Boston in 1635 on the ship the Elizabeth and Ann.
It’s a lovely story since it takes our Bakers at least close to the first settlers of this great nation, and later … um… enhancements put one of our ancestors right onto the decks of the Mayflower.
And then I came along. The genealogical partypooper. I wanted (gasp) proof.
You see, there was just so much about the story that didn’t make sense to me.
Every bit of the story seemed to have some documentation, except the documentation didn’t quite match up. A purported town record in Massachusetts that listed all of the children of one couple, for example… except the one that we were supposed to be descended from. A marriage in Connecticut that violated everything I knew about the customs at the time. A migration path that was just so very unlikely for the time.
So I turned to a tool I knew could give us the answer: DNA.
Lots of the descendants of my Baker ancestors had already tested. The Baker men who descended from the last Baker we could be sure of — Thomas Baker of Culpeper County, Virginia — all had the same distinct DNA pattern. What we needed was someone we knew descended from Alexander.
I posted messages far and wide on the Internet asking for any male Baker who was a documented descendant of Alexander Baker to step forward, and I’d pay for his DNA test.
And we waited.
And we waited.
Finally, one day some years back, I got a message from a lovely lady in California, Lisa Baker, who said her husband Tony fit the bill. His paper trail back to Alexander was excellent. And he was willing to test.
We got the test all set up, Tony sent in his sample, and we waited again. And waited. And waited.
And when the results came in…
Not even close. We’re so far removed from the YDNA markers of Alexander Baker that any common ancestors might be named Adam and Eve.
Now you know what my Baker cousins said about that, right? They said Tony’s paper trail must be wrong. Except that he had a paper trail, and we didn’t.
But as a good genealogist, I didn’t want to rest on a single piece of evidence, so I kept looking and, not too long thereafter, we found a second well-documented descendant of Alexander Baker of Boston.
He agreed to be tested, we sent in the kit and…
He matched Tony. He didn’t match us.
We got the results just before a Baker reunion at Decoration Day at the Old Town Cemetery in Bakersville, North Carolina. My cousin Charles Baker from Texas was driving me to the reunion and asked me if I was going to tell all the Bakers about the DNA test. I said I was.
“They’re going to lynch you,” he said.
“I’ve got it covered, Charles,” was my reply.
“I don’t like blood,” he told me.
“Don’t worry,” I assured him.
My assurances didn’t stop him from backing the car into the parking spot so we could make a quick getaway.
When it was my turn to speak, I told all those Bakers who believed themselves to be Alexander Baker descendants about DNA and what it could do and how it sometimes produced unexpected results — and sometimes great results.
Charles rolled his eyes.
The unexpected result, I said, was that it turned out we were not descended from Alexander Baker of Boston.
Faces began to fall all around the crowd, and Charles started reaching for the car keys.
The great results, I continued, was that we now had proof positive that (and I paused for a long moment as Charles began inching towards the parking lot)…
We were not descended from a Yankee.
The crowd burst into applause.
So what does this all have to do with Tony Baker and serendipity?
Yesterday, as I was telling the story to all those thousands of people at RootsTech about how we found out we were not descended from Alexander Baker… Tony’s wife Lisa was sitting in the audience, listening. She brought Tony over later and I got to meet him in person.
I got to say thank you to my cousin-who-isn’t Tony, for being willing to test, to help my family — and his — learn the truth.
Serendipity. Gotta love it.
IMAGE: Openclipart.org, user johnny_automatic